Category: #WorldFromMyArmchair

Against a Peacock Sky by Monica Connell

4 out of 5 stars

The beauty of the country of Nepal high up on the rooftop of the world is a stark contrast to living there. It is a tough life at altitude and the tiny villages still eke out their existence. The traditions that have existed since time immemorial still hold their power, the modern world at that point had almost no influence on their continuation of life.

For an outsider trying to fit in is very difficult, but for someone used to the relative comforts of a Western lifestyle then this feels an even larger step away from civilisation. Monica Connell is an anthropologist and she wanted to visit a village there to complete the fieldwork section of her degree. She had taken language lessons, studied guide books, scrutinised maps on the area and drew up longs list of supplies to take. She chose the Jumula district as these people there, the matawali Chhetris had not been studied in any depth so this seemed an ideal choice.

The tiny Otter plane took her and Peter, a research assistant who was going to take photos of them, from Kathmandu to Jumla where they stayed for a few days. A village was suggested to them and they headed out to take a look at it. The walked into the village and we met by barking dogs and stares from the villagers. Invited up onto one of the roofs, she asked permission to stay for a period of time to learn about life there. After they had finished, they realised that they had left it too late to head back to Jumla. They sat under a tree deciding what to do, and two boys appeared saying that their father had invited them to stay for six months. The village of Talphi had selected them and this man, Kalchu would become a close friend.

To me all the cows looked similar – small and black all over although I did recognise that some had longer horns and a few had non at all. He looked at me and said he often wondered how I told my books apart. To him they looked the same.
We smiled, acknowledging the difference of our worlds.

It is an intense world that she has entered, life is hard in the village and the rich tapestry of life and death is a daily occurrence. She and Peter settle into a routine in the village, helping out the family that they are staying with, watching the villagers dancing for the festival of karati on the roof of a neighbours house, seeing the tiny symbolic gestures and rituals when the flocks to go on the move and helping out where possible with those that were ill. As the monsoon arrives, they observe them building a temporary bridge as they do every year. She marvels at the way the women collect the pine needles, gather then together somehow and carry the enormous loads back to the village.

Connell provides some real insight into daily life in this village. It is full of tiny details that help paint a picture of what life is like there, from the grime that surrounds them all the time, the bead of dew glistening on the grass at dawn, the villagers smoking a chillim and getting the harvest in. The village is maintaining its way of life, but the outside and modern world is chipping away at it little by little. Connell writing is sharp and clear, much like the rarefied atmosphere. She writes with compassion too, not seeking to judge the people for the things that they do, nor questioning the rituals that hold significance to them. Rather, she bonds with Kalchu and his family, helping with the activities and work, participating and sharing the happy and sad moments of daily life there.

Untie the Lines by Emma Bamford

3 out of 5 stars

For some people, the thought of living on a boat is enough to send shivers down their spine. Even if it is travelling through some of the exotic parts of the world with the sun shining all day. But for Emma Bamford, it is all she has ever wanted to do. The last time that she tried it though it didn’t quite work out, however, she has high hopes for this trip with Guy, even though she hardly knows him at all. Whilst they get on fairly well, it is not a relationship that is destined to last. So she heads back to London to pick up some of her media contacts to get a job and an income once again, she re-enters the relentless and non-stop world of the news desk once again.

But the call of the sea is too much to resist and she heads over to the states to help deliver a boat from America to the Caribbean with another couple. It is a tough journey as they struggle with the weather and have a few run-ins with the authorities with visa issues. Back in London, she is promoted to editor, more work for less money, but in the end, it becomes overwhelming and she is forced to make a choice in what she wants to do, for her health as much as her sanity.

I quite enjoyed this book, Bamford writes with honesty about working for a newspaper and the immense pressures that they are all under to deliver the constant 24 / 7 stream of news that people now expect and how she found her work life balance. But this is primarily about two boat journeys across two very different parts of the world and the freedom that she feels when holding the tiller with the wind in her hair. Should have read Casting Off first, but I will get to it one day.

Review: The Timbuktu School for Nomads by Nicholas Jubber

4.5 out of 5 stars

The Sahara desert is the largest hot desert in the world. The only deserts larger than it, are the polar regions. It covers the top part of Africa and is around 3.6 million square miles in area. It hasn’t always been a desert as every 41,000 years or so it changes back into grasslands before reverting to desert once again. It is harsh there too, the temperature in the hottest part of the year can reach 40 deg. C with the sand reaching 85 deg. C and the night time temperatures can drop to 13 deg. C. The surreal landscape has attracted all sorts of people of the millennia, the people who managed to survive there became nomads, travelling from waterhole to waterhole, eking a living from the shifting sands. The cities became places of legend, centres where the merchants who brought a substance more valuable than gold from the arid land, salt and it is the place where the richest man who ever lived made his fortune.

Even with the threat of jihadists, it is a place that still attracts travellers. Nicholas Jubber is one of those who is captivated by the region and is hoping to follow in the footsteps of the 16th-century traveller Leo Africanus. His journey will take him from the sands of Morocco to the markets of Mauritania and onto the city of the sands, Timbuktu. On his journey around these countries, he wants to be involved with the locals; help them, learn from them and discover the secrets of the desert. He ends up helping in a tannery, wandering the sands alone while friends that he has made keep an eye on him, ride camels and glean the ways to look for water in a landscape that surrenders very little.

By travelling with the locals he immerses himself in the culture. slowly they come to accept this man who mangles their language, shares their food and camps deep in the dunes. He absorbs the peace of the desert, understanding the people that choose to live there and why they would not swap this life for anything. Not only is he a sensitive traveller, it is really well written too, describing what he sees with the excited eyes of a child. But it is a place of danger too, the journey into Timbuktu was fraught and the stories that he heard when he arrived were horrific. Can really recommend this for those that want something a little different from regular travel books and it is about a part of our world that is rarely written about now. 4.5 stars.

New Challenge

Those of you that know me know I read a fair amount of travel books. I am considering a huge challenge to read a travel book set in every country in the world called:
The World from My Armchair
What do people think of the name?

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