Island in the Sun

“When she felt the coral sand under her bare feet, all the anguish left. The tide was turning and she saw the boat had accompanied her on her journey speed towards the open sea.
She turned around and took measure of the small island. The inhabitants seemed very much like other islanders she had encountered. The fought with their neighbours, they told their pushy youngsters off, they made love and the old ones perished in solitude.

Her eyes went back to the sea. Flying fish was jumping in the far distance. A group of dolphins was cruising near by. A gigantic cloud bank was growing even bigger over the mainland.
She could hear the sound from a motor boat. A fishing dhaw appeared and went around the cape. The burly men were shouting and soon a net was in the water, circling a school. Their excited calls made her realise how long time it had been since her last meal, but she was still too tired to eat.

The tide had enlarged the beach and she found a spot where she could have some space for herself. The natives continued their business as usual. Going here and there. But they kept an eye on her all the time.

Suddenly she felt the moment had come. She spread her ruffled feathers and sailed into the sun.”

This is the story I wrote on the minute island that was our final stop during the Metafari. Sitting in the sun, getting red and enjoying every minute of it.


Enriched by Translation

When we stumble out of the car, stiff after the long journey, we hear singing and drums in the distance. We are not allowed to carry our luggage, and since the crossing is more wobbly than the Millennium Bridge in London it feels good although slightly awkward. There are crocodiles in the river, but we don’t know that. When coming to the other side, we see the musical children and we join them in the march towards our boma where we will spend the night. It is like coming to another country, another planet, and I have never felt more welcome in my whole life (Karibu!). I’m so happy that we included this stop in our Metafari!

We are asked to sit down, and the chairman makes a speech to us and all the other people gathering. Then it is Ruth’s turn. She speaks in sound and clear Swahili and the interpreter translates it into Masai. It is a long speech, and I realise that it is probably the most polite thing to do. Also, Ruth told us afterwards, it was an opportunity for her to imprint on the children how important education is. She used us an example, saying that although we were highly educated people, we still wanted to learn more and went to classes like the Metafari.

During her speech, Leif suddenly realises that he ought to say something as well. He makes a wonderful speech taking about one of his sons who works as a bodyguard for the government. He speaks English, Ruth translates it into Swahili, and the interpreter turns it into Masai. For each step, more words and gestures are added, but everybody makes the sounds of awe and joy at the right moments.

After inspecting the houses, we sit down to do an AI interview with parts of the council. The village chief is there, but also the elected chairman. The Christian priest is participating and so are several other men and women. We ask many questions. What is it like being a Masai? How do you organise your leadership? What are the mothers most proud of that their daughters learn at home and school? What do you envision for the future? And then we invite them to ask questions to us. They want to know how we deal with bad marriages, when we stop worrying about our children, if we have the same custom as they have of giving a baby to newly-wedded couples. Through the way they pose their questions I learn the importance of providing a context, because they always start with a story about how they do things as an introduction to the inquiry.

We go to sleep in the traditional huts, made by the women. The mosquito net is keeping away both the insects and the cow shit falling down from the not ready-made roof. The sky is velvet black and it’s easy to become star struck.

Bugs in the Program

There is a huge leopard-coloured spider lurking close to the sink. A high-jumping brown frog is occupying one of the toilets. A pink moth has been sitting on the wall for ages. Tiny flies bite you if you try to look at the sunrise at the river. A smug cockroach is basking in the sun on my sun chair. A whole army of really minute ants has moved into my computer, making me recall the story behind the “bug” concept. And I think it’s wonderful! It’s definitely part of the Metafari. Asante!


Making Progress

“And it was morning, and I found myself morning for the childhood that I thought had disappeared” The words from the now rather old Marillion song came to my mind when we were discussing how to let the child in you come forward more often. That in turn evokes a discussion about Pat Kane’s book “The Play Ethic”. Our Metafari continues and we are getting lots of practice in storytelling, use of metaphors, flow writing, taking pictures, Appreciative Inquiry and in speaking different languages.

I am the writer of my own story. I decide how I want to perceive myself and how I talk about my journey through life. My story this day is what I have decided to call a happy failure. I admit that I didn’t succeed in doing free writing properly, since I am used to reflecting and often thinking more about the future than about the here and now. But I definitely have been influenced by it and I am quite pleased with the result.

“Cause the only thing misplaced was direction and I found direction. There is no childhood’s end!”


A Bumpy Ride

The long and winding road to The Tanga International Conference Centre has lots of bumps in it and my head comes dangerously close to the car roof several times. It twists through a village with dogs barking, children coming back from school in their blue uniforms, chicken running around, goats chewing and cows looking at you with wonder.

The Centre is the most perfect example of societal entrepreneurship I know of. The form of association is a Limited company, but the purpose is to create sustainable development in the region so profits will go back to the centre. Although it has not been officially opened, it has begun to take guests and we are honoured to be among the first ones.

During our Metafari Ruth Nesje, one of the entrepreneurs, realised that she could use the termite mound as a metaphor for the centre. Lot’s of people building together, although much of the work is not visible. People visiting, coming in through one hole and leaving through another, transformed. A constant building site, because the organisation is developing.

Ruth has been working in the region on and off for more than 20 years. She has done projects on how to develop new pedagogical methods for teaching about HIV/AIDS in the schools, she has improved the healthcare, organised orphanages, started business groups and much more. The centre is really just the tip of the iceberg (if such a metaphor can be used in this climate). However, it has not come easy and there are still so many things to do before the President can come and lay the foundation stone for the big conference hall.


Falling In Love

Contrary to what Bette Midler says in “The Rose”, love is actually a container. At least in English. It has to be, since you can fall into it. That also implies that it can be dangerous (hatari!), that you have to be careful. Because you might not get up again.

It’s the first day of our first Metafari and we have already started to explore our experiences of metaphors. Together the seven of us have access to at least five different languages and at least as many cultures (although according to Huntington, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands all belong to the same culture).

Metaphors can be very useful when learning a second language. According to Randal Holm, the metaphors let us experience affect, which make us learn more easily. Then we really have struck gold!


Photo Competition - Still Going On!

Looking for more info about the Summer Photo Competition? See further down for instructions.

Lost in Translation

I’ve just revisited Heidelberg. It’s been almost 20 years since I last took a tour of the castle and looked at the city from the Old Bridge. Well, sightseeing wasn’t the purpose this time but I must admit I had a very quick peek while wolfing down a sandwich. One thing that annoys me is that although I have studied German for five years (but that was more than 20 years ago) I still find it difficult to understand and hesitate to use the phrases I can manage. Most fortunate, most inhabitants speak excellent English which may be the result of the US chosing to locate their HQ to Heidelberg after WW2 and still using it as a centre.

I visited the US Army Medical Research Unit-Europe in Heidelberg and they made an excellent presentation of the work they do. They emphasised the importance of providing feedback to the units immediately after gathering data, as a way to give something back. We also talked about the responsibility you have as a researcher, especially when your suggestions can be turned into policy rather quickly. Communication skills thus seem to be something that should be on the curriculum for all PhD programs. However, time and money is short so how can your develop material for so diverse groups as your fellow researchers in the international academic community, national and international policy-makers, managers and the people you hope to help with your results? And without distorting your findings and their implications?

Another research group that has made an excellent job of using different media to present their results is the think tank Demos based in London. At their website you can download all their reports, you can get an RSS feed, podcasts, make comment at their blog and much more.

There will be a conference in Sweden next year focusing on research dissemination: The International Network on Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) conference. I’m considering proposing a workshop on the use of metaphors in research communication. This one I picked up recently:
Conducting military operations in a low-intensity conflict without ethnographic and cultural intelligence is like building a house without using your thumbs: it is a wasteful, clumsy, and unnecessarily slow process at best, with a high probability for frustration and failure. Kipp, Grau, Prinslow & Smith, 2006)


Telling Tales

My aunt had long wanted to visit Painshill Park south of London, so in August we packed our knapsack and took a train from Clapham Junction. This lovely 18th century garden is full of exotic trees and follies such as the sturdy Turkish tent and slender Chinese bridge. It also has a high Gothic tower and an extensive Grotto. In addition it is also a great example of a proactive action from the local council, turning a declining property into a tourist attraction.

In the garden shop a green book caught my eye: Gardeners, Gurus & Grubs – The Stories of Garden Inventors & Innovations by George Drower. I bought it and have now been educated in how the development of gutta percha rubber hoses has contributed to the telecom industry, how a hovercraft inspired a Swedish technician to invent a lawnmower, how the evolution of glasshouses increased led to the invention of using circulating hot water as central heating, and how a female science-fiction writer published “Gardening for Ladies” and made gardening popular among women. Among many other things.

Now after reading it I reflected upon why I picked this particular book. I realised that I have somewhat similar books, accumulated during several years such as “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson, “The Dinosaurs Hunters” by Deborah Cadbury, “Twelve Books that Changed the World” by Melvyn Bragg, “A Teaspoon and an Open Mind – The Science of Doctor Who” by Michel White and “Gökmaffia och falska orkidĂ©er” by Staffan Ulfstrand. What I like about all these books is that they describe important historical and scientific events from a very human perspective. The reader receives information about not only garden tools, theories on physics, paleontological discoveries or analyses of animal behaviour, but is also provided with a context revealing the human behind the idea and the world she or he was situated in when publishing it.

By such rich presentations it becomes extremely apparent that development is much more a collective series of actions rather than individual achievements, and that the same idea often surface at roughly the same time at different locations but that chance plays a leading role. It is interesting to speculate in what consequences new technology has on this development where Internet services such as Wikipedia and Publish or Perish makes it less costly to distribute information. I’m sure that the Swedish chemist Scheele would have appreciated such devices.


Fair Trade and Paying Respects

Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK. For a Swede with few similar traditions it was quite astonishing to see how everybody at the “Spirit of Christmas Fair” stopped and held the silence for the stipulated two minutes. In the middle of all the potential Christmas gifts that the latest rise in the economy has provided, it felt more than appropriate to send a thankful thought to the men and women who gave their lives so that we can prosper in a democratic society.

Being addicted to shopping, I was truly in paradise. I bought a nice red felt table runner, some lovely Christmas cards from Cancer Research, an intriguing Flingo game, a pair of snug Dubarry boots, some really good-smelling coffee from Azorieblue, and a heavy bag from Action Against Hunger. In addition I bought three beautiful prints from the artist Cheng Yan who is also a great photographer. His pictures, similar to Australian Peter Lik’s, inspire me immensely. By the way, who would have thought a few years ago, that everything would be on the web?

The contrast between all the goods and the two minutes of silence made me reflect upon the kind of life I live, the society I contribute to develop and sustain, and how I pay my respects. Can I tell heaven from hell? Did I trade my heroes for ghost? How I wish you were here!

How lucky I am to have friends who in my hour of despair send me a suggestion to look into the concept of Megacommunities. Can it restore my faith in humanity and myself?