Friday, December 17, 2010

Ciao Asmara by Justin Hill

Reading 'Emperor' by Ryszard Kapuscinski not only opened my eyes to some of the contrasting reports on the reign of His Imperial Highness, Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, but also made me realise how little I knew about the tiny nation of Eritrea.

Indeed, I have many students who have some Eritrean descent and so I sought a book that would provide me with an outsiders view. After rummaging around Amazon I found 'Ciao Asmara'.

'Ciao Asmara' is an account of a stay by Justin Hill who went to Eritrea a fews years after independence from Ethiopia in order to teach at a school in a town called Keren.

Hill charts his eyes being slowly opened to many of the issues existing within the country in the late 1990s: Eritrea's fixation with the glory of independence, the government's neglect of people who were not involved in fighting "in the field", a lack of forward thinking by the government in terms of economic development and the deeper scars of the bloody conflict with Ethiopia.

The story starts with the same level of romanticism that any mzungu in Africa feels when they first arrive - everything seems simpler and more beautiful. The real art of this text is that you really sense Hill's growing disillusionment with Eritrea by the time of its conclusion.

A genuinely emotional and thought-provoking read.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Asmara: The Frozen City by Stefan Boness

Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, is a city that has captured my imagination to great extent, this is in spite of never having been there.

The city itself was once the jewel in the colonial Italian crown and as a result has acquired many aspects of Italian culture into its everyday being. This ranges from the café culture on the wide boulevards to the splendid examples of Italian Art Deco architecture.

The years have not been kind since the time of the Italian occupation. His Imperial Highness Haile Selassie and later the military dergue that ruled Eritrea as a province of Ethiopia neglected and repressed the region and years of revolutionary conflict against Ethiopian rule resulted in time, and architectural fashion, passing Asmara by.

This book documents the remnants of that Italian Art Deco foray into East Africa in photographic for, with some contextualising words, in order to highlight just how frozen in time many aspects of architecture in Asmara continue to be to this day.

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuściński

Having read Ryszard Kapuściński's book on the early days of Angolan independence, I saw fit to indulge myself by purchasing his journalistic testimony on the last days of His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I, the last Emperor of Ethiopia.

What little I knew I Haile Selassie focused around the Rastafarian movement's reverence of him and their collective perspective on him being a living deity, and also the idea that he was a direct descendant of the biblical King Solomon.

Suffice to say, this does not prepare you for the true complexities of life in the Royal Court of Ethiopia: the division of time between various ministries such as the Hour of the Assignments; the feeding of the pet Lions and Flamingos whilst receiving informants' reports; the deep annoyance at Jonathan Dimbleby's reports on hunger in the north of the country; the infighting and corruption between ministers.

A lot of the tale is told by former workers at the palace and fittingly ends with the the Emperor's personal valet, 'L.M', who was the last man in the palace with him as the monarchy finally ended. As a result, the storytellers hold a lot of bias in favour of the Emperor, such as proclaiming, inferentially at least, that it was partially Dimbleby's fault that the monarchy collapsed.

You know how the tale is going to end, and, if it wasn't for Kapuściński filling in gaps in the narrative detailing Haile Selassie's flaws, you would be left feeling entirely sad that this ancient dynesty came to the end that it did.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Les Journaux Africains: Green Hills Hotel, Kabale, Uganda - 18.02 06/04/2010

The end of the first school day seemed to beckon the sunshine for brief super-hot cameo following an afternoon of intermittent heavy showers.

Although there is always the option of a lovely walk home from KHS, I opted for the services of a boda-boda - Uganda's answer to both a taxi and a rollercoaster.

With the ground drying rapidly and the air full of steam, a group of mechanical buzzing hornets appeared in the distance, at first only audibly, before coming into view coughing there way up the hill in a cloud of very toxic-looking smoke.

I have taken boda-bodas before, and many of the students had used on to get up the hill from the nursery school to Green Hills yesterday after the ice-breaking activities, but this doesn't come near to the thrill of going down a long, winding, bumpy and well-populated road from school into town.

After the noise of their ascent, the chilling silence of the coasting boda-bodas, punctuated only by the rattles of the frame during the descent is unnerving.

I would love to capture the journey on video, and if it was my dad at the controls I probably would, but here I simply hang on for dear life to the grip handles and/or my cowboy hat.

The hairpin bend halfway down the hill, with its high vantage point and slight banking, commands beautiful views over the lush green valley towards Green Hills, but there is barely time to notice it!

Tonight, Grace and Ruth are coming to dinner at Green Hills and I'll try calling Jeannie, in London, from Uganda, with my Rwandan SIM card.
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