Adonis Diaries

Archive for March 28th, 2020

Barbara made me walk on air

Note: Re-edit of “I Should Have Told Barbara (Jan. 2003)”

The day before my trip to Los Angeles in the summer of 1976, Sue, the girlfriend of a dear friend of mine studying at the same university, asked me to get in touch with her sister Barbara.

I were in the USA since June of 1975, my first trip ever outside my country.

The International Office at the University arranged a group trip for one week to California, for some of us new international students. We were to meet families in this exchange program.

I did not care meeting any American families for the time being, but I needed to get away in my first summer and wanted to see California.

The International student advisor knew about my origin. The program matched me with an old Jewish couple in Pasadena without warning me. I do consider Israel as our existential enemy and anyone who support Israel financially could never be a friend of mine. I did assume this family supported Israel.

The family had a fourteen-year old boy, or maybe he was their grandchild.

I was Not that curious: They looked pretty old to me. The husband was very helpful and friendly, but his wife gave me the impression that she agreed reluctantly to join the program.

A student from Nigeria was assigned to the same family. The house was large with a garden.  The interior looked old, traditional, gloomy, dark and smelling like it was never aerated and reeking of old people.

The same evening they asked the Nigerian student a few questions, but I was spared this torture, may be because I didn’t look that forthcoming. Or that they figured out I’ll be very sensitive to whatever pertinent questions they might ask.

It is a crime to surprise youth among old people. Youth has to be forewarned, to be prepared on what to expect from elder people. Youth has to be reminded that elderly can be wonderful and much active, That older people are great people, still very much living humans And who could be funny, charming and could be very functional…

We had a general gathering the first day with all the host families and various students. Then we were given the daily program of places to see and I barely paid attention to the program.

We were to see Disneyland the next day for free. I declined the invitation: Disneyland is for kids.

I remember that I had another chance to visit Disney for free, two years later. And I again declined. Disney was still just for kids.

Many years later, I discovered that everybody liked to see Disney, including kids. I never saw Disney in California, but the smaller version in Orlando with my nephews. My little nephews and nieces, five in total then, loved Disney.

Not as much as I did enjoy it that day.

My host drove me for an hour to the meeting place with Barbara, living in West Hollywood. He drove two hours to pick me up, three hours later.

Youth: ruthless, mindless, uncompromising, and unappreciative.

I still can visualize Barbra after thirty years, coming toward me, in white shirt, long brown skirt reaching below her knees, almost touching her long brown cowboy boots.

Her boots must have added a couple inches to her stature. She is shorter than me in an afterthought. But the vision is always of a tall and grand lady.

She appeared taller than me but my pride increased correspondingly, by her side.

Her then long blonde-brown hair was raised over her beautiful head. She looked glamour incarnate.

She hugged me and made me feel I was a dear friend, of long time, whom she missed.

She spoke with effusion and earnestness.

She wanted to know all that is to know, instantly,

About how her sister is doing, what about her sister’s boyfriend who was my friend, About their relationship, about Oklahoma her home State…

About everything, but nothing about me, or how I feel or felt that moment.

I was glad that I was not the object of the conversation then, but not so glad now.

We walked together so close, and I was walking on air.

I felt that I must look the most envied guy, a most glamorous guy in the whole wide world.

I asked permission from my host family to move at Barbara’s, for the duration of the program, and they agreed.

Next morning was warm and sunny and I walked to Beverly Hills to see her in the fashion store she managed. I did walk on stars’ hands and the walk was Not that long.

She received me like a VIP and was happy at my surprised visit. And I toured Downtown Beverly Hills: Pretty empty of clients, boring, clean, expensive for no reasons… I cannot recall if I waited for Barbara to finish work or that I returned by myself.

I wanted to be with Barbara every second of my trip in California.

A couple of years later, I accepted to attend a conference in Los Angeles hoping to see Barbara again.

It was an important political conference but my heart was not in it.

My friends drove me through Beverly Hills, where the rich and glamorous live, but I was not impressed.

Finally, giving up, they gave me a lift from Anaheim to West Hollywood.

I called up Barbara and I invited myself to stay overnight at her apartment.

She had many friends. She was attached at the moment to a fashionable young man, working in fashion and with fashion, but they had problems.

She appeared depressed and disappointed and not in the mood for me. Her TV was on 24 hours.

I slept and woke up with the TV on.

Six years later, during my second extended trip to the USA, I had another opportunity to visit with Baraba

Sue was leaving to Little Rock with her boyfriend had she told me that Barbara was married and living in Oklahoma City and she gave me her phone number.

I met Barbara on Thanksgiving and she did not look the Barbara of my vision.

Her skin looked darker, her face emaciated, down to earth, resigned and decked in simple blue jeans and an old black sweater.

She was married to a full-blooded American Indian, herself a half-blooded lady.

A soft spoken husband, a polite artist who toured the USA exhibiting his paintings.

She stayed at home designing jewellery and managing her man’s business.

I accepted her invitation for a Thanksgiving lunch.

I went down to Oklahoma City for an important and specific purpose of mine: I was determined to tell Barbara my secret.

I went down with my steady girlfriend at the time. I had to because I had no cars: actually, I spent most of my University education on a bicycle.

Barbara’s eyes had an ironic shine looking at my oriental (Filipina) short friend.

She asked my friend all kinds of questions about our relationship,

How we met and what are our plans.

Barbara said to me: “You know, someone needs news about your friend”.

She meant that her sister needed to know the whereabouts of her ex-husband.

I had lost track of the whereabouts of my friend too and could not be of much help.

Barbara was entitled to know the truth, that the first time she walked with me, she made me feel that I was the most glamorous guy in town.

But I did not tell Barbara the truth.

I don’t recall that I talked during my two hours stay at Thanksgiving.

Maybe it did not feel right at that moment, but I should have persevered on my initial decision:

This truth is hers no matter what.

She could be eighty, but age does not erase the feeling, that to my young eyes, she was the most glamorous woman I set my eyes on.

She could be a hundred, but age does not change the fact,

That Barbara made me once walk on air.

Maybe if I had told Barbara, I wouldn’t have written this story.

Are we at the infancy of the trajectory of this pandemics? Statement from an epidemiologist

This is a statement from an epidemiologist at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

People are already itching to cheat on the social distancing precautions just a “little”- a playdate, a haircut, or picking up a needless item at the store, etc. Don’t. Breaking the chain for transmission is the key measure for overcoming this pandemics.

Mindy Baranski posted on FB an article by an epidemiologist

As an infectious disease epidemiologist, at this point I feel morally obligated to provide some information on what we are seeing from a transmission dynamic perspective and how they apply to the social distancing measures.

Like any good scientist I have noticed two things that are either not articulated or not present in the “literature” of social media.

Specifically, I want to make two aspects of these measures very clear and unambiguous.

First, we are in the very infancy of this epidemic’s trajectory. That means even with these measures we will see cases and deaths continue to rise globally, nationally, and in our own communities in the coming weeks.

Our hospitals will be overwhelmed, and people will die that didn’t have to.

This may lead some people to think that the social distancing measures are not working. They are. They may feel futile. They aren’t. You will feel discouraged. You should. This is normal in chaos.

But this is also normal epidemic trajectory. Stay calm. This enemy that we are facing is very good at what it does; we are not failing.

We need everyone to hold the line as the epidemic inevitably gets worse. This is not my opinion; this is the unforgiving math of epidemics for which I and my colleagues have dedicated our lives to understanding with great nuance, and this disease is no exception.

We know what will happen; I want to help the community brace for this impact. Stay strong and with solidarity knowing with absolute certainty that what you are doing is saving lives, even as people begin getting sick and dying. You may feel like giving in. Don’t.

Second, although social distancing measures have been (at least temporarily) well-received, there is an obvious-but-overlooked phenomenon when considering groups (i.e. families) in transmission dynamics.

While social distancing decreases contact with members of society, it of course increases your contacts with group (i.e. family) members.

This small and obvious fact has surprisingly profound implications on disease transmission dynamics. Study after study demonstrates that even if there is only a little bit of connection between groups (i.e. social dinners, playdates/playgrounds, etc.), the epidemic trajectory isn’t much different than if there was no measure in place.

The same underlying fundamentals of disease transmission apply, and the result is that the community is left
with all of the social and economic disruption but very little public health benefit.

You should perceive your entire family to function as a single individual unit; if one person puts themselves at risk, everyone in the unit is at risk.

Seemingly small social chains get large and complex with alarming speed. If your son visits his girlfriend, and you later sneak over for coffee with a neighbor, your neighbor is now connected to the infected office worker that your son’s girlfriend’s mother shook hands with. This sounds silly, it’s not. This is not a joke or a hypothetical.

We as epidemiologists see it borne out in the data time and time again and no one listens. Conversely, any break in that chain breaks disease transmission along that chain.

In contrast to hand-washing and other personal measures, social distancing measures are Not about individuals, they are about societies working in unison.

These measures also take a long time to see the results. It is hard (even for me) to conceptualize how “one quick little get together” can undermine the entire framework of a public health intervention, but it does. I promise you it does. I promise. I promise. I promise. You can’t cheat it.

People are already itching to cheat on the social distancing precautions just a “little”- a playdate, a haircut, or picking up a needless item at the store, etc.

From a transmission dynamics standpoint, this very quickly recreates a highly connected social network that undermines all of the work the community has done so far.

Until we get a viable vaccine this unprecedented outbreak will not be overcome in grand, sweeping gesture, rather only by the collection of individual choices our community makes in the coming months.

This virus is unforgiving to unwise choices.

My goal in writing this is to prevent communities from getting ‘sucker-punched’ by what the epidemiological community knows will happen in the coming weeks.

It will be easy to be drawn to the idea that what we are doing isn’t working and become paralyzed by fear, or to ‘cheat’ a little bit in the coming weeks.

By knowing what to expect, and knowing the importance of maintaining these measures, my hope is to encourage continued community spirit, strategizing, and action to persevere in this time of uncertainty.

Before colonial powers took over Africa: Africa history

Note 1: Repost of 2014 of “Africa, Uncolonized: A Detailed Look at an Alternate Continent”

Note 2: Maps were drawn upside down during the Arabic Empire and they skew the current traditional eurocentric point of direction.
Africa was called before the European colonization Al-Kebulan or Alkebulan meaning ‘Garden of Life’, ‘Cradle of Life’, or simply ‘the Motherland’
Frank Jacobs, November 12, 2014
Uitsny_suid_afrika

What if the Black Plague had killed off almost all Europeans?

The Reconquista in Spain would have never happened.

If Spain and Portugal didn’t kickstart Europe’s colonization of other continents in the 16th century, this is what Africa might have looked like.

The map shows an Africa dominated by Islamic states, and native kingdoms and federations.

All have at least some basis in history, linguistics or ethnography.

None of their borders is concurrent with any of the straight lines imposed on the continent by European powers, during the 1884-85 Berlin Conference and in the subsequent Scramble for Africa.

By 1914, Europeans controlled 90% of Africa’s land mass.

Only the Abyssinian Empire (modern-day Ethiopia) and Liberia (founded in 1847 as a haven for freed African-American slaves) remained independent.

This map is the result of an entirely different course of history. The continent depicted here isn’t even called Africa [1] but Alkebu-Lan, supposedly Arabic for ‘Land of the Blacks’ [2].

That name is sometimes used by those who reject even the name ‘Africa’ as a European imposition.

It is therefore an ideal title for this thought experiment by Swedish artist Nikolaj Cyon.

Essentially, it formulates a cartographic answer to the question: What would Africa have looked like if Europe hadn’t become a colonizing power? 

To arrive at this map, Cyon constructed an alternative timeline. Its difference from our own starts in the mid-14th century.

The point of divergence: the deadliness of the Plague.

In our own timeline, over the course of the half dozen years from 1346 to 1353, the Black Death [3] wiped out between 30 and 60% of Europe’s population. It would take the continent more than a century to reach pre-Plague population levels. That was terrible enough.

But what if Europe had suffered an even more catastrophic extermination – one from which it could not recover?

Allohistorical Africa, seen from our North-up perspective. The continent’s superstates (at least size-wise): Al-Maghrib, Al-Misr, Songhai, Ethiopia, Kongo and Katanga.

European colonies in Africa in ‘our’ 1913.

Blue: France, pink: Britain, light green: Germany, dark green: Italy, light purple: Spain, dark purple: Portugal, yellow: Belgium, white: independent. Lines reflect current borders.

Cyon borrowed this counterfactual hypothesis from The Years of Rice and Salt, an alternate history novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. The book, first published in 2002, explores how the depopulation of Europe would have altered world history.

Robinson speculates that Europe would have been colonized by Muslims from the 14th century onwards, and that the 20th century would see a world war between a sprawling Muslim alliance on the one side, and the Chinese empire and the Indian and native American federations on the other.

Cyon focuses on Africa – or rather, Alkebu-Lan – which in his version of events doesn’t suffer the ignominy and injustice of the European slave trade and subsequent colonization.

In our timeline, Europe’s domination of Africa obscured the latter continent’s rich history and many cultural achievements.

On the map of Cyon’ s Africa, a many-splendored landscape of nations and empires, all native to the continent itself, gives the lie to the 19th- and 20th-century European presumption that Africa merely was a ‘dark continent’ to be enlightened, or a ‘blank page’ for someone else to write upon.

Basing himself on Unesco’s General History of Africa, Cyon built his map around historical empires, linguistic regions and natural boundaries.

His snapshot is taken in 1844 (or 1260 Anno Hegirae), also the date of a map of tribal and political units in Unesco’s multi-volume General History.

Al-Andalus, in this timeline still a dependency of Al-Maghrib; and the Emirate of Sicily to the left of the map.

Zooming in on the northern (bottom) part of the map, we see an ironic reversal of the present situation: in our timeline, Spain is still holding on to Ceuta, Melilla and other plazas de soberania in Northern Africa.

In Cyon’s world, most of the Iberian peninsula still called Al-Andalus, and is an overseas part of Al-Maghrib, a counterfactual Moroccan superstate covering a huge swathe of northwestern Africa.

Sicily, which we consider to be part of Europe, is colored in as African, and goes by the name of Siqilliyya Imārat (Emirate of Sicily).

The Arabic is no accident.

Absent the European imprint, Islam has left an even more visible mark on large swathes of North, West and East Africa than it has today.

Numerous states carry the nomenclature Sultānat, Khilāfat or Imārat. And what are the difference between a Caliphate, Sultanate and Emirate?

A Caliph claims supreme religious and political leadership as the successor (caliph) to Muhammad, ideally over all Muslims.

I spot two Caliphates on the map: Hafsid (centered on Tunis, but much larger than Tunisia), and Sokoto in West Africa (nowadays: northwest Nigeria).

Sokoto, Dahomey, Benin and other states in country-rich West Africa. 

A Sultan is an independent Islamic ruler who does not claim spiritual leadership.

Five states in the greater Somalia region are Sultanates, for example: Majerteen, Hiraab, Geledi, Adāl and Warsangele. Others include Az-Zarqa (in present-day Sudan), Misr (Egypt, but also virtually all of today’s Israel), and Tarābulus (capital: Tripoli, in our Libya).

An Emir is a prince or a governor of a province, implying some suzerainty to a higher power. There’s a cluster of them in West Africa: Trarza, Tagant, Brakna, all south of Al-Maghrib. But they are elsewhere too: Kano and Katsina, just north of Sokoto.

Islam of course did not originate in Africa, and some would claim that its dominance of large areas of Africa, at the expense of pre-existing belief systems, is as much an example of foreign cultural imperialism as the spread of Western religions and languages is in our day.

But that is material for another thought experiment. This one aims to filter out the European influence.

Neither European nor Arab influence is in evidence in the southern part of Africa – although some toponyms relate directly to states in our timeline: BaTswana is Botswana, Wene wa Kongo refers to the two countries bearing that name. Umoja wa Falme za Katanga is echoed in the name of the DR Congo’s giant inland province, Katanga.

Rundi, Banyarwanda and Buganda, squeezed in between the Great Lakes, are alternative versions of ‘our’ Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.

Some familiar-sounding names around the Great Lakes.

There is an interesting parallel to the Africa/Alkebu-Lan dichotomy in the toponymic ebb and flow of Congo and Zaïre as names for the former Belgian colony at the center of the continent.

Congo, denoting both the stream and the two countries on either of its lower banks [4], derives from 16th- and 17th-century Bantu kingdoms such as Esikongo, Manikongo and Kakongo near the mouth of the river.

The name was taken up by European cartographers and the territory it covered eventually reached deep inland.

But because of its long association with colonialism, and also to fix his own imprint on the country, Congo’ s dictator Mobutu in 1971 changed the name of the country and the stream to Zaïre.

The name-change was part of a campaign for local authenticity which also entailed the Africanisation of the names of persons and cities [5], and the introduction of the abacos [6] – a local alternative to European formal and business wear.

Curiously for a campaign trying to rid the country of European influences, the name Zaïre actually was a Portuguese corruption of Nzadi o Nzere, a local term meaning ‘River that Swallows Rivers’.

Zaïre was the Portuguese name for the Congo stream in the 16th and 17th centuries, but gradually lost ground to Congo before being picked up again by Mobutu.

After the ouster and death of Mobutu, the country reverted to its former name, but chose the predicate Democratic Republic to distinguish itself from the Republic of Congo across the eponymous river.

Kongo – a coastal superstate in the alternative timeline.

This particular tug of war is emblematic for the symbolism attached to place names, especially in Africa, where many either refer to a pre-colonial past (e.g. Ghana and Benin, named after ancient kingdoms), represent the vestiges of the colonial era (e.g. Lüderitz, in Namibia), or attempt to build a postcolonial consensus (e.g. Tanzania, a portmanteau name for Tanganyika and Zanzibar).

By taking the colonial trauma out of the equation, this map offers a uniquely a-colonial perspective on the continent, whether it is called Africa or Alkebu-Lan.

Map of Alkebu-Lan and excerpts thereof reproduced by kind permission of Nikolaj Cyon.

See it in full resolution on this page of his website. Map of Africa in 1913 by Eric Gaba (Wikimedia Commons User: Sting), found here on Wikimedia Commons.

_______________

Strange Maps #688

[1] A name popularized by the Romans. It is of uncertain origin, possibly meaning ‘sunny’, ‘dusty’ or ‘cave-y’.

[2] The origin and meaning of the toponym are disputed. The Arabic for ‘Land of the Blacks’ would be Bilad as-Sudan, which is how the present-day country of Sudan got its name.

Other translations offered for Alkebu-Lan (also rendered as Al-Kebulan or Alkebulan) are ‘Garden of Life’, ‘Cradle of Life’, or simply ‘the Motherland’. Although supposedly of ancient origin, the term was popularized by the academic Yosef A.A. Ben-Jochannan (b. 1918).

The term is not a 20th-century invention, however. Its first traceable use is in La Iberiada (1813), an epic poem from 1813 by Ramón Valvidares y Longo. In the index, where the origin of ‘Africa’ is explained, it reads: “Han dado las naciones á este pais diversos nombres, llamándole Ephrikia los Turcos, Alkebulan los Arabes, Besecath los Indios, y los pueblos del territorio Iphrikia ó Aphrikia: los Griegos, en fin, le apellidaron Libia, y despues Africa, cuyo nombre han adoptado los Españoles, Italianos, Latinos, Ingleses y algunos otros pueblos de la Europa”.

[3] A.k.a. the Plague, a very contagious and highly deadly disease caused by Yersinia pestis. That bacterium infested the fleas that lived on the rats coming over from Crimea to Europe on Genoese merchant ships.

[4] In fact, Brazzaville and Kinshasa, capitals of the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo respectively, are positioned across from each other on the banks of the Congo River – the only example in the world of two national capitals adjacent to each other.

[5] The ‘founder-president’ himself changed his name from Joseph-Désiré Mobutu to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa za Banga. The capital Léopoldville was renamed Kinshasa, after an ancient village on the same site.

[6] Despite the African-sounding name, abacos is an acronym of à bas costumes, or: ‘Down with (Western) suits’.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

March 2020
M T W T F S S
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

Blog Stats

  • 1,442,596 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.adonisbouh@gmail.com

Join 784 other followers

%d bloggers like this: