Equating Nigerians to ‘cancer’ is not the answer

Its two weeks since the video of Nigerians protesting the death of a fellow national in Panaji, capital of Goa, has become headline news.  I was shocked, infuriated and helpless after watching the footage from miles away – thinking where did it all start to disintegrate?

For me, Goa is, and always will be home – where I was raised after being uprooted from Saudi Arabia during the gulf war in the early nineties. But what happened to a Goa that was once famous for its idyllic beaches, guileless locals, and beautiful coastlines?

Two weeks ago, it started with more than 200 Nigerians taking to the streets to demand answers about their compatriot’s death. Not satisfied with the obscure response and delayed action from the police, they pulled out a dead body from a hearse and protested in the midst of a highway leading to the capital Panaji.

What ensued was a story overshadowed with emotional reactions from politicians who added fuel to the fire by pandering to public sentiment and likening the Nigerians to ‘cancer’.

This has not only incited anger and hatred towards the Nigerian community among the locals, but a smooth cover up for our politicians’ own failures, corruption, and ineptitude, unable to control the drug havoc in the state.

Many locals boycotted rentals of bed and breakfast houses, car and bikes to the Nigerian community. While many are victims to right wing propaganda, others have been vigilant enough to understand Goa’s battles with the drug nexus that has been self-perpetuating.

What the locals and Nigerians say?

“No that’s totally unfair,” said Stand-up comic Daniel Fernandes, from Goa living in Mumbai.  “If anything it’s a political move to deflect blame from the government. This has unnecessarily exacerbated into a racist issue.”

“By their theory, if the Nigerians do sell drugs, then who is buying them? It is the Indians”, Daniel added.

“We’ve used labels and stereotypes to mask the bigger issue, the mess that has been created is by the the Goans themselves. The drug cartel is not owned by the Nigerians. They are the carriers, the Goans own it.”

Naturally, many Nigerians, after seeing the video have been appalled by the behaviour of their fellow nationals but also feel the Goa government’s reaction has been a bit severe.

“Why wait until now,” said Abimbola Bode-Olaoba journalist and broadcaster for Continental Broadcasting in Lagos.”I watched the video footage online and was horrified, of course the Nigerian community would be stigmatised, and it’s awful how they acted.”

She was also quick to point out: “It’s reflective of the Igbos tribe in Nigeria who are quick to take action. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had nothing to do with it.”

Chinedu Udezue, Nigerian Communications Director living in London said: “It’s easier to reinforce and perpetuate stereotypes than to express true leadership and confront lies and misinformation”

India – Africa relations and tourism

Perhaps, what politicians like Dayanand Mandrekar and Subhash Desai haven’t factored before delivering snide remarks against the Nigerian community; is the large Indian population in Africa, many who have built thriving business empires.

The rising tensions with Nigerians in Goa and other places in India is already seeing repercussions to Indian communities in Africa.

India’s relationship with Africa dates back to the nineteenth century. Mahatma Gandhi spent two decades in South Africa before returning to India and first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru supported several African Nationalist movements in the 1950’s.

An approx. 1.5 million Indians live in Africa, although more than 800,000 Indians live in Nigeria and they own approximately 100,000 businesses there.

Before the government hits out at the Nigerian community through vile comments and severe deportation techniques, it will be wise to get to grips with Goa’s ongoing battles with drug cartels, lying politicians and abysmal governance.

Shifting blame is a temporary solution to a long term problem. If Goa doesn’t clear its act up now, the state is setting a terrible precedent  not only for the future of Indo-African relations, but international tourism as well.

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Why Gethin Chamberlain’s views on Goa are ill-founded

Yesterday, while browsing through the travelogues on Guardian, I stumbled upon Gethin Chamberlain’s article, ‘Why Goa is looking to go upmarket – and banish Brits and backpackers’.

Chamberlain unwittingly paints Goa to be a place weary of hedonistic hippies, and parsimonious travellers, with the government now aiming to clampdown specifically on British tourists and backpackers.

While the Goa Government has been keen to raise the bar on the quality of tourism, Chamberlain, through his article is careless to imply the move is aimed specifically at British nationals.

North Goa 7800

My first thoughts were; indeed there has been an unprecedented influx of the frugal, drug mongering, carousing visitors along the Anjuna, Moira and other popular belts – however a majority aren’t from the UK.

Infact, according to data tabled in the house by the tourism ministry, top arrivals to Goa’s sunny beaches in 2010 and 2011 were from European countries, namely Germany, Finland, France, Switzerland, Russia and Sweden. Others from Britain, Israel and the Middle East.

The steady decline in visitors from the UK is evident after seeing a 30 per cent fall in visitors to Goa, highlighted in an article by local Zee news network.  On the other hand, Russian arrivals have seen a sharp increase by more than 200 per cent.

As you read further into the article he says, ‘Tired of being India’s answer to Blackpool, it wants to go upmarket.’

Now, anyone having visited both places will say the comparison of Goa to Blackpool is unfathomable; to say the least it’s like comparing apples and mangoes.

Matthew Barham, having visited both places says, ‘Goa and Blackpool can’t really be compared.’

‘Goa is a historic and in large areas unspoiled. Its natural beauty displays its rich historical Portuguese roots in its architecture, local culture and predominantly Catholic heritage,’he added.

‘My experience of Blackpool is that of a tatty seaside resort constructed 150 years ago during the boom period of the industrial revolution, and is localized around a single concrete promenade that features low-brow seaside attractions that haven’t been updated since the 1970s.’

Its true in recent years, Goa’s natural beauty in some areas has faded due to over populated areas, beaches strewn with rubbish and public transport infrastructure that make it impossible to explore, unless you are willing to spend the spare dosh on taxis.

Nevertheless, UNESCO heritage sites, baroque style architecture of churches, and temples has not stopped the young, international and worldly travelers seeking inspiration and enlightenment in the small island.

While Mr. Lobo is discerning on the type of tourists he aims to attract, he is not far from the truth when he speaks about its declining image, and Goa’s plans to go upmarket. Although, it is a bit sinister and lazy of Chamberlain to base his conclusions on a single testimony of the shack owner. He could have interviewed a few more locals to deliver more insight as opposed to solely draw a conclusion based on an interview with the owner of the Shack Welfare society.

This isn’t the first time Gethin Chamberlain has got his facts wrong. In 2009, he wrongly reported 2000 people were released from the Sri Lankan government’s internment camps for Tamils. This was incorrect, and a correction followed stating the number was 5153 and more, according to the United Nations.

Another article written in context with the ever increasing numbers of rape across India read, ‘If girls look sexy, boys will rape. Is this what Indian men really believe?’

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The views reflected in the article were based on interviews with five waiters at a restaurant along a seaside beach, presumably unemployed. Why, of course, these would be anything but, shocking. Having been raised in Goa, this was not the mentality of the many men folk and peers I went to university or played sports with.

If I were to put this into the gang crime context in London, this is the equivalent of  myself walking up to a row of council flats in a dodgy suburb of London and asking the young unemployed  if they would murder another for their belongings.

The response is obvious.

Chamberlain is an example of a western journalist reporting in an eastern country where his views are visibly inaccurate on many levels. When trying to paint the picture of a country abroad, it’s ludicrous to compare Goa to Blackpool; and the government’s aim to ban British travellers is disingenuous.

For those who read this, even well-heeled travellers will have a misinformed view of the place and its people, when in truth, the facts state otherwise.  So while the Goa government is well meaning in implementing new laws for tourism, could there have been a misunderstanding in Chamberlain’s reportage?

As Edward Said pointed out in his book Orientalism, ‘Western study of the oriental countries was political intellectualism meant for European self-affirmation, rather than for objective intellectual enquiry and academic study of Eastern cultures. Hence, Orientalism functioned as a method of practical, cultural discrimination applied as a means of imperialist domination, producing the claim that the Western Orientalist knows more about the Orient than do the Orientals.

Note to travellers: Common misconceptions about India

It’s more than a week since I arrived in England, from a three-week holiday in India. Friends and colleagues alike have been curious to know more about the holiday. Some having travelled before love to engage with their experiences, citing mostly great weather, historic sites, friendly locals, beaches and succulent kebabs. Others, still wary, wonder if you’ve been attacked by a stray dog or have contracted an illness.

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Dona Paula, Goa

Not surprisingly, a question that tops the list is “Did you have Delhi belly?” For which my answer is invariably ‘no’, and leaves them looking rather baffled.

I often wonder where, how and on what basis were these preconceptions founded upon? Was it the hippies of the yester years, travel guides like Lonely Planet or just a matter of the accumulated historical assumptions of the West about the East, the kind Edward W. Said has catalogued in his book ‘Orientalism’.

Certainly, India is a nation of 1 billion people and still growing, lacking in rail networks, infrastructure and basic amenities. However, that doesn’t imply, if you travel to the sub-continent, you will be ill.

My travels from Goa right through South India on trains, buses, and rickshaws took us through some of the most taxing roads and rail networks. Nevertheless, we encountered friendly locals, smiling faces, delicious train food for as little as 65p, and grubby loos if you were in a sleeper class. I can almost assure you 2AC for a higher price, is much more luxurious and the experience will be different.

Through my journeys and interaction with people in different places, it was not uncommon to hear fellow travellers whine about the lack of hygiene, poor sanitation, and strange men. While some of it stands true, others I believe are misconstrued ideas about the country built over a period of time.

For example – the term ‘Delhi belly’ is pejorative and borderline racist, and originates from travellers to India who have sustained themselves, understandably on cheap street food for lengthy periods. The term implies that there is a natural link between upset stomachs and life in India – when, of course, the link is as a result of the travel habits of frugal visitors. ‘Delhi belly’ will always carry a vaguely judgemental connotation that is as false as if I were to give up home cooking for a diet of McDonalds in London, and then blame the resulting upset stomach on some innate quality of the West.

Apart from ‘Delhi belly’ there are a few other misconceptions I’ve had to deal with in recent weeks, which I hope to clarify in my blog here:

# 1 Accommodation is filthy

People travelling for four – six weeks are on a budget and would naturally like to maximise value for their money. Who wouldn’t? I have several times while travelling across Asia. However, one has to recognise the price that comes with staying in budget accommodation (i.e. 1 – 2£ per day)  – will be having to put up with lizards, frogs, salamanders, scorpions, beetles and perhaps even snakes to keep you company at night.

Be warned, sometimes mattresses are often infested with dreadlocks from another backpacker, and if you are wise enough – a sleeping bag and mosquito net will be indispensable to your travel kit.

That said, not everywhere in India is like that. Infact the country is home to some of the finest hotels and unique ‘themed’ earth resorts, cave houses, tree houses, and bamboo beach huts. My advice is book in advance to avail of good deals. If you feel like you have the money to spend, go indulge yourself and try something new.

Earth Huts, Banasura Hills, Kerala
Earth Huts, Banasura Hills, Kerala

# 2 ‘I’m on a journey to self-discovery in India’

It is common practice among most westerners to assume India as home to a place for ‘self realisation’, ‘self-discovery or embark on ‘truth-seeking’ journeys. Perhaps, it’s movies such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or even life experiences and blogs by previous travellers such as Abigail Butcher and Mariellen Ward that have inspired others.

Several travel websites like IFRE Volunteers Abroad are responsible for creating this delusion ‘travel to India and it will expand your soul’. This can be quite commonly witnessed along the beaches in Goa at several ashrams and monasteries – Sun worshippers, people dressed in Indian tat, practising yoga, and on herbal diets akin.

As expected, as a tourist for the first time you want to immerse yourself into the experience wholeheartedly for fear of missing out (aka F.O.M.O.)

However, because of the endless propaganda in the west from holiday websites and tour operators – to think of the country as a place solely for spiritual journeys and troubled people, is frankly misleading. At worst, it’s a fallacy, if you travel to India – its all going to be okay.

Certainly, it is a spiritual country, with many religions, beliefs, monasteries, festivals and cultures, however, its blasphemy when you try to combine that with alcohol and drugs.

Sunset in Allepey, Kerala

# 3 Will I get Ill?

There is no shortage to the variety and quality of food one can find whether its North, South, East or West Indian cuisine. With all its shortcomings, India can still proudly boast of some of the finest ‘tandoor tikkas’ and vegetarian food in the world.

Like in any country known for their signature dishes, India has several – Tandoor tikkas, parathas, naan, masala dosas, fish curry, samosas etc.and the list goes on. However if you choose to drink water from unhygienic sources or consume food from unreliable eateries covered in flies, you are asking for trouble.

Obviously, you would like to steer of foods like rare steak or meats. Unless, it’s a place recommended by a local or its often frequented by other locals

Leo Batchelor, who visited India for the first time and has Crohn’s disease, ate everything from vegetarian biryanis, grilled fish, and samosas on trains. He said, “I feel better than ever. A little bit of spice goes a long way for the experience.”

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Leo devouring a vegetable biryani

# 4 Why is India so poor?

I’m often left dumbfounded when someone asks me ‘Why is India so poor? Either you consume too much television media; or solely rely on western media films like ‘ Slumdog Millionaire’ to shape your opinions.

I’m not going to defend the country’s worth, by arguing about the number of billionaires or how entrepreneurs such as Tata and Wipro, have been responsible for creating jobs in a recession struck European economy.

Undeniably, our politicians are corrupt and bureaucracy and red tapism is inevitable. Our leaders don’t camouflage the poverty by building favelas or high-rise walls or evicting people to other regions. Plain and simple, it’s evident, what you see is what you get.

And in big cities, people sleep rough, just like they do in London and New York. With a growing population of more than a billion people, without a welfare state and social housing by the government, this doesn’t stop people from being optimistic and trying to make ends meet.

# 5 Indian men stare

You are in a country that encourages conservative dress if you choose to travel by public transport. If you decide not to honour this, you will have to put up with the consequences – endless staring from men. I did.

The reason being, many Indian men are still not used to anything other than women dressed in a saree or a salwar kameez. You can get away with it in cosmopolitan cities, however in rural areas and public transport platforms, be prepared for some stares.

Now one might question, the way Indian actors are portrayed in Bollywood, however, that’s another argument in itself.

# 6 Is it safe?

Which brings me to the next question – Is it safe? To be fair, I don’t feel safe walking the streets of London.

At best, we didn’t encounter someone who stuck a knife in our face demanding valuables. That said, I am speaking strictly for places we visited in South India.  At the time, we were travelling, news about the rape in New Delhi was relentless, both from local and international networks. What called for intense media attention was the victim’s death.

In late November, eleven year-old had been raped in Jubilee Park, on her way from school in London. However that didn’t make the international news headlines. Rape cases dealt by police officers in London are just as bungled up, as the ones in North India. So what makes people think London is safer than India? More recently, acid was thrown on 21-year-old Naomi Uni, by a stranger, when she was returning home from a late night shift.

My experience living in different countries over the years has been one where you have to take responsibility for your personal safety.

# 7  Entry-fees to public monuments is unfair to tourists

When visiting palaces and museums in South India, the disparity in entry fees for Indians vs. Non Indians is obvious. During our visit to Mysore Palace, the entry fee for Leo was  £3 (240 INR) and for me 30p (40 INR).

Understandably, its something many European visitors don’t take too well, with many stating it’s chauvinistic. However, if one were to compare the annual average British income i.e.£ 26,500 (2223135.35 INR) to the annual average Indian income i.e. £716.02, (60,000 INR) – the difference is beyond belief.

Secondly, the locals are taxpayers. Given that some of the tax-money is used for the upkeep and refurbishment of these areas, it’s only too fair for them to have easy access at reasonable rates.

Lonely Planet has endlessly argued this topic in their blog: Should foreigners pay higher prices?

Unsolved murder mysteries

Two murder stories I’ve been following closely since late last year are that of Anni Dewani and Joanna Yeates. It’s almost like reading that gripping novel, which you can’t put down, waiting to get to the end to find the criminal. Just that, its for real this time and not fiction. And in between with all its twists and turns, you are left wondering, ‘well could it really be her husband Shrien Dewani’, not a chance, why would he? Unless he never liked her, it was arranged and all sorts of other speculation

So what really makes these two stories prominent in the media compared to several murder stories that take place and are forgotten over a period of time?

In the past six months, obviously the interest for Anni Dewani’s murder has seen tremendous coverage, not only in the british newspapers but also the international press. Well I thought, it was possibly the complexity of the case, the origin of the parties involved, their nationalities, and trail of events for the wedding in Mumbai, followed by the honeymoon in South Africa.

It goes without saying the British tabloids love a who-dunn-it, a crime mystery that leaves you hungry for more. And every newspaper has an unusual twist to its report. Apart from the interest from tabloids , there’s press from South Africa, and also India and Sweden. Apparently there are rumours he could have links to the Mumbai underworld.

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Especially the Dewani case, what started out as a story as businessman’s wife murdered on honeymoon has now developed into something where Shrien was eventually turned into a suspect in the murder, who would have thought so? Earlier evidence suggested, she wasn’t sexually assaulted before murder, but new proof shows otherwise, also taking into consideration a recent eyewitness’ report

The question ultimately, could it be him? or not still remains unanswered.

However the latest extradition hearing reveals he needed to “find a way out” of his engagement, and this was even before they married. He didn’t wish to placate his family and so they say, so why marry in the first place?  Following the timeline of events, this story leaves me shocked and intrigued at the same time, only curious to know more about what’s next?

The last time I was present at his court hearing at the Belmarsh Magistrates Court in March this year, it was hard to tell whether Dewani was remorseful about the whole incident. Also claims about his weight loss in the media, I thought was a bit absurd. It didn’t seem apparent when I actually saw him. On the contrary, it seemed otherwise, but that again could this be the side effects of the sleeping pills or medication he’s taking.

Relatives of the Hindocha family more than anything, would like justice for their daughter. But really can justice be done especially when it comes to losing a loved one ?

As a journalist, you really don’t want an element of bias to creep in, where you start to think, could he …err don’t think so. But with an unbelievable spin in events its really hard to say. I’m sure families of both parties are devastated and waiting to get this out of the way

In the meanwhile, as for the Joanne Yeates case, Vincent Tabak has pleaded guilty to manslaughter, but denied murder. Turns out that manslaughter is accidental and murder is deliberate. And his trial for murder is scheduled for October. After all the speculation involving whether the landlord Chris Jeffries could be a suspect. Who wouldn’t be mortified to have your name falsely thrashed in the papers, especially when one British tabloid carries a memorable headline in The Sun reading “Weird, Posh, Lewd, Creepy.”

So what happens next with Dewani? The last hearing on May 3 discussed harsh conditions in South African prisons not meeting human rights conditions according to most European mandates. This could be potentially dangerous to Dewani given his circumstances.

And the case continues….one can only wait to see what happens next .

Chinese tourism

With the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami and the ongoing civil war in Libya, often leaves me wondering what am I doing in news. But then again, the feeling of being a part of many defining moments in history is enormous.

Thankfully, at Feature Story News, apart from the international news, we look into other ongoing debates. A story I was producing yesterday for CCTV, investigating whether the British government will relax visa rules for the Chinese tourists to boost the economy. I was lucky to get hold of the tourism industry veteran, Tom Jenkins, Executive Director of the European Tour Operators Association. Talking to him this afternoon, he rightly pointed out many aspects which hinder Chinese tourists from visiting Britain, as a result of which the UK is losing out to other European destinations. He said the form filling process in arduous, and they are expected to do it in English, which is obviously not their first language.

Secondly the costs in comparison to the Schengen visa is much higher, for which they think they don’t even get their money’s value in terms of duration of stay and the places they visit. Also, the Schengen visa gives them an opportunity to travel all across Europe, obviously giving them more of a chance to experience other places like France, Italy, Germany, Netherlands etc. Jenkins said over the years the demography of the type of tourists has changed. Earlier a majority of them would visit Europe for business purposes, unlike approximately 40,000 who come here for holidays now.

What surprised me most, was the fact on how they squirm to pay 20 – 30 GBP per night for a hotel room, but are willing to splurge almost 20,000 – 30000 pounds in top retail stores such as Harrods. Apparently, two things the Chinese love doing, shopping and gambling.

To catch up with the European counterparts and capture the tourism market, Jenkins said, there is no better way than to just look at it from a Chinese point of view and offer them a service that suits their requirements.