Saturday, March 25, 2006

What's My Story?

The man on the left on that utility pole is my grandfather. I only have a couple photographs of him as a young man before he married my grandmother. The other one has in in coveralls sawing a stick of lumber with a hand saw. I only knew him in retirement and the coveralls fit my memory of him. In every other photo of him I know he's in a suit, clearly my grandmother's doing. He was an electrician. Through the Depression he did electrical work in the oil fields Oklaholma and the Permian Basin in Texas. Later in his career he worked on hydroelectric projects. It's interesting to contemplate the changes he saw and helped to bring about in his lifetime. And because I knew him, it doesn't seem so awfully long ago; still that photo with a sailing ship seems like ancient history.

On Monday I spent the day in the garden. I have a small fish pond that's in a sunken garden. At the upper edge of it is a small patio area paved with rough field stone which has become over grown with witchgrass. The paved area around the pond seemed too narrow so I set about making that area wider; meaning that I had to dig up a bunch of dirt and stones. Playing in the dirt makes me happy. At first I cursed the rocky soil on part of the property, but now I like playing with the stones so much I never seem to have quite enough. More are available naturally, it's just rather much work digging them up.

Monday the air was warm and the ground was soft so work proceeded quickly. But the rest of the week has been just cold enough so the frost lingers in the soil and so haven't gotten back to the project. That's quite good because I'm not quite sure yet exactly how I want to proceed: where to put the dirt and just how much I want to dig. Not everyone would be happy gardening in such a haphazzard way, but it suits me. Planning takes time, and even with the best laid plans it's always something.

I've taken a long break from posting. Part of it has to do with writing an African -centric blog and knowing how ignorant about all things African I am. Another difficulty is in reading African blogs everyday I'm alerted to numerous topics that interest me and consider blogging about. So after a few days my list of links and all of the tangents my mind follows becomes quite a tangle. So I thought I'd make this post rather personal.

My friend Nathan in Uganda wrote me an email this week that was a little differnt than our usual discussions of issues and projects. Nathan wrote: "When I sit under a shadow of tree, and there is fresh air I get my brain thinking." I grinned widely because the same thing happens to me. What followed were some ruminations about housing in the context of his needing a house so when I come to visit I can stay there. How much to reveal is a tough question, but I'll mention his thoughts included his girlfriend in my visit. When I sit in my garden, and there is fresh air I get my brain to thinking too.

How would I arrange things if I only could? We all know that our efforts will likely be consumed by challenges and problems we haven't thought of yet when we set about composing and arranging our lives. Still and all our dreams of how we'd like things to be are an esential part of making good plans.

Hash aka White African put forward an innovative plan for and African Network for delivering Web content via mobile phones. Just as it stands it's a really good idea, and it's so useful that he's put it out one his blog so others can contribute ideas. To gain an even wider group into the discussion he's put the proposal up at ChangeThis a Web site whose mission is to spread good ideas. Here's the important thing, in order for the African Network idea to be published on the ChangeThis site as a manifesto 300 votes are required. Click on the banner and vote for it now.

Vote for the African Technology Manifesto!

There are so many great blogs and black looks is an essential one in the African Blogosphere. I'm pleased that she blogged about voting at ChangeThis too because the conversation about ideas is so important. In the comments Seun Osewa raised concerns, a caveat really, that solutions to African problems must come from within Africa. There's something really important in the issue he raises.

I'm not in my pajamas, but I am blogging per the stereotype in my basement. I do know that I'm very ignorant about African challenges and problems. So is there a role I can play? I should mention that Seun Osewa wasn't being negative and he added about outsiders "You are all encouraged to keep trying." Another African correspondent wrote me this week telling me that I've missed his points entirely: "You are giving me answers to tomorrow's questions when what I really need are solutions to yesterday's issues." People in rich countries don't have the solutions and engaging a dialog means being open to being changed.

I'm so full of half-baked ideas, it's a joke among my friends here. I laugh along with them, but it makes me a little red-faced too. I've told my friend Nathan to take me with a grain of salt, so when he wrote me an email about what his brain was thinking with his own half-baked ideas it made me feel so good inside. It's not so easy to share dreams and speculations. So there's something remarkable that two people thousands of miles a part who've never met can feel so easy about it.

Guido Sohne (Adobe file) has a very interesting post today, Indigenous Knowledge Is A Red Herring. Sohne writes:
So in the context of this all, what really is indigenous knowledge? In a connected world, indigenous knowledge is the extent to which one is connected to other people. Indigenous knowledge will create itself once those who can use it and those who can create it are connected today. Knowledge is also a function of education and prior access to information. Connectedness is a state of acquiring knowledge of all kinds.
Oswald de Andrade was a poet and one of the founders of Brazilian modernism. He saw Brazilian's history of cannibalizing other cultures was a great strength. The wonderful Exqusite Corpse helpfully provides an English translation of Oswald de Andrade's 1922 "Cannibal Manifesto." Certainly many Africans I've talked with express feelings of loss of culture and anquish about it. Oswald de Andrade's metaphor of cannabilism is rather startling, but has the advantage of reminding how much is retained and transformed.

Sohne contrasts radio and other unidirectional media with bi-directional media, "such as the telephone, email, snail mail, instant messaging or the plain old road, footpath or flight route." He calls the latter "practical communication devices" and says, "unidirectional communication is a losing proposition." Recently I've become fascinated by the potential to use radio as a way to play i-Pod content. Podcasts can make radio's practical communication devices afterall. He makes a good point, however. When we participate in the conversations, enter into dialog; when we tell our stories together, indigenous information is something more than we might first expect.

Nathan tells me the rains have allowed people to plant and look forward to a harvest in August. The red soil there is a different color from the more yellow soil here, although I well remember the red clay soil of South Carolina from my youth. We have our feet on different ground, but it's still the same Earth. These modern times are often "interesting" in the very worst way. Still there seems great value that people today can share their stories so broadly. I'm not telling anyone what to do, as if they'd listen anyway, yet I'm eager to share my dreams and plans.

I doubt my grandfather up on that pole knew what the future would become anymore than I know now. Many of us in the rich world know that things look rather dicey. Who could have known that the Industrial Revolution would result in global climate change when it all began. But it's pretty clear to us now big changes are underway. I'm traveling fast into the future along with my African friends and their perspectives and their challenges inform mine. My story has a history, but in this present our stories are informed by others around the world and that changes history for all.


HASH said...

Great post Bazungu, so much to think on from it.

HASH said...

I'm back.... So, I've been thinking about the use or radios, mobile phones and the web some more. I wish you would share with us your ideas on the mashups that could come out of that mix.

I know you've had some thoughts, so please share. :)