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Archive for April, 2007

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Mark my silence, dear readers, as a tribute to the thousands of lives lost during the last Mogadishu battle. The intense clashes that lasted for about two weeks between the American and Ethiopian-backed, yet inefficient, Transitional Federal Government (TFG) troops and the local clan militias cut a swathe through the entire city. With the scenes of turmoil, the putrid stench of the decaying corpses littering the streets, the looting and indiscriminate butchery reverberate in the minds of many almost as a re-enactment of the 1993 civil war.

In my previous post, Of Hope and Despair, the hope for stability and calm was slowly but gradually seeping out of my mind, though, in despair, I clung to it by a thread. Now even the last vestiges of hope I had of returning to a country I would call home, and every faith in it, have but evaporated. And so it must, for witnessing your country crushed to nothing and then suffering the humiliation of the systematic looting, extortion and rape of its people by uniformed troops forces even the most hopeful into despondency. And the world watches as the worst refugee crisis unfolds, indifferently, just as it still watches Darfur and Chad.

And what outcome would be expected when the dregs of humanity are armed, equipped, reinforced and given a licence to destroy everything that moves or speaks of nation!

My heart goes out to those innocent civilians of Mogadishu who are paying the intolerable price of this political transgression

What this conflict has caused where a political dialogue would suffice!

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Formula 1’s first black driver is in pole position to be Britain’s biggest sports star!

You know, I am not much into Formula 1 racing but Lewis Hamilton has been brought to my attention much through the hype of the media. And to be honest, by the way he is performing now, he seems to be in a very good shape and receiving standing ovations from the onlookers. What I fear though, is the backlash of this extravagant publicity. I fear that he may not be able to cope with this unattainable expectation that the Brits put on his shoulders. There was the same hype and unsurpassable expectations over Button too, and Henman and many other great but not so great British sportsmen. Too much is put on their plate.

What I find startling also is the way it makes me feel. It makes me feel slightly proud in some way that a black person has reached this stage in the Formula 1 and the first person to take the podium in his first three races at that – though he never won one yet. But this slight sensation of my reserved pride in his achievements outlines something far more dangerous. It suggests that a black man hasn’t had the competence of accomplishing such a feat – that’s until now; until Hamilton came and rescued him. As if he did it for the black race! Why is he being judged on the basis of his skin colour?

And I don’t know why, but I predict that, like any other black man who has made tremendous amounts of money will undoubtedly splash out on a culture of profligacy and hedonism rather than anything beneficial. They are a fat lot of use!

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Life sometimes behaves in some strange ways and shows you some glimpses of its brutal reality in peculiarly effortless ways. I went to Brixton to pay my condolences to the family of a deceased relative and with us also was my little grandson. I watched him, in the silence in that room where hordes of people had gathered to pay their regards too. Issa, nearing his two-year mark now, ran with an air of joviality and delight around him, jumping and kicking a small football to and fro, emitting those pleasing childish laughs, pulling my beard at times. He was blissfully unaware of the sorrow that surrounded the sitting, the air of melancholy that tainted the white walls and the pain that the news of the deceased man had brought. Unbeknownst to the young soul, and perhaps alien to his underdeveloped mind, here, a life was starting to blossom – exhibiting a new beginning without blemishes of any sort, a life that is immaculate and pure – and at the same setting another was wilting – decaying under the soil somewhere in the outskirts of Kismayo.

In a frail, disconsolate voice, the deceased man’s wife spoke as we expressed our tributes to her late husband. Issa, on the other hand, clung on to the hem of her clothes, rolling on the floor with his intermittent “Daadah, Daadah, Daadah” what a contrasting scene it was. Here I witnessed, with greater contemplation, the life cycle of a man and the great distance the deceased had travelled to reach where he now was. Death had caught up with him, unawares, and here my grandson was, oblivious to it all!

My temporary time in reflection had been abruptly terminated by the politics-obsessed Somali men, in their multi-coloured suits, who requested for HornAfrik, to hear the latest development in the Somalia conflict. Of all times to exchange trivial tribal banters and feed one another with fictitious tales of their tribal nobility, they chose this – a time appropriate only for reflection; a time for grieving. Little did they know, that they will be ending up as such, and their tribal nobility and meaningless banter will count for nothing in the darkest recesses of the earth.

When I reached home, I reclined on the large cream sofa in the sitting room. Mounted on the wall directly facing me, was a large silver timepiece. I watched its chrome hands for no apparent reason, but in the silence that surrounded me, I couldn’t help but pay attention to the tick, tock, tick, tock of the Seconds hand. This irritating clanking it made seemed quite loud and unwelcome. I wondered how I never pay attention to it during the day.

Every second that passed, I observed with intent, was bringing closer the terminator of my soul. The seconds slowly moved in a loop, each loop budging the Minute hand into slight movement and pushing it forward, and in this manner deducting a minute from my life. It was agonizing to listen to and worse to sit and observe your life, literally, flashing before your eyes!

Coincidentally – on my way to Brixton I was listening to Jeremy Hardy
on BBC R4 humorously talking about death!

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I want to post something I read during my travels, especially on the train. I read Jen Rubenfeld’s The interpretation of Murder, a psychoanalytical triller with intricate murder mysteries that propells one deeper into the human mind. A worthy read i say, though i haven’t finished it yet. This excerpt below starts the book and having reflected upon it for a very long period of time, thought i’d let you, my friends, ponder over it too. Here it is…

There is no mystery to happiness. Unhappy men are all alike. Some wound they suffered long ago, some wish denied, some blow to pride, some kindling spark of love put out by scorn – or worse, indifference – cleaves to them, or they to it, and so they live each day within a shroud of yesterdays. The happy man does not look back. He does not look ahead. He lives in the present.

But there’s the rub. The present can never deliver one thing: meaning. They ways of happiness and meaning are not the same. To find happiness, a man need only live in the moment; he need only live for the moment. But if he wants meaning – the meaning of his dreams, his secrets, his life – a man must reinhabit his past, however dark, and live for the future, however uncertain. Thus nature dangles happiness and meaning before us all, insisting only that we choose between them.

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It is great to be back. The weather here has been rather generous too, so I have been busy trying to recover from the trip and get it out of my system before I get back to work and studies on Monday. I must admit though, I am still somewhat in a holiday mood and feel a bit sluggish. The serene landscapes, fertile earth and fresh air have induced me to become slightly idle and in pursuit of slow liesurely evenings on the green grass sipping glass after glass of fresh fruit cocktails. Well, we can all dream now, can’t we?

I could not post the remaining few pictures that i have taken because they don’t always come up right, so I have uploaded them on Flickr and you should be able to access them here.

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A mere 150km away from Rotterdam was Verviers and I am in love with this ancient city – a quiet place with a relaxing atmosphere, especially at night. Situated on hills, this tiny city has the calmest feel to it and if you stand on any one of the multitude of hills, you’ll see layers and layers of glowing lights above the city. Descending and ascending layers of lights mark the uneven contours of the city, giving it a beautiful yellow hue. A delicate breeze gently flows atop the hills, calmly caressing your face as you stand there in awe. I stood on a hill at 3 in the morning and observed the tranquility of the place, its empty lit streets, its dark sky, its few flickering stars, the array of lights hovering in the distant, its houses and above all, its stillness.

I also visited the neighboring French-speaking town of Liege, about 22km from Verviers and Aachen, Germany, about 30km. After that I drove to Brussels, another 130km. I have a few pictures of Brussels but unfortunately my battery has died out on the camera and I don’t have a travel adapter. I will hopefully upload them as soon as I get to London. My trip has then taken me a few times back and forth to Lille, Roubaix and one visit to Paris and then finally back to my little Kortrijk.

On my return, I met an old Englishman by the name of Tom. A tall, lean figure from Exeter, Southwest of England, who was remarkably agile despite his ageing face and who, along with his family, came to cheer his son in the Cycle Race. He too, as I noticed, was quite pleased to meet me;
“Do you know how many people took part in the race yesterday?” he asked enthusiastically in a rather posh accent, after becoming acquainted with a few formal greetings.
“How many?”” I asked
“17,000!” replied he emphasizing the figure and then passionately told me about his son’s participation in the race. He was a nice chap – a genuinely nice person with an amiable character.
This all happened when I was returning the rental back to Hertz. The location was somewhere far out of Kortrijk and no bus routes either. Having returned the car, we had to walk back about 20km back to Kortrijk. A rather exhilarating walk I must admit, though very long, with pleasant views of the countryside and our only companions were the few cars that zoomed past every few minutes or so and the horse riders on the fields giving us curious looks. The Englishman was kind enough to give us a number of a cab but unfortunately there was no telephone box in sight!

It seems very strange doesn’t it? There are people whom you would never speak to or even greet in London or anywhere in the UK even if they crossed your path a gazillion times, but once outside your territory that perception is soon changed. The person that you wouldn’t have ever greeted on the streets of London now becomes something dear outside – you soon develop a mutual connection and an understanding that stems from you being from the same part of the world and laying claim to the same residential territory. Perhaps Mr. Tom wouldn’t even have had the opportunity to talk to a young black man on the streets of Exeter, but in a far away land there seems to be in place some commonality of language and territory.

I must admit though, I did play the game too. You know, “Spot the Somali” game! They have a tendency to stare at you, as if expecting an acknowledgement of some sort or are they simply trying to figure out what clan or sub-clan you belong to from the mere looks of you? Whatever it was, I duly rewarded them with a nod and a greeting here and there to the elders.

That’s it from my trip and though I didn’t take as many pictures as I would have loved to or visited many places, I return this evening to London. Hopefully my planned trip to Somalia this coming summer will be more eventful and I will make sure I record every intrinsic detail of it.

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Antwerp

There was silence. My travel companion, Osman, a Kortijk resident had gone silent on me and even the Sahra Ahmad’s smooth, dulcet voice had gone silent on the radio. The only noise that constantly reverberated in my ears was that of the roaring wind battered against the windshield, and the rubber eating away the asphalt road surface. The disturbingly pleasant grunting created by the friction between the thick rubber tyre and the road was something you had to get used to. It’s the sort of buzzing noise that you’d still hear resonating in your ears even long after you have stopped driving. I was on way to Gent, a distance of about 50km from Kortrijk and then Antwerp – the world’s diamond trading centre – about 100km.

The long stretch of road that connects Kortrijk to the rest of Belgium is one that is quite familiar to me. The farm houses now became visible once again. Large houses, some tin-roofed, others built of red bricks, with acres and acres of greenery surrounded by tall trees sat on either sides of the road. Freshly ploughed fields, countless small cottages, streams that slowly and tranquilly meandered into reservoirs, grazing cattle and galloping horses gave this otherwise austere landscape a picturesque stroke. This is the sort of place I would love to spend my evenings, and take a breather from the stifling pollution and denseness of the city. Having spent my early life in the mountainous region of Cal Madow – a fertile landscape abound with streams and greenery – and its surrounding areas, this place sort of made me conjure up images of the past.

It was nearing six in the evening and the sun was still oppressive, dazzlingly reflecting off the wing mirrors. By now I was familiar with the left-handed driving of the Europeans, though at first I had countless near-accidents resulting from my driving on the wrong side of the road and looking at my right side at roundabouts instead of the left. The amount of cyclists and pedestrians who scuttled away for their dear lives swearing indiscernible Belgique jargon at me is incalculable. I turned a deaf ear to all, but now I have figured out the system and drive comfortably. The car they gave me was tediously slow too and though the maximum the car can go is 200km (120miles) it was locked on 160km/hour. But eventually we did reach there, after about an hour and half later.

On entering Antwerp, large willows planted on the sides of the dual carriageway cordially greeted us, welcoming us to the city with their extended drooping branches. There isn’t much I can say about Antwerp, but here are a few of the pictures I got from there…

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Rotterdam, Zwijndrecht and Eindhoven

After briefly exploring the city of Antwerp, we made our way back to the motorway once again towards Breda, which then leads us to Rotterdam. The sun that had earlier oppressed us was now retreating back to its sanctuary and gradually losing its glow. And it did so with great magnificence; it had expelled its blinding outer brightness and was now flaunting its less bright, but more vivid colours just before twilight. A few multi-coloured rays started to blossom from the dwindling light and shaped themselves into colonies of arrows shooting down the horizon, leaving behind trails of magnificent shades of orange and grey in the sky. The few remaining clouds, too, have now scattered, forming silky discarded layers of wool, darkening from red and orange to grey the further they descended down the behind the trees. The land became spacious as soon as we left Antwerp. Open fields, some ploughed into corn rows, and some, though left unattended, yet managed to stay green and pleasant, took their place on both sides of the motorway.

The multitude of incandescent lamps that stood silent and stationery throughout the day had now become animated and alive, firstly unfolding a slightly red light adding brilliance to the sky’s resplendent orange glow, then emerging fully into bright amber/yellow to illuminate the road. It was fun driving at such an hour – enjoyable I should say, with the vast open road that lay ahead. It gave one a sense of freedom to go at full throttle, thought that was, for me, restricted to 160km.

The distance from Antwerp to Rotterdam is roughly 110km, but soon the numbers lessened and we found ourselves in the brightly lit city. Tall building stood on the banks of a river and bright fluorescent lights glittered in the dark. Surrounding the Central Station of the city were even taller buildings and apartments, some covered with floor-to-ceiling glass panels. The city was teeming with cyclists, and every so often you’d see what resembles a small torch moving towards you at great speed with bells chiming and it’s not until they came close that you’d figure out that it was a bicycle. Everyone is on their bikes, from the young chap to the ageing aunt. After that, we then set off for Zwijndrechtm, about 30km from Rotterdam and rested there for a while.

As soon as I stepped into the Netherlandian territory, an old female friend, A, came to my mind. Having lived there since her childhood, she was forever extolling the splendour of this land and its peaceful landscapes. We met an acquaintance of Osman in Zwijndrecht, and rested at his house. As I stood at the balcony of his apartment, a scene A described to me almost three years ago had now manifested itself right in front of me: beside the carriageway, tall chestnut trees with thick swaying branches that gently wafted with the breeze stood at the sloping banks of a large lake. The grass on the slope trailed down to touch the tip of the water, and beside each tree was a luminous lamp whose light shimmered and danced in the lake. The full moon that flamboyantly smiled on us from above, as well as the glowing red, green and yellow neon lights from the nearby shops were also reflected on the lake creating a mélange of all different colours. It would have been very still and calm, had the wind not rustled the branches every so often.

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The next trip is to Verviers, Spa and Liège, see you there…

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