Friday, 31 October 2008

The perfect place

Nobody can see me here.

If I keep perfectly still.

I could be wrong.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Kiva revisited

In September my good friend janeway sent me a link to Heidi Swanson's 101 cookbooks which has in the region of one million visitors a month.  Heidi had decided to set up a Kiva Lending Team and invited her readers to join her in lending to entrepreneurs in developing countries.  An excellent idea.

Then, only a day or two later, I spotted a post on Carl Galloway's blog to say that he was having great difficulty in finding an entrepreneur who needed a loan.   He did eventually manage to find one refreshing constantly.

I found it hard to believe, but sure enough a day or two later (speedy is my middle name) I went to the Kiva site and saw this.

All loans funded!  One loan made every 24 seconds!

Whether this was the impact of an influx of new members on the 101 Cookbooks team, I really don't know.  I do know that for a few weeks I was seeing widgets displaying 100% funded around the blogs I was visiting. 

Then things changed again.  As I write this there are 12 people looking for loans of various sizes, though at the current rate of one loan every 29 seconds, it won't take long for them to be filled. Nevertheless the rate of lending has decreased and there seem to be more people with loans not yet filled.

I'm wondering about the timing of this.  Were people put off by the fact that there loans are being filled so easily?  New projects are being continuously added, so it shouldn't be an issue.  But could it be the economic situation?  I hope not.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Angles sur l'Anglin

medieval archway

This picture was taken in Angles sur l'Anglin, considered to be one of the most beautiful villages of France. The name angles sur l'Anglin is thought to derive from the same Germanic tribe that also gave its name to England.  It is a medieval village with a good strategic position perched on top of a hill.  However there were people in the area well before that time, and prehistoric remains have been found.

The archway above leads to cellars beneath, which were used for storing salt traded at the medieval fairs, and also for smuggled salt. 

ruined castle

The château Guichard

château ruins and mill

The château Guichard with the mill below viewed from the bridge.Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Man's inhumanity to man

The story of Oradour sur Glane. This is a long post.

I decided to visit Oradour sur Glane yesterday. I've heard its story several times, even though it's not particularly well known. Oradour is a small town not far from Limoges. It would be an unremarkable place if it weren't for what happened there on 10 June 1944. The results of that day's event have been preserved, not only to commemorate those who used to live there, but perhaps in the hope that we may one day learn.

On 10 June 1944, shortly after the D-Day landings, a Waffen-SS company murdered 642 men, women, and children in the town, and then destroyed the buildings with fire.

Everyone was ordered to gather in the square/fairground, where their identity papers were to be checked. The men were taken to barns, and the women and children to the church. The men were shot, then the bodies burnt. Out of 195 men, five escaped. The women and children in the church were gassed and then shot. There were 247 women and 205 children, some of whom were babies. One woman escaped.

Plaque at the entrance.

The square/fairground where the people were gathered.

One of the several plaques on walls, saying "Here, a place of torture. A group of men was massacred and burnt by the Nazis. Think."

The main street with tram lines and electricity cables still in place.

The doctor's car.

The girl's school.

A sewing machine in a ruined house.

The church where the women and children were killed.

It was a very moving experience to visit the town.  There is no effort to commercialise the site.  There is no entrance fee.  The people who were visiting were quiet.  There was no laughter or chatter.

Although there is a new town nearby, they have never rebuilt Oradour.  It is preserved as it was after the massacre, in the memory of the victims.  In my mind it also represents innumerable other atrocities committed by humans against humans.

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Saturday, 25 October 2008

Time marches on

We in Europe are falling back this weekend, and though Ireland, the UK and Portugal are different from the rest, they will at least change on the same day.  Those of you in the USA will put your clocks back next weekend I believe.  Only one week of complete confusion across the Atlantic.  Are there any other variations?  The southern hemisphere, do you do things differently? 

PhotoHunter: scary

My difficulty this week is that I imagine the theme is directed towards Halloween, and Halloween really doesn't feature very largely in this part of the world.  I have seen no decorations anywhere.  So I've turned to some old pictures and found two that should have given me scary thoughts, but didn't, and one that shouldn't have, but did.

river flooding into fields

In May this year I looked out of the bedroom window early in the morning to find the river had flooded. My first thought was not of fear but that I must take a photo. When I later went to have a closer look, the power of that volume of water flooding down the river became apparent, and then it did become scary.

rocks overhanging Copper Canyon

This is an old photo, scanned in, of the Copper Canyon in Mexico. It's difficult to estimate the scale of the picture until you look at the trees to the left, and that gives some indication of the drop from the overhanging rock, known as Balancing Rock.  Again, I took a purely academic interest in it until someone suggested I go and stand on the rock.  Then it was scary.  Apparently it wobbles....

river and far bank

And this one was purely a figment of my imagination.  I was in the Gorges du Tarn in France, and watching the surface of the river because there were sudden gurgles and swirls of current in the water.  I looked up and saw the far bank - and a face with the water currents coming from its mouth.  That sent shivers down my spine and I beat a very hasty retreat.

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Friday, 24 October 2008

A misty moisty morning

misty dawn sky
This morning just after dawn, as the mists lingered in the valley over the river. We've had a few mornings like this recently but the mist has never before cleared enough for me to catch the shot.


A very big thank you to BK of Symphony of Love for this wonderful award. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get around to acknowledging it.

I'd like to extend the thanks to all of you who take the time to visit, read and comment on my blog. I really do appreciate it, very much indeed.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

A pie chart at Montady

While we were on holiday in the south of France recently, in the Languedoc, I noticed postcards on sale that appeared to be featuring something that looked like a pie chart. I didn't pay an enormous amount of attention I'm afraid, vaguely registering that it reminded me of the Round Table in Winchester.

On our last day we decided to visit the Oppidum of Ensérune, a pre-Roman village perched on top of a steep hill. We'd tried to find it on a few occasions and failed, but this time we were determined to get there.  It was interesting to see quite such an old and extensive settlement, but to my surprise, when I arrived at the top, it was there that I found my pie chart spreading out before me.

Investigation revealed that it was called l'étang de Montady, the lake of Montady.  The lake?

Apparently there used to be a lake in that area until the 13th century but it was stagnant and thought to be the cause of various epidemics.  In 1247, the archbishop of Narbonne authorised four landowners to drain the area and make it healthy.

They had to construct the 10 ditches or channels converging on the central circular "redondel" which collects all the water and passes into the Malpas Gallery. This underground aqueduct then had to pass under the hill of Ensérune and emerge on the south side.  It took 20 years in all to finish the work.

The upkeep of the system was given to the owners of the plots, the "pointes", and remains with them to this day.  The area covers 430 hectares (1060 acres) and there are about 10 km (6.5 miles) of channels.  It is still farmed today and the shape of the plots has been maintained.

At times, when there is very heavy rain, the area does flood again. It can take several days for the channels to drain the area completely.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Alternative libraries

I can't imagine life without easy access to books, and libraries have always been part of my life, as a child, as a student, and as a parent. Whenever I go into one, I look around at all the shelves, all those books, and feel a sense of delight and wonder at all of them there waiting for me.

Ideally everyone should have the same opportunity of access to books, to widen their horizons, to learn, to be entertained while learning. But many live in remote areas where it's just not possible. In most western countries we have mobile libraries and the internet to fill the gap, but what of developing countries? The gap has been filled ingeniously.

Today my friend janeway sent me a link to an article in the International Herald Tribune telling about Biblioburros. Every weekend for the last 10 years, a mobile library looking remarkably like two donkeys sets out for remote villages in Colombia. This particular project is run single-handed by a primary school teacher , Luis Sorian, in La Gloria Columbia.

A very similar project is running in Venezuela, there called Bibliomulas. In this case it is run by a Venezuelan univerisity, the University of Momboy, and it's being extended to carry laptops and projectors. Miles and donkeys are essential when it comes to the steep slopes that need to be climbed in order to bring reading material to the more remote communities.

In Kenya a different approach is needed to bring books to nomadic communities.  A static library would be of no use, so instead the library follows them. Ships of the desert are the best way to travel in the Garissa area, 400km from the capital, Nairobi.

Books are important to the people in the area but they can't afford them.  There is a very high rate of illiteracy, partly because of the nomadic way of life and partly because of poverty.  Any spare money has to be spent on food.

BookAid has had a programme in Kenya since 1965 and providing books for the Kenya Camel Library is just one of the areas they support.

Books Change Lives

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Vicious vegetation

This tree, the one that belongs to our neighbour .... looks like this. You must be wondering where all that yellow went.

Here. All over the roofs, all over the garden, all over the paths.

Next it will start on the big black bean things, and drop them all over the roofs, all over the garden, all over the paths. All winter long.

If you don't catch them, next spring they sprout into a forest of little trees, all with their own little leaves, and their own black beans - and very, very sharp and vicious thorns.

It's such a good thing it looks pretty for one week in the autumn.

Friday, 17 October 2008

PhotoHunter: family

I'm really out of time and inspiration this week. Only one picture.

And why this one?  It means family to me.  This is where most of my immediate family lives.  I wonder how many people know where it is?  And no, I'm not giving any clues!

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Samuel Franklin Cody

Samuel Franklin Cody was born Samuel Franklin Cowdery in 1867 in Davenport, Iowa, but was buried with full military honours in England, in Aldershot Military Cemetery to be exact. How did that happen?

It turns out that Cody took his Wild West Show on tour to Europe, met an English woman, left his wife and became interested in kites, gliders and then on to aeroplanes. In 1907 the British Army decided to fund his design, the British Army Aeroplane No 1. It first flew on 16 October 1908 at Farnborough Airport.

The perceptive among you will notice that this was exactly 100 years ago yesterday, and a full size replica of the aeroplane was on show yesterday in Farnborough during celebrations to mark the first officially recognised powered flight in the British Isles. 

There was a fly-past in Farnborough yesterday and that's how the story came to my notice. When we lived in the Hampshire countryside, we used to see the Farnborough fly-pasts free of charge because we were at some sort of turning point for the aircraft.  Fortunately the Farnborough Airshow happens only every two years and lasts only a week.

Cody died testing a new aeroplane on 7 August 1913. 50,000 people attended his funeral procession in Aldershot.

In Loving Memory of
Aviator and inventor
who was killed while flying
over Laffan's Plain
on the 7th August 1913.

One final interesting fact, Cody  was the great-grandfather of John Simpson (John Cody Fidler-Simpson) from the BBC. John Simpson was born in Cleveleys in Lancashire. I once lived near there too!
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Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Poverty - one way out

Photo of a traditional loom from Flickr/Anduze traveller. Creative Commons Licence

Nasima lives in Bangladesh. She was married at the age of twelve. Her husband had no shelter so the couple had to live in a hut made of thatch in Nasima’s uncle’s house. Silkworms and a handloom were her husband's only assets. Both of Nasima and her husband were physically strong enough but they had no means of generating any income.

Besides doing some domestic work Nasima used to help her husband in his work. Within a few years three babies arrived. They faced extreme hardship then, as they had no cultivatable land or alternative sources of income. In spite of the miserable conditions Nasima sent her children to school. The family expenses were steadily increasing.

At that time a visitor came to Nasima’s house and told her about the advantages of being a member of a microcredit borrowing group. Nasima discussed it with her husband and decided to join in a group of the Society for Social Service (SSS).

Nasima started to deposit savings of Tk. 5/- in group meetings. There are about 70 Tk to one US $. After a few months Nasima took out a loan of Tk.1,500/- for the first time. Adding some money of her own she bought another handloom with this amount.

Things were a little more comfortable after purchasing the second handloom. Even after repaying the loan installments, Nasima could meet the family and education expenses from the income of handloom business. She took out further loans. She invested the entire loan amount in her handloom business and as a result her income started to increase rapidly.

Nasima learnt about health and hygiene in group meetings, which motivated her to install a tube-well for pure drinking water and also a sanitary latrine. She made some furniture and bought land to build a house from her savings. Now she has 16 handlooms. She employs 16 full time workers. She gives them Tk. 230/- for producing one sari. Nasima keeps the accounts of her business herself. Nasima’s elder son is in class twelve, her younger son in class ten and her only daughter in class nine. Nasima is not interested in early marriage for her daughter.

Nasima learnt about health and nutrition, how to raise poultry, grow vegetables, and how to manage hre micro enterprise from SSS. She is proud to be a member of SSS.

Today Nasima has earned the respect of her family and neighbours. Her husband discusses any decisions with her, and Nasima's neighbours are benefiting from her business. Poverty is not an unalterable state - it can be changed. But we have to help.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Help me with my reading block

I have an Amazon token that needs to be used up and I can't think what to buy. It was a gift, so I'd like something "lasting", something with substance and yet readable, not a tome that reminds me of a school textbook.

I did consider buying this year's Booker Prize short list but on refection I'm not too sure about them. I've been disappointed in the past. Non-fiction might be better. I'm interested in virtually anything with the possible exception of sport, so I'm open to almost any suggestions.

Help me out here. Tell me please, what books you think I should be buying with my token. Persuade me that yours is the right choice. Please?

Updated to add that I am trying to broaden my interests so don't worry about what my interests are. Tell me about a book you have enjoyed. I'm prepared to try anything.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

PhotoHunters: lazy

river and weir

It was a lovely day yesterday, so I took a lazy stroll by the river. The water level is very low - you don't normally see the stepping stones.

stepping stones

I thought about crossing the river by using the stones, but I was too lazy.

man fishing in river

A fisherman, perhaps not lazy, but not bursting with energy either! You can see again how shallow the river is.

dangling red creeper

The creepers were too lazy to creep.

Even the river was too lazy to cause a ripple.

And I was too lazy to think of anything more fitting for the theme :)

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Thursday, 9 October 2008

The power of education

Girls' education provides perhaps the single highest return on investment in the developing world

Educated girls:
  • Tend to marry later
  • Are better paid in the workplace
  • Have fewer, healthier children
  • Are more likely to send their own children to school
  • Are better able to protect themselves against HIV
  • Assume a more active role in decision-making throughout their lives

Screen print from the Girl Effect video

Without education a girl is likely to be trapped in an early marriage which reduces her chances to develop personally and generally results in early pregnancy and birth before her body is sufficiently mature. This in its turn can lead to complications or death. Young girls rarely have any knowledge of birth control or issues such as sexually transmitted diseases/HIV. In addition, they are often married to much older men which leads to a power imbalance, frequently resulting in violence towards the young wife.

Mothers are primary educators in any setting, so educate girls and the next generation has the best possible chance of a good start.

There are of course many obstacles to education, not least of which is the availability of suitable schools. UNICEF is backing a Schools for Africa project to build child-friendly schools where they are needed. On Yummy Biscuits's blog today, you can see the difficulties that many children face.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

A perfect school?

Photo from Flickr/john.duffell. Creative Commons licence.

I was one of those, probably unnatural, children who enjoyed going to school. I took it for granted that I would, and could. I didn't question the facilities available to me, or wonder if all children could expect the same. My son on the other hand didn't enjoy school. He could produce ever more inventive reasons why he shouldn't be there on any particular day. Although our attitudes were so very different, neither of us appreciated our education which was there for the asking.

Think then of the children who are enrolled at Miteme Junior Primary School in Malawi. They are the lucky ones, the 520 registered pupils. Not every child's family can afford the uniform. Not every family will allow their children to attend. Even though these 520 are registered, the average daily attendance is 100 because children are needed to work on the farm in this rural area near Lilongwe.

What can these lucky children expect at their school? There are no classrooms, so lessons are held outside, under trees. One class does have desks, desks under the trees. The school has to close during the rainy season. Three months later when it is over, many pupils fail to turn up. There are five classes, but only four teachers. At any one time, one class has to roam about aimlessly waiting for attention. There is no water whatsoever. If a child needs a drink, he or she must go home for it, and is unlikely to re-appear at school. How can any of this live up to the ideal of school, one where pupils can learn, develop and enrich their lives.

The Schools for Africa project, backed by UNICEF, plans to build a classroom block and some toilets in order to turn Miteme into a child-friendly school, and so motivating pupils to attend. What seems to us the most basic of requirements should finally enable these children in Malawi to enjoy their right to education.

The photo above doesn't show Miteme School. In case anyone might think it's an isolated instance, this is the description from Flickr:
"The Standard 8 classroom at Mulonde Primary School. These stones were gathered by the community for a building project at the school, with a promise from the local MP that construction would begin as soon as an adequate amount of stones and sand had been collected. After a long, long period of waiting with no results, the stones were eventually put into use for seating in outdoor classrooms (Mulonde, which is a full primary school encompassing 8 grades, has only 4 classrooms).
(Mlambe, Shire Valley, Malawi)"

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

A new day dawning

This morning I was awake early and watched the new day dawning as I sat on the veranda with my first cup of tea of the day.


The sun started to light up the neighbouring houses...

.... and the tree next door autumn makes its progress, beautifully


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