Sultan logo

Around the time the big US political parties were holding their conventions I got a first hand demonstration of the power of incumbency and the political cost of dithering. 

You've probably never heard of Sultan Hamengkubuwono X of Yogyakarta, but he's one of the world's few remaining governing monarchs. Since independence in 1945, he held on to the role of governor -- subject to parliamentary review -- because his dad, No. IX, backed the right side in the struggle to oust the Dutch.

Dr Irina at the garbage pickers' village

At an elementary school just outside Jakarta, ten-year-old Rahman wraps thin strips of construction paper into spirals to help make greeting cards.

This isn't an arts and crafts class. This card will sell for about 70 cents. His school, Sekolah Kami, meaning "Our School" relies on sales of it, as well as soap and recycled paper to defray its operating costs. Rahman and his family are garbage pickers. He's one of 150 students getting basic education skills here and hope of avoiding life as a scavenger. 

Getting lost in translation

With a burst of confidence I recounted for my host mother in eastern Quebec what a friend and I had got up to the night before. It was early in the summer of 1990 and I was on a publicly funded six-week French emersion program that probably no longer exists.

"Hier soir nous avons mangé poutine," I explained, expecting kudos for correctly categorising "to eat" as an avoir verb and for tackling the gruesome local concoction of fries, curd and gravy. But had I mispronounced poutine and changed its meaning.