A story currently in the news about kite-flying (see below) reminded me that I actually used to know some kite-fliers once. I guess that's not so strange—many people fly kites I am sure, and for all I know my neighbours could be enthusiasts—but back in High School it seemed like an unusual thing to do with one's time. Of course I've learnt a little in the intervening years, including not to be so quick to judge people based on appearances—or unusual weekend activities. In high school, which for me means the late 80s/early 90s,“Madchester,” grunge before it was popular and electronic music before anybody played it (that the All Blacks lost the World Cup and the Black Caps were terrible needs no point in time), my extended circle of friends included a number of exchange students—students from overseas on programmes like YFU and AFS—here in New Zealand officially to promote international understanding and learn English, often in reality to have themselves a very good time. There were two approaches to exchange students among the general student body—mostly ignored and annoying, semi-coherent strangers; or interesting novelties from fascinating, foreign cultures. I fell firmly into the second opinion grouping, and can say in hindsight that my life and outlook was genuinely broadened by meeting people from all over the world. Aside from the to be expected difficulties of learning a new language and fitting into a strange culture, a testing area for some exchange students was the host family they were assigned to. On exchange programmes it's most parts a complete lottery where you end up—there is a screening procedure, but how do you screen for the host brother or sister who “hates your guts”—and once you arrive changing families is a difficult procedure—and deliberately so. The topic of host families was a bane of contention for many of the students at our school. One student and their host family stands out in my memory for the sheer absurdity of their co-habitation, although I should repeat that my then teenage viewpoint may have been a little faster to pass judgement than it is now. I never actually met “The Kite-fliers.” They lived in a nice enough suburb, and were probably nice enough people, but the way their Finnish house-guest described them—eyes rolling with disbelief, something close to panicked desperation as we dropped them home after outings—painted a most unusual picture in my imagination. The Kite-fliers was not their actual name—more occupation or hobby (or borderline obsession). They eagerly, enthusiastically introduced this every-weekend activity on the first night of said student's arrival, amateur video highlights and full size kites unfurled in their living room—“We're so looking forward to your company on our weekend adventures to fly kites!” they announced. They weren’t joking. Every weekend the Kite-fliers would pack the family van full of silk and string and journey to all parts of the countryside, joining fellow fliers and enthusiasts for contests or exhibitions, one very unhappy Finnish exchange student in tow. One imagines this student miming along to family sing-alongs (“You're going to sing us some of your native songs soon right?”), or dispatched to the other end of the field to hold the video camera. This is the picture in my mind to this day of kite-flying (yes there is a website), a hokey, no-risk camp-fire sing-along like activity, more in common with crochet or competitive embroidery than death or dismemberment, the subject of the following story about kite-flying from Pakistan:
Pakistan: 11 dead, 100 injured in kite flying festival At least 11 people died and more than 100 people were injured at an annual spring festival in eastern Pakistan celebrated with the flying of thousands of colourful kites, officials said today. The deaths and injuries were caused by stray bullets, sharpened kite-strings, electrocution and people falling off rooftops yesterday at the conclusion of the two-day Basant festival, said Ruqia Bano, spokeswoman for emergency service in the city of Lahore. The festival is regularly marred by casualties caused by sharp kite strings or celebratory gunshots fired into the air. Kite fliers often use strings made of wire or coated with ground glass to try to cross and cut a rival’s string or damage the other kite, often after betting on the outcome. Authorities temporarily lifted a ban on kite flying that was imposed last year following a string of deaths at the festival. Lahore Mayor Mian Amier Mahmood said that the two-day permission to fly kites ended yesterday and the ban has been re-imposed. Police arrested more than 700 people for using sharpened kite strings or firing guns and seized 282 illegally held weapons during this year’s festival, said Aftab Cheema, a senior Lahore police officer.