Thursday, December 27, 2012

Just One Moment, 2012.

Marafiki: Salaam. 

A month ago I had the skeleton of a post about the end of the year all drafted up. It was pure 'officialdom,' using social media for professional puffery purposes. I was going to list some of the highlights of the year in a way that might encourage opportunities to come this-a-way. Don't get me wrong, still going to do that. But it can wait. Tonight I want to revisit the original philosophy of the blog and just missive from the heart.

How are you doing, reader? It's only a couple of days until this year ends. Gosh, I hope it's treated you well. 2012 has been an "experience." on my side. Yes, that is indeed a euphemism :) Wrote a pretty light-hearted piece for the EA making fun of the 2012 doomsday prophecies. I will be glad to see this year go. For someone who won't go to church for fear of mystikal mumbo-jumbo, I confess to liking a bit of astrology from time to time*. If this is the Age of Aquarius finally coming along it sure brought some adjustments along with it.

That phrase: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" pretty much captures it. I just got back from Christmas in Arusha this evening and drove homewards through the city at dusk, when the light of Dar es Salaam turns a shade of honey gold that bathes the city in sweetness. The full moon was hanging low in the sky, about the size of a hundred shilling coin. It was like looking into the face of a beloved one- I fell all over again. 

I know that life can be, uh, colorful anywhere in the world. But there is something about living here: salt is saltier, rapture is keener, grief so acute and life so impossible, so immediate. So this hoary goat of a year- 2012, Gregorian Calendar- dragged me in its wake. And it's ending. And all I can think of is grappling with the coming year, as long as it is in this cruel mistress of mine, Dah!-Slam.

Wherever you are, I hope you are also in love. A person, a city, an artistic or intellectual pursuit... so long as you're impassioned and generously rewarded by life for it. And may next year be one of the good ones. Keep reading, use the comments button if the spirit moves you, and by God if you live here go outside right now and look at that fricking full moon. It's gorgeous tonight. 

*Yeah, listen; astrology might be dodgy as all hell. But here's what's working in it's favor: if we're made up of carbon atoms and our bloodstreams respond to the pull of the moon like tides, is it really that crazy to think that maybe there's something about the ticking of the solar system around us that affects us directly? The improbability of life on this chunk of rock is pretty finely tuned stuff and it does involve things way outside... let me just stop here before y'all think I'm about to plait bells into my hair and try to live on pure water and prime vibrations from the aliens that live under the earths crust :)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Musings on the Fourth Estate

I was asked point blank about a month ago: "what can be done to improve investigative journalism in Tanzania?" and I was surprised into answering that "I have no idea." This has been eating away at me for weeks. I wondered if I had inadvertently implied that this couldn't be done at all. Which isn't the case.

I spent years chained to a desk absorbing reams of newspaper, sifting through to find gold nuggets of solid work. Not to mention getting involved in scheme after training scheme with exactly this in mind: raising the quality of journalism in Tanzania. All of which resulted in my first white hair popping out before the age of thirty- and we don't grey early in my gene pool.

But recently I did a 'little' assignment that involved assessing yet another attempt to improve the quality of journalism in TZ. Somewhat against my will, if I am honest: previous experiences were caution inducing. But it only took one hour to re-ignite my foolish passions. Would this work, I wondered. Might this one client actually transcend the limitations that the others succumbed to and make a real go of it? Several days later, the results were in: Yes.

It is possible to work towards an improvement in the quality of investigative journalism in Tanzania. But it's bitching hard work and requires the kind of commitment that separates the passionate from the trend-followers. There are a couple of organizations that I admire in this area, but then they've got the heart and 200% effort mentality that's needed. It's a tough and tricksy job, like training cats. Can be done, but it's not easy and certainly not fast...

So to go back to the beginning. What I should have said when asked "what can be done to improve investigative journalism in Tanzania?" could have been more savvy. I could have answered 'gimme your dollars and i'll guide you through the process- Consultant Style. Heeeeeey, sexy Lady!" (Ride imaginary horse for ten seconds now. Consultant Style!).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Weekly Sneak: Not A White Christmas, For Christ's Sake

Warning: serious grinchiness about to happen. If you're a Holiday Cheer Nazi, please more right along to happyland elsewhere. Unwarning.

It's not a complete abdication of joy yet: there are parts of my cold, cold heart that thaw slightly at the prospect of holiday feasting. And only an absolute ghoul wouldn't enjoy the wonderment and energy that many children invest in the Christmas season before they realize that Santa doesn't exist*. Other than that, the best thing that I can rouse myself to say about Christmas is that it marks the big yearly slow-down before the hectic energy of a new year. 

For reasons that will remain undisclosed, late December brings with it a pretty dark philosophical mood for me. I have come to appreciate the other members of the Grumpy About Christmas Club for their level heads and cool temperaments and sentiment-free conversation during these treacly times. This year since I'm feeling particularly feral, Jim Reeves and his crooning about a (are you (*&^* kidding me! In Dar!) White Christmas have been more vexatious than normal. It just seems to condense everything that wrong about the life unexamined:
"Jim Reeves and reindeer are a great metaphor for some of the contradictions in our chosen process of modernization. If one-horse open sleighs are exotic in the countries where they used to work in the first place, can you imagine just how much further a Bongolander living below the equator must travel in their imagination to grasp the experience of dashing through the snow? But we dutifully pay our respects to these rituals nonetheless. Are we so keen on reproducing standardized measures of success that we don't spend too much time asking the awkward but necessary questions? Where might this habit of emulation take us, eventually?"
For extra fun, I managed to work in the phenomenon of public shootings that's kicking the stuffing out of America at present. Oh, I could go on but it would end up with an examination of Christianity and everything that's wrong with religion. Which isn't a fight I want to have here and now- I am saving my venom for the first smug (expletive deleted) who pisses me off over a chicken pilau dinner.

Happy (clear your throat) Holidays, comrades. Keep it real. A Lutta Effing Continua.

*And ain't that just a bitch. Welcome to crises of faith, kids. :)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Weekly Sneak: ...Oops.

This year I completely forgot Tanganyika's Independence Day when writing the column for the EA. Which is a really embarrassing slip-up: one of the underlying motivations that helps me survive a weekly deadline come hell or high water is my pro-Tanzanian agenda in the regional newspaper. But I have just committed the kind of offense that gets one thrown out of the patriot club. 

Of course I have excuses and stuff. But underlying them all is the fact that... well, 51 years. It's easy to come up with grand statements for a major jubilee, but every year? Ha! Last year was a fever of anticipation. This year is like the early hours of the morning after a great party: still picking up plates and glasses, kind off exhausted, quiet.  Nonetheless I took the opportunity to address one of my greatest irritations: our intractable belief that the government should fix our problems: 
"It can't be enough to mark our progress according to what the state hasn't done for us lately. More interesting would be to mark what it is that we have done for ourselves, each year, until that becomes habit. So we spent the first half century learning how to function independently from the imperial powers. We can spend the next few decades learning to reduce our dependence on our increasingly problematic government, and get rid of at least some of the general discontent before it gets too bad. Also: we could stand to have a national concert on Independence Day, we're practically overrun with musical talent. And because surely this 1960s approach to national celebrations could do with a bit of 21st Century polish, for the sake of our collective enjoyment."
Hey. Retro chic is always good with me, I like nostalgia. But if the anticipated fifth administration doesn't radically revamp the independence day celebrations at our brand new (Chinese donated) national stadium, it's really going to a sign that we've voted in the wrong kinds of people. I've already given up on the fourth and it's limited imagination.

A little birdie told me...

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