Living in the Commonwealth

I don't exactly try to hide my Anglophilic tendencies, and the thought of living in Kenya, a former center of British colonialism, gives me exciting thoughts of customary tea time with milk, learning to drive on the left, and spelling labor "labour". Nevertheless, there remain a few items of British heritage that still escape me, which I look forward to understanding better. Among them are marmite, cricket, and the Commonwealth.

What is this Commonwealth? All I knew is that we in the US are definitely not part of it, and Canada is, and presumably this has something to do with the Queen being on their currency and their highway signs. So I did a little research, and for the purposes of cultural education, I'll pass on a few points.

1. Yes, this is the successor to the British Empire. But given that all of these countries desired independence, this has connoted western imperialism in the past, and the idea of the "White Commonwealth" has been fodder for such anti-Western leaders as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. (Mugabe withdrew his country from the Commonwealth after they were suspended for electoral and land reform policies in 2002.)

2. There is a distinction between the Commonwealth of Nations and the Commonwealth Realms. The Realms are 16 countries for whom the Queen of England is their head of state. This includes the obvious ones such as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, as well as a number of smaller, mostly island, states. The larger Commonwealth has a whopping 53 countries, for a total of almost 2 billion people (almost 30% of the world's population!). This is the group to which Kenya (and a lot of other African countries) belongs. These countries may have another monarch (such as the King of Swaziland or the Sultan of Brunei), but the Queen of England is still the ceremonial "Head of the Commonwealth".

3. The "What" is easier to answer than the "Why". There are a lot of stated goals about promoting democracy and development, but I'm not sure how that plays out on the ground. I do know that their most visible event is the Commonwealth Games, which is a sort-of Olympics that is also on a four-year schedule, for all of the Commonwealth member states, and includes some games really only popular within the former British Empire, such as bowls (which is apparently sort of like bocce ball) and netball (which seems to be a largely-women's basketball with no backboard.

All this to look forward to in our new life in Kenya. In the meantime, I'll be working on re-learning my medical vocabulary with such spellings as "paediatrics", "haemorrhage", or my favorite "oesophagus".

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