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Friday, May 6, 2016

A Baby!

Our New favourite breakfast food, Ouma's Rusks
So I haven't posted in a while. I've had a lot of new beginnings over the past year. I've embarked on a new research topic - again something to do with Malawi obvs. I've also officially started learning the Dutch language and culture.Honestly, after more than four years here, it'd be hypocritical of me not to immerse myself when I constantly harp on about how expats (I hate that word by the way, how comes I'm not an expat here in Europe?) don't immerse themselves in our African cultures.

A new beginning that has most changed my life and that of F is the birth of our daughter a couple months ago. She has more than one name, in honour of the paths our lives have walked on but for this blog I think the name Khanyisile best encapsulates the joy I feel writing about her arrival. From the little Zulu I know, Khanyisile means "shine the light".  I try, through this blog to shine the light on the multiple stories of Africa, that it's not "the Dark Continent", it's home - home to so many of us and even when we move away, all things being equal, we fondly keep in touch with our people and all things "home". It's our  hope that her life will be well lit with a forever- warm and loving embrace from both her heritages.

A "home" experience I had over the past weeks is eating Ouma's rusks for breakfast. Now, I had never been a rusks fan. They are hard, borderline tasteless. But in the weeks when, with a newborn, the days were long and the nights even longer, nothing tasted so gooood and comforting than Ouma's rusks for breakfast - everyday. There were a few other things from home that saw us through, Malawian tea (Satemwa), Mum bringing over some delish (and rather large) avocadoes (which one of our Dutch guests helped us munch away), lemon creams, choice assorted, Malawian peanut butter, Malawian-style meals....We didn't forget Khanyisile's other home, Dutch treats were also more than had, beschuiten met muisjes (sp), cheese, local stews and meals, cheese, rhubarb....  Fitting treats for a time of joy and AHEM much change.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Living in a European Village

If you follow this blog, you might have realised that I really try hard to write about Malawi but through a series of events, I have been away from home for a while now. I have returned there for several months at a time but I haven't been a permanent resident at home for about 7 years, wow! It's been that long. Time flies whether or not we're having fun right?

Two things quickly, first with Malawi. Fellow citizens, we have WAY too many facebook groups, lol! I belong to several, I must confess. I like to think they are all practical but judging by the amount of time I spend on them....I think practicality has gone to the dogs. These are just social-networking tools which happen to have handy ideas on how members can improve their lives whether it be in the kitchen, how to invest, how to look and and how to be, in general, particularly in light of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In between the handy ideas, a lot of intereeeeeeesting life stories. Yes, you are right, I need to cap the amount of time I spend in these black holes of social media. Rule of thumb: when you find yourself actively protecting yourself from being removed from a facebook group, spend more time outside! 

Second thing, it's been seven whole years! I have bumped around different cities and I'm glad to report that I have a new "home" where my better half and I can now take our traveling shoes off, breathe in and out and enjoy not having moving plans.

It's a village. Main difference between a Malawian village and a village most places in Western Europe? I'd say villagers in Malawi tend to spend a lot of time outdoors: farming, gardening, fishing, socialising, travelling, working, sometimes even schooling and of course, my favourite, basking in the sun. There are rumours that at night too, a number of villagers spend a lot of time outdoors..... Here, however,  it's too cold to do so many things outside on a regular basis.  So on the plus side, the house sizes are substantial in the village and shop/s and other amenities are within walking distance. However, the money-spinning people-grabbing entertainment spots like stadia, cinemas, malls tend to be closer to bigger villages and cities so one has to content themselves with either gravitating back to those regularly or finding other ways to live and be.  Here is where the "real" life pursuits have to come in: having time to go to the library, getting to know people outside of your circle of friends and family, growing new interests and hobbies and indeed, having enough time to face your giants.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Been a While

It has been a while, perhaps almost a year, since I blogged last. I usually felt like there was so much to write about and nothing to write about. The truth is, a lot has happened since last spring. For the first time in my life, I live in a village. It's a Dutch village and so it is very different from villages I know from Malawi. Nevertheless, there are some similarities:- although in this village all roads are paved, the internet is super speedy, there is a supermarket...even a car dealership. Houses are spacious, there are good schools, a wee harbour that is awesome, excellent infrastructure in general etc.: there is ALSO more stuff growing: orchards, vegetables and a lot of space for back gardens. The graveyard is visible (the only graveyards I remember from my most recent cities were near a church or in a church On the people side, I do notice that there are more older people I am likely to meet and get to know than in the cities I've lived in.

On a personal level, I have less to do AND more to do, at the same time. I'm still sifting through how I'm changing as a person now that I live here and how that will change my approach to this blog but hang tight, I see many a great posts ahead. Many topics to write about have gone through my mind but today, I've decided to settle on the joy and discovery of listenning to MBC Radio1 in the kitchen of my Dutch village home.

MBC Radio 1 was the lone, appoved local radio station in President Banda's Malawi. My family had a couple or so radios in our early days in Zomba. The radio that was kept on almost 24/7 was in the kitchen and it dutifully edutained and infotained us, filling in the gaps between conversations.  It added colour and texture to our days with it's various radio plays, news programmes, specials, magazine shows and scifi/thriller/whatchamacallit show (5 Moba!).  When democracy graced our shores in Malawi, more radios came and I for one lost interest in MBC radio 1. At first it was gradual and then before I knew it, I hardly even remembered it was there. I only became interested in finding out how to access Malawian media while in South Africa, it was hard for me because I was a mere student who couldn't afford the options of access and had to content myself with online media; mostly news sites ( I had dabbled with following a few sites in the US but that was when it was all very small private news sites and music stations having a presence online). 

You can imagine that I was taken back to my child, now, in F and I's kitchen, finding MBC Radio 1 again (don't get me wrong, I love all the other Malawian stations that are available online like Zodiak, Capital etc) BUT the fact that it has taken this long to get the "signal" of dear old radio 1, with its familiar sig-tunes, announcers....Looking out the window, it's a different time and place but I guess I needed this sort of grounding. Not putting one foot in the past and one in the present but a mere realisation that the world is changing, I am changing, time it speeding or slowing and yet, some things stay the same. Thank goodness for that. Happy New Year one and all!!


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Obstacle or Opportunity: the case of the online writings of missionaries and aid workers in Lilongwe

The Back Story

There is a "why AID/charity?" question that is attached more frequently than ever to aid and charity directed at Africa and Africans nowadays.  1 Trillion US Dollars have been spent in direct, bilateral and multilateral aid (grants, donations, soft loans etc.) over the years and more is in the works (see link under the second bullet point in the section below).  Yet poverty and life-threatening challenges persist.  Writers like Easterly critique the prevalent aid models in use today...and so do others including Zambian-born Havard graduate Dambisa Moyo in her book Dead Aid.

The "why AID/charity?" question resonates with me and has done so since I went to a College in Lilongwe that promoted charity-based approaches to anything from tuition fee support, college trips, village interventions etc. Perhaps I am among the priviledged in Malawi because it was the first time for me to see a structure so comprehensively interwoven with donations.  I was often reminded to thank the donors without whom, I was told, the opportunity to study would not be possible. Photos were taken of classmates, myself, whomever...and stories were written. Sometimes very tall stories, anything to keep the aid we received high.  I saw there were genuine needs but was kept from the slippery slope of accepting the situation without question one day when one of the directors offered me a torn-up children's fairy tale book unwanted by the college's primary school - she said perhaps my younger brother would want it.  She had never met him, knew nothing of him - including the fact that he was 11 and had long read The Hobbit and was now taking delight in discussing botulinum toxin (not that he needed any!).  I said "no" to the book but have thought since "why" despite limitless amounts of money and gifts given to the poor (depending on your description of poverty and the variables you employ), why there is an unstated implication that AID, particularly, open-ended and infinite aid giving models of charity are inherently good, a moral "right way" in and of itself.

Without re-hashing what so many others have written in answer to this question, I intend to, in this short-ish post to reflect on some of the ideas, attitudes and worldviews that perpetuate the idea that AID and charity is good, based on my own discoveries as a Malawian woman who has pored over online writings of missionaries and AID workers working in our capital city of Lilongwe. Most of the writings have been sure to sustain the image of the ordinary "African" as hapless, agency-less, hopeless and gripped in the throes of death with the only solution being more help, more money, more gifts so they can get the opportunities of health care, education and faith (or whatever type of social consciousness) they need.  Not much different from what David Livingstone recommended in the nineteenth century for our people. Either we, as Malawians are an impossible people to improve or there is something very wrong as scholars continue to claim.  Indeed, comparatively, reading Malawian writings online (or for those with no access to the internet...what they are quoted to have said) I see diverse opinions on their view of AID/charity.  You could look that up on anything from google scholar to Malawian online news media to facebook pages accessible on your mobile almost anywhere in Malawi such as My Malawi My Views (aka MMMV).

The Case Study

I chose to look at why AID and charity  following a suggestion given to me by a missionary that my angst at the writings of missionaries is misplaced and misdirected and that I should write about it as a form of therapy. So here I go, not for the sake of a personal therapeutic fix but that hopefully, some of the missionaries will read and do their own research into why they are in Malawi and why they choose to do what they do in the ways they do. And what they envision for the immediate and distant future of the wider society/s in and around Malawi.

I have to say, reading through dozens of online writings by was good material for reflection during my studies in  Theology & Development and African Studies, respectively.  The reflection took me from encountering regurgitations of Joseph Conrad's infamous Heart of Darkness (see here or here for a non-missionary's aid worker's take) with a dose of Poisonwood Bible-esque pursuit of comforts (see here with this group heading to Kenya from Malawi) and even some narcissism (here). Portrayals of the poor as agency-less, hapless and invariably Black (read into that as you will) were abundant (read this whole blog for instance) as were the Madonna-esque paternalistic ones.   There was also the graphic exploitation (and exoticising) of poverty to make a point about the validity's of one's mission work such as in the following facebook post:

I’ve never visited Kabira, one of the largest slums in the world. I’ve never stood on the edge of one of those vast wastelands of dump in Bangladesh, and fought the nausea from the stench of rotting food. I’ve never experienced the trauma of war, nor can recall the smell of streets lined with corpses.
But I can recall the smells of rotting beer, meat and waste that line the banks of the Shire river. I have watched as kids dug deep into the mounds of trash that overflowed the dumpsters that hugged Kampala’s roads. I remember smells of the flesh that rotted off un-bathed, diseased bodies within the suffocating quarters of Msiliza’s township. And I’ve seen death [...] “God takes the ones who feel like they have so little to give, but who give thanks, and God makes this enough. God makes them enough.” It hit me that the ones who give thanks are the ones who get to give, and find out there is always more than enough to give. If we can find things to thank God for in undesirable circumstances, we will feel the reward of His love. If all that Bangladeshi had to do was walk by a sign, and look up…imagine the impact we could have as walking billboards for Christ. I strongly believe ABC does this with its students and graduates. As missionaries, we’re just lucky to be a part of the impact so many graduates have had for Christ’s cause. I

Balanced and informative ones were sprinkled in of course (see examples) although I might venture to say that such ones were written by those who either have long-term plans in Lilongwe or those who probably don't have to write for an audience that pays them for their trouble and sacrifice. These writings give a glimpse of how some of the missionaries and aid workers championing development activities in our capital city see themselves, see their audience (usually readers in their home countries) and see us (othering).

Grasping at the "Why"

Why do they give? Why must we receive? ...and indeed, why should we accept that nothing should change? We live in a world where ideas of property, health, backwardness (or, as some put it, heathenism) and knowledge production (e.g. what may be considered "true" education) are held in the hands of the powerful. That is so globally, that is so locally. The giving in most aid interventions and missions donations works from a context in which those purported to have the right amount of property, health, progress and knowledge give to those without and very rarely do the twain meet in terms of dialogue beyond the surface.  Let us attempt to grasp some of the underlying issues with such a framework by focussin on : knowledge creation, class, race and self-image.

  • Knowledge generation: my experience of Western education (for the purposes of this entry, "West" should be read as North America and Western Europe- I have undergone and experienced the following so far: Cambridge syllabus (Primary and Secondary School levels); US, South African and Dutch) - is that it separates the "how" and the "why".  For instance, one can be taught, to remarkable levels, how to philosophise but the question of why one method of philosophy (e.g. Greek) is superior to another (e.g. !Khoisan). One spends a life-time within her/his normative scholarly tradition and misses out on the opportunity of dialoguing her/his knowledge base with that of others, and does not even know why they don't.  This often leads to stereotypical views of anything "other" and a fear of, or outright rejection of the "new" or unknown. This goes for the big areas of one's knowledge base such as ideology (e.g. Capitalism vs. Socialism etc) as it does for the relatively small ones such as geography....we can ask, how many of the online writers we are looking at in this article knew of Malawi before ever going there? (for this geography problem in general see here).  And what about history, how many of the online writers can name and give context to the political parties that are gearing up for this year's May elections in Malawi and why they were formed...and by whom?  Also, in terms of knowledge, what skills set do they possess for a Lilongwe environment.  How knowledge is generated influences how charity and aid is thought of. In the links above, we get descriptions of the lack, the problems and how to solve them but why the problems are there (and persist) is reasoned out using the background of a normative education system that is more often than not, Western ( I do consent that I often work from this normative too because the bulk of my studies - save for a few years- was either modelled on or originated from the West but bear with me, I'm trying to have a dialogue going in my brain through research...).  The point is, more often than not, the sample of writers above (with sum luck you can find more) reveal what they "know" and what they don't know is hardly mentioned. Now imagine yourself in a room with someone coming to you with only what they know to help you...hopefully you get the point here. 

The images below give an example of a contrast in what, in my experience, many missionaries and aid workers know of Africa as opposed to what they don't before, during or after they leave:

  • On the issue of class, I've come to think that this is simple. There is a background narrative in many parts of the globe (not just the West) that people are rich because they are smarter, blessed, hard-working and whatever else you can add to the list. Conversely, the poor are poor because they possess none of these traits or if they are lucky, they possess the traits in an undeveloped stage.  Thus, as some of the writers I've quoted reveal, those with the means to give must do so dutifully and faithfully because that is how it should be.  The very real problems that are corruption, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, malaria, orphanhood, starvation and poverty are mentioned regularly - we are not told whether these exist in their home country to any degree but so far, more than $1 trillion in development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa (see quote source) there is clearly the richer and the poorer.  ...but questions remain as to why $1 trillion later, the online writers believe in the infinite need of doing what they do.

  • Race is complicated but in the context of this blog, I'll just give you exhibit A (start at six sentences from the bottom) and B and let you ponder that through with all of the above in mind.

  • Finally, the issue of self-image. From my reading of the writings, the idea of "self-sacrifice" is pre-eminent and so is that of "calling".  To my eyes, this is all confusing because whether a missionary or aid worker goes to live in the city or the rural areas, there are people living there too and more often than not, their communities have existed for more than fifty years (since the year of independence) and we hope they will continue to do so years from now.  This implies that despite facing difficult circumstances, there are sustaining forces in each community. People wake up, people farm, people marry, people eat something and do it all over again the next day. Some have more, some have less. Some die before their time and some work at stopping that from happening and some of these people doing this work are from those same communities. Some have businesses, some have nothing, some are managers, some are blue collar workers.  I would imagine, therefore, that a missionary's or aid worker's interest would be to nurture the sustaining forces by bringing in input from her/his knowledge base to help/accompany the community in making the sustaining forces survive. Or, at the very least, I would imagine they would support the nurturing of empathy and solidarity where there is none between the local haves and have-nots.  What I see rather is a negation of local capacities when only one narrative is proclaimed. Is this even Christian? If so, I need an education on that.  In passing, it should be said that there are some of those who see themselves as sacrificing but live like this and better with a nanny, house help, gardner and house guard to boot!

Are there Opportunities? 

I find that opportunities lie in analysing the motives that for all of us are influenced by our knowledge base, our class, our race and our self-image. Me writing this blog and the "other" writing their own blogs/articles for the audience at home must be measured and weighed carefully so that we realise that people are people all over this globe we call home. To date, we are yet to see open-ended charity and aid interventions solving once and for all an entire nation's problems and lifting them out of poverty.  I've seen some individual lives transform , thanks to donations, aid and help but not entire cities and countries. The desire to help must be tempered with the realisation that this should be an exchage in terms of dialogue that is genuine and knowledge that each community has assets that can not be rubbed over if lasting and positive change for the better can be achieved.  On the other hand, we are yet to see an entire nation left unscathed by the trappings of wealth (see here).

Empathy and accompaniment, perhaps, should be tempered with sober, life-affirming yet dignity-filled approaches.  A fluid regard rather than a dualistic one, perhaps of race (and gender), knowledge base, class and self-image. We all fail, but we all contribute somehow to those around us.  Some pointers I've been given that point in such directions are study (yes, we must study from various angles) and we must be open to receive ourselves.  I have received a lot for my study opportunities, conditionally of course but even without conditions, perhaps it's in standing in both shoes of the giver and the receiver every once in a while that creates opportunities for something greater? Solidarity, liberation (there is a Theology too called Liberation Theology), self-reflection (not narcissism), self-critique and raport may just create opportunities that last in a positive way.  Let hope floatamong us everyone.

photos:,; Black History and Africa Education (facebook)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

I'm not part of an African Elite

I've never been one to quote a comedian but I so agree with Trevor Noah: "when you look into some people's eyes, you just know that no matter what you see there is no hope".  This past week I had flu and had to spend a lot of time indoors.  I did do a lot of work for my thesis but I did spend a considerable amount of time online as well.  Most of that time was spent following the Madonna story in my home country of Malawi and another part of that was spent catching up with the regular internet sinkholes: youtube, facebook, etc.

Reading on the Madonna stories made me realise there is a subsection of society whose purpose in life is to bash anything alive in Africa (and Malawi)...except for the "gawjus" wildlife.  It was sad really, reading the comments that crystallise my home as : a "cess pool", "over breeding", "corrupt" get my drift.  True, I have never been a fan of Madonna and if the saying "you shall know a tree by its fruits" is anything to go by, any well-meaning Malawian has no doubts about Madonna now.  What struck me most in this "Madonna effect" is that the angle of the news stories in the foreign press that targets the net's usual comments section addicts .  The fact that most of those editors have crystallised Malawi and many countries in Africa into three-dimensional entities: over-populated with children, poverty-stricken and led by corrupt officials.  You would think that my home is where money is pumped into by the West for a mass of kids who grow up and become corrupt officials who spawn new kids for whom money is pumped in again by the West and those grow up and become corrupt officials who spawn new....again, you get my drift.  I read up a bit on comments by people like me, who are neither children nor so-called corrupt officials and I was surprised to hear responses that culminated in: "Shut up, you don't exist in our conscious, you are just part of an Africa elite who is both irrelevant and greedy. Besides aren't you typing from outside Africa, all Africans in the Diaspora are elite too!" We have more to contribute to those poor, poor kids in Africa than you lot.  Wow.

I first heard I am part of the African Elite in class about a year ago.  I was defending the entire continent (what a burden as it has 52 countries) from a professor whose ideologies can only be described as racism coated with what I call "academic lingo sugar".  He looked at poor old black me in the face and stated flatly, "You say that but YOU are part of the elite.  Who is to say other [read: typical] Africans would agree with you?" ...and I was thinking, ''and  they would agree with YOU, Mr. I-know-the-answer-to-all-Africa's-problems-if-only-they-would-listen-to-me.  Needless to say, his comment has led me to question whether I am indeed part of the oft described as notorious African elite.  Many instances have come up since of this labelling, the fact that both my parents own their houses (brick-fenced, satellite dishes and all) has been used against me, the fact that I'm on to my third post-graduate degree has been thrown into it and so on.

I have concluded in the end that I am in fact not a part of an African or any other elite.  It is simple, elites would tell you that they belong to a group that is privileged and works to maintain those privileges.  How can I belong to that group when despite my parent's achievement, I know that they have only come to enjoy any privileges associated with elitism since their forties.  They were too busy paying school fees for all under 18s in their house (and their closest relatives' houses where need be).  They were busy paying taxes, for funerals or deceased relatives, medications for family members and towards local causes including the church.  One of my Dad's oft repeated phrases was, "I don't have the money for that" and he usually didn't have money for anything but the priorities.  He hasn't driven a personal car in over ten years and he's a professor!  Some could put holes into all these but the bottom line is, only the elite dish out money when their children so much as cough and absolutely no elite can fail to put a permanent solution to their broken-down car sitting on the front lawn. Coming to me, as I sit on our lovely hand-me-down couch taking a break from my studies for which I had to qualify for an academic merit scholarship (which I had to qualify for by working hard in my previous university where I also had a 30hr a week job and a merit-based scholarship to keep afloat
) to get...I dare say I do know something about those spaces between a so-called mass of poor, poor, African children and the evil, evil, corrupt officials.  Yes, there are poor children in Africa, many of them. And yes, there are corrupt officials, many of them and we despise them too. But there are so many PEOPLE living in Africa and its Diaspora.  We wake up, we eat, we sleep and we know what it means to change our circumstances by studying so that we can achieve more not just for ourselves but our families and communities.  We also choose for ourselves why we are people of faith, why we have our own children and why we support both local and foreign initiatives that support the poor and bring the corrupt to book. We understand that collaboration and solidarity work and not condescention and racism.

So, I don't own a house yet but I am working towards that. Why, because then I don't have to filter what I earn into rents forever. Besides, it's a solid collateral for other ventures that won't just help me but my own family (hubby and kids) and whomever else would depend on us. And when I come out of my own house one day only to shut up because I am part of an evil African elite,  I'll have no choice but to slap that ohn upside the head!!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What I'll miss most about Malawi- the sun

My half year period here is coming to an end. I've been through all the emotions as I've been here but I must say one of the things that I have enjoyed the most is the being home. In all my travels I've noticed that feeling at home has to be worked really hard on when one is in a foreign country. Language, food, perspectives and weather ... At least I didn't have to work on all those and besides, it is good to be here in the summer.  The sun is just simply a natural cure for the blues whenever they threaten to take over. I'll miss that the most - the sun and it's products i.e. fruits, warm lake water, the need for light clothing and sandals. I know, I paint too bright a picture but with the sun's brightness today, I can't help but do that.

Today I moved out of my little house in the ''bundu".  I loved the little thing, it was my first successful attempt ever at living on my own and ''calling the shots" - as it were. Eventually though, when all the calling of shots was done (writing schedules, entering fieldwork data, communicating with loved ones, reading etc.) I felt the need to leave. That's something I must leave behind - the leaving. Life is not neatly packaged into timelines and departure/arrival points. I am now with family but they have ''left" me in their own way.  There are new traditions since I've been away. New visitors, new furniture, new food.  As I hide in my corner groping for ways to fit in and ''call the shots'' in some ways - I realise that the only thing constant is the sun.  Even other loved ones have left since I've been away, they have schedules of their own, food of their own and time of their own. While I was calling my shots, I left them behind. Now returning to where I left them, they are gone.  I must occupy myself again: I was instructed to rest today so that I must do and get back to the business of things. Leave again, in my mind, in my brain because after all, for the past so many hours - I am here but not here. They are here but not here. We are only bound by our hearts and the bonds that unite family, as loved ones.

So, with new schedules and realities, the day must go on. Meeting new people... leaving off to somewhere....and accepting that others have ''left".  With good fortune, I'll catch up with someone or something today. If all else fails, at least the sun shines.

image: google.

Friday, October 5, 2012

On Being Back in Malawi...

Five years ago I started this blog for one reason and one reason only: to offer a Malawian blog, written by a Malawian who is just a regular world citizen. Not an exotic, strange, different individual...just 'one-of-us'.  Glad to have found many other Malawi blogs by Malawians or Malawiphiles. Glad also that when googling 'Malawi' nowadays it's not just the awful stuff that comes up. But increasingly diverse options.  I should be careful to note that there are plenty of awful things that should be told...but there are also plenty of pretty neat things to tell about Malawi. Speaking very generally, that's what makes us regular world citizens, isn't it?  Knowing that our immediate world isn't all good... and it isn't all bad. 

I left Malawi about a couple of years after I started the blog. I didn't want to leave because I had wanted to make my so-called MARK on my country as a twenty-something. Alas, scholarships come once in a life-time and off I went. Had wanted to return right after studies but sigh, the love of one's life comes once in a life-time so off again I went to Europe. Being back alone (without my better half) for the first time and being back as a researcher 'from abroad' has brought a lot of mixed feelings. Some things have stayed the same and some things, for better or worse, have changed. I have changed. Perhaps, then, the purpose of this blog will change too to reflect all the changes I have gone through.  I might have grasped tonight what direction to take for this blog. Time permitting, an opinion piece on society on a regular basis sounds good.  c u in the next entry :-)