Tag Archives: France

Flying WHOSE Flag?

3 Feb

I wouldn’t really consider myself a huge fan of national symbols. I can’t stand all of the jingoistic flag waving and ‘Ooh I’m so proud of my country me-I-am’ stuff. I tend to take the attitude of ‘accident of birth – what’s there to feel so chuffed about?’  Yes, if you ask me what I love the most about my own country of origin, I’d say ‘the hills’ and ‘our freedom to be able to think for ourselves.’

I genuinely don’t feel competitive with any other nation, superior to any other country or inferior to any other peoples (unless we start talking more on the parochial level and then I get all sniffy about the folk who live in Hebden Bridge.)

But I’m not averse to anyone feeling that they appreciate where they live and the sort of community that they dwell amongst. And I do have to confess that I enjoy seeing the white rose of Yorkshire paraded about our streets and towns (although I’m often struck with a fear of being found out … as my birth certificate clearly states that I was born just a few miles over the border in red rose land. Don’t tell anyone though.)

British Pride? Or 1981 embarrassment?

British Pride? Or 1981 embarrassment at being born in Lancashire?

And I have also been heard to say (see previous blog where I bemoaned the geography syllabus in schools today) that it truly is a shame that kids today aren’t taught as much about countries, capital cities and national symbols in the same way that we had it rammed down our throat in the past.

But this week I had to swallow my words as it was a person from the older generation who caused me to stop in my tracks and to gape in astonishment.

In search of a tacky tourist giftie for my kids, I wandered into a little shop in North Wales. After grabbing the inevitable Welsh dragon keyrings, a lady steamed ahead of me and beat me to the till. Looking to be in her early 70’s, she was smartly dressed, had a well-spoken (English) accent and had a small pile of flags in her hand. You know the sort – nylon, A4 sized, attached to a wooden stick.

“Right,” she said to the young chappie at the till. “I’ll have these. Let me just check that I’ve got them all.”

She rattled off a couple of countries and plonked each item down and then I really began to pay attention when she laid out a red and white flag and said;

“And England, of course.”

“Er, no,” replied the young man.  “That’s not England.”

“Of course it is! What do you mean?”

“It’s Switzerland – that one. See – the English flag is a big red cross all the way over it.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. That’s definitely Switzerland. And we’ve run out of English ones.”

I mean, come on! It's the total opposite of St. George's!

Come on! It’s the total opposite of St. George’s!

“Oh, well. Never mind. I’ll get one from a petrol station or somewhere near a council estate.”  The woman continued with her final purchase, adding; “And then to finish with, we’ve got France.”

“Er, no. That’s not France.”

“Yes it is. It’s France. See – red white and blue stripes.”

“No. That’s the Netherlands.”


“Netherlands – you know – Holland. France has the same colours, but the stripes are vertical for France.”

“Really? Well. Can you get me a French flag then?”

“Sorry, no. We ran out of them last week.”

“Oh. Oh well. I can’t imagine I’ll be able to find one anywhere else. No one seems to be that keen on the French. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I don’t imagine for a minute that anyone will notice that it isn’t France.”

A confused version of France?

A confused version of France?

And with that, she paid up and left the shop.  I purchased my little dragons and made eye contact with the guy behind the counter. He was shaking his head as he said to me;

“You know, these older people – you always think that they know more than we do – but they do make you wonder sometimes …”

After leaving the shop, I recounted the tale to my husband. He being a keen fan of ‘traditional geographical learning’ and being an all-round smart-arse when it comes to flags and countries, had a good old chuckle. about the flag exchange.

“It’s the Six Nations this week,” Mr Rugby-Fan informed me. “She’ll have been stocking up on them for a party or something.”

I found all of this to be deeply ironic. Because he has always tried to steer our children away from any interest in football. Telling them that  rugby is a far more skilful game than football, that the game retains a much more ethical attitude to money and celebrity and that rugby fans are more intelligent and less rowdy than footie followers.

And yet the lady flag-purchaser was either all too aware that her party guests might not be the most educated individuals – or –  that her guests would be so drunk that they wouldn’t notice that the Six Nations has become the Eight Nations and now includes those well-known rugby fixated countries of Switzerland and Holland.




Do they need a Madonna? Or an Angelina?

7 Jun

… Part 6

Epako kids 3 girls in a row

If you ever doubted how long your clothing donations to Africa will last … just look at the pink ra-ra skirt. We saw many 80’s cast-offs. Have faith when you donate!

By now you might be thinking this; these street children, these vulnerable nippers in Epako (or in any former township in southern Africa) who helps them to survive? Why don’ t they have parents around?

There are many answers to the last question. Disease is the biggie. HIV/AIDS being the obvious one. Once the body’s immune system has become so weakened – thanks to the horror of the HIV – more often than not a person dies simply due to a common cold or a minor infection. They also may not even aware that they have HIV. They don’t take the test, or ask for help. Sometimes because of stigma. Sometimes they feel that life is hard enough without having yet more bad news. So preparations and plans are not made for the care of their children after their death. (Best not to think …) And of course, other diseases are massive killers. We lost many friends in Namibia due to TB and malaria.

Simon and Friends - some orphans, but all are vulnerable and in terrible need

Simon and Friends – some are orphans, but all are vulnerable and in terrible need

Some adults simply cannot cope with being a parent and simply disappear from their children’s lives. Others have far too many kids already to cope with. Some form new relationships and have more children with a new partner. Kids from previous relationships may often be neglected or spurned because of a jealous husband or wife. Poor mental health and suicide is a huge cause for concern in Namibia – and domestic abuse and the murder of women is sadly, on the increase.

epako kids bush in background

These women are the unsung heroes – doing their best to look out for the children of others

So for the little ones who have just one surviving parent, or who have none at all – where do they go? Who keeps an eye out for them? Usually the extended family try and help, but all too often when faced with poverty such as here, at the tail-end of Epako, they simply cannot cope with another mouth to feed. On the photos and videos on this blog over the last few days here, you will have seen several women. Most of them kind aunties or grandmas or simply warm-hearted neighbours who have been doing their best to look out for the ‘street children.’ Certainly none of them profit in any way through helping the kids. No, it’s the opposite. This is one more mouth to feed to them. But they do it still.

epako kids with blankets2 nit check

Bless him. He looks as miserable as my two kids do when I’m doing the old weekly nit-check with them … Good ol’ Auntie keeping a check on him, eh?

We returned to the poorest corners of Epako with children bearing their new school uniforms in bags and then my own kids did their best to distribute blankets and toiletries and the torches and gifts from the British children. At this point I was besieged with thoughts of simply scooping up just a couple of the children and taking them home with us.  (Not like me I know. Normally I’m trying to dump my own kids on someone else so that I can get a breather and visit the nearest nail-bar or beauty salon – yeah, right.)

I wondered how Madonna and Angelina managed to do it. In Namibia it is incredibly difficult – nigh on impossible – to be a foreigner and to adopt a child if you intend on leaving the country with them. Of course, if you are a filthy-rich celeb it always helps. (I still haven’t forgiven Angelina for the fact that she and Brad flew to Namibia for 6 weeks in order to have their child and were granted Namibian citizenship for baby Shiloh – whilst us lot – scummy charity workers just down the road who actually lived, worked and gave birth there – were not allowed such a privilege for our daughter, when we asked for Namibian citizenship for her! Outrageous!) I wondered if there was any way that we could take a child home with us and to give them … just basic food and schooling. To give them some love and a smidgen of much-needed attention (when I’m not blogging, of course.)

But – practicalities and silly day-dreaming aside – I wasn’t sure if this is the right thing to do. Or whether it is the wrong thing to do (pathetic sit-on-the-fencer that I am.)

I don’t think I would have had such a moral dilemma about this if I hadn’t had had such a fascinating conversation with a very intelligent and feisty female cocoa farmer from Ghana. This was a couple of years ago at a fair trade seminar I was attending overseas.  I was describing to her the sheer number of Ethiopian babies being adopted by North Americans and French families (the flights back from Addis Ababa to both France and N.America are notorious for dozens of shrieking babies because the newly adopted parents haven’t yet figured out how to quieten the infant down.)

Joy at receiving a scratchy woollen blanket!

Joy at receiving a scratchy woollen blanket!

The woman farmer from Ghana was horrified. She asked me to repeat this information several times before it clicked. She had honestly never heard of people coming from overseas and adopting African children (no – she hadn’t even heard of the Madonna or Angelina adoption cases. Poor woman had probably never had the joy of reading a copy of ‘Shallow’ – sorry – I mean ‘Hello’ either.) She said “But they are taking our African children! These are our children! Not theirs to take!” I put it to her that many people think that the poorest children would have a much better life abroad. With loving parents who desperately want a child and who could give so much more in terms of home, food, schooling etc. My pal was having none of this. “It is just stealing our children. We can look after them. If Africa is treated more fairly by the rest of the world with our trade – if we are given a fair deal. We can look after our own!”

She felt that allowing overseas adoption was simply a sticking plaster – a band-aid – to the problems faced by the poorest African children.

Small girl from England bearing blankets. Is this sticking-plaster/ band-aid help? Answers on a postcard/in a blog comment please ...

Small girl from England bearing blankets. Is this sticking-plaster/ band-aid help? Answers on a postcard/in a blog comment please …

Yet again it made me think more about ‘handouts’ and giving aid and donations and all of that. Was what we were doing during our time in Namibia – as a family and as a community sending help from the UK and Ireland – any different? My day job very much focusses on trying to create long-term livelihoods for poor families overseas. So I know how important sustainable help is where poverty predominates …

But when faced with those tiny little mites who have so little to look forward to in life – your heart tends to run away with you.

One of my favourite girls (not that we HAVE favourites ...)

One of my favourite girls (not that we HAVE favourites …)

Well, mine did anyway. So, sue me.