Archives mensuelles : août 2016

Depends how you look at it

I had a feeling it’d be one of those days, and that’s kind of how it turned out. The fact that we had a major donor proposal due to be submitted by 5pm today rather spoiled my weekend. To start the last minute work on bringing all the contributions together, I skipped the morning exercises and left for the office at 615am. This involved going under the bonnet, as the car battery had been left disconnected overnight, as I seem to have an electrical issue with the car which is draining power.

Work was intense – seeking last minute contributions, working to a looming deadline that couldn’t be shifted, while at the same time fending off several really important things that will have to wait till tomorrow. At the same time, due to my issues waiting for a US visa waiver (I’m due to travel on 30 August, I applied for a visa waiver on 11 August, but everytime I visit the website it says ‘Authorisation pending’ promising a result in 72 hours after application), I’m rushing through an application for a standard visa at the local embassy. A guy who helps me out, Lamin, was at the bank first thing to pay the visa fee (you have to pay cash at the bank and get a receipt). After three hours queuing, they told him that he needed my passport, which he came to get. After three more hours queuing, the told him he needed my application receipt. As I explained on the telephone to the man, none of this information was detailed on the website explaining how to pay the fee. At least they accepted a photo sent via Whatsapp.

Work finished late, I squeezed a session in the gym, and then on the way back from work my car lost all power, and came to a stop just as night fell, about 200m from the office. The car was supposed to go to the garage today to fix a probable alternator problem, but it didn’t because my friend was tied up at the bank on the aforementioned duty. I sat for 20 minutes on an unlit street waiting for help, with the added bonus of having taken the electric window down to handover an office key, and not being able to get it back up when the power failed. Mosquitoes are not my favourite creatures.

So an expectedly bad day. But there were some bright spots. I was trying to remind myself all day that these momentary dramas quickly lose their stress after a few weeks. In the scheme of things, they don’t amount to very much. In fact something similar was said on a podcast I was listening to this evening.

The other positives:

– After all that stress, the day is over, and here I am in a comfortable house, with electricity, and the chance to write down these things down. Even if I got home late, I still have a good hour of free time before bed.

– I’ll write a blog post soon on ‘right hand men’, but Lamin was really the hero of the day – he spent a rotten day queuing at the bank, and then rescued me this evening – swapping batteries so that my car could be deposited in the work car park and arranging a taxi to take me home.

– At the gym, I was alone with the new gym instructor, so he led me through a one-on-one training session. My shoulder injury from May still doesn’t allow much weight lifting but it’s slowly healing. The session made me feel good about my fitness and core strength.

– When the car broke down, I was not far from the gate, so I asked one of our security guards to sit with me while I waited for my rescue. We had a nice conversation, including him telling me about his plans to study economics at university. He didn’t know a huge amount about the subject, so I took him through a basic explanation of the demand curve. It takes a car break down for me to have a proper conversation with someone I see almost every day and get to know his life story, dreams and struggles.

– The taxi that took me back home, stopping for fuel at the local petrol station at a busy junction I pass everyday. I realise now that I miss West African taxi rides – it’s one of the things you no longer have in your life when you own a car. You get to observe so much more – the main thing is not having to drive and concentrate on the wild driving. But there’s also the fact that the windows are down (no air conditioning) so you feel closer to things. A busy West African junction is always full of interest, even at night.

So, light and dark today, and one person’s drama, is another’s refreshing life experience.


Fifteen years ago, the answer to what do you want to be when you’re older was ‘a journalist in Africa’. For some reason, which I can’t really identify the inspiration for, I went about this mission with a methodical determination. I poured over the CVs of journalists and even student journalists who happened to have got into the best programmes. I tried to work out everything that an ideal African journalist would know and do, and find a way to get that. I worked on my touch typing, I learned short hand, collected work experience across the country, took French classes, I signed up to the right magazines and joined the Royal African Society.

Maybe I’m at that stage again. At least I have an idea that I’d like to do a lot more writing and photography in the future. To take writing, it seems clear that writers write a lot, they read a lot, they associate with other writers, and they know about their craft. I’ve built many of these things into my life, though the key thing – doing a lot of writing – remains rather absent. Today I finally got to write a couple of short creative texts, and hopefully this can continue. Part of the excuse I give is that I spend my working life in front of this computer, and it doesn’t seem sensible to have a hobby that involves more hours at this keyboard. One option I’m considering is being a separate personal laptop that helps me differentiate mentally from work time. Another option, might be to hand write, at least for writing that I’m just doing to exercise the creative muscles.

Between now and the end of the year, I should have plenty of time to find out whether this writing malarkey is my thing.


I mentally pulled myself up short this week in a meeting at work, when I realised how much I behave like my dad. I can’t really remember ever being in a meeting with my dad, but perhaps we pick up more than we realise through osmosis. My dad could have a reputation of being ‘the difficult’ one in business meetings, by which I mean, asking the awkward question, taking singular stands, trying to be the practical one, but sometimes getting people’s backs up.

I can’t say I’m all of those things (or perhaps I like to think higher of myself than I deserve and cherry pick the more positive elements). Certainly, I often find myself being the one who calls for realism, practicality, and is fond of asking the bigger questions, particularly if something is really worth all the effort, or might be hindering our ultimate objective.

I wonder if it’s something that’s come to me through nature or nurture. Or perhaps, it’s simply a role I’m playing. This afternoon I was reading a book about team meetings, which talked about the different ‘games’ (or roles) that people play in meetings – the peacemaker, the encourager, the initiator, the humorist, the onlooker, the side-tracker, the monopolizer, etc. Maybe, I’m play-acting the role of my dad.


The French dream

For a reason I haven’t quite fathomed, depression over brexit inspired in me a strange and particular desire to read a few of those vicarious books about Brits who abandon everything for rundown rustic homes in southern France (or elsewhere on ‘the continent’). Perhaps this sort of thing won’t even be possible come 2019. I’d already read a couple of the classics of the genre; ‘A Year in Provence’ and ‘Driving Over Lemons’. ‘Under a Tuscan sun’, which I think is the Italian equivalent is sadly not available as an e-book.

Such publishing successes have spawned many copies, especially of the home-made variety (no pun intended). After all, the dream of a southern French retirement to enjoy the good life has been a British middle class obsession for a large minority over a number of years, as TV shows like ‘A Place in the Sun’ testify. In the end, I plumped for: Michael Wright’s ‘C’est la folie’ and ‘A piano in the Pyrenees’ by Tony Hawk. I added in Bill Bryson’s travels around Europe (‘Neither here nor there’) for good measure. Having finished all three, I can say I’ve scratched my itch.

For me, such a move would have its attractions – the pleasant weather, the possibility of being close to mountains and lakes, good food, and relatively cheap and attractive housing. Being comfortable in French helps as well. For some that would be the definition of the good life.

But reading these books left me pretty sure that if a French home lies in my future, it wouldn’t be a full-time residence. An over-riding feeling from these books is the self-focus involved on having a comfortable life.

I feel life should be about something more, and it’s fair to say that that something resides in the city. These rural dreams have almost no-one under 40, have none of the buzz and intellectual stimulation of the city, and don’t really have a sense of contributing anything to wider society (unless you count restoring a crumbling chateau for future generations, or writing an escapist book that thousands might enjoy) or being part of a dynamic Christian community. Maybe it’s a function of age, but I really think of life as much more about making a difference.

But perhaps if we want a place in future to retreat and write (a la Montaigne), and if children are close by, then maybe a stone cottage in the hills will have a place.