Neither plastic nor living, our Christmas Tree this year was a stylized ornament in cast iron; raw and rustic looking. Yet, when supplied with 12 tealights, it managed to bring the perfect balance of stylishness, tradition and coziness. I’d rather have this than a plastic imitation. Christmas accomplished (thanks Jenna :).
Canada’s Parliament, in Victorian neogothic style, during a snow squall in late October. Very few people see this sight, preferring rather to stay in-door with something warm. To sensible people, this is a superior option. But then you do lose out on sights like these.
Figured I’d post this picture as well, from my trip to Senegal. It may please my readership to see me dirty, wet and humbled, crawling in the mud, hungry and forlorn, surrounded by dangerous beasts, deep in the African wilderness. Well, maybe next time. On this occasion, our vehicle got stuck in a mudhole. It was the wet season and we had passed through dozens of mudholes already, but if you only try long enough, eventually you shall get stuck. We tried to get it out (the guide and I, that is; Ben, of course, my friend and supervisor whose affinity for mud was less than mine (his fortitude, I daresay, is much diminished since taking up residence in Canada) , stayed in the vehicle the whole time) but it was late in the day and my stength abandonded me; we had to wait for a tractor to come and pull us out. I threw those socks away.
This little guy is a golden monkey, or more formally a patas monkey. Again, in Bandia Wildlife Reserve in Senegal.
Yes, it’s a zebra, wild and free… Well, can we really make the case that any animal today is truly free? Bandia Wildlife Reserve was not large. Especially in Africa and Europe. National parks and wilderness areas are more like fenced enclaves, little lungs of green space where animals can live ‘au naturel’. Nature no longer surrounds us, we surround nature. This really is the anthropecene: the human age. But not for this zebra: it’s the age of zebras, a great time for zebrakind. The leaves are green, hormones are flowing and those stripes really look fabulous on you dear, did you get them polished?
Ben, my awesome supervisor, took me on safari outside of Dakar in Bandia private game reserve. I also got to see more of Senegal (a bit more) than just Dakar — including hours of traffic jam to get there, lots of little towns and villages and a rolling, dry, bushy and undeveloped landscape, with the odd baobab tree (a fantastic wooden construction, several metres in diameter). An dried out radiator was also part of the experience, something we had to fix with bottled water (and a later visit to a service station).
The reserve was small, but had lots of animals: giraffes, monkeys, different types of antelope, rhinos, water buffalo and… hehe…. ostriches. This one didn’t care for us — it was maybe a metre away from the car when I took this picture. I quickly closed the window, and it started pecking :P
More animals coming.
Another picture from my little adventure in Senegal: the Goree Island art market. If you happen to be going to Dakar, do your art purchasing here, or at least the paintings (don’t forget to buy wood carvings on the mainland as well). Canvases hung everywhere, framed paintings littered the ground, all very bright and colourful, contemporary, decorated with stylistic figures doing traditional chores, or splashes of paint (though nicely done, not just any five-year-old with a paintbrush could have done it). The canvases were almost mass-produced, but as far as I could see, no two were alike, and there is no doubt the artists were accomplished. I don’t know what you would have to pay for the bigger ones, but I got three little paintings for (according to my wonky recollection) CFA 8,000 ($16 or so), but I miscalculated (handy excuse) so I offered more than I should. The guide was very anxious to move on.
I soon found out why we were in such a hurry: our guide also had a nice little tit-for-tat going on with a guy making sand paintings on top of the hill, and didn’t want us to miss the opportunity. What guided tour in the world does not end in the gift shop, or drop you by one? The paintings were quite nice (can’t show you, actually forgot to take a picture of the other paintings hanging there), thpugh, so I bought three small, rectangular ones (making a nice triptych); they had a more traditional “feel” (can’t you tell I’m an art expert already?) with stylistic figures (again) doing traditional chores (though quite different than the first three). I did better here, relatively speaking: half off the asking price (CFA 12,000, $24).
I left the island as quite the accomplished marathon-art-purchaser.
Gorée Island is a small but strategic former colonial bastion and slave island, belonging variously to the Dutch, Portugese and French, and finally the Senegalese. Gorée is infamous for being one of the slave shipping ports, though it is disputed how many slaves passed through the island. The red building in the picture is called the House of Slaves, and is supposed to have been where the slaves where jailed and shipped from (through the “door of no return”), though whether this house was actually used for that purpose is also disputed. It was hard to find reliable information on this topic. Slaves do appear to haved passed through the island, however, which was an important node in the colonial trade network in which slave trafficking was an important component.
Does it matter how many slaves passed through here? It still stands as a symbol of the triangular trade and the actions of its colonial masters. Today, however, the low and colourful colonial brick houses, surrounded by plants, trees and flowers, appears utterly idyllic and charming. With lots of bright and colourful art canvases hanging everywhere (in another picture, following soon) — for sale, of course — it was easy to forget this island’s sinister past. Unfortunately, I only had two hours on the island, and although it’s a very small place, it was not enough. I wish I had had more time there, but the guide was hustling and I had to get back to the city and more prosaic requirements (souvenir shopping) than pondering the juxtaposition between the tranquil beauty of Gorée Island today and it’s less than savioury past.
I travelled with work (IISD) to Dakar, Senegal, to attend a meeting in the West Africa Internet Governance Forum (I think I’ll write more about that later). I was there for seven days and eight nights, and I also had some time for sightseeing.
Dakar is a bustling place, teeming with people, not rich but not gratingly poor either. The picture is from a downtown shopping district with upscale stores, although you wouldn’t think so from the picture. The street was lined with vendors selling everything from used consumer electronics for locals to souvenirs and colourful fabrics for tourists, and the place was packed with people. Walking down the street, I came under a barrage of soliciting from eager hustlers and hawkers. In no place have I seen as persistent hustlers as in Dakar; on two occasions, I had a hanger-on for about an hour. Finally I learned the trick to avoiding that (a firm and curt no thank you, followed by complete disinterest — no point in being rude). Safety was never an issue — pickpocketing may exist but robberies do not, at least as such, though I did overpay for a couple of souvenirs.
Dakar was an extremely fascinating place to visit, full of contrasts, not least in the dresses worn by local women (they dressed so beautifully), and between the dirt of the city and the palmy shores of the ocean. I chose this picture because in a way it sums up Dakar — bustling and dynamic.
More pictures and reflections to follow shortly.
Here’s a photo from my most recent convocation. I graduated with an M.A. in Global Governance from the Balsillie School of International Affairs (University of Waterloo) in June (2010).
As an interesting side-story, the president of the university, David Johnston, handed me my diploma and we had a little conversation about IISD on stage, since he asked me what my plans were and I said I was going to work for IISD for the summer. He had been involved with the organization, but I forget how. Then a few of weeks later he was appointed the new governor-general of Canada!
A simple title for a simple motif: me.
Jenna took this picture of me in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Fort Niagara in the United States is in the background.
We tend to think of climate change as something that happens very slowly, over a very long time. We further tend to think that its more serious effects are still decades away. We are learning now that both assumptions are wrong. While scientists are getting a firmer understanding of how the climate works and how sudden and self-sustaining climatic changes can be triggered, it is becoming clear that climate change is in fact not decades away. For many, it is already here.