Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pining for the fjords

Pining for the fjords!? It’s not pining! It’s passed on. This blog is no more. It has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker. It’s a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If it wasn’t nailed to this website it’d be pushing up the daisies. It’s kicked the bucket, it’s shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-blog!

After three years it’s time to draw this to a close. Feel free to keep my RSS feed in your reader on the off-chance that the blog comes back to life in the future. Farewell and thanks for reading...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Letter from Zimbabwe

The following letter was posted on the ConservativeHome blog today. Reposted here without permission but I doubt that's too important given the subject matter. At Christmas it's good to remind ourselves that millions of people live in the squalor into which Jesus was born 2000 years ago.


I reckon that these are the last days of TKM and ZPF. The darkest hour is always before dawn.

We are all terrified at what they are going to destroy next........I mean they are actually ploughing down brick and mortar houses and one family with twin boys of 10 had no chance of salvaging anything when 100 riot police came in with AK47's and bulldozers and demolished their beautiful house - 5 bedrooms and pine ceilings - because it was 'too close to the airport', so we are feeling extremely insecure right now.

You know - I am aware that this does not help you sleep at night, but if you do not know - how can you help? Even if you put us in your own mental ring of light and send your guardian angels to be with us - that is a help -but I feel so cut off from you all knowing I cannot tell you what's going on here simply because you will feel uncomfortable. There is no ways we can leave here so that is not an option.

I ask that you all pray for us in the way that you know how, and let me know that you are thinking of us and sending out positive vibes... that's all. You can't just be in denial and pretend/believe it's not going on.

To be frank with you, it's genocide in the making and if you do not believe me, read the Genocide Report by Amnesty International which says we are - IN level 7 - (level 8 is after it's happened and everyone is in denial).

If you don't want me to tell you these things-how bad it is-then it means you have not dealt with your own fear, but it does not help me to think you are turning your back on our situation. We need you, please, to get the news OUT that we are all in a fearfully dangerous situation here. Too many people turn their backs and say - oh well, that's what happens in Africa

This Government has GONE MAD and you need to help us publicize our plight---or how can we be rescued? It's a reality! The petrol queues are a reality, the pall of smoke all around our city is a reality, the thousands of homeless people sleeping outside in 0 Celsius with no food, water, shelter and bedding are a reality. Today a family approached me, brother of the gardener's wife with two small children. Their home was trashed and they will have to sleep outside. We already support 8 adult people and a child on this property, and electricity is going up next month by 250% as is water.

How can I take on another family of 4 -----and yet how can I turn them away to sleep out in the open?

I am not asking you for money or a ticket out of here - I am asking you to FACE the fact that we are in deep and terrible danger and want you please to pass on our news and pictures. So PLEASE don't just press the delete button! Help best in the way that you know how.

Do face the reality of what is going on here and help us SEND OUT THE WORD.. The more people who know about it, the more chance we have of the United Nations coming to our aid. Please don't ignore or deny what's happening. Some would like to be protected from the truth BUT then, if we are eliminated, how would you feel? 'If only we knew how bad it really was we could have helped in some way'.

[I know we chose to stay here and that some feel we deserve what's coming to us]

For now,--- we ourselves have food, shelter, a little fuel and a bit of money for the next meal - but what is going to happen next? Will they start on our houses? All property is going to belong to the State now. I want to send out my Title Deeds to one of you because if they get a hold of those, I can't fight for my rights.

Censorship!----We no longer have SW radio [which told us everything that was happening] because the Government jammed it out of existence
- we don't have any reporters, and no one is allowed to photograph. If we had reporters here, they would have an absolute field day. Even the pro-Government Herald has written that people are shocked, stunned, bewildered and blown mindless by the wanton destruction of many folks homes, which are supposed to be 'illegal' but for which a huge percentage actually do have licenses.

Please! - do have some compassion and HELP by sending out the articles and personal reports so that something can/may be done.

'I am one. I cannot do everything, ---but I can do something.. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do.'

Edward Everett Hale

Please send this on to everyone in your address book. We send jokes out without blinking an eyelid. We don't get told this on the news in South Africa , we only get told what they want us to hear. We all have a chance to do something, even though the something is by pressing forward to as many people as possible. Let's stop talking and let's start doing! There is power in prayer, there is also power in more people knowing about this than you in my address book. This is going to America , Dubai , Australia , France , South Africans all over South Africa , the UK . By forwarding this to all in my address book I have done something. The world needs to know what is going on.

From John Winter in Zimbabwe

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Cool Africa

Casablanca, Morocco

It's been a great experience to visit Morocco this week. Actually it's been a range of experiences rather than just one - this is a very varied country and it's difficult to get under its skin and see what the culture is truly like. To that end it's been very helpful to visit with two people who live in the country and have more of an idea of how things work.

We had a good taste of African efficiency on Thursday when we came to leave Chefchaouen and get to Fes. It's a 4 hour bus journey, or about 200kms by road. We got to the bus station at 8am to buy tickets, but were told that all the buses were 'complet' (full) so we'd have to try another way. First some 'helpful' bystanders told us to go to Ouezzane, a town on the main road, then get a bus to Fes from there. So we waited an hour for that bus, only to be told that it too was 'complet'. So the next helpful suggestion was to go back to Tetouan, 2 hours the wrong way, to get on a bus to Fes that wouldn't be full. So that's what we had to do. It was a little dispiriting to pass by the Chefchaouen junction on the main road at about 4:30pm, about 7 hours after last seeing it going the other way. Never mind...

We had a good taste of Moroccan culture when we got to Fes. We'd rung ahead and reserved a triple room in the Grand Hotel de Fes for 600dh per night - 15 pounds each. What a bargain! It turned out to be a fantastic bargain. When we arrived at the bus station it was about 9pm. The bus driver took me aside and explained briefly (in French) where we were in relation to the city centre and how to get there. Top marks for helpfulness - this is what Moroccans are like usually. As we were walking to the taxi rank a hotel tout came up to us, started harassing one of the Aussie girls with us and the two Asian guys. Suffice to say he didn't win us over to staying at his hotel.

In the medina we had the ultimate experience of being 'Fezzed'. My optimism and enthusiasm for seeing it lasted about 20 minutes past the first tour guide offer from a 'faux guide' whose job is to take you to his uncle's carpet shop and hard sell you. We ended up at the tannery, where they make leather goods in an 800-year old environment preserved thanks to UNESCO (apparently; I haven't confirmed it yet). Our guide there said to take our time, look around and reassured us that there would be no hard sell. I picked up a satchel to have a look and then spent 30 minutes in battle with first the salesman - who insulted me, swore at me and eventually QUIT HIS JOB - then the general manager who was very charming and persuasive. I was as slippery as I could be and kept dropping my maximum price to what I actually wanted to pay. After a few close calls I finally walked out with the bag I wanted at a price I could deal with. But the experience was so traumatic I don't think I could do it again!

On Saturday we headed back to Casablanca where my friends live and work. It's a big ugly city for the most part, but seems to be the hub of the country economically. We had dinner at Rick's Cafe on Saturday night: not the original, but recreated to resemble the film version. Today we went to church, and I went to visit the Hassan II Mosque, one of the biggest in the world and quite impressive. Not a patch on St Paul's though.

It's been a bit of a whirlwind tour of Morocco, and there's lots I haven't had time to see. Hopefully there'll be time in the future to come back and experience more of the country. But for now I have a flight to catch to Madrid tomorrow afternoon, and then to London in the evening. Travel blog closed once again.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Cold Africa

Chefchaouen, Morocco

This is my first holiday paid for from a salary and taken from a finite amount of paid leave (albeit a large finite amount). I'm visiting a friend who works for an NGO in Morocco and is on holiday with me, and another of his co-workers, for this week.

I flew into Gibraltar on Sunday afternoon and stayed there one night. On Monday morning I had just enough time to scoot up to the top of the Rock, see some monkeys, and walk back down. Meanwhile Andrew and Sid had been to Mark's and Spencer... one of the advantages of a British territory in Spain! We took the ferry from Algeciras to Tangier on Monday afternoon, which was a very rough crossing. I had to take a hurried visit to the toilet but felt much better afterwards.

This is my first time in Africa and so far it has been not at all what I expected! Tangier is a city much like ones in southern Spain or Italy: quite well organised but slightly chaotic, full of traffic driving to and from the port, and with a naval feel. We found a cheap hotel to stay in - 100 dirhams per person, which is 10 euros or 7 pounds - which promised hot water but did not deliver. On all other counts it was fine, and on Tuesday morning we shipped out to the bus station and caught the bus up here to the mountains.

Chefchaouen means "look at the peaks!" in Arabic, and that is what we've been doing. It is COLD here, dropping to near freezing at night and peaking at 12 degrees or so in the daytime. Moreover, the Moroccans haven't mastered indoor heating so it is COLD inside as well. Blankets and thermal underwear are a must to sleep! To be fair we are paying only 70 dirhams a night here in our hotel, so I can't really complain.

Today my friend and I attempted to hike up one of the peaks overlooking the town. It's a 1600m mountain, meaning about 800 vertical metres of climb. We set off quite early, but got waylaid when we took a wrong turning and had to clamber up, and then down, some rocks that we thought were the path. After wasting an hour on that we headed up, and after rising above the snowline quickly had to slow our pace. Snow was at first in the bushes, then at the side of the path, then on the path, and it got deeper and deeper until eventually we were slogging through about 6 inches of wet snow in jeans and hiking trainers!

We called it a day at 1400m when two Moroccans told us we were still 2 hours from the peak - this was at 1.30pm, and we thought it unlikely we'd make it up and back without any problems. Coming downhill on the snow was wonderful, much easier than even on a hard path, and we got back to town at 4pm and promptly crashed out for a couple of hours. Unfortunately both my pairs of shoes and my only pair of trousers are now wet, and the hostel is too cold for them to dry out! So tomorrow we're off to Fes and will be staying somewhere more expensive but warmer, which seems like a good compromise.

After 2 days in Fes we're off to Casablanca where my friends work, and I fly home on Monday. It's a quick trip (already halfway done) but I'm really enjoying Morocco so far, and seeing it with people who know their way around is very valuable. We've bumped into the backpacker circuit here, and it's reminded me what a bizarre existence it is to be a 'traveller' - always seeing new places but only ever experiencing your own culture, with other people who are exactly like you. Not quite as eye-opening as some people will tell you...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Trouble brewing

Seven years ago on 9/11, spin doctor Jo Moore sent an email around her department saying that it was "a good day to bury bad news". Yesterday seems to have been another episode of the same behaviour by the government.

The brutal attacks in Mumbai have rightly captured the public attention and will no doubt continue to do so. Yesterday was also Sir Ian Blair's last day in office as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London. He has been in cahoots with the New Labour government for years, backing them on 42 days and the Jean Charles de Menezes killing in 2005.

Yet we are supposed to believe that the government knew nothing of the arrest of an MP - a member of the Shadow Cabinet - until after it happened? An arrest that involved nine anti-terrorist police officers and resulted in Damian Green's offices being searched and him being held for nine hours? An operation that Boris Johnson and David Cameron were informed of but powerless to prevent?

Ian Blair, Jacqui Smith and Gordon Brown are all complicit in this, and it stinks. Damian Green was acting in the public interest by exposing dangerous flaws in government policy, such as the number of illegal immigrants being allowed to work without security clearance in airports and Parliament. For them to have him arrested is a desecration of our democracy and I dearly hope that this is the beginning of the end for the lot of them.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Another year, another birthday. Tomorrow I will definitely be in my mid-20s (!) which seems quite old compared to where I've come from. (I suppose it also seems quite young compared to where I'm going.) It's a good chance to reflect on the year that's passed, and also for more years in the past. Here are one or two things that have happened in each of the last 9 years.

15: became a Christian
16: passed GCSEs, got baptised
17: passed driving test, started final year of school
18: passed A Levels, started gap year
19: travelled the world for 4 months, started university
20: finished first year of university, fell in love
21: lived in Canada for a few months, started final year of uni
22: graduated, moved to London
23: got a Master's degree, started my first job
24: ?

Note the upward trend and slightly worrying lack of failure or suffering in that list. Behind it is God's grace and faithfulness: saving me, teaching me about trust, prayer, faith, grace, godliness, evangelism, maturity, leadership, discipleship and teaching. I am thankful for the past year and pray that the next may bring more of the same - spiritual growth, that is. As for worldly success, I could take it or leave it.

I do have one or two things in mind for the near future though... :)

Friday, November 21, 2008

American geopolitics

Given that over a fifth of 18-24 year old Americans are unable to locate the Pacific Ocean on a map, and that only a third of Americans are taught geography in school (!!!) it's easy to question the geographic literacy in Washington. After the complete cock-up of the Iraq war I had been wondering if anyone in the US was aware of the importance of place, culture and nation vs. state. A "political map" of the world in which countries are neatly delineated doesn't reflect the reality of life in a lot of countries: look at this map of Somalia for instance, where the 'government' controls less than 1/3 of the country.

All is not lost! The National Intelligence Council has published a comprehensive, detailed and nuanced document analysing geographic trends to the year 2025. I've been dipping into it this morning and am pleased to note an acknowledgement of the differences between Sunni and Shi'a populations in Iraq, the potential conflict between North and South in India (driven by religion and culture) and the emergence of an Islamic discourse in European politics. Well, I'm not happy to read about that but it's good that it hasn't escaped people's attention anyway.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Change has come

I stayed up to watch the election results on Tuesday night, but I couldn't take Wednesday off work so went to bed at 2:30, after most of the states' votes had started coming in. So I missed the concession of McCain and the acceptance of Obama.

Watching Obama's speech does make you appreciate the qualities of oration and presentation he has. I can't imagine a book of "Obamaisms" being published any time soon! He has echoes of JFK in his vision of America, and I almost expected him to say "ask not what this country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country".

All that remains is to see whether he can actually provide any change. Hopefully he is not Tony Blair in disguise.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Heart in mouth

The report about a Christian aid worker being shot dead in Kabul was very sad news, and a sobering reminder about the real crises in the world which are unconnected to the 'credit crunch' (or recession, as we should really call it). It should drive us to prayer for the family of Gayle Williams, and for the country of Afghanistan which is slipping back into the hands of the Taliban, despite the military and political intervention of the West.

My heart was in my mouth for a while this morning between the initial story being published and Gayle's name being put on the story. A friend from university has just moved to Kabul to work for a similar organisation. She is the least likely person you'd imagine to do such tough missionary work but is committed to serving God wherever that means - even in Afghanistan. She is fine, but it's time to start praying for her...