I don’t like Mondays.


Bob Geldof, songwriter and lead singer of the Boomtown Rats is now most famous for his charity work in Africa and motivating the pop industry to do their part for the Ethiopian famine.  Born on this day in 1951.

In the week of the Las Vegas mass killing it is salutary to remember that the second major hit for the Boomtown Rats was also inspired by an American shooter.

Geldof wrote the song after reading a telex report at WRAS Campus Radio in Georgia State University.  Brenda Ann Spencer, a 16 year old, fired a gun at children in Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California in January 1979.  She killed two adults and injured a policeman and eight children. When reporters asked her why she did it Spencer said “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day”.

Calendar Wars II

Happy new year!

As most of the people of the world mark 9/11 with commemorations of the attacks on the world trade centre and the Pentagon there are different celebrations under way in the Coptic Christian world.

Egypt and Ethiopia have a unique calendar system which is a hangover from ancient Egyptian religions.  While most of Western Europe found that a four season calendar made sense of the agricultural year a different dynamic held sway along the Nile.

Calendars prosper by their usefulness.  The three season ancient Egyptian calendar was very useful to the farmers of the Nile valley.  The key driver of the agricultural season from Ethiopia to Alexandria was the highland rains which caused the Nile inundation.

The Julian calendar was introduced as the Roman standard by Emperor Augustus in 25 BC.  A modified version of the Julian Calendar was introduced in Egypt.  The first day of the New Year in the Ancient Egyptian calendar, the Feast of the Two Rivers, lands in our calendar on the 11th of September.

In 284 AD Diocletian became Emperor of Rome.   He immediately launched the most savage pogrom against Christians in History.  He tried very hard to wipe out the Christian religion.  His pogrom was especially harsh in Alexandria and the Egyptian World.  The Coptic Christian calendar takes 284 AD as its Year 1, Year of the Martyrs.  The Ethiopian church has followed the Coptic lead and also celebrates today as New Year.

Barefoot Boy


Abebe Bikela of Ethiopia became the first sub-Saharan African to win Olympic Gold on Sept 10th 1960 in Rome.  He ran the Marathon in his bare feet.

In 1964 he won the Tokyo marathon only 40 days after an operation to remove his appendix.

In 1968 he broke a bone in his foot while training barefoot in the days leading up to the race.  At 17km he was in too much pain to continue.  The race was won by his countryman Mamo Wolde.  Wolde later said that Bikela would have won the race had he not been injured.

In 1969 during civil unrest in Ethiopia he was involved in a car crash which left him quadriplegic.  He died in 1973 at the age of 41.

Men of success meet with tragedy. It was the will of God that I won the Olympics, and it was the will of God that I met with my accident. I accepted those victories as I accept this tragedy. I have to accept both circumstances as facts of life and live happily.”…………Abebe Bikela

The Barefoot Boy; by John Greenleaf Whittier

Blessings on thee, little man,
Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!
With thy turned-up pantaloons,
And thy merry whistled tunes;
With thy red lip, redder still
Kissed by strawberries on the hill;
With the sunshine on thy face,
Through thy torn brim’s jaunty grace;
From my heart I give thee joy,—
I was once a barefoot boy!
Prince thou art,—the grown-up man
Only is republican.
Let the million-dollared ride!
Barefoot, trudging at his side,
Thou hast more than he can buy
In the reach of ear and eye,—
Outward sunshine, inward joy:
Blessings on thee, barefoot boy!

Oh for boyhood’s painless play,
Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
Health that mocks the doctor’s rules,
Knowledge never learned of schools,
Of the wild bee’s morning chase,
Of the wild-flower’s time and place,
Flight of fowl and habitude
Of the tenants of the wood;
How the tortoise bears his shell,
How the woodchuck digs his cell,
And the ground-mole sinks his well;
How the robin feeds her young,
How the oriole’s nest is hung;
Where the whitest lilies blow,
Where the freshest berries grow,
Where the ground-nut trails its vine,
Where the wood-grape’s clusters shine;
Of the black wasp’s cunning way,
Mason of his walls of clay,
And the architectural plans
Of gray hornet artisans!
For, eschewing books and tasks,
Nature answers all he asks;
Hand in hand with her he walks,
Face to face with her he talks,
Part and parcel of her joy,—
Blessings on the barefoot boy!

Oh for boyhood’s time of June,
Crowding years in one brief moon,
When all things I heard or saw,
Me, their master, waited for.
I was rich in flowers and trees,
Humming-birds and honey-bees;
For my sport the squirrel played,
Plied the snouted mole his spade;
For my taste the blackberry cone
Purpled over hedge and stone;
Laughed the brook for my delight
Through the day and through the night,
Whispering at the garden wall,
Talked with me from fall to fall;
Mine the sand-rimmed pickerel pond,
Mine the walnut slopes beyond,
Mine, on bending orchard trees,
Apples of Hesperides!
Still as my horizon grew,
Larger grew my riches too;
All the world I saw or knew
Seemed a complex Chinese toy,
Fashioned for a barefoot boy!

Oh for festal dainties spread,
Like my bowl of milk and bread;
Pewter spoon and bowl of wood,
On the door-stone, gray and rude!
O’er me, like a regal tent,
Cloudy-ribbed, the sunset bent,
Purple-curtained, fringed with gold,
Looped in many a wind-swung fold;
While for music came the play
Of the pied frogs’ orchestra;
And, to light the noisy choir,
Lit the fly his lamp of fire.
I was monarch: pomp and joy
Waited on the barefoot boy!

Cheerily, then, my little man,
Live and laugh, as boyhood can!
Though the flinty slopes be hard,
Stubble-speared the new-mown sward,
Every morn shall lead thee through
Fresh baptisms of the dew;
Every evening from thy feet
Shall the cool wind kiss the heat:
All too soon these feet must hide
In the prison cells of pride,
Lose the freedom of the sod,
Like a colt’s for work be shod,
Made to tread the mills of toil,
Up and down in ceaseless moil:
Happy if their track be found
Never on forbidden ground;
Happy if they sink not in
Quick and treacherous sands of sin.
Ah! that thou couldst know thy joy,
Ere it passes, barefoot boy!

Yacouba Sawadogo

Yesterday I learned about Yacouba Sawadogo, the man who stopped the desert!  A simple farmer from Burkina Faso, he noticed that modern farming techniques were ruining the land.

Northern Burkina Faso sits in the Sahel, a delicate arid region that lies between the Sahara and the tropical central African jungles.  For centuries the Sahel has been under attack by the Sahara and the communities who depend on farming have been decimated by drought.

Population pressure has led to deforestation in the region.  In the absence of trees the little rain that falls quickly runs off or evaporates.  Rain washes nutrients out of the soil, turning it into desert hard-pan that can break ploughs.  High winds drive sharp sand and grit at 100km/h over the surface, shredding young seedlings.

Yacouba experimented with some old fashioned farming techniques.  He updated them and made them more effective.

Cordons Pierreaux (Stone Bands)


These low mounds of stone don’t look like much.  But they serve a number of very important roles.  The wind blows dust and sand across the ground and it drifts up against the cordons.  When it rains the silt is stopped by the cordons and cannot wash easily away off the top of the soil.  This accumulation of silt and grit makes the cordon a barrier to the water which is held longer in place, allowing more rain to soak into the soil.  Over time seeds settle into the grit at the foot of the cordon.  Native plants grow and the roots bind the cordon and the soil, making the whole thing into a type of ditch.  These then serve as reservoirs for native plants and animals, improving the biodiversity of the area.

Zai Holes


A plough is highly destructive in the Sahel.  It breaks the delicate soils and allows them to blow away.  It provides channels for rain water to run off and take the good soil with it.  Zai holes avoid these problems.  They capture water in the place where it is used by the plant.  It protects the young seedling from winds until the plant is firmly established.

Yacouba found that by making the traditional Zai holes a little bigger he could improve upon them.  Then he started introducing a handful of manure to the zai hole over the winter.  Termites were attracted to the manure, and would burrow into the soil beneath.  This helped break up the hard pan and made the Zai hole even more productive when it was planted in spring.

Zai holes use less manure per crop, and the manure is less likely to blow away in the wind.  As a result the yields from Zai fields are 3 to 4 times higher than those in ploughed fields.  This ratio is even greater in drought years.

The other two techniques pioneered by Yacouba are reforestation and education.  Reforestation provides wind breaks, bio-diversity and supplies charcoal for cooking.  Forests provide shade, soil stability and a water sponge.  In the forest you get a variety of other plants between the trees providing good grazing for browsing animals such as goats and antelope.

Education spreads the message.  Yacouba started off by going to marts, markets and fairs to tell anyone who would listen.  As his techniques proved themselves the message spread.  Oxfam even brought Yacouba to Washinton DC to advise US and UN food programmes.

His techniques are being practiced all across the Sahel from Mauritania to Ethiopia and even as far afield as India.  Wherever desertification is a problem his techniques offer a solution.

So you would imagine a man like Yacouba would be a hero in Burkina Faso.  Sadly not.  In his early days of experimentation a village elder told him that “a man who digs holes is as useful as a man who hangs himself”.  This rejection of the new resulted in locals setting his fields and forests on fire while he was meeting government officials.  They considered him a madman.

But now, with his theories proven, surely these attitudes have changed?  Well, the Burkina Faso government decided to expand the city of Ouahigouya.  They are seizing the Sawadogo lands with a compulsory purchase order and they intend to pave his farm over with tarmac and concrete.  When Jesus said you can’t be a prophet in your own country really hit the nail on the head this time.

The following passage from “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran could have been written for Yacouba himself.

On Human Unity:  I

Power sows in the depths of my heart, and I reap and gather in the grain, bestowing it lavishly upon the starving. Spirit revives this small vine, and I crush its bunches of grapes and pour out the juice for the thirsty. The sky fills this lamp with oil, and I light it and place it in the window of my house for those who pass by in the black of night. I do these things because I live thereby, and when the days prevent me from doing so and the nights shackle my hand, I shall seek death. For death most resembles a prophet who is without honor in his own land or a poet who is a stranger among his people.

Human beings clamor like a tempest while I sigh in silence, for I have found that the violence of the storm subsides and the abyss of time swallows it, whereas a sigh endures as long as God.

Human beings cling to matter that is cold as snow whereas I seek the flame of love so that I might place it in my breast, where it will devour my ribs and destroy my insides. For I have discovered that matter kills painlessly, but love revives us through torments.

Human beings separate into factions and tribes and adhere to countries and regions whereas I see my essence as foreign to any one land and alien to any single people. The entire earth is my homeland and the human family is my clan. For I have found human beings to be weak, and it is small-minded for them to divide themselves up; the earth is cramped, so that only ignorance leads people to partition it into realms and principalities.

Human beings unite in destroying the temples of the spirit and cooperate in building the edifices of the body. I alone celebrate in elegies. For I listen and hear from within me a voice of hope saying, “Just as love restores life to the human heart through pain, so foolishness teaches the paths to knowledge. Pain and foolishness lead to great bliss and complete knowledge, for Eternal Wisdom created nothing under the sun in vain.”