Africa · Books · South Africa

The Last Train to Zona Verde- book review

I recently finished Paul Theroux’s most recent novel, and I’ve just finished his second-to-last nonfiction book The Last Train to Zona Verde, in which Theroux makes a journey along the western side of Africa starting from Cape Town, the continent’s southernmost city. It’s an ambitious trip, Theroux’s last in Africa, that would have seen him travel up the continent along the western coast. But Theroux does not complete it. Dispirited, beaten down and weary, he calls it quits almost midway in Angola.

He starts off from Cape Town, first touring its vast township slums, then goes to Namibia by bus, travels around the country and attends a conference in the deep east, takes a detour to visit an elephant safari camp in Botswana, then goes into Angola, where he gets stuck in a remote area near a village for days when his minibus breaks down, which ironically is one of his better experiences.

Having been struck by the vast poverty-filled townships on the outskirts of Cape Town and Windhoek, Namibia, he sees worse in Angola and is utterly disgusted. Angola is a country that is one of the world’s biggest oil producers, but also one of the poorest. Having been ravaged by a 30-year civil war that lasted into the 1990s, the people have been neglected by a corrupt, oligarchic government. Theroux sees desperation and poverty everywhere in Angola, from the capital Luanga, where growing slums encircle the city, to smaller towns like Benguela and Lubango.

Theroux holds nothing back in his final chapters where he explains how and why he got to his breaking point, despairing over the squalor and the “broken, unspeakable” and “huge, unsustainable” cities: “No poverty on earth could match the poverty in an African shantytown.” Theroux believes that continuing on the journey would only mean going into more cities and hence, the same sight and disappointment over and over. Then there is also the danger. Timbuktu was Theroux’s intended endpoint but by then, Mali had been engulfed in civil war and the fabled city was in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. Nigeria was also on the itinerary but Boko Haram was, and is still, ravaging a large part of the north.

There are a few bright spots such as isolated Angolan village where Theroux hears native ceremonies every night and see people living a traditional life, and a visit to a remote Bushman (Ju/’hoansi) community in Namibia. The book veers into an anthropological tone about these people, who may be the oldest living people in the world, but even then, there is disappointment when Theroux realizes everything is not as it appears.

The bluntness of Theroux’s despair is a little shocking to me, despite having read a couple of Theroux’s other books, as it can make one wonder if there is any hope for Africa.
There is, of course, though perhaps not in places Theroux visited such as Angola in particular. I have been to South Africa and visited townships in Cape Town and Johannesburg, so I know Theroux isn’t exaggerating the physical size and extent of poverty there though there is also progress (he does mention this as well). Theroux contends that any improvement in the slums results in more people coming and hence the poverty remains constant while the slums get larger.

While one could wonder whether Theroux should have bothered publishing this book if he felt so hopeless about those countries, the truth is there are very few books or articles, at least in the English language, about Namibia and Angola, and his writing is still a worthy if not pleasant contribution to literature on those countries.

Africa · Books

The Lower River- book review

Paul Theroux is one of the biggest names in the travel writing world, but his books are not for those looking for fun and uplifting writing. His most recent novel The Lower River illustrates this perfectly.

The Lower River, published in 2012, is partially based on Theroux’s real-life experience, being set in a remote village in Malawi. After Ellis Hock, a retired American businessman, is divorced by his wife of three decades, he then decides to close his store and return to the one place he was ever truly happy – the village of Malabo in deep southern Malawi where he served four idyllic years as a Peace Corps member fresh out of college. You can sense where this is going.

Hock flies to Malawi, reaches Malabo, meets the village “head” whose grandfather knew him, and then decides to stay for a while to do good work like rebuild the village school where he taught at decades ago. Soon, he realizes that his magnanimous venture will not work out and that the village is no longer the same as it was the last time Hock was there. Things soon take a dark turn and Hock, who comes down with malaria, becomes trapped in the village. He is isolated, weak, desperate and comes close to breaking down several times. There are late-night tribal secret society rites, orphan villages full of feral kids and a mysterious compound hidden in a border zone, that amplify the sense of dread and despair.

The novel is a compelling read, with each twist pushing Hock into deeper and darker trouble. Hock’s naivete, fueled by his mid-life crisis, combines with third-world poverty and culture clashes to create a chilling outcome. No doubt, there is a trace of Heart of Darkness in this.
However, what Theroux really wants to do is present a few themes common to Africa such as the prevalence of Western development aid and its effect on locals, with the messianic complex of some whites in wanting to “save” poor Africans, also known as the white man’s burden, and conversely, the question of how much progress African communities have made.

He partially succeeds though some parts in the book like the village of wild orphans seem too outlandish (I don’t think these actually exist but Malawi really does have about a million AIDS orphans due to a high AIDS rate killing off many adults). The Lower River paints bleak pictures about Africa and the foolishness of Westerners like Hock who want to save the third world, however sincere they may feel, without really understanding the realities on the ground. Despite the cynical nature of the book, Theroux gives a sound description of Malawi, when Hock arrives and spends a few days in the city of Blantyre, and Malabo that does well enough to present a stark image of the places.

Granted I’ve only read a couple of Theroux’s books, but reading through Dark Star Safari, in which he traveled from Cape Town to Cairo, you might even think he hated traveling and didn’t give a damn about the third world, especially Africa. But his complaints seem to stem from genuine care about the places he writes about and not mere arrogance, and he is often right in a lot of his observations (I enjoyed Dark Star Safari a lot actually), as pessimistic or cynical as they seem. And with his years spent living and working in Africa (Malawi, Uganda), he has substantial experience of sub-Saharan Africa and the issue of development.

Africa · China · South Africa

The strange case of China’s arrest of British and South African tourists last week

So after threatening stock traders and arresting over 100 human rights lawyers and activists two weeks ago, China decided to move onto new targets – tourists. Last Tuesday (China time), I saw rather bizarre news about a group of British and South African tourists being arrested in Inner Mongolia in China. What was strange was how little coverage it got with short articles in Sky News and the Independent being the only sources of info. On Wednesday, the Guardian reported on it and eventually the BBC. It was never breaking news or the headline story.

The more details there were, the more disturbing the incident seemed. The 20 tourists were a bunch of mostly senior folks, some doctors and executives, who were on a 47-day organized trip around China, but the authorities claimed they were suspected them of having “links with terrorism.” There was no specific details then, but the Chinese authorities kept insisting these people did something involving “terrorism” by “watching propaganda videos.” In addition, though the news had been reported on Tuesday, these people had been detained the previous Friday suddenly at the airport in the city of Erdos and they were not allowed to contact their embassies or anybody else. Their tour agency became suspicious over the weekend after not hearing from them and sent somebody to Ordos check on them Monday.

As the incident dragged on, no proper details were given by the authorities other than the tourists had been doing something related to terrorism. It turned out the terrorist activity the tourists had been doing was watching videos in their hotel. A spokesman for two of the detained said they had been watching a documentary on Genghis Khan. Yes, he was a terror to China… over 800 years ago. Some of the tourists were Muslim and had Islamic surnames and were members of a South African charity, which might have aroused attention from the Chinese authorities for whom even charities and religious organizations are suspect bodies. It seems the Chinese authorities had made a big mistake though they of course refused to admit. The tourists were eventually deported, 11 of them on July 15 and the rest on the 17th.

To get the Chinese official stance, read this http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2015-07/18/c_134424744.htm.
I certainly don’t find it convincing in the least.
“According to the police investigation, the foreigners first watched a documentary in a hotel room. After some of them left, the rest proceeded to watch video clips advocating terrorism. Police later found similar videos stored in a cell phone belonging to Hoosain Ismail Jacobs, a South African national.
The police detained five South Africans, three British nationals and an Indian national on July 11 in accordance with China’s criminal law which stipulates punishment for “allegedly organizing, leading or joining terrorist groups.”
All the detainees admitted to their illegal acts and repented.”
The whole incident raises a lot of questionable issues.
First, the fact the authorities arrested these people on watching a video in their hotel room meant the tourists were being spied upon, which is a disturbing case.

Second, the fact these tourists were arrested for basically watching a video shows people from other countries can be arrested for the flimsiest of reasons in China.

Third, the Chinese authorities never clarified exactly what the tourists had done. If the tourists had been watching “clips advocating terrorism,” which is very vague, the authorities should have specified what clips were being watched and should have said that at the start rather than vague claims about terrorist links.

Fourth, during this entire time, the case, which seemed like a major diplomatic incident, attracted little attention from the international media and the governments of the countries involved. Neither the UK or the South African government spoke out about this. It’s strange when you consider one country arrested 20 tourists, most of whom were seniors, suddenly and held them for days, all the time without specifying details or legitimate reasons. Of course, all the tourists were allowed to leave and the lack of official criticism and media attention probably helped, but it’s absurd that a country can be allowed to get away with such flippant abuse of foreigners.

I wonder if this is the end of it or will it have repercussions in future.

Africa · Books · Travel

Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria – book review

Nigeria probably isn’t on any list of top countries to travel to, but for the daughter of Ken Saro-Wiwa, it was a special journey. Noo Saro-Wiwa grew up in England and was 19 when her activist father was arrested and executed by Nigeria’s ruling military junta in 1995, shocking the world and bringing significant outrage and disgrace onto the country’s leadership. As a result, she decided not to have anything to do with her country, only returning twice briefly for her father’s funeral and his actual burial. Eventually in the late 2000s after a successful career as a travel writer, she decided to return to Nigeria, not for good, but to try to reconcile and rediscover her nation. Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria is the result.

It starts off in Lagos, Nigeria’s giant and sprawling metropolis, continues to the former intellectual center Ibadan, then the nation’s capital Abuja, the clean but sterile antithesis to Lagos, and moves on to the northern Muslim states and then the central regions. Saro-Wiwa then returns to her hometown Port Harcourt, in the oil-rich Delta region, and even her father’s village in Ogoniland. Finally, she goes back to Lagos.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation, which would seemingly make it Africa’s powerhouse, though South Africa might beg to differ. In reality, Nigeria is filled with problems that weigh it down and its oil wealth is contradicted by its gross corruption and poverty. As if that was not enough, whereas before it had unrest in its Delta region, it is now under threat from Boko Haram, a fundamentalist Islamic group that has committed terrorist attacks and mass killings and kidnappings in the Muslim northeast part.

Saro-Wiwa is unflinching in depicting all the problems she encounters, from the chaos to corruption to lackadaisical customer service. She is filled with frustration at times, struggling to reconcile her English middle-class upbringing with the completely different nature of Nigerian society. There are a few good aspects – the well-run Calabar, the lively culture, and the hustle and bustle of general Nigerian life. Even these still seem like mere consolations compared to the corruption and neglect that is seemingly prevalent across the nation.

There are striking examples of Nigeria’s potential in many areas like tourism and agriculture and how it is being wasted. For instance, Benin (not to be confused with the neighboring country of the same name) used to be where one of West Africa’s greatest kingdoms existed, which lasted until it was defeated by the British in 1897. In the present times, the state has preserved little of its past heritage and splendor. Another example is when Saro-Wiwa visits a farm run by Zimbabweans, who lauds the richness of Nigerian soil and its impressive natural resources (“richer than South Africa in natural resources, but you have nothing to show for it”) but lambast Nigerians for not doing much with it.

This is not to say it is a depressing book though. There are numerous amusing anecdotes and colorful episodes of cultural events and diverse places. Saro-Wiwa covers many places, but the most entrancing is when she visits Sukur, a mountain kingdom that is still “Stone Age” and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The settlement’s remoteness means people may live as their ancestors did centuries ago, smelting their own tools with stone furnaces and so on, but they are free from the disorderliness of modern Nigeria. Saro-Wiwa also views the Durbar, a military parade involving horse-mounted warriors overseen by the Emir of the ancient Islamic city of Kano, a tradition that harks back to Kano’s horse-riding culture. Nigeria also boasts some ancient heritage, but sadly some of these artifacts such as Nok sculptues, which date back to BC times, and Benin’s bronze castings and masks were mostly taken by Europeans and held in museums across Europe.

The book’s main problem is not the tone, but that at times there is not enough content. Saro-Wiwa describes history and politics and the ethnic diversity, but certain chapters seem like they would have been better with more background information. Especially perhaps a narrative that could have linked Nigeria’s places better together, though the country is a young one that was an artificial creation of the British. In the end, after the author returns to Lagos, she accepts she may not have the patience to fully handle living in Nigeria and coping with all the problems, but she has seen the good and bad of her country and is at peace with this.

While Nigeria still does not seem like a place most people would like to actually travel to, Looking for Transwonderland shows how diverse, interesting, and problematic it is. It is definitely one of the best, if not the only, books about the country and traveling it.

Africa · Books

One Day I’ll Write About This Place – book review

Ahead of my recent trip to Taiwan, I ordered 6 books from Book Depository so I will have some good reading in the upcoming weeks. I finished the first one in about a week.

Binyavanga Wainaina’s One Day I’ll Write About This Place is a entrancing memoir about the writer, his country Kenya, and by extension his continent Africa. Wainaina is famous for his 2005 Granta article about how to write about Africans, a sarcastic commentary and critique of how Westerners often portray Africa. There is some of that in this memoir, though Wainaina’s criticism is often directed at his country. Wainaina’s book is several things – a collection of vignettes of his life, a wry take on his youth and university years in South Africa, a touching remembrance of his parents, especially his mother, and a lively and at times frustrated narrative about Kenya.

The book starts with Wainaina’s middle-class childhood, then moves to his wayward university years in Umtata (Nelson Mandela’s hometown), South Africa, during which he dropped out and spent a year not really doing much, and his years of struggle before his writing career starts forming. He does not fully explain what ails him, though perhaps there may have some depression.
There’s an interesting chapter about a trip to Togo to write about the country for the 2006 World Cup; Togo is little known to many people other than its most famous footballer, Spurs and ex-Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor.
Wainaina holds little back in his thoughts and his recollection of his life.
There’s little idealism or romanticism about his observations, just a sense of blunt realism that takes in the good and bad, the joyful and the bitter, whether it is about his life or about his country.
His chapter about going to Uganda for a grand family reunion at his maternal grandparents’ home is great, as is his touching tribute to his mother after she dies of cancer.
It is a superb book about life in Africa from an African, specifically a Kenyan who has links to all over the continent.
Wainaina goes through some rough times, does not quite reach despair, at least not until the end.
The last chapters see Wainaina describe a Kenya festering with tension and descending further into tribal-based paranoia and hate, until finally tribal violence breaks out after elections at the end of 2007. Wainaina then leaves for the US to teach and write, somewhat broken. He later returns to his country in 2010.
This is not a book filled with lessons or colorful cliches. Instead, it is one that will help you appreciate one of Africa’s better Anglophone writers, and understand Kenya and Africa a little better.

IMAG4204

Africa · Books · China · Travel

Intriguing travel reads on Indonesia, Nigeria and more

Rather unusual in travel literature (or any other kind of literature for that matter), there’s an entire new book about Indonesia – Indonesia Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation by Elizabeth Pisani. I haven’t read it yet but it seems an attractive future choice, based on the reviews about it. I admit I’m one of those guilty of not knowing or caring much about the world’s largest archipelago nation and fourth most populated. As Pankaj Mishraj says in his review, “on our mental map of the world, the country is little more than a faraway setting for earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.” The Guardian and New York Times also review it.

I’ve actually read a previous book by Pisani called “The Wisdom of Whores,” which was a critique of policies used to fight against AIDS, based on her knowledge and experience, that included working in Southeast Asia and getting to know prostitutes. Pisani is actually a epidemiologist, and before that a foreign correspondent, who has spent many years in Indonesia and decided to take a year off from her regular work to travel around the nation and experience its vast diversity and quirkiness. Indonesia Etc is the result of her travel.

Besides Indonesia, there are other developing countries which might be similarly fascinating, complex and dynamic but sadly get little attention from global media and entertainment circles. As much as I am interested by China and India and can’t get enough about books focusing on them, I wish there were more books about nations like Indonesia and similar major developing nations. Specifically, books that focus on a country and combine travel and social commentary.

Another such book is about Nigeria, Africa’s most populous and arguably dynamic country. There was a book released two years ago called Looking for Transwonderland written by Noo Saro-Wiwa. If that last name sounds familiar, it’s because her father was the activist Ken Saro-Wiwa who was executed by the Nigerian military government in 1995. Looking for Transwonderland is both a travel book and about Noo Saro-Wiwa’s return to Nigeria (she grew up in England) in an attempt to understand her homeland and come to grips with what happened to her father.

I’m definitely interested in the preceding books, and there have been a few other travel titles that I haven’t been able to read that cover a similar scope.

When it comes to Africa, there are several books that seemingly take on the entire continent, or rather a number of countries that are taken to represent the whole continent. Paul Theroux (first with Dark Star Safari, then this one) and South African Sihle Kumalo, a rare black African travel writer who has written 3 books covering trips to different parts of Africa, have put out books about this.

Punjabi Parmesan is an Indian author’s look at Western Europe, which seems an intriguing concept. The author Pallavi Aiyar is a journalist who also lived in and wrote a book about China, which was also a rarity – an Indian writing a travelogue and commentary on China.

About China, The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China is rather self-explanatory from the title, but its scope is quite complex, ranging from the Northeast border with Russia to turbulent  Xinjiang to a “narco-state” in the jungles of southwest Yunnan province. It explores the farthest, wildest and least populated parts of the nation, which are largely populated by ethnic minorities. Another book Invisible China: A Journey Through Ethnic Borderlands, published 5 years ago, has a similar concept, focusing exclusively on ethnic minorities.

I have to say I haven’t read any of these books, except Theroux’s first Africa book Dark Star Safari, yet so I’m doing a bit of speculating in assuming that they’re good. I trust my assumptions are correct otherwise I’d be a fool recommending books I haven’t read that aren’t much good.

If any readers have recommendations, especially on nations like Brazil, Turkey, Vietnam, South Africa etc, let me know.

Africa · Sports

World Cup- let the games and viewing begin

As I write this, I’m watching Colombia play Greece on TV, winning 2-0 in the second half. For those who don’t know, this is a World Cup game. The tournament started on Thursday (Friday morning in China) which meant I came home from work, stayed up till the opening ceremony, then watched the opening game and went to bed at 6am. Then Saturday morning, I came out to watch the Netherlands-Spain game with some good colleagues. It was the biggest game of the first weekend, pitting the defending champions against the runners-up, in other words this was a rematch of the final of the last World Cup. Well, it was an incredible match that ended 5-1, with Spain being dealt a humiliating defeat. It was especially crushing given Spain had scored the first goal and had looked to be in control for a while. That is until minutes before the end of the first half when Robin van Persie scored a crazy leaping header which saw him arch forward in the air like a seal to meet a long cross from his teammate and head it over the Spanish keeper. Then the Dutch scored four more goals in the second half, while Spain seemed to disintegrate, not helped by some terrible goalkeeping mistakes. Already, the media is awash with proclamations of the end of an era for Spain’s domination and “tike-taka” style of short, continuous passing.

By the time it was over, it was bright outside even though it was just a little after 5am (and yes, I’m a bit too old to be walking back home at 5 in the morning but this was for a legit reason). It was pleasant walking back home, passing Sanlitun which was busy with people leaving the bars and clubs in the area, while taxis clogged the roads. This pleasantness was in contrast to my walk to the place, when I encountered the usual shady touts along the bar street, with one persistent older guy following me for almost 10 minutes, even entering the compound where the place I was going to was in. As I neared my destination, which was at the far end and dimly lit part of the compound, he finally stopped following, but uttered a soft but audible “shabi.” So yes, the guy followed me continuously, trying to get me to go to some club and get a girl despite my lukewarm responses saying I was going somewhere, and I’m the stupid c*nt. The sheer audacity and hypocritical outrage of some folks here is something I need to get used to, but can’t for now.

Another decent football article, this one looks at the Ivory Coast, one of Africa’s best teams in the past decade, and also one of the most underachieving. However, the big deal with them goes beyond sports and that’s what the article examines. The football team is credited with helping end a brutal civil war in the country that went on for over 6 years during the early 2000s. Didier Drogba, the team’s longtime talisman, star striker and captain, has been given a lot of credit for this, speaking out to his countrymen to stop fighting and advocating for a game to be played in rebel-held territory at one point. The writer visits the country, talks to people, watches football at roadside bars, and finds out the truth is complex, that divisions in the country are serious but not based on so much on tribal or ethnic identity, though this does not mean the divisions have diminished over time. My Africa team is Ghana, which I respect both as a country and a football team, but I hope Ivory Coast can have some success this time and not crash out in the first round as in the last two World Cups, having been in Groups of Death then but not this time.

Africa · South Africa · Travel

Random links – Cambodia, Cape Town, Game of Thrones

I’m in the midst of a three-day “weekend”, given due to today’s holiday which is dedicated to workers – Labor Day. However, I’m not in a very celebratory mood because right after the “weekend” ends, I get to look forward to a 6-day work week. It’s not too bad, though I’d prefer it if the order was reversed. It’s also an example of the wacky work rescheduling in China (and Taiwan) for holidays, that happens due to the need to make up days. For instance, we only worked three days this past week, but in return we have to work one more day next week, which actually meant we got one extra holiday.

Anyways, another reason I’m not in a festive mood is because on Tuesday I got hit by a car (my first time ever). I got struck by a taxi making a right turn while I was at the side of a road. It wasn’t too serious so I didn’t make a big deal out of it but the aftermath concerning the taxi driver and one of his colleagues left a bad impression on me, which I’ll probably describe in a future post soon.

For now, let me just introduce a few links.

My last travel post was about Cambodia, so it’s fitting I’m turning back to that country. Cambodia has its own version of kickboxing, Kun Khmer, just like how Thailand has its Muay Thai, but sadly this legacy was almost destroyed during Pol Pot’s genocidal reign. This VICE Fightland story takes a look at a new Cambodian mixed martial arts (MMA) outfit that is already competing in Asia after having outgrown the local scene.

South Africa’s Cape Town is a cool city and it’s this year’s “World Design Capital.” I visited in 2010 and it is the most beautiful city I’ve been to, with Table Mountain looming right above and its attractive colonial buildings and harborfront. Unfortunately it’s also possibly the most divided city I’ve been too, and the inequality is still there and strong. Basically, the more well-off and white residents live within the city, while the poor live in huge township slums on the outskirts, which are a completely different world. Khayelitsha, one of the more well-known townships, has over 400,000. Conditions in the townships are rough and dangerous, and attempts to improve local infrastructure often doesn’t help and instead exacerbates the poverty and alienation of the people from the city. Back in 2010, I went on a township tour and the guide, a black South African, said some harsh things about Cape Town, such as that it is a pretty city, but it is not for black people, a blunt remark about how few blacks lived inside Cape Town. My airport driver, a white local, pointed out new homes in the townships while driving past them on the highway, and said how those were attempts by the ANC, the ruling party, to move more blacks into the region. I wrote a piece about slum tourism that year that covers a lot of what I saw in Cape Town, including that township tour.

Game of Thrones is one of the baddest TV shows out now, and along with many other people, I watch it regularly. Among its strong points are its impressive sets and beautiful landscapes, which are shot on location in Morocco, Malta, Croatia and Iceland. Yet it’s Northern Ireland that provides the backdrop for much of the show, and I confess I was ignorant about how attractive it is. A lot of those ancient cities and formidable castles and fantastic scenery in the show really do exist. I’d never thought of visiting those countries, except Morocco, but if I ever do, I’d definitely like to visit the places where the GoT scenes are shot.

Africa · Books

Americanah- book review

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche is a well-known Nigerian novelist who picked up a lot of acclaim for her second novel Half of a Yellow Sun. I have that book, because on my last day at my college newspaper, the arts editor offered me a box full of books and I picked Half of a Yellow Sun and two other books. I never regretted that choice since Half of a Yellow Sun, about a pair of grown-up sisters living through the Biafran war in Nigeria when the state brutally quelled an attempt by Biafra to secede, was poignant and striking. I just finished her followup novel Americanah, which is also a great read.
It’s about a two Nigerian lovers who separate when one emigrates to the US for college and the other eventually enters the UK and stays there illegally. The book traces their past through flashbacks, while showing how their lives unfold after leaving Nigeria. Eventually the woman goes back to Nigeria, where things get complicated. In this sense, you could see it’s not just a love story.  Americanah is a huge treat as it covers a lot of topics – race relations, being black, being an immigrant, Nigeria, returning to your country after going away, all with a love story in the background. In an interesting plot device, we are treated to a lot of blunt commentaries about race dynamics in the US because the woman, Ifemelu, is a star blogger who writes about race, terming herself a non-American black (a black person from Africa, the Caribbean or elsewhere). She doesn’t limit herself to black or African issues, often taking on issues like white privilege and the dynamics of race in general in US. When she decides to return to Nigeria, she starts a new blog and becomes famous right away with a huge, loyal readership, which is somewhat unrealistic. The novel focuses more on her than Obinze, who came back to Nigeria earlier after being caught by UK authorities and deported. Yet it is Ifemelu who is the more flighty and moody, and it manifests in her emotional struggles and various relationships. I can’t sympathize with how someone who is so thoughtful about issues like race can be so unreliable in how she feels around those close to her. However in the end, Obinze will also do something major that comes out as callous and irresponsible. Maybe it’s the cynic in me but I don’t trust the idea of happiness being the main determinant of how we live our lives.

By coincidence, this amazing story came out earlier this week. An American teen, born to Ghanaian parents, got accepted to all 8 Ivy League schools (Harvard, Yale, Princeton etc). It’s a great achievement, but race has come into the discussion. Some people have questioned whether affirmative action played a role in it (the boy is black), while others have pointed out that African-Americans who’re 1st or 2nd generation immigrants from Africa have done significantly well in academics, compared to African-Americans who’ve been in the US for generations. The latter is something Adichie touches upon in her book in Ifemelu’s musings about the chasms between these two groups and their different outlooks on society, with the former carrying less of a chip on their shoulders in the US.

Africa · South Africa · Sports

Random links- football features and Kenyan NGO comedy

I’m a bit late to it, but here’s a series of feature stories about football worldwide, done as a leadup to this year’s upcoming World Cup in June. The one about the South African football magnate/ Robin Hood is an interesting piece that starts with a straightforward success story of a football club before delving the ambiguous and delicate social situation in that country. The site, Roads & Kingdoms, is a very interesting one that combines journalism and travel, the sort of thing I’d like to do if I had the ability.

Meanwhile, this TV series seems interesting- a Kenyan “mockumentary” comedy about a corrupt, inept NGO. The country, and sub-Saharan Africa, has more than its fair share of these kinds of organizations, as well as good ones too.