When I was living in Uzbekistan,the only English TV channel available was BBC World News. This was a little surprising given that BBC journalists had been banned from the country for several years at that point, but I was grateful for it. When watching Russian dubs of Mamma Mia palled (hard to believe, I know, but it happens), the BBC was my background noise of choice. Since they can’t use commercial advertising, the breaks between the updates on the antics of minor members of the royal family, studio audiences in Qatar arguing over US foreign policy, and interviews with African Union delegates which constitute most of BBC World’s output were filled with promotional shorts from the tourist boards of various countries. You know the kind: spectacular scenery/wildlife/ruins interspersed with shots of an attractive tourist couple being hugged by local children all improbably wearing national costume, learning traditional dances from nice young ladies in spiffy hats, and buying each other necklaces in the shiny new shopping malls, all set to an exciting soundtrack (cliché-filled narration optional) and finished off with a slogan of superb banality and/or incomprehensibility.
In the absence of any other TV, I became quite the connoisseur of these little promos. Back then, BBC World was dominated by Incredible India (I actually quite like this one) and Malaysia Truly Asia (snooooresville) with a sprinkling of South Africa: It’s Possible (the narration wins a prize for the most clichés packed into a minute, and believe me, the competition is stiff in this genre), all countries with well-funded tourist boards that could afford to get these commercials run multiple times a day. However, like all the best trainspotters, I was much more excited by the more elusive appearances from countries with slightly less generous marketing budgets; quite a few, now that I look back on it, came from the corner of the world I’m currently exploring. Kosovo: The Young Europeans (not so much a tourism promo as a political statement), Montenegro: Wild Beauty (featuring a flying mermaid) and Croatia: The Mediterranean As It Once Was (what happens when a advertising company decides it can’t be bothered and just throws a bunch of random clips together) all showed up only once a month or so and were savoured accordingly. But how ever frequently they aired, they are all pretty similar. Mostly they are pretty uninspired. Sometimes they are hilarious (see above re: flying mermaids). Very rarely do they actually pique my interest in a particular country.
The one exception was one I only ever saw a couple of times, but it really stuck with me. It covers all the standard ground (scenery! ruins! dancing!) but you can tell that some genuine thought has gone into it (it even has a framing device!). There are some ill-advised costuming decisions (why is there even a caveman in the first place?), but also some really tasty-looking watermelon. There is a small child involved, but she somehow manages to avoid murderous levels of annoyance. They do not stint on the icons and archaeology. Congratulations, Macedonia, you have my attention.
All of which is an incredibly long-winded way of saying that this evening I’m flying to Macedonia for a week and I cannot wait. If there aren’t lakeside ladies folding sheets on their heads (what?) I’m going to be terribly disappointed.
Making injera: SO much harder than it looks.
I used to think I was quite keen on the outdoors, but my time in and around Ebinat has reminded me that what I actually like about it is the attractively picturesque backdrop it provides to various activities. When it gets to actual stuff that goes on there, I am completely at sea and find myself reduced to asking questions like “So what do cows actually eat?” and “Is that crop maize?” when it’s actually potatoes . So I spent several days picking my way around villages enquiring of women how empowered they were feeling (and occasionally ruining some poor lady’s batch of injera as I attempt to learn how to pour it correctly – not easy) and quickly felt a little awkward about this, it being the planting season and most people, women or otherwise, having slightly better things to be doing. Instead, I went to go an hassle some government officials, who also probably have better things to be doing, but at least I feel that being interviewed by randomers is slightly more their job than it is the local farmers’.
A volcano has just erupted in part of Eritrea that just borders the Afar region of Ethiopia, with a resulting Eyjafjallajökull-like effect on air traffic in this part of the world. Ethiopia, of course, does not have enough going on at the moment.
Eighteen hour services on feast days - not sure I could cope.
I am reading lots of papers with titles like “Political ecology: where is the ecology?” and “Political ecology: where is the policy?” which goes to show that political ecology is a good geographical term because people are able to have lots of arguments about what it means, and actually you can make it mean pretty much anything, so it is a useful framework to have for a dissertation where you are not entirely sure of the topic yourself. This is rather my situation at the moment, so as avoidance techniques I go to museums (lots of million-year-old molars and “Screw you Tanzania/Kenya/Chad, Ethiopia is the true cradle of humanity”, except usually phrased more politely) and accidentally get sent on tours of churches which involve quizzes on how well one can recognize the Old Testament Bible scenes in the stained glass windows, and learning that Ethiopian church services can last eighteen hours on feast days, and there are special sticks piled under the pews that people lean on so they can continue to stand throughout (“What do the priests do for eighteen hours?” I asked the guide. “Sing”, he said, and I’m not sure if this is supposed to encourage the congregation or not).
I am in Addis Ababa, in one piece, and taking advantage of a temporary steadiness in the office internet connection to finally update this blog. Outside, a religious meeting in the local stadium is not letting the rain get in the way of proclaiming the good news as loudly as possible. There is always either a religious meeting or a football match, whatever the weather; they sound much the same from a distance, except the quantity of hallelujahs is rather greater from the former.
That is probably a cockroach right above my head.
I arrived in Ethiopia, settled myself in my hotel room, reached an entente with the cockroaches (floor at night – if you must, wall or bed or anywhere during the day – face the wrath of my flip flop), and presented myself at the office to discover that everyone who I needed to speak to had disappeared off on a training course for two weeks. This is slightly trying as I have a lot to do and not a huge amount of time in which to do it, but I have hope that my carefully cultivated do-it-all-at-the-last-minute skills will save the day in the end. With not a huge amount to do until everyone comes back, I am spending my time at the office reading several dozen identical reports on climate change and the environment, climate change and women, climate change and the environment and women and so on ad infinitum. It is a mystery to me the way that every single NGO and think tank and international organisation feels the need to produce its own report on the subject, since they all say more or less the same thing and have no particular recommendations to make which have not been made a dozen times before, and I would’ve thought they could save some effort by pooling their resources. On the other hand, it does help immensely when you are trying to bulk up your literature review and reference list, so I suppose for the moment I am in favour of this vigorous level of productivity.