Saturday, 30 June 2007

PhotoHunter: sweet

"One more, and this the last. So sweet was ne'er so fatal."

Shakespeare: Othello: Act 5, Scene 2.

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste.

Shakespeare: Sonnet 30

Remembrance of things past is right I'm afraid. Long gone!

But it was a sweet thought from a sweet son.

Friday, 29 June 2007

Dr Bogaletch Gebre

Bogaletch Gebre grew up in rural Ethiopia where girls were not encouraged to attend school. In an effort to continue her studies she had to pretend to be fetching water when she went to lessons. Eventually she won scholarships and studied in Israel and the US, then started raising money to set up a women’s self help group, Kembatti Mentti Gezzimma, in Ethiopia. Her aim has been to empower people to make their own decisions, to strengthen women’s rights and combat female genital mutilation (FGM).

Rather than imposing solutions to problems, the group provides health, vocational, and environmental programmes which enable women make informed deicions for themselves. It is important to remember that people in rural villages may be illiterate, but that does not mean they are not intelligent.

Dr Gebre herself suffered FGM as a child, and two of her sisters died in childbirth as a result of complications caused by it. She says that fundamentally people do not want to cause any harm to their children so that when you get people talking about FGM they will ultimately reject it. Reform is achieved by addressing it as a problem not only for the individual, but also for the family and the community as a whole. The approach is based around community discussion groups.

Dr Gebre believes that gender discrimination is as harmful as racial discrimination and that educating women will lead to a far better society:

Mothers are primary educators whether or not they are so recognized, and whether or not they live in a literate or an oral society, or in something in between. If we truly desire to build a peaceful society, women as primary educators of young children are in the best position to begin the nurturing of peaceful people. But to be effective as teachers of peace they must be respected as women, and have access to education themselves.
From a recent article in The Lancet. Registration is required to read the article but it is free. It is also well worth while reading the longer account of how the self-help group started.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

She has your eyes!

Another condom advertisement, this time the product is from Holland I think, but the advertising agency is in Belgium.

It is apparently so effective that in the first week, traffic to the site increased by 77% and nearly 3000 online orders were placed.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Dr Sébastien Madzou

Dr Pierre Foldès, although probably the most well know, is not the only surgeon in France to perform reconstructive surgery for women who have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM): in Angers there is Dr Sébastien Madzou.

He had originally read an article about Dr Foldès in a women’s magazine. Although Dr Madzou originally comes from the Congo, where FGM is not practised, he frequently comes across circumcised women in his gynaecology clinics so he got in touch to find out more. Dr Foldès asked if he would like to be trained in the technique and now Dr Madzou himself trains others.

The first surgeon he trained was a colleague, Dr Ouedraogo, with whom he had studied in Tours. Dr Ouedraogo suggested Dr Madzou go with him to Burkina Faso where he has now trained about 25 surgeons in the technique. Of these, 6 or 7 are women, though there appears not to be any concern amongst patients over having a male surgeon.

In an article by Habibou Bangré on (in French), Dr Madzou tells of his time in Burkina Faso. His patients of all ages came from all levels of society, having heard about the operation by word of mouth. Although he worked without charging fees, there nevertheless was a cost to the patients, however it was obviously considerably less that travelling to France. He even had one patient from Belgium who travelled specifically for the operation, and another from the USA who happened to be visiting relatives when she heard about it.

In France he works at Centre Hospitalier Universitaire d'Angers, 4, rue Larrey 49933 Angers. His own contact details.

A plague of locusts

Locusts are a type of grasshopper which can breed very rapidly. Swarms of adults or bands of nymphs can travel extremely fast up to 130km a day and the swarm itself can measure from one to several hundred kilometres in length, posing a serious threat to agriculture.

According to the FAO, locusts regularly cross the Red Sea (a distance of 300km). A swarm can hold up to 80 million locust adults in each square kilometre, and is capable of destroying a crop field in seconds. A small swarm can eat as much food in a day as 2,500 people.

This year’s desert locust problem has proven particularly bad after heavy rains around the Horn of Africa and the interior of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, providing suitable conditions for the locusts to breed.

As long ago as March of this year the FAO warned that there was a locust infestation developing in the Horn of Africa, which could cause a serious problem in Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan. It was the result of breeding from an outbreak in December in Eritrea.

In April the Yemen government was concerned but specialists said the locusts didn't pose an immediate threat, but that the next generation could.

By 8 May there was a further warning for Eritrea followed by one for Yemen where they had been seen laying eggs.

By 16 May locust invasions in Tajikistan had destroyed crops and cotton plantations over an area of almost 45,000 hectares. It is thought that this year’s locust invasion is related to the drought that has affected the area over the past two years. The locusts usually concentrate on mountain pastures and forests but when there is no grass as a result of drought they migrate to feed on agricultural crops.

In June Kyrgyzstan managed to combat the worst of a locust infestation in the south of the country they but remain as a threat in other regions. Locusts are a major current threat to Kyrgyzstan’s agriculture sector, which accounts for about one third of the country’s gross domestic product and 50 per cent of employment.

Also in June Yemen’s Desert Locusts Control Centre asked the government to increase its budget after the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said Yemen was facing its worst locust infestation in nearly 15 years. In collaboration with the Yemeni government, it is to launch a major eradication effort against desert locusts in eastern Yemen.

Today it was reported that a swarm of locusts had infested parts of Somalia's self-declared autonomous region of Puntland in the northeast, destroying crops and other vegetation, "There are millions of them and they are spreading to most of the region's farmland," said Muse Gelle, governor of Bari region. "There had been reports of locusts for about a week but the main body appeared three days ago and is eating anything that is green."

As the UN Special Humanitarian Envoy to the Horn of Africa said, that area has suffered some of the most severe food shortages, which are increasing in intensity and frequency as a result of climate and environmental change as well as political conflicts and other factors.

Some of the figures from the various reports are almost unimaginable, so the devastation must be more so. As if those parts of the world don’t have enough on their plates already.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Plumpy'Nut the wonder food

Photo from Nicholas Reader/IRIN

Severe acute malnutrition kills an estimated one million children each year, according to UNICEF.

Plumpy'Nut is a nutritional product, a ready to use therapeutic food, designed to save the lives of starving children. The recipe was devised by André Briend, a paediatric nutritionist working in Malawi. He had attempted many different ways of providing enough nutrients to severely malnourished children without them having to be admitted to a treatment unit. The story goes that he had an inspiration when looking at a jar of Nutella, a chocolate spread.

After ten years of development, the product is now proving revolutionary. Its great advantages are:
  • no water has to be added, reducing the risk of infection
  • the child can stay at home even if hygeine conditions are not perfect
  • it comes in foil covered bars or in plastic containers
  • it can be stored in tropical conditions for 3 - 4 months
  • it is palatable and soft
  • can be eaten by children over 6 months of age
  • children like it
And most of all, you have to love the name!
Full report from IRIN

Girl dies undergoing FGM in Egypt

An eleven year old girl died on Thursday in Egypt while undergoing female genital cutting in a private clinic. This happened in spite of the procedure being banned in Egypt.

If anything good can be said to have come of it, it is that the leaders of both the Islamic and the Coptic Christian groups in Egypt have made statements to say that neither the Koran nor the Bible mention female circumcision.

The full report from Reuters also states "The practice is performed on both Muslim and Christian girls in Egypt and Sudan, but is extremely rare in most of the rest of the Arab world. It is also common in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia."

On 2 June 2007 Mustafa Afifi, in The Lancet, says "Research from Egypt has shown that highly empowered women were eight times less likely to intend female genital mutilation (FGM) for their daughters than those less empowered" and that while there is "strong evidence of the link between the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG-1) of poverty reduction and MDG-3 of women's empowerment, it is not enough."

He also says that talks in churches and mosques would be more likely to have a positive effect on women's attitudes than mass media campaigns (this includes television programmes aimed at persuading parents not to continue the practice), and that passing a law forbidding the practice will not change entrenched values, so "the battle cry should start from the community".

Although this is a very powerful means of communication, no one line of attack is likely to be heard by everyone who has any bearing on the matter, so all of them must be used. Different things influence different people. As Che Guevara said "let it be welcome if our battle cry has reached even one receptive ear and another hand reaches out to take up our arms".

Sunday, 24 June 2007


Today I was going to translate a load of comments from Papillon's blog (I don't know why I find them so difficult, but I do) and I had quite a number of apparently sensible posts composed in my head , not to mention transforming our little terrace garden into Villandry in miniature.

I did manage to trim the hedge but still don't understand how I consistently fail to achieve straight lines and sharp corners. Everything I do is rounded and fluffy. Everything in Villandry looks as though it has been done with a ruler, compass and set square.

So then we decided to barbecue the sardines we had bought. Excellent, and the cat enjoyed the one that dropped on the ground as a suitable reward for protecting us from wild lizards.

Then suddenly it was 6:00 pm and people were coming round for drinks, and then suddenly it was 9:00 pm and we were admiring the sunset.

Now it is 11:00 pm. Tomorrow is another day.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

My babies

I spotted the nest not the most tidy (in fact it resembles the Hanging Gardens of Babylon), in a ventilation duct when I was investigating why a bird was being so noisy.

You can just about spot two mouths ready to accept any offerings. There may be others but I don't want to disturb anyone.

This is the mother, rather shy.

And this is the father, rather grumpy. He keeps saying tck, tck, tck.

I believe they are black redstarts but I am happy to be corrected if anyone knows better. Unfortunately they refused to pose for good portraits.

We won't be able to leave the nest where it is, but of course we'll wait until the babies have flown before we do anything.

Friday, 22 June 2007

PhotoHunter: Shiny

I love the displays of copper utensils in old kitchens, so I took a few pictures when we visited some châteaux during the week. The first is from Chenonceau.


The next from Villandry.

And finally my own, which are *sometimes* shiny!

I'd love to be able to have a display like the one at Villandry, but who would do the shining?

Mutilée by Khady

Mutilée hasn't been translated into English so here is a brief outline.

It's the true story of Khady Koita who was born and brought up in Senegal. At seven years old she suffered circumcision, along with quite a number of the girl children in her extended family. The pain is described fairly graphically. She goes on to describe her life as a child, how she was sent to school, unusually for a girl, but at 15 is married off to a cousin twenty years her senior and who lived in Paris.

The bulk of the book is taken up with this marriage which wasn't really forced but which she couldn't see any option to oppose. Within less than a year she had her first child although she was hardly more than a child herself. The marriage was not a happy one. She went on to have five children, four girls and three of them she allowed to be circumcised out of sheer passivity.

Ultimately her marriage degenerated still further, especially after her husband took on a second wife, as was the custom. In the end, after much hesitation, she did leave him and took her children with her, although her husband attempted to kidnap them.

Through working as an interpreter for Senegalese immigrants, she made contacts which led her to become more and more active in GAMS, a women’s group for the abolition of female genital mutilation and other harmful practices affecting the health of women and children. This is covered in only the last 20 pages.

I'm sorry to say I didn't especially enjoy the book although it has been widely discussed. Because my French is far from fluent, it surprises me that I can detect that it isn't terribly well written. Papillon's blog reads far better by quite a long way. Mutilée seems disjointed and in places contradictory.

Additionally, in spite of the title, it spends considerably more time describing her unhappy and violent marriage than about female genital mutilation. I can't help feeling the title was chosen for dramatic effect to attract attention to a currently fashionable subject than anything else. I daresay a great many book titles are chosen for the same reason, but you could hope to have more substance behind the title than was the case here.

Nevertheless, one or two passages do stay in my mind, this being one of them:

In a corner of my mind, I'm still sitting under the mango tree at my grandparents' house, there where I was happy and physically intact. Ready to become a teenager, then a woman, ready to love because I really wanted to..... I was forbidden.

The châteaux of the Loire


I've been away over the last few days while we were in the Loire valley, partly because it was my birthday and partly because it was an area we used to know fairly well and wanted to revisit.

I'd forgotten just how incredible it is, with beautiful buildings at almost every turn of the road. My only disappointment was that there were no fields of yellow sunflowers - too early for flowering it seems. We did visit some of the large and famous châteaux, but in many ways the smaller ones were more enjoyable, partly because they're less busy. We went around Loches, Chenonceau, Villandry, Chatonnière, Ussé, which was quite enough for the time we were there.

A couple of these, plus several more we passed en route, are included on the Route Historique des Dames de Touraine, which I unfortunately didn't discover until now. That would have been interesting and have given us some direction rather than our usual haphazard fashion. Perhaps another time, though we have such a list of things to do on days off, we'll never get to the bottom of it.

Monday, 18 June 2007


A great African film maker, Ousmane Sembène, died recently. He was born in Senegal, in Casamance, which coincidentally is where Papillon's family originated, and he was a great advocate of women's liberation as the key to the development of African society.

His last film "Moolaadé" in 2004 tells the story of African women fighting against female genital mutilation.

Although that was three years ago, his efforts nevertheless continue. The first telefilm to be produced by AFRICAphonie is Nkuma, telling the story of Bessem, a woman who finds that she is infertile as the result of female genital mutilation. Directed by George Ngwame in Cameroon, its aim is to raise awareness and sensitise people to the issues, as well as condemning female genital mutilation.

As a review of the film says, it illustrates the difficulties in trying to promote behavioural change within communities and puts forward alternative and innovative methods to resolve their conflicts.

Coincidentally, I'm reading a book by Khady Koita, Mutilée, which tells her own story of FGM. I haven't yet finished it but early on I was struck by a passage which described the way a woman from another area reacted. She laughed as if to make it a joke, but said "You aren't still doing that are you? Have you not yet wakened?". That could possibly have more effect than many efforts currently being made by "outsiders".

In an interview, George Ngwame says that the film industry is in a perfect position for communication, education, and information. Film/television followed up by word of mouth has to be some of the most powerful ways to spread ideas.

The sun came out!

The bees are visiting the lavender


The grapes are swelling (in fact there are too many of them - I'll have to learn how to prune)


and it's a perfect day for a walk by the river (even though it's a bit squishy underfoot)



World Heritage List

Next week the UN World Heritage Committee is meeting to consider 37 sites for inclusion on their list for conservation. They haven't published (or I can't find) the full list, but included in the natural or mixed natural/cultural sites are rainforests in Madagascar and Gabon.

Last year the sites which were added to the list included:
  • Harar Jugol in Ethiopia
  • The stone circles of Senegambia in both Gambia and Senegal
  • The Chongoni rock art area in Malawi
  • Aapravasi Ghat in Mauritius
  • Kondoa rock art sites in Tanzania

Some of these sites date from thousands of years ago. The cultural past of Africa is often forgotten, and indeed the natural history too. According to Unesco, the importance of endemic fish species in Lake Malawi for the study of evolution is comparable to that of finch species in the Galapagos Islands. Today was the first time I found mention of that even though it was 1984 when Lake Malawi was added.

The list of new sites added in 2006 can be found on the Unesco site, as can the full list of sites.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

The bells, the bells

At 7:00 am this morning I had a rude awakening when the cathedral bells started ringing. My first thought was that it must be St Swithun's day: they always ring at that time for St Swithun's day, but it's only once a year and you don't notice on week day mornings, so not very intrusive. Anyway it finally dawned on me that it's still June so it couldn't be St Swithun's day.

On investigation, it turns out to have been the Queen's official birthday which is nowadays always on a Saturday. I feel sure I would have noticed the bells if they always rang on a Saturday in June so I hope it's a one off. I actually do love the bells but not at 7:00 am. Sundays are lovely, and so too are the Wednesday evening practices.

It's a relief that it isn't St Swithun's Day with the weather we are having today:

St. Swithun's day, if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain;
St. Swithun's day, if thou be fair,
For forty days 'twill rain na mair.
15 July

In France they have similar 40 day predictions though on different dates.

S'il pleut à la saint Médard,
Il pleuvra quarante jours plus tard.
8 June

Sainte-Eulalie avec la pluie,
Quarante jours reste dans ton lit.
12 February

There is an English version of that last one:

If on St Swithun's day it really pours
You're better off to stay indoors.

I've heard, but never really investigated, that you can put together enough of these sayings to show that it's going to rain, or not, for the entire year.

Friday, 15 June 2007

PhotoHunter: Hair


I have thick curly hair, the bane of my life, but my husband has fine straight hair. Genetics worked out nicely and we have one son each as far as hair type is concerned.

Straight haired son has just married. Looking around at our newly, and delightfully, enlarged family, I see I will not be alone any more! Curls, curls everywhere!


hair2 hair4

When I was their age, long, straight and blond hair was the fashion.


At some stage, I think I was about 14 or 15, my mother decided I ought to learn to dance properly and sent me to lessons with a teacher friend of hers. I'd been through the ballet class phase when I was very little and I don't recall disliking it, though not actively liking it either. That was with a friend of my mother's too. Was it her mission in life to keep her friends in business?

Anyway the dancing lessons came to an abrupt end when the teacher, and I can still picture her, sighed and said she couldn't see how I was so lacking in rhythm while my mother was so musical. The little confidence I had was completely shattered and I avoided dancing thereafter.

All this came back to me last week. When the dancing at the wedding started, the very first person on the floor was a young woman on her own, rapidly followed by most of the others, some couples but mainly women - one very pregnant. It was somehow a party within a party with everyone enjoying themselves tremendously. But not the British contingent, oh no. Indeed it became so obvious that I felt the need to make sure all our family were joining in too.

Everyone's enjoyment was total and they had no qualms about dancing around, and with the singers and the professional belly dancer, and nor were the singers or dancers put out by this in any way. Perhaps it's usual in Mediterranean weddings, I don't know (yet).

I was talking about it with one of my sons who maintained we can't dance because we do lack rhythm whereas some people are born with it. I argued that we can't dance because we are full of inhibitions resulting from our upbringing and culture. There may however be another element. I noticed that the little girls from a very young age were joining in and being shown how to move by other female relatives. Anyone can undoubtedly be taught to sing and paint to a reasonable level, so I am sure they will be good dancers before they are old enough to feel in any way self conscious.

Perhaps if I had been taught to dance from that sort of age I too could have done this.

Well, I can dream ....

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Wednesday 13 June

And it might as well be Friday 13th.

I have travelled roughly 1500 miles in the last week, without any incident to speak of, but today I've returned to England, alone, and things happened.

I knew I hadn't any keys for the house before I set off, but we had already catered for that. Driving to the airport I realised I probably didn't have my driving licence with me either, and as I was intending to hire a car at the other end, this could be a problem. I tried surreptitiously (in order not to over-excite the driver) to search my bag. No luck. It would be a case of worrying for the next four hours or forgetting about it completely. I tried the latter.

When I arrived to collect the hire car there was a young man on the desk. Something about the way he evaded the issue made me think there could be a way round the problem. After some gentle questioning it seemed that he could phone the DVLA to check my licence but he had never done it before and was clearly reluctant. In actual fact it turned out to be remarkably simple and I wasn't even charged for the call. Things were looking up.

I managed to get into the house, only to hear an intermittent but not too loud ringing. It certainly wasn't the smoke alarm. Then the phone started: our neighbours to say our burglar alarm was going and nobody knew how to switch it off. Nor do we: it hasn't worked since we moved in almost 10 years ago. Anyway, having listened to the advice of sundry neighbours and my husband, I managed to stop the noise using a mixture of brute force and ignorance.

Now I find there is no hot water. I'm really going to have to sort that out now, because I need to remove the henna painting from my hands before my meetings. I might not have bothered but it just doesn't go with the grazed knuckles and broken nails acquired from my do-it-myself endeavours.

PS I'm reliably informed that the henna painting brings good luck.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

The multi-national wedding ...

... was wonderful.
The multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-faith, multi-lingual parts all worked like a dream. Uplifting, joyful, fascinating.

Monday, 4 June 2007

A busy time ahead

Don't expect very much from me during the next few weeks. In two days time, we set off south for The Wedding. Two days after we return (slowly), I have to fly back to England for An Important Meeting, taking some time to see my mother as well. And two days after I return from that, we set off again to celebrate My Birthday.

I will attempt to post as often as I can, especially to keep up with Papillon, but I suspect it will be minimal.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

La Fête des Mères

My second Mothers’ Day of the year! I had never really noticed before that France celebrates Mothers’ Day on yet another date. I knew it was different from the British date but always assumed it was the same as the US, which I know has passed. Normally it’s the last Sunday in May, but when this falls on the same day as Pentecost, as it did this year, they move it to a week later. Today’s the day.

It wasn’t until 1950 that the date was set nationally and the day became Mothers’ Day. Before that it had been on various dates and varied from place to place. It had focused on mothers of “familles nombreuses” from 1897 in an attempt to stop the population decline.

Well I have produced only two sons, and I’m not French anyway, but I’m still being taken out for a meal! If the truth be told, it was something of an accident that we hit on today (and were very fortunate to have managed to book a table in a very popular restaurant) but it will be extremely pleasant all the same.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

PhotoHunter: Art

Sorry about the slightly odd angles of these two pictures we have. I was trying to avoid reflections from the windows.

The label on the bottom of this first one says it's of the corner of a dining room 1928.


It's a pleasant painting and we have a second by the same artist with the label saying it is a corner of the drawing room, though not dated.


The point of all this, and why I love them, is that if you look carefully at the paintings within the painting, above the desk, on the left hand side of the clock is an outline of the dining room picture and on the right of the clock is a representation of second.

I had difficulty with the reflections so I hope this will be visible.

Why that appeals to me so much I'm not quite sure, but it does mean they belong together. It's a little like playing on words but with images instead. It also makes me wonder about the other paintings within the paintings, and where they might be.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Espace non-fumeur

When we started holidaying in France many years ago, we were constantly aware of French smoking habits. We are strictly non-smoking and horribly intolerant of a smoky atmosphere so used to find eating out at times quite a struggle.

When we first lived in Paris our sons were school age and I remember asking them whether their school friends smoked. They estimated that 90% of them did, compared with roughly 10% in the UK.

While we were there a ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces was introduced to great cries of protest, and no apparent effect. Bars and restaurants were obliged to provide no smoking areas but again, the rule was often ignored. Many times we have been to a restaurant and asked to be seated in the no-smoking area, only to be put at a table with a notice beside it proclaiming it to be the espace non-fumeur, but separated by nothing whatsoever from the smoke producing clientele. Worse still, our requests were often met by the Gallic shrug and/or a blank stare.

In the last few years though, things have changed radically and the smoky bars and restaurants seem to have disappeared. Since February smoking has been banned in restaurants but even before that we had remarked on how few people were smoking. We haven’t even been concerned about where we were seated. It really is a pleasant change.

Now, when are they going to start on driving habits? Could overtaking on blind corners be banned?


Blog Widget by LinkWithin