TOGO: Podcasts

ECOWAS Bank Headquarters, Lomé – Source

It’s kind of frustrating to search for podcasts on/from Togo – you have to pick through podcasts about some Disney movie about a dog, or people writing “to go” with no space. However, I did find a few really good gems both in French and English.

It’s a Continent – Togo: Resisting Authoritarian Rule (En) – An wide-ranging interview with Togolese democracy activist Farida Nabourema, covering the ruling dynasty’s hold on the government, protests surrounding rigged elections, and her own family’s three generations of activism for human rights and democracy. She also touches on the use of social media for activism in Togo, African countries being held back by France’s conditions around the CFA franc, and immigration measures in western countries that both uphold the racial status quo and create brain drain in countries like Togo. I really strongly recommend this episode.

Les Voix du Togo (Fr) – Podcast interviewing interesting Togolese people. I listened to the interview with Bernard Adzorgenu – a journalist and graduate student, and a writer for L-Frii, open-source journalism in Togo. He talks about the challenge of accessing higher education in Togo, why he is studying English, the importance of equal access to education for women, his own love for kids and religion.

RFI Danse des Mots: Les femmes dans la presse togolaise (Fr) – Interview with Togolese journalist Simone Dakiche about the increasing role of women in Togo’s press, as well as challenges and sexism facing women in journalism not just in Togo, but around the world.

BBC Sporting Witness: Togo bus attack (En) – A retrospective on the 2010 attack on the Togolese national football team travelling to the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola.

My African Clichés – Togo: le premier parricide de l’Afrique post-indépendance! (Fr) – A brief history of Togo’s independence, as well as the assassination of Togo’s first post-independence president Sylvanus Olympio.

CHILE: Chilean Rodeo

The tradition of rodeo and cowboys extends all through the Americas – from Canada to Chile. I grew up in Calgary, which is home to the biggest rodeo in Canada (my favourite sport is the bull riding), and so Chilean rodeo is definitely in my wheelhouse!

Chilean rodeo is unique – instead of riding or lassoing cattle, Chilean rodeo involves teams of two cowboys on horseback guiding a cow and bringing it to a stop against a cushioned wall. It reminds be a bit of cutting, but a lot more physical. A brief explanation:

And a clip from a competition a few years back:

ALGERIA: Algerian Ice Hockey

Did you know there’s ice hockey in Algeria? For the past decade or so, Karim Kerbouche has been building up an Algerian men’s hockey team, and in 2019 Algeria was introduced into the IIHF as a national team. The BBC has an interview with Kerbouche (though the presenter falls into the trap a bit about stereotyping Algeria as all desert, when parts of the country get plenty of snow – there are even ski hills).

You can also watch Algeria’s first ever goal in international hockey in 2008 – a nice little backhand under the goalie by Hakim Boukhaloua in a game against Kuwait.

ALGERIA: Algiers Derby

As someone from one of the rare non-soccer countries, I’m constantly learning about the sheer scope and intensity that the game has worldwide. Algeria is a particularly football-crazy nation, especially with the biggest match: the Algiers Derby. This game is played between two local teams, MC Alger and USM Alger – both of which date to before WWII and were founded as Muslim Algerian teams to counter the French colonial control of the game. The two teams have deep political and national meaning to Algerians, and continue to play a very active role in Algerian political movements today.

Let’s start with a primer on the Derby itself – both the size of the crowd and the general lack of animosity between the fans are totally astounding to me (especially compared to British hooligans).

Compare that game from 2017 with the Derby in 2019, in which the overwhelming majority of the normally diehard fans boycotted the game in favour of pro-democracy protests – part of the Hirak Movement, which is still ongoing as of today.

A full-crowd version of La Casa del Mouradia, with an English translation and interpretation of the lyrics available here.

Oh, and I guess there’s also a soccer game!

NAURU: Nauruan String Figures

String figures are an exceedingly old tradition all over the world – basically once people developed string they started playing with it. There are complicated string figure repertoires from Japan, the Arctic, Europe, and all over the Pacific – particularly in Nauru.

I want to thank the University of Victoria for once again giving me access to their books on Nauru – they shipped out to me The String Figures of Nauru Island by Honor Maude. Maude was one of the leading recorders of traditional string figures across the Pacific, and her name comes up frequently on other sources about string figures – unsurprisingly, there is a whole scene today about the culture, math, and technique of this pastime.

Nauru, in fact, traditionally had one of the most complex string figure scenes – immensely complex figures made with groups of people and long strings, often with new ones created in competitions, and accompanied by chants and stories. Many have moves and sequences that are only found on Nauru. Maude collected many of these in the 30s, including detailed instructions and accompanying chants in Nauruan, with translations. These records, published in this book, are a valuable backstop to bolster the art – especially as sadly, many of older generations who had a deep knowledge of Nauruan string figures passed away during WWII. The string figures remain a very important symbol for Nauruans – they’re printed on Nauru’s Olympic uniforms, and available incorporated into streetwear.

Nauruan moves

I decided to give some of these a go – I used to make string figures a lot when I was a kid, and I still have the muscle memory to do a quick Jacob’s Ladder, but WOW, even with detailed instructions both in the book and backup videos and instructions from string figure websites, these are HARD. Oh, me with the confidence of a novice! I was only able to make some of the easiest and basic figures. These are incredibly complex and refined figures, and definitely will take more practice than trying to google with my nose so I don’t lose my loops!

It took several tries, and it wasn’t as pretty as the picture, but I successfully made this one!

There are also tutorials online for some Nauruan figures, such as the “Administration Staffs” figure – invented in 1938 by Simon Quanijo and Ijauwe and recorded in Maude’s book. This video tutorial should give you a sense of just how tricky even a comparatively easy Nauruan figure can be, if you want to take a kick at it yourself!

NAURU: Powerlifting with Jezza Uepa

Powerlifting is a very popular sport on Nauru, and they definitely lift above their weight! There have been a lot of Nauruans who have done well in powerlifting at the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, and other international competitions. One Nauruan who is particularly notable is superheavy lifter Jezza Uepa. In 2019 he won the World Championships for Weightlifting, arguably granting him the title of the World’s Strongest Man.

Here’s a great recent interview, including showing his training facilities and benching the interviewer like he was nothing. He also has a day job as a warden at Nauru’s only prison.

The comments on the video from people much more knowledgeable about powerlifting point out that the training equipment is extremely expensive professional brands – so take a grain of salt on the interviewer’s narrative about training facilities.

Here’s some clips of his 2019 World Championship win. These are weights that just completely astound me, I can’t imagine how incredibly strong athletes like Uepa are.

You can follow Jezza Uepa on Instagram, and the Nauru Powerlifting Federation has an active and interesting Facebook page.

FINLAND: Pesäpallo

Pesäpallo is a Finnish variant of baseball, and it’s incredibly unique – the bases are on an asymmetrical zigzag and the ball is pitched straight in the air. In terms of play, it’s only vaguely like baseball and very strategic – hitting the ball out of the park is foul, not a home run, so you need to be able to target exactly where you want to ball to go – and also decide if you want to run at all. I watched the below video on the rules, then re-read through the Wikipedia article, and while I wouldn’t count myself as being able to completely follow, I think I have a rough idea how it works.

There’s a few full games posted online, though they’re all in Finnish – however, once you stop thinking of it as “different baseball” and think of it as its own sport, it gets a bit easier to follow. Here’s a little compilation for flavour:

That all being said, how popular is pesäpallo in Finland? It’s alleged to be the national sport, since it’s a truly Finnish creation – it was created in the 20s in the wake of Finnish independence with an eye to keep young men fit and active and thinking strategically for military duty. There’s a really interesting article on the creation and history of the spot at Virtually Nordic – it also touches on the small but dedicated following pesäpallo has in India, of all places.

However, currently pesäpallo seems to have the same kind of status in Finland that lacrosse has here in Canada – it’s the “national sport”, but as explained below, nobody swims in a fountain when you win the championships.

FINLAND: Finnish hockey

Enjoy this really funny series of ads for the Lahti Pelicans, a hockey team in SM-Liiga, the Finnish pro league.

I’m now down a hockey Youtube hole – here’s a compilation of some great recent goals from the Finnish pro league.

Of course, you can’t have hockey without fights.

I’m well aware of Finland’s reputation as a top-tier hockey country – the NHL is full of great Finnish players, they do well internationally, and when they win, they celebrate. Check out this great video of celebrations after Finland won the IIHF World Championships in 2019.

Honestly, it looks like a fun time! I’m not going to judge – those in glass hockey arenas shouldn’t throw stones. We can be much worse tempered in Canada – last time people got together en mass for a game here, people were burning cars in downtown Vancouver.