The end of the first decade of the 21st century has passed already — it seems an eternity since the big con millenium bug! Our London flat is warm and pretty well insulated, but while writing this I was sitting in bullet proof double ply woollen leggings under my jeans (made so tight I could hardly move) – having obtained this garment years ago in Beijing in preparation for a work visit to North Korea at minus 20 C. I also wore fingerless gloves and other thermals, and realise this is actually a proper English winter the like of which we had every year in my youth in the north of England. I always had chapped hands and sore peeling lips. We cursed our sport teacher who would send us out in shorts on to the frozen mud covered hockey field, while she blew her whistle from inside her thick track suit yelling at us purple knee-d girls to “get on to the ball” …. Now the schools just close when it’s really cold or if the little cherubs might get their feet wet if they had to walk to school in the snow….
Organisational restructuring continues apace in my work place (Amnesty International) so I decided on a sabbatical year out. I go to Mozambique in early February 2011 to work with the Ministry of Youth and Sports on institution building in volunteering…..
I thought setting up this blog would be the best way to stay in touch, so I’m launching it now with my annual ‘what were we up to bulletin’ in 2010… Future posts will be from Mozambique and about my year there. You’ll be able to sign up if you want to receive an email or Facebook alert when there’s a new piece.
During 2010 my work travel turned out light – one visit to Mexico and three to Benin. Cotonou beach is great for people watching, especially the kids leaping around in the waves and making human pyramids, sometimes three boys high.
I I had not been in Mexico since the late 1970s and was amazed to find the capital transformed from the sprawling unbreathably polluted and congested place I remember. The centre has been pedestrianised, crumbling historic buildings renovated and car numbers controlled. Food, and the wondrous Anthropology Museum, are as fabulous as ever. There are a lot of immigrants now too and AI Mexico is involved in their support.
During 2010 I also spent many extended weekends in Wells-next-the-Sea in north Norfolk, enjoying the fresh air and vast wild beaches and sky, as well as the tasty local food and roaring wood fires in the cottage.
Omar is now 24 (my god!). He spent three months travelling around India this year with his (French) girlfriend. They met a lot of local people through couch surfing – for travellers who don’t want hotel service, but want to meet like minded local people. We’ve hosted several couch surfers in London.
Omar also cycled 500 km on his self-built bike up hill and down dale in Corsica in the summer, slinging his hammock up in the woods at night, or dossing in the odd cave.
Omar has done various paid & unpaid work since graduating… piloting is on hold as there are no jobs! Now he’s writing computer programmes and has been working as a consultant, mostly in his dressing gown while having phone conferences (his webcam switched off!) with smartly dressed colleagues in USA.
Imran is 22 and surprised us all by announcing his engagement to his girlfriend Mikaela this summer (wedding planned for Sept 2012). He just graduated in music from SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies). Mikaela is still a SOAS student. In September the pair took off on a cycling trip from UK to Mali to pursue their music passion and raise funds for a small charity.
They arrived in Bamako just before Christmas, and soon left for Timbuktu (not by sand cycling!) to cover the Festival of the Desert in January as accredited journalists for Songlinesmagazine.
Here’s their blog link (music cycles) that includes lots of photos and music recordings.
They are currently hunting for Lucy Duran, Imran’s SOAS teacher, heard to be in Mali at present. She presents African music programmes on BBC Radio 3, as well as concerts in London by greats such as Hugh Masekela, and produces albums by the brilliant talents of the region. More about Lucy here.
We talk quite often by Skype to Imran and Mik when they find an internet connection – not like in the old days when you just disappeared over the horizon and left your mark at the poste restante.
The pre-occupation for us baby boomers is if and when to retire (50, 55, 60, 65), and then what? …. and of course being grateful to have jobs at all. On one hand 60 is the new 40, and you should do the adventure stuff you never got together earlier. On the other hand there is the push to work til 70 because of longevity (for some)… but unless you worked for the government or generous employer/s, your pension is going to be a pittance… so the choice is either go back to student day frugality, or work til you drop if you can’t cut back.
I decided to opt for a new page in Mozambique… it will be good to get away from the endless coalition government chat. The job could be a disappointing (I never worked for government before), but no matter—- the abundance of king size prawns and miles of untouristed beaches all the way up to the Tanzianian border will surely make up for something…. I went to Laos in 1994 with a similar kind of ignorance and optimism, and I guess in the end what you get out depends on what you put in.
Do consider visiting Maputo – it’s about a day’s drive from Johannesburg and only about 100 km from the South African and Swaziland borders. Meanwhile, stay in touch, and happy new year 2011!