I loved making collages during a short course at CityLit: the simple-yet-not-simple task of putting disparate pieces together to make something else.
When I sit down to write I have an idea of what will happen, or at least what I want to happen. Collage starts with a blank page too, but – because it is new to me and maybe also because it’s without pressure – feels impossibly open-ended.
I liked the surprise of the decollage technique – pasting layers then removing elements to create something entirely new. It is unpredictable: some people in the class said they didn’t enjoy the lack of control.
I liked the tutor’s suggestion to have multiple pieces on the go at once, to shift without thinking from one to the next and back again, to see things afresh, to start noticing themes or connections that tie them together. Above all, he said, it stops you being too precious, it frees you.
Everything feels different or disjointed: the air oppressively warm; my knowledge of Spanish buried too many years ago to find the words I need; and it should be afternoon, but I’m the first to order breakfast. Eggs with tomatoes and onion, fruit, black coffee to shake off a six-hour time difference.
Last week an overnight flight took me to Cartagena de Indias, a city of around 1 million on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, where men push carts piled high with mangoes through busy streets, where horse-drawn carts join traffic jams, where friends pose for selfies amid flags or pink umbrellas or street art. A dark history – a one-time slave trade hub, and one of three seats of the Catholic Inquisition in the Americas — but the city has since become a UNESCO heritage site, and tourists come nowadays for the colour, the nightlife, the nearby islands, the easy stroll along thick fortress walls.
Flights to and from Khartoum had been cancelled all day, we heard.
Not because of Covid-19, which was yet to stifle travel in most parts of the world – but because of a sandstorm.
It was a Thursday in early March, and my colleague Julie and I were due to fly back to Europe the following day. Back to Europe meant returning to what felt like the eye of another storm: Italy was by now the tragic centre of the coronavirus outbreak, and the rest of the continent wasn’t far behind. Continue reading “New rhythms, new hope”→
After ten years abroad, my friend Débora moved back to her hometown, Lisbon, last year. People there sometimes ask why she came back. Surely there are so many more opportunities abroad?
Sometimes Débora wonders why, too. After Bonn, Leipzig, Brussels, Geneva and London, it’s taking a while to adjust to the laid-back Portuguese attitude to planning, the open-ended work meetings and the buses that don’t turn up. Not to mention eating dinner so late.
It’s not only the reverse culture shock; for many returning to Portugal, there’s also a financial one, in a country where the minimum monthly wage is under EUR 600. Continue reading “Europe’s hottest hub”→
This month I’m in Kazo, just outside Kampala (Uganda), working with a community organisation called UYWEFA – who I found via idealist.org, a great resource for non-profit opportunities all over the world.
I’m doing film-making and photography projects with young people, schoolkids, and HIV positive women – not to mention a few other unexpected tasks like filming the local football tournament. More details, pictures and videos coming soon – in the meantime, I’m blogging from over here.
Maybe I’m too early. There are flatscreen TVs, fashionably ripped jeans and perfume brands I’ve never heard of – but not much selling going on. Security guards lean over the stairwell. Traders count their stock. The four-storey Tianxiu building, in central Guangzhou in southern China, comes alive later perhaps.
I won’t know for sure, though, not today. It’s three in the afternoon, and I have just a few hours in the city. I’ve made a beeline for Tianxiu: Guangzhou is home to the largest African community in the country, and this is the heart of it all.
Beijing is cool. If you can afford to pay for cool, of course. Vintage stores, cocktail bars and cappuccino places with mis-matching furniture for the expats and the well-off. For the rest, not-so-clean-looking noodle places and public toilets: the hutong (courtyard) housing much-loved by Westerners doesn’t come with its own sanitation. Continue reading “Belatedly from Beijing”→