Since running off to Uganda when I was 21 years old, in the absence of having any more concrete a plan for how to handle life after university, I’d say my Wanderlust levels have remained piqued ever since.
No doubt some genetic influence from my parents helped fuel my appetite for getting out and “seeing the world”. In reading Dr Suess poems to my daughters (as well as flying them off to different countries almost every school holiday) I suppose instinctively it feels appropriate to want to pass on that particular piece of DNA, connected to wandering, to them also.
Over the past five years, even without that DNA, the travel I’ve undertaken as part of my job has secured for me a schedule for which any aspiring “Wanderluster” would have been thrilled.
As someone working in international development, I can’t quite settle my mind about how conflated my footprint and actions in the world are. Choosing to direct my career into finding better ways to serve the poor, whilst simultaneously responsible for emitting more carbon in an average month than the output my entire family back in the UK manage in a year (ok, Mum and Dad are relatively guilty on the carbon too, but I wanted the analogy to sound extreme!)
Since my last update in February (freshly back home in Saigon, as we were at the time, following a skiing holiday in France – eek, guilty again!) I’ve visited Ethiopia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Egypt, Thailand (twice), the UK, and Timor-Leste. I was back in Bangkok last Sunday when I started writing this post, on my way to Pakistan.
For anyone interested in CARE and international development issues, then the two links above to Ethiopia and Timor-Leste will pop up some of my musings about social development “stuff” over on the http://www.definitelymaybe.me site.
Loyal subscribers to this site – all five of them – will associate the Saigonsays posts over on these pages more with life in Vietnam. If you belong to this small and perfectly formed readership, and were hoping for more of a journal update (or if you simply needed something to help get you off to sleep later this evening) then here we go…
MarchAnd so, finally, and after 11 years, on 7th March this year, I found myself flying back to East Africa.
Really, Uganda and my time there in 1996 working as a teacher, had left the undeniable ‘mark’ on me to which so many people who live in Africa often allude. I’d always thought I’d work back in Africa – I still do – however as long as I’m not able to fulfill that goal, then any excuse to be back there is a privileged one.
Ethiopia, not Uganda, was my host for the week. Addis first, then north up to Tigray.
There wasn’t time to become an expert on the country’s capital city, but it doesn’t take too long there to pick up on some of the basics.
The traffic is quite intense. Buildings are in a constant state of being unfinished, with little evidence of cranes about. Actually, the hustle and bustle of life on the streets had all the hallmarks of Kampala twenty years ago: hawkers bearing tea towels, roasted bananas and newspapers to sell through car windows; young students ambling home from school with immaculate uniforms and cheeky smiles; and a constant sight of large winged birds of prey, circling above.
And, as I remember in Uganda, pretty much every dish you sample will have the staple, signature food of the country included in it. In Uganda, it was matooke. In Ethiopia, it’s injera – a spongy sough dough that you use to soak up the sauces on your plate.Later in March, I headed over to Hong Kong with my football team (these days, if I don’t go on tour with them, then I never see them) and took part in my third Viking Cup.
Enough antics from the weekend would fill a separate post. Suffice to say, on the field we were hopeless, however our team won the boat-race drinking competition for the second year running during the last night’s Gala Dinner.
And, we all dressed up in traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai costume. What a treat for the eyes indeed…
From Hong Kong, I flew overnight to Cairo, another sprawling city, overheated with exhaust fumes and the muddied, dust-baked backdrop of building after building after building.
Taxis in Cairo are hair-raising for the passenger. Akin to how I spent these last few days just gone in Karachi also, with drivers hell bent on spending large chunks of their days sipping tea and gossiping in languid fashion, before then ironically turning demented behind the wheel, driving like their life depended on it, and deploying braking tactics whereby the foot is floored only at the very last minute prior to what would otherwise have resulted in a pile up with said tuk-tuk, scooter, truck or bicycle.
In both cities, things that occur in life derive their meaning and their consequences from powers all too often out of an person’s control.
You hear “inshallah” a lot in Pakistan (meaning “God willing”) and it can be used in every situation. My CARE colleagues last week taking great relish inserting it to most conversations with me, just to laugh at my reactions.
“See you tomorrow” – “Inshallah”.
“Will we get to the airport safely, driving as we are currently over 100 kph and dodging traffic like we’re in a human game of froggit?” – “Inshallah”.
Even pilots are in on this: “Ladies and Gentlemen”, came the announcement as we descended into Karachi airport last Thursday, “Please fasten your seat belts and, inshallah, we will be landing very shortly.”
The highlights during my trip to Egypt, once the event I was helping host had closed out for the week, were a fun evening in downtown Cairo, shopping, snacking and then ending up on a rooftop with some cold beers and apple tobacco hookahs, surrounded by an array of engaging and jocular local weekend banter. And then of course, the morning after, we “did” the pyramids.
The pyramids are 100% recommended in my books and well worth the effort.
I say ‘effort’ however, until I reached Cairo, I hadn’t appreciated that the pyramids are in fact only a few miles from the city-centre.
Perfect for the tourist who just has one day to spare.
Not satisfied with “full tourist” mode, we go “black and white” as well. Skills.
London and Bangkok ate up almost half of my month.
The short schedule for the former work trip choreographed with military precision, as I was in and out of London in about four days, throwing my body clock some extra curve balls in the process.
I grabbed a quick lunch with family, a night out on the tiles with friends, and was just in town long enough to pick up the scent of panic surrounding the upcoming European Referendum, before jetting straight back across to Bangkok for a week long conference.
This was followed by the delightful treat of being joined by Issy – whose stockpile of interestingly sourced fabric gifts from all my travels was growing, but who was adamant she was not missing out on another chance of a weekend away.We flew up to Chiang Mai for the weekend and pressed pause for a few days. Elephants sauntered around the back of our resort about an hour north of the city, which was novel and something special. I even wrote a cheesy poem about it.
Although on reflection, I do wish I’d not seen all said elephants dumping into the river, upstream from a local village – large digestive biscuit shaped bowling balls, bobbing between the rocks and gradually breaking up, as we watched from the bridge – (I can only apologize for that imagery however, for sure, do be careful on your choice of swimming outlets if you are ever nearby to a herd of elephants in Thailand.)May
And so it was then to Timor-Leste, and a slice of Caribbean-esque backdrop, with local fishermen walking down the beaches all day long, their fresh catches on display.
As well as a great work assignment there, my final day highlight was taking part in a 200 person strong beach comb. A regular past-time in Dili, sadly..
All I could think of as I picked up the rotten debris was “thank goodness Dili doesn’t have elephants also.”Dili is a fascinating place, seemingly quite detached from the mainstream…well…from the mainstream anything.
Quietly building back the lost years of the 1980’s and 1990’s, where so much destruction that unraveled there at that time just seems unfathomable today.
Unfathomable is a word not unrelated to the struggles which Pakistan, the last in the sequence of this particular list of trips, has undertaken since the turn of the century: earthquakes, floods, insurgencies, Talibanisation, political upheaval. And so much more.
As usual, I learnt a considerable amount from being there for a week with my colleagues. And all the while savouring meal times, as I have done there in the past, and relishing the re-acquaintance with meat, meat and more meat. It was a struggle, but I pulled through.
For some years after I returned from Uganda in 1997, I worked for a company who organised one month long expeditions for UK schools to “far flung places” – trekking, living in jungles, walking through deserts, learning about life outside of the UK.
Pakistan was our most popular destination at the time.
I recall driving to a school up in the Midlands at 4am one morning, my slide deck (the old fashioned carousel ones) on the passenger seat, which housed jaw-dropping images of the Hindu Kush mountain range. In spite of knowing very little at the time about the country, the photos did all the selling required. 600 students sat in their assembly and were spell bound at the images. We were over subscribed for Pakistan each year.
Making money for that expedition company was not enough of an incentive for me at the time to stay for longer than two years. However, hoping that a few young people who took part in one of our expeditions, might just come back with that magic Wanderlust dust sprinkled over them, was enough.
Let’s hope one day soon the country’s glorious scenery will be open for business again.
As I finish up this post, it’s Sunday, and I’m back from watching Martha perform in an acrobatics concert, having flown in from Karachi last night.
Flo, too, has had a run of entertaining us all of late. Swimming galas, and jazz concerts (dancing, not saxophoning) as well as school sleepovers, Athletics tournaments, International Day festivals, camping trips in Vietnam, and dog racing in Vung Tao. It’s been a cracking year so far.
Both girls are thriving and growing fast (as evidenced below in the pics and the videos!)
Martha will be 5 tomorrow (you may read about this on the BBC website, as the event is getting a lot of press at the moment.)
The summer holidays are looming. Issy and I have signed a lease on a house for a year, down the road from the girls’ schools. Much excitement is bubbling about scootering to school and having new neighbours (and a garden). We move in on July 1st, during which time are entertaining no less than four Melbourne visitors.
By then we’ll also be gearing up for our second time camping in Italy with its enchanting Tuscan surrounds, free flow of just about every one of our favorites drinks, and this year the bonus of various Bishop and Oddie family members joining us.
Cheers to that and to you all!