Monthly Archives: February 2009

Random Notes on a Brief Holiday


Photo by Ze Boss

My family spent a few days in January at the Cederberg Wilderness Area. The camp we stayed at is called Algeria. Here is a fragment of a chronicle that is still rattling in my head. At the moment this is all I am able to capture.

The Whistle that Became a Memory


Photo by Ze Boss

(Day Three – Maybe)

The path has been winding through the lowest levels of the Cederberg valley for about an hour.  We are close to the river that grows loud when it meets up with rocks, boulders, low waterfalls.  It murmurs and almost goes silent where the water is deep.  But it is there.  We know it by the scent in the air even as the midsummer heat batters us.

While we take careful steps on stone and loose ground a cool breeze takes up a few dry leaves.  I look up.  Mountains surround us on all sides, but they do not oppress us or make us feel we could go no further.  I gather they are not much different from the time the first settlers broke the first rock some hundred years ago.  Or even before the first nomadic tribes set foot on a slab of sandstone.

The sky is a blue so intense it makes you want to take a deep breath.

Without realizing it I find myself whistling as I exhale.  It is almost instinctive, releasing this long, extended whistle of three linked notes.  And I am struck by something from the distant past, like a ghost had appeared.  My children must have sensed it.  I force a smile.  I tell them it is a tune a friend of mine shared when we were kids.

They ask me to repeat it so they could mimic the tune.  But the sound they make comes from their little throats, not their lungs and lips.  Imagine a steam train on its last voyage.  They make us all laugh.  They try and try until the novelty wears off.

The trail is not signposted.  We struggle to keep to it.  We have to be careful not to make new trails that could lead other hikers after us astray.  The sound of the river grows and wanes, but it is always there.

The melody of that whistle haunts me.  It has travelled from a cramped childhood in Southeast Asia all the way to vast African skies, a journey halfway across the world.

I cannot recall when I first whistled that tune.  But I clearly remember the friend who made it up with me.  His name is Toto.  I should say his name was Toto.  But that puts an invisible weight on me.

I met Toto when my family moved out of the huge communal house we were sharing with my cousins.  The correct term to explain how close my cousins were to me and my sisters would be “pinsang buo” or roughly “tightly bound cousins.”  My father’s elder sister married my mother’s elder brother.  Sounds strange as I say it now.  I was eight and it made perfect sense then.  There are many stories from that time.  But those are for another day.

From being surrounded by numerous cousins (I am still unsure what the total number was, but 14 was the minimum I counted in my head) it felt strange to be standing outside our new house without seeing another kid my age.  It was a new suburb and there were only a handful of houses around.  The land was once a ricefield.  There were still some farmers on the outskirts, but they slowly vanished through the years.  Concrete replaced narrow mud paths.

Then Toto became my friend.  He must have been two years older than me.  We made up the whistle of three notes as a way to call each other at the hottest time of day when everyone was having a siesta.  I would creep out of the house, climb the guava tree that stood right next to our low, concrete wall that had metal spikes.

As soon as Toto saw me, he’d grab the vertical metal bars on the wall and pull himself up and over those spikes.  Then we’d be as far up the guava tree as we could go.  Those lean branches were stronger than they ever looked.

In time we used our whistle to greet each other in the morning.  He went to school early, at the crack of dawn.  He would whistle as he left his house.  And I would respond.  We kept responding to each other until he got too far for me to hear, or until he had caught a jeepney ride to school.

Many years later it came as a shock to me when my sister mentioned his name again.  I had been away from the country for a long time.  She said he had died.  Fell off a building at a construction site.  Left a wife and kid.

There are many moments in between all this begging to be remembered.  One day perhaps I will find them writing themselves out the way this one did.

Now I make that simple melody linger before I let it burst free out of my lips.  My kids find it entrancing.  The African sky is an intense blue, not a cloud in sight.  We follow the path as best we can.


To An Israeli Soldier Facing a Sleeping Baby at a Checkpoint

You are in full military gear.
He is wrapped in a blue blanket, serene.

The barrel of your gun is close to his feet.
His grandfather holds him steady, to keep his sleep.

This moment will pass or come to an end.
The measure of fear is in that distance, closing in.

Dear soldier, tell me
Did you choose your own womb?


Here is the photo that prompted this piece.

Movement Grows to Boycott Israeli Products

This article is from Workers World, published Feb 23, 2009.

Furious at Israel’s horrific siege of Gaza and inspired by the courageous people of Gaza, workers, students and progressive activists are organizing sit-ins, demonstrations and other acts of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Many groups are getting on board and endorsing the Palestinian-led call for an international campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

From South Africa, where union dockworkers heroically refused to unload an Israeli ship, to Irish activists, Basque unionists and students in Britain and the United States, momentum is growing in the struggle to cut ties to Israel.

Students across Britain, including Palestinian and Arab youth, have taken direct action and occupied 21 campuses to protest Israel’s military assaults on Gaza and to demand their schools end links to the Zionist state and to the British weapons maker BAE Systems, which arms Israel.

In London, students held sit-ins at Goldsmith University and the London School of Economics, among others. Similar protests spread through England to Birmingham, Sussex, Norwich, Warwick, Oxford, Leeds, Cambridge and elsewhere. Some protests have won concessions from university officials.

At Manchester University, 1,000 students equated Israel with apartheid-era South Africa and called on the administration and student union to boycott Israeli companies and support Gaza and the BDS movement. The student union agreed.

Strong sit-ins have been held in Scotland at the universities of Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh and at Strathclyde.

Other solidarity actions continue. British MP George Galloway and 300 volunteers left Ramsgate Feb. 14 in a 110-vehicle caravan, whose vans, fire truck and ambulances were filled with community-donated food, medicine, clothes and toys to be donated in Gaza. Viva Palestine, Stop the War Coalition, Muslim groups and trade unions organized this 5,000-mile journey.

Irish organizations join BDS campaign

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, with 600,000 members in 55 unions, is prepared to start a boycott of Israeli goods. The Jan. 31 Irish Times carried a full-page ad, headlined “Irish Call for Justice for Palestine,” sponsored by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Its 350 signers called for the Irish government and people to boycott Israeli products and to support the BDS campaign.

When thousands of Irish marchers in Derry commemorated the 37th anniversary of Bloody Sunday—when British soldiers killed 14 unarmed people in 1972—they carried 1,000 Palestinian flags in tribute to the Palestinians killed by Israeli bombs in Gaza. The names of children killed were posted at the Children’s Wall. Sinn Fein’s banner read, “Solidarity with People of Gaza, Stop the Blockade.”

Welsh activists were arrested in Swansea at a Tesco’s grocery store after they seized produce grown on illegally occupied Palestinian land. The media reported their message calling on Wales’ people to support a countrywide boycott of Israeli goods.

Demonstrations in more than 30 cities in Basque Country, with 30,000 participants, have called for BDS and linked the Basque and Palestinian struggles. Trade unions joined a Bilbao demonstration calling for a boycott of Israel. Ten municipalities called for breaking ties to Israel.

In Catalonia, protesters leapt onto a basketball court to disrupt a Barcelona-Maccabi (Tel Aviv) game, waving Palestinian flags and signs saying “Boycott Israel.”

Professors and university employees in Quebec also endorsed the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees’ call to boycott Israel.

The BDS campaign is growing in the U.S. As Hampshire College students successfully campaigned for school divestment from Israel, a University of Rochester sit-in was organized by Students for a Democratic Society. They demanded no school ties to U.S. and Israeli militarism in the Middle East and aid for Gaza schools. Iraq Veterans against the War and Rochester Against War took part.

Macalester College students occupied the Minnesota Trade Office in St. Paul last month, then picketed there on Feb. 6, demanding that the state end all trade with Israel.

And New York University students began a divestment campaign at their school.

A 24-hour demonstration outside the World Zionist Organization’s New York office, from Feb. 12-13, drew 900 Jewish activists. Jews Say No targeted Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the ongoing occupation and demanded justice for the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, thousands of e-mail endorsements from the U.S., Canada and worldwide have poured in to the Jews in Solidarity with Palestine campaign. (See

A cultural boycott is also underway. Chicago protesters wearing bandages stained with red paint, symbolizing Palestinian casualties, recently picketed the Israeli Batsheva Dance Company. The International Solidarity Movement and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel plan protests wherever the dance company performs.

The Palestinian BDS National Committee has issued an international call for a Global Day of Action in Solidarity with the Palestinian people and for concrete and bold BDS actions on March 30 to make this mobilization “a historic step forward in the new movement.”

Articles copyright 1995-2009 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Eeyore, We Don’t Really Know You

I met Eeyore very late.  Unlike most kids, I never had the chance to read A.A. Milne’s books until much later.  Nope, not in my teens.  Much, much later.  Say roundabout 26.  Yep, a bit late, but at least I spared myself and my kids the yukky Disney incarnations which, I am proud to say, we shall never support.

And although Piglet seems so squealingly (yes, I made up that word) cute and Winnie-the-Pooh seems so adorably huggable, I always had a strange affinity with Eeyore.  A totally misunderstood character, with perhaps a tinge of the disturbed.  I always wondered why would a writer invent such a complex character in a story for children?

Last night we were enthralled by a segment from a long running South African nature show called 50/50.   They featured a woman in the Eastern Cape who trains donkeys.  The segment was entitled Donkey Defenders. Yep, Eeyore’s descendants are finally on the limelight.

First of, donkeys are not purple and plump in real life like overfed dinosaurs (yes, I am poking fun at you, Barney!).  They are tan or dark brown with big eyes and matching long eyelashes.

Hey, this one isnt purple!

Hey, this one isn't purple!

The trainer, Annerie Wolmarans, goes around the poorer communities in the area befriending the owners.  She feeds the donkeys on her visits because they get very little nourishment.  They are made to carry heavy loads for long distances with harnesses that cut into their skins.  After a few visits, Annerie offers to buy these animals off their owners.

She gives them the food and shelter that they need, spends time walking and even talking with them.  Soon they grow to trust each other.  She takes the donkey to see her own animals.  Sheep have shown an instant liking to donkeys, she says.  They like a donkey’s calm presence.  His size makes them feel secure.

An animal behaviourist in the show reveals that donkeys are highly perceptive creatures.  Self-preservation is one of their foremost traits.  If a donkey senses its life is in danger, it will not at all obey even its owner wielding a whip.   A donkey is also territorial and will fiercely defend itself and those it perceives to belong in its territory from invading animals, such as jackals or leopards.

After training a donkey for some time, Annarie finds a brave farmer willing to try this new type of protection for his livestock.  Sheep farmers often resort to deadly traps for wildlife that can harm his flocks.  And of all the surprises in the show, what made it more charming was the beaming faces of these big, burly farmers when the experiment proves to be a major success.

One of the farmers even declares “I spend time talking to her.  I walk with her.  I really love her.”  His donkey, of course, and not Annerie.  All the farmers had names for their donkeys, but I wasn’t listening closely enough to catch them.

Apparently a single donkey can protect as many as 500 sheep.  And not a single predatory wildlife has reportedly been injured.  That should cheer up Eeyore.  Now we realize we have totally misunderstood him all these years.  He does seem to have a calling.

The 50/50 website has Annerie’s email address, if you happen to be an interested sheep farmer.  I don’t know if she will be able to convince her donkeys to trot into an airplane though.

The show was originally presented in Afrikaans and some English. But through the years they have begun using the other main languages of the country and the most welcome development is the English subtitles that now runs at the bottom of the screen.  Cool, especially for the likes of hopeless me.

Pag-uwi ng Bangkay / To Bring Home a Corpse

This is a very, very old piece.  I translated it roughly into English for the first time, and feel that it sounds like a totally alien poem from the original.  The translation also needs some notes which I have provided.  I hope this one isn’t too obscure for readers here.  It isn’t my best work.  Thank you for your patience.


Ang Pag-uwi ng Bangkay
1 Setyembre 1992

Upang makapag-uwi ng bangkay
ng pinakamamahal,

Bahain muna ng kung anu-anong balita
ang mga pahayagan,
radyo, at TV — aswang,
eleksyon, 349, kidnap,
lalaking buntis, olympics —

Basta huwag lang ang mga nakababagot
na balita ng kahirapan o patuloy
na paghaba ng listahan
ng mga nasalvage, mga engkuwentro
o ng utang daw ng bayan.

Mga bagay na baka
magpauga sa kabaong
ng mga gunita.

Kaya upang makapag-uwi ng bangkay

Pagbihisin ng kunwa-kaguluhan/-kasiyahan
ang mga pahayagan,
radyo, at TV
nang lalong madaling malimot

Ang mga pinatay
at patuloy na pinapatay
ng pamana

Ng pinakamamahal
nating halimaw.



To Bring Home a Corpse
1 September 1992

In order to bring home
a beloved corpse,

Be sure to flood the papers,
radio, and TV with a variety
of news – vampire attacks,
elections, 349, kidnaps,
pregnant man, olympics –

Just be careful not to mention
such boring news of poverty
or the growing list
of those salvaged, of military encounters
or the alleged national debt.

Matters that might
rock the coffin
of memories.

So to ease the return of the dead

Pretty up the papers,
radio, and TV
with mock confusion/celebration
to make it easier for us to forget

All those who were killed
and those who continue to die
from the legacy

Of our dearly
beloved monster.


Philippine Daily Inquirer Headline February 1986


1 September 1992 was the expected date of the return of the remains of former dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos to the Philippines, three years after he died in exile in a mansion in Hawaii.  His regime was put to an end by a bloodless revolution in February 1986.  Some of you may have heard of it.

In 1992 Pepsi, the US multinational beverage company, was giving out considerable cash prizes daily to consumers lucky enough to find a declared single winning number. The number 349 was announced nationwide as the number on one day, but it turns out the company had printed more than one crown.  A deluge of claimants came to Pepsi offices, but media personnel said there was a minor mistake and that the winning number was something else altogether.  A legal case was lodged by consumers and the controversy continues to this day, as far as I know.  A consumer rights movement was established from the original group that called itself The 349 Coalition.  Be warned that the website is in dire need of an editor and a good web designer.

salvaged – a term from the 1970s meaning summary execution.

Is a Convoy of Over 100 Vehicles Easy to Miss?

On Valentine’s Day a convoy of over 100 vehicles set off from the UK.  Destination: Gaza.  Here is something from Respect, one of the organizers:


In an extraordinary and unprecedented spectacle, 102 vehicles gathered in Hyde Park at noon on Saturday before setting off with aid supplies to Gaza. The convoy included 18 ambulances, a fire engine, a boat and two buses.

The convoy was given a rousing send off by veteran politician Tony Benn and by George Galloway who will be joining the convoy today.

The total aid on the convoy is estimated at over a million pounds. Last night they were given a civic reception in Bordeaux. Today they travel to a rally in San Sebastian before going on to a rock concert for Gaza in Madrid.

They will then cross to Morocco via Tarifa and then travel across North Africa through Algeria and Libya before entering Egypt. Many more supporters from Britain are travelling out to join the convoy in Cairo around 6th March. The convoy will then head on to Gaza.


Will mainstream media cover this at all?  Sounds like a party I would love.  I have never seen Europe or North Africa.  A road trip with a cause.  Not bad at all.

Now how will the Israeli spin doctors deal with this media headache?

The Oddity that is Chavez

Hugo Chavez is an oddity. He does not seem to fear the omnipotence of previous and current empires. He seems certain of a future for his country that is not linked to foreign loans and influences, totally unlike most other non-Western, once-colonised countries. He does not even seem to care what Western governments have to say of his style of government. Or at least what their mainstream media babble on like religious fanatics hunting down a local witch.

Clearly democracy is in its death throes in Venezuela? Look, no one was killed, not a single voter reported being abused or forced to vote a particular way, and the elite controlled press wasn’t taken over by military personnel! What abomination! This dictatorship smells fishy!

Okay, enough of the silly ranting. I have to admit my own ignorance of Latin American politics before and after colonial rule. Venezuela didn’t get a single mention in my school history books. Only Mexico, when a beauty pageant was held there, I think. Besides, I was growing up under a dictatorship. More on that in the future, when the right memories come together to dance.

I thus confess that the first time I heard of Chavez was when he called Dubya “the devil.” Back then I thought “Wow, who is this idiot who wants his country nuked?” Of course, being a keen follower of Bushisms and other oddities, I chuckled. In that time I saw a lot of bad press about Chavez. As if he were the devil on earth!

Some time later I saw John Pilger’s “The War on Democracy” and heard a bit more from Chavez himself. The documentary was a little uneven and heavy handed in some parts, but it gave me a new perspective on the history of Latin American struggles. Pilger was too obviously in awe of Chavez, but that I suppose is forgivable if you think about the devilish image the Western press have made of him.

Fast forward to now, February 2009 with Hugo Chavez claiming victory in the Venezuela referendum. He and other politicians can now freely run for office again beyond the second term. If Venezuelans keep voting him in, he could remain president for life. What a thought! What a headache for those who cannot bear his open mouth!

Having grown up in a dictatorship, I can only say that at the moment Chavez does not seem to qualify as one. Not yet. Sure, the “poor” (read: elite) opposition have suffered a defeat. All that money and still not enough to take down a political opponent. But is a single one of them in prison? Is the local population bound by a silence for fear of disappearing in the night? Do all the newspapers carry the same stories?

You don’t know what a dictator is if you have never lived under one.


This article also appears on Helium.

Signs of Life by John Ecko

A good friend I’ve met over the internet, John Ecko, recently released his first book of poetry, Signs of Life.  I have read – or should I say seen –  his clever and engaging poetry at the poetry discussion threads of Helium.

One day I hope to come up with a review of his work and post it here.  For the meantime I invite you to get a glimpse of his amazing work at Eckovision.

Full Moon Silliness

There is a full moon tonight. I was outside dealing with a disgusting cat litter box when I noticed the field next to our fence was more visible than usual. I turned around and there was this huge yellow moon.

If you were ever unfortunate enough to have seen that terribly pretentious Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie, “Joe Versus the Volcano,” you might remember the scene where Hanks is awed by such a moon as he drifted at sea.

Which reminds me. It was a month ago when I wrote a silly poem about a pregnant moon. We were at the Algeria Campsite in the Cederberg Wilderness Area. Perhaps one day I’ll find time to write about that adventure. For the meantime a silly poem will have to do.

I can almost hear a prowling Meooooowww!