Thursday, January 31, 2008


My office is a mess. I'm not sure that making the photograph of the books by my desk look like a painting makes for a good picture, but at least it provides some distance from the stark reality of my slovenly ways.

I like books. A friend who reads more books in a month than I read in a year never has more than the five or six books she's reading at a time in her apartment. I keep books around because I don't remember the words, and need to refer to them. My memory tends towards paraphrase, and I know from experience that my paraphrasing often seriously distorts the meanings. So I read books and then keep them around so I can spend sometime figuring out what the books said. You might say I'm a slow reader and don't get around to reading as many books as I should.

I love reading on the Internet. There's some truly wonderful writing. The Web is a great place to search for information, but books are uniquely capable for orienting oneself to subjects.

I want to know more about Africa. My heart is heavy about the violence in Kenya in the aftermath of the presidential elections. I'm very grateful to the bloggers who are writing about it. And I will continue to read. But the more I read the more I understand that I need a better context for understanding and reading some books may be just what I need.

Chris Blattman has a post up African Reading List which has some good suggestions. Blattman recommends John Reader's Africa: A Biography of the Continent and I'll second that recommendation.

Dave at Siphoning Off a Few Thoughts has issued and African Reading Challenge. He's encouraging people over 2008 to read:
six books that either were written by African writers, take place in Africa, or deal significantly with Africans and African issues.
The great thing is he's making a carnival of it and encouraging people to write a post on their blog with the books they intend to read, and those are linked at his blog post. Then as readers offer reviews those will be linked to as well. There are already 14 participants signed up, so it's a great way to find lots of books to choose from. I'm winding my way through the posts. I particularly like Nyssaneala list at Book Haven.

I'm going to have to travel to my library to see what books they have available. I bet it's going to be slim pickins. It will be very discouraging if I'm not able to find six books meeting the criteria in the library! I may end up having to finally get around to reading Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

I was writing on a thread at a social network tonight. Crossed Crocodiles posted on a recent speech on African democracy delivered by Jerry John Rawlings at the 5th Annual Trust Dialog. I was impressed by the address, but went to Koranteng's Toli thinking of a particular post. I know that not everyone is as fond as I am of going back to the books I've already read. But I'm fond of doing that, and for the same reasons I'm fond of going back to read Koranteng's posts. He surely is one of the most brilliant writers on the Internet. Surfing around old posts, I realize there's no lack of suggestions of books to read there.

I haven't officially signed on to the African Book Challenge, but it's a good plan and I'm going to try to do it. Maybe once I get a couple of books under my belt I'll sign on. At least I'm going to make a list. I hope if others are so inclined they'll join in and link to their writing at the African Reading Challenge.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Blog Tag

That's a picture of the City of Pittsburgh Mounted Patrol, or whatever they were. Not sure who took the picture, but it was at the Pittsburgh action against the Iraq War on January 26, 2003. Of course the photo has no relevance to this post. But posting it made me go back to the press reports and there's a picture there with the caption: Veteran peace activist Molly Rush lies in the middle of Fifth Avenue during the "die-in" protest yesterday. I was disappointed not to find a great link to share about the indefatigable Molly Rush, here's a brief one.

The culmination of the march squeezed everyone into a block in front of St. Paul's Cathedral. The horse patrol blocked that egress and the others were blocked by scores of police vehicles. It was a very cold and snowy day. With the initial speeches and the March I was darn cold buy the time we were standing in front of the cathedral. Then Molly Rush and a small group, primarily old women, lay down on the pavement to commence a die in. I didn't wait around but talking to a police officer later she said that the group lasted more than two hours motionless on the ground.

I'm not a fan of blog memes because strangely I can never think of anything to say and am not good at making lists. Daisy of Daisy's Dead Air tagged me with two memes. The first is: five things you regret and five you don't. I'm bad with lists and so will have to pair it down:

I regret my long love affair with tobacco.

I don't regret the cats and my lovely dog, Sheila, sharing their lives with me.

I would probably have ignored the tagging thing, except the other meme was something that I discovered I could do fairly easily. Lady Banana tagged Daisy. Here's the deal:
Rule #1
Copy all the links below and replace a single link under the appropriate alphabet. If your domain name, or even the title of your blog, starts with an ” A,” you’d replace the link under that alphabet and put the replaced link at the bottom. Also, don’t forget to credit the tagger, or where you got the list from, at the end of the list with a full URL of the post so that a pingback gets generated.

A. A Glimpse of the World
B. Bazungu Bucks
C. Composing
D. Dani Rodrik's weblog
E. Eschaton
F. find the time to rhyme
G. Gukira
H. Hats For Health
I. Insight Kenya
J. Jack Saturday
K. Koranteng's Toli
L. Learning Is Change
M. Mentalacrobatics
N. No Longer At Ease
O. Open Training Tips, and Ideas
P. Paper Forest
Q. 3Quarks Daily
R. Rootless Cosmopolitan
S. Steve Ntwiga Mugiri
T. Transition Culture
U. Uganda's Scarlett Lion
V. Vietnamese God
W. White African
X. Xylophone Building
Y. YouTube
Z. Zone5

Replaced link: Blogging With Cents
Previous tagger: Daisy's Dead Air

Rule #2You now have to “tag” at least five people and encourage them to participate so that this thing spreads like a virus. Remember, though, that not everyone’s into these kinds of things, so don’t be upset if they don’t participate. Just simply replace your tag. Remember to tag blogs only and no pornographic ones as we do want to keep the integrity as a blogging community.

I'm tagging:

Oh heavens! This is the another reason I hate blog memes. I'm not tagging, but I hope anyone who would like to will play the Alphabet Game. It's interesting to see the lists and learn some new blogs.

There's a #3 Rule too, something about asking a question, but you'll have to go visit Lady Banana if you're interested.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Greatest Natural Clamity

I swiped the photo from this Web site because they were the only one to offer a photo credit which Google Translate helpfully renders:
1897 cattle plague raged in South Africa (image: Collection Onderstepoort)
Have you ever heard of Rinderpest? I hadn't until reading John Reader's Africa:A Biography of a Continent.
Rinderpest is a virus disease, very highly contagious, which manifests itself in fever, restlessness, loss of appetitite, blood-stained diarrhoea, and often nasal discharges. Some animals become maniacal; the great majority weaken rapidly and die.
Reader's book is really quite remarkable in providing a biography of Africa beginning with geologic and climatic detail and proceeding into human history. I found the book fascinating and engaging. Breezing through the customer reviews at Amazon you can get a sense for the problems some find; mostly the result of the sweeping enormity of the subject.

There are eight parts to the book each with multiple chapters. The brief few pages on riderpest are contained in Part 7 "The Scramble" and in the chapter "Resistance." The Scramble for Africa refers to the period between the 1880's and WWI as European powers competed to lay claim to the African continent. "Resistence" is a chapter dealing with the "tests" of colonial authority in Africa. Reader holds that a series of natural calamities "were no less influential" than the newly invented machine gun.

Reader's chapter's "Resistence" and "Rebellion" are shocking and depressing. As I read them I wondered how could it be that I'd never heard about suffering on such a scale. Somewhere I read about Adam Hochschild's impetus to write his book King Leopold's Ghost about the cruel exploitation of the people of the Congo Free State. In less than 40 years the population was depleted from more than 20 million to 10 million. He wondered why he hadn't heard about this tragedy?

I've read a few books on Africa or by Africans. I've made some African friends and follow some African blogs and Web sites. Most people have an enormous well of goodwill. It's heartening to see so many outside Africa take an interest. The more I learn, the more I understand how little I know. In order to create more collaboration for good in Africa, it's important to realize that the story we think we know is incomplete. And it's important to want to learn more.

Rinderpest has a long history, and figures prominently in Western history because outbreaks of the virus were spread by armies and their pack animals. The disease was brought to Sub-Saharan Africa first by Italian colonialist in Somalia by cattle they imported from India. The disease spread rapidly, cattle, sheep and goats were infected. The disease ravaged wild buffalo, giraffes, antelopes, and wild hogs. Reader writes:
In South Africa, drastic attemps were made to halt the advance of the disease. A barbed-wire fence, 1,600 km long, was erected from Bechuanaland to the Cape-Natal coast. Police patrolled the fence; disinfection points were established; infected herds were shot--in all, over 1 million [pounds sterling] was spent on trying to keep the disease out of South Africa, but to no avail. Two and a half million cattle died south of the fence; 5.5 million south of the Zambezi, and up to 95 percent of the cattle in Africa's pastorial regions generally.
The impacts of this calamity on people were obviously horrific. Reader cites South African scholar J. N. P. Davies in describing the rinderpest epidemic as
[T]he greatest natural calamity ever to befall the African continent, a calamity which has no parallel elsewhere.
Yet I had never heard or been told about it.

One of the connections that John Reader highlights about the great Rinderpest epizootic is that the results of the plague disrupted the ecological balance. Areas which had been grazed turned to scrub which allowed an expansion of the tsetse fly range. Tsetse flies in the process of feeding on the blood of animals transmit small single cell organisms called typanosomes. These organism create a serious disease in humans and animals, sometimes called "sleeping sickness." Reader notes that cases were reported in southern Uganda in 1902 and that the disease had killed 200,000 people by 1906.

Perhaps partly from understanding how the multiple plagues which beset Africa in the last century, we have a more ecological sense today; that everything is related to everything. One sort of side effect of thinking that everything is related is a feeling of despair that everything has unintended consequences and nothing will ever work out right.

African Agriculture is a wonderful resource for news about agriculture in Africa. The contact is for the blog is Chido Makunike, a Zimbabwean living in Senegal. The recent roundup of articles links to an article in the Seattle Times, Gates Foundation's agriculture aid a hard sell. The Gates Foundation along with the Rockefeller Foundation have created an initiative called Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA.

The Seattle Times article summarizes some of the criticism of the initiative:
But the foundation's nascent agricultural program is encountering more resistance than much of its other work, with critics concerned that its market-oriented, technology-centric approach will open the door to big agribusiness interests and genetically engineered food.
The answers to that criticism in the article and also gleaned from the excellent AGRA Web site impressed me and calmed some of my concerns.

The question is whether The Green Revolution is the right model. It's a good question, a question that bumps up against the difficult area of morality.

Steven Pinker had a widely linked to article in the New York Times Magazine earlier in the month called The Moral Instinct. It's a good article to check out for a number of reasons, but I mention it because Pinker points to Norman Borlaug as someone who's "most admirable." Borlaug is a plant scientist who's been called "the father of the Green Revolution." Borlaug also established The World Food Prize.

In 1999 the World Food Prize was awarded to Dr. Walter Plowright; from the WFP site:
Dr. Walter Plowright was recognized for his development of a vaccine that has resulted in the elimination of rinderpest, commonly known as cattle plague, from most regions of the developing world. His research has provided a practical means to re move a menace dating back 16 centuries.
The effort to irradiate rinderpest permanently by 2010 is ongoing, but realistically possible.

Pinker makes the case that it's very important to understand our habits about morals. He writes:
Our habit of moralizing problems, merging them with intuitions of purity and contamination, and resting content when we feel the right feelings, can get in the way of doing the right thing.
It's easy to say that we ought to strive to do the right things, but much harder in practice.

People must develop more ecological ways of thinking, to better imagine how the relationships which make are world are composed and interact. A part of that is understanding this ironic quality of moralizing can cloud our clear thinking and get in the way of doing good. That nowhere around the globe should the suffering caused by the rinderpest epizootic ever happen again is a good goal. That nowhere on the globe should people starve is a good goal too. How to achieve these goals and hundreds of others is the essential challenge for our time. To meet the challenge we must imagine that we are indeed capable of creating something good even while uncertain that we've hold all the answers.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

I Feel Like Bazungubucks Tonight.

I went out tonight to a nice gathering of friends to watch some recorded music performances. What fun it is to enjoy music in the company of others! So It's late and I only a few things to say.

First of all Potash writes me to say that the Kwani? blog is up and running. The outage was short-lived. There a lot of good writing about the situation on blogs and Kwani? is a good place to start. Bloggers provides much needed nuance, especially for Western observers. Kenyan Pundit has two dozen diaries written by Kenyans in Kenya an abroad. It is possible to underestimate how fragile the situation is, but so encouraging to see so much engagement.

I had one too many drinks tonight, probably, so my brain isn't firing on all cylinders to come up with something snappy. So I turned to the Slogan Generator for the title of the post and Says-It for the cassette image. It's fun to think labels, but as I say I'm lazy tonight and could have used some sort of generator for the fields to make the cassette image too.

It was a little startling to get a note from Potash and a comment from Daisy, as it's comforting to think nobody reads the blog. But what's the point really if nobody reads it? So I'm very appreciative of readers.

One reason for slacking off posting is that I've been posting at a social network called Ned which I'm very fond of. It's nice to be part of a conversation. I'm comfortable there because, so far, nobody's complained too much that I never seem to get to the point. Good writing, like anything else, requires practice. Sadly, it requires considerably more; and whatever that is, I'm not sure I'll ever acquire it.

Michele Martin writes a very valuable blog, The Bamboo Project. Initially it was intended as a resource for non-profits and government organizations, but her posts are of interest to a wide audience. From a post, Blogging When You Hate to Read or Write I got turned on to a cool new Internet tool called vozMe which will convert text into an Mp3 file so you can listen to text. I was curious to find out what "I" sound like. I copied my last post into the file and listened to the computer generated voice read my post. I could stand to learn to use punctuation better and spell check. Nevertheless the post seemed to make more sense than I thought it did.

Another reason I got off blogging, was having set up links to this blog at places like Afrigator, I began to worry that this blog was just adding noise to the African blogosphere. Now, this post is noisy, no doubt; I am a bit noisy. But the Kenyan election debacle, made me realize that African blogs are very important to me. Early in January I was very keen to find out that people who I know through the Internet were okay.

Reading about the situation in Kenya through American eyes has made me examine more closely American foreign policy in the region. My influence on government policy approaches zero, but is not quite; I can make a little difference. All along the idea for Bazungu Bucks has been to encourage others, particularly other Americans to give a care for African people. The surprise has been that by writing a blog some Africans have given a care for me.

I'm awfully easy, as a line from a John Prine song goes, "You like me, I guess I'm going to have to like you back." The lively communication across borders can help people to care more broadly. That's why I feel like Bazungubucks tonight.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Posting Regularly

I sleep in a shack. It can get cold at night, so I sleep under a pile of blankets. That works pretty well, but I can get too hot. Getting too hot is what accounts for remembering a dream the other night. I don't often remember dreams and generally when I do they're no account.

This dream bothered me. I suppose the details really do matter, but the gist of it was that in my dream I extricated myself from a situation where strangers, I was sure, were going to do something really bad to another stranger. I escaped but was left wandering in unfamiliar surroundings.

Yesterday was the Martin Luther King holiday. I read his I Have a Dream once again, and dd posted King's last speech and that speech made me think more about the dream I had. King spoke:
Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.
He followed with a remarkable telling of the parable of The Good Samaritan. It's really worthwhile to read King's speech. King drew from the parable a lesson:
And so the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
In my dream the first question I asked was: "What will happen to me?" and skedaddled out of harms way. Sensible enough, but I was haunted by the second question and tossed and turned trying to get back to sleep after removing a layer of covers.

Why do we need to question what will happen to that other stranger anyway? Well for one reason King so clearly stated earlier in the same speech:
Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.
It's forty years now and the urgency of that existential terror is even plainer now. Naturally, I care very much about my own existence, but my end is a puny consequence in the bigger view of a our collective doom.

The markets opened today with a pretty clear sense that our financial crisis is a big deal. So there's been plenty of gloomy posts to read in the blogs about that. Stirling Newberry in a comment on his own post today at The Agonist wrote:
Right now the international consensus is that the rich own the world and the rest of us just make trouble.
It's safe to say, seeing how I sleep in a shack, that I'm one of the rest of us. With the memory of King's speech still fresh in mind, something that Bayard Rustin said came to mind with Newberry's comment. Here's Martin Mayer writing about Rustin in The Saturday Evening Post in 1964:
"I believe in social dislocation and creative trouble," Rustin says; and within these categories he specializes in imagination and invention. The man is an artist as well as an organizer—he made his living for some years as a nightclub singer, working with Josh White and Leadbelly at the old CafĂ© Society in New York, and he could make a living tomorrow as an interior decorator specializing in antiques. To Rustin, a demonstration is a piece of theater which will be a memorable experience for the spectators (which is what most people are); and it is an opportunity to find a soft spot where concerted action can make a dent in society.
I may not be as creative as Bayard Rustin was, but if I'm trouble anyway, I might as well be creative.

The prodding to post regularly came from leaving a comment at a blog new to me, Daisy's Dead Air. Daisy is fine writer and creative trouble. Trouble making is dangerous, and I'm not brave. Daisy said that I need to post regularly. Although her blog is new, I know she knows we're all in bunch of trouble; I know she knows I know too. So the "need" in this admonition is we better be creative, at least; have you a better idea?

Potash is creative. Leaving his blog posting aside for other projects he's back writing about the current political crisis in Kenya. It's not just at his blog I see him, but in comments at other blogs, encouraging writers towards creative trouble. Not destructive and incitement to destruction, rather to be creative. The writers have written at Kwani?,but the servers are down, so Potash is leaving comments for writers to write and writers are writing.

A long while ago Potash left a comment saying that as a kid he questioned Martin and Malcolm weighing in his mind their approach. The really useful discovery he told me was satyagraha the word that Mohandas Gandhi use for his philosophy of resistance. The word can be rendered in to English as grasping onto truth. Martin Luther King referred to it as "soul force." The application of Gandhi's philosophy on non-violent resistance was in part an American invention with inclusion of Christian theology. But the core of moving away from error with patience and compassion towards truth remained integral.

Opinions vary, naturally, and anything I say about the situation in Kenya as a middle-aged American needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Potash's most recent post is Why I Blame Kibaki. He echo's Stirling Newberry's observation that the powers that be see the rest of us and nothing but trouble. Like Gandhi, King and so many others well understood, Potash avers that the rest of us together cannot be ignored. Together we can create a kind of creative soul force.

Grasping towards the truth requires patience and sadly is dangerous. Not one of us wants to be battered, beaten and burned. We cannot take those dangers lightly. While violence may sometimes offer some protection to us individually, together violence will only perpetuate the human folly that's gotten us into this mess in the first place. We can't dismiss the danger; King clearly knew. Yet in calling us to develop a "dangerous unselfishness" his words are empowering. We've got soul force, bigger than any of us once we turn the question around from "What will happen to me?" to "What will happen to him?" We're in this world of trouble together and it's only grasping that soul force as creatively as we can that will get us trough.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Resentment and Forgiveness

Two by two, often there are pairs of words that share a deep relationship, opposites perhaps. Kenya is currently in a political crisis causing widespread social disruption. As an outsider I don't know the contours of the many resentments among Kenyans. As a person, I dread further violence and destruction and long for repair and reconciliation.

Recently I read a review by Roger Scruton of a book called Forgiveness: A Philosophical Inquiry by Charles Griswold. I think forgiveness an important and difficult subject, so the review was thought provoking.

One of the criticism of the Internet is that people filter information sources so that they essential get only information from the perspective of people like themselves. I'm relatively new to the World Wide Web, coming online in the late 1990's. Almost immediately I encountered views not only opposite mine, but views seeming quite offensive. Since then RSS and other methods for filtering sources have come along. In the nine years I've been online, I've developed haunts where I gather news and views, so of course I filter.

My political tendencies lean left. Scruton is unabashedly conservative. I surely do filter political commentary towards left-leaning sources, but it doesn't seem possible to filter out conservative-leaning voices, nor does it seem desirable to me.

Likewise I'm not religious; I'm not a believer. The other evening I was through the posts answering the Edge Annual Question. The question Edge asked was: "WHAT HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND ABOUT?" After reading a half dozen entries or so, I thought to myself: "God, I love these atheists!" Easily amused I chuckled at my inconsistency. Allan Alda's piece is entitled So far, I've changed my mind twice about God. As a young man Alda decided that the idea of God didn't really make sense to him, so he considered himself an atheist. He was quiet about this belief, knowing how touchy people so often are. But after eleven year interviewing hundreds of scientists for Scientific American Frontiers, he's reconsidered his atheist identity and settled on letting the uncertainty about God be. He's changed his mind and is now agnostic about God. His post and all the post are worth reading.

It's fascinating to hear what really smart people have changed their minds about and why. It's nice too that they aren't trying to change other minds in these essays, simply how their minds have been changed. 2007 saw quiet a lot of discussion about Atheism a a number of Edge essays were about changing from believers to atheists, Alda's uncertainty stands apart. Perhaps because I'm not a scientist his position resonates with me, certainly that uncertainty is unlikely to convince anyone to change their beliefs about God.

Scruton points out that Griswold observes that forgiveness can't be achieved alone:
Forgiveness is not achieved unilaterally: it is the result of a dialogue, which may be tacit, but which involves reciprocal communication of an extended and delicate kind. The one who forgives goes out to the one who has injured him, and his gesture involves a changed state of mind, a reorientation towards the other, and a setting aside of resentment.
Often, with a straight arrow between resentment and hatred are coupled. But the possibility of forgiveness after resentment is hopeful, if not as straightforward.

On January 1st I started a thread on the Kenyan elections at a social network I attend. And I've been following many blog posts about the Kenyan situation. There are lots of opinions! While many bloggers have been actively moderating out hate speech, it's easy to find such and passion is everywhere.

Ethan Zuckerman is in the Netherlands speaking at an event, Fill the Gap, which focuses on IT in developing nations. Zuckerman in a recent post tells about Fairous Manji from Fahamu and Pambazuka News who reported on the situation in Kenya at the event. Manji's analysis is quite incisive and Zuckerman's post is essential reading for those wanting to learn more about the situation.

Manji couples the words justice and peace. Like the coupling of resentment and hatred there's a straight arrow of cause between them. With resentment and forgiveness there is no such arrow. What comes between must be a wrestling together in dialog. Scruton's review of Griswold mentions Archbishop Desmond Tutu "the brains behind the path-breaking Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa."

On Bill Moyers Journal recently Moyers ran an excerpt from a 1991 Interview. In the excerpt there was a brief scene of Tutu crying early in the first days of the Commissions work. Moyers asked Tutu:
How did you manage to sit there day after day and hear these stories of terrible things that people had been doing to other people?
I thought of that question when reading testimony of Alex Tamba Tieh given at Charles Taylor's trial for charges of crimes against humanity at Howard French's blog. I'm not sure I could take hearing a trial such as that. So Tutu's answer to Moyers came to mind:
It was terrible, and I cry easily. I broke down on the very first day. But I then said it wasn't fair, 'God, you couldn't allow this to happen,' because the media then concentrated on me instead of on the people who were the rightful subjects, the victims. And if I wanted to cry, then I would cry at home or in church. But I was sustained by prayer, yes
He had such wisdom of where the attention needed to be.

I'm gravely concerned about further violence in Kenya. But I'm also hopeful because of the narratives I'm hearing told by Kenyans. On the thread at the social network I started, a Kenyan chided me for mentioning and linking to blogs, calling my links "opinionists." But that same person has been engaged by others in the thread. Minds may not be changed, but the ways people are talking is changing, at least from the perspective of an outsider.

Resentments are being made known. The remarkable site is up and running so people can not only report acts of violence, but also efforts for peace. Kenyan writers are writing at places like Kwani. The situation in Kenya is very grave and dangerous, but already people from many walks of life are beginning dialogs to wrestle together resentment with forgiveness.

Beliefs about God have been fought over endlessly. Clearly the Kenyan crisis in not a religious war! Griswold book on forgiveness is an entirely secular approach, but Scruton points out how central forgiveness is to Christianity. While my politics certainly aren't like Scruton's I liked his review. It's surely putting unlike things together to bring up religion and politics and my views of them. I suppose I have to try to make the point that narratives can be shaped by talking, even across strongly and passionately held beliefs. Resentment does not always have to be coupled with hatred, there is always the possibility of forgiveness. Forgiveness can only be made in dialog.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Learning to Connect

Much to my surprise several people have noticed I've not been blogging. I like blogging, certainly reading posts and comments. And it seems best if leaving comments, as I like to do, to be someone who is also putting out on a blog.

Bazungu Bucks was really an accident. The idea was to raise a bit of money to send to a friend in Uganda to use in his work with a community organization. I thought my friends, whom I was depending on for the money might be interested. My friends came through with the money, but few ever read the blog. With the blog I discovered Blog Africa and shortly afterward Global Voices and through them African blogs. Also my blog posts became a part of the conversation. How rewarding that's been!

Much has changed since 2005. Eric Hersman recently created an amazing photo collage at Flickr of African Web 2.0 sites. That version is so great because he uses the note feature to provide URLs for the more than three dozen sites he lists. The rise of such sites is coupled with a much greater adoption of ordinary people of social networks like Facebook.

The title of this post is ripped off from a post by Ethan Zuckerman, Scoble, Kenya and learning to connect. Zuckerman earlier had written about homophily--the tendency to hang with people just like you--and social software in a deliciously named post Social software, serendipity and salad bars. (Mmm. Sybillance…). He observes:
I’d go further and argue that too much homophily can make you a) dumb and b) boring, ignorant of news and ideas that aren’t already interesting to people around you, and incapable of bringing ideas to your friends that they haven’t already heard.)
Yeah, and now there are so many ways to connect and to engage with brilliant, fascinating, beautiful, kind people all over.

Learning is not automatic nor is without pain. One of my dad's favoring aphorisms when we were growing up was: "We learn from our non-fatal mistakes." At the time we all suspected what he was emphasizing keeping ourselves safe. Now that I'm older than he when chiding us, he was surely telling us mistakes are essential.

This blog doesn't really contribute to the African blogosphere. The mistakes of Bazungu Bucks have added up in a big pile. I've wondered whether I should retire the blog and begin again with something more attuned to my goofy and eclectic personality. That's probably the thing to do, but seems that I need to get back in the habit of blogging again, and that may give the ambition to start a new blog.

One of the challenges of learning to connect is figuring out what your mistakes are. It helps some to have others point them out, but the judgment of others isn't always accurate or applicable. It's a grave mistake for a middle-aged white American guy to take privilege for granted, and far too easy to make that mistake.

A friend summed up the approach to Bazungu Bucks as "save one life at a time." I recoiled a bit when he said that because it puts the presumption of privilege in rather stark relief. I do think that caring about events, what's happening to people elsewhere in the world, is greatly enhanced by knowing someone where those events are happening. So I have endeavored to make friendships with Africans online. It turns out reporting about the lives of friends is really gossip and gossip is not the stuff for blog posts. The stories of my friendships aren't simple, like any friendships. My friends close to me find the complications strange. No doubt I'm learning an awful lot from the complications. But finding ways of sharing what I'm learning comes hard.

Having African friends puts racism in a new light. Most Americans would rather have teeth pulled than to be thought racist. Men are also quite invested in being "nice guys" Of course it's good to be nice, and a pain to be thought a jerk. Yet the very structure of things helps to make white Americans racist jerks. That's bad enough, but then we actively don't see the obvious. That's not so simple a problem to solve.

One really smart fellow, Kai, contributing to an important discussion, An ally 101 thread points out that anti-racism is life long work. The thread hosted at Creek Running North and moderated by Theriomorph starts out with:
Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot of white activists expressing concern about ‘the divides within feminism’ and the difficulties in strengthening alliances, particularly with women of color.

It’s an important conversation.

The problem is, it keeps happening in overtly racist ways, and on the blogs of women of color, whose conversations, time, and energies are then derailed into - yes, you guessed it - taking care of and educating (or, very reasonably, challenging) the people who just busted into their house and puked on their rug while they were in the middle of doing something else.
The discussion is so pertinent to crossing boundaries in general. But the title reminds me how difficult all those 101 courses always were in college, harder, it seemed to me, than the more advanced courses.

Engaging: reading blog posts, commenting on threads made by African bloggers, making friends, having arguments. learning so much, fills me with joy. Sometimes too, the reflections I receive shows me stuff about myself and my culture I'd rather not consider. Ah, but life is a composition, a work in progress. Learning to connect means change. Not change for others, but most especially ourselves. So I want to get back to blogging the composition I'm trying to make.