Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My Christmas Vacation

View Larger Map

Saturday, December 6, 2008

My Sick Links

I've been in bed the last few days with a cold, or "flu" as it's called in Zambian, and I've been obsessively reading blogs. I'm also getting better at the internet; I learned how to do this thing called "bookmarking." Seriously, I've never done it before. The following are some awesome things I "bookmarked" while sick.

The Places We Live
is a website of photos and audio from slums across the world. Part of it is interesting interactive photos of people's homes while they tell you about it. My favourite is the home built under a bridge in Jakarta. It's not what you think.

From the links section of that site I found Squatter City, a great blog about squatter and illegal settlement issues from around the world.

My housemate and ILouis have been obsessed with pirates of late. We trade news tidbits with a giddy sense of excitement. This Guardian article is one of the better ones. A straight up interview with a pirate about why and how he does what he does. Great people these pirates.

I haven't really been following Democracy Now since I've been in Lusaka but there's always some great stuff when I do go back like Mugabe vs Obiang and the double standard towards African dictators and a discussion about what's happening now that more journalists under repressive regimes are going online (hint: more journalists in jail).

The most fascinating thing that I witnessed in the last few days, however, is the Strange Maps blog. I've had a fascination with maps since I was very young, like drawing detailed fantasy maps on giant rolls of paper, and this managed to revive all kinds of super nerdy feeling that I'd forgot existed.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Baby Hawk on My Path

I don't really know how he got there but this little dude lunged at me this morning as I walked to the kitchen in the rain. He continued his assault as I took these photos. After he rain stopped he just disappeared. Everyone thought he must be a baby, including the maid's son who tried to pick him up but was too spooked by his snapping beak. My house-mate said that was the kind of bird that steals chickens.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Zambian Media Online

I wrote this for Journalists for Human Rights' Foreign Correspondence Site.

Central Lusaka is saturated with busy internet cafes. “Business centres” advertising copying, scanning and internet can be found in many of the richer neighbourhoods and shopping areas. My office has three competing wireless networks and so did my former flat. None of them were mine unfortunately but the point remains, Zambia—or at least a specific segment of urban middle class Zambia—is online.

The increasing availability of “high speed” internet—or just internet depending on your perspective—despite prohibitively high set up charges is creating a boom in Zambian online content.

There's a large Facebook presence with plenty of groups dedicated to the silly and serious. lists 1,300 blogs based in Zambia using its free software. This is misleading however as most are created by international volunteers and NGO workers who often keep a blog only as long as they stay in the country. Here's a great piece with links to the best Zambian blogs covering everything from politics (well duh) to conservation, football and music.

The rise of the Zambian blogosphere is not being matched by the major newspapers. Both the state-run Times of Zambia and the Daily Mail have horribly out-dated sites replicating their printed material in a mess of oldschool design and flashing banner ads. The weekly Lusaka Times is much better than the dailies with a blog format and a healthy comments section primarily from the Zambian diaspora in the US and Britain. The Post, the most widely read newspaper in Zambia promises a slick modern news site at first glance but asks you to pay as soon as you click on an interesting headline. At ten US dollars a month and available with credit card only I'm assuming that the site is meant to target the diaspora community.

The Post has everything to lose by alienating its domestic online readers. A strange fact of Zambian life is that internet is increasingly available in places where newspapers are not distributed. According to UNESCO, only 5 out of 1000 Zambians have access to a daily newspaper. Because of the underdeveloped road system, copies of the Post reach Chipata in the afternoon and barely reach outside the main cities at all except for days or even weeks later. Cellphone networks, however, cover almost the whole country and now with new inexpensive cellular modems, and internet cellphones, Zambians can, and do, plug into the internet almost anywhere.

The threat to the Post's future online hegemony are sites like The Watchdog and The Zambian: simple sites that embody many of the values of the new web. Both sites have existed for only a matter of months but have grown considerably. The Watchdog, tied somehow to a paper version I've never seen, is most like a traditional news site. By doing breaking news, criticizing official sources and encouraging reader response through comments it keeps me checking daily. Hopefully, with their small budget and tiny (2 people?) staff they'll increase their coverage.

The Zambian is a bit bewildering, something of a blog aggregator like, but also a social networking platform and a bit of a news site. They apparently have almost 800 users, though the daily activity is still low. If they can make it a bit more user friendly I'm sure it could really take off. If they can find a way to make money off their content they will be very successful.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dropping Truth Bombs

In an otherwise banal article from The Post about Patriotic Front MPs voting against the party line for salary increases, opposition leader Michael Sata drops a bomb.
Asked if he was disappointed that members of parliament went against his position on the issue of salaries, Sata said he could only be disappointed if he was not a Christian. He said the members of parliament were depriving Zambians representation because they were interested in serving their pockets instead of people.

"It's good that we have passed Easter because if not, we would have remembered Judas Iscariot. Jesus was betrayed by a Jew," Sata said.

I'm often baffled when the Zambian political discourse inevitably turns to bible verse but this one is particularly confusing. The tradition is that whoever quotes the book wins the argument, no questions asked. This leads to dodgy biblical analogies that rarely get challenged. In this case, I wonder, is Sata Jesus and the rebel MPs traitorous Jews or are the MPs Jesus and their constituents Jews. Who is betraying whom?

It doesn't really matter does it? Citing the Bible in politics is not meant to clarify, but to muddle. Mel Gibson would be proud.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cholera is gross

As I read about the Cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe I realised I had no idea what it was except that some how water is involved. Then I came across this old New Yorker article. omfg:

Cholera is a horrific illness. The onset of the disease is typically quick and spectacular; you can be healthy one moment and dead within hours. The disease, left untreated, has a fatality rate that can reach fifty per cent. The first sign that you have it is a sudden and explosive watery diarrhea, classically described as “rice-water stool,” resembling the water in which rice has been rinsed and sometimes having a fishy smell. White specks floating in the stool are bits of lining from the small intestine. As a result of water loss—vomiting often accompanies diarrhea, and as much as a litre of water may be lost per hour—your eyes become sunken; your body is racked with agonizing cramps; the skin becomes leathery; lips and face turn blue; blood pressure drops; heartbeat becomes irregular; the amount of oxygen reaching your cells diminishes. Once you enter hypovolemic shock, death can follow within minutes. A mid-nineteenth-century English newspaper report described cholera victims who were “one minute warm, palpitating, human organisms—the next a sort of galvanized corpse, with icy breath, stopped pulse, and blood congealed—blue, shrivelled up, convulsed.” Through it all, and until the very last stages, is the added horror of full consciousness. You are aware of what’s happening: “the mind within remains untouched and clear,—shining strangely through the glazed eyes . . . a spirit, looking out in terror from a corpse.”

You may know precisely what is going to happen to you because cholera is an epidemic disease, and unless you are fortunate enough to be the first victim you have probably seen many others die of it, possibly members of your own family, since the disease often affects households en bloc. Once cholera begins, it can spread with terrifying speed. Residents of cities in its path used to track cholera’s approach in the daily papers, panic growing as nearby cities were struck. Those who have the means to flee do, and the refugees cause panic in the places to which they’ve fled. Writing from Paris during the 1831-32 epidemic, the poet Heinrich Heine said that it “was as if the end of the world had come.” The people fell on the victims “like beasts, like maniacs.”

Not to sensationalize the Zimbabwe situation or anything. Apparently in modern times Cholera is amazingly easy to treat just by rehydrating victims. However, considering "you know who's" attempts to take Zimbabwe out of the modern world, things aren't looking so good especially with this rainy season now upon us.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rwanda vs France: What the Hell?

This keeps on getting weirder. Rose Kabuye, Rwanda's chief of protocol (no idea but it sounds important), is in front of a French judge now facing charges of inciting genocide. The thing is, this Tutsi and former Rwandan Patriotic Front member is widely regarded as having ended the genocide against her people.

She, along with president Kagame and anyone else in the former RPF leadership is charged by a French court for shooting down the plane that killed former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana. This is widely regarded as the excuse the Hutu power movement used to start massacring Tutsis in '94. The evidence, I'm told, is slim but let's just say, for the sake of argument, they're guilty.

The Rwandans (and a surprising number of French and international journalists, academics, soldiers and eyewitnesses) claim that the French are far more responsible for the genocide than they admit, calling for the arrests of former president Mitterand and other French politicians for aiding the Hutu Power movement prior to and through the height of the killings. The French are accused of supporting the genocidaires with a military intervention (called, of course, a humanitarian mission) and providing arms to the Hutu militias. Mitterand is commonly quoted as saying “a genocide in a place like Rwanda is no big deal” though this seems suspect. The evidence here is not slim, having been noted all over the place by just about everyone with a clear view of the conflict, except, of course, the mainstream media. Let's also assume France is guilty.

So the RPF, Tutsi exiles who eventually invaded Rwanda stopping the genocide and installing the current dictatorship, killed president Juvenal Habyarimana. Makes sense. Isn't that the point of a rebel group?

The French, a powerful capitalist state with important strategic interests in Sub Saharan Africa, militarily intervened in the conflict for their own economic good. Again, isn't that the point of the capitalist state: to promote its interests?

So both guilty parties did precisely what they were meant to do. Now France has dragged this Tutsi woman in front of a court accusing her of shooting the plane that sparked the Hutus to kill her people as an excuse to invade with the RPF. What the hell?

Even if she is guilty of the assassination how does that make her guilty of a totally premeditated, French funded, GENOCIDE against her own ethnic group. Amazing. What's the line again: "we condemn the apathy of the international community." What bullshit.

Update, now the Rwandan exile who is responsible for the statements from which the charge against Kabuye stems is denying the whole thing.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Father Charged With Sedition: Truth is no Defense

From the Watchdog:

Father Bwalya likely to be charged with sedition

By Lloyd Himaambo-Despite the riots that broke out early on Thursday in protest of the arrest of Catholic Priest, station manager for radio Ichengelo on the Copperbelt, the police will go ahead and charge the priest. The Watchdog has leant that Father Bwalya will be charged with sedition.

The Zambian penal code prohibits what it describes as sedition under section 57. Sedition in the code encompasses advocating for the desirability of overthrowing government, bringing into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against government and to raise discontent among the people of Zambia etc. The most critical aspect of sedition is that it does not recognize ‘truth’ as defense.

Frank Bwalya was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly inciting the public and police in the area say the Catholic priest has in the last few days been broadcasting messages that are likely to incite people.

Kitwe District Police Commanding Officer, Daniel Siame, told journalists that the 40 year old priest spent a night in custody in Kalulushi and will be charged after police record a warn and caution statement from him.

The police say that the priest has been broadcasting messages suggesting that the October 30 election was fraudulent.

Mr. Siame said Father Bwalya has also been heard through his broadcasts saying that the government is in office illegally.

They're charging a Catholic priest with sedition, a charge that doesn't recognize truth as a defense. So if by telling the truth you cause civil unrest that's grounds to be arrested for sedition. Interesting. By the way, I have no opinion on this; I'm cool with whatever Rupiah thinks.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Congo Situation is Baffling

Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda is telling the BBC reporter that he plans to march on Kinshasa claiming that he's not an agent of Rawanda and is in fact a proud Congolese. I'd been listening to Nkunda speak for weeks on the BBC. The radio gave me the impression that he could only be reached by smuggled audio recorder in some damp jungle camp. I was surprised then when I moved into my new house, turned on Al Jazeera and there he was, all fifteen feet of him, wearing his trademark late 90s R&B glasses and confidently posing for the world's cameras and chatting with reporters.

It's strange how world media digests this new fighting. Since the Rawandan genocide, Tutsis are considered the victims and Nkunda, with his media savvy but perhaps correctly, brands himself as a Tutsi defense force. Why then are they going to march on Kinshasa? Why is the entire region so afraid of him? Can someone fill me in?

In one of Stephanie Nolan's blog posts she mentions being stuck in a remote eastern Congo village with no power, water or food, yet she could read the New York Times on her Blackberry. With that in mind, take a look at Originally designed to monitor post election violence in Kenya, the site takes cellphone and web reports of violence and displacement and plots them on a map of the Lake Kivu region to give you a better idea of the geography of the conflict.

ps I stole that pic from the BBC website. It says Getty images on it if you look closely.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Some Afrocentric Links

Scarlett Lion is a very good blog (with photos) that I found through the Walrus website. The author takes her role as a Western journalist living in Africa very seriously; something I do not do. Maybe I should start.

A bumptious guide to book writing is an article mentioned on Scarlett Lion describing the pretentious flock of young men who aspire to write books about Africa and end up with "a manuscript that is all about you, with Africa as a picturesque backdrop to your macho derring-do." FYI I have no intention of writing a book but if I did, yeah, it would probably be as described above but weirder and not all that macho.

On that note, I genuinely enjoyed The Village of Waiting by George Packer which is a young man unashamedly writing about himself. In fact I routinely recommend this book to anyone who hasn't already been annoyed by my giddy lectures on, Darwin's Nightmare, my favourite documentary.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Gratuitous Fuzzy Animal Pictures

The lion is from a conservation/breeding place near Livingstone. The baboon is part of a pack that harasses tourists near Victoria falls. Minutes before he had stolen an ice cream off a girl, no joke.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Zambian Elections: nothing to worry about

As you're all trasfixed by Obama's million dollar ads I'm watching the Zambian chief of police on state television warning the electorate not to riot while images of policemen doing kung fu appear on screen and creepy music plays.

I attended a massive Patriotic Front rally on Wednesday which despite the warnings all that happened to me was having shake-shake spilled on my camera bag and later having my phone pick pocketed. Through the wonders of technology I'm going to get my old number back but for the time being you can find my temporary number on "friendster." The good news is I got some rather hilarious pictures which I'll post when my internet is up and running at midnight tonight.

They're currently counting the ballots and everything is peaceful as can be. I went to a polling station yesterday afternoon and there were no voters; only a fifty percent turnout overall. That means since voter lists weren't updated since 2006 and 3 million were registered, only about 1.5 million people voted in total for a country of about twelve million people. Nobody under the age of twenty was allowed to vote yet out of the ten thousand inspired young men at the rally wednesday I'd say most of them were in their late teens. Sata is already declaring the election void. We're all waiting to see if there'll be any unrest in the coming days. Most people think it will be well contained. It's certainly never been more peacful as it is right this minute.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rhino Attacks Man

The perils of Zambian press junkets.

Monday, October 27, 2008

October Links

So yeah, I read Stephanie Nolan's blog. She's the Globe and Mail's Africa correspondent.

The mainstream press considers this guy a nut for his claim that 50,000 native children were murdered under the residential school system. IMHO that makes him worth checking out. With all the news about mass graves and church complicity lately Hidden From History is a pretty good starting point for information about the Canadian genocide.

Masthead Magazine, the magazine about magazines is folding. Sorry Marco! There's a decent blog post about the implications for the Canadian Magazine industry on the Canadian Magazines blog.

End of the World

Did you know it hails in Zambia?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Awkward close up of Zambian opposition leaders

Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front is incredibly funny in person. He kept riffing on the idea of MMD members handing out condoms to their own kids. I understand why everyone on my corner loves him so much.

Hakainde Hichilema of the UPND party has a real burdened superhero look about him. If he wasn't so subdued all the time I could really see him wining.

I got caught in a press scrum outside the electoral commission with just my tiny point and shoot. They were there arguing against the printing of 600 000 extra ballot paper which the ECZ argues is needed for spoiled ballots and everyone else thinks is just an example of the MMD rigging the elections again.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nothing new

nope nothing here

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Micro-light over Victoria Falls

I really enjoyed this and I'm not usually into these things. Thank you Zambian ministry of tourism.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Zambezi

I've had some trouble uploading photos lately. Hopefully this makes up for it. I just returned from a weekend in Livingstone sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism. I'm pretty impressed with the place and was surprised how non-touristy this supposed tourist-town felt. That might have something to do with the dry season state of Victoria Falls or the general lack of development in Zambia overall. The paradox of neo-liberalism/public corruption (depending on your ideological perspective) is having brand-new private coaches driving down impossibly rutted public roads, and luxury lodges completely detached from public utilities.

This photo is of a team of hotel employees practicing for the Livingstone Boat Club's October 25 regatta, where they will compete against other service industry teams rowing inflatable rafts around a course on the Zambezi.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ricepaper: Fashion Accessory?

So this just made my week. From The Georgia Straight's Best of Vancouver.

Best Downsizing Of An Asian Canadian Magazine


During the past year, this locally based Asian Canadian arts and culture magazine went from the standard 8.5-by-11-inch magazine size to a literary-journal format of 6.5 by 9 inches. It also received an arty make-over to better suit its content. Now that it's easier to pop into your trendy bag or laptop case, it'll be easier to flaunt as a highbrow fashion accessory.

ps New issue out featuring a profile on local starchitect Bing Thom and probably some great new fiction and poetry (I don't really know cuz I'm in Zambia). Buy it here:

pps Thanks Dad and Megan for sending me the link.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Breaking News

No, not the picture. That's from Mwanawasa's funeral as we stood dejected after being told we couldn't enter the inner security perimeter and all of sudden the body whizzed past.

The breaking news is from a site called The Watchdog that monitors Zambian politics and stuff. The current top story has controversial (read violent populist) opposition leader Michael Sata challenging UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema to an HIV test and MMD leader Rupiah Banda to a cancer test. I think Jack Layton should take some notes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Eagle Pat Pat: Advertising in Lusaka

The first thing I noticed about Lusaka was the advertising. I hadn't been expecting so many images everywhere. Although there are some Clear Channel billboards around town, most ads are beautiful hand paintings one the miles of security wall that surround most homes and offices. I like this one for its scale, colours and of course the name: Eagle Pat Pat.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Photo Essay: How do you make food security sound exciting?

Take a look at my photo essay which I regretfully titled Food Security in the Luangwa Valley. I promise, it's more interesting than it sounds.

In other news, I'm pretty awestruck by Melita's Toronto Film Festival blog and of course Carley for helping create the site. I've spent about twenty thousand kwacha on internet time reading the thing.

On that note, I saw Taken last night and it was incredible. Offensive, yes, but also awe inspiring for its focus. The trailer has the ex-CIA dad on the phone to his daughter's kidnapper saying "I will find you and I will kill you" and SPOILER ALERT that's exactly what happens. I can't remember if he killed thirty or fifty people: there are no gray villains (Albanians), just evil ones and each deserves to die. It's an amazingly manipulative film and, I'm convinced, completely tongue in cheek.

I got into a debate afterwards with a German friend about the message of the movie which he argued, like any good sociology student, promotes American militarism, racism, sexism or whatever. In fact, the movie turns Albanians exclusively into violent sex-traffickers, the French into corrupt weak-kneed bureaucrats, Arabs into pervert sheiks and Paris into a kind of bourgeois sex-dungeon from which the incorruptible American male must save his daughter while passive aggressively battling his nagging ex-wife.

But this isn't just another dumb, racist thriller: it's either very clever parody or incredibly cynical. For example why does Liam Neeson (known for other trashy films like Schindler's List) play an American super-spy with a James Bond accent even when he's impersonating a French policeman and nobody notices.

The French stereotypes are particularly funny. This is a French film after all, produced and written by Luc Besson (I love The Fifth Element). Theres a scene where Neeson, impersonating a French police officer lectures Albanian sex-slavers on the immorality of immigrating to a country and leaching off the system, all the while demanding a bribe before he proceeds to torture the leader using electric shock therapy.

So French filmmakers cynically making a better no-holds awful American movie or actually a very good movie which most people will not see past the violence. Most reviews I've read think the first. I'm not sure.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Luangwa River Fishermen

Fishermen on the edge of South Luangwa National Park in eastern province Zambia.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

New Strategy: A Photo a Day

I've been told it helps to do things in small steps, so from now on I'll be updating my blog with one photo a day. It'll be mostly cuddly animals from my trip to Mfue but also some hard hitting political stuff too. Today, a photo from Levy's funeral. No, I wasn't invited but somehow the ornery security staff disappeared about 2/3 of the way through the program and we just walked in. These gentlemen, I'm told, are the heads of the Zambian armed forces.

Check out a longer piece I wrote on elephants and food security in the Luangwa Valley.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Levy We Hardly Knew You

Levy Mwanawasa
September 3, 1948-August 19, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Journalists for Human Rights Blog

I'll be posting articles, journals and photo essays on the JHR website from time to time. There's plenty of other great stuff there as well. Right now, I have photos and a journal entry about going to rural Zambia to look at some development projects.

Hole in the Wall

One of the rules of Feng Shui is that bad spirits travel in straight lines and anything in their path is prone to misfortune. That's why, for example, many Chinese restaurants will put a barrier in front of the door forcing you to go left or right as you enter and thereby neutralizing the bad luck.

A manifestation of this ancient principle happened last Friday, when a car driving down Martin Luther King Street (my street) approached the T-bone intersection with Roan Road and instead of slowing down, accelerated through the concrete block wall.

In my neighbourhood live former presidents, NGO czars, and affluent Zambians and is consequently a maze of walled compounds. From the street all one sees is ten-foot-high whitewashed walls, black gates and the occasional 4-wheel drive roaring past. For those without a car and driver it can be very oppressive. So it was almost therapeutic to walk out my gate Sunday morning and see this perfect Hulk-sized hole in the neighbourhood's armour.

With the car long gone, I could see my neighbours easy chairs and braii stand (barbecue). I felt the urge to explore further but right then a guard in fatigues and a beret popped up with his arms crossed. I decided not to take a photo.

There has been a guard standing there, in front of the hole, day and night now for almost a week and this morning for the first time there were men rebuilding the wall. By evening it should be secure again and the guard can finally move from that inauspicious spot.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Catching Up

No pictures today as my flash drive was stolen. This isn't a reflection on Zambian society, however, as I was the one that stupidly left it in the computer. Actually I'm starting to feel really comfortable here. I no longer grab my wallet as I walk down Cairo road and today I went tramping through the narrow alleys of Kamwala market by myself.

I made a friend named Joseph who runs a small clothing stall beside his wife's vegetable stand. We discussed different kinds of Zambian greens and how to cook them. I bought a bunch of sweet potato leaves which he explained had to be de-stemmed and cooked with tomato and onion.

There is another green that I've had in a restaurant which is boiled with a powder called soda to soften it and then mixed with ground peanuts. The end result is kind of an herbal peanut butter. That's next week's project.

Also at Joseph's stand were baskets of dried caterpillars and little fish called kapenta. He was surprised that I'd eaten kapenta before but was quite skeptical when I told him the Malaysian recipe of frying them with chillies and peanuts. The idea of eating it with peanuts somehow was super weird for him.

On the topic of comfort, Zambians have a hard time placing me. Someone in town shouted konichiwa at me today. Later, the traders under the railway bridge (probably the sketchiest of all Lusaka's touts) while yelling at me in Nyanja, said the word "Chinese." After I shook my head another guy yelled Korean, Japanese. Canadian took them by surprise. There's a lot of anti-Chinese feeling going about these days, and for pretty good reasons. China just happens to be the most visible face of the new colonialism here and are mistrusted. Most of the mining operations here were bought by Chinese companies when they were privatized and now China has a hand in many more sectors.

So yeah. More photos soon. Also, check out my stuff on

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

African Photo Diary Three: Kids

I took these in a rural area outside Lusaka while on a field trip with some German geogrpahy students. More on that trip later.

This kid calmly jumped into the back of the pickup with us. Zambians dress pretty well, but I think he just might be the best dressed kid in Zambia. Look how he rocks that yellow tartan and the two t-shirts, amazing. Unfortunately, I forgot his name.

This is the greatest graffitti found on the wall of a rural school:
Just in case u have forgotten
am Bob the game
Cash Money King
of the Daso

These kids stopped their game of scocer to watch us go by. I love the hand made nets.

African Photo Diary Two: The Economy

If some of these photos look like they were taken from the back of a moving pickup truck on a gray day it's because they were.

Many of the stores here have wicked paint jobs featuring all the great stuff you'll find inside. Also, I love that font.

Zambian women have a superhuman ability to carry massive weights on their heads for great distances. Notice the busted cars in the background.

Not sure what the trailer is about but the ad on the right is for Shake Shake, the local millet beer that apparently tastes like yogurt and has grainy bits floating in it. I haven't yet gotten the nerve up to actually enter places that sell it so you'll have to wait to hear how it stands up to Kokannee. Mosi Lager, the other popular beer here, is actually much better than the vast majority of Canadian ones.

Just doing the laundry.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

First Week Notes: Fifty Billion Zimbabwean dollars

I saw a fifty billion dollar Zimbabwean note yesterday. No, that isn't a mistake: 50,000,000,000 Zimbabwean dollars. A five and ten zeros. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what inflation was, but this completely baffles me. Something that cost one Zimbabwean dollar before is now fifty billion times more expensive? What does that mean? Are Zimbabweans fifty billion times poorer than they were before?

Could someone better versed in economics please explain this to me?

Another baffling thing, this time Zambian, is the price of living in Lusaka. According to the United Nations Human Development Index, 94 per cent of Zambians live on less than two dollars a day. I spend more than two dollars a day on local minibusses. The cola I'm drinking just put me back a buck fifty and my meal of cornmeal and chicken another two.

Someone told me, on good authority, that Lusaka is the fortieth most expensive city in the world and I believe it. Lusakans drive mostly late model Japanese cars if they aren't four wheel drive Land Rovers or shiny pickups. The shopping malls here feel ominously like home but most insane is the price of gas: almost double the Canadian average.

What I'm not seeing, of course, are the large townships, or “compounds”, spreading westwards from town. The ones that if you zoom in on Google Earth contrast with the genteel grid of eastern suburbs because of their anarchic streets and d.i.y. rooftops. Here people can survive, I'm told, on 5000 kwacha, worth of corn meal with a smattering of fresh vegetables and dried fish or chicken for protein. That's less than two dollars.

Monday, July 28, 2008

African Photo Diary One: Zebras and Giraffes

I know you've all been wondering what I've been up to since arriving in Zambia and I think it's only appropriate that I get through all the clichés in the first few posts. We were booked for the first week into a place south of Lusaka that had wild animals on the property. Kinda like a national park but smaller with a bunch of little huts and a bar that played the Euro top 40 music videos. Here's some photos, with the customary black and white shot of Zebras.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Harnessing Qi to Burn Paper: From Ring of Fire

I watched the documentary Ring of Fire: East of Krakatoa as a young child. I was at an age where everything was mysterious and possible, especially after having lived in a country like Indonesia where, as clichéd as this is, traditional beliefs still had a prominent place in people's minds.

At that time I could accept the idea of a man burning things with only his hands as just another new thing I'd learned about the world. For years after I quite firmly believed in Qi and harnessing energy through meditation. Slowly through socialization and school I completely forgot about it and if you asked me last week I'd have said I didn't. Last night, for some reason, this came up at a party and remembering the film I argued that people can set things on fire using just body energy. Of course everyone laughed at me. Well here's the video.

There are many things that science has only vague notions of but that are explained in traditional healing traditions as mystical and secret. The conclusion is that things like Qi do exist but they haven't yet been explained by science. In fact, under Canadian health insurance you are fully covered if you go to an acupuncturist for treatment. Many people I know swear by it, and it certainly helped my dad's back problems. The acupuncturist's practice is based on the same principles as the man's in the video.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

My Ryerson Review of Journalism Pieces

The highlight of my time at the Ryerson Review of Journalism were a couple of articles analyzing Vancouver's media.

The most substantial was a 4000 word behemoth on the Globe & Mail's attempts to establish themselves as a truly national newspaper (Canada isn't Ontario FYI) by looking at their somewhat futile efforts to woo Vancouver readers. It took months to research and write and, in the end, was largely inconclusive about whether it was a success or not. The real conclusion was that CanWest, with their monopolistic ways, will control the Vancouver market for many years to come. Patricia Graham, EIC of the sun, wrote a rather angry letter to the editor calling me a hack. Something about "standards free journalism." I'm quite proud actually.

My other RRJ favourite was an online feature, about the WestEnder's attempt to rebrand themselves as an alternative weekly and compete with the Georgia Straight. I'm pretty sure, mostly judging by their covers, that the WestEnder has gotten a lot worse since I wrote the piece. Interestingly enough, a piece in 2007's Langara Journalism Review throws a new lead on it, shortens it and ends up with a vaguer, sourceless and out of date version of my article. I'm not saying it's plagiarism, just lazy. Don't take this as a slur against the Langara J-School, a lot of good writers come out of it, in fact I'm anxiously waiting fo the 2008 LJR which has a story by Jackie Wong about the travails of alternative media types living in Vancouver. I'm apparently one of the main characters.

Sting and the Police Live in Vancouver

I originally wrote this review for Streethawk Magazine but since that's not really around for much longer I thought I'd preserve it perpetuity right here on my totally for profit blog. At the time, this was the first Police live review since the mid eighties.

The Police - Secret Fan Club Show

May 27 @ GM Place

If you're like me, born after the Police released their last album, Sting's solo career can get in the way of truly appreciating the band. Yes, there were some moments the other night when I heard new-age "Desert Rose" Sting, but for the most part, it felt like a genuine throwback.

Although he held back early on (the vocal delivery on “Don't Stand So Close to Me” sounded like recent jazzier stuff), by the later hits, Sting was in fine form, hitting all the high notes and sounding remarkably like Luke Jenner from The Rapture.

Stewart Copeland is a phenomenal drummer. On a few songs, he reverted to a percussion platform outfitted with timpanis, a massive gong, and strings of cymbals that, with help from hydraulics, rose above the stage. Summers' guitar playing, by comparison, was just okay. His status as a jazz musician shone through but sounded too messy at times, and some of the reworked songs fell flat, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” sounding particularly uninspired.

If there was any tension between the band, it came from Copeland's antics, which included throwing drum sticks mid-song at Summers and taking the time to run around the massive stage childlike, waving his arms, claiming "you don't know what it's like being stuck behind that drum set." Sting, like an embarrassed aunt at a picnic, kept his head down, pretending to fiddle with his bass.

There were a few glitches to work out, as the concert was essentially a dress rehearsal for Monday’s paying crowd, but the band managed to shrug it off:
Sting: "That was kind of dodgy, no?"
Summers: "Hey, did we make some mistakes?"
Crowd Roars
Sting: "Give me a break, it's been twenty five years."

The arena-sized crowd didn't care really – the audience consisted mostly of fan club members, many of whom had probably been waiting their entire lives for this moment. It was the kind of crowd that would have forced an encore, even if two hadn't already been planned.

They even tolerated the (unforgivable in my mind) extra long breakdown in the middle of Roxanne where the band churned out atmospheric mush while Sting fumbled for lyrics and the stadium suffocated under tacky red lighting. It meant, however, that when the one-drop beat came back in and the urgent white-boy reggae wailing started again, it was that much sweeter.

By the end of the night, as the three members embraced on stage, there was absolutely no question in anyone's minds as to why the Police are one of the most successful pop bands of their generation.

-- AL

Better Business Practices for Freelancers

The second article I wrote from the conference was about better business practices for freelancers. I'm pretty sure I'm hopeless as a freelancer. Doing my taxes is painful enough without having to figure out GST or saving receipts.

Photos From the Western Magazine Awards

Apparently I'm also a freelance photographer. See my photos from the Western Magazine Awards reception on the Masthead Magazine site.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Secrets to Search Engine Optimization

Here's my latest service piece for Masthead Magazine where I regurgitate some of the lessons I learned at Magazines West, the conference component of the Western Magazine Awards. I go step by step on how to attract more visitors to your site.