Monday, December 1, 2008
Of camels, climates and politics
Life, as they say, throws up its anomalies. I’m in the UK for a period of work which has taken me to the north. After an over night flight from a hot, humid Ghana, I am stuck in a hotel that will never be graced by adjectives of approbation. One minute I am moving slowly through an Accra heat, only ever picking up speed when I’m maintaining a semblance of fitness in a swimming pool, while half-listening to chanting evangelicals, their hymns punctuated by tropical birdsong (like tiny drops of ice being poured into an inkwell or a piercing three note warning call which also raises me from slumber at 5-45 every morning) and the next I am in a land that seemed almost to have faded from memory. Except the grey drizzle and the frozen wind come forcefully back in a déjà vu moment. The world of red-red stew and grasscutter soup is replaced by micro-wave heated processed fish and chips, mash potato and sausages and something called goo-johns which four people at the next table order. The wedding celebration has left the bar in some distress, with balloons half-deflated, ribbons trampled into the carpet and a few hangers-on talking loudly about what has just occurred or bitchily about the people who have attended. I particularly noted the Alan Bennett-like comment, “She doesn’t work in a shop, Jimmy, it’s a boutique!”
The taxi driver had spent most of the journey from the station to the hotel venting his equal hatred of Gordon Brown and Margaret Thatcher; bungs, lobbying and general corruption which was, at least, comparable to conversations I have had recently concerning Ghanaian politics where both major parties talk about ending patronage based on bribery and its grease-my-palm tribal feudalism. The national election takes place next week and ‘the youth’ (a Ghanaian phrase for unstable post-adolescent gangs) are paid one way or another by the self-same parties to turn up at the polling stations to intimidate, cajole or seduce the electorate. There is talk about the outbreak of ‘war’ again (similar to the disturbances in Nigeria). From my naïve perspective, it’s the usual rock and a hard place choice between the incumbent NPP conservatives who keep the peace but embrace the worst excesses of multi-national Corporates and Chinese and US imperialism and the socialist NDC opposition who shared wealth while imprisoning intellectuals and bumping off judges last time they had control.
The shift from the politics of oppression to something approaching civilised tolerance is often invisible in Africa. But then it is so in the West, too, only there social conventions give it a labyrinthine gloss under which the poor and ill-educated suffer without a voice or much hope. There are entrenched, vested interests in both worlds and they are intent in keeping things that way. Humans are capable of anything.
To finish this meander on a slightly lighter note, the treatment of children HAS moved from oppressive to humane as a result of world scrutiny in the rich Arab regions, where camel racing is the gamblers’ preferred arena. Recently, children rode these foul-spitting and halitosis-ridden humps round a track at ungainly speeds, now they are mounted by robots, chased by air-conditioned four wheel driven cars, whose owners press remote controls to operate the toddler-replicants’ whips and whisper imploring instructions into microphones that are broadcast via implanted micro-speakers in the camels’ ears.
“Go through the eye of that needle, camel!”