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On Location in Kenya
The first scenes to be filmed in Nairobi were at the suburban Lord Errol Restaurant, used as the venue for the British High Commission cocktail party that crystallizes Tessa Quayle’s and Dr. Arnold Bluhm’s drive to expose the hypocrisy and greed of those in power. The Lord Errol is named for the notorious womanizing aristocrat, whose story was the subject of another film shot in Kenya, 1988’s White Mischief.
The unit next filmed at the private Royal Nairobi Club and, at the other end of the spectrum, a city dump near River Road in Nairobi’s “combat zone.” The dump is home to a community of down-and-outs, most of them solvent abusers. Glue-sniffing is a big problem among street-dwellers in Nairobi, both adults and small children alike; extending beyond even the sadly recognizable addictive elements, glue fumes are said to stave off hunger.
For the scenes of Tessa Quayle’s hospitalization and discovery of the deadly effects of Dypraxa, the production shot at Pumwani, a working maternity hospital catering to Nairobi’s poorest residents – and the center of a scandal at the time of filming. The local press was full of reports concerning high incidents of mistaken infant identity at the hospital; other reports pointed to the hospital’s higher-than-average mortality rate. While acknowledging that they are fighting a losing battle, Pumwani’s Matron Bridget Mbatha, who appears as a hospital administrator in the film, defended the institution against these charges. She argues that undernourished, unhealthy mothers and their underweight newborns are inevitably less likely to survive, particularly when they are rushed to an understaffed, ill-equipped hospital as an emergency measure when a birth assisted by untrained, backstreet clinic operators has gone awry. Following one day’s filming at Pumwani, Danny Huston sorrowfully remarked that it was “a truly heartbreaking place.”
Additional locations in and around Nairobi included the Nairobi City Mortuary (where the scene of Tessa’s body being identified was filmed), Langata Cemetery, the Kenyatta Hospital records office, Boskie’s aircraft hangar at Wilson Airport, and a golf course at the Karen racecourse. Sandy Woodrow’s house in the film is in reality the suburban Nairobi home of the European Commissioner.
Another private house in a Nairobi suburb was used as Justin and Tessa’s home. It belongs to the mother of The Constant Gardener’s wardrobe supervisor, Elizabeth Glaysher, who grew up there. Her mother Sonia, had once before worked on a film shot in Kenya; she was Ava Gardner’s body double in John Ford’s Mogambo (1953). Sonia’s gardener, Celia Hardy, was the “gardening coach” for Ralph Fiennes. With
the exception of some flowering plants added for color and texture by the production design crew, Justin’s on-screen garden is the result of Celia’s year-round handiwork.
The weekday vegetable market in the village of Kiambu was used as the location for the Three Bees Mobile Clinic, where Justin finds Kioko, brother of Dypraxa casualty Wanza Kilulu. Kioko is played by 16-year-old student Donald Opiyo, who was picked up from his boarding school and driven to the set on each shooting day. Although the mothers and babies lining up to receive “free testing and treatment” at the Three Bees Clinic were hired extras, the hundreds of customers and vendors in the scene are the real people of Kiambu, going about their daily business.
At the end of the shooting day in the Kiambu market, Fernando Meirelles noticed that a crowd of school children had gathered behind a barricade blocking off the set. He approached them and called out, “Okay, who wants to be in a movie?”
All hands went up, but only a dozen children were selected to run up the road, as César Charlone captured the scene from the bed of a pickup truck. Knowing that there was some disappointment among the other children, Meirelles returned to the horde of kids and shouted, “Okay, everybody!” The barricade was lifted, and a stampede of school kids engulfed the crew. The amount of dust raised precluded this latter shot from appearing in the finished film; it was one of the few spontaneous moments that couldn’t stay in. In addition to shooting whenever the spirit moved them and wherever they could, Charlone would occasionally hand a lightweight camera to Ralph Fiennes to shoot, for example, Justin’s POV of a plant in a nursery or of his household staff offering their condolences after Tessa’s murder. Simon Channing Williams dubbed the method “the ‘if it moves, shoot it!’ philosophy. You know, the focus-pullers had one of the hardest tasks on this film and, incredibly, nine times out of ten, they would get it perfectly.”
“With Fernando, nothing is rigidly choreographed,” notes actor Donald Sumpter, who plays the secretive Tim Donohue. “You get people buzzing around, and actually going in and out of focus. You get real impressions of things, which is fantastic.”
“Fernando and César have a very low level of bureaucracy around them,” adds Rachel Weisz. “Things happened very fast on set! César would just move the camera and hang a light bulb. It was as if we were a small documentary crew filming on location, and it allowed for things to be very organic and spontaneous; it felt like reportage, or guerrilla filmmaking.”
“It was a delightful way to work,” says Danny Huston, who speaks from past experience as a film director himself. “Film stock is so sensitive these days that you don’t have to use so many lights, and you don’t have to hit your mark every time. This wasn’t a Hollywood film where you needed your backlight, a key light, and a little click in your eyes to make sure you looked absolutely glamorous. The story our film tells needed reality.”
The Kiambu Police Chief’s office was used for the police station sequence where Justin is taken in for questioning. Detective Inspector Deasey, who arrives at the scene, is portrayed by Ben Parker, a real-life press officer at the U.N. in Nairobi.
Kiambu also hosted the scene of the improvised toll that Justin pays to some enterprising street kids. The toll-takers were played by reformed street kids who now reside in a rehabilitation center outside Nairobi. The kids’ lunchtime talk centered on the equitable distribution of the fee they’d received from the production for their day’s work; at last report, they seemed to have settled on new shoes and socks for all of the boys at the center, and possibly a soccer ball and a television set. The boys’ chaperone happened to be Jo Cottrell Boyce, the teenaged son of well-known British screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce, who had taken a year off from his studies to do volunteer work in Kenya.
“How are you?” in Kibera
The film’s opening scene was filmed in Nairobi at the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa. Kibera is a sprawling shantytown of approximately 600 acres with an estimated population of 800,000 people (some say 1.2 million), most of whom live in makeshift huts constructed of scrap lumber, mud, and corrugated iron – and lacking sanitation, running water, and electricity. The word kibera means “forest” in the language of the Nubian mercenaries who originally settled the area after being demobilized from the armies of British East Africa. Gradually, more and more itinerant laborers made Kibera their home, many of them with the intention of saving enough money from working in the capital to move back to their native villages.
Today, there are very few trees in Kibera, and every Kenyan tribe is represented among its residents. The “streets” are a labyrinth of raised pathways and shallow trenches winding among streams of raw sewage. The main drag is a working railway line that bisects the shantytown. Residents set up shop along the tracks, laying out anything of conceivable value to anyone.
Fernando Meirelles says, “It’s hard to believe, but I think that Kibera is actually worse than the favelas of Rio where we filmed City of God and the TV series, City of Men. César Charlone and I had spent a lot of time in the favelas, and Kibera was still a shock for us. I can’t even imagine what the British crew members thought. The poverty was…sobering.” As it turned out, many of the Kenyan crew members had never even been to Kibera, and were equally taken aback.
Poverty in Kenya averages 56%, which means that 15 million people live on @$.80 a day; Kibera residents live on even less than that. Hundreds of people walk along the road to the slum at the beginning and end of every workday they are going to and from work so as not to pay @$.30 for bus fare.
As schoolmaster David Mogambi Nyakambi pointed out, “People want to live in Kibera because it is close to where the work is, and it is relatively safe; people rarely steal here because there is nothing to steal.” Mogambi, whose schoolyard served as the unit base for the Kibera shoot and whose belief in the bright future of Kibera’s children inspired all who met him, was killed in automobile accident in June 2005.
Although some people do manage to save enough money to move back to their native villages farther up country, many more are born and die in Kibera. In addition to the absence of even the most basic amenities, the residents are severely afflicted
by the AIDS epidemic; it is estimated that one in six Kenyans is HIV-positive, and the percentage is surely higher in Kibera. As in all of sub-Saharan Africa, the number of orphans in Kibera rises daily; the social services needed to look after them are all but nonexistent.
Without fail, flocks of tiny children gleefully greet every foreigner who visits Kibera, shaking hands and addressing them (particularly, a mzungu [white outsider]) with, “How are you? How are you? How are you?”
Jeffrey Caine reports, “[That phrase is] their only English. What impressed me was how friendly and happy the kids were. They follow you everywhere, not begging for hand-outs but putting out their hands to be held.”
The city-within-a-city welcomed the production for over a week. Confirming what schoolmaster Nyakambi said, reports suggesting that Kibera would be hostile and dangerous were not found to be the case by the cast and crew of The Constant Gardener. Their experience was unforgettable – and, for many, exhilarating.
A unit base was set up in the schoolyard of the Raila Odinga Educational Centre, which is named after the Member of Parliament for the Langata area that includes Kibera; he is also the Minister for Roads and Transport.
Bernard Otieno Oduor, a radio presenter and singer who was cast as Jomo in The Constant Gardener following an open audition, reports, “The former regime was pretty uncomfortable with the novel because it implicates the government in one way or another. The film tells the truth about what happens in developing countries, what no one wants to talk about because of the big profits. It’s amazing that the current government supported the film; Raila Odinga was on the set, having lunch with the producers and chatting, knowing exactly what the film is about.”
Some 2,000 Kibera residents worked as extras, and others worked as guides and porters for the film crew, negotiating difficult terrain and also stepping in as security guards and interpreters.
Even so, muses Fernando Meirelles, “All was calm. One day, I just went out with César Charlone, a camera assistant, Simon Channing Williams, and Rachel Weisz and Hubert Koundé – and we shot Rachel, as Tessa, interacting with locals.”
Several cast members who were not on-screen in the opening sequence nonetheless made a point of visiting the Kibera set to watch Nick Reding’s SAFE Theatre troupe stage a play about AIDS, as movie cameras recorded the performance. Actor/director Reding, who appears in the film as Crick, originally came to Kenya from Hollywood to help build a clinic in Mombassa. While there, he recognized the need to impart information about HIV/AIDS by engaging entire communities, and hit upon the idea of street theatre as a means of getting the message across in a uniquely effective way. His SAFE (Sponsored Arts for Education) group has since performed along truck routes from Mombassa to Nairobi.
Meirelles saw a short film made by the SAFE group, and asked Reding to turn it into a play for inclusion in the movie. The play scenes were filmed live before hundreds
of Kibera residents, with Rachel Weisz and Hubert Koundé, in-character as Tessa Quayle and Dr. Arnold Bluhm, also in the audience.
Reding comments, “A lot of people are very reluctant even to say the word ‘AIDS.’ If you can do a big enough show and really entertain them, if you can even make them laugh, then you can get them to talk about it. Wherever we’ve done the show, it starts a huge debate, with people discussing the use of condoms and so on. AIDS in Africa is a disaster on an unimaginable scale; drugs are becoming more available now, and the people need to understand how and why to take them.”
This educational approach to the crisis is crucial. Rumors spread quickly in a tight-knit community such as Kibera, and the stigma of AIDS can lead people to neither avail themselves of treatment nor make the efforts to prevent the virus from spreading. An indigenous organization, AMREF (African Medical Research Foundation), now has the capacity to distribute anti-retroviral drugs free of charge to all HIV-positive Kibera residents through a neighborhood clinic. A spokeswoman admits that the greatest challenges are encouraging people to get tested for AIDS in the first place and, if they prove to have the virus, to sign up for treatment. Like the film’s character of Jomo, however, a large proportion of Kibera residents are unwilling to be tested – and unprepared to accept an HIV-positive diagnosis.
The production was determined from the outset to give something back to Kibera. In addition to providing jobs for as many locals as could be accommodated each day on the set, the construction crew created a play area and soccer playing area, reinforced the roof of a dilapidated church, and built a bridge across a wide sewer to enable emergency vehicles to access residents living at the bottom of a ravine.
“We built the bridge, and later put a 10,000-liter fresh water tank next door to it. Our tank will provide water for free to everybody,” informs Simon Channing Williams. “We also built a ramp up to the railway line, in a similar position to one we used for the camera as a substitute for a crane shot, which will particularly help the elderly and the handicapped.” Previously, the incline to the railway track was so steep that only agile children could scale it with ease.
“We talked to the community leaders first,” says locations manager John Chavanga. “They then talked to the people and explained our purpose for being there, and how it could benefit the community. We employed about 2,000 people in various areas and built some lasting structures. It was quite an experience for the locals. This was the biggest film ever to shoot in Kibera, and I think they learned a lot from the process. There is a lot of talent there – Bernard Otieno Oduor, who plays Jomo, was brought up in Kibera. They have drama schools and theatre groups. Who knows? Maybe one of the local kids will grow up to become a big actor like Ralph Fiennes.”
“Kibera was so much bigger than anything I could possibly imagine,” says Rachel Weisz. “The kids are just incredible. They have none of the ‘stranger danger’ Western kids are encouraged to feel. The spirit of the place is somehow so much stronger than the poverty. After three days, I started to catch that and relax into it, because of my character; I think that was where Tessa felt truly comfortable.”
“Kibera makes you understand Tessa,” agrees Caine. “You go home feeling you want to help [the kids], improve the material quality of their lives, and this the production company has done.”
Lakes and Loiyangalani
After more than a month, the unit left the Norfolk Hotel and the cool, diesel-choked mountain air of downtown Nairobi. The production headed south, by road, to the village of Ol Tapese, near Lake Magadi in the Rift Valley. A few colourfully painted wooden shacks appear to constitute the whole of Ol Tapese, yet the seemingly barren landscape is in fact teeming with magnificent life. Red-clad Masai herdsmen seemingly materialize from the vast expanse. Emily Mbonga says, “In Kenya, we always joke that you can be driving along a road and there’s nobody; then you have an accident and a million people show up. It may look remote, but there are always people out there.” Extras casting coordinator Lenny Juma had previously visited the area around Ol Tapese to hire a crowd of Masai to appear in a scene; more came throughout the day, to sell handicrafts to the crew, get a drink of water, or just to observe the filming.
The unit moved nearby to an archaeological site on the spectacular cliffs of the Rift Valley to shoot a car chase in which Justin, in a borrowed Fiat, is pursued by the initially unseen driver of a Land Rover. Simon Channing Williams reveals, “Literally two miles down the road from where we were shooting, I’d gone to check the location we were planning to use for our helicopter shots – only to find that the Smithsonian Institute had taken our spot; they had found remains of our forebears that were 900,000 years old, the oldest human remains found on earth.”
Having spent the night in a tented camp, the unit arrived at remote Lake Magadi (standing in for the more northern Lake Turkana in a climactic scene), which resembles the surface of the moon.
The comparison is still a valid one, as the 104-kilometer alkaline lake is encompassed by vast salt flats that crunch underfoot like frozen snow. Flamingos and insects seem to be the only form of life on or near the lake, which exhibits an otherworldly roseate coloring. But, a Masai can and will appear out of nowhere through the blinding heat, either on foot or on a bicycle, while savaged flamingo carcasses at the edge of the lake indicate the presence of predators in the vicinity.
During a break from shooting at Lake Magadi, Rachel Weisz agreed to appear in a television spot for the U.N.’s World Food Program, which camera operator Diego Quemada-Diez in turn volunteered to film for the charity. “The WFP, particularly Regional Information Officer Laura Melo, was an invaluable source of information and help for the production,” states Channing Williams. The WFP spot will show the actress walking across the endless, empty expanse at the edge of Lake Magadi, trailed by a group of local school kids, the children of workers at the Magadi Soda Company (which owns this area of the Rift Valley). Magadi Soda provides for its workers’ housing, schools, and healthcare. The contrast with Kibera was not lost on cast and crew.
The cast and crew returned briefly to Nairobi before travelling north to the village of Loiyangalani, on the southeastern shore of the real Lake Turkana (the world’s largest desert lake), where they would shoot the Southern Sudan-set scenes of Camp Seven.
Loiyangalani is a two-and-one-half day drive, or a two-hour plane trip, from the capital. Some of the crew members arrived in the Buffalo aircraft that would be used in the sequence itself, although others were fortunate enough to travel in twelve-seater aircraft that afforded spectacular views of the volcanoes around Lake Turkana. Although breathtakingly beautiful and supporting fish and birdlife, the lake itself is so extremely alkaline that its water is virtually undrinkable. The world’s largest population of crocodiles inhabit the lake.
“Loiyangalani is basically a remote piece of real estate consisting of lava floes,” says Blue Sky Films’ Mario Zvan. “There’s not much else, really; a few doum palm trees around bits of lake where there is fresh water. It’s very dry, very hot, and very inhospitable, about as far as one can get from civilization as we know it. The book actually sets a scene in Loiyangalani, but we went there instead to film a part set in Southern Sudan. We couldn’t shoot those scenes in the Sudan both because of the political situation and the lack of infrastructure.”
Even so, remembers Channing Williams, “When I first went to Loiyangalani, I had no idea what we were actually looking at. You can’t begin to imagine somewhere like it, nor can you overestimate the difficulty of filming in such a place.”
“Logistically, it was very tough,” agrees locations coordinator Robin Hollister. “It’s at the end of a non-existent road, so all of your supplies have to be flown in from 600 kilometers away.”
The shores of Loiyangalani are home to a hardy few, among them several different tribes. These include the Turkana, the Samburu (cousins of the Masai), the Rendille, and the El Molo (the smallest African tribe).
“When we realized that we would be right in the middle of their village, we felt that the community would have to benefit from our being there,” explains Hollister. “We requested that they set up a committee to represent all the vested interests of the community, of all the different tribes, so that we could deal with one entity rather than several thousand people. Here was a once-in-a-decade opportunity for them to get a little bit of commerce into their economy.”
The “once-in-a-decade opportunity” that Hollister cites is an understatement; it was more than a decade earlier that he had been in Loiyangalani for location shooting of Bob Rafelson’s Mountains of the Moon (which was released in 1990). He notes how the local tribespeople still refer to births as having taken place during the period when that film was shooting, and speculates that children born in 2005 will be told that they were conceived during “the time of the second movie.”
“I believe that all of the groundwork we did with the film committee in Loiyangalani was absolutely vital,” says Channing Williams. “It was all about building trust. We could have got permission from the local council to shoot there and just gone in and done it, but I believe that would have been dreadful and ultimately damaging. With
Robin’s help, I made sure that we established a relationship with Senior Chief Christopher, the local police inspector, and the entire community.”
Some crew members were primarily housed in tents resembling a military encampment, on the edge of the existing airstrip, even as a neighboring airstrip was lengthened by the production to allow for the landing of a massive Buffalo aircraft. Two lodges (one of them The Oasis, which is featured in John le Carré’s novel) were also taken over by the unit to house cast and crew, with much-appreciated swimming pools; temperatures ran high at the location, and there was no shelter from the sun, nor much from the dust and the wind off the lake.
As in Kibera, a welcoming community and the constant companionship of dozens of friendly, fearless children made for an unforgettable work experience for those who were there. Between takes, Ralph Fiennes and two of the other actors were frequently obliged to ask for their setside chairs to be vacated by local children, only to have the kids settle into their laps and perch on the arms of their chairs.
At dawn, local extras and laborers gathered on the set to sing and dance in celebration of the day’s work. The community was encouraged to take advantage of the unit’s drinking water supply, and the resulting lines saw flamboyantly dressed Samburu warriors lined up waiting patiently with camera technicians, while Turkana girls sporting Mohawks and/or henna applications stood with unit drivers, and naked toddlers wove in and out. Locals were also advised that they could visit the doctor and nurses in the unit’s first aid tent. Word of the medical attention traveled quickly, as an elderly Turkana walked from his home 40 kilometers away to consult the doctor about his joint pains; the diagnosis was the all-too-familiar combination of old age, malnutrition, and dehydration.
For the Sudanese border raid sequences, a few days passed before the winds abated and the South African special effects crew was able to safely set fire to the specially-built prop huts without risk to the real surrounding palm-frond huts that are home to many Turkana families. A professional livestock theft-prevention unit was brought in to portray the raiding party. Veteran stunt coordinator Rory Jansen pronounced these riders and their horses to be among the best he had ever worked with; this was also high praise given the heat, the extremely dangerous terrain, and the hundreds of untrained men, women, and children employed as extras for the chaotic sequence. One of the riders, given a camera, was able to shoot footage – while on horseback, at breakneck speed. In the midst of the orchestrated mayhem, a Buffalo plane repeatedly flew over at dizzyingly low levels yet perfectly on cue; its pilots were accustomed to performing these feats of daring for real, having made perilous food drops across the border in Sudan.
The final day of the Loiyangalani shoot also marked Simon Channing Williams’ investiture as a tribal elder. That evening, the village square was transformed into an open-air cinema by Filmaid (a charity providing entertainment and diversion to refugees around the world). During a ceremony filled with dancing and speeches from local dignitaries, Channing Williams was presented with the feathered headdress and the pair of carved walking sticks that symbolize his new status. The producer had become so familiar with the territory since his first (advance) visit six
months earlier that he was already regularly making the eight-kilometer trip to take urgently need food and water supplies to the remote El Molo tribe.
Among the many other initiatives undertaken by the new tribal elder and co-producer Tracey Seaward were providing mattresses and linens for the children who board at the local school, and giving the production facilities fee to the entire community – in the form of a trust fund for local children to receive a secondary education. The duo also arranged for any and all disposable props, costumes, and construction materials to be distributed by the mission to Loiyangalani’s neediest.
The last days of July saw the final leg of the shoot, as Ralph Fiennes and a reduced unit filmed in Lokichoggio. That town has been, since 1989, the hub of the international relief effort in Southern Sudan. Scenes of Justin Quayle’s arrival in Lokichoggio were filmed, along with aerial views of the Kenya-Sudan border and a food drop from a Hercules aircraft.
“Africa will live within me because of a couple of very different memories,” says Fernando Meirelles. “There is the amazing landscape and the people who warmly received us. It’s such a beautiful place. But I can never, and will never, forget the problems the continent has, which were so much bigger than I was expecting. We talked about this on location; when a British man says that a country is poor, that’s one thing, but when a Brazilian man like myself says it, well, that’s something else. And what of their future? When I think that one in six Kenyans is HIV-positive and it’s not just HIV, it’s hepatitis, it’s tuberculosis, and all kinds of illness all over Africa…it’s frightening. It’s hard to have hope for the future, and yet we must.”
Recent developments show cause for both hope and concern:
The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first generic triple-therapy AIDS cocktail, opening the way for American taxpayer dollars to be used to buy cheaper medicines for use in poor countries. Assuming the drugs made by the approved company…are priced at a third to a half of brand-name ones, charities and poor nations getting Bush administration money will be able to treat two or three times as many patients. The goal of the United States is to underwrite the treatment of two million patients internationally by 2008, said Randall L. Tobias, who administered the $15 billion President Bush promised two years ago for the fight against AIDS. The United States donates up to a third of the budget of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which can be spent on any drug approved by the World Health Organization. Most of the rest of the money from Mr. Tobias’s office goes to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which serves 13 African countries, Haiti, Guyana, and Vietnam, and can be used only for F.D.A.-approved drugs…The F.D.A. approval, which came this week, is for marketing only outside the United States – in effect, only in poor countries, since the drugs are patented in Europe, Japan, and other rich markets…
-- Donald G. McNeil Jr., “A Path to Cheaper AIDS Drugs for Poor Nations,” The New York Times, January 26th, 2005
The number of AIDS patients receiving life-saving drug treatment in poor or middle-income nations rose 60 percent in the past six months, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, largely because of a huge influx of international aid funds and a growing determination by governments to confront the pandemic…Still, anti-retroviral treatment
reaches only one in eight needy people in the developing world, leaving an estimated 5.1 million people without such protection. Lat year, the disease took more than three million lives, three-fourths of them in sub-Saharan Africa…One in every six people who die of AIDS is under 15 – more than half a million deaths a year, the [World Health Organization] report said…The United States spent $2.4 billion fighting AIDS last year, mainly in Africa, and Congress has approved $2.9 billion for the current fiscal year.
-- Sharon LaFraniere, “Poor Lands Treating Far More AIDS Patients,” The New York Times, January 27th, 2005
Kenya’s Health Ministry admitted that it had failed to distribute $54 million meant to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, a day after a U.S. Ambassador said the delay amounted to “a death sentence.” Health Ministry spokesman Richard Abura blamed the delay on conditions set by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The conditions included contracting an agency to ensure the money was well spent and hiring 78 accountants to manage the funds. He said the government has struggled for more than nine months to meet the donor conditions and had approved the hiring of the accountants Wednesday…
-- Smita P. Nordwall, “Kenya fails to distribute aid funds,” USA Today, February 3rd, 2005
Billions more dollars will be needed to curb the spread of AIDS in Africa, but as countries increase their donations, the amounts will be less important than how well they are spent and in what context, a new report from the United Nations AIDS program said yesterday…An estimated 25.4 million people in Africa are infected now…The report is available online at www.unaids.org.
-- Lawrence K. Altman, “A U.N. Report Takes a Hard Look at Fighting AIDS in Africa,” The New York Times, March 5th, 2005
Kenya has never seemed to be able to live up to the potential of its rich farmland and staggeringly beautiful valleys…Some 56 percent of the population lives below the poverty level…But far from the noise, pollution and public and private crooks of Nairobi, the village of Sauri, practically smack on the equator, is an example of a better way to do things. It is one of two test cases for the United Nations’ ambitious program to cut poverty in half by 2015…The United Nations plan, spearheaded by the economist Jeffrey Sachs, seeks to expand the program to the entire district, and then all over Africa. But that will happen only if rich countries make good on their promise to ratchet up foreign aid to 0.7 percent of G.D.P. by 2015. Britain, France and Germany have all put out timetables for meeting the goal. The United States, the world’ s richest country, has yet to do so.
-- editorial, The New York Times, May 5th, 2005
The production’s initiative to return something to the communities that welcomed the film shoot continues unabated. Simon Channing Williams has set up a charitable trust, saying, “This is not about supporting a charity that has a large overhead and new 4x4 vehicles. Rather, our intention is to directly support the areas that have helped us so much, as well as a few specific others. We are right now concentrating on Kibera, Loiyangalani, and the El Molo; also, on orphans of AIDS and the street children of Nairobi. Additionally, we are researching programs that care for children on a non-denominational basis; water programs for the areas in which we have filmed; and the performing arts. Why that, you may ask.
“The answer is, so many people have told us how important film can be in terms of increasing understanding at every level; Nick Reding has already proven how theater can make a difference, with his SAFE group. So now, the movies must do their part.”
The Constant Gardener
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