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Archive for February 2015

[accidental intermission]

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Brenu Beach, Ghana, from earlier in the month

Sometimes a month just gets away from you, yes? Particularly February, which is alarmingly short – you’re just getting over it being January and then February whips by in a flash and then it’s March, which is more or less (northern hemisphere) spring and that’s it, the year’s pretty much over and you’ve got to start thinking about 2016.

This month I have been in Nigeria and then Ghana and then Glasgow for a few days (home for the first time in two months!) and then Wales and then Nairobi and now back in Mogadishu, for the last few days. Everyone seems to think I’m being sarcastic when I say this, but it’s nice to be back after being out of the country for three months, longer than I had hoped, for various reasons. It’s been interesting times in Somalia lately, a whole new cabinet and, it seems, a slightly new Al Shabaab strategy of targeting the government much more, which keeps one on one’s toes.

Books of note, over the last couple of weeks: Us, by David Nicholls, which was warm and funny and thoughtful and kind; and At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill (whither Jamie O’Neill?), which I have been meaning to read for at least ten years and which was everything I hoped it would be. I want to exhort Jamie O’Neill through the ether to WRITE MORE BOOKS, but then actually I rather admire writers who choose just to stop for a while rather than churning something out on a regular schedule just to keep the public interested. (That said, I’m very grateful also for writers like Tana French who do high-quality churning, and on whom I think I can rely to publish something awesome in 2016.)


Written by Jess

February 28, 2015 at 3:46 pm

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Reading too many things, Brenu Beach, Ghana

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2015-02-11 12.35.25

In a tro-tro between Accra and Cape Coast

Rule of thumb: take your holidays where and when you can. A couple of weeks ago, when I had just arrived in Abuja, I ended up having a late-night Skype chat with my friend C. C. and I met in January 2012 in Rabat through CouchSurfing, and ended up travelling together from Morocco through Western Sahara and Mauritania to Senegal (I continued on solo to Guinea Bissau and the Gambia, returning home six weeks after I’d set off for a Marrakech mini-break for new year and a friend’s birthday). We hadn’t seen each other since parting ways in Dakar, but now he’s working on Ebola response in Liberia and I was in Nigeria and he had R&R coming up and I had to get out of Nigeria for the elections (subsequently postponed, though that announcement wasn’t made until I’d left the country), and so it made perfect sense (once the visa wrangles had been resolved) for us to meet for a few days in Ghana. It has been a gorgeous, and beach-focussed few days, though we did make occasional sorties to Elmina and Cape Coast, to see the castles there, and to Kakum Forest. We also spent a great deal of time immersed in water, eating things from the sea, and drinking coconut water and rum straight from the coconut. Luxury.


Breakfast of champions.

My reading has been less successful; I finished Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy (sequel to Fire from Heaven) a couple of days ago, and haven’t been able to settle to anything since, though I am (shamefully) partway through ten different books. The Persian Boy is followed by Funeral Games, which I have bought, but I am trying to resist reading it immediately, as a) I don’t want to compound the book hangover from which I am already suffering, and b) Funeral Games takes place predominantly after the death of Alexander the Great, and WHAT IS EVEN THE POINT ANY MORE. *sobs* However as I type I am sat at the gate at Accra Airport, waiting to board a flight for Dubai and then Glasgow (a rather roundabout way home, but significantly quicker and cheaper than the Accra – Abuja – Addis Ababa – Nairobi – London – Glasgow route that I was going to take, until C. very sensibly talked me out of it), and so I am going to have to find something in which to immerse myself.


Kakum Forest


Schoolgirls at Elmina Castle




Elmina boats


Cape Coast Castle


Mending nets outside Cape Coast Castle

Written by Jess

February 11, 2015 at 4:02 pm

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Reading ‘Fire from Heaven’ in Ibeju-Lekki

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The book: Fire from Heaven, Mary Renault

The place: Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos State

I love my job even at the worst of times, but every so often it manages to surpass itself. The project I am currently working on is being rolled out in a few different areas across Nigeria, including where I currently am, and it turns out that the closest hotel to the training venue happens to be a ramshackle holiday resort right on the beach. I’m not sure how the owners manage to make ends meet; we are the only people staying here, and the beach itself is otherwise deserted. In any case, they seem delighted that we are here, and keep plying us with puff-puff and yam balls. At night it is almost entirely silent, except for the pounding of the surf and the peeping of bats in the palm trees, and, in the early hours of this morning, an unseasonal rainstorm, which did absolutely nothing to diminish the sweltering heat, but was very atmospheric nonetheless.

My reading is fairly incongruous: my first foray into Mary Renault’s historical fiction, having read (and loved) The Charioteer last year. I am thoroughly enjoying Fire from Heaven, although it exposes quite how ignorant I am about Ancient Greece, and, indeed, the extent to which assumed knowledge has changed over the last 30 or 40 years – Renault clearly assumed that all her readers would have at least a nodding acquaintance with Alexander the Great and Aristotle and Demosthenes, whereas most of the time I know nothing about any of these people beyond their names. It is a little humbling; I should read Plutarch.

(I am also amused and a little touched by Renault’s evident stonking great crush on Alexander. As someone with a tendency to get over-attached to functionally fictional characters, I can certainly relate, and only roll my eyes a little at the nth description of Alexander’s preternatural beauty and charisma.)


Written by Jess

February 4, 2015 at 4:22 pm

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