Last night My friend Nathan in Iganga Uganda sent me an IM: "What are you doing?" I told him I was looking over a list of Nobel Prize winners in Economics and asked what he was doing: "Chatting with a friend in Thailand," was his response. As it happens I was thinking about economics because an American friend teaching in Thailand is beginning some new research and sharing the process online.
A friend and neighbor is a well-regarded horseman. She's a horseman? I don't know what the less-sexists way to say it; horse trainer doesn't seem to fit her approach. I know not much about horses, and I met a friend of hers a while back who knows my friend primarily from the horses. After interrogating me to discover, I know nothing about horses, she said, "You don't have a clue who she is." My horsey friend is a polymath. Over time her friend has discovered some of the areas our interests overlap, or at least has got a sense that we actually do share some history. The friend got comfortable enough to tell me that when she first ran into me at the corner store and then at my friend's farm, she thought: "What a hick! What a hayseed."
Her first impressions of me weren't half wrong. That's why Internet conversations spanning the continents still seem so remarkable and enjoyable to me.
I met Nathan online probably over five years ago. The story of how that came about involves my horsey friend. She got me online. When I discovered all the news sources online, even ones which gave spare coverage to African issues, my cocoon of denial about the suffering of other people in the world began to unravel. I discussed issues of food security in the Eastern Horn of Africa with my friend and she said, "I've got just the book for you." The next time I visited she gave me a book by Robert Rodale, Save Three Lives: A Guide to Famine Prevention. Soon enough I searched "African pen pal" and made my first connection with Nathan.
Nathan's life is full of challenges I can only imagine. He was only seventeen when both of his parents had died, leaving him the oldest of five children. Something that's always impressed me about Nathan is how he's understood that his fortunes are closely tied to those of his community. So we've talked over the years and collaborated together on ways to do good stuff in his community.
Me, Mister Hick, Mister Hayseed, had quite a lot of learning to do about Africa and Uganda; I still do. But I wasn't so sure where to look for information in the beginning. In the last year or so the number of sources and opportunities for learning seem to have increased many-fold. Partly perhaps this has to do with just knowing better where to look, but quite importantly a number of new sites have sprung up. I'm particularly excited about a new site, Afrigator.
If you scroll to the bottom of my sidebar you'll see several buttons to various Web sites. I just noticed that the Taking IT Global Button doesn't work: I better fix that. There's a new button: Afrigator'd. I listed this blog on their Ugandan Channel. Maybe I really shouldn't have, but I suspect the ratings will allow this blog to fly under the radar.
Afrigator is an aggregator of African blog posts. I've had the feeds from Blog Africa sent to my Bloglines reader. I wonder why I've never championed that site? Probably because I subscribe to several African bloggers already and enjoy scanning through the many feeds through Blog Africa daily, but recognize that not everyone has the interest or time to do that. But my heart sank when I at read Ethan Zuckerman's excellent post on Afrigator:
Afrigator is very, very pretty and strongly suspect that it will make BlogAfrica obsolete at some point in the near future.Zuckerman urges anyone whose blog is listed on Blog Africa to list it at Afrigator as well. I hope Blog Africa stays up for a long time because I do like the unfiltered stream of posts, because information and topics not on my radar often prove to be interesting and useful. But I especially hope that African bloggers do register at Afrigator in droves because the site is clean and provides many different ways to find posts of interest.
Blogs are such a great way to discover places because the posts are real people's perspectives. My friends now suspect I'm particularly informed about Africa. That's hardly the case, but they ask me all sorts of questions anyway. Very often the questions are about African politics. I'm a news junkie and follow American politics pretty closely. Oh man! The ins and outs of American politics are really hard to make sense of. Yes, I do pay attention to politics in Africa, but I'm a long way from really having much of a clue. I always tell my friends that there are over fifty African countries and that the continent is huge. Of course African politics is important for Americans to pay attention to, but that lens alone distorts our imagination of Africa. Reuters Africa is a great news portal for the news of the continent, and if I have the presence of mind do mention it. But blogs provide windows into business, art, architecture, technology, the African Diaspora and so much more. Blogs connect people. The people connections provide some context to begin to understand complicated issues like politics.
Afrigator's site is so clean and easy to use. One of the features I like very much is the Channels are based on countries and by the headers for each post is a little country flag. Symbols like that help me so much. First of all I have to practice a bit to recognize all the country flags. Then I make a mental note placing the country on the map of Africa in my mind. I love the tag clouds on Afrigator too.
Yesterday I noticed Microformats in the tag cloud. I'm so slow when it comes to computer stuff; for example, I seem to freeze when it comes to picking tags. But I do at least get the idea that tags and people tagging stuff is very useful. Microformats are something I have only a dim awareness about, so I clicked on the tag and scrolled through the posts. South African blogger Stii had a post directing to a great Firefox tool called Operator. I downloaded it and really love it. Among the features is that Operator will find the tags on a Web page and with a click direct you to photos at Flickr, bookmarks at de.licio.us or blogs at Technorati. I have a sense this is going to help me use tags more effectively than I would have otherwise.
The African blogosphere is already a very rich space and it's growing rapidly too. Afrigator is great addition to the Web universe. Kudos to Justin Harman and Mike Stopforth for bringing Afrigator online!