Life is weird

I am in the poorest not-at-war country in the world, about as far away
from the rat race as you could get. Somehow, though I managed to bring
the rat race with me. I am under deadline for a big piece of software
that has been months in the making. To make the deadline I am going
flat out, working 14 hour days, and having to be in constant contact
with disparate parts of the world. This means 5:30am meetings to start
the team in India and 10pm meetings to start the day in LA. And in
between hacking hacking hacking. I look forward to discovering a
literal rat race in the open gutter in front of my house. Don't worry,
you dear readers, will be the first to hear about it...

A Tale of Two Signs


I already wrote about my visit to Manzanar,
but there was one thing that pissed me off more than anything else: The
Blue Star Memorial Highway Sign. I noticed these sorts of signs have
popped up all over the place since I was last in the US. Essentially
they are support the troops kind of signs. Sections of freeways will be
called "Marine Corps Memorial Freeway" and that sort of thing. I think
it is important to support the often marginalized kids that are duped into offending other countries, but there is a time and place for it.

The entrance to Manzanar is on the southern edge of the site. There is
a barbedwire fence separating Manzanar from miles and miles of
sagebrush. After driving about 30 yards down the driveway you come to
the guardhouse and an old neglected bronze plaque on the left
(southside) of the driveway. Before the visitor's center, this plaque
was all there really was to memorialize Manzanar and what happened
there. Right next to the plaque, and on just the other side of the
barbedwire is a shiny new sign - one designating the highway the Blue
Star Memorial Highway, "a tribute to the Armed Forces that have
defended the United States of America". Either this sign is calling
Manzanar's driveway a highway, or somebody decided that its location
behind the Manzanar sign was more appropriate. You may be thinking that
I am overexaggerating its position relative to the highway, but trust
me, it is nowhere near highway 395.

When I entered the visitor's center
I asked them about the sign, and the young ranger looked kind of
nervous and deferred to his superior. She gave me the official line,
which was that the sign was for the highway, and that it was not on the
park service's land. I said that its positioning was clearly
deliberate, and her eyes agreed, sharing my disgust for the situation.

For me, the implications are clear. People don't like to remember what
Manzanar forces us to. For them, the USA is always right, fighting on
the side of justice, keeping us safe. But Manzanar doesn't tell this
story, quite the opposite in fact. There are some names on the sign:
Oasis Garden Club and California Garden Club, but I doubt they are the
insensitive, revisionist, overly patriotic idiots that put up the sign.
It is probably somebody local that paid off the people responsible for erecting the sign. 

The sign should be cut down and saved as a reminder of the ignorance
and danger of not learning from history that still exists in the USA.

It would fit in well at the Museum of Tolerance or the Japanese
American Museum, both excellent and in LA. Most appropriate, though
would be for it to hang in the Manzanar museum itself, where it would
mark the most recent in the long line of injustices that occured in
that place. So keep that in mind if you happen to find yourself on 395 with a set of pipe cutters or a chain saw . Oh and send me pictures.

received a very interesting email from Alisa Lynch, the Chief of
Interpretation at Manzanar. Alisa explained in detail the origins of
the 2nd sign which are different than my conspiracy theory, but perhaps
even more interesting. From Alisa's email: "The plaque was placed at
the suggestion and initiation of the (Japanese American) Manzanar
Committee and a number of Japanese American veterans to recognize the
thousands of men and women from Manzanar and the other WarRelocation
Centers who served in the US military during World War II.Veterans of
the all-Japanese American 100th Battalion/442nd RegimentalCombat Team
and local and Japanese American dignitaries dedicated theplaque in
April 1994."
So I was
right in thinking that the sign's position was a statement in and of
itself. The question is - what statement are they making? Well, my call
for pipe cutters and chainsaws worried the authorities, and a third
sign is now in place, stuck on below the Blue Star sign: "In Honor of
Americans of Japanese Ancestry who served in the 100th/442nd Regimental
Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service during World War II."
(thanks for the picture Alisa)
So we have a concentration camp (as the Japanese American Museum
in LA refers to Manzanar) which held Japanese Americans during World
War II next to a plaque dedicated to Japanese Americans who are proud
to have fought for their country. It is not a statement of
reconciliation. It is certainly not an apology. My best interpretation
is that some Japanese Americans don't want to be remembered just as
outcasts that were locked up during World War II. For them, Manzanar is
a sad and controversial heritage, whereas defending their country is a
more acceptable - a more American one.

Hello to Manzanar

Updated (thanks Alisa)
"In 1942, the United States government ordered over 110,000 men, women
and children to leave their homes and detained them in remote,
military-style camps. Two-thirds of them were born in America. Not one
was convicted of espionage or sabotage."
10,000 of them came to Manzanar. To the east is a desert so harsh it is
called Death Valley, while in the west the tallest mountains in the
continental US stand sentinel. An isolated place, ideal for America to
turn its back on its own innocent people.

There are some signs showing where the various buildings were, but
little remains of the place. I get the feeling that after the war was
finished attempts were made to blot the whole place from memory. They
wanted us to forget what happened there.

Forgetting however, has just been made more difficult thanks to an
excellent visitor center that opened just a few months ago. We visited
it a few days after Christmas to break up the long drive from Reno to
LA. Inside the dreary looking building (based on an original I am
sure), is a wealth of thought provoking displays and movies. My
favorite part showed how the public was manipulated through fear and
blatant lying. The LA Times carried front page stories sensationalizing
a Japanese submarine attack near Santa Barbara that never happened.
There was also an article describing Japanese aircraft sweeping over
Los Angeles. Neither of these events ever took place Only the first event happened, but soon after

most people of Japanese descent living on the West Coast had their land
and possessions taken away, and they were concentrated into places like
Manzanar. All with overwhelming public support, of course.

Manzanar needs to be remembered as much as German death camps do.
Atrocities don't just occur in the past under the watch of "evil"
governments. Condoned torture was discovered at Abu Gharab. What is
happening at Guantanamo Bay? It is easy to judge evil at others in the
past, but far more difficult and important to cry evil at ourselves in
the present.

The Good, the Ugly And the Unacceptable

I enjoyed this article which begins:

"DEVELOPMENTS in Zimbabwe's northern neighbour Malawi and the far-flung
Togo in west Africa this week alone served to show the two faces of African
politics; one that is ugly and another, well, quite beautiful to

Thanks to the AllAfrica blog...

Photos of our home in Lilongwe

Not much writing in this post - just pictures of our home and garden. Enjoy!

Here is sort of a side view of our house and our two cars - a Nissan doublecab and a Mitsubishi Pajero.

Our driveway, with George, our guard/soon-to-be gardener enjoying his new
watering can I just bought at Shop-Rite.

View onto the front section of our garden from the Khonde, or patio
area where we eat most meals. That is my favorite monkey under the
monkey brain tree.

The wild part of our garden!  This will soon be our vegetable
garden right outside where Georgina, George, George Junior and Georfrey
live (family photo to follow soon hopefully!)

View from under the monkey brain tree onto our patio area.  The doors and windows behind me open into our main living room.

Our bedroom - notice the giant mosquito net to protect against malaria
(which everybody not on antimalarials seems to have right now)!

Word Travels Fast in Lilongwe

20 minutes ago I was tweaking a NSIS installer that I wrote when I got
a phone call from a guy named Mandira. He said that he had a broken
flash memory card and was wondering if I could fix it for him. He said
he had received my phone number from my wife, so I told him I probably
could not fix it but if we wanted to have me look at it he should
come over to my house. He said he would be here in 5 minutes. And
indeed he was. He was a really nice guy, but I was unable to help him.
He lost all of the data he needs for a board meeting next week. I asked
him how he knew my wife, and he said he didn't but that someone had
told him that the husband of someone at OIBM knew how to recover data.
You see, a week after we arrived in Malawi the laptop that Claudia was
given had a hard disk crash, and a ton of crucial data was on the disk.
I told her to not let anybody mess with it until I could boot Knoppix
on it. The IT staff was worried that I was going to open the case and
void the warranty. When I explained I could do it all without using a
screwdriver, they let me do it. Knoppix helped me get 99.9% of the data
off of the computer (which a month later is still in the shop). OIBM's
IT staff want me to show them my tricks (just booting Knoppix, then
copying data over a network or onto a USB drive) but we haven't gotten
around to it yet. Apparently, though,  my reputation has gotten
around. Too bad I couldn't have fixed this guys USB drive, but then
again, having strangers calling for IT help could get to be distracting.

Our Garden

Our garden is full of all sorts of delights. It is big - about 70
meters wide and 70 meters long, which apparenlty is about a hectare. We
have lots of fruit trees including a mango, a banana, and a monkey
brain (???) tree. There is a tall section of bamboo, and flowers pretty
much all over the place. Our vegetable garden is pretty rough, but our
herb garden is just outside our kitchen and really pretty impressive.
Rosemary, mint, oregano, chives, and lots of smelly, tasty things we
haven't been able to identify yet.
It is also the home to quite a few creatures that I have managed to see, and tons more that I have yet to see.

have already met Ted, our black mamba. You might recall the black
mamba's description from Kill Bill volume 2. Quentin exaggerated by
saying you have just 15 seconds to live after being bitten, but it is
the fastest most dangerous snake in the world. So that's Ted, and now
he's dead yo yo yo.

A few days ago my gardeners came to my office
window telling me that there was a toretoy here. I thought it was
another person at the gate ready to show me their references and ask if
they could be my cook. But no, there was a marvellous tortoise in the
middle of the lawn hiding in his shell. Eventually he came out and
wandered back to his home in the flower bed next to our wall. At one
point he went into his shell near some rocks, and it was impossible to
tell the difference between it and the rocks. Hence I have just decided
to name him Rockie the tortoise.

far from Rockie's home lives Boy George. I am pretty sure Boy George is
a chameleon, but Georgina thinks he is a monitor lizard. We had a
monitor lizard at Ufulu Gardens, and they look like fat snakes with
legs, and Boy George has way more style than that. In the picture he is
pretty green, but I think it is because he had just been on the lawn
when I took his picture. He is about two feet long and mostly hangs out
on the trunk of our monkey brain tree. On his tree he seems pretty
content, and happy to have his picture taken.
Amp is our three
legged toad. He lives in the drain between our garage and kitchen. He
mostly comes out at night, but this picture was taken when his home was
disturbed by a stick meant to be probing Dead Ted.

course there are tons of birds around. They seem quite a bit more
active and noisy than birds back home. This goes for the little birds
with long white tails as well as the gigantic crow like things that
look like they are wearing white scarves (white necked ravens according
to my guidebook). It will be quiet, and then 10 birds will all arrive
together going about their business. We put out some stale bread, but
they don't seem interested - a stark contrast to the ducks, geese and
swan we fed from out balcony in Oxford.

also have lots of snails. These are huge snails - about 4-6 inches
long. They slime up our tree trunks and leaves. I am thinking about
referring to them collectively as the Jabbas - but I am open to

Ted the Snake

Yesterday, we picked up a propane camping stove from Claudia's boss so
that we can cook some food while we are waiting to buy a stove. Last
night, George, our Guard carried the tank into the garage. This morning
I went out in my sandals to carry it inside. I brought the very heavy
thing in and set it up, and soon realized that I must have left the gas
line in the truck. I went out to the garage to look for the gas line,
and was surprised to see a gas line coiled up on the floor. Except it
wasn't a gas line - it was a snake! It had been resting underneath the
propane tank, just inches from where my bare toes had been when I
lifted the tank away. I grabbed my camera and took its picture, then I
went looking for Lazarro, our gardener, whom I figured would be well
equipped to kill it. But George had already killed it by the time I got
back - apparently with his night stick. They tell me it was a small
black mamba - dangerous, poisonous, and according to Jackson our
landlord - rare. Somehow I am not comforted.

Materials for a Garden Boy

It must sound laughable from far away, but being in charge of the
domestic staff, aka servants, is a bit overwhelming. I feel like I have
just been thrust into a middle management role. Negotiating pay,
benefits, schedules, procuring required supplies and a lot of other
activities make it feel as if you are running a business. From my
worker's perspective that is what it is. Talk about blurring the
distinction between work and home. Our housekeeper, her husband, two
kids and her sister all moved into our place yesterday. Their little
home is separate from ours, but it is still close enough that you never
forget that there is always somebody else there with you. And also, if
you have to fire someone, then there is no social security safety net
for them to fall into.

And it gets weirder. Lazarro, our gardener speaks no English. He came
highly recommended from a guy from the Red Cross who was moving to
Zimbabwe. So I invited Lazarro to come and work, and I gave him what
amounted to a 10% raise compared to what he had been earning before.
This was all done through a security guard acting as translator.
Lazarro was so happy to hear about his new wage. But this 10% raise
means about $4 more per month for Lazarro (he gets $35/month). The day
Lazarro arrived I asked him what he needed to do his job, and together
with George our guard, he made the list you see in the picture. As I
write this, Lazaroo is mowing our lawn, with a push lawnmower - we have
a big lawn and he has been at it all day. Since it is my first day
here, and also to thank George for killing the snake, I took them each
a cold coke during lunch. But if I think about it, that Coke, which
costs about 50 cents, is roughly the equivalent of half a day's wages
for Lazarro. That would be like your boss bringing you a bottle of Dom
Perrignon to drink up during your coffee break.
I hate to pay somebody barely more than a dollar a day to work so hard.
But that is a generous wage for gardeners in Malawi, so that is what we
are doing.

Firewood women

As I was moving boxes and boxes of our material goods into our house, I
was confronted with a strange site. Walking through my backyard, and
then next to me were two women. Two unknown women, walking through your
gated and guarded compound would be a strange incident by itself. But
these women each had what must have been at least fifty pounds of
firewood in the form of long branches each about 5-10 feet long bundled
together and balancing on top of their heads. They looked about 16
years old, and one also happened to have a baby strapped to her back.
Despite my utter surprise and amazement, I said good morning to them
and then asked what they were doing. She casually replied, "Collecting
firewood." They then walked down the driveway and the guard opened the
gate and they left. It was so weird. I later found out that one of the
women was the wife of the previous gardener and he had been collecting
this firewood while he was here. A brief visual survey by yours truly
would put firewood collecting as the number one job for women in
Malawi. So seeing this was no big deal in and of itself, but seeing it
at my house totally threw me.


You may remember the story of Georgina and her son with Malaria.
Luckily he pulled through okay, because 3000 children die of Malaria
every day in Africa. You may remember me promising to do something to
help Georgina out. Well, I ended up offering Georgina the opportunity
to be the housekeeper of our new home. After discussing it with her
husband, she happily took me up on the offer, and as of tomorrow she
will be working five and a half days per week for us. This also means
that her family will be living in the servants' quarters here on our
compound (mental note, choose a nice word to describe our home). There
are probably a lot of funny things about Georgina's family, as there
are with anyone's family, but I have already discovered one outstanding
one. Georgina's husband's name is George, their eldest son is George
Junior, and their youngest son's name is Georffrey. Our guard's name
also happens to be George. I am thinking of renaming our home Georgia
just to follow the trend. But like I said most families are weird. My
own great great grandparents were in the Oklahoma Land Run (remember
Far and Away), and they were such fans of their experiences and
adventures there that their first four children were named, Oak, Homer,
Terry and Torry. Get it - Oaklahoma Territory?
Back to Georgina though. I am not sure how she will fill five and a
half days per week cleaning up after Claudia and I. I mean, we didn't
always have the tidiest of flats in Oxford, but how can two people
require one person to clean up after you? Well, there are certain roles
dictated by a country and its culture, and having a housekeeper and
gardener seems to be the bare minimum required of us here. Despite the
strangeness of having someone around all of the time, it will be nice
to have her. Our house will be clean of course, but so will our
clothes. And because this is Africa, ironing is a requirement even for
socks and underwear, otherwise the eggs of a certain parasite will
hatch and the larvae will make themselves comfortable under your skin.
And Georgina is excited about cooking too. At the moment, this probably
just means rice, chicken and nsima but she is excited about learning to
cook other things and well. If I can teach her to make tortillas... So
perhaps we will find ways to keep Georgina busy.