Archives mensuelles : décembre 2014

Three months in

Before looking forward to the coming year, it is of course important to look back. This might be boring for you, in which case skip this post, but for me it’s a useful exercise to reflect on my 2014 resolutions to see how I did.

The short round-up, posted as a comment on Facebook, runs as follows:
#my2014 The joys and sorrows of a birth (daughter), a death (father) and a wedding (brother). Travel to Afghanistan (2 weeks), Jordan (1 week), UK (3×1 week) and Ivory Coast (3×1 week). Changed job, organisation, profession and continent. Moved house twice. Finished reading the Bible, the Qu’ran and the Symposium. Ran a marathon. Didn’t write fiction, learn Arabic, master Lightroom & FCPX, lose weight or pray enough.

I started the year with the growing stress of facing unemployment at the end of the year when my department’s future looked uncertain. But in the end things worked out almost perfectly (both for me and my department). It’s important at this time to look back with gratitude at how worst fears weren’t realised (I guess they almost never are). There were significant amounts of travel, though not much within the Middle East patch, and a lot more time spent in Africa than envisaged.

If you went back through the past years you’d see that some resolutions are definitely easier than others. For instance, I’ve consistently met goals for saving and giving. Same for fitness/exercise, reading, academic study and blogging. But other elements appear in the resolutions list year-on-year without any progress being made – notably fiction/book writing, increased prayer times, writing music and improving my photo/video skills.

Less seriously I always seem to have ‘play Volleyball’ in there somewhere, which never happens. I even once gave my best friend a volleyball for Christmas but nothing came of it. Is there any reason to believe things will be different in future? Certainly blogging, reading and exercise have started well in Freetown. I think there are reasons for confidence that my photo/video skills will improve significantly this year, as I’m doing a lot more of it, making some investments in equipment, and using more of my free time for photo/video activities. I am writing more than usual (especially blogging) though whether this will ever translate to a book, I don’t know. I’m beginning to think I should stop stressing out about book writing.

Will 2015 be the year things finally settle down? Sadly this is unlikely at least in the first six months. My wife and new daughter are unlikely to be living with me in Freetown before the summer – perhaps they will never see the current home I have rented for us. At least work wise, I am on pretty safe ground now in terms of job security – I’m likely to grow a lot professionally and enjoy my time here. I’m a bit worried that the church I’m going to is not as good as previous ones, but the important thing I guess is that I can contribute. Exercise wise, I had thought of 2015 as a year to work on being stronger and slimmer, but I was recently attracted to the rather different goal of doing a triathlon in Assinie (Cote d’Ivoire) which would be fun for a number of reasons – jogging-wise I can already do the running section (10km) reasonably comfortably, and the swimming is fortunately only half of the usual Olympic distance (it’s 800m rather than 1.6km). The off-road cycling will be new, but that’s actually something I’m getting excited about. Cycling might be a good way to go – something one can do in later years, and a good way to see a lot of scenery. In my early teens I used to pour over Mountain Biking UK magazines, and now finally I could conceivably get a decent bike providing I can find a way to ship it out here. On the overall objectives, this year I’m trying to bring greater focus to my resolutions which come in five priority areas: CHURCH – WRITING – EXERCISE – PHOTO/VIDEO – FRIENDS.

Books read in 2014

It was a record year for book reading, with a goal of 25 books compared to 35 read. Certainly long assignments and a book club in Dubai helped. I also bought rather too many books – my new rule for 2015 is not to have more than four pages of unread books on my Kindle.

1. The witch doctor of Um Suqueim, by Craig Hawes
2. Islam, a short history, by Karen Armstrong
3. 21 Reasons you think you don’t have time to write, by Mette Ivie Harrison
4. The Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Safak
5. Guns, Germs & Steel, by Jared Diamond
6. Symposium, by Plato
7. Akendewa, by Jean-Patrick Ehouman
8. One story of entrepreneurship in Africa, by Ashley Heacock
9. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, by D. A. Carson
10. The Christian Husband, by Colin Hamer
11. Dark Star Safari, by Paul Theroux
12. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
13. The Gnostic gospels of Thomas, Mary & John
14. Kim, by Rudyard Kipling
15. Peoples and Empires, by Anthony Pagden
16. Brideshead revisited, by Eveyln Waugh
17. Stringer, by Anjan Sundaram
18. The Beach, by Alex Garland
19. No Ordinary book, by Philip Saunders
20. The Bible
21. Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
22. Goldfinger, by Ian Fleming
23. Fatherhood, by Tony Payne
24. The Qu’ran
25. La Vie comme elle va, by Israel Yoroba Guebo
26. How to be well-read, by John Sutherland
27. Cross and Crescent, by Colin Chapman
28. The Message of 2 Timothy, by John Stott
29. Ryszard Kapuściński: A Life, by Artur Domosławski
30. The Iraqi Christ, by Hassan Blasim
31. The Gospel for Muslims, by Steve Bell
32. To the letter: A journey through a vanishing world, by Simon Garfield
33. Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson
34. Thinking fast and slow, by Daniel K
35. Le Continent des nuages, by William Tedje Ahouma

Christmas far from family

I had the horrifying thought yesterday that I haven’t spent a Christmas with my daughters since 2010. That’s worrying. This year was no exception. Here’s a look back on the last few Christmases.

25 December 2010 – I’d spent the previous couple of weeks in a hotel in Abidjan because of an intimidating phone call my wife received after one of my reports during what was the start of the Ivorian post-election crisis. I was sleeping in the office anyway because of the curfew, insecurity and an immense amount of work (I ended up doing 330+ separate news reports that month). The threat accelerated our plans to move house, which my industrious wife arranged during my absence. The BBC newsroom allowed me to have most of Christmas day off, and I traveled to our new house and had Christmas with the family. I can’t remember if I slept in my own bed that night.

25 December 2011 – My first holiday back in the UK since 2008. Work paid for my trip to spend Christmas with my parents. My wife and daughters stayed back in Abidjan and held a Christmas party for the family at our home, with 50 people sleeping there on Christmas Eve. That says more about how people were squeezed in than the size of the home.

25 December 2012 – I’d moved to a new job in Dubai the previous month, and my wife had stayed behind in Abidjan while the daughters finished school and I set-up our new life in the Middle East. Went to church in the morning, and then a British family invited me to their place for Christmas dinner, for which I will be forever grateful. In the evening I celebrated Christmas with a work colleague and her friends (I think everyone else was Muslim and had never celebrated Christmas before – they were confused by simple things like Christmas crackers).

25 December 2013 – My wife got her first visa for the UK, and we traveled back for two weeks to have a wonderful Christmas with my parents. It was poignant as the last Christmas we would enjoy together with my Dad.

25 December 2014 – My baby’s first Christmas and one month birthday. Wife and three daughters were together in Abidjan, I’m stuck in Freetown. Church in the morning, and then a dinner of sardines, boiled egg and instant noodles followed by custard creams. Worked in the afternoon and popped into the office in the evening, before finishing with a film.

25 December 2015

On spending

This may turn out similar to an earlier post, but I got my salary and a separation payment paid into my bank account in the last few days. And I started wondering what people do with all their money. It’s true that at the weekend I went on an online Amazon spending spree, which is easy to do when you have a bit of money, you’re bored and you’re far from almost any decent shops, but it didn’t come to a huge amount. Still I have a new camera on the way, even though I have a perfectly good camera with an amazing new lens (which won’t be compatible with the new camera I just bought).*

But really: I’m youngish, I have two daughters in higher education, I’ve had an expensive year with lots of travel, homes rented in various cities and of course a baby, and yet I don’t know how to spend my money. Why don’t I hear anyone else complain about such problems? I suspect that the most significant thing about my current situation is that I’m far from shopping, and more importantly, I’m only going to leave here in 3-4 years with the contents of a few suitcases so why buy more?

I think what a lot of people my age are doing is investing in buying homes, equipping homes and upgrading homes, whereas I don’t have as much as a tin opener to my name. They key thing is that I don’t have a mortgage, which probably means in 20 years’ time everyone my age (at least among Western friends) will be living in their own homes and I’ll be renting (though I do have a house in Abidjan). If the second expense is transport, as I’ve said earlier, in this sort of situation, a basic 4×4 does the trick. And of course life is pretty cheap. I eat almost the same meal each evening. My sporting activity comes from jogging (one set of expensive trainers per year) and circuits (free app on phone).

As an aside, one thing that I use my money for in recent years is work. As a journalist, I didn’t like the equipment I was given by the BBC so bought my own. Ditto for the camera. Even now, I’m taking pictures, video and interviews for work on equipment that is my own, often processing on my own personal computer. My philosophy is that we get paid well enough, and why let administrative procedures and lack of budgets at work stop you doing the best job on the best equipment you can?

The funny thing is that even though I’m working long hours including weekends, I have a fair bit of time as well. So, with some spare money and time what’s stopping me doing a lot more? Sadly the answer is probably laziness and cowardliness. What I should be doing is writing novels, hanging out with friends and doing photo shoots. The sad truth is that I’m not doing a huge amount with my time.


*The idea behind the camera purchase is that there are now some really exciting sub $500 mirrorless cameras that are really small. My idea is that this will be a throw-around camera that I can use to hit the streets with, with the acceptable risk that it will get damaged or stolen one day. I’ve heard lots of other photographers say that these new cameras have released a new lease of creativity in their work. Watch this space.

Letter to Daniella

I’ve been a bit quiet recently especially considering (or perhaps because) our daughter, Daniella Ramissou, was born three weeks ago. She’s so precious and it’s already sad to be apart. I’ll definitely write more soon [ed – how often have you seen that written on a blog and then that’s the last you hear from someone for months?]. In the meantime, I published a post on my other site, Drogba’sCountry (it’s a blog that is less personal and focuses almost exclusively on Ivory Coast / Cote d’Ivoire). I wasn’t sure which blog would be the better home for the post, but in the end I plumped for DC, with a link from here. Here’s the piece.

Happy birthday

Dear Dad,

Just wanted to wish you happy birthday today – you would have turned 65, a good age to retire, though you’re no longer around for that. I know one of the things that gave you greatest pleasure in your final years was getting birthday cards or father’s day cards in which us boys could express our gratitude to you for being such a wonderful father. I’m glad we did, because though you are no longer with us here on earth, we are not like those who live with the regrets of never saying how much they loved and appreciated each other. I thank God we took advantage of our times together to tell you how much we felt honoured to have you as our dad.

Of course you wouldn’t have wanted a fuss for your birthday, and Mum would know better than to try and buy you a present that you didn’t need. I’m sure a box of chocolates would have sufficed. And no-one else outside the family would have known it was your birthday – you were always a bit sensitive about people knowing your age. A weak spot perhaps – but now I’m a father five years after you started with me, I may feel the same when I get into my 60s but feel just like I did in my 30s.

Of course if you had lasted till the end of the year, you would have seen one of the best presents imaginable – a little girl dressed in pink with rosy red cheeks and a full head of dark hair. Your first grandchild. Of course, thanks to her mum, her hair was always going to be black, but it’s so fine, that you’re really the closest match in the family. So in the cycle of life and genes something of you lives on in a girl that will never see you on this earth, but who as she grows older we’ll tell her all we can about the grandfather she never knew. We’ll show her all the photos and videos we have, but it’s more in the tales we tell that hopefully we can really capture your personality. And the values you passed on to us, we will seek to pass on to her. I’ve no doubt we’ll sometimes remark ‘you know, you’re just like your grandfather.’ And that will make us immensely happy and sad at the same time.