Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Go See Blood Diamond

I like it when block buster films have the guts to deal with controversial issues and expose underhanded industries. I like it even better when a film such as this is set in Africa, a continent that so rarely makes it onto international news headlines. I encourage all of you to go and see this film, not only because it will cause you to think twice about the morality of the international diamond industry, but also because it will expose you to the tragedy that has often surrounded the extraction and control of Africa’s precious natural resources. It will also demonstrate the utter helplessness that affects the millions of men, women and children that live in failed, war-torn African states, in this case Sierra Leone.

I am also particularly interested in this film because it was shot primarily here in Mozambique. All of the urban and beach scenes were filmed in Maputo’s historic downtown and along the Marginal de Costa da Sol. During the months of April and May, this city was buzzing with camera crews, wannabe extras and star-struck film nuts drunk on the opportunity to steal a glimpse of Leonardo DiCaprio. I had many friends stand in line for hours in an effort to be an extra in the beach bar scene but alas I could not identify any of them when I watched the actual film. I was able to recognize all of the scenes that were shot down town, especially the elegant train station, Xipapanene market and the make shift buildings that they constructed specifically to blow up during the action sequences. One night, as my friends and I were emerging from a downtown pub, we stumbled upon a film set, complete with burnt out vehicles and 30 odd “corpses” strewn across the ground that had been prepared for a shoot the following morning. Definitely an added sense of eeriness to the already sketchy surroundings of the Maputo Baixa at night!!

This film joins the ranks of the other strong African films such as Hotel Rwanda, Tsotsi and The Last King of Scotland that brutally depict many of the horrors that have defined post-colonial Africa. Besides being shot in Maputo, the film had another strong link to Mozambique in that the violence of the Sierra Leonean rebel armies, and the subsequent conscription and brainwashing of child soldiers, was similar to the tactics used by RENAMO during Mozambique’s awful 15 year civil war. These child soldiers, separated from their families, as well as any decent sense of morality, would carry out senseless atrocities on innocent peasant villages, compounding the suffering of the rural population. Now Mozambique is being held up as an example of how to successfully rehabilitate and reintegrate these child soldiers back into their communities and their families using traditional healing and spiritual atonement practices. Now that peace has been declared in both Liberia and Sierra Leone, let us pray that the countless thousands that have been brainwashed by war can regain their sense of self and their place in society. There is still such a long way to go.

The film of course also touches on the issue of the “white man’s” role in African conflicts. Much of Africa’s violent post-colonial history can find its roots in the political and economic interests of external state or corporate actors. Mozambique was one of many African states used as a battleground for the ideological confrontation of the Cold War while Sierra Leone was one of many African states ripped apart by rivaling factions competing for the exclusive control of lucrative resource deposits. But how much can the white man be blamed for the disasters that have befallen the African continent over the past 50 years? This question is touched upon by Solomon Vandy’s character in the film when he ponders how so much violence has been allowed to occur between black communities in African countries. How much have external forces exacerbated the ethnic cleavages in Africa, encouraging carnal violence and full scale civil war? The film does a commendable job depicting the many faces of the white man in Africa: as colonizer, mercenary, homemaker, relief worker, journalist, criminal, idealist and boss.

I also felt the three lead actors were fantastic in this film, with DiCaprio and Hounsou giving particularly strong performances deserving of their Oscar nominations. Many people cringed at Leo’s attempt at a Rhodesian accent but I thought it was bang on that seemed to become more natural as the film progressed. Blood Diamond certainly is not a light hearted night out at the cinema but it is certainly a profound and thought provoking film about one of the darkest corners of the dark continent and a global industry that quite literally has blood on its hands. If any of you have seen the film and would like to share your thoughts please feel free to do so.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

I'm Skypein

Hey everyone, I had my first ever Skype conversation the other day and now I am hooked. What a fantastic way to communicate!! No more annoying two second delays or expensive long distance charges. Now I am normally a litte behind these new technological breakthroughs so for many of you I am sure Skypeing is old news. However, for those of you, who like me seem stuck in the 90s when it comes to technology, I highly recommend downloading this program. Then of course you can give me a buzz over here in Mozambique...for free!! My Skype name is "jpenner19". Hope to talk to ya soon!!



Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Boas Entradas por Todos!!

Well 2007 is here everybody and, since we are already a full two weeks into January, I thought it was about time I put up the first blog posting of the new year. I trust everyone enjoyed themselves this holiday season, whether you were at home surrounded by familiar faces or in a distant land with new companions. Despite all the hype that goes along with New Years celebrations, I do genuinely like to ring in the New Year with a group of friends, do the countdown, pop the bubbly, have that awkward (or awesome!!) first kiss and then stumble through the singing of Auld Lang Syne (of which nobody actually knows any of the lyrics!!).

Last year I spent my New Years relaxing on the sunny beaches of Mozambique and sleeping in a farmer’s field. This year I was home in Canada, shoveling myself out of the 30 centimeters of snow that fell on our city on the night of the 30th. It took my father and I almost four hours to clear off our patios, walkways and backlane and to dig my car out of the front street. Whereas 30 cms of snow would bring most cities to their knees, Winnipegers simply grit their teeth, lace up their winter boots and head out into the elements with a shovel in their hands.

2006 was a good year for many of my friends and family, with people starting new jobs, finding new relationships, moving into new houses and tackling new adventures. One of the things I like most about coming home to visit is seeing all the great changes that are happening to my city and the people there that I love. Of course it is also reassuring to know that certain things stay the same, like reminiscing at a local pub over a few Mooseheads, turkey dinners with the family and singing songs out of the Mennonite Hymnal at church.

Looking back at my time spent at home, I think I was able to visit with nearly all of the people that I needed to see. I got to have dinner and speak “portanhol” with my dear friend Rebecca, who is still living down in Colombia and has recently taken a job as a Policy Analyst for Latin America with MCC. She is a woman of immense passion and endless potential who continues to inspire me whenever we see each other, even if that is only once in a blue moon!! I also got to take in a concert of my friend’s band “Andrew Neville and the Poor Choices”, a rowdy country rock group with a certain affinity for Jim Beam, truckin songs and train wrecks. 2006 saw them survive their first Western Canadian tour and learn more about high impact lifestyle of rock stars living the dream. Keep given ‘er boys, I’m looking forward to the new album coming out soon!!

Of course, returning home also brought a few surprises for me. The first of which came as I was out for lunch with my former girlfriend Kristjanna, whom I dated just before I left for Mozambique at the end of 2005, and was introduced to the shiny engagement ring on her finger. Now of course I am happy for her as she is in a wonderful physical and spiritual space but I could not help but feel a few mixed emotions about this woman who was such an important part of my recent past. However, as life goes on I guess we cannot dwell on what “could have been” but rather remain thankful for the people that we are blessed to have spent important seasons of our lives with.

The other big surprise came from my cousin Crystal who announced her pregnancy at our Christmas family gathering. Given our family’s propensity for joking around, this announcement caught us completely off guard as our initial reactions ranged from “Ha ha yeah right!!” to “You bloody well better not be!!” Once we realized by the tears welling up in my cousin’s eyes that she was indeed serious, we all erupted in hugs and congratulations. This will be the first child of the “next generation” for our family so obviously it is a pretty big deal.

And the best Christmas gift I received this year was hands down the ski trip that my parents and I took out to Banff in the Canadian Rockies. We were blessed with fantastic ski conditions as the slopes at Sunshine received 20 centimeters of snow over the two days prior to our arrival. It had been nearly 7 years since my dad and I were on skis but we had an absolute riot exploring all the different runs, chasing ski bunnies and pretending like we were professionals. The first day we were there we were fortunate enough to have a brilliantly clear day in which we could see for miles and miles over the snow covered mountains. Since she never did like strapping on skis, my mother elected to spend her holiday between the Spa in the Banff Springs Hotel and the countless shops that line the streets of the quaint little town.

So after spending nearly three weeks in my cold homeland, I was ready to get on the plane and begin the long journey back to Mozambique and begin the new year there. I believe that 2007 will be a fantastic year full of new challenges and new directions. I had a friend dub 2005 the year of “hope and miracles” and 2006 the year of “new discoveries.” Therefore, I am declaring 2007 the year of “courageous action”, both at work and in my personal life. I hope all of you can feel emboldened this year to achieve your goals and follow the path you feel called to pursue.

Blessings and Peace in 2007