Palmero or Pavero – Field Notes from Colombia

The following is an account derived from field notes taken in August 2012 in the Department of Bolivar, Colombia 

It was a hot, humid Sunday evening when the residents of a small remote village in the heart of the Magdalena Medio were gathering on the main village square. A traditional rural Vallenato band was about to utter their religious lyrics guided by the typical melodic accordion. Supported by amplifiers and microphones the music soon dinned through the entire village. The disproportion of this technological array considering the very few households that could afford an actual electrical lamp, let alone running water, clearly contributed to the enthusiastic atmosphere of the audience. Children were running around, squeaking out of pure excitement and adults enjoyed chatting and probably having one drink too many.

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The ‘gri-gri’ in the insanity: The police, the mentally ill, and the bullets

These lines are drawn from field encounters at a police station in DR Congo in November 2014

I entered the Captain’s office at 9:30-ish am for an interview on the relationships of Congolese public servants with the urban population and to collect contact information for local authorities. As he handed over a small piece of paper containing the names and number of four neighborhood chiefs, he said “do not tell them you got their numbers from the police or they will become suspicious”. I nodded and hastily put the note in my pocket.

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Marboot: Café Fieldnotes

The following is an account derived from field notes taken in October 2014 in Beirut.

There is a certain militant geography of cafes in Shia-majority areas of central Beirut. These neighborhoods (such as Basta or Bashoura [1]) are mostly residential, dotted with local shops and family businesses, and their walls bear somewhat more obvious scars of the Lebanese civil war and more recent skirmishes than other areas of the city. Most of the streets that connect these places to other areas of Beirut are marked out by the presence of small street cafes, which are frequented by young men, mostly members or affiliates of Hezbollah, who sit drinking strong dark coffee and smoking cigarettes or argilla while chatting. Passing by them are a steady stream of old Mercedes or BMW cars, as well as the small scooters that are something of Hezbollah’s trademark [2]. Some of these young men serve, from this position of relative leisure, as guards to the neighborhood. Continue reading

Demolition man

Growing cities in post-colonial Africa are often said to display highly disorganized urbanization schemes. As hundred of thousands newcomers flock to important commercial urban centres such as Lubumbashi and Kinshasa in the DRC, urban planning is nonetheless shrinking dramatically within wider municipal and provincial political agendas. While all levels of the Congolese state host various administrative departments dedicated to legally controlling and implementing urban planning, housing and land and property arrangements, very little ‘official’ public work seems to be carried out. At the same time, the state has recently sought to reinforce its grip over an expanding urban population through other means. This occurs through the sale of massive chunks of public land and demolition policies, rather than prioritizing the production of coherent urban planning schemes. Indeed, private companies and wealthy politico-businessmen buy out properties at the cities’ outskirt and sometimes right within existing urbanised neighbourhoods. While visiting Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, communes after communes, and talking with locals, it becomes quite clear that the future urban organisation of African cities will be quite a tough one.

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