The Handmaid’s Tale – Brief Review via Goodreads

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The Handmaid’s Tale is both a superlative exercise in science fiction and a profoundly felt moral story” – Angela Carter
The citation above is from the reverse cover of my Vintage Books paperback edition and it pretty much sums up Atwood’s (now-famous) novel. It was written more than 20 years ago in a world quite different to the one we currently inhabit. Even if the patriarchal theocracy MA portrays seems impossibly regressive to us Westerners in 2017 so too did a Donald Trump presidency 12 months ago! The significance has not been lost on MA herself. See this article
I’m currently watching the new screen adaptation which, predictably, drifts from the book in some regards not least of all because the written narrative is sparing in dialogue but rich in anecdote and reflection. I’ll persist out of curiosity but the book stands alone as a classic SF dystopia.

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Ode to my Child

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
He chortled in his joy…

No, I didn’t slay the Jabberwocky but a very special thing happened to me recently. Or perhaps I should say a special thing happened to the world: Raphael Mees Passaportis, my son was born. He arrived shortly before noon on the 12th August at the Radboud General Hospital in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

My beautiful son

These last 10 days or so we’ve spent relatively privately in a nearby suburb courtesy of a friend of ours who was prepared to do a room-for-house exchange. In material terms we definitely came out tops. How nice though to hear our friend describe her first week in our one-room bungalow as luxurious. Well, compared to our previous lodgings at the Vlierhof Community I guess it is. As a shoebox is to a play-pen. We have another 5 days to relax here in relative peace.

Back at the Vlierhof they are gearing up for the annual summer festival. I felt a twinge of jealousy but it was quickly displaced. There will be some good music and some feel-good vibes no doubt, but I don’t practise any of the eastern religions, yoga nor meditation. And if there was a time to start it’s not now with a hungry toddler howling in our midst!

Ok, howling is a little exaggerated. Besides the indignation of nappy changes he abides most things well. As I write though the poor little fella is suffering some ailment – a sore tummy perhaps? – after breast feeding. It’s all we can do to allay his little whimpers by rubbing his tummy and rocking him gently. He sleeps intermittently (I guess that’s the norm?) and can feed voraciously. Nappy changes are a 3 or 4-hourly routine. I surprise myself – I can do it without too much fuss and bother (so far).

But I would be dishonest to say that I’ve been implacable. There are times I feel I desire to impose my authority through force: to punish his midnight wailing with a stern rebuke or to shake him to his senses. I’m told these are also normal responses of weary parents. This makes it marginally easier. I know he’s in no way conscious of the demands he’s placed upon us. How could he be? I must combat my reflex reactions with reason.

It is in those in-between moments when he is neither asleep nor in discomfort that the real magic is realised: a brand new little human being! Perfect in almost every way from his tiny little fingers to his chubby little legs and silky-soft cheeks. He looks at me with large, grey-blue eyes, unblinking. Does he register my face? I think he does. And then his gaze shifts over my shoulder. Now I’m not so sure.

“Raphael, Raphael,” I coo close to his ear. He visibly stops and I sense him sensing me; waiting, listening.

It’s moments like these that elicit a paternal tenderness I didn’t know I possessed. I want to kiss and cuddle him repeatedly. I want to be loved by him I realise, as much as he will soon need the love and attention of us, his parents. I feel a dull pain when I imagine my own father holding me like this in my first days of life. We had so little time together later on and he’s gone now. I realise that I miss him. I thought for a while of calling my boy Raphael Raymond or, conversely, Raymond Raphael. Mirjam wasn’t so sure and neither was I. Perhaps the next one…

He has finally settled down to sleep, punctuated every so often by little grunts and cries. Do babies dream? And if so, of what? The little baby vest he wears reads ‘Dream Big’ and a little further down ‘Little One’. Dream Big Little One. Yes, Dream Big Raphael. Dream, dream, dream.

Life is short, life is brief,
but dreams live on…

grief? relief? I’m not sure of that final line. You’ll have to pen it yourself one day my boy.

Your loving dad

Developing a B&B Within a Volunteer Community – De Vlierhof

A little piece I’ve written for the Vlierhof Community blog where I presently live.

by Leo Passaportis, community member

About The Community

The Vlierhof is an international community run by volunteers from all walks of life, young and old. Founded in 2002 by Anutosh Varik, some residents view themselves as long-term ‘carriers’, others as short-term helpers. Some come and go on a seasonal basis. For others it is their primary place of residence. In short, the Vlierhof wouldn’t function without the volunteers. ‘But what are you about?’ is the question that arises quite naturally. Let me touch on this in order to better contextualise the setting for a profit-generating Bed and Breakfast which we now operate.

The Vlierhof is owned by an organisation, a BVJ, which ensures that we exist as a recognised entity which can operate as a business, conduct for-profit activities and remit taxes. That said, at this point in time, all revenue is reinvested in the community – ‘Vlierhof plc’ – in alignment with our vision and core values. We’ve strived to derive a vision from these core values and after several in-depth discussions on the subject we arrived at a statement:

We envision a space where anyone can: 
learn and grow through experimentation,
connect and create together,
and be empowered to make conscious choices.

There is particular emphasis on sustainable practises, living harmoniously, inner-work and spiritual development,  and a horizontal power structure. We strive, and believe me it is not without difficulties, to adhere to a sociocratic governance model. Everyone has a voice and no-one’s voice is more important than anyone else’s.

Read more here: Developing a B&B Within a Volunteer Community – De Vlierhof


In Lieu of a rant against injustice and autocrats a call to action by a prolific poet (and a very good one too.

How often does our prayer to accept the things that cannot change become an excuse for complacency? How often do we turn away from the possible just because it’s difficult? How often to we tell ourselves ‘it’s always been’ and fail to see that something else could be? How often do we rail against those who […]

via rhetorical poem- often — Shawn L. Bird

Review of James A Michener’s book: Caravans

CaravansCaravans by James A. Michener

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I very much enjoyed this book – many quotable quotes and a real sense that the author had a grasp of the Afghan temperament. He did at least travel and live in the country for quite some months before attempting this book.
Others here havegiven a good synopsis and critique of the book. I just want to emphasize, in my opinion, that the value of this book lies really in the narrative surrounding the central feminine character, Ellen Jasper. Although we only meet her some 100+ pages into the book, she is talked of and analysed at some length prior to this. The reason: she is a young American woman from an influential family who marries and Afghan engineer, returns to his homeland and then goes awol. Concerned parents bring pressure to bear at home -> senator pressures American consulate in Kabul -> young American seconded to that office assigned the task of locating young woman.
The plot may be a bit tenuous it’s true but the character of Ellen Jasper isn’t. She’s a beautiful, worldly, intelligent, high-spirited girl who is liked and loved by almost everyone she meets, men and women alike. As it transpires she leaves her engineer for a group of nomadic Kochis and takes young Mark the diplomat along with her. Much thought-provoking dialogue follows as they venture inland though some magnificent scenery.
Ellen Jasper embodies the restless energy of youth and its disillusionment with the status quo. She claims to have married her Afghan engineer simply to spite her father and to pour scorn on his ‘petty scale of judgement’, but one feels there is more to her than just rebellion. Michener’s portrayal of her is quite prescient. In many ways her character forstalled the sandal-wearing hippies, 3rd word groupies and volunteers of the latter half of the 20th century who have foregone the comforts and certainties of their working-class lives for the adventure and altruism of traveling, living and working in the so-called developing world.
One other thing worth contemplating today as much as yesterday, in the words of the leading male character of the book:
“He’s right,” I [Mark Miller] told Moheb. “You’d both better get used to Ellen Jasper,” I warned. “Because once you let your women out of the chaderi, Afganistan’s going to have a lot of girls like her.”

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Mwana wevhu on Bond notes: This is not normal — Conversation Zimbabwe

I just opened my Reader with a view to seeing who might have blogged about the impending reintroduction of bond notes in Zimbabwe some 7 years after the last ones had been phased out.

Considering the abject failure of these notes at that time to alleviate the economic woes of the country’s economy I expect every Zimbabwean with a clear recollection of those times to genuinely, logically fear the consequences of their reintroduction this time around. If anyone can convince me otherwise please make your arguments…

Access original post: This is NOT normal In a few short hours, bond notes are going to be on the streets. After months of citizens campaigning against their reintroduction. After pleas for the Reserve Bank and the government to try anything, ANYTHING, other than both notes. After the people of Zimbabwe have gone blue in the […]

via Mwana wevhu on Bond notes: This is not normal — Conversation Zimbabwe

Hiking in the Central Drakensberg

As published on my sister travel blog.

These Archived Memories

I’m presently working as a volunteer at Ardmore Guest Farm in the Champagne Valley area of the Central Drakensberg, KZN, South Africa. I’ve been here a little over 2 weeks but I feel I’ve settled well. I am one of 4 volunteers,  the last of which only arrived today. More of that in another post!

I guess I’ve missed the hustle and bustle of the hospitality trade even though I can tell you it got my blood pressure up at times! Today has also been one of those days but it’s an exception to an otherwise pleasant stay. The landscape is incredibly scenic around here. At almost any time of day (poor weather notwithstanding) one can see a panoramic vista of the mighty ‘Berg from almost anywhere in the valley. Paul and Sue (the owners) have built a dozen or so chalets and bungalows, some mountain-facing, others garden-facing. You pay a…

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Excerpt From Kapuscinski’s ‘The Emperor’: On a Feudal Africa Kingdom and a Philosophy of Class Oppression

Extract taken from The Emperor, Downfall of an Autocrat, Ryszard Kapuscinski, 1983, Vintage International (English Translation).

Part III: The Collapse 

How, then, is one to confront this threatening creature that man seems to be, that we all are? How to tame him and daunt him? How to know that beast, how to master it? There is only one way my friend: by weakening him. Yes, by depriving him of his vitality, because without it he will be incapable of wrong. And to weaken is exactly what fasting does. Such is our Amharic philosophy, and this is what our fathers teach us. Experience confirms it. A man starved all his life will never rebel. Up north there was no rebellion. No one raised his voice or his hand there. But just start to let the subject eat his fill and then try to take the bowl away, and immediately he rises in rebellion. The usefulness in going hungry is that a hungry man thinks only of bread. He’s all wrapped up in the thought of food. He loses the remains of his vitality in that thought, and he no longer has either the desire or the will to seek pleasure through the temptation of disobedience. Just think: Who destroyed our Empire? Who reduced it to ruin? Neither those who had too much, nor those who had too much, nor those who had nothing, but those who had a bit. Yes, one should always beware of those who have a bit, because they are the worst, they are the greediest, it is they who push upward.

The EmperorThe Emperor by Ryszard Kapuściński

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to say this wasn’t an easy read but it was certainly a worthwhile one. Other GR members have written very comprehensive reviews so won’t repeat what has been adequately said. In summary Kapuściński’s journalistic nose is definitely attuned to the investigative.
Goodness knows how far he went in his efforts to interview such a wide selection of people, many intimately connected with the palace of emperor (Haile Selassie). Probably the best passage for me is his account of a feast for dignitaries, of how the plates pass out of the palace banquet along a chain of waiters to a distant kitchen and the sighing of the hungry masses who feed on the scraps passed to them. This description of the collective is possibly one of the most evocative I can ever recall.
Credit must also be given to the nameless interviewees who he denotes simply by initials. The book would not have been possible without them. I suspect Kapuściński infused the interviews with his own writing style. One gets the sense after reading a number of consecutive chapters. This is not to detract from the readability or authenticity of the tale in any way.
In conclusion a very interesting read of a medieval kingdom and it’s omnipotent demagogue that withstood the tide of the 20th century for 8 miraculous decades before it’s (and his) inevitable demise.
For another great excerpt read this post:…

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Zimbabwe’s Diamond Fields: A Tale of Unprecedented Plunder

“Transfer pricing, trade mis-invoicing, and capital flight through the repatriation of profits by Anjin to China and by local elites to secret bank accounts in South Africa, Hong Kong , the Cayman Islands and other areas is also oozing a significant amount of capital that should be used to improve the lives of the poor.”!


Civil society, trade unions and community organisations should unite and demand  not only the end of corruption at Chiadzwa but the nationalisation and appropriation of all the properties of those who looted. The failures of private capital have been laid bare…

In 2008 at the height of the economic crisis thousands of unemployed youths flooded the Chiadzwa mining area in what was a dramatic ‘diamond rush’ following the expiration of De Beers’ mining licence in 2006 and the cancellation of Africa Consolidated resources’ mining licence. De Beers had plundered diamonds at Chiadzwa for roughly 13 years using its ‘Exclusive Prospecting Orders’ (EPOS).It had a 47 EPOS in Chipinge. The international diamond mining company covertly expropriated thousands of tonnes of diamonds under the guise of ‘exploration samples’, ‘crushed rock samples’ and ‘kimberlitic rock samples’.

ray Raymond Sango

The unemployed youths who later on descended on Chiadzwa…

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The Waiting Game: A Challenge to Intra-African Trade

Nice to have some hard data attached to this topic. Unbelievable that 60-70% of data has to be inputed more than once at customs posts. I remember all the fanfare surrounding Nepad when Mbeki was in power and the promise of free trade and monetary union. Let’s hope the TFTA has more substance to it.

Nations & States

A few years ago, I was in southern Zambia, near the border with Zimbabwe. Fascinated as I am by arbitrary things like national borders, I asked my guide if one could set foot in Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s realm without a visa. “Yes,” he replied, there is a way: the Victoria Falls bridge, which spans the gorge of the Zambezi just downstream of the waterfall whose name it bears. The Zimbabwean border post is around half a mile from the bridge’s end, so one can step briefly into the country without ever crossing paths with officialdom.

This is how I found myself on an impressive turn-of-the-century steel arch bridge, 130 meters from the roaring waters below. I crossed the border, an invisible line cutting the bridge in half, and walked briefly on Zimbabwe’s soil. It was almost anticlimactically easy.

The same could not be said for the experience of dozens…

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certiores petere, appetere edoceri (seek to inform; seek to be informed)


debunking the reasons people don't vax

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