The Banshees of Inisherinwas on at the local cinema the night after the Golden Globe event on TV. We decided to see it because Colin Farrell had won an award for his role in it. The film is set against the background noise of the guns of the Irish civil war. Innis Erin – Inisherin means the island of Ireland (Erin) and the lives of the few people on this tiny fabulous island who are apparently dull and boring, are as violent, passionate and dangerous as that of the warring mainland. I didn’t know what it was about but I hoped it would be good entertainment. In its favour, it was also a ‘Version originale’ rather than dubbed. (C’est à dire dans la langue dans laquelle il a été tourné.) That turned out to be just as well because Irish -spoken English is poorly translated into rather dubious French subtitles.It is a brilliant movie.
Disembarking at Cairo, we were confronted with an enormous billboard welcoming delegates to the COP27 climate conference. 40 000 delegates were meeting to discuss, among other things, the painful question of financial responsibility for fixing the climate crisis caused largely by the activities of developed countries.
Visiting Egypt was a long-held dream. It was wonderful for many reasons, not least of which is our brilliant Egyptian guide Mohammed Ali who explains and inspires in equal measure. However, exploring the ancient rise and fall of the Pharaohs does not shield me from today’s concerns. Rather, it amplifies the question, “When will we learn from history?” Mohammed and I talked about the Aswan Dam and the changes it has made to Nile River agriculture just as the Kariba Dam has changed the Lower Zambezi Basin. We also talked about the displacement of the Nubian villagers and compared their plight with the Batonga of the Middle Zambezi
Kariba Dam: A giant unpredictable experiment
Considering the challenges of COP27, I was reminded of my early 2020 visit to Zambia for an interview about my first book, The Shaping of Water, published some years earlier. Although Zambia is a very different African country, there are familiar parallels.
In Learning from the Kariba Dam, an article published on 22 July 2020 in The Climate Issue of The New York Times Magazine, Namwall Serpell says, “The history of the Kariba Dam is the story of a war over the past and the future of a river.” Namwali Serpell is a Zambian who has written a prize-winning book about the Dam called The Old Drift
The Kariba Dam which created Lake Kariba was one of many engineering projects built by a colonial government to serve their own interests, at a huge cost to the local and downstream ecology and population, and a financial cost which continues now as the Kariba Dam Rehabilitation Project (KDRP) attempts to repair the 80-metre deep plunge hole endangering the dam.
What follows is a repost of my reflections on that visit and the “giant unpredictable experiment that is changing the natural environment of the region”, first published on 21 March 2020:
The Shaping of Water: Returning to the past to build the future
This year (2020), I time-travelled back more than 30 years. I returned to the Ridgeway Hotel in Lusaka to the place where golden weaver birds build their nests above small sun-worshipping crocodiles. Here, there were once an excellent Zintu craft shop, a regular Zambian ladies’ lunch, an Independence Day National Art Exhibition, and gin-and-tonics on the verandah under the management of Richard Chanter.
On this occasion, I was meeting Daniel Sikazwe, journalist, broadcaster and PEN member to interview me about my novel The Shaping of Water. The Ridgeway was as pleasant as ever! As with the Alliance Francaise event compèred for me by Daniel, it was a very enjoyable interview. Daniel asked penetrating questions about the reasons I wrote The Shaping of Water, and the truth of the facts in it.
“It’s a book that should be standard reading for Zambians,” Daniel said. “It tells of a part of our history that is not known about.” And so we talked of how I came to write this book and of the problems of writing cross-cultural history as a novel.
I intended to write two blogs to cover the time I was away travelling. I didn’t. Packing and organising were more essential before I left. One option was to repost older blog posts that had become relevant again to cover that period. I didn’t. There wasn’t even time for that. Readers, I apologise. You are always in my thoughts!
Ariane, is the rocket developed in France by the European Space Agency and first launched in 1979. I feel that I have a connection with it that goes back 36 years to 1986 when I was one of the directors of the Mpapa Gallery in Zambia. The Ariane rocket was named after Ariadne the woman abandoned by Theseus after she saved him from the Minotaur. As Ariane is a 3-stage rocket that is non-recoverable I suppose this is the reason for the choice of name.