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Reading ‘Fallout’ on Banana Island

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Banana Island

The book: Fallout, Sadie Jones

The place: Banana Island, Sierra Leone.


Having ten days in Sierra Leone punctuated by the Easter long weekend may not have been the best thing from the perspective of getting work done, but has worked out brilliantly in terms of allowing me a cheeky holiday (third time this month! I’ve got this down to a fine art). I am just back from four nights on Banana Island, off the southern tip of the Freetown peninsula, where I slept in a bamboo hut on the beach and went diving and swimming and got sunburnt and wandered through villages looking for old iron lamp-posts leftover from when the islands were controlled by slavers (which does, admittedly, cast a pall over the island’s idyllic nature). I had intended to get a lot of writing done but – as was the case on Chole Island in 2011 – staying somewhere with very limited electricity made this more of a challenge. I did, at least, do a lot of thinking about writing, and also a lot of hammock-based reading.

Other reads while on Banana Island included Nabokov’s Lolita (and now I see what all the fuss is about re. Nabokov), Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird (which I loved), and Sadie Jones’s Fallout, which I burned through in less than a day because I couldn’t put it down. I’ve loved Sadie Jones’s writing since The Outcast, and The Uninvited Guests, which I read at the end of 2014, was one of my top books read that year, but this is possibly even better: the themes of love and friendship and rescue and escape struck a chord in me that’s still vibrating. Beautiful stuff.

Boats in Kent, where one takes the boat for Banana Island.


Looking back to the mainland. If God say yes...
If God Say Yes, Who Can Say No?

Zion Church
Zion Church. The island is a former slave trading post, and there are a number of reminders from that era – the guidelines for slave boats that we saw while diving; the old metal lamp-posts dotting the town – which gives everything a slightly haunted air.


Written by Jess

March 28, 2016 at 10:35 am

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Reading various things in various parts of Kenya

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Two weeks ago today I arrived in Nairobi from Kinshasa, and haven’t left Kenya since. I’m pretty sure this is the longest I’ve been in Kenya at a stretch since I was purporting to live here in 2014, or possibly, actually, ever, as back then I was going back and forth to Somalia so much. This particular sojourn could not have worked out more perfectly, as I had some meetings last week and some meetings this week and nothing planned in between, which meant that I have been able to perfectly slot in a pair of mini-breaks with friends.

  1. A long weekend at Olerai House, Tiwi. Enormous open-plan house with two friendly (if flea-ridden) Labradors, views down over the lawns to the sea, a saltwater pool with a goddamn waterslide going into it, and a brilliant staff who made absolutely delicious meals appear out of the kitchen at regular intervals (their ginger crab is one of the best things that has ever gone in my face). Oh, and a cave that you can dine in. I went diving one day with a couple of friends, and we saw no fewer than six turtles, but the rest of the time was spent lolling about on various horizontal surfaces or being immersed in various bodies of water.

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  • Two nights in Naboisho Camp in the Masai Mara. We slept in luxurious tents and woke up before dawn every day and went out on amazing game drives, where we saw a plethora of lions and lion cubs, and a four-month old baby elephant who tried to scare us with a mock charge, and a solitary cheetah (at night, which we curb-crawled for a good twenty minutes as it searched for a quiet place to digest its bellyful of impala), and a melee of hyenas, jackals and vultures tearing apart an impala carcass while we watched, G&Ts in our hands, as the sun set in an explosion of colour behind a cloud of rain. AND (best bit): TWO LEOPARDS, something that I had never seen before and which I dearly wanted to spot, but barely dared to hope, as I knew it was so unlikely – but Naboisho delivered.



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Got back to Nairobi last Friday, spent the weekend working flat out to make up for the days I’ve missed, and this week has been less dramatic in its joys and excitements, but still pretty wonderful: catching up with a lot of friends, having the sorts of work meetings that remind me how lucky I am in my job, and eating an obscene amount of sushi. It has been good.

Written by Jess

March 17, 2016 at 9:52 am

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Reading nothing in particular in Kinshasa

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This bonobo wants to know what you’re reading.

I arrived in Kinshasa two weeks ago today, and am leaving tomorrow, which has gone alarmingly fast. This trip has been a long time coming, due to the length of time it takes to get a visa for DRC (one day under two months from dropping my passport off at the Consulate to collecting it, envisanated), and in that time DRC had been built up into a Big Scary Thing in my head: enormous! Francophone! War-torn! Predatory elites! Etc. Of course it turns out – as is almost always the case – that Kinshasa is pretty great, and I have taken to it, in the way that I take to all enormous and chaotic African cities. Things in particular I like about Kinshasa include:

    • The bloody CONGO RIVER which churns its way through the centre of town, though it’s not really the centre of town because the opposite bank of the river is bloody Brazzaville, i.e. the capital of an entirely different country. WHAT. I can see another country’s capital from my hotel room window! That is not something that happens every day.

Congo river

    • My colleague J. pointed out at the weekend that DRC is a country that really embraces its own culture. It’s true that DRC feels a lot more inward-looking than many other African countries I’ve spent time in, which in many contexts would be less of a good thing, but I mean it in a positive way: DRC has so much of its own stuff going on, culturally and historically and gastronomically and creatively, that it’s understandably focused on that, rather than imports from other African countries or the West.
    • The food. Not all of it, of course, but particular highlights for me have been cossa-cossa, a particularly gigantic type of prawn (best served at the aptly named Le Roi du Cossas), a stew containing caterpillars, which weren’t nice, exactly, but certainly interesting, and a bush-fruit whose name I can’t remember, but which has a sour dark purple skin and bright green avocado-like flesh. Well played, DRC, well played.

Mystery foodstuff

Mystery bushfruit!

  • The weather, around 20% of the time. The remaining 80% is uncomfortably steamy, but that 20% involves great cracking thunderstorms that roll across from Brazzaville, lightning so bright it will wake you up from a dead sleep, and several hours of blissful cool afterwards.


Storm approaching from Brazzaville
That tower you see to the right of the centre of the photo is in Brazzaville: a whole other country’s capital city. That never ceased to please me.



Traffic directing robot, Kinshasa

  • The music, which I’d known about before coming here, but I love how ubiquitous it is, just getting into a random taxi and hearing some Congolese musical legend crackling out of the stereo.

Written by Jess

March 2, 2016 at 8:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized