To the barricades, James, and don’t spare the Porsches!

A few days after my previous post, residents of Dakar suburbs, Castors, Derklé and Liberté 06, took to the streets to protest against the prolonged and repeated electricity cuts. Actually, what pushed them over the edge was the distribution of double invoices from the electricity company, SENELEC. Yes, we give you no power and charge you twice for the privilege!

The next day, October 9, the riots hit Parcelles Assainies, Médina and Grand Yoff, where streets were barricaded with burning tyres and SENELEC offices were smashed to pieces. The general opinion among residents was sympathetic:

It serves them right. SENELEC has made us suffer too much. All our food has rotted away.
(Source: Sud Online)

The well-to-do neighbourhoods on the western coastline of the city have not yet taken to the streets — “Chauffeur, take me to the barricades … then pick me up at 11:30 for my pedicure.”

Nevertheless, the images of organized rioters was enough to provoke a reaction within the upper echelons of power, with the result today of a huge donation to SENELEC by the French Government and the World Bank.

Completely unsustainable, yet maybe just enough to keep the rioters off the streets until the weather cools down and the need for air conditioning declines, and in time for the start of the tourist season. After that, who knows?

For the record: electricity cut every day the last ten days from around 8 am till 4 pm. It came back on early today, at 13:30, so all in all it was a good day

… and I dint even hafta use ma AK *grin*

Update: power cut just before posting at midnight and is still off now at 11 am.

30 hours: a new record

30 hours without electricity. A new record. Not happy. No. Not sleep much in the heat and darkness, wondering if the kids are OK …

I’ve walked down to the Shell station twice in the last 24 hours, going down to fill my jerry cans with petrol for my thirsty little generator. I only fill the cans half full because I can’t carry them back otherwise. On my second visit, it seemed as if there were more people filling jerry cans than vehicles, which makes me feel a little less victimized in my blacked out neighbourhood.

It got me wondering. Maybe the government used up the last reserves of oil to keep the current flowing for the end-of-Ramadan festivities, and now the tanks are dry. It would not surprise me, given the chronic myopia in planning.

30 hours!


And to think that there are places where … stuff works, works all the time, or if it doesn’t, someone competent, experienced and equipped will fix it.

Somewhere … over the rainbow …

Afterthought: it’s lucky for those in power that people here are so passive and fatalistic — my rants about incompetence, nepotism and corruption are too often met with soft shrugs and wistful smiles, Eh oui, c’est comme ça …

Bwoy! Try leaving Kingston without power for 30 hours and there’d be riots in the streets, and rightly so. People here need to get angry and demand more from those in power. Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you have to take crap. Just because the elite fucks up in a hundred different ways doesn’t mean everyone else has to suffer.

If I stay here much longer I’m gonna go revolutionary.

Bara the Wifebeater

It’s not the name he would choose, and no one dares use it to his face, but with his empire in our street reduced to his wife’s chop shop, Bara has little left to show for himself except his frustration and his fists. Yet at the peak of empire, the ruler of Rue 103 was a respected entrepreneur, running a general store from a one-room shack, a popular table-football club and a busy brickmaker’s yard. But he was squatting on land too valuable to be left to a poor man without connections, and so last month a bulldozer razed the vacant lots and a team of labourers quickly knocked up a wooden fence around the perimeter. After that, work stopped until ownership was settled between various well-connected claimants, downtown in the air-conditioned offices of lawyers paid to do what they’re told.

The brickyard used to be a hive of activity: a constant traffic of horse-drawn carts bringing sand and gravel and taking away ready bricks; one man mixing the concrete; two others filling the brick mould, scraping off the excess, carrying it to the edge of the yard and tapping it out to join the lines of other bricks baking in the sun. Each gesture repeated a hundred times; each man could anticipate the other’s actions and match his own in a smooth series of movements that was as choreographed as a ballet. It was hypnotic to watch under a white-hot sun.

Bara supervised horizontally from a cardboard mat in the shade of a lean-to by the wall. He fiddled with his radio and dozed until the worst of the heat had passed. Then he would stand and stretch, and inspect the pile of reject bricks. “This one’s ok! Fix this one! It’s good enough!” His workers sorted through the pile in silence, adding chipped and split bricks to the waiting carts.

Then Bara would straddle his most coveted object, a black and dented scooter, and ride loudly down the rutted lane, nodding to his peers and ignoring the others. Where he went, I don’t know.

At dusk, he returned and pulled the boys from the table-football, giving their places to the adult clients eating at his wife’s chop shop. The adults made more noise than the children ever did, living out their lost ambitions of glory on a battered wooden table and eleven player pegs. The cries and protests continued until after dark — a wonder since there was no light to play by.

Bara retired to his wife’s table and shouted for his food. She served him at arm’s length; unfortunately, Bara’s arm was longer and never failed to reach out and slap her, even while his right hand was already scooping up rice from the bowl. One smack was enough to make a point — I’m the boss.

With the loss of his other activities, Bara has turned to wifebeating full-time, chasing her into a corner and ignoring her screams or the calls from her customers. Disgusted by the violence, fewer people frequented the place, preferring to eat in peace in the hot, tarpaulin tents recently set up at the end of the street. And now, in Ramadan, there are no customers at lunchtime at all.

Which leaves Bara his final venture, renting out a tall ladder to his neighbours, including me. For the equivalent of a day’s wages, he lent me the ladder for a few hours so that I could install an air-conditioner for the kids’ bedroom. Others shook their heads when I told them the price, but none could get Bara to budge — he knew it was for me and he knew I would pay.

I don’t mind the price, really I don’t — it’s only a question of time before another rich person dispossesses him of his sleeping yard. And the worse it gets for Bara, the worse it gets for his wife. That I mind.

Addicted to Alice


I got a chunky translation job last month, 61 pages of sobering and inspiring information about childhood in Senegal: sobering to read that children’s charity X allows a maximum grant of US$5 per month; inspiring when I think of the hundreds of people freely offering their time and experience to help others less fortunate than themselves.

My most immediate concern, however, was finishing the report ahead of schedule. In this business, the deadline has usually already passed by the time you sign the contract, so you have to work double fast just to make up for time lost by someone before you.

My boss in Rome had a much photocopied text tacked to her noticeboard: A lack of planning on your part does not justify an emergency on my part. True, true. But as a freelancer I’m sure I’d get a frosted stare if I repeated that before signing the contract.

In addition to the tight time pressure from outside, I still had a family life to … enjoy. The result was a work day from 9:30 to 11:30, when Baby-J took her morning nap, and from 20:30 onwards, when the other kids went to bed, finishing when I could no longer focus on the words dancing on the screen.

What kept me going? A podcast of some of the best work of Alice Coltrane: Alice in Wonderland compiled and spliced by Bending Corners. I’ve been a fan of Bending Corners for a couple of years, enjoying its eclectic mix of lesser known work from established jazzbo greyheads as well as Nu-jazz young turks, the best of whom are actually Scandinavian. Don’t take my word for it, though; get over to Bending Corners after you’ve finished here.

But back to Alice, Alice Coltrane, wife of John Coltrane, Boss Horn bar none. Somehow she had escaped my attention, despite my owning a nice vinyl collection of cosmic jazzsters from the same galaxy: Pharaoh Sanders, Lonnie Liston Smith, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Yusef Lateef, and so on. I liked the unpredictability and dissonance of their music, as well as the sometimes bizarre sounds of African American jazz musicians interpreting Indian classical music, not as cringeworthy as the sitars in 60s pop bands, but still smirkable.

Maybe I thought Alice was cashing in on the Coltrane name and lacked her own voice. I’ve also read of a comparison between Alice and Yoko Ono, both of whom were blamed for breaking up a popular band, in Alice’s case, the “classic” quartet of J.C., McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison.

The judgements are unfair, however; Alice Coltrane made her own beautiful, beautiful music, both intimate and large-scale, sometimes profound, sometimes cheesy. Though even when it was cheesy it was well done. Such is the extract I’ve selected for you below, Om Supreme.

I’ve collected a dozen albums by Alice Coltrane in the last year, but when I needed to work on this job, I couldn’t resist going back to the Bending Corners podcast. There was something about it that gave me the ability to work for hours with great concentration. After a dozen listenings, each section becomes familiar in its own way and marks a break in my work — I shift position, review the previous section, or try to pin down the nuance of a particular technical term — each change determined by the shift in the music, it seems.

After the monumental Galaxy In Satchidananda, with its interlacing of delicate harp and the slow grandeur of the strings (picture elephants performing courtly Indian dance in the Forbidden City), after the free jazz twiddles of Sita Ram, the tension and release pattern continues throughout the podcast, ending with this extract. Every 46 minutes — the time of the podcast set on loop — I’d allow myself to sit back and close my eyes for a few minutes. In the opening, Alice’s powerful stabs on the keyboard get blown out on my puny headphones in a weirdly satisfying way. I also love the strong contrasts between violent dissonance and soft, reassuring melody. And of course I always smile when the singers begin, sounding like a bunch of blond, tanned hippies wearing white robes and beatific perma-smiles. Yes, it’s a load of mystic codswallop they’re chanting (I’ll Om-Supreme-Bhagavan you, matey!) … but it’s a wonderful thing to listen to in the still of a hot summer night in Africa with a cool breeze blowing off the ocean, rustling the palm tree in the garden.

(Click to play)

[audio:Alice Coltrane – Om Supreme.mp3]

Blistering bandwidth!

I signed up with Sonatel last week and got a phone line installed. The broadband services are predictably very expensive, and I chose the cheapest one, which gives us just 512k downspeed … or that’s what I thought. In fact I had already warned the salesperson that, annual tied contract notwithstanding, if I didn’t get the speed I paid for, then I would break the contract. So there I was, squatting on the floor, Mr B’s laptop balancing on a suitcase, primed for high dudgeon. I logged on to, and sighed when I saw the nearest server was in Bamako, Mali; hardly the centre of highspeed telecommunications, I thought.

The ping came out average and I waited for the downspeed test to begin. I blinked. The needle jumped and fell back in a microsecond. I looked at the measurement: over 9 Mbps. While I pondered that freak result, the upspeed test chugged round and clocked in a measly 65 kbps. Still, I tried the test again; again over 9 Mbps.

He-he-he. I thought to myself. I’ve got a fat tube and no one’s checked. I can hardly complain about the upspeed, however.

How long will it last before they realize? Have I got the Internet equivalent of the light bulb that never dies? I mean, the speed is obviously possible, and the reason everyone doesn’t have it is purely commercial, and not technical.

This morning, of course, when I wanted to take a screenshot of the test. The result came in at under 500 kbps. I tested it again immediately and got the following result:

Blistering bandwidth!

So it is obviously very erratic, but I haven’t had any cause to complain about the speed in practice.

Of course, having no electricity for eleven hours (no modem) did slow things down somewhat.