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Archive for September 2015

Reading ‘Maurice’ in Juba

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The book: Maurice, EM Forster

The place: Juba

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I’m pretty sure I haven’t read any EM Forster since reading A Room with a View in high school, and so I was taken aback by quite how good and how brave a book Maurice is. I read Damon Galgut’s Arctic Summer last year, which is about Forster and encompasses the writing of Maurice, and of course now I want to reread it in light of what I now know about the book, BUT life is too short and there’s that awful, anxiety-inducing column in one of the Sunday supplements that says that most people only read 3000 books in their lifetime and so if I reread Arctic Summer then that only leaves room for 2999! OH GOD BIBLIOPHILIA IS SO STRESSFUL.

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I write to you from the Tulip Hotel, Juba – arguably Juba’s swankiest hotel, into which I checked for the weekend as they were doing a special cheap deal for Eid, and I just wanted to be somewhere with reliable electricity for a few days. I should have checked out this morning but couldn’t face it, and my decision not to do so was vindicated when I got a text this afternoon informing me that the generator where I normally stay is broken, and so it has gone from having sporadic, feeble power to having no power at all. I will probably check out tomorrow, as I dread to think how much this is costing me (I haven’t asked what their normal price is, following the rock-bottom rates of the weekend), but it’s so niiiiice here.

I’m leaving Juba on Friday, about which I have mixed feelings: it’s been lovely spending more time in South Sudan over the last few months, but it’s not a particularly happy time to be here; while the peace treaty seems more or less to be hanging together, pockets of insecurity are breaking out all over the country, including in places that had hitherto been mostly peaceful – and insecurity in Juba appears to be dramatically increasing, with petty crime and compound invasions and a particularly vile couple of rapes and, just today, some shootings in broad daylight. In 2010 I’d happily stay out until 4am, walk alone on the street at night, and take any form of transport without fear; it’s sad to say that Juba’s not that town any more.

Written by Jess

September 28, 2015 at 6:33 pm

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Reading ‘Perdido Street Station’ in Juba

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The book: Perdido Street Station, China Mieville

The place: Juba

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Back in Juba this morning, after a few days in Nairobi having meetings and waiting to get my South Sudan entry permit. (Really must get a multiple entry visa sometime soon.) Also indulging in my other Nairobi-related pleasures: sushi delivery, and too much shopping.

For the record (and possibly to be updated on an ongoing basis), a short list of my favourite Nairobi-based shops and / or designers:

Kiko Romeo: mostly clothes, but also some jewellery, made by Kenyan designers. One of my very good friends got her wedding dress there, and it is bloody gorgeous.

Made: jewellery. I have far too many Made pieces.

Sandstorm: leather and canvas bags. Can one ever have too many bags? Yes.

Mille Collines: clothes and jewellery. They do a really good line in subtle use of kitenge, which makes me feel like less of a culturally appropriating cliche.

Adele Dejak: oh god I love her stuff. I have been wandering wide-eyed around her shop for over a year (not continuously), admiring her jewellery but feeling certain that I couldn’t pull off e.g. an enormous horn cuff. But then I saw this, and could not resist.

Kazuri beads: cheap(ish) and cheerful.

And OK, while I’m at it, my favourite places to shop in South Sudan:

House of Bany: one of a few South Sudanese designers popping up. I have a fantastic tanktop from here.

The Roots Project: possibly the longest standing craft shop in South Sudan?

Lady Lomin: weaving from Kajokeji.

Lulu Life: gorgeous shea butter products.

Written by Jess

September 28, 2015 at 5:47 pm

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Reading ‘Bad Science’ in Garowe

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The book: Bad Science, Ben Goldacre

The place: Garowe

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I was last in Garowe six months ago, in March. Everyone I met back then – and indeed my previous visit to Garowe, in June 2014 – told me insistently how safe the town was, how it was perfectly fine to stay in a normal hotel and to walk in the streets and there’s no Al Shabaab here and it’s FINE, damnit, all the internationals are totally overreacting. Then, in April, there was a targeted Al Shabaab attack on a UNICEF vehicle in Garowe, which killed four UNICEF staff and at least three others (even now, the number of people killed in the attack is uncertain). This is the first time I’ve been back since, and I was a little trepidatious about it – ridiculously so, given that I’m quite unfazed by Mogadishu now, which is demonstrably far, far more dangerous than here – but changes in security levels can be quite unsettling.

And of course it’s turned out to be completely fine. I’m staying in a somewhat more secure hotel than I stayed in last time, and for the first day or two I was a little more circumspect when walking in the street, but after a while I realised that a single terrorist attack – the first for several years in Puntland – does not a crisis make. Back when I lived in Cairo I was quite happy to roam the city at will, despite regular violent protests and terror attacks – not to mention Nairobi, which has been subject to far more Al Shabaab attacks in the past few years than Garowe has. Of course it’s the broader context of Somalia that makes the Garowe attack seem so potentially sinister, and emblematic of a deeper problem – but it doesn’t have to be.

People ask me a lot about whether I feel unsafe in the sorts of places I tend to go, and the honest – if perhaps clueless – response is no, not really. In my experience, places don’t tend to feel unsafe (or safe) in and of themselves. It’s a realisation that I’ve had many times while travelling: every so often I’ll find myself arriving somewhere that previously gave me the willies – like arriving at the border between Western Sahara and Mauritania at 3am – and experience a sense of simultaneous relief and deflation: oh, so this is just A Place. It’s easy to build up places in your mind into ravening hellmouths, but then you turn up there and it’s just a town, with roads, and shops, and people going about their daily lives. Insecurity is circumstantial, rather than inherent to a place – I certainly feel unsafe when things are exploding in my general vicinity, or if people are shooting at me, but that’s not something that’s locationally bounded.

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Written by Jess

September 11, 2015 at 5:25 pm

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Reading ‘A Complicated Kindness’ in Kigali

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2015-09-03 17.41.48

The book: A Complicated Kindness, Miriam Toews

The place: Kigali

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I write from Kigali Airport, after a brief visit to Rwanda – my second this year, for a country I’d never visited before 2015. This time it was work rather than pleasure, but nonetheless Kigali is a gorgeous place to spend a few days, cool and clear-aired and with invigorating thunderstorms nearly every evening.

I finished Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows just a few days ago, absolutely loved it, and was very pleased to find I already had a copy of A Complicated Kindness on my Kindle. (One advantage of my eBook-related profligacy is surprises like this.) Toews has that rare gift of being able to write properly laugh-out-loud funny books about characters who are really rather tragic; it’s something that I wish I could do more in my own writing, which I worry is broadly one register or the other, none of the delicate mixing that Toews manages.

Written by Jess

September 5, 2015 at 5:21 pm

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