Thursday, November 1, 2007

The great trek - in search of the £!

The Times of London had on Monday this week, an interesting headline-

House price gloom as the wealthy turn away.

House prices fell for the first time in two years this month, sending a shudder through millions of homeowners already hit by rising mortgage repayments and more expensive borrowing.
The outlook for homeowners is likely to worsen with news that the wealthy are losing confidence in bricks and mortar as an investment.

So as I reflect, on some of my conversations with the Zambian Diaspora in London, at the independence concert. I remember asking the extent of property ownership among Zambians in London, the answer to my inquiry could not have been more emphatic “we came here for the £”. Apparently, here as in the US, the greatest preoccupation for most Zambians abroad, is making money, more and more of it, by means of wages or salaried employment. Few Zambians have invested in real estate, perhaps with good reason the strain of rising mortgage payments, is too great a burden to add to a life, already rigged with stress. The standard of living may be high in the west but the prices is the loss of a better quality of life, the better work/life balance that we are generally, accustomed to in Zambia. So those abroad work hard and sacrifice weekends off, to pay the cost of a higher standard of living – Oyster cards, countless TV channels, multi feature phones, better health care etc. In most cases, after paying for these things, there is hardly any money for a mortgage payment. It is however, easy to send a few hundred pounds, back home every month and have someone trustworthy build one a house there, instead.
And so, like the Boers north-east migration in the 19th century, the great trek of Zambians to the UK and elsewhere in search of the poundie, will go on.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mind the gap - A legacy of chaos?

The London underground fondly revered as the tube, is one of the oldest and most extensive in the world. It therefore strikes me as odd that, the brilliant minds of British engineering would rather have the train driver shout "mind the gap" at every stop than correct this small difference in height between the platform and the train. In the US any slight injury, resulting from tripping over the gap despite the warning would trigger multi million dollar lawsuits against the city. How do the disabled, cope with this small inconvenience?
I noticed only the stations on the west side of the city provide, the most access for the disabled. I guess they just work around the system or accept their inability to reach some parts of the city as life’s portion.
The global legacy, from the British colonial empire, also bears this whole mark of intentionally left gaps. From the gaps in political and territorial integrity passed on to independent India that even, today are still the cause of sectarian violence and insurgencies, to the daily chaos of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict rooted still in the gaps the British left in their creation of the geo-political system for that region.
In Zambia, that infamous image of the chaos of countless blue and white painted minibuses, all trying to get out of the poorly planned road system of Lusaka town center at peak time, comes to mind. Outer London, like Lusaka has plenty land to spare, how could the planners have failed to anticipate a population increase or at the very least the prospect of wide vehicles.
I guess this explains why those early sailors from England and Europe that founded America, setup from the very beginning a system that is fundamentally different.
They must have been so irritated with the "mind the gap" philosophy, so much so they changed every thing from electricity, roads, trains, buildings, symbols, TV system, even the meaning of words.

Seasons of Change in London.

Last Sunday, as the clocks in England fell back an hour at 2am, officially ending the summer season. Kashikulu was in the joyous company of the Zambian Diaspora in the UK at the New Connaught rooms in Holbon, at a concert celebrating our 43rd independence. There was so much to see and talk about with friends, former classmates and new friends. Listening to stories of their different experiences, it was as though a new season has dawned for Zambians in the UK.
For me and my wife, however it appears little has changed in London, the narrow roads are still clogged with impatient motorists (the average US driver, even in Chicago, rarely uses the horn as much), the trains in London still stop running before 2am on weekends (the trains in Chicago never cease, only reducing frequency from every 10min to 30min or an hour apart).
But, the least change for us, was at the hotel, we are staying in, which happens to be a US owned. Since checking in Friday, it has been my desire to blog from London, everyday while here, the hotel advertises, ibahn high speed internet in every room. I have called the hotel’s magic number to get the internet working for me, several times but, has received no magic service. Every time I call, the answering party, retorts my request with a series of impolitely spoken directions. I can read and I have followed the written instructions to the letter without success. This morning, I got on all fours and discovered the problem myself; the Ethernet port on wall does not plug-in securely. My wife’s request for extra linen, met a similar fate, until on the third call to the magic number; she offered to go pick it up herself. If this happened at a bed and breakfast, am sure one would be inclined to say “that’s what you get” but this is the Hilton, and this is in spite of the responsible Secretary’s plea for hotels in the UK to dump the fawlty tower image.
Today, David Cameron threw the immigration issue back on my mind; apparently immigration will be responsible for a 10 million population increase in the UK. He fears, the strain on public infrastructure will be immense, though Kashikulu suspects, as in the US where democrats and republicans are bitterly divided on this issue; there may be other fears also, at play.
We are leaving and checking out of Fawlty towers in a few hours, I will post more blogs about my pleasant talks with UK Zambians.