Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Secret Lives of the Four Wives by Lola Shoneyin: book review

The Secret Lives of the Four Wives (2011) is set in Ibadan, Nigeria. Baba Segi is advised by the Teacher (“the noble one whose rays of wisdom have guided me through darkness”) to return to his city and marry the woman his mother has chosen for him “lest the women of Ayikara bitter my blood with their bile.” Thus in 1984 Baba Segi takes Iya Segi as his first wife, who bears him two children, Segi and Akin.

As Baba Segi says, “Lust points its finger at every man and soon after I married, the women of Ayikara began to look like princesses and goddesses.” He was happy to see these women while being married, but the Teacher advised, “Two women at home are better than ten in a bush.” And so Baba Segi takes a second wife, Iya Tope, in 1989 as a peace offering from a desperate farmer. She has three children: Tope, Afolake, and Motun. In 1994 he takes a third wife, Iya Femi, because she “offered herself with humility” and gave him two children, Femi and Kole. Now with seven children, he chose his fourth wife, Bolanle, in 1999. She accepted his offer of marriage for all the fineries of life - and to get away from her mother. Each wife had their own reasons for marrying Baba Segi for he wasn’t the wealthiest or most handsome man in town.

Three wives managed amicably, but when the fourth wife was educated with a degree, it upset the harmony in the home. Jealousy and spite resulted. But Bolanle, after two years, had not given her husband a child, and children were most important to Baba Segi. And that’s when the secret is unearthed. Baba Segi falls into disgrace and visits the Teacher once more for advice.

This is a novel narrated by the four wives of the polygamist Baba Segi, as well as Baba Segi and his driver. There are also chapters in third person narrative. Together they form a psychological web of relationships between husband and wives, between wives and wives, between wives and children, between Baba Segi and the children, and between the children.

This novel is a storytelling feat. For such a mixed bag of narratives, the novel is remarkably well connected and fluid, transitioning effortlessly from one narrative to the other, as more and more about the household is revealed. There is nothing fancy or complicated in the descriptions or plot, yet it is about the complexities of a family of wives and children, their loyalties and sympathies, their greed and revenge, their quick wit and slow seething, and their generosities and wickedness. It is simplistically, elegantly, and dramatically told, building suspense and drama until the end, when the secret changes their lives forever.

Monday, October 20, 2014

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo: book review

We Need New Names (2013) commences with a young girl called Darling from shanty Paradise who crosses Mzilikazi Road to get to Budapest to steal guavas. Darling, the narrator, is 10 years old. She hangs around with her friends: Godknows is ten, Bastard is eleven, Sbho is nine, Stina doesn’t know her age because she has no birth certificate, and Chipo is eleven and pregnant.

It is in Zimbabwe where these friends play country-game in which “we fight over the names because everybody wants to be certain countries, like everybody wants to be the U.S.A and Britain and Canada and Australia …” Nobody wants to be countries like Congo, Somalia and Iraq. Darling always wants to be the U.S.A where her aunt Fostalina lives. School doesn’t exist for these children, not like it did before their fathers lost their jobs, before they lived in the shanty town, and before her father left home to go to South Africa. He returned home with the Sickness, skinny and dying of AIDS. He wasn’t the same and she wasn’t sympathetic – he shouldn’t have left her and her mother for so long.

The election did not change a thing, not as her parents hoped. “Look at them leaving in droves, the children of the land, just look at them leaving in droves.” They are leaving “because it is no longer possible to stay. They will never be the same again because you just cannot be the same once you leave behind who and what you are, you just cannot be the same.”

Darling leaves too. She leaves her mother and her friends to live with her aunt in Detroit. It’s not the same as her home. At school, children “teased me about my name, my accent, my hair … the way I dressed, the way I laughed … in the end I just felt wrong in my skin, in my body, in my clothes, in my language, in my head, everything.” She soon learns, from television, to talk like an American, and look people straight in the eye.

Bulawayo speaks from experience. She left Zimbabwe at eighteen to begin a new life in a new country. This is a child to teenager transition, growing up, out of country and out of place. Missing the old friends and making new ones; being dissed by the old for talking like white folk and being dissed by the white folk for being not. Life changes and people do too. And with it, the language of the novel changes, from that of a young Zimbabwean child to an American teenager and beyond. The innocent language of jacaranda trees and smells and colours and watching men play board games - the poetic language - transitions to phone text shorthand, relationships, and American politics - the serious language.

East African morning

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Gun thermometers and infra-red screening: is fever screening at airports effective?

Gun thermometers – infra-red thermometers or fever scanning cameras or thermal cameras – have been used at airports to screen passengers for high temperatures and fevers. The Australian Government used temperature scanners at all international airports to screen 1.8million incoming passengers from overseas flights during the Avian Flu and SARS outbreaks in 2013.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a viral disease that caused about 9,000 deaths across Asia, and has symptoms similar to influenza – and for which there is no protective vaccine. Infra-red thermometers at airports were used to scan body temperatures, noting those with a fever of 38 degrees Celsius (100 F) or higher. After this surveillance, suspected passengers who exhibited high temperatures were isolated and followed-up with chest X-rays and further tests. All passengers arriving in Australia received a leaflet before disembarking the plane, in several languages, with general information on SARS and respiratory diseases.

The infra-red guns are thermometers used to measure the temperature of people – from a distance. It can measure heat, and therefore can measure people’s body temperature without touching them. It detects heat with optic sensors in the camera or gun’s imaging display. The gun or camera is attached to a computer which monitors temperatures.

At airports, security or airport personnel file people through one lane with the equipment positioned some distance in front or to the side of the queue which can screen quickly without touching people. There is no machine or kiosk to step into, so people remain in line and queue past on their way to the security bag screens. So it is not like personal security screening devices, but instead it is an unobtrusive, rapid way of screening body heat from a moving object or person. And it is safe and easy for the technicians. The readings are instant digital displays. Most people are unaware of the equipment.

During the 2003-2004 SARS outbreak a Canadian study found that 4.6 million people were screened at airports using infra-red imaging, with only 1,435 passengers recording an elevated temperature, and no cases of SARS. Some scientists say that because it can take several days for an incubating infection to produce symptoms, a one-time temperature screening will miss people who are infected but not yet feeling unwell.

Therefore, some scientists say they are inaccurate, while others say they are indeed accurate with a low margin of error. However, infra-red gun thermometers are generally regarded as an early warning system and one way of screening many people rapidly and safely, without intrusive handling, and with no effort required on the passengers’ part.

Monday, October 6, 2014

21st World Travel Awards: Oscars of the travel industry go to Kenyan hotels in 2014

After a slump in the tourism sector in Kenya, the 21st World Travel Awards, issued on September 5, 2014, have voted many Kenyan hotels, spas, and eco-lodges among Africa’s best.

Diana Beach on the Kenyan coast has been voted best beach destination in Kenya. This award is equivalent to an Oscar in the travel industry (reports Daily Nation, October 6, 2014, Also in Diana, the Leopard Beach Resort & Spa was voted Africa’s top spa resort for the second year in a row. It was also voted Kenya’s leading beach resort. The 21st World Travel Awards conferred the awards on the Kenyan coastal area along with the Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort & Spa for Africa’s leading eco-hotel.

The Sarova Shaba Game Lodge in Samburu, northern Kenya, won Africa’s leading eco-lodge. The world famous Maasai Mara was awarded Africa’s leading national park. In the safari camp section of the awards, Gamewatchers Safaris and Porini Camps were named African top performers.

The Kenyan Tourism Board was also named Africa’s leading tourist board for the third year in a row, beating South Africa. Kenya Airways was voted the best airline in Africa in the business class category. Twiga Tours and Abercrombie & Kent were voted the continent’s top companies in the ‘most responsible tourism and luxury safaris’ categories.

Overall, Kenya tied with South Africa with the highest number of winning tourism companies and resorts in Africa (17 of them) with Morocco second (with 14 top awards) and Nigeria in third position with 8 awards.