Shibumi, Trevanian.

I first read Trevanian ‘s Shibumi when I was 15 or 16. Years later I came across  this copy in a second-hand book store. I was 34 at the time, and it reconnected me with something I’d I felt on my first read, but had subsequently forgotten. The author himself called it a parody of the spy thriller genre, though I suspect he was pouring water on the more obsessive responses among its cult following.

I don’t mind the idea of an author making fun of tropes, if they do it well. Cervantes and Don Quixote comes to mind.

I tend to think of Shibumi nowadays as an academic execution of the genre. I just love it, and 32 years after my first read, 15 years since my last, I’m about to dive in for the third time. I wonder if it will surprise me again and transport me to that place and feeling I know it inspired in me, but which I can’t recall. 

 

The Imaginary Japanese

It’s okay, you can go in there, he said, with profuse nodding and smiling, unlocking the gated enclosure and gesturing for me to enter. His rake in one hand, a crisp blue shirt tucked neatly into the fawn gabardine of the retired salaryman, narrow-dscn0562brimmed cotton hat and gardening gloves impeccable despite the pile of leaves he and his buddy had amassed. ‘Kaba Kuneguchi’, he would write in my notebook, ‘September 30th, Heisei 23’ (2011), in hiragana to make it easy for the gaijin. I’d been circling the Miura Anjin memorial for ten minutes taking photos from outside the tall iron fence. Kaba was a volunteer with the Tsukuyama Park Preservation Society. Officialdom. It was okay.

I grew up in an Australia ambivalent toward the Japanese. Our grandparents had faced them in conflagration. In the 70s, when the dominance of local, British and American manufactures was overwhelmed by more available goods from Japan, ‘Jap crap’ entered the vernacular, referring to anything cheap or lacking quality. If I’d had an amoebic concept of the Japanese as a kid, that was all I knew.

Somewhere in my mid-teens, amid my awakening social and political consciousness, two things happened which ended any ambivalence I might have absorbed. Firstly, my grandfather opened-up about his wartime experiences, and I learned that despite the lingering fallout of wartime propaganda and its effect on some Australians, the attitudes of the old warriors themselves could be far from negative. They’d seen the suffering of Japanese alongside their own. They’d seen evil committed by all sides. What they’d fought for and won was peace, not lasting, purposeless hatred.

Around that time, I read Trevanian’s Shibumi, a broad, brooding novel. Shibumi revealed to a fifteen-year-old that there are alternative frames through which to look at the world, and that all knowledge is refracted by the conduits through which it’s conveyed. The novel also introduced me to the excitement of the political thriller. Protagonist Nicolai Hel was born in Shanghai to an exiled White-Russian mother, and raised in Japan by a surrogate father, General Kishikawa of the Imperial Japanese Army. It’s this upbringing, with an acute sensitivity to custom, an emphasis on honour, the aesthetic, and clean, lethal violence, that would equip Nicolai for a career as an international assassin.

A few years later I saw rallies protesting Japanese investment in real estate draw 1500 people on the Gold Coast, while The Canberra Times reported that Japanese were fourth on the ranking of foreign investors in Australian real estate, behind the UK, the US and New Zealand.

Then in the early 90s a Japanese girl approached me at university and asked for directions, and my hereto vague awareness of Japan became a love affair with Japan.

The gate was open, and I walked through.

*

Shibumi was the first of many novels written by Westerners about the Japanese that I’ve relished. As I write, within eyesight are both Shibumi and its sequel, Satori, a homage to Trevanian authored by Don Winslow. There’s The 47 Ronin Story by John Allyn, Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace, Rendezvous at Kamakura Inn by Marshall Browne, and Shogun by James Clavell. Liza Dalby’s The Tale of Murasaki is missing from my bookshelf, borrowed by some book-louse without the class to return it.

Shibumi aside, I don’t think any of these have been pronounced works of literary genius. There are famed Japanese authors on my bookshelf, both in Japanese (property of my spouse, Chizuru) and in translation. However, it’s this type of Westerners’ imaginary Japan more than Japan’s own literature that hooks me. It’s a guilty pleasure, because somewhere in my schooling are Edward Said’s Orientalism, and Alison Broinowski’s The Yellow Lady: Australian Impressions of Asia. My cherished novels exoticise, romanticise and distort the Japanese in some of the ways my liberal education would disparage. Worse still, I detect orientalist traits in my personal life, which can muddle things in a fifty per cent Japanese household.

Some of these novels are based on historical people, and in 2011, during a visit to the in-laws, I took an excursion with my new camera to locate them.

I’d been enraptured by Liza Dalby’s The Tale of Murasaki. Murasaki Shikibu, who lived a thousand years ago, is remembered for authoring The Tale of Genji, often credited as the world’s first novel, and for her poetry and her diaries which provide a
titillating exposé of Heian era court culture. James Clavell’s Shogun was also fresh in my memory. I was inspired to read it after catching a re-run of the TV miniseries. Shogun is based on the life of Englishman, William Adams, known to the Japanese as Miura Anjin, who settled in Japan four hundred years ago.

I set forth to see what traces I could find of these two characters in 2011.

*            *

Yokosuka, 30 September 2011

Having wandered into Tsukuyama Park in the city of Yokosuka at the southern end of Tokyo bay, I was drawn to a broad granite staircase that, from the bottom, gave no clue about where it led, only that such an imposing set of stairs had to be going somewhere important. Approaching the top, directly ahead two cenotaphs on a dais roseWilliam Adams grave Yokosuka into view, abstract forms in stone and yet full of humanity. One, with fluid edges and floral suggestions, was unmistakably feminine, the other, sharper edged with less organic accents, discernibly male. Here stood a man and woman in timeless consort. Side by side and full of vigour, the immigrant samurai and lady of Hemi overlooked their fief, and beyond it in the distance the metropolis once known as Edo. I’d stumbled across the mossy cenotaphs of Miura Anjin (William Adams) and Magome Oyuki. My guide map was in Japanese so I’d somehow not anticipated them, though I’d been following Adams’s trail. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for when I’d set out to find what I could of William Adams, but I knew this was it. Like Adams and Blackthorne I’d fallen in love with a Japanese. Like Adams and Blackthorne I’d fallen in love with the Japanese. In form and placement these imaginary-japanese-blog-1cenotaphs eloquently captured Adams and
Oyuki in memorial, while in aspiration they captured me.

Four hundred years ago, favoured by shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, Adams was elevated from stranded foreign sailor to Japan’s highest nobility. Forced to leave his life in England behind, including a wife, he’d remarried to Oyuki, a woman of modest social status, out of love.

In James Clavell’s novel based on Adams’s life, protagonist Blackthorne falls for married noblewoman, Mariko, whose reciprocation would’ve resulted in both their deaths. Eventually resolved to be together, Mariko dies during the novel’s version of the Battle of Osaka, an event at which the real Adams was present.

Mariko’s passing in Shogun is a dramatic climax that tortures the reader with ‘what ifs’. ‘No, this can’t be happening,’ you’re thinking, as you will the character back to life, at the same time delighting in the tragedy of it.

Alison Broinowski points out though, that this is a common trope in Western imaginative discourse on the orient. She calls it the ‘Butterfly Phenomenon’, after Puccini’s tragic heroine.

An Eastern woman may be delightful, but she cannot become a Western wife, and her child is a half-breed. After her day in the sun with her lover, Cho cho san will pay the price of pleasure: her wings will fade, and she will perish. She is a fragile art object, but also a cheap, replaceable commodity.

Broinowski

Privately, I must confess to… let’s just say a slight moistening of the eye as Blackthorne’s Mariko receded on her funeral pyre, farewelled in her white kimono, like Chizuru wore on our wedding day.

Despite the outcome for Clavell’s Mariko and Puccini’s Cho-cho san, in the case of the real life Oyuki Magome, there was no reunion with the Western woman. Adams chose life with Oyuki.

 

Sunpu Castle, Shizuoka, 1 October 2011.

Tokugawa Ieyasu is as revered by the Japanese as a statesman can be. In the West, his profile would approximate a Julius Caesar. He’s the figure who provided the title for Clavell’s novel, ‘shogun’ being the name given to a hereditary military dictatorship which, when secured by Tokugawa in battle in 1600, signalled the beginning of Japan’s Edo Era.

Adams sometimes came to visit Tokugawa's mandarine treehis benefactor, Tokugawa, in his retirement at Sunpu. Within Sunpu Castle Park survives a sprawling mandarin tree, planted by Ieyasu, that it’s easy to imagine could have borne fruit that Adams tasted.

The castle’s been restored to its Tokugawa specifications, and there are displays of military artefacts and tactics of the day. In Clavell’s novel, Ieyasu’s avatar, ‘Lord Toranaga’, represents the pinnacle of the samurai class. The samurai, and concepts like bushido, ‘harakiri’, ninja, the katana (Japanese shizuokasumpa-037resizedsword) and its vicious application, are preoccupations in Western imagery of Japan. They coincide with the orientalist notion of the savage, inscrutable, deadly ‘other’. Some Japanese will chuckle at this Western preoccupation, and it marks one as a ‘hen-na-gaijin’ (silly foreigner). I must keep my curiosity about these things in the closet.

All the same, I can’t help having some fun with our imaginary Japanese traits. My son Bryce and I are co-conspirators. When Chizuru’s cross with one of us, we might whisper to each other in mock horror, “They chop people’s heads off”. I told my dad shizuokasumpa-087_01once, who was being a rogue, “She won’t say anything. She’ll just hand you the wakizashi,” (the short sword with which one performs seppuku).

Do we sometimes fail to differentiate the historical other when it comes to another’s
culture? There are plenty of Japanese who themselves like cultivating this aspect of their history. Are we simply sharing that veneration? Does it mirror a romanticisation with our historical selves? Adams’s contemporaries in the West included William Shakespeare, Miguel Cervantes, and fellow adventurer, Captain John Smith, who co-habited with the natives at Jamestown, the first English settlement in America, at the same moment as Adams in Japan.

 

Ito, Izu Peninsula, 1 October 2011.

I made it to Ito on dusk, where Tokugawa put Adams to work building a European style ship. Deep in the Izu peninsula, Ito was away from the prying eyes of Tokugawa’s enemies. Though Adams had studied shipbuilding, he’d never actually done it. He was a pilot and navigator. Fortunately for Adams, among the survivors of the Liefde, the ship imaginary-japanese-blog-13on which they’d drifted wretchedly into Japanese waters, was Pieter Janszoon, her shipwright. In Shogun, Lord Toranaga has Blackthorne’s successfully constructed first ship destroyed, breaking his hopes of sailing home to England. Another trope: the wily, manipulative oriental.

Standing here in twilight in October 2011 looking toward the headlands at either end of the bay, with its distinctive rocky outcrop off to the southeast, I knew that despite the concrete, cars, and electric lights, Adams would probably recognise this place
today. The thought brought him that much closer to me. When he produced his first ship here in 1604, Japan was on the cusp of a new epoch, and Adams was part of its foundation.

Ito, William Adams

The harbour of Ito on the Izu Peninsula, where William Adams shared his knowledge of European shipbuilding with Tokugawa Ieyasu.

 

Otsu, 2 October, 2011.

In Liza Dalby’s novel, it’s from the southern shore of Lake Biwa that Murasaki Shikibu embarks with her father for his posting as Governor of Echizen. She’s of From Madeira Temple looking north across Lake Biwa otsu-067marriageable age and should be staying behind in the society of the capital, but she’s adventurous. She’s cultured in Chinese writing and its venerated forms of poetry, and she can go toe-to-toe with anyone in its customary use as word-sport. In her novel, Dalby explores this in her portrayal of a historical visit by a Chinese delegation to Echizen.

I stand on the pier at Otsu’s ferry station looking over the lake, imagining their boat out amid the water craft approaching the distant shore.

Legend has it that Murasaki conceived of The Tale of Genji at Ishiyama-dera temple in
modern-day Otsu, where she’d come in retreatI wonder if it was after the early death of her husband, or during her pregnancy before their daughter’s birth. In later life she returned to Ishiyama-dera in retirement to devote herself to writing and religion. At the temple, they maintain at least one Buddhist scroll in her handwriting.

otsu-062resized

I’d bought some textured washi paper and a writing brush at the Oji Paper Museum, but I’d left them in Tokyo. I made do with the least ordinary paper I could find in a nearby convenience store, and like Genji, wrote a poetic thank you note for my hotel receptionist, Ms Ito. The note remains among the papers I brought back from that trip, undelivered.

 

Kyoto, 4 October 2011.

The family had caught up with me, and Bryce was pestering me to take him to the Gokouyu onsen, which was apparently something special. Eleven at the time, Bryce loved the Japanese bath-house. I got dragged along.

The onsen was extensive, and Bryce’s enthusiasm for the steamy cleansing atmosphere was infectious. We scrubbed, rinsed, and when I went to dip into one of the baths, a dad jumped up startled, grabbing his two kids by the arms in hasty escape. Oh dear, is this some sort of ‘hairy gaijin’ thing?

Bryce and I bobbed around the inexplicable variety of hot, cold, warm, and cool baths.

“Hey Otto-san, come and try this one,” he squeaked in excitement. He badgered me over and watched with a grin as I dipped into the bath.

What

What tha’

Was that?

I’d experienced this once before in the shower at the Tamworth football grounds, where there was an electrical wiring problem in the visitors’ sheds. “Ow!” My shock was “Ow,” apparently very “Ow” amusing to Bryce. What sort of sadist made a bath that gave measured electric jolts, and why would anyone get in it?

This was not like John Blackthorne’s bath in Shogun! The Sixteenth Century Englishman, Blackthorne had to be coerced into the bath. However, once he learned that the very pleasant Lady Mariko would join him, Blackthorne quickly realised the reinvigorating benefits of the onsen. Again, Broinowski frowns on this kind of ‘observation’ about the curious nuances of openness and modesty among Asiatic females.

 

Kyoto, 5 October 2011

Rozan-ji, in the garden of Murasaki Shikibu.

Rozan-ji Temple, KyotoIt’s most likely here a thousand years ago that Murasaki Shikibu wrote the first part of the Tale of Genji. It’s the site once occupied by the Tsutsumi-chunogon mansion, built by Murusaki’s great-grandfather, Fujiwara Kanesuke. Murasaki was born at Tsutsumi-chonogon and lived much of her life here. Her marriage in 998 was cut short by the death of her husband, Nobutaka, three years later. She moved from here to the court of the Heian imperial palace in about 1005 at the behest of regent, Fujiwara Michinaga, becoming lady-in-waiting to Empress Shoshi.

In her fictional account, The Tale of Murasaki, Liza Dalby depicts Michinaga having his way with Murasaki, without invitation and without protest.

Rozan-ji Temple, Kyoto

It’s not so much the rape that Broinowski might draw attention to, as the compliance of the oriental female in the Western imagination.

For the past 400 years Rozan-ji temple has occupied the site of Murasaki’s former home. Kyoto 091sTo sit and look over the Genji Garden, established in 1965, is to surrender your thoughts to a life lived on this spot a thousand years ago.

Yet, if spied, it’s the hidden inner garden of Rozan-ji, less grand, that inspires the imagination most. How long has this little stone bridge been here? Wouldn’t Lady Murasaki have trod that same path herself? In those years following her husband’s Rozan-ji Temple, Kyotodeath, when she turned her energies cathartically to her Genji monogatari, would she not have put aside her writing brush sometimes and, eyes cast over this very garden in its seasons, have meditated on the transience of life and love? In this earth are there not still traces of her incense, on the wind not faint reverberation of her poems?

 

The Sepulchre of imaginary-japanese-blog-11Lady Murasaki

We’d cycled in the rain through Kyoto streets, our destination the final resting place of Murasaki Shikibu. “It’s around here on the map,” I said.

I think we rode past it and turned back.

“Oh, hang on, it’s here.”imaginary-japanese-blog-10

Down an unassuming footpath off Horikawa-dori, a kilometre north of where the
Heian era imperial palace had stood, I’d come into the physical presence of my heroine. Was it her bodaciousness in doing other than expected from a woman of her era; learning, marrying at a time of her imaginary-japanese-blog-8choosing? Taken by her stories of lustful encounters, and the underlying loneliness and yearning in her own story, I was enamoured with a woman who’d been dead a thousand years. Was she an orientalist ideal I sought in my Japanese wife? Am I another Westerner romanticising the exotic, unable to distinguish the temporal other?

There I was looking at a sepulchre on a rainy day in Kyoto, scanning the surface of every rock carved in her honour, marvelling at the idea of being where Murasaki lay.

 

imaginary-japanese-blog-9

 

Biwa store, Kyoto 6 October 2011

The biwa is a mandolin-kyoto-011resizeshaped stringed instrument, an instrument played by Murasaki’s protagonist, Genji, and Murasaki herself. On a suburban back-street we came across an antique store with battered biwa hanging from the walls and rafters in various states of disrepair. It’s the neighbourhood where, indelibly, I’d exchanged glances with a Maiko more than a dozen years before. Now that I think of it, it was during that visit to Japan that I met my wife, Chizuru.

I linger in the store, trying to recall references to the Biwa in The Tale, like

It happened on a cool summer evening that Genji was sauntering round the Ummeiden in the palace yard. He heard the sound of a biwa proceeding from a veranda. It was played by this lady. She performed well upon it, for she was often accustomed to play it before the Emperor along with male musicians. It sounded very charming. She was also singing to it the “Melon grower.”

“Ah!” thought Genji, “the singing woman in Gakshoo, whom the poet spoke of, may have been like this one,” and he stood still and listened. Slowly he approached near the veranda, humming slowly, as he went, “Adzmaya,” which she soon noticed, and took up the song, “Do open and come in!”

Chizuru’s bored, and getting impatient. I look at her in dismay. Just when is this woman going to begin exchanging poetry with me? Perhaps if I build that tatami room she’ll rediscover her koto and play for me after our evening bath, until we end like Genji and his Fujitsubo.

*            *            *

Nihonbashi, Tokyo, 8 October 2011.

tokyo-004resizeBryce and I cycle down to the site of Miura Anjin’s mansion in Nihonbashi, where there’s a little stone memorial, well-tended. We head over to the imperial palace, and circle the giant statue of fourteenth century samurai, tokyo-009resizeKusunoki Masashige, on horseback. We pass an oversized motor-scooter with blue flake-metallic paint and chrome to excess. It’s a Harley Davidson parody, incurably Japanese, and its swept back styling oddly mirrors the stance of Masashige’s thundering steed.

Unlike me, Bryce’s experience won’t be one of ‘encounter’ with another culture. The challenge will be owning, and being the custodian of two, dividing his energies between tending, like Kaba Kuneguchi at Tsukuyama Park, to both. He’ll become not merely the gatekeeper for two worlds, but the gate between them.

tokyo-011resize

 

Photographs

More photos capturing the world of Murasaki Shikibu here.

More photos capturing the world of William Adams here.

 

References

Bowring, Richard and Shikibu, Murasaki. Murasaki Shikibu, Her Diary and Poetic Memoirs: a translation and study. Trans. Bowring, Richard. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Broinowski, Alison. The Yellow Lady: Australian Impressions of Asia, 2nd ed. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Clavell, James. Shogun, Hodder paperback edition. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2006.

Dalby, Liza. The Tale of Murasaki, (Vintage edition). London: Vintage, 2011.

Naito, Satoko. “Genji monogatari and its reception.” In The Cambridge History of Japanese Literature, Shirane, Haruo and Suzuki, Tomi eds., pp. 193-204. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Downloaded Macquarie University Library 7 October 2016.

Nippon Steel Human Resources Development Company. Nippon, The Land And Its People, 3rd edition. Nippon Steel, 1988.

Shikibu, Murasaki. The Diary of Lady Murasaki (Penguin Classics), Kindle Edition. Trans. Bowring, Richard. London: Penguin, 1996.

Shikibu, Murasaki. The Tale of Gengi, Vols. 1 and 2. Trans. Seidensticker, Edward G. Tokyo: Tuttle, 1978.

Stewart, Andrew. “Survey highlights hatred of Japanese.” Canberra Times, Saturday 11 March 1989, page 9. Downloaded from TROVE, National Library of Australia, 6 November 2016.

Trevanian. Shibumi. London: Book Club Associates, 1980.

Wright, Tony. “Leather, Volvos and Japanese invaders.” Canberra Times, Thursday 9 June 1988, page 1. Downloaded from TROVE, National Library of Australia, 6 November 2016.

Yamamoto, Shoichi. William Adams and Yokosuka (pamphlet). Trans. McClure, Bonnie. Yokosuka: Yokosuka City, 2009.


 

Site Visits

Sepulchre of Murasaki Shikibu, Kyoto.

Ito, Izu Peninsula.

Lake Biwa, Otsu.

Nihonbashi, Tokyo.

Paper Museum, Oji.

Rozan-ji Temple, Kyoto.

Sumpu Castle, Shizuoka.

Tale of Genji Museum, Uji.

Tokyo National Museum, Ueno.

Tsukuyama Park, Yokosuka City.

Yokosuka City Museum, Yokosuka.

AID, TRADE AND DIPLOMACY: THE RE-EMERGENCE OF IDEOLOGY IN AUSTRALIA’S OFFICIAL DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE.

Australia’s foreign aid and the development of a regional labour market

In July 2014 Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced Australia’s new overseas aid framework, much of it foreshadowed in the 2014-2015 budget and the Coalition’s policy at the 2013 Election. Key features include a regional focus in overseas development assistance, the re-emphasis of the Australian national interest, leveraging ODA in extending Australia’s influence, and the elevation of private sector development to the equivalent of human development. An environment conducive to regional economic growth is identified as the key to poverty reduction. All new aid investments must consider private sector growth. Empowerment of women and girls is among the government’s six ODA priorities. Aid programs need to conform to new criteria and be assessed against new performance benchmarks, and aid will not be reinvested in non-performing programs. There’s also the concept of ‘non-conforming recipient states’ which provides a basis for conditionality.

Focusing on an early development program undertaken within this rubric and comparing it with past programs, this essay analyses the Abbott Government’s approach to ODA, identifies potential benefits, potential shortcomings and pitfalls, and attempts to discern to what extent it truly represents a ‘new aid paradigm’.

AusAID was merged within DFAT, reflecting a stated conflation of aid, trade and diplomacy. Within the government’s new rubric of ‘economic diplomacy’ aid is un-self-consciously recast as a tool in the diplomatic arsenal.  This approach is evident in the increase in aid to Cambodia as part of an agreement on refugee resettlement, an even larger total increase in assistance to Manus Island at the same time as a decrease to PNG overall (ACFID, 2015), and may be seen as an element in the 39.5% decrease in aid to Indonesia (ACFID, 2015) in the wake of the Australian phone tapping scandal and immediately following the diplomatic furore over the execution of convicted drug traffickers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan.

The coalition’s platform at the 2013 election included a commitment to increasing the foreign aid program to 0.5% of gross national income (GNI) and thereafter align the growth of ODA to increases in the consumer price index (Wade, 2013). In its 2015-2016 budget the coalition government reduced foreign aid to 0.22% of GNI.

 “we will pursue Australia’s national interest in a clear-eyed way that recognises the changing economic realities in our region, and seeks to derive the greatest return possible from Australia’s aid investment” – Julie Bishop[1]

Aid is an investment for which we demand the greatest possible return. It is an essentially economic endeavour and its purpose is to serve the Australian national interest. Couched in this language the current government’s philosophical approach to aid appears a continuation of the neoliberal development project of the past few decades, only that it drops the pretence of being foremost about poverty reduction in recipient communities. Economic diplomacy elicits not only the political utility demonstrated by the Cambodian, Manus Island and Indonesian examples, but aid for the purposes of establishing trading relationships, specifically with Southeast Asian and Pacific Island states.

Little empirical evidence is available yet of the application of the new economic diplomacy paradigm in the aid sphere. DFAT’s Skills for Economic Growth (Solomon Islands) is an aid program currently moving between design and implementation phases.  Its focus is post-school technical and vocational education and training (TVET). Its objectives are to provide ‘labour market relevant’ education and training, equitably to male and female, rural and urban, poor and disabled; to develop an integrated network of quality assured post-school institutions across the Solomon Islands, improving career options; and to leave the Solomon Islands with an economically sustainable post-school education system.  Though the genesis of this program was a 2012 concept note, the Abbott government adopted it and produced a design document reflecting ‘contextual changes’ (DFAT, 2014). The Abbott Government’s retention of the previous government’s goals and objectives for the program indicates greater continuity in Australian ODA than Minister Bishop’s rhetoric suggests. It is an early exercise of the government’s Pacific Education and Skills Development Agenda and Delivery Strategy (PESDA).

Contextual changes include the establishment of the Solomon Islands National University (SINU) in 2012, development of a domestic education plan and legislative framework, and the conclusion of an EU funded TVET program. This last change occurs at the same time as Australia’s ODA pivots to the Indo-Pacific and may be an early indication of a global trend toward greater regionalisation of development assistance (which deserves exploring in another research exercise).

According to the DFAT design document, the program aligns with the Solomon Island Government’s Budget Strategy and Outlook Paper (2014) which cites the needs of the TVET sector, a commitment to project investment in agriculture, forestry, tourism, commerce and industry, fisheries, lands, mines and energy, finance and banking, and a transport plan flagging improvements in roads, wharves and airports (DFAT, 2014, p.3). These do coincide with ODA priorities outlined by the Abbott Government. The program’s objective of leaving Solomon Islanders with ‘internationally recognised’ qualifications also coincides with the SIG goals of defining skills in demand domestically and internationally and developing a workforce with skills to take advantage of international labour opportunities (DFAT, 2014, p. 3). This infers an approach that not only envisages the development of a labour force to meet Solomon Islands demands but also Australia’s. At the same time the SIG acknowledges contraction of domestic agriculture, forestry and mining sectors, but expects growth in the construction, manufacturing and service sectors, including telecommunications. A thorough exploration of the rationale is not possible in this essay but it indicates the development of a ‘regional’ labour market that would enable for example provision of Australian seasonal agricultural labour (already), the establishment of Solomon Islands call centres servicing Australian businesses in the way India and the Philippines have in the past decade, and fly-in-fly-out miners to Australian enterprises in both the region (such as nearby Bougainville) and mainland Australia. Such possibilities at least in part inform the program design’s conception of private sector partnerships.

This is consistent with the existing neoliberal development approach that for example in the NAFTA context sees manufacturing for the US market occurring in Mexico, and the informal provision of US domestic farm labour. At the 2009 census 45% of the Solomon Islands adult population were in the 15-29 age group, just over 20% of the labour force were in the formal economy, 37.4% were in the informal economy, and the largest proportion (41.7%) were in the subsistence economy (DFAT, 2014). Australia’s 2015 Intergenerational Report projects that by mid-century the number of Australians aged 15-64 per person aged 65 and over will reach 2.7 people, down from 4.5 currently and 7.3 in 1975 (Australian Government Treasury, 2015). Constructing a labour force throughout the nearby Pacific could be in Australia’s national interest. It also coincides with Foreign Minister Bishop’s acknowledgement of remittances as a major source of capital flow to developing countries. If these factors are part of the rationale behind Australia’s aid policy then it probably would represent something of a paradigm shift.

Patrick Kilby (2008) explains the positive impact short term labour migration and associated remittances have on poverty reduction, status of women and employment in the migrant’s country of origin. Kilby observed in 2008 that despite the importance of remittances in the Asia-Pacific region, Australian foreign aid policy remained unmindful of labour migration – if reference was made it was in relation to people trafficking. This appears to have changed. Kilby explains however that unregulated labour migration (such as in the North American example) suits the neoliberal development paradigm, while at the same time minimising remittance generating income and associated development benefits in the home country. Therefore foreign aid policy should address labour migration, regulate it, and create an economic environment that maximises remittances (Kilby, 2008).

The Skills for Economic Growth (Solomon Islands) program has a ten year investment strategy but identifies three short term key result areas (KRAs) centred on the SINU, provincial training, and national system development. Presumably these would in part inform the Australian Government’s performance assessments in the context of a new emphasis on accountability and promise to drop non-performing programs (DFAT, 2015). Controls are necessary, but have the potential for inflexibility and paternalism. The threat of withdrawal of funding itself is a source of wasted, inefficient investment when programs are not seen through to sustainability.

The program design documents acknowledge the low participation and completion rates of women in non-traditional technical education. To address this they will design a specific communication program for women and girls, develop gender neutral courseware and promotional material, provide incentives for training providers, award equal number of scholarships to women and men, and encourage providers to offer study and welfare support.

The program design documents provide commentary about SIG legislation. Of particular relevance to this program the Australian Government suggests changes to the proposed Qualifications Act and to the Education Act, but goes further to describe the Solomon Islands Labour Act and Electricity Act as “out of date” (DFAT, 2014, p. 7). This commentary may stem from a history of involvement in the previous decade when Australia’s ODA, both in general and specifically to the Solomon Islands, had a greater focus on governance (Luke, 2006). The critique of adjunct legislation is consistent with the Abbott Government’s aim of increasing Australia’s influence through ‘economic diplomacy’. Placing it within the design of a development aid program is a case of exercising influence. The related Investment Design: Solomon Islands Education Sector Program 2 document goes further, spelling out the involvement of Australian funded TA in SIG policy development (DFAT, 2014, 2).

Shahar Hameiri (2015) suggests Pacific Island states are embracing Chinese development aid and foreign direct investment (FDI) as a means of securing their own policy objectives and limiting Australian interference in domestic governance processes. In 1997, then new Foreign Minister Alexander Downer released a review of the Australian Aid program entitled “One clear objective: Poverty alleviation through sustainable development”. By 2005 an OECD review indicated Australia’s aid program was failing the global South, its focus shifting from poverty reduction to instead being used as a tool of interventionist foreign policy (O’Connor, Chan, Goodman, 2006). In 2006 Aid/Watch paraphrased the then AusAID Director General, Bruce Davis – ‘the times of just “doing good” with the aid program are now over. Instead the aid program today must focus on ‘building a strategic environment that favours Australia’s interests”’ (cited in O’Connor, Chan, Goodman, 2006). Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s ‘new aid paradigm’ appears only superficially different from the old one. A point of difference may be the absence of pretence about its major purpose.

The Regional Assistance Mission in Solomon Islands (RAMSI) was an Australian led police and security operation beginning in 2003 in response to civil unrest around issues of customary land ownership and compensation. A year after RAMSI began, DFAT released the report “Solomon Islands, Rebuilding an Island Economy.” According to Aid/Watch the report signalled a shift in RAMSI’s focus from peace-keeping to business promotion. Funded by BHP-Billiton, the report recommended that land holdings in the Solomon Islands be registered, citing communal ownership as a barrier to wealth creation. Commercialisation of land title could enable greater exploitation of Solomon Islands’ mineral resources (O’Connor, Chan, Goodman, 2006).

With the security situation in the Solomon Islands stable the last RAMSI forces were withdrawn in 2013. The Abbott Government’s aid priorities, with an emphasis on private sector investment and economic growth, fit into a narrative which can be traced back through these RAMSI occurrences and the thematically similar Enhanced Cooperation Program in Papua New Guinea. The ‘new aid paradigm’ Skills for Economic Growth (Solomon Islands) program also fits into this narrative as it integrates private sponsors into the picture who will ensure TVET provides Solomon Islanders with the technical skills relevant to labour opportunities resulting from the sponsor’s private enterprise in the region.

 ‘Since 1997 Australian Aid has been explicitly in the service of the “national interest.” The Government’s definition of the national interest is increasingly centred on countering regional “security threats” with the additional focus on supporting Australian commercial interests.”­ – Aid/Watch (O’Connor, Chan, Goodman, 2006)

In the past Australian Aid programming has depended heavily on technical assistance (TA), accounting for 40% of total spending compared to an OECD average of 20%[2]. In 2011 ActionAid ranked Australia’s ODA 14th out of 26 major donors due to this emphasis on non-recipient driven TA which ends in the pockets of Australian contractors (cited in Hamieri, 2015). During RAMSI 75% of the annual budget of $200 million was spent on TA (Hamieri). Rather than providing budget support to the Solomon Island Government (SIG) the Skills for Economic Grown (Solomon Islands) program engages a managing contractor, and at least half the program’s senior resources are specialist contractors reporting to DFAT Honiara (DFAT, 2014). The program’s mode of delivery does not represent a new paradigm with regard to TA. However the program is a component of the broader Solomon Islands Education Sector Program 2 for which delivery is described as “Mixed Modality”. Australia’s comparatively heavy reliance on TA is compatible with longstanding orthodoxy that aid programming should generate income for Australian companies, not incidentally prioritising ‘governance’ over ‘government’, an approach which Aid/Watch describe as ‘boomerang aid’ (O’Connor, Chan, Goodman).

The Skills for Economic Grown (Solomon Islands) is a big business, big picture program and this arguably necessitates a high degree of TA and close DFAT control. It isn’t always the delivery mode for Australian ODA. Australia was a major donor in the two year Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) program ‘Challenging the Frontiers of Poverty Reduction’ (CFPR) beginning in 2002. This highly successful microenterprise program was innovative in that it operated on asset transfer rather than cash funding. In circumstances of deep poverty, cash often necessarily goes into day-to-day survival – short term help rather than sustainable income generation. Give somebody livestock and the outcome is different (Mahmuda et al.). Australia’s involvement was arms-length. It would be interesting to know if customary landholders in Guadalcanal would see more utility in a cow than a technical education and a nearby mine.

Australia’s ODA dedicated to governance (with an emphasis on law and justice) increased from 15% in 2000-2001 to 36% by 2005-2006, while spending on health, education and infrastructure decreased (O’Connor, Chan, Goodman), reflecting the preoccupation with security after 9/11 and the 2002 Bali bombing. By 2012-2013 governance accounted for 18% of ODA and in 2015-2016 it accounts for 10.8%. While this is a marked shift in aid priorities it demonstrates the exceptional circumstances in the years after 9/11 and not the emergence of a new aid paradigm more recently.

The current securitisation of asylum seeker boats is a residual effect of this earlier period. It’s a foreign policy preoccupation which predates and parallels the terrorism threat. Since the Howard Government’s ‘Pacific Solution’, offshore asylum seeker detention and ODA have been explicitly linked. The Nauru example demonstrates the risks of the Australian Government attaching a neoliberal agenda. Howard Government aid conditionality (communicated within MOUs between Australia and Nauru about the management of detention centres) included a study on the privatisation of the telecommunications authority and other state owned enterprises, the reform of power and water services according to the preferred ‘user pays’ option of an Australian TA, public sector reform including reduction in pay and substantial reduction in size of the public service. The result – several state-owned enterprises were privatised, which in a small island state meant the transferral of public monopolies to private monopolies. Government offices are staffed by Australians while privatisation has increased unemployment and resulted in unaffordable and unsustainable services. It has created poverty and Nauru has become aid dependent (MacLellan, 2013).

Australia’s shift in focus to the immediate region is summarised by Tony Abbott as ‘more Jakarta, less Geneva’ (Wade, 2014). In quantitative terms it is expressed in the 2015-2016 budget through a 70% decrease in ODA to Africa, 43% to the Middle-East, a 40% decrease to South and East Asia (excluding Cambodia, Timor-Leste and Nepal) and 10% and 5% in the South Pacific states and Papua New Guinea respectively (Lowy Institute, 2015). This follows a 10% cut in Australia’s overall foreign aid budget in real terms in 2014-2015 (Wade, 2014).

The post-Cold War era saw a growing emphasis on humanitarian intervention, and the consensus around the Millennium Development Goals coincided with a globalisation of aid in which global human rights, poverty reduction and development were seen to contribute to the security and prosperity of all. This was reflected for example in DFAT’s 2003 white paper (Makinda, 2015). In an earlier era ODA and FDI focused on economic and political spheres of influence, such as former colonial possessions. From this perspective Australia’s dramatic cut in ODA to sub-Saharan Africa might be rationalised. In the absence of economic or political imperative, ODA to Africa could only be justified in human development terms, such as tackling poverty, health, education. In this context Australia’s regionalisation of ODA could be representative of a more donor-driven approach. Regionalism is less relevant with a human-centred approach as locus is informed more by greatest need or greatest potential to make a difference.

The Abbott Government’s regional emphasis is an element of its ‘new aid paradigm’. Reduction of ODA to sub-Saharan Africa contrasts with the previous Labor Government’s policy which saw ODA increase in consecutive years to 2013-2014, and the Abbott Government reversed Labor’s decision to join the African Development Bank. Writing after the 23.3% cut in ODA to sub-Saharan Africa in 2014-2015, but before a further 70% cut in 2015-2016, Samuel Makinda (2015) says Australia’s engagement with Africa in recent years was driven by a conception of national interest informed by humanitarianism, support for mining corporations, and the bid for a UN Security Council seat. Makinda cites the 2012 Hollway review – ‘choosing aid activities because of specific national interests is, and should remain, the exception.’ (Hollway et al 2012, cited in Makinda 2015, p. 58). Makinda describes a more sectoral rather than regional approach in which Australia tackled problems where it was best able to make a difference in relation to the Millennium Development Goals. If that were the modus operandi of the previous government then the Abbott Government has moved markedly away from it. Makinda’s reference to the MDGs incidentally highlights the need for a new frame of reference after 2015, a new paradigm.

However Makinda argues that sustaining ODA to Africa remains in Australia’s national interest.  He says “the strongest rationale for Australia’s development assistance to Africa remains the moral humanitarian imperative to reduce global poverty” (Makinda, 2015, p.59). He highlights Australia’s soft-power influence, extended for example through scholarships that brought African students and 90 cents for every scholarship dollar back to Australia. There remains an economic interest – 200 Australian based mining and exploration companies operate in 42 African countries, representing an AU$65 billion investment in the resources sector. Average annual rate of growth in African economies was 5.7% between 2002 and 2012 (Carr 2012, cited in Makinda, p.63). Africa’s growing middle class will see consumer spending reach US$1.4 trillion by 2020 (Mckinsey Global Institute 2010, cited in Makinda, p. 62). Finally, the multilateral imperative – the need for African support in Australia’s bid for a UN Security Council seat – remains. Makinda explains that historically Australia has served on the UN Security Council every 10 years or so, the gap between 1986 and 2013 being the exception. Altogether this highlights that Australia’s prioritisation of ODA to Africa comes at a cost to diplomatic and trade interests. What Africa can’t provide though is a regional labour force.

Though the term ‘user led’ appeared briefly in the Minister’s statement launching the new aid paradigm, the principle of Australian national interest restricts the interests of recipient states in program scope. While infrastructure, agriculture, fisheries and water management are particular development foci, the term ‘sustainability’ is conceived as something pertaining to ‘resources’, and use of the term ‘environment’ appears limited to  “enabling environment for business, investment and innovation”. FDI is an indispensable component of development capital, but emphasis on the private sector, particularly in the context of public sector reform, can be symptomatic of a rigid ideological approach that results in outcomes such as the Nauru experience. The profit motive invariably places short-term pressure on returns from development. Australia’s aid should not be conceived as an instrument to extract surpluses in our favour.

References to Solomon Islands’ Electricity and Labour Acts couched within an aid program delivery design are reminiscent of the Nauruan detention centre MOUs and could signal the type of reform agenda that neoliberal conditionality foisted on developing countries in previous decades. Chinese aid is an alternative, and it’s doubtful the Australian national interest is served by driving Pacific Island neighbours in that direction.

Kilby (2008) explains how Australia came slowly to the neoliberal project. What we may be seeing exercised through foreign aid policy is more than an incremental advancement in that agenda, one that liberalises not only trade and investment, but a regional labour market. The new aid paradigm probably does represent evolution in Australian ODA.

 

 

 

References

ACFID. “Federal Budget Analysis, 2014-2015.” Deakin ACT: Australian Council for International Development, 15 May 2014.

ACFID. “Federal Budget Analysis, 2015-2017.” Deakin ACT: Australian Council for International Development, 14 May 2015.

Australian Government Treasury. “2015 Intergenerational Report.” Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2015. Web, Accessed 1 Jun 2015 at http://www.treasury.gov.au/PublicationsAndMedia/Publications/2015/2015-Intergenerational-Report

Australian Government Department Of Foreign Affairs And Trade. “Education Sector Program – Skills For Economic Growth (Solomon Islands): Investment Design Document”.  Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2014. Accessed 31 May 2015 at http://dfat.gov.au/about-us/grants-tenders-funding/tenders/business-notifications/Pages/education-sector-program-skills-for-economic-growth-solomon-islands-investment-design-document.aspx

Australian Government Department Of Foreign Affairs And Trade. “Investment Design: Solomon Islands Education Sector Program 2”.  Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2014. Accessed 31 May 2015 at http://dfat.gov.au/about-us/grants-tenders-funding/tenders/business-notifications/Documents/solomon-islands-education-sector-program-2-draft-qae.pdf

Australian Government Department Of Foreign Affairs and Trade. “Australia’s new development policy and performance framework: a summary”.  Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2015. Accessed 1 June 2015 at http://dfat.gov.au/about-us/publications/Documents/aid-policy-summary-doc.pdf

Browne, Stephen. Aid & Influence: Do Donors Help or Hinder? London: Earthscan, 2006.

Hameiri, Shahar. “China’s ‘charm offensive’ in the Pacific and Australia’s Regional order.” The Pacific Review, 1 February 2015, p.1-24

Kilby, Patrick. “Migrant Labour, and the neoliberal development paradigm: balancing the contradiction in the Australian Aid program.” Australian Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 62, No. 3, September 2008, pp. 345-356.

Lowy Institute for International Policy. ‘Australian Foreign Aid’.  2015. Accessed 31 May 2015 at http://www.lowyinstitute.org/issues/australian-foreign-aid

Luke, Garth. “Australian Aid: A Mixed Bag.” Conflict, Security and Development: The Reality of Aid, Asia Pacific Edition 2006. Quezon City: IBON, 2006. Pp 73-77.

Maclellan, Nic. “What has Australia done to Nauru?: Politics, privatisation and policing under the ‘Pacific solution’” [online]. Overland, No. 212, Spring 2013: 4-11. Availability: <http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=201223853;res=IELAPA> ISSN: 0030-7416. [cited 11 Apr 15].

Mahadevan, Renuka and Asafu-Adjaye, John. “Exploiting comparative advantage in agriculture and resources: the way forward for Small Island States.” The Australian journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 57, pp. 320-343.

Mahmuda, Ismat and  Baskaran, Angathevar and Pancholi, Jatin. “Financing Social Innovation for Poverty Reduction: A Case Study of Microfinancing and Microenterprise Development in Bangladesh.” Science, Technology and Society, 2014, Vol. 19:2. Pp. 249-273.

Makinda, Samuel. “Between Jakarta and Geneva: why Abbott needs to view Africa as a great opportunity.” Australian Journal of International Affairs, 2015, Vol.69( 1), p.53-68

O’Connor, Tim; Chan, Sharni and Godman, Dr James. “Australian Aid: Promoting Insecurity.” Conflict, Security and Development: The Reality of Aid, Asia Pacific Edition 2006. Quezon City: IBON, 2006. Pp 78-92.

Padilla, Arnold and Tomlinson, Brian. “World Aid Trends.” Conflict, Security and Development: The Reality of Aid, Asia Pacific Edition 2006. Quezon City: IBON, 2006. Pp 44-69.

Wade, Geoff. “Issues in Australian Foreign Policy: January to June 2014.” Australian Journal of Politics and History, 2014, Vol.60(4), pp.606-620

 

 


[1] Julie Bishop, “The new aid paradigm”, speech to National Press Club, Canberra, 18 June 2014, cited in Wade, 2014.

[2] Keane, B. (2010) ‘Who profits from our foreign aid?’, Crikey, 12 July, cited in Hamieri (2015).

Intrastate conflict in post-independence South Sudan.

Vast growth in the number of states since World War II has coincided with a greater proportion of conflicts being intrastate in nature. This can partly be attributed to internal power struggles resulting from de-colonisation, domestic manifestations of international polarisation during the Cold War, and later structural change coinciding with the end of the Cold War. Yet three domestic factors commonly provide the preconditions for civil or intrastate wars. Firstly, these conflicts depend on ethnic or identity divisions within a state used to justify hostility and mistrust between groups. Secondly, a real or perceived existential threat that motivates one or more groups within a state to rise against another. Thirdly, the political opportunity offered by a weak state. In addition, a number of factors ensure intrastate wars have a transnational dimension. Identity groups cross state borders, there’s the complicity of nearby hostile governments, active ethnic diaspora, and an international regime that facilitates intervention on humanitarian grounds or in the interest of regional stability. All of these structural elements are evident in the conflict in South Sudan since 15 December, 2013.

In the late colonial era Sudan was a jointly British and Egyptian administered ‘condominium’. Borders between Northern and Southern Sudan cut across tribal lands and sometimes shifted to suit colonial administration. Post-colonial Sudan saw two protracted civil wars in the forty years before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005. A succession of oppressive regimes in Khartoum faced uprisings in the west and south of the country – struggles for self-determination by ethnically diverse populations. The politically dominant Arabic northeast of the country, aspiring alternatively to a Socialist, and after the Cold War an Islamist state, reaped the benefits of development, while secularist black-African communities elsewhere in the country, including Sufis, and in Southern Sudan, Christians, were politically and economically repressed. Under the leadership of John Garang, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and Movement (SPLA and SPLM) fought a civil war against successive regimes in Khartoum from 1983 to 2005 that was not essentially secessionist, but which sought political and economic empowerment for the tribes of Southern Sudan.

This period of conflict produced many of the ethnic atrocities that today contribute to divisive identity myths fanning the civil war in newly independent South Sudan.

Garang didn’t live to see South Sudan’s independence on 9 July 2011 amid optimism and unity across its diverse population. Both Garang and his successor, Salva Kiir, came from Dinka tribes who represent the largest ethnic group in South Sudan. Reconciliation in 2002 between Garang’s SPLM and Nuer leader, Riek Machar, contributed to the achievability of the CPA. Machar had split from the SPLA/M in 1991 and through the 90s undermined the movement with the initially covert support of Omar al-Bashir’s regime in Khartoum. Khartoum has long fuelled division within rebel movements, and is accused of complicity in the conflict in post-independence South Sudan. Machar is implicated in the 1991 Bor massacre, an event which contributes to mistrust between Dinka and Nuer, South Sudan’s second biggest ethnic group. Vice-President since independence, Machar fell out with President Kiir in July 2013. In the ensuing conflict Machar is accused of fanning Nuer mistrust of numerically superior Dinka to exploit division, as he did during the 1990s. War since 2013 has resulted in 500,000 additional refugees and 1.5 million internally displaced people.

At independence in 2011 some matters remained unresolved from the CPA – the demobilisation of former SPLA in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states on the Sudan side of the border, and the self-determination and territorial boundary of the border region of Abyei. Prior to July 2013 most observers saw these as the biggest threats to peace in South Sudan. Al-Bashir’s regime is accused of repression and ethnic cleansing in these three border regions. In Abyei, a permanent Dinka population once coexisted with Mesiria, a nomadic Arabic tribe who occupy the northern part of the region periodically each year. Through most of the colonial era Abyei was administratively within the border of Southern Sudan. Before Sudanese independence in 1956 the border was redrawn, placing Abyei within northern Sudan. In the months leading up to South Sudan’s independence in 2011, ethnic violence culminated in Khartoum’s military occupation of Abyei. The crisis was diffused by the insertion of Ethiopian peacekeepers under a UN and African Union mandate.

In security terms, a weak state is one that doesn’t hold a monopoly on coercive violence. At the time of independence, South Sudan’s security was underwritten by political and economic support from the US and by AU troops, not only Ethiopian peacekeepers in Abyei but also by Ugandan soldiers operating in Western Equatoria along the borders with Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo, where Joseph Kony’s incursions faced no South Sudanese defence. It’s in this context that from his ethnic Nuer base in Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states, Riek Machar has been able to mount a violent campaign against Kiir’s government, and indeed in the capital Juba.

The behaviour of colonial powers continues to influence postcolonial intrastate conflict for decades. Regional and global geopolitics affect the relative power of a state and its opponents. However, the recent conflict in South Sudan demonstrates that exploitation of ethnic division and historic grievance, the insecurity of an identity group, and the opportunity posed by a state’s weakness are more important factors leading to intrastate war.

I am your name is

A poem written for the Equatorian Community Welfare Association, but dedicated to all the people of South Sudan.

 

I am your name is  

by Mark

 

I am Nation

World’s youngest nation

Take my hand, guide my heart

Set me safely on my path

 

To me you are everything

Only with you do I begin

Turn fonduk and nourish

Safe rokuba shelter me your wish

 

I cry when you scold

Lose my fear when you hold

Grow strong I will

And all your dreams for me fulfil

 

You are my mystery

Today you’re so near to me

We are one it does seem

Sad tomorrow it was just a dream

 

I love you, though of you I’m frighted

My faith we will be reunited

Too briefly our fingers entwined

I lost you before you were mine

 

I am Nation

World’s youngest nation

Not my sister, my daughter, my aunt, wife or niece

You are my mother, your name is Peace.

Fallujah Chapter 8

The taxi turned into Allée des Deux Trianons, Versailles, at precisely 7:30, fitting into a long line of cars offloading passengers in turn at the Grand Trianon. The line of cars moved ahead slowly as more than one limousine lingered at the disembarkation point for its celebrity occupants to make an ‘entry’ before the Grand Trianon’s peristyle.

“Come on, let’s walk,” said Felicity as their taxi inched along. “We can take a shortcut through Marie Antoinette’s Estate.”

“Is that allowed?” said Alan, frowning unsure.

“Excellente idée” said Gerome, already handing a large note to the taxi driver.

They climbed out of the taxi, and when it u-turned conspicuously out of the queue Felicity had already thrown her Christian Louboutins over and was now climbing the fence. “We can cut through the gardens,” she said.

“Here, give me a boost,” said Gerome to a bewildered Alan, who nonetheless leaned down and linked his hands to offer his boss a lift.

Now that the precedent was set, after a moment’s thought occupants of several other vehicles began disembarking right there on the long gravel drive amid playful conversation and laughter. A few followed Felicity’s lead and climbed over the fence to enjoy an early evening walk through the garden, but most preferred to walk along the tree-lined drive up to the Grand Trianon.

Two thirds of a moon cast just enough light to navigate the garden path. They crossed a small bridge and passed a domed marble structure that Alan thought captured the moonlight magically.

“Le Temple de l’Amour,” Gerome commented.

They stopped briefly and looked up at it before they continued on. The path wound alongside what appeared a narrow pond of water-lilies, eventually coming upon a more grand structure, lit up to magnificent effect.

“Le Petit Trianon,” said Gerome.

“Built for Madame de Pompadour,” explained Felicity, “…Louis XV’s favourite squeeze.”

The gardens from here were more formal and lit all the way up to the Grand Trianon. Felicity and her two gentlemen led a few small groups along a broad gravel avenue, past flowerbeds and wide ornamental pools, and past the ‘French’ Pavilion. Mirthful conversation mingled across groups of strangers, adding a sense of festival to the whole event.

They reached the Grand Trianon with at least a dozen cars still waiting to disgorge their dazzling occupants.

Walking straight past the peristyle across which all the fabulous attendees were making their splendid entrances, they made their way instead directly to the Garden Room where a jazz quartet entertained guests spilling out down the steps and into the garden where trays of champagne and hors d’oeuvre were circulating.

“Gerome you sly bastard,” somebody called out. Gerome turned to greet the man with an enormous smile and amid a lot of back-slapping, hand-shaking and “Ça va?” and “Ça va! Ça va bien!”, Gerome introduced Felicity and Alan to Frederic Oudea, Deputy Chief Financial Officer at Société Générale. The schmoozing was underway in earnest. In fact Gerome seemed to know half the well-heeled charismatics at the party, industrialists and politicians, movie stars and recording industry execs. The representatives of various NGOs and charities circulated, like classy whores in a first class brothel or hyenas round a slaughtering pen Alan couldn’t make up his mind.

Doctor Beauvoir seemed to take to it naturally, slipping easily into jovial banter with complete strangers, many of them well-known identities and some of them simply oozing status and wealth. Noticing that Alan was less than comfortable in this environment she drew him into conversation more than once, and proved so adept at this that Alan could almost have believed himself a natural raconteur.

Pretty soon guests were asked to make their way into the Cotelle Gallery, where almost its entire fifty metre length was consumed by a row of four great dining tables, each resplendent in full formal setting beneath the famous Montcenis chandeliers. A small platform with a rostrum had been placed to one side midway along the Gallery, just high enough so that all guests could see the speaker. Places were labelled and Gerome, Felicity and Alan found themselves seated directly to the right of the rostrum amid Liliane Bettencourt with her chaperon, eighteen year old grandson Jean-Victor Bettencourt-Meyers, and the year’s pop princess, Jenifer Bartoli.

While other guests began taking their seats Madame Bettencourt, resplendent in majestic Givenchi dress and Cartier jewellery, remained standing, grandson diligently at her elbow, in steady conversation with Gerome and two other dignitaries.

“André sends his regards, Gérome. He always said how thankful he was to have you and Lionel over at Parnibas. He appreciated your expert service and your excellent advice.”

“I‘m sure Gérome feels very fortunate for the association with Monsieur Bettencourt and L’Oreal too, Liliane. The bankers do alright for themselves with our money, and you certainly have plenty of it for them to do alright with,” said Jeaneé Plantin, UNESCO Assistant Director-General and Mistress of Ceremonies for this evening’s event, raising a few chuckles from everyone except Gerome.

“Ouch, that stings,” said Gerome. “See the level of respect I get Berglind?” he implored OECD Deputy Secretary-General, Berglind Ásgeirsdóttir. “I don’t recall UNESCO ever complaining about the bank’s support, or L’Oreal’s for that matter,” he added with a nod at Madame Bettencourt.

“I feel it too, Gérome,” said Ásgeirsdóttir smirking. “Sometimes it seems keeping the world’s finances in order is a thankless task. We can at least take consolation in the knowledge it’s a Buddhist virtue, personal sacrifice for the benefit of others without seeking recognition.”

“The fastest way to universal transcendental enlightenment is more bankers in the world, I always say, self-sacrificing breed that they are,” quipped Plantin.

“Twenty years running this NGO and you still think of me as nothing other than a banker Jeaneé.”

“Oh ‘Romie, don’t be so sensitive. You know I’m only teasing, mon cherie.”

“Try as we might, we can never outrun our past. I should know, I have more past than just about anyone,” said Madame Bettencourt. Gerome, Plantin and Ásgeirsdóttir were lost for words. “It would be nice if people would let us move on. Instead, as the years go by all we seem to do is accumulate more of a past,” she added, pensively. “How is Lionél nowadays?”

Gerome looked at Liliane Bettencourt a moment bewildered. “Lionél Rochefort passed away, sadly. He was a great man, a great boss.”

“Mon dieu, such terrible news. How did it happen? When?”

“Let me see… September ’93 it was. Almost eleven years ago now,” explained Gerome sombrely.

When entrees arrived it was Plantin’s cue to take the rostrum, and Ásgeirsdóttir was able to gently suggest they take their seats.

Though humanitarian aid was not core business for UNESCO, Gerome owed his prominent position this evening to the intervention of Liliane Bettencourt, who was attending both as a major sponsor and as representative of the Alliance Internationale des Femmes. On accepting UNESCO’s invitation to this gala event, eighty-one year old Bettencourt requested the guest list so she could indicate her preferred seating arrangements. ‘Preferred’ actually meant who she would have at her table. She was both relieved and heartened to find Gerome’s name on the guest list, somebody with whom she could be comfortable, whose past association with her ailing husband provided warm reminiscences of happier times, and with whom she’d shared many an event like this one in days past.

Pop star Jenifer found herself within the most élite circle of this exclusive event on account of young Jean-Victor Bettencourt-Meyers being a fan. Reviewing the guest list with her personal assistant, coming across the name ‘Jenifer’, Madame Bettencourt had remarked “Jenifer who?” Her PA tried very hard to explain why it was just ‘Jenifer’ to no avail. “Who on earth has the name ‘just Jenifer’?” When her PA remarked that her grandson Jean-Victor was listening to Jenifer all the time, Liliane hatched the plan to have him accompany her and surprise him by having the beautiful young songstress seated right beside him. It had to be said, among all the dazzling beauties and starlets circulating so far this evening, the lad’s eyes appeared compulsively drawn to the singer, who in a vintage Bulgari dress and with Prada accessories cut an improbably unique and striking figure upon this sea of glamour. As he and his grandmother took their seats his heart indeed skipped a few beats as it became clear he was to be seated beside Jenifer, who’d been making introductions with Alan and Felicity.

“Madame Bettencourt, let me introduce Mister Alan Steiger, our chef de mission in Iraq, and Docteur Felicity Beauvoir, who will be flying out to our Iraq mission tomorrow to take up a position as surgeon.”

Madame Bettencourt nodded her assent and smiled.

“Oh,” said Jenifer. “You work in Iraq?”

“Oui.”

“And you must be?” said Madame Bettencourt, feigning ignorance.

“Jenifer,” said Jean-Victor.

“Bonsoir.”

“Oh this is Jenifer? You have a beautiful voice ma chère,” said Madame Bettencourt, who couldn’t actually recall hearing the pop music that came from this dark-eyed nubile, merely the genre. “My grandson Jean-Victor listens to you all the time.”

“I have your CD,” said the teenager, smiling ear to ear.

“Oh. That’s wonderful,” replied the young pop star. “You’ll have to let me sign it for you.”

The boy’s face went ashen. “I don’t have it with me,” he said, as though a great travesty had occurred. “I… I didn’t know you’d be here.”

“I have a new one coming out in a couple of months so how about if I send you a signed copy?”

“Oh, really? That would be wonderful,” said Jean-Victor utterly smitten.

“Docteur Beauvoir?” said Madame Bettencourt, considering. “Any relation to…?”

“Yes, he’s my father,” replied Felicity.

“Oh. I see,” said Madame Bettencourt, forcing a smile. Felicity smiled back.

“And I am very pleased to meet you,” said Gerome reaching across and shaking Jenifer’s hand before taking his seat opposite Liliane Bettencourt at the end of the table. “We’re very thankful for your support.”

“I’m very proud to be involved.”

“Oh,” said Madame Bettencourt, caught off-guard. “You’ve made a contribution to Gerome’s charity?”

“In such a troubled world I think his NGO does very important work. I’m just honoured that you’re personally aware of my donation, Monsieur Trembleau.”

“Very commendable of you ma chère,” said Madame Bettencourt, providing a polished performance of disguising her irritation.

Gerome could barely conceal his glee as he leaned back in his chair introducing Berglind Ásgeirsdóttir to Jenifer, Alan and Felicity. This was turning out better than he could have imagined. All he had to do now was publish an article in Le Figaro commending the young star for her generous contribution. Liliane Bettencourt could never allow herself to be outdone by this week’s celebrity nymphette, and the donation would be quadrupled.

“Well this year with your generous support we’ll be helping these two provide food, shelter and medical care to the terrorised women and children of Iraq,” Gerome told Jenifer, tilting his head toward Felicity and Alan.

Conversation halted as Jeaneé Plantin got the evening’s formalities underway.

“Mesdames et monsieurs,” she said, taking the rostrum. “On behalf of UNESCO Social and Human Sciences I welcome you to this evening’s charity gala event as part of our International Symposium on Gender, Peace and Conflict.” She paused to allow her intrusion into the hum of conversation to settle over the gallery, beaming theatrically at no one in particular, an orator of phenomenal technique as Gerome recalled.

“Firstly I would like to thank Madame Noëlle Lenoir, Minister for European Affairs, and Mr Osman Topčagić, Director of the European Integrations Directorate of Bosnia and Herzegovina for joining us here tonight. I’d also like to acknowledge Christine Albanel, President of the Museum and Domain of the Palace of Versailles, and thank you and your staff for preparing this marvellous venue.

“How lucky we are on such a beautiful evening,” she continued after a moment, smiling directly at a random few faces at the tables around her. “…to be here at this magnificent place. It’s one of the best things about working at UNESCO, the role we play in the recognition and preservation of the cultural and natural wonders that constitute our World Heritage list. But of course we have no more claim over them than anyone else, they represent a common heritage, they belong to all humanity and indeed in many ways, particularly those natural wonders, they transcend even humanity. As a Frenchwoman though, I reserve the right to claim Versailles as especially mine.”

She swayed backward ever so slightly before leaning forward as though she were Maria Callas taking a breath before launching into a new verse.

“Civilisation,” she declared, “…is a term we don’t use much anymore outside the ancient history classroom. Historically its usage was tied to the inverse concept of the ‘primitive’, and thankfully we no longer look at the magnificent achievements of our own cultures,” she said, allowing herself a moment to look across the Cotelle Gallery and absorb it, “…and use them to define the uncivilised, the ‘primitive’, to identify the lesser human beings, the social and cultural ‘untermunchen’.” She paused again momentarily to allow her use of the term to sink in.

“So we moved beyond the term ‘civilisation’ to demonstrate we don’t see ourselves as exceptional, or more accurately that we don’t see others as unexceptional.”

“I favour bringing back the term civilisation as a means of introducing a new counter-concept, de-civilisation. Yes, easy to forget that ‘civilisation’ is not essentially a noun.” She looked over at the party at the head of the table to her left. “Perhaps no-one here will have a more intimate appreciation of what I mean by de-civilisation than our Sarajevan visitor, Mr Topčagić [Topcagic’s own story of Bosnian war.]

“Three hundred years ago an ailing Louis XIV was visited here at the Grand Trianon by his five year old grandson. The Sun King told young Louis XV to keep France in peace for ‘it is the ruin of peoples!’

“Of course, Louis XIV’s conclusion was no semi-divine flash of brilliance. Actually it’s a pretty ordinary thing to say. Like me you probably know numerous people who say much the same thing all the time. I’d even dare to suggest most of you here tonight are in agreement with the Sun King. Yet peace is so often mislaid and this universal lesson about conflict all but forgotten.

“How is it that despite an indelible connection to our past and all the historical examples that are well remembered, successive generations forget the universal detriment brought by conflict? It’s because the lesson is not about peace or conflict, it’s about the ethno-centric assumption of exceptionalism. One thing that UNESCO’s World Heritage List demonstrates is that all peoples and all lands of the world are exceptional.

“Sadly, much of the work of UN agencies and their partners is in damage control – dealing with the consequences of conflict, most often, overwhelmingly in fact, the consequences upon women and children.

“Uniquely among UN agencies, the natural role I’ve come to realise for UNESCO to play is instead to develop, encourage and exploit civilising influences as a force for prevention. Women, it would seem, have a unique stake in this. Firstly, as I mentioned, we’re a disproportionate representation among recipients of humanitarian aid, the victims of conflict if you like and all of its ghastliness including sexual violence, displacement and insecurity, but women also represent an increasing proportion of active players in conflict, as in much of the world women are taking an increasing role in the military. Women are taking part in irregular offensive action too. You’ll find women among the FARQ guerrilla fighters in Colombia, and among suicide bombers in the Middle-East.

“In nations across the world, and yes this includes the developed world, women are only just starting to become players among the political elite from whence the genesis of conflict inevitably comes. We’ve new powers of influence women have seldom known before. The questions is – are we really going to be a civilising influence, a force for peace? I’d like to think so, not because of any assumptions about the innate pacific qualities of womanhood, simply because the gender balance is the biggest change in the dynamics of conflict since classical times.

“Despite rhetorical if accurate assertions that men are responsible for more acts of violence, it doesn’t logically follow that empowered women are any less likely to deliver conflict. It is a comforting thought though, an idea we’ve been trying to imagine ways to employ in the cause of peace since at least 2400 years ago when Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata.”

She paused as a few sniggers echoed around the gallery. Smirking, she continued. “What it does guarantee however is that we have a seat at the table as conflict is being played out and perhaps more importantly during peace-building.

“So what evidence is there to be optimistic that the increasing influence of women is going to be a force for civilisation, or more accurately, against de-civilisation, when for example in so much of the world women remain powerless? Well, that’s what I expect to find out through the course of this week. The implication of an increasing influence of women on conflict and peace is a theme among many of the speakers and papers being presented at this symposium. Of course it’s not the only theme.

“Already at this symposium we’ve heard Dr Eugenia Date-Bah explain both the importance and opportunity that exists in the appropriate employment of women in post-conflict reconstruction and the effect it has on the sustainability of peace building and nation building.

“Those of us lucky enough to have been at UNESCO House this morning to hear Betty Reardon speak will be utterly persuaded of the role gender can play in non-violent conflict resolution, and how important equity in education is in achieving that.

“Looking ahead at the programme for the rest of this week I am overwhelmed with anticipation. Thank you, each and every one of you for coming to make our symposium a success.

“I will wrap up now, not because I don’t have a lot to say on the subject but because while I watch you all savouring your entrées I see my own getting cold over there.” She garnered a few chuckles, particularly among those who knew she could talk the leg off an iron stove.

“After dinner we’ll have an opportunity to circulate a while before I introduce Minister Lenoir who has some interesting news about European intergovernmental initiatives, and Mr Topčagić who will share some experiences of the Balkan wars, Europe’s last major conflict. Please, enjoy the evening.”

Gerome stood amid the clapping, kissed Plantin on the cheek as she returned to their table before sliding her chair beneath her as she took her seat at the head of the table between himself and Madame Bettencourt. When applause subsided and guests turned to the extravagant meal being laid out before them an orchestra of conversation quickly engulfed the Cotelle Gallery. For Plantin’s benefit Gerome made introductions again.

“I understand your father’s Algerian,” said Madame Plantin to Jenifer.

“Oui,” said Jenifer. “My complicated heritage has been one preoccupation of the media, but my Algerian father is often the topic of conversation.”

“It’s something you have in common with Docteur Beauvoir here,” said Gerome.

“Your father’s Algerian too?”

“My grandmother. My grandfather was a Lieutenant in le Legion, he came home from North Africa in ’55 with an Algerian bride and a young son.”

“A Legionnaire?!” Madame Bettencourt reconfirmed with glowing admiration, being of that last generation to have known the French Empire and the rugged national symbolism of le Legion. “Soon after he was elected to the National Assembly my husband sat on the commission for overseas territories. In 1955 the Legionnaires in Algeria were a major point of discussion in our household,” Then her smile turned into a frown as a memory had her aghast. “So your grandfather was not among that rabble involved in the Officer’s Putsch in 1961?”

“No,” said Felicity with a laugh. “He was back home in Valbonne growing fruit by then,”

Reassured, Bettencourt smiled and nodded assent.

“Growing fruit in the Cote d’Azur? Sounds like an idyllic vocation for a retired soldier,” Plantin commented.

“How romantic,” agreed Jenifer.

Conversation over dinner covered the backgrounds of everyone except Liliane Bettencourt, Gerome and Jeaneé Plantin, from Jean-Victor’s planned university studies and Jenifer’s forthcoming second album, to Felicity’s work in the South Pacific and Berglind Ásgeirsdóttir’s yearning for snowfall. It finally settled upon Alan’s mission in Iraq and comparisons with those earlier conflicts like the Algerian war.

“How rudimentary humanitarian efforts were back then, and how challenging it must have been,” commented Ásgeirsdóttir.

“Well, most of what we need to do is rudimentary stuff – clean water and food, clothing, shelter and basic medical care,” said Alan, who’d reluctantly been drawn into conversation. “We may be better resourced nowadays but bureaucratisation has added its own difficulties, we’ve added layers of inefficiency that simply weren’t there before. How much less of my day would be consumed by administration around politics and accountability, and how much more of our time would have been spent delivering humanitarian aid if we’d been doing this for instance in Algeria in the ‘50s?”

This gave the party something to ponder over the haute cuisine and superior wine being lavishly served them.

As meals were coming to an end several guests started moving around and visiting acquaintances, and all around the Cotelle Gallery parties began to form. Gerome, Plantin, Bettencourt, Ásgeirsdóttir and Jenifer were soon very occupied, so that Felicity, Alan and Jean-Victor were left to form their own little party in the recess of a window overlooking a geometric garden toward the Grand Canal, in between Jean Cotelle II’s Vue de l’Orangerie et du château à partir de la pièce d’eau des Suisses and his Bosquet de l’Arc de Triomphe-Salle basse. Felicity’s two gentleman companions were reserved to say the least. Jean-Victor forced a comment on the nearby painting of l’Orangerie.

“It’s very nice,” he said inanely.

“Yes it is,” agreed Alan, stepping over to take a closer look at its surface, imagining that yes, that is what a 17th century oil painting looks like close up.

“The garden looks exactly the same today,” said Jean-Victor.

Felicity smiled as the two men looked on awkwardly at the painting, as though imagining they were making the impression of consumedly appraising an exquisite masterpiece but in fact using the gesture to avoid conversation with anyone else in the crowd.

“It’s an interesting idea isn’t it, art imitating life and then life being artificially held still so that it conforms thereafter to the art,” said Felicity.

Both men nodded and said hmmm… as though considering her appraisal in depth.

“His work hangs all around the gallery,” Jean-Victor said stiffly.

“How much would paintings like that be worth do you think?” Alan pondered, feigning interest.

“I don’t know,” said Jean-Victor, who hadn’t yet developed the knowledge of art acquisition that he would no doubt one day need. “All together they must be worth a couple of million euros,” he surmised, gesturing at the paintings hanging the length of the Cotelle Gallery.

As Felicity followed her disinterested companions’ eyes around the gallery she couldn’t help observing that was approximately the value of her own father’s work presently on display. She nudged Jean-Victor with an elbow. “See Pierre Cabot over there,” she said, lowering her voice and nodding discretely toward the veteran action movie star. Her two companions leaned closer to hear.

“Yeah,” said Jean-Victor attentively.

“Three facelifts,” she whispered.

The boy’s eyes widened, and Alan’s no less, as they both glanced compulsively toward the star.

“Helene Cardinale over by the rostrum,” she continued, pointing out the former fashion model and now department store figurehead. “Frequent flyer kilometres on the liposuction table.”

“Nooo?!” said Jean-Victor in amazement.

“Yes,” said Felicity nodding. Alan blinked in astonishment. “My father’s a cosmetic surgeon,” she explained.

“He is?”

“Aha.” Felicity nodded discretely toward various celebrities and other identities around the gallery. “Breast enhancement… nose-job… botox… tattoo removal… breast enhancement and botox… facelift… lipo’… breast reduction,” she rattled off.

Alan frowned at the last one “Really?”

Jean-Victor giggled.

Henri Beauvoir grew up the eldest son of a Southern orchardist and bee-keeper, the former Lieutenant of the Foreign Legion. His Algerian mother moved to her Lieutenant’s native Provence at a time when Algeria was still considered part of the French mainland. In the decade after France’s North-African territory gained independence in 1962, Samira Beauvoir became increasingly culturally isolated. Intensely proud of her heritage, she’d often find cause to declare so in her dealings with the townsfolk of Valbonne where they’d settled. While appreciated by her husband and many leading community figures, among Valbonne’s more parochial inhabitants, who took the view that Algeria was a land of towel-heads and turncoats, she was often the butt of racial slur. This perhaps contributed to a sense of restlessness in the young Henri.

His father’s orchards and apiaries delivered the family an adequate if somewhat hardworking existence, but Henri’s ambitions were not quite so modest. By his late teens he was making the daily and nightly commute downhill to the resort towns of the Cote d’Azur where he worked in the cafes and hotels. A determined worker with an outstanding eye to detail, he soon found himself working in the most exclusive hotels serving Europe’s most affluent, for whom the Cote d’Azur was a favoured playground. With his mother’s dark eyes and brown skin, his father’s lean muscular frame, and his own unique intensity and highly developed sense of self-possession, Henri found popularity among the region’s transitory patrician inhabitants who saw him as another exotic Mediterranean attraction, and he was often invited to parties as a curiosity, a touch of local flavour. Many of them returned year to year including a family from Normandy who possessed a villa in Antibes, a berth in the local marina, and a wild blonde blue-eyed daughter named Blanche who represented Henri’s own idea of the exotic.

The relationship was seasonal for a few years, an open secret, and did not continue at a distance whenever she returned home to Rouen. While the family discreetly accepted Henri as Blanche’s holiday play-thing, any suggestion that a courtship was occurring would have been quite absurd. Henri was the pleasant young local who took your breakfast orders or served you Long Island Iced Teas at le Martinez.

Henri understood all too well his social limitations and it rankled. What they often mistook for an endearing nonchalance was in fact a great big chip on his shoulder.

This all changed though in 1971 when Henri’s father concluded negotiations with the agency funded by both national and provincial governments for the acquisition of land for the establishment of the enterprise estate, Sophia Antipolis. Great tracts of land through the middle of this planned sprawling new technology park were occupied by the former Lieutenant Beauvoir’s prized orchards and apiaries. Monsieur Beauvoir retained small landholdings outside of Sophia Antipolis, but his compensation was of such proportion that any agriculture he undertook hereafter was essentially as a hobbyist.

Now almost twenty, first son Henri who’d been both smart and conscientious during his schooling, matriculated without difficulty and was dispatched to Paris to study medicine. Never again would Henri suffer the barbs of his mother’s race or his father’s income. Never again would he be subject to social stigma. Or so he thought.

Henri’s escape from the small town of his childhood coincided with Blanche outgrowing her own provincial beginnings. They ran into each other by chance at a café on Boulevard Saint Germain. Both liberated by the boundless opportunity that Paris represented, and somewhat assisted by the times, their once teenage urges for each other now re-ignited in an explosion of passion, the consequence of which was the arrival two years later in 1974 of a bounding baby Felicity. A marriage did occur, and it saw out the decade, but just as Henri reacted to his former modest social standing by becoming exceedingly conservative, Blanche reacted to her own staid Northern upbringing by submersing herself in Paris’s avant-garde fashion, art and music scene, finding her feet at precisely the punk rock era. Though finally if informally separated since 1984, they remained technically married right to this day, more as a result of oversight than of lingering attachment.

Henri’s determination was such that he was able to enter the competitive discipline of surgery, and he pursued the then still somewhat obscure but already lucrative specialisation of cosmetic surgery. Incredibly, right from his internship he found himself catering to the same class and sometimes even the same individuals he’d served cocktails and lunches to less than a decade before. The same remarkable work ethic and attention to detail he’d displayed back then guaranteed that Henri soon earned a reputation and eventually even an income to rival most of them. By 2004 Henri knew a good proportion of France’s, indeed Europe’s ruling classes more intimately than almost anyone, making him as well connected and deeply respected as anybody at UNESCO’s event tonight at Versailles. But Henri would never, could never be invited to an event such as this. His relationships with these people were intensely private. Not one of them would hope to see him at an event like this, knowing as he did their most intimate secrets.

“Watch out, here comes your grand-mère with Tummy-tuck,” said Felicity as Bettencourt bounded toward them with Jean-Pierre Gaumont, head of StudioCanal trailing.

“Jean-Victor, there’s someone I want you to meet,” said Liliane. “See, Jean-Pierre, isn’t he as handsome as I said.”

“Pleased to meet you,” said Gaumont, reaching for the young man’s hand. “Your grand-mère tells me you have an interest in cinema.”

“Well I’m not sure I’ve yet met anyone who doesn’t,” said Jean-Victor, shaking the studio boss’s hand with a broad smile. Unable to control the urge he glanced down at Gaumont’s waistcoat, then burst into laughter.

“And you must be…” said Gaumont, releasing young Jean-Victor’s hand and turning to Felicity and Alan.

“Docteur Felicity Beauvoir.”

“Pleased to meet you,” said Alan, taking Gaumont’s hand with a grin. “Alan. Alan Steiger.”

For the rest of the evening Alan, Felicity and Jean-Victor were inseparable buddies, sharing as they did a gentle comedic disdain for the pomp of the event. As they circumnavigated the gallery they garnered a few of their own discreet commentators. Whispers of “Bettencourt’s grandson” were followed by subtle alluring stares from glamorous lasses and one or two cougars. The singularly understated elegance of her olive-brown George Hameika dress and tiny pendant of simple Arabic design, her uniquely naturally tanned skin and the sun-bleached tips of her hair, at the end of winter no less, contrasted against both the lustre of her gold Christian Louboutins and the orangeness of some of the more radiant ladies, unassuming as it may have been, marked Felicity as quite astonishing all the same.

“His suit hangs off him like a potato sack and the trousers don’t match the jacket,” Liliane Bettencourt herself observed piteously of Alan. She imagined him the hard working school teacher of humble middle-American origins, scouring the racks at charity bazaars, carefully accumulating his wealth in food stamps until lifted from menial obscurity by a benevolent Gerome. She would make a point of taking him aside at some point in the evening and making her €5 million NGO pledge directly to Alan. Gerome would be enormously impressed and thankful for her altruism.

 

Vue de l’Orangerie et du château à partir de la pièce d’eau des Suisses

Vue de l’Orangerie et du château à partir de la pièce d’eau des Suisses – Jean Cotelle the younger

 

 

 

NGO

Set against a backdrop of the dramatic Southern Caucasus, NGO is the story of a humanitarian aid mission during the 2008 conflict in South Ossetia, and a Russian military expedition to intercept a covert shipment of sophisticated American arms.

Dr Felicity Beauvoir stands on the bridge of the Maersk Intrepid as it docks at the port of Poti on Georgia’s Black Sea coast. The ship carries a cargo of humanitarian aid and the members of her team. Waiting on the dock is their chef de mission, Alan Steiger, the man she loves. Felicity hasn’t seen Alan in three years, since they were thrown together under harrowing circumstances in Iraq, right before he returned home to his wife and kids in the States.

Kapitan Garik Pavlovich of the Russian 58th Army’s 19th Motor Rifle Brigade commands a detachment of elite T-90 tanks. His mission is both audacious and dangerous, threatening to open the conflict on a whole new front, as he travels deep inside enemy territory via the mythic Mamison Pass. His biggest challenge though is to manage his bureaucrat passenger, Eduard from the SVR, Russia’s post-Soviet equivalent of the KGB.

Vaja Sidamonidze is a proud Mingrelian and a proud Georgian but he’s disappointed his country hasn’t reached its potential, stifled by the parochial and the self-interest of the opportunistic few. Vaja learned to drive a truck in the Soviet Army and after Perestroika, at the time of Georgian independence he found his place in the new free market world when he bought an ex-government truck and began his transport company. Vaja is forced to draw upon long forgotten soldiering skills to protect his compatriots and a group of foreigners as the raging conflict destroys his life’s work. But Vaja has already lost more than anyone could bear, for somewhere in Georgia’s seemingly interminable civil wars Vaja lost his only son.

Herb Tasker’s still a country boy at heart, despite having climbed the corporate ladder of a Fortune 500 company. Herb’s decided to give something back to society so now he works for a not-for-profit humanitarian aid organisation. However, Herb holds the secret to the tragedy unfolding around them.

NGO explores the tension between political, military and humanitarian aspects of conflict. Political failure, bureaucratic mismanagement, the dehumanising effect of petty bureaucracy, and the shortcomings of mass media reportage are all major themes. Underscoring it all is the personal human tragedy of conflict.

One of our own.

In 1982 Emmanuel Kondok and his family were imprisoned and tortured. His father was killed in captivity and soon after release his brother died of the injuries he’d sustained through torture. Emmanuel’s dramatic escape, alone at 12 years of age, and his arduous journey through eastern Africa afflicted by drought and war is a compelling story of the refugee experience.

Emmanuel Kondok

I was born in Twic County in the Warrap State in South Sudan. My family were farmers, my father a community leader and a spiritual leader through heredity.  In 1982 as we were on our way to market to sell produce we were intercepted by Government forces and imprisoned. My father was accused of conspiring with the rebel army.

The whole family were imprisoned in the local Garrison and tortured. Each day I was sent down to the river to wash the vehicles of the Government forces. On one of these occasions a stranger helped me to escape by swimming across the river. [This first episode in Emmanuel’s escape must have been a harrowing event, more so when you consider it happened at age 12.  – scribblehead] I had to cross a broad running river swimming underwater holding my breath, knowing that if I surfaced I would have been shot by the soldiers guarding me.

Reaching the other side I was on my own, afraid for my family but compelled by the will to survive. I was picked up by some strangers and joined them as they fled our homeland for Ethiopia. In the three months after my escape my father was assassinated while in captivity before the rest of my family was released. A further three months later my brother was also dead as a result of the injuries he’d sustained through torture.

The same three months my family remained in captivity, tortured and my father killed, I spent walking to Ethiopia with this band of asylum seekers. The three month walk to Ethiopia was arduous, the countryside laid waste by drought, famine and war. There was no food and no water. People had to eat what they could find in the bush, and drink their own urine. Many perished.

Surviving to reach Ethiopia, I was sent to the Pinyudo Refugee camp where I lived alongside hundreds of thousands of refugees who’d fled the brutal war. I was able to receive some schooling while at Pinyudo. However life in the refugee camp was far from ideal. At times there was as little as 400 grams of food per day.

In 1991 after a change of government in Ethiopia the South Sudanese refugees were forced to return home. Another perilous journey. I remember many people dying as they tried to cross the Gilo River. We lived again not only with constant thirst and hunger, but with the fear of wild animals. Some of those who perished were taken by lion or hyena.

Back in South Sudan I lived in the town of Panchalla on the border with Ethiopia. The Red Cross entered the town with food, water, medical aid and shelter. The aid was short lived however, as after three months the Sudanese army attacked the town, and I was forced to flee for my life yet again. The situation in South Sudan and throughout Sudan was still very dangerous, so I made my way down to Kenya, again seeking asylum from the conflict that was raging in my homeland.

When I arrived in Kenya the UNHCR received us and we were sent to the Kakuma Refugee Camp. It was while in Kakuma in 1995 I met and married my wife, Mrs Aluel Deng Piyom.

The conditions in Kakuma were also not ideal, there was often fighting between the locals and refugees, but I still found the opportunity to go to school, and I was able to finish my Secondary Schooling in 1997. Going to school was important. I learnt a lot about the world, and gained more and more knowledge about the bad things within it.

I became a Youth Leader in the camp, working with the Catholic Mission to organise social activities and teaching the children, and also with UNICEF helping to distribute school materials and teaching farming practices. I also worked with different non – government organisations advocating peace in South Sudan and Sudan.

In 2005, twenty-three years after I first fled my homeland seeking asylum, the Australian government accepted me and I moved to Sydney with my wife and two children. When I arrived in Australia I soon found a job in a fruit packing factory. I worked there for four years. I now work to support African communities living in Western Sydney.

My expectations in coming to Australia were that it would be peaceful, and that my children would be able to go school, to learn English, and to mingle with Australian children.

Learning English was difficult, and I also do miss my family in South Sudan. I know I have had a good life here; electricity, public transport and comfortable home. I also know that in Southern Sudan people are still suffering. I’m nowadays working very hard to see that other Southern Sudanese, especially children, will have the capacity to grow, just as I have had the opportunity to do.

In Australia I’ve worked hard to continue my education. I received an Advanced Diploma of Human Resources & Management from Granville TAFE in 2011. I also finished the Diploma of Management with Careers Australia, and I currently study for a Bachelor of Applied Business Management with University of Ballarat.

I founded the Southern Hope Community Organisation Incorporated (SHCO) in 2010, a charitable registered not-for-profit organisation providing help and support to Southern Sudanese African Australians. We provide support to widows, orphans, isolated community members and individuals who cannot do things due to disability.

The SHCO mission is to prepare South Sudanese immigrants residing in Australia to become productive citizens by providing a work and learning environment where they feel challenged, respected & accountable as they strive to meet the demands of citizenship. Our aim is to improve the lives of South Sudanese families and support their smooth integration into Australian life and local Community.

I would say to Australian a big thank you for what you have done for opening the door to refugees from all over the world.

Emmanuel Kondok

Email: shcoinfo@yahoo.com.au

Website: www.shco.com.au or will change soon to www.shco.org.au

Emmanuel Kondok works to help South Sudanese to get on their feet and find their place in a peaceful Australia after so many of them have suffered from the type of traumatic experiences he did.

From the age of 12 Emmanuel endured hardships no child should ever experience. He now works to ensure a better life for Southern Sudanese both in Australia and back in Africa, and also to raise awareness of the issues facing South Sudanese. On the occasion of my 44th birthday what I wish is that Emmanuel’s children never suffer from the intolerance toward refugees that so many in our community like to express, enflamed by our profligate mass media and our defective political leaders, and which has at its root the same evil that infected the hearts of those who forced Emmanuel to endure what he did. My birthday wish is that Emmanuel and his family find peace here, that his children go to school and learn about the good that is in the world, and that he and his children mingle with Australians, where their different origins are respected and appreciated, and among whom they will each be accepted as one of our own. – Scribblehead

Visit the Southern Hope Community Organisation web site www.shco.com.au and consider donating.

Artefacts from the time of William Adams.

The Gallery below is from the photo essay On the Trail of William Adams. Adams was an Englishman who lived in Japan 400 years ago. Known to the Japanese as Miura Anjin, Adams is the historical character whose life provided the inspiration for James Clavell’s novel Shogun.

Artefacts from the time of William Adams.

Domaru style armour.
Domaru style armour.
Waka of Karasumaru Mitsuhiro.
Waka of Karasumaru Mitsuhiro.

First thoughts on the Asian Century White Paper

The ALP hit the airwaves in force this morning to tout the Asian Century White Paper. In typical Labor fashion though they appeared not simply to be putting the cart before the horse, but completely missed the need for a horse in the picture.

A centrepiece of the Government’s white paper is the up-skilling of the Australian community in Asian languages and Asia literacy in general, and education is recognised as key. Peter Garrett was interviewed by ABC TV News Breakfast and, remarkably for an Education Minister, made no reference to and no recognition of the very first, most fundamental and most obvious task in achieving this. There are simply very very few Asian language teachers in the education system. It’s the bottleneck in the sytem. When Julia Gillard was interviewed by Fran Kelly half an hour later it was clear the ALP, characterstically, have simply failed to miss this point. It’s like they skipped class during Policy 101 – don’t just describe what you intend to achieve but offer how you will achieve it. That is in fact what policy is. Without it you’re delivering vacuous platitude and rhetoric. And pretty quickly in Kelly’s interview with Gillard it was clear that was all the ALP had to deliver. When specifically asked about the lack of teachers Gillard waffled, told us as former Education Minister she recognised finding teachers was a challenge, then deflected the question by turning her answer into something about encouraging kids to study Asian languages in school. ?!!

So here’s a bit of concrete action of the type the ALP are incapable of delivering or indeed conceiving. The very first dollar, first million dollars, first $60 million the Government needs to spend in order to achieve some substance out of this rhetoric is in equipping universities and offering generous scholarships and bursaries to Education students who take on an Asian language and Asian studies. This is how you deliver the first prerequisite outcome – the teachers.

There’s an obvious part of our community who are best positioned to take a lead role in engaging Australia in the Asian world – Asian Australians of course. The ALP’s track record on encouraging Australian schoolkids to further studies in the Asian languages of their roots, so that they might one day operate in these languages at a level that can be useful in business or as educators? In New South Wales the former Labor Government implemented a system of handicapping school children with a non English speaking background should they choose to study the languages of their parent or parents. Students are made ineligible to enrol in Beginners or Continuers language courses, instead forced into “Heritage and Background Speakers” courses. There was a perception that students of NESB were unfairly advantaged in the HSC. It has its roots in xenophobic profiling of Asian students in particular. Consider how absurd it would be if in secondary English examinations similar double standards existed for kids coming from an English speaking background. The net result is Australian kids from Asian backgrounds are discouraged from further study in the native language of one or more of their parents. Yes that’s right – the ALP’s track record is to dumb down our capacity for Asian language and literacy.