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Coming to realise that I am never going to get round to writing a proper, thoughtful post about Eritrea (as I mentioned last year after my Armenia trip, travel-related stories take quite a long time to percolate, for me), so I’m just going to fling some photos at you and run away.



One of the best preserved modernist cities in the world, built by Italian colonists; at a high enough altitude that the weather is pleasantly crisp; excellent coffee, label-less beer (because there’s only the one kind, so why would you need a label?), good pizza and fantastic ice cream. City of dreams; would move there in a heartbeat.


Playing dominoes outside the national theatre.


Facade of the central pharmacy.


Recycling market – the only one I’ve ever seen, anywhere.

Fiat Tagliero, Asmara

Fiat Tagliero garage, one of the most astonishingly gorgeous and classy buildings I’ve seen in my life.

Bottle roof

Between Asmara and Filfil: another excellent demonstration of Eritrean recycling and ingenuity (this was the roof of a cafe).


At Filfil, between Asmara and Massawa, we were invited to join two separate picnics. Filfil is where Eritrean liberation fighters would receive political instruction before going off to train at Nakfa.


Bridge on the outskirts of Massawa.


Eritrea’s second city, Massawa is on the coast and very different from Asmara; it reminded me a lot more of places elsewhere on the east coast of Africa, like Lamu or Zanzibar, or even Oman, which has had a major influence in this part of the world. Massawa has many things:


Revolutionary murals…


Crumbling colonial buildings on islands…

Massawa memorial

Monuments with tanks on them…


And access to the Dahlak Islands, where we went next.


Fishing for supper


Afar family on the islands


Driftwood fence, Dissei Island

Took an alternative route back to Asmara, along the old railway.


And then to Keren, primarily known to me and Clare as the town that gives its name to one of Juba’s premier hotels.


The real Keren, it turns out, is cradled by mountains and does a very good line in sunsets.


Not to mention camel markets:


And war cemeteries:


It was a truly magnificent trip, though there was a large element of cognitive dissonance, travelling around a country which seems pleasant and well developed and full of reasonably happy people, while simultaneously being one of the world’s largest refugee producing countries. I don’t for a moment doubt the asylum claims of Eritreans elsewhere, but I also don;t doubt the lived experience of the Eritreans I met in Eritrea. Turns out the world is complicated! WHO KNEW.

Written by Jess

July 31, 2015 at 5:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Reading ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ in Juba

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2015-07-20 18.27.43

The book: The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan

The place: Juba


Oh dear, it has been a while. I was in Cairo and then I was on holiday in Eritrea and then I was back in the UK for what I thought was going to be at least a few weeks but turned out to be precisely seven days, half in South Wales and half in London, before flying to Juba. There is a running joke that if you ever have a leaving do on departing South Sudan you never actually leave, which is certainly true in my experience: at the end of my three years here, in March 2013, I had three separate leaving dos (a work one, a party and a dinner for close friends), and have since been back twice.

I never really know what to say about South Sudan, which remains the most hopeful and the most hopeless place I know. While I’d never presume to say that South Sudan is home (it isn’t), I do feel at home here in a way I don’t in other places I have worked – primarily because I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else (aside from the UK and Australia), but also because it’s the first country I worked in that I really got my teeth stuck into, and so in many ways it’s my baseline. The day after I got back this time I was on the back of a boda boda* in late afternoon, kicking up dust into the great pink sky, and I had a great and joyous sense of being in place. It is lovely.


I am loving The Narrow Road to the Deep North, although it is rather intense and heavy-going at times. Perhaps it’s only because I am half Australian that I think there is something unique about the Australian war experience in the twentieth century – or maybe there is some truth in it, something to do with the youth of a country and its sense of self being forged in violence (the centrality of Gallipoli in Australian nation-building). Flanagan’s writing – like all the best Australian writers, like Tim Winton and Kate Grenville and Christos Tsiolkas and many others – engages with the ambivalence at the heart of Australian experience, the unease that coalesces around any sense of national pride: it’s neither the hangdog sense of national despair that you find among the English (and, in some ways, the Scots), or the brash delight Americans have in being American,** but somewhere uncomfortably in between.

Photos from lately:

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South Sudan does very impressive skies

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Rubbish photo of sunset from an island in the Nile. Really need to get my proper camera fixed.

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Got to sit in the cockpit on a flight from Yei to Juba. Was childishly excited.

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Juba from the air

*Motorcycle taxi.

**I know, I am generalising enormously, on both counts.

Written by Jess

July 20, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized