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The French Connection

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

I intend to retire to the south of France some day and in preparation I have been visiting France on and off for the past few years. During this time I have been learning French, or I should say attempting to learn French;

I even have a teacher who tutors me once a week but my level of proficiency is not much more than it was when I first started.  It’s actually incomprehensible how little I have progressed – my lack of progress is unbelievable really and don’t think I am being modest.  I do have a helpful narrative which is that as one gets older learning becomes more difficult (yet I can’t find any hard evidence to support this!), and my theory is strengthened by friends who assure me that when you live in a country you will soon pick the language up which does help ease my feelings of underachievement and stupidity; but only temporarily.  

It’s really peculiar that I am not further ahead in my quest to become bilingual because all of the conditions required for learning appear to be in place. Off the top of my head to learn anything there has to be prerequisites. The desire to learn must be foremost followed by ability, tools and/or opportunity to learn and then a belief that there will be some reward or benefit for having learnt. That’s pretty much a generic leaning model for anyone and as applicable for learning to speak a new language as anything else and if I break all of that down, I tick all of the boxes.

I would say I definitely have the desire. Made up of a number compelling reasons, not least of which is that I don’t want to feel like a fool when I in France. I am tired of not being able to talk to people and be understood. I hate not being able to engage in even simple conversation, despite the fact that after a few years of trying to learn I still know next to nothing. When I am in France I stay in a French home with people who don’t speak English (my partner is French) and when you aren’t able to verbally express yourself you feel as if you might as well be invisible.

You are reduced to trite greetings like ça va (how are you)?’ which you have leant off-pat, and even more mechanical-type responses like très bien (very well) regardless of how you are feeling, shut out of that secret French ‘discussing your present ailments in gory detail’ club.  Desperate-for-acceptance-inspired-smiles abound because you haven’t a clue what is going on yet crave inclusion.  Now I know how the village idiot must feel and just writing about it makes me miserable. So yes, the desire to learn box is definitely marked.

If we accept that ability is defined as capability, potential, faculty, aptness, propensity, wherewithal, means, preparedness etc. then surely I fit the bill? I am well educated, have one and a half languages under my belt (I understand a fair amount of Afrikaans from my South African high school education and working there) and I once assembled a model aeroplane, which I think eminently qualifies me as a capable student.

Today there is an easy availability of resources – the Internet in general and with that come facilities such as Amazon and Wikipedia, online libraries, electronic texts, great programmes and websites like The Rosetta Stone for languages, though Google translate which is a blessing and a curse, a potential minefield of mistranslation and malapropisms!

Further, there is no end to the amount of money I am prepared to throw at this challenge. I have at least 3 Kindle books (French for Beginners, Practical French for Beginners, French for Dummies), enrolled with Babble  – the new modern way to learn French – have a private tutor whom I meet once a week and completed an introduction course at Alliance Francaise. If you throw in the numerous trips to France, I think it is safe to say that I have had more tools at my fingertips and opportunities at my door than most students, yet my French teacher has been known to lament “you may never be fluent!” I even recall one of her despairing comments which she made during a revision session “is there anything on the page that you understand?”.

The Donna Summer classic song ‘She works hard for the money’ springs to mind’.I think it is obvious what I will I get out it if I learn French and that is of course being able to fit in, to belong.  All the negative feelings of inadequacy will disappear and many doors will open and not just one that allows me to order a croque monsieur (literally a crunch mister – like me, it loses je ne sais quoi in translation!) with extra à la carte ingredients in a restaurant.  La monde sera mon huître – the world will be my oyster!

So I have been forced to examine what is not working and why and this is what I found: Learning is mostly about attitude – the mindset and belief that you are a learner plus preparation. It’s not enough to have all of the conditions available – the classroom, the teacher and the text books – if you don’t believe that you can do it, if you allow yourself to find excuses for lack of performance it is never going to happen.  I keep telling my tutor I am capable and I just need to find more time to do my homework – after my weekly lesson, I will do nothing until a few hours before my next lesson and then it’s a quick panic and flurry of activity as I cram what I learned before (note to self – completing assignments in good time wouldn’t hurt).

When I am actually in France, on the spot both literally and figuratively,  I lose confidence and am not prepared to be the fool and show my vulnerability…and so it goes on.  But I have run out of excuses and what the French people who I meet time and time again must think about my lack of progress, God alone knows. The real problem here is that I don’t believe that I can speak French. I don’t really believe I ever will.

So I am going through the motions. I certainly never visualize myself truly engaging with others whilst speaking French. I am in awe of those who are truly bilingual as if they are demi-gods and blessed with a gift that has not been bestowed upon me. And until I change all of this, no books, or tricks or wave of a magic wand will make any difference.  Let’s face it – it’s all Greek to me!

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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”


Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”


Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.


Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)


Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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