Mathias Antonsson

Random subjective observations of what's on my mind


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Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Those of you that have enjoyed that philosophical drink of choice – full-bodied red wine – with me, knows that I for quite some time have been annoyed that a country’s success all too often is measured solely by its GDP, or more specifically its GDP growth. It’s very important, no doubt. But how growth got its magically encompassing allure to reign alone above all others I never quite understood. How did education, health, governance, personal freedom, security and all these other issues, that any citizen in any country of any culture throughout time have valued so much, simply become subjects to Emperor growth?

Moreover even the most fanatic growth supporters must surely realize that a healthy, educated, well governed, secure country has better opportunities to increase its growth? A healthy population works more and better, an educated populace drives advancement, a non-corrupt, non-discriminating, law-upholding government serves as a guarantor for pacta sunt servanda (keeping agreements – rule of law). And that feeling secure is just a basic human emotion that needs fulfillment. For some more than others…

Legatum, “a private investment group with a 25 year heritage of investing in the global capital markets, focused on emerging and frontier markets throughout much of our history”, produce a Prosperity Index. I will not bring out the over-achieving Political Scientist in me and bore you to death over methodology, variables, measurements, causality etc. I will simply ask for you to click two links below.

The links will seem to some of you as an alternative reality. (No. It’s nothing to do with teleportation. Sorry!)

It is another lens through which one can view the world. (No. X-ray glasses will never exist. Sorry!)

I’m not saying it’s a perfect model. Then I’d be as inflexible as the growth fanatics. Also, perfect models don’t exist. They might be super, but eventually even supermodels grow old and lose their appeal compared to new sexier, trendier more attractive looking supermodels. Hmm… What were we talking about again?

I’m not saying that the Scandinavian welfare-state model is for everyone either. The Aussies in fourth place have done well without it. All I’m saying is, let’s bring in some nuances. Before you click the links, where would you place the G8 countries; Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, UK and the US? Where would you place your country?

The Prosperity World Map | The Prosperity Index Table

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Home is where your heart is

Waking up this morning I contemplated where I’ve slept since I left New York at the end of July, until now. It turned out to be rather more confusing than I had anticipated. Having traveled back and forth I counted seventeen different stops, where I had spent the night in eight cities on three continents. Having slept in fifteen different places, occupying ten beds and five couches separately. You might therefore imagine why it feels good to wake up in your own bed, at your own place.

That’s right I have found an apartment here in Nairobi. Keeping the streak alive however, this one too is only temporary, as I’m queuing for a two bedroom apartment. Yeah, I’ll have a guestroom, which those of you who visited me in New York surely will appreciate. Temporary or not, having invested in a pillow yesterday it felt like my own bed. And as much as I like to travel, and appreciate all the friends that have put up with me and offered me a spot to sleep while in Sweden, it is nice to have a place to call your own.

Livingroom

Where I am writing to you from

If there is one thing I’ve learned while living on different places around the world it is that the standard is differing a lot. As do the prices. While I was in Australia as a student I shared a house with two roomies, several spiders, cockroaches and a wombat who had made our chimney its home. I noticed the latter while vacuuming one day, and as I pulled out the couch that was in front of the chimney, there it was. Who were most surprised, me or the wombat, remains unclear. It was nice to finally know what had caused all those scratching noises though. One morning as I was about to brush my teeth, I noticed that one of the cockroaches had laid its eggs in my toothbrush. I apologize belatedly to my colleagues at the Embassy if my breath caused you any discomfort on the day in question. I doubt it comes as a surprise to you that the house was torn down shortly after I moved out.

In New York it was slightly better. Still a broke student I spent the first few months on a fold-able IKEA bed in a hallway/kitchen. Once I got hired I moved to a new apartment, and got to reconnect with cockroaches. In addition I could also add a mouse to my collection of household squatters. More annoying than not being able to cook due to all the vermin was however the apartment’s complete lack of insulation. Once visiting my brother actually thought the Russian neighbors from downstairs was standing next to his bedside. Not to mention that New York gets considerably colder than Canberra, and for those of you comfortably hidden away in your cozy homes in any of the Nordic countries, thus having no clue to what I mean as the houses are properly built, that means that the outside temperature is the same as the one indoors. So then frequent fiery arguments between a teenager and her mom – in Russian – helps to heat things up. Suffice to say I didn’t stay there for too long either.

Once the UN saw it fit to award me with a contract longer than a month – often signed two weeks after the fact – and instead blessed me with a one-year contract, I found a great shared apartment in trendy Williamsburg. I spent two fantastic years there. Two vermin free years at that. I only mention this so that you won’t think too badly of me.

Located on the equator Kenyans don’t have to bother with insulation for the sake of temperatures. Insulation to keep out Russian arguments might still be an issue however. But all things considered it feels nice to have my own place again. It has a few bonus amenities, which I’m sure to enjoy. But ironically my personal favourite so far is the TV. I say ironically because I haven’t had a TV since I left Sweden in 2009, so it’s hardly a must for me. But I have the sport package, and since Kenya is south of Europe, meaning virtually no time difference, I can once again watch football!

Today I caught Catania vs Juventus, Everton vs Liverpool, Chelsea vs United, the end of Leverkusen vs Bayern München and is currently watching Mallorca vs Real Madrid. That’s right, the Kenyan sport package gives you access to every league!

R.V.P

Robin van Persie doing what he does best…

Lying on the couch in my new apartment, watching Arsenal’s R.V.P score for Man U, I couldn’t help to think about my previous homes spread across four different continents. And not having discovered any furry house guests, I appear to have this place to myself. So once my pulse settled, after watching Chicharito score the winner, I thought to myself; I’ll be at home here.


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Upon Popular Demand

Hello. Hello. Hello.

Last time I had the god-awful taste to use the three letter sequence cliché that I have picked for the subject on this new blog, I got ridiculed. It was a few years ago and I was on a planking streak. You know that fantastic Aussie-born exercise which consists of someone lying motionless on top of things. Monty Pythonesque meaninglessness. Or due to its Aussie origin perhaps, Chaseresque meaninglessness, is rather more fitting. Anyway, I had been asked by two different people to plank on a plane. Naturally I did so. Wouldn’t you? Once it hit Facebook my “friends” – you know who you are – doubted the truthfulness of my caption; Upon Popular Demand. Well, this time I have the audacity to claim it again. The idea to start this blog was born out of requests made after I posted a photo of the Kibera slum in Nairobi on Facebook. One might say the circle’s closed.

Before I get to my experience in the Kibera slum from yesterday, let me give those of you unfamiliar with my recent life-change a quick update. Last Monday I started my new job at GeSCI in Nairobi, Kenya. Technically I’m hired by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), and they seconded me to GeSCI. In short I’m here to promote the use of ICT4D in education in East Africa. As such I have been assigned to gather information on how ICT is being used to promote Digital Media Arts (photography, film making, animation, graphic design etc.) in Kenya, and at a later stage the same in Zambia. Interviewing different key actors I’ve been touring the city with a colleague and that is how I ended up in a slum yesterday.

Kibera Slum, Nairobi, Kenya

I’ve never been in a slum before. Rough places in rough cities, once or twice, but nothing like this. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the situation of those people living and working in such an environment, and I won’t pretend that I had some great epiphany, but it was humbling and I think “depressing” sums it up somewhat accurately. Which is why the meeting therefore was so much more rewarding.

In the middle of one of Africa’s largest slums, and after asking for directions quite a few times, we found a sign and drove down a make-shift road to Kibera Film School. The following hours were some of the most rewarding of my life. We met with a manager as well as a group of students. Their passion and dedication was unmistakable. So too was their professionalism. Creative minds with the drive to follow, portray and share their ideas, despite the odds stacked against them.

Note the BMW. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

It started with a few individuals who a few years ago wanted to share their story. As a testament to their skills, and pure will, they found collaborators, volunteers and sponsors from far and wide. The result; proper camera equipment and a functioning film studio (with Macs and Final Cut Pro – which incidentally is more than I had when editing for the UN). The story could have ended there, but they decided that they wanted to give back to the community that had spawned them, their ideas and their success. So they started the aforementioned underground photography and film school.

The students, attending for free after being selected based on their passion, did no effort to hide their excitement, as they explained how this opportunity would change their lives. What caught my attention however was that this was not simply hollow words, I’ve heard and seen that before, they knew this to be true. Through hands-on work, mentorship and tough realistic lessons from the school they had realized that in order to achieve that life, to pursue that illusive dream, there needs to be continuous hard work. There was no doubt they would be ready for it once they finished this education. One student said he didn’t even know how to use a keyboard before he came there, two months later he had gone through all production stages (idea, script, casting, directing, shooting, editing etc.). Following a discussion on marketing, and the use of social media for that purpose, a fellow student summed it up perfectly for someone like me:

“Sitting on the bus I assumed Twitter was for the rich with iPhones.”

Kibera has its reputation. Think Bronx. Think Rosengård. Think Hackney. With these students’ reputation preceding them, they have to be better than everyone else to succeed. Yet their origin was their ultimate pride. They wore it like a badge. As much as I share their ambition and dedication, that is what I connected with the most. However unlikely. Like them, I will never excuse myself based on my background, despite the obvious difference. I come from a great equitable society with great opportunities. Not least for social mobility. Sometimes I downplay that. But I’m a product of it, and I’m proud of it. Immensely. To reach that realization in this most unexpected setting, with this most improbable of groups, who’d have thought?

Of course I didn’t say that. If I would’ve, I doubt they’d understood where I was coming from.