Thursday, April 28, 2011

Four links for you

I'd like to apologize for not posting in a while: offline life intervened. I have accumulated four links that I think might be of interest to you all.

  • Over at Far Outliers, Joel quotes from Ryszard Kapuscinski's 2002 The Shadow of the Sun, describing how Tanzanian Sango-speakers (from central Tanzania) found ethnolinguistic kin in coastal Dar es Salaam.

  • Following a ball of yarn, they will finally arrive at the house of a countryman. The neighborhood is called Kariakoo, and its layout is more or less planned—straight, perpendicularly aligned sandy streets. The construction is monotonous and schematic. The so-called swahili houses predominate, a type of Soviet-style housing—a single one-storied building with eight to twelve rooms, one family in each. The kitchen is communal, as are the toilet and the washing machine. Each dwelling is unbelievably cramped, because families here have many children, each home being in effect a kindergarten. The whole family sleeps together on the clay floor covered with thin raffia matting.

    Arriving within earshot of such a house, Edu and his kinsmen stop and call out: “Hodi!” It means, in effect: “May I come in?” In these neighborhoods the doors are always open, if they exist at all, but one cannot just walk in without asking, so this “Hodi!” can be heard from quite a distance. If someone is inside, he answers, “Karibu!” This means: “Please come in. Greetings.” And Edu walks in.

    Now begins the interminable litany of greetings. It is simultaneously a period of reconnaissance: both sides are trying to establish their precise degree of kinship. Concentrated and serious, they enter the primevally thick and tangled forest of genealogical trees that is each clan and tribal community. It is impossible for an outsider to make heads or tails of it, but for Edu and his companions, this is a critical moment of the meeting. A close cousin can be a great help, whereas a distant one—significantly less so. But even in this second instance, they will not go away empty-handed. Without a doubt, they will find a corner under the roof here. There will always be a little room for them on the floor—an important consideration, since despite the warm climate it is difficult to sleep outside, in the yard, where one is tormented by mosquitoes, by spiders, earwigs, and various other tropical insects.

  • Global Voices, meanwhile, features the story of Yao Jiaxin in China, who seems to have murdered a rural migrant, a woman named Zhang Miao because she--as ruralites would, Zhang said in his defense--would try to blackmail him after he hit her with his car. Interesting fault lines, here, and abundant quotations from an enraged Chinese blogosphere.

  • Zhang Miao, how silly you were?

    When Yao Jaxin checked on your injury, why did you stare at him. You probably thought that he was going to take you to the hospital.

    You were wrong. He was checking if you were rural peasant or city dweller.

    Zhang Miao, how silly that you let him know that you were from the rural area? In Yao Jaxin's eyes, a rural peasant's life is worthless. Death would cost less than injury. But he forgot to crush you with his car. Instead he stabbed deep into your body with his knife, eight times.

    Zhang Miao, how silly you were?

    Even though Yao Jaxin checked on your injury with a knife,

    Even though it took him awhile to figure out your rural background,

    The time for a premeditated murder was too short. They called this murder out of rage, rather than intentional murder.

    We are all too ignorant to hear of such a term before.

  • At the Population Reference Bureau's blog, Carl Haub notes the continued rise in Russian fertility rates. Along with declining deaths, this has significantly reduced the rate of natural decrease. The big problems is that the cohorts of women born in the 1990s--a time of a markedly low birth rate--are coming to childbearing years and the situation will become more difficult, and that immigration is becoming problematic.

  • The social scientists have offered their opinion that the only way to avoid Russia’s population dropping below 140 million is to improve health conditions and lengthen life. They have recognized the relatively small number of women who will soon enter childbearing age and also warned that the supply of Russian-speaking migrants from other former USSR Republics is dwindling, particularly since many prefer to seek higher-paying work in the European Union. Migrants from former Central Asian republics of do not have work qualifications. The scientists have recommended that greater efforts be made to assimilate those migrants and prepare them for more worthwhile participation in the labor force.

  • Finally, at the unsurprisingly Toronto-centered blog Torontoist Kevin Plummer writes about how Italian migrants in post-Second World War Toronto sacrificed in order to own their own, constantly improved, houses.

  • By the mid-1950s, the annual influx had grown to about 20,000. Over that period of rapid growth, Italian men comprised 8% of the workforce in Metro Toronto. They worked unskilled or semi-skilled jobs as construction workers or general labourers, digging sewers. With long hours in abysmal working conditions, it was gruelling work at the kinds of jobs that, one Italian man told Iacovetta, "they give only to the immigrants."

    Some newcomers benefited from a network of kinfolk and paesani, and could board with earlier immigrants from their family or village. Some employers, like small construction companies, placed employees in company-owned shared accommodation. Other men lodged with other male newcomers in boarding houses run by Italian families or enterprising newcomers. In any of these shared accommodations, quarters might be tight, with several men to a room. The idea of large groups of foreigners living together also drew the attention of well-meaning outsiders who suggested that the Italians were being exploited as much in housing arrangements as in their work conditions. It occurred to few experts that, as Robert F. Harney in an essay in the anthology, The Canadian City (Carleton University Press, 1984), Italian "sojourners might prefer such a boarding system was lost in a haze of moral outrage."

    Almost always, boarders were from the same region of Italy as their hosts—Calabrese boarded with Calabrese, Abruzzese with Abruzzese—so these housing arrangements also provided the comfort of cultural camaraderie. "It was better being with your own," one interviewee recalled to Iacovetta. "You had somebody to talk with at night. We talked about Italy, and about the jobs—what else?" The boarding house cuisine also reflected familiarity of home and the common ethnicity of the residents. (As a cost-saving measure, pasta-heavy diets were only occasionally supplemented with meat.)

    "Familial priorities loomed large in the lives of Italian men," Iacovetta writes. And the frugal housing situation allowed the male workers—who took pride in being their family's bread-winner—to stretch their meagre wages. Maximizing savings, they could send money to their families in Italy or save for a down payment on a house. "It's common for sixteen people to live in one well-kept eight-room house," Robert Thomas Allen noted in Maclean's (March 21, 1964). "When the newcomer does land a job, he makes every nickel count. Italians are so frugal that they kid themselves about it."

    Go, read.

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