Family lives 4 years with dead brother

The northern province of Friesland is considered to be on the outer fringes of the Netherlands, with its own language, cows, and … weirdness. Proof of just how weird was the following news story from last night:

In the village of Minnertsga, the body of a man who died four years ago has been found lying on his bed at home. His remains were discovered by his family. His brothers (61 and 67) and two sisters (44 and 71) live in the same house.

They last spoke to their 50-year-old brother at the beginning of 2006, when he told them that he was going to his room and did not want to be disturbed. According to local people, the family is known to be very religious and never joined any social events in the village. “No one managed to make contact with them,” said a local official. “They refused to go to the doctor because they believed that the Lord would heal them.”

This week the local housing authority contacted the family about some maintenance work that was needed in the terraced house. One of the residents then entered the bedroom where the dead body was found. A doctor was called, who in turn alerted the police. The man is presumed to have died of natural causes.

Reactions among the Dutch were surprise (What about the smell?!), amusement (Only in Friesland!) and cynicism (They were just happy to keep getting his dole money).

I wonder how the story will be perceived abroad.

Don’t believe the hype

iPad in Google trends
iPad slips from hype topspot
Now that the brouhaha is beginning to fade, maybe we can take stock of the absurdity of the latest product launch by Apple. For those unable to attend the event in person, there were live blogs galore and even a blow-by-blow retelling of what was happening inside by vloggers refused entry.

The irony is delicious: the latest most sophisticated information system being explained in Chinese whispers.

And of course, the story ends in wildly differing versions, from fan- to craptastic.

The only consensus was the high snigger factor of the name — altho’ after the 7th iTampon tweet, the joke was pretty much milked dry.

As one of the many who cannot afford an iPhone, iBook, iTouch or iPad, it seems ridiculous that so much energy is spent in discussing a new gadget. It’s not jealousy on my part, understand; owning an iPad belongs in that post-lottery-win fantasy, where I’m floating on my white leather chaise longue in an infinity pool in St Barts (hey, it’s MY fantasy). Apple has succeeded in generating so much hype about its products that it barely needs to do any promotion itself — we do it ourselves. Nice one, Steve.

And why do we get so excited by a new toy? Because of the need to be “in” with the in-crowd (baaa-aaa), to look down on the have-nots (p-tooo).

It reminds me of a quote about photographers:

Amateurs are concerned about products;
Professionals are concerned about price;
Masters are concerned about light.

It is the amateur’s doomed belief that if he just had the latest product, regularly, he would be able to rank as a pro. The point is that having a better camera is no substitute for practice and talent. Doisneau or Capa wouldn’t have taken better pictures with this year’s latest camera.

Instead of placing our faith externally in an object, we should spend more time investing on the internal.

(… but if I do win the lottery, then I’ll be wearing this Leica necklace in my fantasy …)

Slow on the uptake

The TV was on late this evening, muted and ignored, until I noticed a series of clips showing motorbikes, cars and trucks trying to drive at high speed up sand dunes before getting stuck halfway up or on the crest. The bikes’ wheels spun sand jets vertically, while the trucks slid and rolled like beached whales. What was going on?

It’s been so long since I’d seen anyone bother to show images of the Paris-Dakar Rally on TV that I’d forgotten about its absurd existence. I mean, what’s the skill in trying to drive across the desert at top speed. You just go in a straight line and try not to hit anything, which is pretty easy in the desert, ‘cos there’s little there to hit.

An exercise in futility, to my mind.

Others consider it the greatest test of endurance in the world, whereas opponents such as the Collectif Actions pour les Victimes Anonymes du Dakar (CAVAD), hope to end what they see as a dangerous and arrogant act of wealthy northerners and their corporate sponsors breaking all the rules of safety far away from their own countries. With the 56th victim of the rally occuring this week, it would appear that hitting people in the most remote wildernesses is easier than I’d thought.

When we lived in Dakar last year, the rally had been cancelled because of the threat of armed attack in Mauritania (a number of tourists had been killed). So we never got to see the expats thronging at Lac Rose to greet the arrival of the rally. I don’t think most Dakarois cared less about it.

When I saw the extensive coverage of the rally this evening, I was shocked to realize that Le Dakar had changed route. I knew this kind of bending the borders was popular for boosting interest and gaining sponsors, as when the Tour de France bizarrely includes England or the Netherlands. But still … the Paris-Dakar is now a round trip from Buenos Aires and back, crossing South America and looping in Chile. Apparently this is the second year they’ve done it in South America. (That’s why I’m a bit slow on the uptake.)

Is it just me or is this weird? Like … [complete with witty example]

Tabaski

Today is the most important national holiday in Senegal, Tabaski, the Wolof word for the Festival of the Sheep, known elsewhere in the Muslim world as Aïd-el-Kebir. It is a celebration of an event that is also important to Jews and Christians, that is, the sacrifice by Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic) of his eldest son. If you recall the story, Abraham, aged 80, was still childless, and so promised God/Allah that he would sacrifice his firstborn if He would grant him a child.

(Don’t interrupt. I know it doesn’t make sense.)

A single child is born, Ismael. Years later, God reminds Abraham of his promise. Abraham is a man of his word and so prepares to sacrifice his son to God. At the moment Abraham’s knifeblade touches Ismael’s throat, the Angel Gabriel does a quick switcheroo and in the place of the child, puts a ram, whose throat is promptly slit.

As a reminder of Abraham’s act of faith, Muslims reenact the sacrifice of the sheep each year. Every head of the family (male, of course), is obliged to provide a sheep for his family. The obligation is not enshrined in the Koran, rather it is a social pressure to “keep up with the Jones'”, or the Dioufs, perhaps, here in Senegal.

Sheep envyWith the cheapest, scrawniest sheep costing about 2 weeks’ pay for many people (50,000 FCFA or 75 euros), I asked an acquaintance of modest means why he didn’t just buy a leg.

“Ah,” he sighed. “It’s not for us, the adults. It’s for the children. They can’t show their face at school if their father didn’t have a sheep for Tabaski.”


So 2000 years after the sacrifice of the son by the father over a point of honour, today’s fathers have to sacrifice themselves, often running themselves into debt for the rest of the year, in order to preserve their children’s honour. Sweet irony.

Of course, such subtleties are lost on the sheep. For him the story ends the same way.

Le mouton qui pleure

Whiteout

The reaction anticipated in my previous post was swift and effective … actually it was glossy.

I had expected a different reaction — crude spray scribble, as had been done (by the PPK sprayers?) to the “NOUVEAU PARTI” graffiti, perhaps, or a riposte in words — but this whiteout is so … thorough and professional.

Whiteout_01

I wonder who did it.

I wonder too why the only PPK graffiti to be covered up, out of the dozens, if not hundreds, of examples around the city, are those I photographed and posted yesterday.

Is there a link?

Sssh! Do you think someone out there is actually reading what I write?