Theatrical, political, artycal?

Who knows anymore?

Who the fuck cares...?

By Steven Carne, Sep 28 2013 08:04AM


Sitting in the dusty generator powered (bloody noisy) office talking to my wonderful Malawi colleague Lemani about the nature of development and Aid, Charities, NGOs etc. He is optimistic and hopeful like so many Malawians but he is intelligent and understands the dark side of the International Development beast and the need for Malawians and Africans to stand up to the White Man and tackle the old Colonial Spirit which still thrives enthusiastically in the form of White 4x4s, huge amounts of policy documents and literature featuring lovely pictures of little black kids being fed vitamin porridge, given a football, a new school uniform. My time in Malawi has made me realise that the White Man still rules Africa. It’s going to take some time for the masses to grow beyond the subservient (if they wore caps they’d doff them) and stand up to the hierarchy that exists above them. I wonder if the International Development Community is genuinely ready to cope with a continent of well educated and expectant people raised out of poverty to join the Global Life? What will the International Development Business Community do then? Find another poor country/continent to develop and make money out of.

Because that is what International Aid has become for many - a business. It’s an industry generating millions/billions from public donations, company tax dodge donations, circulating money from project to project, investing money into poor countries all the while speculating that once improved that country will be tied to the products and resources provided by the speculative donors. Example? Tobacco companies give lots of money to charity and AID Foundations in the knowledge that the local people are dependent on this money for food and will continue growing the poisonous stuff on their little strips of land and will remain poor and dependent in farming tobacco for the foreseeable future because the risk of not having the AID money is too risky. Poor means having no obvious choice and frankly caring about nothing but finding the next meal.

Take Cooking Stoves for example. USAID are promoting (Hilary Clinton loves them) new metal stoves that burn with very little wood thus (we hope) reducing deforestation in areas where trees are badly needed for the ecology of the land. These stoves cost somewhere in the region of $15 to buy - 5,250 kwacha - which is easily out of the reach of an average village family struggling to find 500 kwacha a week to live on. Plus these stoves are made in the USA keeping Americans employed, export companies busy. And of course the public cna donate to the metal stove campaign. They could be made in Malawi by the iron workers who spend days banging hell out of tin to make the loveliest watering cans and washing bowls I have ever seen. They’d go for a bomb in nice UK gift shops. Better still - as we feature in our new epic drama Mbeu Yosintha - people can build a brick stove for just 500kwacha. Bricks, water, sand, termite clay and goat manure. See link - BUILD A STOVE

So I hope that making a film with these lovely people has done something to break the image that the White Man is still in control. We have tried so hard to be equal with them, to encourage them to argue with us, disagree with us, express their real opinions not the “I don’t want to offend” opinions that automatically come out when a White Man asks a question.

A website for the film will be coming soon and there you might even be able to donate, buy a brick stove, buy a t-shirt, plant a tree, climb Kilimanjaro even!

By Steven Carne, Sep 27 2013 10:01AM

Twelve weeks volunteering in Africa has taught me many things. Not least that when I return on 6th October I am determined to make stress a lesser-known presence in my life. Stress has been part of the project here in Malawi no doubt and there have been times when I could barely make it to the bed I was so tired. But the stress was bearable because of the creative struggle involved and the knowledge that there was a target, an end to the process. With two weeks to go we are almost there. Stress at home just seems to go on and on trickling like a dripping tap and it is not good stress, UK stress.

This last year i have been so fucking worn out with trying my damndest to help people with videos and websites and promoting them with other such shit that I have completely emasculated my own creative energy and drive and need to be me. That coupled with stress about the bank account and making sure bills are paid has only made me miserable. So whilst I volunteer and do loads of work for free (because that’s the stupid sort of guy I am) I’m in the dumps with stress. Well no more. Time for a change.

It’s very hard though of course when you’ve embroiled yourself in an organisation and other people’s lives and helped them to grow from the beginnings or grow through a period of transition. To suddenly pull away and leave a vacuum seems unfair and then I’d only have to deal with the guilt. But how to pull away gently and allow them to keep on developing, that is the question. It’s a big question that I really do want to find the answer to... wish me luck.

I’m also officially retiring from editing and post-production. It’s a waste of time. And I’ve locked myself to a computer for far too long this last decade. Let the younger geeks do that. It’s time to get active again and live a little instead of sitting at my desk dealing with the virtual. A sort of reality it maybe but it’s one I need to get away from. Singing, joking and generally finding an old me again that’s what I’m after. Remember the old cliche. Could be dead tomorrow.


By Steven Carne, Aug 3 2013 08:29AM

Interesting fact form today’s discussions about FAT peopl in Malawi. One of the acting troupe - Phyllis - was one girl I just could not remember. “She’s the fat one!” says Steward. “You mean the larger framed lady?” I said with a smile.

An hour later I asked the same question as my brain was a bit fried after so much starch these last ten days. “The fat one” says Lemani. “You mean like me, the fat director!” so then ensues a discussion about how in UK we are obsessed with being thin and not being fat. And to say to someone’s face “hey you are getting fat!” is an absolute no no.

But in Malawi calling someone FAT can be a compliment and means “Hey you are doing well!” and to say “ooh you’re losing weight” means that people are worried about you. SO... all us fat buggers should move to Malawi and spread some good and feel just a little bit fine that in some people's eyes we are doing well.

By Steven Carne, Aug 1 2013 04:37PM

Incredible day looking for locations for the drama. After a disappointing fruitless day last week trudging round dusty scattered rambling areas of houses surrounded by five feet high scrub and wild weeds today was a bonanza of excitement. Climbing up a small hill to a village area I was just beginning to think “this is such a waste of time” when we reached the summit of the hill to find a cluster of terracotta huts with straw roofs - shabby, scrappy but full of warmth and charm. Funny how a location can do that - you don’t know really what’s there but on those first few steps I knew this was our village.

We spent almost an hour walking around talking to the villagers and feeling the characters in the script were there with us - Nachisale’s house, Pilirani’s house, the bike path, the chief’s hill retreat... great stuff. It is seeming a little too easy but maybe that is because I have already gotten organised and the team from YONECO the Malawian partners we are working with are just lovely and seem to be getting the hang of thinking on their feet and planning ahead.

The forest we need is sorted - part of an estate owned by South African farmers. It was interesting to experience the “white power” sensation. As the friendly enough owner ambled across the large compound yard towards us I could feel the two Malawians, so confident and jovial with me and the team, shrink in stature and take two little steps back assuming that me the big white man would automatically begin proceedings with the other white man in the mix. I sidestepped and indicated the Malawians were the bosses and would introduce the project. My fantastic, quick-witted and bright assistant became sudued and quiet and found pushing the words out of his mouth difficult. Once he had finished I then felt ok to begin chatting. I hope that my prejudices against that strong Afrikaans accent didn’t show through too much. A member of the team spotted it but I handled it well. It wasn’t against him the white man - he was nice enough. But that shrinking in fear from the white skin was shocking to me, not a surprise just a shock and a disappointment. Try as we may it is so difficult to break those ingrained cultural perspectives and behaviours. Like the British class system where the upper class have always assumed the right over others, so too in Malawi on a Wednesday morning in an estate farm - the white man ruled and black skin was full of doubt and fear.

By Steven Carne, Jul 29 2013 06:26PM

There's nothing like a week on your own as the only White Man in town to make you hyper aware of your skin, your voice, your colour and your general outloook on life being so dfferent. Been in Malawi for just over a week now and it's interesting that there aren't as many Mzungu's in Zomba as there were four years ago.

Nothing that much has changed really in this sleepy -once the Capital - backwater town which has a scruffy charm despite the amber dust that gets everywhere, even inside your underwear. Filming here is no easy task but it's invigorating to say the least. Malawi has no film industry to speak of but when it does start (there are a few young filmmakers in Lilongwe and Blantyre) there are stories here to shock and amaze the world.

I'm here with Purple Field Productions making a drama which started out with the remit to be "a drama to help farmers with new farming techniques to tackle climate change" but has ended up being a gritty hard-hitting drama of modern rural village life in Malawi. As I began to draft the story together after making a farming education film in 2011 I realised that i really couldn't make a farming drama as such because farming is a way of life here - if you dont farm you don't eat - and that a film about farming really is a film about life, it's highs, lows, vicious tragedies and comical characters.

Jonthan Mbuna the Malawian writer will translate the script this week and the world of Mbeu Yosintha (Seeds of Change) comes to life. Chief Nkhoma - a dying man who must try to save his village from starvation, Pilirani who dreams of college despite her poverty and Nachisale the abused wife who must stand up to her drunken husband. It's going to be great. Working with untrained actors and local people in Chichewa I've got my work cut out for me but i love it here and I love these people who despite having NOTHING are smiling, positive, gracious individuals who I am honoured to know.

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