Archive for the Uncategorized Category

For my Friends in Nepal

Posted in Uncategorized on April 8, 2011 by theajnabee

Loving the rituals that keep men close,
Nature created means for friends apart:

Pen, paper, ink, the alphabet,
signs for the distant and disconsolate heart.

(Paladas, translated by Tony Harrison)

I saw this poem on the London Underground the other day and it made me think of my friends back in Nepal. We have these extracts from poems on the walls of underground trains to keep us entertained when we are crammed like sardines during morning and evening commutes (you can see more here, on the Poems on the Underground website). The reason that this one made me think of Nepal is that I’ve been a bit crap at keeping in touch over the past month or two. So this post is my way of saying sorry (to two girlfriends in particular… you know who you are!) To Palladas’ list of  pen, paper, ink and the alphabet I would add blogs, skype and email…. so really I have no excuse.

I just wish that South London was a bit nearer to Nepal so that we could all meet up for some beers and sekuwa!


Stuff Dictators Like #2: Living in London

Posted in Uncategorized on March 14, 2011 by theajnabee

Dictators and their families love London. This city has a long history as a refuge for the rich and politically suspect, including scions of the Gaddafi family and Teodorin Obiang, son of the Equitorial Guinea’s dictator of 30 years, whose spending on yachts and luxury mansions dwarfed his country’s combined health and education budget. Gamal and Alaa Mubarak reportedly arrived in London in February after the Egyptian revolution put an end to their father’s regime.

Knightsbridge is the address of choice for toppled despots, but most neighbourhoods on the Picadilly Line between Green Park and South Kensington are highly desirable (not that former dictators and their families travel by tube, that is).

Deposed despots’ wives also love London; Sarah Kyolaba Amin (Idi Amin’s former wife) allegedly works as an events organiser in Tottenham these days, while Sebha Begum Musharraf can be found pottering around Knightsbridge.

At Home with the Musharrafs

And London loves dictators too, as highlighted rather embarrassingly by events of recent weeks. The LSE and SOAS (The Ajnabee‘s alma mater) have both been tarred by associations with the Gaddafi family. Prince Andrew has been at the heart of a media frenzy in recent weeks thanks to his friendships with Saif Gaddafi and Kazakh oil tycoon and society beauty  Goga Ashkenazi.

Disturbingly, a whole industry seems to have grown up in London around meeting the needs of the global super-rich and super-dodgy. This article from the FT over the weekend, ‘The London Laundry’ by Matthew Engel explains how London has become a one-stop shop for services including ‘reputational management’, advice on tax avoidance, expensive schools and luxury retail:

“The country that famously lost an empire but had yet to find a role had finally found one: a full-service bolt-hole and pit stop for the mega-rich, however their gains were gotten.

Only within the past week, when the extent of Prince Andrew’s links to assorted oligarchs, despots and dubious tycoons became general knowledge, have the British started to realise just what a haven they are offering.

“Good schools, Harrods, and a co-operative attitude to the reputationally challenged: for the recently retired Mr and Mrs Dictator in a hurry, there’s still nowhere like London,” says one private banker with a mildly subversive view of his own high-net-worth clients. (He spoke on the condition of anonymity.)”

Harrods Deparment Store: The Cornershop of the Damned?

How the hell did we allow this to happen? I’m a Londoner myself and I am appalled that we’ve allowed ourselves to become the global destination of choice for ‘Mr and Mrs retired Dictator’. As Engel points out in the FT, the dictum ‘as long as they pay their taxes’ doesn’t even seem to apply any more, since many of these people clearly don’t contribute a penny of their ill-gotten wealth to the public coffers. It’s one thing to be ok with people being ‘filthy rich’, but Britain’s level of relaxation about people ‘getting rich filthily’ (Engel’s phrase) has now gone beyond a joke. Is this really what we want our capital city to be known for?

Thoughts on Totalitarian Kitsch

Posted in Uncategorized on February 26, 2011 by theajnabee

Kitsch is the aesthetic ideal of all politicians and all political parties and movements…

Whenever a single political movement corners power, we find ourselves in the realm of totalitarian kitsch. When I say “totalitarian,” what I mean is that everything that infringes on kitsch must be banished for life… Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

There was a bit of a vogue a couple of years ago among some of my acquaintances for bagging artefacts of ‘totalitarain kitsch’ as souvenirs of travels and business trips in Africa and Asia. Gaddafi watches and rugs, Pakistan army mugs and stickers and scary gilt-framed photos of (now deposed) Tunisian dictator Ben Ali were just a few of the items that were brought back home, to be met with a delicious mixture of horror and hilarity by friends and colleagues.

This all suddenly seems in somewhat poor taste given recent events in North Africa. Ben Ali and Mubarak have gone, and Gaddafi is still clinging on to power as Libya burns. Perhaps it will only be after the dust settles on the crisis that the outside world will be able to get anything like real insight on what life has been like for Libyans under the repressive and secretive Gaddafi regime.

Sam Leith did a great piece in The Evening Standard earlier in the week analysing the way in which the Western media has turned the undeniably bonkers Libyan despot Gaddafi into a figure of fun (for an example of this tendency, see this slide show in Vanity Fair on Gaddafi’s fashion sense). By having a good old laugh at Gaddafi’s hilarious outfits and hot female bodyguards, Leith argues, we have turned him into a bogeyman – and this has rather masked extent of his brutality.

Tony Blair‘s government started flogging him arms and buying oil from him; and the general conversation rehabilitated Gaddafi as a comic character. He wasn’t the first it has happened to. Think of Turkmenbashi, with his rotating golden statues and his bonkers poetry; or of stack-heeled, bouffy-haired Kim Jong-Il, singing “I’m so rone-ery!” in Team America: World Police.

Peter York did a book called Dictator’s Homes a couple of years ago: a Hello!-style album of funny photographs of the kitsch ways in which despots did up their front rooms. My dear, the vulgarity! It seemed to epitomise the way sophisticates end up occluding what they know about very bad men by making a joke out of them.

Of course, to make bogeymen look absurd is the proper task of ridicule. But by making them cartoony, we also risk making cartoons of the people who suffer under them. We risk forgetting why they are bogeymen. From the student with his bust of Lenin and his Che Guevara T-shirt to the hipster wearing the Chairman Mao wristwatch, the ironic appreciation of foreign mass-murderers is a sort of connoisseurship.

It makes trinkets of monsters – bringing a version of them into our self-enclosed world as an accessory, and driving out the need to imagine what it is to live in theirs. It’s strange how shallow and silly we can be, in other words, when we’re being sophisticated. Remember those 200 dead Libyans, not getting the joke. Might be possible to be too sophisticated, hey? (see here for full story)

Does collecting bits of ‘totalitarian kitsch’ from travels also have the same effect? I think very possibly it does. I’m not going to be a hypocrite here because I think that this is a form of humour I wholeheartedly participated in at one point in my life. It’s just that it doesn’t seem quite so funny now.

There is a really amusing (and often painfully true-to-life) website called ‘Stuff Expat Aidworkers Like’. It includes such gems as #15 dressing like a local and #9 war junk (expat aidworkers just love to pose next to burned-out tanks!). I think I would also include ‘collecting Totalitarian Kitsch’ as something that expat aid workers like; also journalists, political analysts, business execs and students.

Pakistan army window stickers: whose poor taste?

Mundane artifacts (for want of a better word) do often reveal a fascinating subtext about political and economic processes. If you want to check out two very different and rather eccentric ‘collections’ of objects from overseas travels compare/contrast these two examples: War rug and this ‘Informal Museum of Foreign Grocery Products’. In my book there is nothing that wrong with collecting bits and pieces  when you are abroad that intrigue/amuse you or that tell a story , but when we go into the realm of pieces of ‘totalitarian kitsch’ you have to wonder whom the joke is really on…


Porn and the Kathmandu Lady

Posted in Uncategorized on February 22, 2011 by theajnabee

I’ve been meaning to put this book review (see below) that I did a little while ago of Mark Liechty’s ethnography Out Here in Kathmandu: Modernity on the Global Periphery for Himal Southasian on the blog.

Ethnographies on consumption in the developing world really do tend to divide opinion. A lot of people believe that they are somewhat frivolous and intellectually lightweight, while others argue that in important sub-plot about wider social and even political change is narrated through people’s consumer choices. Personally I’m  with the latter point of view. One of my lecturers at SOAS, Caroline Osella, had written a lot on social mobility, consumerism, migration and masculinity in South Asia and was the first person to really alert me to the ways in which stories about economic and religious change are told through seemingly mundane choices about clothing, food, jewelery and expenditure on religious rituals (Check out this paper, ‘I am Gulf’) . Ever since SOAS I’ve been sympathetic to projects like Liechty’s, but ultimately I felt that Out Here in Kathmandu just didn’t have the necessary clout in terms of depth of fieldwork and theoretical discussion. But it was a fun read and Liechty certainly tells a good story. 

And just for the record, the byline about ‘the overgrowing modernity situation’ was none of my doing. Chya! Himal, really!

Porn and the Kathmandu Lady
by Sophia Furber
The overgrowing modernity situation seen arising in the ladies of the Kathmandu valley concerning with sex and porn.

Over the past decade, a new kind of restaurant has appeared in the Kathmandu Valley – the dance bar or, similarly, the ‘cabin restaurant’. These places cater to an all-male crowd who come to drink local spirits, eat snacks and ogle girls dancing suggestively to Hindi and Nepali pop songs. Such establishments appear to have done a roaring trade even during the most fraught years of the Maoist ‘people’s war’, and can now be found throughout the valley, from the backpacker district of Thamel to respectable suburbs. It is not sex tourists that are being catered to here, but a new kind of customer altogether – the middle-class Nepali male.

The emergence of the dance bar is one of the most immediately striking of a variety of cultural transformations taking place in the Kathmandu Valley, which are the subject matter of this new collection of essays. Liechty’s focus on urban cultural practices marks a departure from the existing body of anthropological writing about Nepal, which has been dominated by studies of rural societies. These essays deal exclusively with Kathmandu, since the city is a place where Nepalis are feeling the impact of globalisation in a unique way.  The dance bar is significant because it takes food and sex (both traditionally controlled by strict ideas about ‘purity’ and ‘contamination’ among Nepal’s predominantly Hindu middle class), and repackages them as commodities for the free market.

This is not the only area of middle-class life where such a process is occurring. Other forms of consumerism, such as viewing of English- and Hindi-language videos, eating in restaurants, wearing make-up and even watching ‘blue’ movies have similarly brought the most intimate aspects of Nepali life out of the recesses of the home and into newly constructed public spaces. Out Here in Kathmandu explores a city where new, enticing foods, goods and services, ranging from momos and apple pie to Chinese electronics and sexual favours, are appearing on nearly every corner…

….read the rest of the review here!

Happy Christmas

Posted in Uncategorized on December 25, 2010 by theajnabee

Wishing all my readers a merry Christmas and a happy and peaceful 2011,

with love,

The Ajnabee xx

Minimalist Nativity Scene

Tara Air Crash

Posted in Uncategorized on December 18, 2010 by theajnabee

Here follows a rather macabre post:

The wreckage of a Tara Airlines plane was found on Thursday morning in the remote Eastern Hills. All 22 people on board had been killed.

The plane was flying from Khotang to Kathmandu when it disappeared off the radar. Most of those on board were pilgrims returning from Halasi, a Hindu holy site. (See news story here)

I actually flew this route myself with Tara Air about three weeks ago for a field trip.

This incident is a sobering reminder of how dangerous air travel can be in Nepal – this is the second air accident on a domestic flight this year (in August an Agni Air plane returning from Lukla crashed near KTM, killing 14).

We all have to take calculated risks in life, and I’ve chosen a profession where risk is something that I have to think about a fair bit. Nevertheless this case did upset me, because it was impossible not to wonder if this couldn’t have been prevented with better (and newer) equipment and more stringent safety precautions. Also, Khotang is so woefully under-developed that the district has no motorable roads, which means that travelers and locals must either walk for days to get in or out, or fly to Kathmandu if they can afford it. If basic infrastructure were developed, then there would be less need to fly planes in such volatile conditions.

My thoughts and prayers are with all those who lost loved ones.

Namaste, Perverts!

Posted in Uncategorized on December 3, 2010 by theajnabee

The other day I had a look at the blog stats for The Ajnabee as I was curious about how people were finding there way here. The results were interesting, and also slightly disturbing.

The top searches have consistently been for things pertaining to ‘gap yaah’, how to wear Southasian clothes, gori/white/caucasian women in Bollywood (the most popular topic of all, it seems), and Nepali/Hindi movies.

There have also been quite a lot for Kanchan Kalan. After the hoards of backpackers descend on this undiscovered gem of a place in Nepal tourism year 2011 to drink tea, eat Marie Gold biscuits and pose for photos next to the column marking the lowest point in Nepal, remember that you read about it here first.

Then there is the weird stuff. Here are a few recent examples:

Bhojpuri bikini scene

Bhojpuri call girls

Without dress Chinese girls

White girl in bar (got to love how that one ended up here…)

And the weirdest one so far:

Nepali girls standing on bathroom throwing urine

I don’t even want to think about what that person was looking for.

So, strangers – for those of you who found what you were looking for here, I am glad to have been of service. And to those of you who did not… well, I’m sure you can find plenty of places on the interweb to indulge your fevered imaginations.