Sunday, September 21, 2014

Kenya commemorates the Westgate shopping mall attack: first anniversary 2014

Today marks a year since the four-day attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall where 67 people were killed and many wounded.

The commemorations will include a memorial stone, wreath-laying at a garden in the forest where 67 tree seedlings were planted last year, and a candlelight vigil at Nairobi’s National Museum.

The National Museum is also holding a two-month memorial exhibition called “Our Nairobi: A Westgate Memorial Exhibition” from 15 September to 15 November 2014.  It includes videos from survivors, first responders, diplomats, and family members who tell of their experience. Each video (on a computer situated on a stand) which the audience can listen to through headphones, is accompanied by a large black and white photograph of the speaker. There are also candles besides a white sheet with the list of 67 names, and seats where visitors can pause, reflect, share, and come together. 

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: book review

A Man Called Ove (2014) began as a blog and developed into a novel. It is about 59-year-old Swedish Ove, a grumpy Saab owner. 

He likes things “the same as usual.” He is a man of rules, regulations, and routines. Why don’t other people follow the rules? Why don’t people know how to brew proper coffee any more? Why does The Pregnant One, his neighbour Parvaneh, who’s learning to drive, try to park her Japanese car where she’s not allowed? There’s a sign!

Ove has been a grumpy old man since he started junior school. He never gives anyone a compliment. He doesn’t like anything or anyone and finds it easy to comment about everything – always in the negative. He fights the whole world. He fights with hospital personnel and he fights with specialists and chief physicians. He fights with men in white shirts.

It’s hard to like someone like Ove. Or is it?

No-one can understand why Sonja married him. But Ove is never grumpy when he mentions his wife. Readers know where and how they met, and how he lied so that he could meet her. She is beautiful and she smiles all the time. And Ove had “never heard anything quite as amazing” as her voice. She liked talking and Ove liked listening – and that was Ove’s definition of compatible. He had “never lived before he met her.” He was smitten, yet he was inactive. Sonja told him when it was time to go on their first date, and she told him when to propose to her. And so they married. They love each other, and there’s a lot for the reader to like about that.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

United Nations reports on child deaths around the world: 1990 to 2013

United Nations has released their “Levels and Trends in Child Mortality 2014” report which reveals the child death rate of countries, with statistics to 2013. Global progress has been made in reducing child deaths since 1990, the report indicated (Gulf Today, September 17, 2014). Worldwide the number of deaths of children under the age of five years has declined from 12.7 million in 1990 to 6.3 million in 2013. About 2.8 million babies died globally within the first month of birth, which represents about 44% of all under-five deaths.

About half of all under-five deaths occur in five countries (in order from highest deaths): India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and China. India (at 21%) and Nigeria (13%) combined accounted for 34% (a third) of all under-five deaths in the world. Around 66% of neo-natal deaths (babies dying in their first month) occur in 10 countries.

The report also found that in 2013 the children under five years died mainly from preventable causes. The leading causes of death were pre-term complications (17%), pneumonia (15%), labour and delivery at birth (11%), diarrhoea (9%), and malaria (7%).

India’s child mortality rate dropped by more than half since 1990 (from 3.3 million in 1990 to 1.3 million in 2013), but in 2013 it still recorded the highest number of deaths among children below the age of five years in the world. India’s infant mortality rate fell from 88 deaths per one thousand live births in 1990 to 41 in 2013, and the neo-natal mortality rate fell from 51 deaths per one thousand live births in 1990 to 29 in 2013. The almost-50% decline shows that India is “beginning to lead the way” for other countries, said the UN report. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, might be dead, says article

The Loch Ness Monster of Scotland was first sighted in 565 AD by Irish monk St. Columba when he went for a swim in Loch (Lake) Ness, but gained greater interest from July 1933. That was when George Spicer and his wife saw “a most extraordinary form of animal” in the lake. The Spicers described a 7.6 metre long body (25 feet) with a 3-4 metre long neck (10-12 foot).

The BBC sponsored a search for Nessie in 2003 (M2Magazine, Issue 30, July/August 2014). But no animals were found at all. Scientists involved in the search labelled the Loch Ness Monster a myth. Even so, around a million people visit the lake each year, just to see if they can witness the creature.

However, the monster might be dead. According to Gary Campbell of Scotland, who has been searching for the monster for years, no one has reported a sighting in the past 18 months. Campbell has declared “no confirmed sightings” might mean that something has happened to the animal, especially since this is the first time since 1925 that such a long period of time has elapsed since a sighting. The number of sightings has been reducing but this is the first time in 90 years that Nessie hasn’t been ‘seen’ at all.

Some say that Nessie is not dead – some say she just moved herself to a new lake. Or even a new country. Some people even think that Nessie migrated to Australia. In November 2013 a photograph emerged of a ‘Nessie-like’ creature near Magnetic Island off the coast of Queensland! If that’s the case, it might be a record long-distance swim – for any animal. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Floriade 2014: Embracing Passion

Each year in Australia, Canberra holds its flower festival, Floriade. It opened on Saturday September 14 and runs until October 12 at Commonwealth Park, a 10-minute walk from the city centre on Lake Burley Griffith.

This year the theme is “Enhancing Passion.” This is reflecting in the designs of the flower beds – in shapes such as hearts, pencil cases, and animals.

Amid the flower beds are sculptures and cubby houses that children can climb on and in, music events, food and drink stalls, a ferris wheel, games, and a pavilion of stores. There are also horticultural workshops, demonstrations, guest and celebrity appearances and other events.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Floriade flower festival, Canberra 2014

The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad: book review

The Wandering Falcon (2011) by Pakistani writer, Jamil Ahmad, is set along the borders of Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan – in Balochistan and Wasiristan – in a lonely military outpost where the wind blows with savage fury. It is long before the time of the Taliban.

A man and a woman, and their camel, approach the outpost seeking shelter. It is provided, and it is here where their child is born … “to most of the soldiers there was sheer wonder in the wizened looks of the infant with his black locks of hair” as he “brought back memories of their own families whom they had not seen for years.”

When the boy, Tor Baz (black falcon), is five years old tragedy occurs when a camel rider appears. But it is not the only tragedy in the young boy’s life. He travels the route of secrecy, kidnappings, killings and slaughter – of men and camels.

It is not just the tale of a boy wandering the region as he grows into a man. It is also of the villagers and tribes, the fighting men, the hard working women, and the children who walk barefooted. Tor Baz travels among the Mahsuds and the Wazirs, but he is neither. One person says to Tor Baz, “I have been trying to place you, but I have failed. Who are you and where do you come from?”

From the third person narrative, the novel shifts in Chapter 6 to the first person. The narrator is from the Upper Qambar Khels, and he is an Afridi, raised in a small German village before World War I. Traveling with Tor Baz, the narrator writes, “Furious voices were accusing someone of having brought me, a foreigner and an infidel, here and having defiled their land … Among the voices, I suddenly heard the voice of Tor Baz.” What does Tor Baz say? Is he friend or foe?

The next chapter reverts to the third person narrative, which is now suddenly more descriptive (in an otherwise unembellished novel) as Upper Chitral’s beautiful landscape appears. Ahmad describes a girl – married early – destined to be a slave girl. If it’s a hard life for men, it’s an even harder life for women. Is it the beauty of the landscape or the women that makes Tor Baz contemplate ending his wandering life?

Ahmad writes of a place and people known to him for he lived and worked in the Frontier Province and Balochistan. There are stark cruel pages, but there are also poetic paragraphs that evoke the compassionate emotions and feelings behind the traditions of weather-hardened people in an unforgiving land.