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It was not exactly abusive but it was not too friendly either. Some of those guys had a steely glint in the eye. I was puzzled.
I had only once worked in South America, covering the 1978 FIFA World Cup in Argentina, then moving on to Chile, where I interviewed the dictator, General Pinochet, who had recently seized power in a military coup.(After our talk, his office sent me a crate of fine Chilean white wine but I was nervous about being seen to be compromised -- American news organisations were touchy about such things -- so I gave all 12 bottles away. It still hurts when I think about it.)
Anyway, maybe I should have picked up some “pirate” vibes in Argentina but the whole country was Cup crazy and all anybody thought about were football matches, group tables, deadlines, and empanadas, those marvellous meat-and-potato savouries which we Brits would call Cornish pasties.
It was back in New York city, among the volatile Argentines, Colombians, Mexicans and Cubans and with a bit more historical reading under my belt that it dawned on me I was one of “Il Piratas,” the Pirates, as Argentines call the British.
They say that long ago we seized some of their islands off the southern Argentine coast which they call the Malvinas, that we named them the Falklands, settled them with English people and raised the Union flag (not to mention a few years after my New York days fighting a bloody war to retain them.)
Now I cannot remember quite how we Brits claimed to own those distant, wind-blown bits of rock and frankly I cannot be bothered to check it out on Wikipedia.
But do this: Get out a world map, look where Argentina is, locate the Falklands, trace your finger all the way to London and you will soon see who the islands truly belong to.
I got to thinking about this when I read last week that the British have started drilling for oil in the waters around the islands.
You cannot help wondering — yes, Mrs Margaret Thatcher went to war to defend and protect the 2,500 British islanders, but was this what it was really about, oil?
The Argentines have responded to the oil exploration with verbal protests and some shipping restrictions, but they do not seem in the mood to repeat their disastrous 1982 invasion.
Nevertheless the situation bubbles dangerously like boiling oil, so here is my Falklands/Malvinas 2010 Peace Plan:If oil is struck in significant quantities, the British share it equally with Argentina.
The Argentines use some of their share to resettle the Falkand Islanders in Britain on generous terms.
Any who decide to stay on the islands must become Argentine citizens while the islands themselves are officially recognised as the Malvinas. Maybe not worth a Nobel Peace Prize, but do you think Kofi Annan might like it?
Another foreign story, or the reporting of it in British newspapers, has been bugging me, again in South America.
Dispatches from earthquake-wrecked Chilean cities such as Concepcion invariably refer to “looters” taking advantage of a disaster and how these evil guys will be shot if the military catches them. But hang on.
Are we not talking about people who have not eaten or seen clean water for days at a time, whose babies are wailing for milk, whose own food has been buried under mountains of rubble?
A fellow who staggers from a store with a washing machine, a refrigerator or a 52-inch plasma screen on his back is a looter.
But someone who clambers through a hole in a supermarket wall to take a bottle of water from a rack of hundreds is a suffering human trying desperately to stay alive.
As usually happens when national pride comes into the picture, there were sharp reactions to my friend’s impressions of Kenya on his return after five years, which I recounted here last week.
Carl Okello was offended by his remark that “people are better dressed and some women are stunning,” taking this as an attempt to Europeanise Kenyans.
I have to say it is the first time I heard it suggested that to compliment a lady in lavish terms could be seen as insulting.
Dr Obwogo Subiri came to the defence of the glum supermarket workers, pointing out that many Kenyan earners at the lower end of the scale scarcely get enough to pay their rent and find their bus fare home.
Plus, they have medical care, school fees and the daily food bill to worry about, so smiling at customers must come pretty low on their list of priorities.
In a different way, the problems of poverty are exercising Mang’era James Onchona. James was a street boy in Kericho who was lucky enough to find a Good Samaritan to pay his way through college.
Now he is a high school teacher. He wants to do something similar for the poorest of the poor, setting up a school for bright but poverty- stricken children.
He is thinking along the lines of Starehe Boys’ Centre, but is vividly aware of the need to stay with a preference for sons of the poor rather than accept readily available fees from sons of the elite.
His wife is alongside him on this dream. Land has been bought and the aim is to start in January next year.
Anyone who can assist is encouraged to contact James on email@example.comBy the way, my friend returned to the supermarket in question for a second shopping expedition and guess what happened?
He got a bright and smiling “Hello” from the checkout lady and only one item, a packet of ginger snaps, failed the barcode test, causing a delay.
In fighting the flab, we all know we have to be sensible. Rule number one: No backsliding. But here is an excuse so marvellously imaginative, I cannot resist passing it on:
“Doctor, it’s like this -- I have metal fillings in my teeth and the magnets on my fridge keep pulling me into the kitchen. That’s why I cannot lose weight!”
PARASTATAL heads who signed the Mombasa port community charter risk being sacked if their agencies do not deliver on the contents of the new entity. The charter signed between the government and the private sector aims at improving the movement of cargo from the port into hinterland