Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Chad: The jailing of French Aid staff.

To me the name Zoe's Ark charity sounds like a cult. The kind that round up people on the streets and, by using various mental manipulations, (starving, humiliation, cutting off from the real world) manages to bend their wills to make them believe their leader as the second coming of Christ, or perhaps in this case Noah.

Arch de Zoe, the French translation, is an example of development work at its worst.

Nothing is worse than a charity who shows up in a developing country without any plan, except maybe one with a really bad plan.

Did they just assume it would be easy to find some orphans, get the papers done, and fly the kids back to France? Perhaps, if your someone who's never been to Africa and is filled with visions of starving orphans, such a plan might sound plausable?

To me it sounds like some nightmare from Pinnochio.

Adoption is not that easy. It takes more than some ragtag group rounding up kids and putting them on a plane. It requires painstaking paperwork, months, sometimes years of planning, and the go ahead from all sides. Most importantly, it requires kids who don't have loving parents already!

I wonder what fate actually awaited these children in Europe?
Was it the adoption process the Zoe's Ark charity claimed it was.
Was it forced labour? Indoctrination into some suicidal Zoe's Ark cult? Prostitution?
Or perhaps, as the Chadian dictator suggested, it was to sell black market body parts.


The French aid worker's proclamations of innocence are laughable. The insistence that they were duped into thinking the kids were actually orphans. Their hunger strike. How stupid do they think the public are?

Psst... We know the French government warned Zoe's Ark to stop. Therefore, without the French government's blessing, how could the kids possibly be assured paperwork for France?

Even if the public got past that and believed the Zoe's Ark workers were duped, why did they try to make the children (who weren't even orphans) appear injured, in casts and bandages, despite not being hurt at all?

It all rings with the ideology of the blind cult faithful leading their fellow members into destructive oblivion.

People in Chad were in an uproar that the aid workers might receive leniency. They ended up with eight years hard labour.
In my honest opinion, the sentence was fair. Any less might have seemed lenient, any more might have seemed a tad harsh.

I wonder though. Did they receive a fair trial?

It's hard to say.

What's considered fair when all the evidence points to obvious guilt of a serious crime?

While eight years of forced labour won't be a walk in the park, they should feel lucky that Chad didn't serve them with more Draconian punishments.

Like death.

Shame on you Zoe's Ark. Your either criminals, or idiots. In either case, I have no sympathy.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Back from the writing holiday.

Five days, four hundred marked up pages, and a good idea just where I am with my manuscript.

It started off well, editing seventy-five pages on the train up to Tangers. In these first chapters, I realised I still have work to do on them to improve descriptions and flow.

I got another seventy five pages edited on the ferry across the Mediterranean to Spain, slowly working away as it made it's long traverse and pulled into busy port of Algecerias. These chapters were markedly better.

A bus took me to Gibraltar, where I walked for a long time, up the gentle hill of the quirky English town. I arrived at the hotel the guidebook recommended, it was at the far end of town, way up at the top of the hill, and my shirt was damp with sweat when I arrived.

The guidebook said twenty pounds. The hotel demanded forty.

"That's a lot more than the guidebook!" I said.
"It's an old guidebook, prices go up," said the employee.
"It's not that old. And yes, prices go up, they don't double over a few years!"

So I trudged back down the hill, to where a youth hostel charged 15 pounds, and passed the night in a cold dormitory with other farting and snoring travellers.

My third day was a shopping day, and I took a bus to the big Carrefour supermarket, and later walked to the Decathlon sporting goods store. Most of my purchases were gifts for Siham and clothes for Zack.

My bags were overflowing with clothes and food when I caught an afternoon ferry back to Tangers, where I edited another 75 pages on the boat.

It seemed a common theme, seventy five pages per stint, and editing passed the time.

I noticed various traits in my writing. It had picked up considerably through the middle chapters, before improving considerably through the middle and maintaining the strong writing up to the end. The learning curve left my middle chapters incredible, and I'm confident if all the chapters were that good, the book would be easily published.

After I get these changes made, my next stint will be hammering out the first five chapters, editing them and making the necessary changes.

I hope to have the changes made by Christmas, while my wife is away welcoming her parents back from the Hajj and I can slip away for a few more days.

I needed this trip, it reinvigorated me and got my head back into the book again. Something I've been struggling to do for months now.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Time for a writing holiday.

I'm at a stage now where I need to just print of the manuscript, take off for a few days, and work.

So I'm heading north, without my celphone, without my computer, with nothing but my manuscript and some pencils to hack this thing up.

Something I haven't done yet is to take the book, from start to finish, and in one big push just edit everything. I'm sure I'll find some repetitive descriptions, I know I say "He had a bright smile," a dozen too many times, and get a deeper understanding of my bad writing habits.

I need this. I consider it a break from the normal routine. The idea was inspired by a few things. One was a friend organising a writing getaway. I unfortunately couldn't attend.

Another was watching the movie Capote. The main character and famous writer, Capote, talked of getting a writing holiday in order to have sex with his gay lover and get work done. My intentions rest solely on the latter.

I'll update my progress, and describe my writing holiday when I return.

Until then, it's time to disappear.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

This smile just in...

Woolworths has just announced they will be selling all teddies at cost. Their reasoning: They don't want to risk making a profit out of a teddy!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sudan's Idiocracy: The Best Thing to Ever Happened to Gillian Gibbons.

Sudan's idiocratic version of Islamic rule reminds me of the Stoning scene from Monty Python's "Life of Brian."



News from Sudan has fascinated me ever since I learned it would be a part of my route through Africa.

Some of the most memorable news stories I've read about Sudan are "Sudan man marries goat."


The recent Mohammad the Teddy Bear story, reminds me of a story from 2005 where a ridiculous death threat and court process took place against the editor of an Islamist newspaper. His article was defending the Islamic religion from an attacking essay. For merely referring to the sacreligous essay, a group of Sudanese people called for his death.

When I travelled through Sudan, I found it a tolerant place. Sudanese people impressed me with their hospitality, more than once paying for my tea when I sat in a street cafe. When inconvenienced, such as being stopped at one of the countless roadblocks, I was usually offered ice cold Pepsi's to help me cope with the intense forty-plus degree heat.

While more bureaucratic than any other country I've ever visited, I found public servants always polite and helpful, some even apologetic for the abundance of red tape.

As for the unfortunate, or perhaps fortunate (depending on which way you look at it) teacher, Gillian Gibbons, getting kicked out of Sudan was probably the best thing that ever happened to her. I can't imagine much more rock bottom than having to teach in a hot, dry, (both alcohol and rain-wise) country. When I was there, Sudanese people seemed afraid to have fun. Khartoum completely closed down come nine or ten o'clock. Everything stopped and there was nothing to do.

Mrs. Gibbins also has a damn good story to tell now. She's hit the freak life twist jackpot. The British tabloids will be salivating, and bringing out their chequebooks for exclusive interviews when she returns to the UK.

The payoff will probably be well worth the fifteen days of jail she's had to deal with. As a writer, sometimes going through such a shitstorm, while scary and hellish at the time, ends up being worth the frustration since a fantastic story comes out. Two weeks in a Sudanese jail, Islamist nutcases calling for your head, all because some kids wanted to name their Teddy Bear Mohammad.

My earlier idiocracy description and Monty Python comparison sum up my feelings on the issue. No need to kick this thing to death any more than the thousands of news chat rooms have already.