Falling Leaves: November 2012

Autumn has arrived in Norwich (and in Canada). I head for Durban soon with the dual goal of topping up on sunshine and getting a great deal of work done. There is a lot happening and, at the moment, life is exciting so read on for more details. The big occasion taking me back to Durban is the HEARD World AIDS Day function. On 14 November, in conjunction with the Africa Centre, CAPRISA the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, we are holding an event at the KwaZulu-Natal Society of Arts Gallery www.kznsagallery.co.za . The theme is taken from UNAIDS, Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV Infections, Discrimination, and AIDS-Related Deaths. We have advertised it as an event ‘Showcasing KZN research on HIV and AIDS’.

HEARD’s highlight will be the South African premier of our documentary Manguzi: Raising Children in Rural South Africa. This film is set in an area close to the Mozambique border where we did a project. I have seen it a number of times, checking it from an accuracy and political point of view. It will be great to be just in the audience. The team who did the work deserve high praise for overcoming many logistical challenges, collecting some fascinating data, and now are writing it up.

This will be the occasion where I formally tell my research colleagues and friends in Durban that I will be leaving HEARD in 2013. (I feel I need to put in a footnote here that says: subject to the paperwork being completed). This should not come as a big surprise to most people as the news has been out for a while. It is however a chance for me to combine some of my favourite things: the Gallery; the research and academic communities; and many friends. The idea of doing such an event germinated at a book launch at Ike’s Books and Collectable – also a Durban institution – a few months ago. Authors who have books launched there put their signatures on the wall. My name is up alongside the likes of JM Coetzee and many others. The walls are probably worth more than the stock.

At the end of October Ailsa and I travelled to Canada for a week – hence the leaves in the title of the posting, and yes they were amazing. We flew to Toronto and were taken down to Waterloo in Ontario. We spent four nights there and then a further two nights in Toronto. The reason for the visit is that I have been offered, and have accepted, the International Governance and Innovation Chair in Global Health Policy by Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU). This will be housed in the Balsillie School of International Affairs, a partnership between WLU, the University of Waterloo (UW) and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), a public policy think tank. I have put in the links to these organisations and they are all worth looking at. The CIGI campus is amazing, part is a brand new, state of the art building while the old Seagram’s distillery has been converted and incorporated as office space.

The School represents a large global initiative in social sciences with over 60 faculty members who teach in three programmes: the PhD in Global Governance, the Master’s in Global Governance and the Master’s in International Public Policy. There are three new staff members: Simon Dalby, CIGI Chair of Political Economy and Climate Change; James Orbinski, CIGI Chair in Global Health; and in due course, myself. We had a ‘Blue Skies’ thinking session which was a great fun – the staff have very interesting ideas and a range of experience. One of the exciting opportunities for me will be working in an interdisciplinary manner. I am also very much looking forward to teaching and interacting with students at various levels.

Quite a lot of the visit was spent exploring the area. The streets are wide and driving on the right hand side is challenging. What I found particularly difficult was the traffic lights being suspended over the streets instead of on poles at the side. I nearly ran a red light. On the other hand, the hire car was automatic and seemed very powerful. We went out to an amazing farmer’s market at St Jacobs north of Waterloo. The area was settled by German Mennonites and there were a number of stall holders dressed in traditional attire. Indeed Waterloo was originally called Berlin. The name was changed at the beginning of the First World War. I am not clear where the decision to call the town Waterloo came from but I am sure I will learn in the next few years (or I could go on Wikipedia now of course).

On the Thursday we began seeing news of Hurricane Sandy moving out of the Caribbean and towards the east coast of the United States. There was a real sense of foreboding and many warnings. We were scheduled to leave Toronto airport at 18.30 on Monday and feared that there might be a disruption of travel. Indeed there was, most flights to and from New York airports and other American east coast destinations were cancelled. The storm hit Toronto at about midnight on Monday so we were able to get away, although I note with hindsight there was comparatively little disruption in that part of Ontario.

What an interesting visit. I spent a couple of days with the colleagues I will be joining. We also had a discussion with the immigration lawyer who is handling the paperwork. He gave us a great deal of material, everything from taking a dog to getting a social insurance number, which is abbreviated as the SIN. Being asked ‘Have you got your SIN?’ left me quite flabbergasted. It all looks feasible. The plan is to begin with a fractional appointment once the paperwork is done and move to full time by the middle of 2013. I started at the University of Natal (UN) as a Research Fellow on 1 September 1983 so I will be just a few months shy of having spent 30 years at UN and now University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). There is a great deal of planning going on to make sure the transition works for HEARD. All staff, Board, donors and Senior Management at UKZN are aware of my plans.

Because I travel a great deal, and almost always on KLM, I have the highest grade of frequent flyer card they give. I also have it for life (my life not theirs). This means when they work their way down the list for people to be upgraded when there is overbooking in economy class I am usually close to the top. On the plane from Toronto to Amsterdam, as we handed over our boarding cards mine beeped on the machine. I was told I had an upgrade. Ailsa was also given one: she was in the front row of the premium economy class, not quite the same, but she graciously allowed me to go in the business section. We had sat next to each other on their way to Toronto in the ‘real economy’ class at the back of the plane. The return flight is only six hours and so was not too bad; however one arrives in Amsterdam at the equivalent of 2am North American time, and gets into Norwich at the equivalent of 5am. I am not sure how I will cope with all the transatlantic flights in my new position.

My son Douglas gave us time to unpack and spend a night in Norwich before heading up to Yorkshire to visit his girlfriend. He was in charge whilst we were gone and took good care of the animals, fed himself and his sister who was here a part of the time, and generally behaved in a responsible manner. On Fridays he delivers a free local paper to about 150 households in the neighbourhood. If he is away someone else has to do this, Ailsa and I shared the task. I think I am one of the most academically qualified people delivering newspapers. I find it deeply interesting, a window into another world.

I also recognise I am pedantic and quite hard to live with. I had a good example of this characteristic the other evening. Because Rowan has moved out there is more space in the house but we have vast quantities of books. These belong to all members of the family however I think the majority are hers. The other evening I set out to count how many books we have. I went from room to room and book case to book case. The answer I came up with was 1724. This is by itself quite staggering. The next morning I met Rowan for lunch. As we were walking from the bookshop she works in to the restaurant, I told her what I had done and asked her to guess how many I had counted. Quick as a flash she said, ‘About 1700’. I wonder how she did it. However on Sunday I discovered two more bags and half a book case that had been excluded from the count. At this moment I think we have about 1850 books although that excludes the ones in my office.

Rock of Ages: This is a recent (2012) American musical comedy adapted from a 2006 rock musical. The stars include country singer Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, also in it are Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin and Tom Cruise. It can best be described as light and fluffy. The story is of a girl going to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune as a singer. She meets a boy, loses the boy, and re-finds him as well as having a chance to perform. I enjoyed seeing Russell Brand in this film; he did a really good job.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World: The un-promising premise for this film is that an asteroid is hurtling, inexorably, towards the earth. Humankind will be wiped out. The film opens with the news coming over a car radio that attempts to deflect it have failed. At this point the wife gets out and walks away leaving her husband of some years. He then links up with his neighbour and romance blossoms, all with a clear timeframe. It is a good, touching and thought provoking film. How would I react to the news of the end of the world? I had seen the reviews for this and wanted to watch it simply to see how the story was developed. I might even have gone to a cinema but as it was on the aeroplane I watched it there and enjoyed it. What was striking was the conclusion that most people would be phlegmatic and just get on with it.

Dark Shadows: This is a 2012 American horror comedy film. It is a Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp. The story is of a 200-year-old vampire who has been imprisoned in a coffin. When he is released, after murdering all the workmen who unearth him, he makes his way back to his mansion, inhabited by his rather odd descendants. It is fun fantasy and horror film – but aeroplane only!

Snow White and the Huntsmen: This is definitely a ‘watch on the aeroplane’ film. It is a new version of the Brothers Grimm German fairy tale Snow White. I watched it for the actors, in particular Charlize Theron and British actor Bob Hoskins for whom it was his last role before retiring. The special effects were quite outstanding. It was a British and American production.

Michael Lewis, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, WW Norton New York 2011. The first book I read by Michael Lewis was also his first book, Liar’s Poker. This told the story of the culture in the investment houses and hedge funds before the crash in the 1990s. In Boomerang he visits a number of locations to try understand why the world faces such a financial crisis today. Each chapter is a fascinating insight into mismanagement. The first, ‘Wall Street on the tundra’ looks at Iceland. The second ‘and they invented maths’ is about Greece. He then looks at Ireland in the chapter ‘Ireland’s original sin’, passes through Germany ‘the secret lives of the Germans’ before ending in the United States, this final chapter is called ‘too fat to fly’. My main insights is the idea that we have ‘lizard brains’ which are set to acquire as much as we can of scarce things, especially food, safety and sex. This is ultimately the main lesson – the need to find ways to self-regulate rather than sacrificing long-term planning for short-term rewards. While the book is a very good read, it tells only half of the story, people do plan and regulate. The best example I have is the new airport built in Durban ahead of the World Cup in 2010. This is designed to last the city until 2070. How do we combine that sort of planning with the type of society we need? I think a spiritual life is necessary.

Shulasmith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex: the Case for the Feminist Revolution, The Woman’s Press London 1979. This is not, I will be the first to admit, my usual reading. The reason for getting it is that I marked a feminist PhD thesis that left me feeling the need for more information and insight. This classic book has provided me with some perception into where the student was coming from. I really love the fact that The Woman’s Press has as its logo an iron. This sense of humour and forgive the pun, irony, is so refreshing and reminds me of the exciting times in the 1970s. It is a classic book and while not hugely readable is certainly worth glancing at.