Monday, October 17, 2011

African interlude

Here is a mix of things we wanted to write about. BOOKS. In comments to our blog, a good book was recommended to us which I will probably wait until my return to read, but I thought I would share what we've been reading while here in Africa, which we've enjoyed. Hugh: Disgrace, by Coetzee, a So. African fiction writer. The fact that this occurs in So.Africa is not as critical to the story as some of the other works below. Shadow of the Sun, by polish reporter Kapuscinski who lived in Africa for the last couple of decades. Very good travelogue. I will read more of his works later. /. Ways of Dying, a novel by Zakes Mda, a So. African writing about a slice of life in a small poor village and an urban township. /. Diamonds, Gold and War, by Meredith. Long detailed history of South Africa from 1800 to 1905, in which you see how the country was formed and the seeds of the apartheid policies that would develop. It focuses a lot on the pivotal figures Paul Kruger and Cecil Rhodes, who I had heard of but did not truly know anything about. /. None to Accompany Me, novel by Nadine Gordimer, So.African Nobel prize winner. Follows two middle class families, occurring at the time when the government was transitioning out of apartheid. /. Desertion, novel by Gurnah, a Zanzibarian author writing about the meeting of cultures on the East African (Kenyan) shores around 1899. I am in the middle of it and thoroughly enjoying it. Favorite book so far. /. Betsy also read When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, by Godwin, about a white man born and raised in Zimbabwe, and how things have changed since Independence, particularly the deterioration of the country under Robert Mugabe. She can't wait for me to read it. //. MONEY. Africa truly needs to come up with their version of the Euro as I am starting to collect a pile of useless coins and paper notes. (Although with economic news in Europe right now, it looks a lot of people are not sure if the euro is such a good idea). However, while bargaining in the Kenyan curio shop near the Tanzanian border, I did enjoy pretending to be confused that we were bargaining in TZ shillings, which has a value less than 1/10 of the Kenyan shilling. //. Since we started the trip and been looking at exchange rates, the Kenyan shilling has lost 15% of its value, with half of that occurring in the last 2 weeks. I (Hugh) am able to check my ATM bank transactions online (although it is a bit of a pain because my bank's computer servers do not accept inquiries from computers with African Internet addresses). At first, we thought my bank at home had the exchange rate wrong, in our favor, prior to our awareness of the falling value. People here are quite upset about their loss in purchasing power, since as in many non-European countries, the US dollar is used in many transactions. Many items are labeled with it, most hotels, tours, plane tickets, etc. are listed in dollars, or other foreign currency, and I have to often ask if I can pay in the local currency, which they will still take. One issue we did have with US dollars concern the dates printed on it. In the US, we ignore the date but in Africa it is quite important. They will not take dollars printed before 2001, and we have even been faced with requests for 2004+ or even 2006+. //. FOOD. We were warned by some others who came to Africa that we were not heading for culinary greatness. However, the low expectations were exceeded as the food here has been fine. Of course, we have had some bad meals on occasion, but in general the food has been tasty and safe to eat. Unlike India, where we were paranoid about everything we ate, avoided almost all raw foods and still got sick, here we do often eat salads and fruits and have not had any significant setbacks. There is a small concern that with about 10 days left and one Kashi bar remaining, Betsy may go into withdrawal. (Peter, thanks for the offer of air freighting a box in, but I think we are going to use this as an opportunity to break the cycle of addiction). However, we are looking forward to the food at our next destination, the Kenyan beach resort of Malindi, also known as Little Italy. - Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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