Thursday, 16 August 2012

Fear Factory

I haven't written for a few days because things have been so busy.

But in the last week I have found one tiny window of time to learn a lesson about fear.

I was walking back to my room in the evening the other day and a huge grasshopper, at least the length of my iphone, jumped on my face.

Oh my god, the fear that gripped me was so intense. It was fleeting, but still so, so intense.

Same thing when there was a spider on my wall in my room. The word that best explains how I feel when I see a spider is 'terror'. Utter terror. The hairs on my arms stand up, my chin wobbles, I scream - all these things and more. Its an ordeal.

So, anyway, the grasshopper incident made me think about this a little bit more deeply than normal. What is it that I'm scared of? Is it the crawly little legs? Ew. Horrible, but not exactly terrifying. The eyes? Nope. Beady and alien looking, but not terrifying. The fact that they could kill you? Well grasshoppers, no, spiders maybe but highly unlikely. So the answer to that question is basically no. So what? I can't define it and that makes me feel quite pathetic.

I went out with a new friend for a drink the other night and he was telling me this story about how he got mugged. It was so full on. People dragged him out of his car with guns and lay him on the floor and beat him. They stamped on his head and kicked his face. They left him for dead, took all his money and his car and left him with psychological scars as well as physical ones.

Now if that had happened to me I wouldn't ever be in a car on my own again. I wouldn't be able to walk in the street without suspecting everyone of murderous intent, in fact I probably wouldn't be able to even walk down a street without some difficulty. That incident would decide how I live my life.

But not this guy. He wasn't dismissive of what had happened, he was cautious with his actions as a result, but it didn't stop him doing anything freely and without a problem. In short, he was able to isolate the incident as just an incident. His attitude was brave and courageous. He was explaining his thoughts while it was happening and I was amazed at how someone could be so rational and reasonable with their thoughts whilst going through something like that.

Unfortunately for me, this guy was the one and only witness to my pathetic display of irrational fear when the grasshopper came and landed on my face.

And I felt pathetic.

However, I made a vow to myself then and there to try my hardest to be more brave and more courageous.

So, yeah. Thats my story. Thats my lesson. The end.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

And so the revelation comes....

When I haven't blogged for a few days it feels like there's loads to say, but no order to it. A jumble in my head that is chomping at the bit to get out.

And then when it comes to writing there's this blank. Such a weird feeling having so many thoughts but losing the power of articulation.

So that's my pre-emptive apology for a bunch of weirdo ramblings. Here goes....

When I was 18 and in Uganda I saw someone get murdered.

It was deliberate that I saw it, some people with sick senses of humour were enjoying scaring me and laughing at me.

Lots of other things happened, and most of the people reading this are my friends and already know, so I won't bore you with the details. But this one image from that day has been in my head for 13 years. That event has dictated so much of my behaviours and my life. It made me fear everyone and everything. And I've really struggled over the years to not let that fear hinder me in my ventures and travels. Although I've been really scared so many times I've tried to push through fear and do things anyway. But its hard and its been hard to be open to my loved ones because they worry and seeing as I travel so much I don't want to worry them with things like that.

Anyway, being in Africa without anyone and on my lonesome was a really big deal for me. I know its only a few months, but the reason for the blog, for my nerves, for the 'bigness' of this trip in my head is because I was so terrified of something going wrong like it did last time.

So some of my personal development targets for this trip were about resolving these things in my head, put them somewhere that wouldn't burden me anymore. Lay it all to rest in a way that pysch doctors haven't been able to do.

But when I arrived I got scared that it wouldn't happen that way because the workload in the job is a lot, the novelty of being somewhere new was distracting and I was meeting lots of people and asking lots of questions instead of focussing on myself.

And then the weirdest thing happened.

Now, I'm completely agnostic, but it was almost weird enough for me to become a charismatic evangelical overnight. Almost.

A person who I knew in Uganda, who I lost contact with as soon as I left, but who I had a good relationship with and who was possibly the only person in the whole world who could give me some perspective on this, emailed me. After 13 years. So randomly and out of the blue - he emailed me at exactly the time I was thinking about him and I was able to spill out my stories of all the things that happened and the real reason I left Uganda early and didn't come back.

And you know what he said? He said - that was a long time ago and you're still alive.

Nothing more than that. He listened to me and he understood perfectly about fear. He told me about things he'd been through which were ten times worse, but about my story he said all he could say in a sentence. He couldn't turn back time, he couldn't bring back any dead people and he couldn't change anything. So all he could really say was 'sorry about that, thats horrible, but move on now, yeah?'.

And my head changed. It was a lightbulb moment. Everything just clicked into place and I changed. It really feels different now.

And I don't think he'll ever know what he's done for me.

And, yeah, so anyway, then that got me thinking about Carl Jung and synchronisity. I can't tell you exactly what it made me think because I'm not intelligent enough to critique theories of analytical psychology with a bit of esoteric mixed in, but I paid him heed in my mind.

Weird how things happen. And weird how I can write a whole page of a blog telling you how I don't really understand them....

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Jibber Jabber

Before I came to Zambia I had a meal with some of my friends in pizzaexpress to say 'ciao'.

My lovely friend Gareth Bickerton - (I used to think of him as a funder because he works for UnLtd, but in reality he's just a really nice bloke who has become a friend) popped along. Not for pizza, just to say hello and goodbye at the same time. When he passed by we had a conversation about my blog. I can't remember the exact conversation because I was tipsy already, but he said something along the lines of 'when are you going to write you first drunk blog?'

Gareth, today marks a momentous day.

I had to come to Lusaka to renew my visa, see someone, somewhere about something, (can't remember) and hopefully get a massage for the car crash injuries that are still causing me f**k loads of pain.

The plan was to get to my hotel in the evening and catch up on all of the sleep I've been missing because of the neck pain and the local mosque call to prayer that wakes me up at 5am every morning.

However, that plan quickly turned into seven beers in the hotel bar.

But it was amazing, though because I only paid for one. There was a few people in there and one of them kept sending drinks over to my table, which was amazing!  Now, I'm sure the etiquette is to figure out who it is, go and say hello, chit chat, exchange numbers, blah, blah, blah...But I just drank all the beers and then left without saying goodbye. Is that bad?

Anyway. That's the situation.

Apart from that, and in terms of the trip - I went to a meeting absolutely out in the far away sticks yesterday. Probably the most remotest I've been for a long time, and it was amazing. The meeting was great, the drive there was bumpy but amazing, the mountains were amazing, the sunset was amazing, the welcome was amazing, the everything was amazing.

I feel so, completely happy here. And it's amazing. But I have a tiny little feeling that I might have a bit of a headache tomorrow, which won't be that amazing.....

THE END (of my first drunk blog)

Monday, 6 August 2012


I'm in my room looking out of my window and there's this tree directly in my line of vision thats really tall and bears these fruits that are crazy looking. They look like green dreadlocks.

I have no idea what they are, but it doesn't surprise me that there is some crazy exotic fruit in the garden. Also in the garden there are mango trees, olive bushes, pawpaw trees, tangerine trees, cashew nut trees, avacado trees, banana trees, some weird nut thing that I've never heard of trees and pineapple trees.

All that in a garden. You would never have to go to Morrisons ever again, would you?

The other thing that is so beautiful here is the host of sounds that you hear when you stop and listen. So as I write this I can hear birds. They're so loud and full of life and they don't stop until sunset, which is normal for any country, but there are so many here. And I guess because the sound of traffic isn't deafening like at home you can hear every sound they make.

I can also hear distant music, and it doesn't even matter that I've heard this song over and over again since I've been here. It's happy music and it lifts people's spirits. I can hear laughing and joking between people out in the compound. And that's something that I don't go an hour without hearing - laughing, joking, excited voices, happy people.

I can hear sweeping brushes. That may sound silly, but its a really common sound, here. People sweeping their compounds and the front of their houses constantly! I'm not sure that really makes any sense because Zambia is the sandiest, dustiest place I've been to for a long time and as soon as you stop sweeping there's a breeze, a car or an animal that will take you back to square one again. But each to their own....

Maybe its worth mentioning what I can't hear, too. I can't hear traffic. I can't hear planes. I can't hear people's mobile phones going off every two minutes or people's frustrated fingers tapping a laptop or an ipad. It's wonderful.

And at night the sound of the insects, cicadas mainly, is so loud its crazy! But its beautiful and exotic and exciting.

And to compliment all the amazing sounds of Zambia are the colours. People wear colours that are as bright as their smiles. Patterns of every style, and colours that you would normally think clash but here are boldly and confidently worn. And the sky is bright blue. The sun is golden in the day and red in the evening. The sand is dusky and orange, the buildings are white or blue or pink and the smiles are the faces on people as they walk by are shining with warmth and happiness.

And that's what I wake up to every morning. It can't help but make you smile. It can't help but put a spring in your step when you walk to work, and it's helping me put as much energy and dedication into my job as I can. And above all, it's making me feel so lucky to be here, learning, experiencing and soaking it all up like a very, very colourful sponge.


Friday, 3 August 2012

Chilling with Chiefs

Today I had my first proper meeting with a chief. I met His Royal Highness Chief Ufwenuka at his home in a village about 45mins away from my own.

The land issue is so, so complicated here with so many different perspectives added to the mix and I'm trying to meet all those involved in the different arguments so I can get a clear picture of what's going on and thus put my best efforts into contributing something useful here.

Although its complicated I'm going to really try to sum it up in as objective a way as I can.

  • British colonial powers f**ked everything up (again) and now there's loads of land disputes.
  • Gender inequality adds to those disputes.
 Did I say objective? I meant angry.

So briefly when Zambia was a British colony the colonialists distributed land as they saw fit, even though the traditional tenure system in place meant that local people knew who already owned what, most of which had been in a clan or family for generations. When Zambia gained Independence in 1964 the new government that the British handed over to had to basically deal with two systems, the traditional one and the one that the British had introduced. Anyway, the government sorted a legal system to deal with state land, which is the good, fertile best land that the British took for themselves and then gave to the Zambian government, but they didn't sort a legal system to deal with customary land, which is the stuff that is owned by the people.

Customary land is traditionally held by chiefs and distributed to the people via village headmen. However, some corrupt district, provincial and government authorities have been trading customary land that isn't theirs and displacing people. Some chiefs who are corrupt have been selling inhabited land to government or district, urban folk without permission, again displacing people and also some corrupt headmen have been selling occupied land to international companies who want to build mines to feed the greedy self interest of their capitalist country.

Did I say brief? I meant ranty and long winded.

So anyway, back to HRH Chief Ufwenuka, (who incidentally you have to bow to and clap your hands three times when you meet him, something I was told AFTER I met him...). I was quite scared of him before I'd even seen him. I don't know which chiefs are the baddies and which ones are the goodies. I don't know which ones think women are pieces of meat or which ones want to see them as equals. It's all a bit confusing. Especially because I met a baddie headman the other day, but my judgemental side, (before I knew he was a baddie) screamed 'cute old man who I want to hug' at me. I didn't want to get it wrong again because I want to know what's what.

Anyway, back again from another transgression, to HRH CU. He was so beautiful. When I walked in, after tripping over the dog infront of everyone, I couldn't stop staring at him. He was captivating and charming. He talked with such sincerity about equality and justice, and he had this air of calm about him. I couldn't tell you how old he was, but old enough to have white hair, walking sticks and fairly advanced looking arthritis in his hands. As the most powerful person in his chiefdom, I thought he might not take kindly to suggestions about tenure systems in his jurisdiction, but my boss sat with him for a long time discussing ideas and he openly invited mine, too.

So today I've not only learned about different perspectives in the land rights argument, but I've definitely had another lesson about judgements. I never cease to amazing myself with the judgements that I have, even though I'm well travelled and consider myself open minded and culturally sensitive. I still judge and get it wrong constantly. Thanks to Chief U, I have been humbled.

I had two topics in my head to talk about in my blog this evening, but this one is already looking a bit lengthy so I'll perhaps save the other one for another time, but if I forget, can you mention the word 'sound' to me and then I'll remember what I want to write about.

Fank ewe!


Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Serious stuff again....

Polygamy. Discuss.

I am really, really interested in finding out people's thoughts on this because I'm confused.

Before I came here I didn't know that many of Zambia's ethnic groups are traditionally polygamous and that its a practice still very common today. It's perfectly legal here, in fact when I was discussing marriage with a local lady yesterday she couldn't believe that in the U.K. it wasn't legal.

On the one hand I am absolutely committed in my work life and my personal ethics to preserving and respecting culture and tradition as a way of empowering a sense of identity in people. I think that self identity is particularly important when material wealth and poverty is high - people might not have much, but they have a confidence in themselves, a feeling of foundation and pride in who they are, and that of course is inherently linked with the traditional culture that one comes from.

But there are several problems with polygamy here. Firstly, men can have several wives, but women can't have several husbands, so needless to say equality suffers. This is an explicit gender inequality, which ultimately affects the ability to empower and in turn has subsequent consequences in terms of poverty.

I met these women the other day at a community meeting on gender empowerment and land rights. 

They were amazing. They were intelligent, kind, bold and charismatic and each had something to say about the positive development of their community. But many of them hadn't been 'allowed' by their husbands to voice their opinions at home, in public or in the presence of any members of the traditional leadership, (e.g. chiefs). Why? Because they are women.

One woman I talked to was a widow. Her right to speak her mind about what happened to her assets, her children, her life on her husbands death was taken away from her by her late husband's family and she was at their mercy in terms of how to survive. This strong, funny, courageous woman felt that her dignity was stripped and her future uncertain by virtue of the fact that she was born female. 

But when I talked to her about being a Zambian she was proud. She wanted to welcome me to the 'real Africa' as she called it. She wanted me to share her experiences of her beautiful country and culture. Which is polygamous and explicitly gender biased. So what to do?

The second problem is that HIV and Aids is such a huge contributor to poverty issues in Sub Saharan Africa, as well as other sexually transmitted diseases and infections, and transmission rates are significantly attributable to high numbers of sexual partners. So polygamy, for all its cultural weight, can be dangerous.

The first thing I learned in university when I was studying International Development was don't always trust statistics. I've never really paid a huge amount of attention to that until coming here, but I see why my lecturer was so keen on this lesson now. Currently Zambian HIV/Aids rate stands at around 16%, but we know that because those 16% were tested. Most of these women hadn't been tested. They don't know their status. For that reason I suspect that the real statistics are much higher.

Same as gender based violence. You might not be able to see it in the picture, but several of these women had suspicious looking bruises or marks on their faces or arms. One of the women told me that she fell off a step. Her friend told me she was beaten by her husband. By my reckoning the story tells me that she's too embarrassed to report it or she's in denial. Or maybe she thinks its her husband's right to beat her, as many women do. One of the others even told me that it was an expression of love.

Obviously polygamy and gender inequality aren't perfectly synonomous, but I have started to believe that they have a profound effect on each other and that it is very rare you would witness polygamy without the subordination or oppression of women.

I do, however, question whether or not its my place to mention these issues in the context of my job here and what I'm doing, which is ultimately a poverty reduction role. Am I in a position to challenge cultural heritage to satisfy my inevitable westerncentricism? Can I legitimately and morally attempt to influence deep-set behavioural patterns that are not in my realm of experience, or necessarily my understanding?

I can't quite figure it out in my head.

So, polygamy. Discuss.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Massive brag alert!

In Mongolia I galloped, full pelt, across these vast, open and endless plains. Well, not me, the horse did the galloping. It would be pretty funny if it was just me. Wind in my hair, making 'clip clop' sounds with my teeth.

Anyway, the point is that that was a time when I experienced absolute freedom. Exhilaration, happiness, joy and just utter, utter freedom.

I was with this nomadic family and the dad took me out for a ride and showed me a bit of Mongolia. I told him I could ride (because all Mongolians can ride horses like experts and I didn't want to let him down). I had done a few novice excursions with ponies as a kid. It was amusing. Their technique is so different to Western riding technique. I felt like I was in a Ghengis Khan movie. I know he didn't make movies - I mean a film about Ghengis Khan.

After we galloped, we climbed a rock, well it was more a cliff, and we ended up stumbling upon this tiny, tiny little monastry that some hermit monk looked after. It was only one little room. We spent some time looking at the prayer wheel inside and I learned about some of the different buddhas.

After the ride, we went home to the ger, (the big felt tents that Mongolians live in) and ate yak and drank salted, butter milk, (bleurgh). We talked. Mostly about the toilet because that was the only word in Mongolian I could say at the time. 

The whole experience was special. Really, really special. Life changing and deeply moving.

I never thought that I would be lucky enough to have that experience even once in my life, but yesterday something happened that made me feel almost identical.

When I came to Zambia, I knew that on my weekends off work I wanted to try and do some excursions because there's a trillion things to do here if you love nature and you don't mind getting dirty. So this weekend I chose Lochinvar. It's a national park famous for its birds, and as I'm sure you know by now I love birds.

I was so excited! Me and some work friends, Charles and Hakalima, hired a four by four and drove for about an hour and half to the place, which is quite close by Zambian standards. Charles and I rode in the back of the truck so we could feel the wind in our hair and the dust from the road in our lungs.

The drive was exciting enough. Just so many sights on the way. And at one point I thought it could have been Mars because everything was so red from the dust of the road.

When we got there it was instantly amazing. I saw so many birds. Amazing ones. Ones I'd never have thought I would see in my life. I wrote a list of the ones I saw, but I'll send that to you individuals on request because I know its not everyone's thing.....

At some point during our drive around the areas we made a decision, with the ranger at our side, to fully off road and go on a mission. And then all of a sudden I was in the Africa that you see on David Attenborough programmes. Long, yellow grass, the occasional windswept tree, plains and plains of just incredible landscape. We drove, seemingly with no destination, but fast, which was exciting and adventurous. Then all of a sudden, from nowhere beside us and thundering past were hundreds and hundreds of Zebra.

They were so beautiful. And just doing what they do. Running, stopping to eat, feeding their young, running some more. And their line was broken up by the occassional wilderbeest. I felt so priviliged. So lucky and so free to hear them running besides us, like it was a race.

The day went on and was punctuated by sightings of impala, oribi, Kafue lechwe, common duiker, (no I'd never heard of them, either) and thousands of birds.

As the day was closing I was buzzing. And then - the icing on the cake. We had slowed to find a path to follow back to the main roads and we came to a near halt by this black rock. After a pause the rock opened its wings and flapped them and, oh my word, this bird was the biggest thing I've ever seen in my life! It was absolutely stunning! I guessed the span from wing to wing to be about four metres!!! It was enormous! It turns out it was a martial eagle. The biggest eagle in Africa and my estimation was right - these things can grow!

Amazingly it flew up to a tree and perched on this branch that was basically a twig. How do they do that? When I sit on a plastic chair I can't give it all of my weight.

Anyway. There was more, there was the boabab tree and the hot springs, the fishermen's wives, the hollow rock that ancient people used as a drum to respect their ancestors, savannah, woodland, etc, etc.

I am so lucky. I am so unbelievable lucky that I don't know how to thank life. It is good to me. And nothing is wasted on me. I love these experiences.

But I want to share them! So I humbly invite you all to Zambia for next weekend's excursion - Malawi! Coming?

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Sister Act 2

I wasn't going to write anything today to give you all a break from my mad ramblings, but then something amusing happened.

I was in the kitchen in my lodge cooking my tea. Exildah, one of the staff that works here was in there, too and she was cooking for someone else so we were just chatting while we cooked. We were getting to know each other. I was asking her about the work she does and where else she has worked and she was asking me about me ever wanting to get married.

The conversation was a lovely, mellow one and she's so endearing and cute. When she left the kitchen we gave eachother a hug. As I was pulling away she cupped both hands right on my boobs and said 'I like your big breasts'.

She then started poking and prodding them in admiration and awe.

Rather than be shocked, I couldn't help p**sing myself, and she clearly meant it in a harmless way. I laughed, she laughed and then she went on her merry way.

So that got me thinking about one of my (many) favourite things about travelling and meeting new people.

The sisterhood.

Granted, this post might be a little 'boy unfriendly', but the sisterhood is a beautiful feeling that I often have in my life that I feel like sharing.

Its the natural, holistic understanding you have with other women and I especially find it when I travel because it has no cultural boundaries. Therefore a lot of the connections that I make are female where we don't need a common language to just 'know' something about each other.

Women all know what it is to be emotional wrecks some times. Of course, that's not exclusive to women, but hand in hand with knowing that you're going to experience sometimes crippling pain every month while your body does what it does, and that you're going to experience even bigger pain when the babies come is a solely female thing.

And there's more. Words can't really explain it. It's a feeling that comes with sitting outside doing each other's hair. Sharing clothes. Secretly whispering to your friend that her skirt is tucked in her knickers. Listening to one another talk about boys even though the conversation is going around in circles. Being able to ask all the questions that you want to about stuff that's embarrassing. Being tactile. Giggling.

Just being understood.

Just knowing that you are definitely going to go through some of the same things in your life at some point.

Maybe I'm alone in this feeling? It would be interesting to know if any other girls identify with a universal 'girl' connection. There are obvious exceptions to the rule. I mean, I'm sure I wouldn't naturally identify with Rose West if I met her. Or Maggie Thatcher. Or that Chinese lady who killed that British business man because of something to do with politics.

 I would also like to know if there is a universal 'brotherhood' and what makes it so, if there is one. Maybe some boys can enlighten me on that?

I just think as a general rule, girls rock and are sympathetic and sensitive to each other.

I would just like it to be known in BIG CAPITAL LETTERS THAT I AM NOT A FEMINIST!!!

I really don't like hardcore feminism, it offends me, however I love my girls, all around the world.

Now I'm going to go and listen to Beyonce songs all night and watch bridesmaids.....


Wednesday, 25 July 2012

White Roller Drongos

Ah, so Africa hasn't quite cured me of all my flaws and weaknesses. It can't have mellowed me entirely or softened the reactive and impulsive in me yet. Why?

Because today there was another white person in the village and we literally stared each other out.

She was giving me evil eyes, and I was giving her evil eyes and it was like this little seed of malcontent in my tummy went 'BOOM' and grew into a rage of jealousy. Who the hell does she think she is in my town?

Haha! How pathetic. Maybe I'm dramatising for effect, but the fact is that in a culture where everyone greets each other, we were perhaps most conspicuous not because of our skin colour, but because of our antisocial personas.

But luckily I'm taking that as another lesson learned. Don't be a bitch. Be nice. Love everyone. Put your claws away.

On a positive note, today I saw the best bird in the world. I learned that it was a lilac breasted roller. Look it up, its amazing. I also learned today that there's a type of bird called a drongo. Which I found quite funny.

But when I look at birds, or do other stuff I enjoy - read books, walk a lot, etc, people can't believe it. I don't know why. I stopped to look at this lilac breasted roller and someone walked past me and asked me what I was doing. When I told them I liked the bird they said 'WHAT? You're looking at a bird??' and walked off lauging.

Yesterday I sat on the front lawn of my lodge and read my book and someone came up to me and laughed and said 'Haha! You're reading!'. I wasn't sure what to say. 'Urm...yeah'.

Same thing when I was sunbathing in the lodge the other day. Just sitting on a chair in the sun after work, one of the girls in the lodge came up to me and couldn't believe I was sunbathing. She looked SO confused. And asked me why on earth I was sunbathing. When I tell people here I like the sun, they look at me as if I've just sh*t myself.

I go out to watch the sun go down most evenings. It's so beautiful. A huge pink bauble on the horizon every night. So I watch it and people are looking at me like I'm the mad old woman that might start hitting you with an umbrella.

Same as the stars. So many beautiful stars, but you'd think I was the elephant man the way people look at me when I stay out to watch them.

Am I doing something wrong? Maybe I've accidentally got my boobs out when I'm doing all of these things. Or maybe someone is playing the peg game on me all the time. Maybe I'm looking at the birds on 'no bird-watching' day, or maybe they think I'm worshipping the sun and I'm a pagan heretic.

Or maybe, just maybe - I should quit worrying about what people think? Yes - that's number two lesson of the day learned. Stop worrying. Be yourself. Love it all. Put your crazy neurons away.

I'm going to walk the long way home from work (not that I'm writing this in work, Welsh Assembly Government) and see if I can see any more rollers or drongos. I will keep you updated because I'm absolutely positive you'll be on the edge of your seats in anticipation otherwise.


Monday, 23 July 2012

A simpleton...

This is what Zambia, or at least the province that I am in, looks like.

It's beautiful and yesterday I went for a 10 mile hike in the bush.

It's dry, there are birds everywhere, it's flat, there are red, sandy dirt tracks leading the way and not a cloud in the sky.

There are few telephone wires, few vehicles, and no artificial noises.

There are mud hut villages dotted just behind the road sides and beyond, almost completely camouflage but for the flashes of the strong colour of the material that the villagers have hung out to dry.

There are fallen fruits from tall trees that litter the ground and the occassional procession of slow moving cattle, seemingly alone with no farmer, just the bells on their neck saying that they are owned.

Sometimes a sudden cackle of guinea fowl jumping from the bushes, random shouts of 'herro mamma' at me, but when I look the grasses are too high and I can't see who's calling.

Every now and then a beautiful, strong woman carrying a tall bucket of water on her head that splashes slightly as she walks.

There are cotton fields, maize fields, goats, chickens, pumpkins, tomatoes, fruits I've never seen before, trees I've never seen before, a dam with an abundance of fish, which I've never seen before....

And it all just feels so right. I don't think I can explain how 'complete' it feels to be walking in the vast countryside.

It's hard work to live here, I know. The water source is far away, there is tilling and toiling to be done in the fields, there are poverty issues and hardships, but I haven't met one person who isn't smiling. I haven't met one person who hasn't offered me something or welcomed me with open arms. I haven't met one person who doesn't appreciate family values, or one person who hasn't asked me if I'm enjoying Zambia.

But they ask me what the U.K. is like. And, to be honest I don't know what to tell them.

They hear that's it's wonderful. And, yes there are some amazing things about it. I'm especially enthusiastic when I tell them about Wales and the mountains, its coastline and the countryside. But then they ask me about the government, the lifestyle, jobs, food etc.

If I think about it, about our culture in Britain, I see it in stark contrast to life here in Africa. Our lifestyle and society is about growth. We want more, we want to develop more. We want the latest gadgets. We want the best education. We want cars, more money, bigger T.V.s, more channels, better iphone, ipads, cameras. We want to look amazing every time we go out. We want a full wardrobe, make-up, fancy shoes, a perfect relationship. The government wants us to be an economic powerhouse in the international community. We want success in our careers. We want to build more houses, more businesses, more opportunities to make money. We want more.

We always want more.

And while we strive to want bigger, better, more, faster - we forget to smile at each other. We don't greet strangers. We fear crime, we fear loss, we fear making eye contact with the person across the road who looks a little different. Kids swear. People throw litter. People waste. We leave our lights on, our taps running. We complain if we have to catch a bus because our car is in the garage. We moan at the weather. We moan at the news. We moan at the price of luxury.

My philosophy for a long time has been about simplifying things. Making sense of our lives isn't about gain. There is never going to be a point in a person's lifetime when they have the realisation that they've made it, or at least that feeling can't be sustained. The eureka moment will not come while we are striving for material growth. Our revelations get lost in competition.

I really believe that we'll understand more about ourselves and each other, about life, about it's meaning and its purpose when we strip things away. When we focus on less, not more.

That might be idealistic, but there is proof that it can be done. The proof is Zambia. There may not be many smart phones here, but there is contentment in abundance. And it feels so right....

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Geek squad

I'm a history geek. Medieval history. And my favourite time period is the Plantaganet Empire in Western Europe, especially the reign of Henry II. Well, it's Eleanor of Aquitaine, his wife, that I love the most, but really I just love the whole thing.

I'm not afraid to admit that I own three medieval dresses, one of which my dad bought me in Carcasonne, the medieval French town where they filmed Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, which was pretty much my favourite day ever.

I've probably lost a few readers with that last revelation, but it's the truth and it's me. If it makes me a loser, then I'm a proud loser.

Anyway, why am I telling you this?

Well, in the 1170's when Henry II was king he had a massive bust up with Thomas Becket. Thomas Becket, (who was a bit of a knob if you ask me), ended up being murdered by some knights who thought they were doing the king a favour because Becket was causing him so much trouble. Some people think Henry even ordered his death. The point is they had a huge falling out that lasted years and years. Which is quite sad, really, because they used to be really close.

The really short version of why they fell out was this; When Thomas Becket became Archbishop of Canterbury he started shaking up the church a bit. At the time, if monks and priests were corrupt, abusing their power or doing anything naughty there were two systems to process justice, which often compromised each other. Thomas wanted naughty priests tried in the church court because the church had ultimate authority under those in holy orders, but Henry wanted them tried in a secular court because he thought, well they're not that holy if they're raping nuns, are they? And also, most of them just get a tap on the wrist and told to do some penance or pilgrimage if they go to church court. In fact, the case that started all this off was actually a rape case and the priest got away with it because he was tried in an ecclesiastical court.

Henry and Thomas tried to sort things out by drafting the Constitutions of Clarendon, but Becket got killed or martyred, whichever way you want to look at it, before it ever really resolved itself.

Ok, so again - why am I telling you this?

I've always wanted to go back in time and experience the complexities, the people, the politics etc of that time and know what it was like. The last few days of work in Zambia has been buzzing because the situation that my bosses are dealing with is soooooooooooo similar and it's making me feel like I'm in medieval times. In fact, I think I should wear a medieval dress at the next board meeting.

I'm working with land disputes, which are complicated enough, but to add to the mix - tiny villages that are experiencing land disputes try the dispute in what's called a 'traditional' court. It's presided over by the Chief and the head of the village, but it's all based on ancient custom, tradition and history. But there are those that think they should be tried in a district law court or a provincial court if needs be. These are based on modern, national laws. The problem is the little villages don't feel like a national government could pay heed to tradition and custom, and the national government have to have a balance between that tradition and the conventional, accepted laws of the country.

Plus, most of Zambia is rural.

Hmmmmm....what to do? Well, the situation needs it's version of the Constitutions of Clarendon, which is basically what I'm helping to do.

How amazing is that? I didn't even need a time machine! Tomorrow, I'm going to ask the board to dress up as knights and talk Olde Worlde while they work just to satisfy my inner geek.

The biggest differences and major disappointments are;

1. It's the 21st century
2. I'm not Eleanor of Aquitaine

Apart from that, I'm buzzing.

Tomorrow we have a meeting with all the villagers in a certain village who are going to present their ideas and arguements for what they want in the draft plan.

I've got a feeling this might be one of the most boring posts that most of you have read on this blog, but it's by far my favourite. I got to say Eleanor of Aquitaine three times and mention Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.


Wednesday, 18 July 2012


My boss here is amazing.

He works so hard and he's really in touch with people and open minded.

These last few days I've been making lots of courtesy calling visits to Commissioners, Counsellors, Ministers, Chiefs of Police etc, all the people in the town where I've been posted that have something to do with land rights. I'll be visiting the villages tomorrow to meet the Chiefs and the village heads who are those on the other side of the land rights argument.

So, just in case I haven't explained it - my job is to strengthen the capacity and impact of a branch of a Zambian national body called the Land Alliance. It's a policy maker at the top end of its function and on the bottom end an advocacy, lobbying and development agency that is affiliated to just about every public and third sector body in Zambia.

Boring bit over - my boss is amazing.

One of the best things about him is how he speaks. He chairs most of the meetings I've been to in the last few days and he speaks a lot about serious things. But almost every two sentences or so he says to the group 'are we together?' and the rest of the board will shout in unison 'ah ha!' or 'YES!'. It's another way of saying, 'do you understand?'

The other thing he does is say a sentence and then repeat it with the last word missing, which he replaces with 'whaty?' (meaning, 'what?), and everyone shouts in the blank.

So for example, (and bear in mind that this is an important meeting, with important people in suits and in a posh looking conference room with pots of coffee on the table......)

My boss: 'So we are here today to talk about the land rights of rural women in Zambia. We want to stop the corruption of land abuses in the districts and in the town, are we together?'

Important people in suits: (loud) 'YES!'

So how are we going to do this? We are going to fight, I say, fight! Are we together?


'So we fight corruption, we find the corruption and we fight it - we fight the whaty?'


'We ask the villagers to present the petitions, so that they can be heard. We ask for their views through signing the whaty?'


'Yes, the petitions, and we fight, are we together?'


'So we start by whaty?'


And so it goes.....

Every now and again there is a moment when no-one really knows what the missing word is and there's a few muffled whispered voices all saying different things. Either that or a complete tumbleweed moment where the only noise in the room is the muted hustle and bustle of the market outside.

The other thing that is amazing, (and I think most people here do this), is that a word with one syllable gets an 'ee' sound added to it. So 'cup' tends to sound like 'cuppee', but words with more than two syllables get a bit taken off. So 'wonderful' is 'wonderf'. 'Careful' is 'Caref'. It took me ages to get it - especially because everyone speaks so flippin' quickly.

The exception to that rule is my name. They've settled on Luce, or Roos, whichever they can more easily pronounce. But I don't get how if 'Cup' can get an 'ee', why can't 'Luc'? Not that I really care. Call me what you want, you're welcoming me into your country so warmly, you could call me Phillip and I'd still be happy. Just confused.

'Welc, Roos - its wanderf to havee youra pres in Zambia. You willee findee youra workee to be fruitf and reward. Dure youra stayee rememb to alway be inform to us of any prob'

Something like that, anyway.

So on to emotions - I'm really, really happy here. I'm just complete, and myself. I get this culture, I feel so at home, I feel productive and effective, I feel confident and energetic. It's taken me such a long time to find this place in my head, but now I'm here, I know it. I can feel it. I can feel myself being real and it's absolute wonderf.

I'm happy with my job, too - way much more responsibility than I thought and exciting/challenging/nerve-wracking to think that my actions could have far reaching consequences.

In general - aaaaaaall good.

There are a few things I don't like though. Like, today, I saw a turkey in the luggage hold of a coach. He looked really sad.

I'm not really sure animal cruelty is hot on the Zambian agenda. I've seen pigs squashed in the back of pick up trucks on their way into town and cows, too.

One amusing thing that I saw, and I really want my boyfriend to be reading this because he LOVES fixing stuff with tape, was a taped up bus. My boss told me that when I wanted to go back to Lusaka, I should get the luxury bus because it's the best and it's brilliant and it's fast and it's reliable and, blah blah.

Yes, that is parcel tape.

Now its time to wash the sand out of my hair and off my feet, to readjust my mosquito net, give my room the once over for threatening looking species of spider, do my workout routine and get into bed to read my book that my friend Leo bought for me to go away with.

I'll write again when I can, but meanwhile - I would love some more comments from people because there was a tiny little moment I had earlier where I felt a bit out of things and far away and if you know me, you know I frickin' hate to be out of the loop, :)

Zambian loving

Sunday, 15 July 2012


In Zambia people say the time in the 24 hour clock.

So when I arrived and someone told me they would meet me at 20, it was one of those really confusing conversations when you have to keep asking 'pardon' all the time because you don't get it.

I was saying, '20 what?'
He was saying 'yeah, 20'.
I was saying, 'what's the road name?'
He was saying, 'what road name?'
Me: '20 what?'
Him: 'No, no, just 20'

And so it goes on.

If that was at home I would be embarrassed for hours about that silly conversation, but I don't feel heavy with embarrassment here. I laughed at myself. He laughed at me. Then it was fine.

Something else funny happened today, which again was fine. If it was home it would have been so ridiculous and possibly rude if it would ever happen at all. But here - totally fine. Even with me - stress head, 'what will the neighbours say', me - fine.

So, after I arrived at my lodge and my manager left me I wanted to buy some bottled water, but they had run out in my lodge. So I thought, I'll walk around the town until I find somewhere, but everywhere looked quite shut. It's a Sunday and pretty much everyone is worshipping or already drinking, so I was a bit stuck as to where to get some water. I noticed this woman walking behind me and I turned to her and said, 'Excuse me, I wa...' She cut me off sharp with a massive gutterall sound of welcome and a sort of a screamy laugh thing and a huge slappy shake of the hand. 'Welcome, welcome!' She said. I asked her where was open now so I could buy some water and she said, 'Come with me, I will take you'. I did tell her that it was ok and she could just direct me, but she insisted she would walk with me.

I actually really appreciated it because I had no idea where I was, really. She took me to one shop and they had also run out. We had chatted along the way and by this time I knew she lived quite far away and that we were walking in the opposite direction. I told her that I was grateful, but she could leave and I would find some water myself. 'No, no!' She said. 'We will find you some water!'

So we went to the next shop. Nothing. She was determined to help me and wouldn't stop until I was ok. Finally after a few twists and turns we found a shop selling bottled water. I was so grateful to her because I would never have found it otherwise and I really did want some. At the shop I asked her if she wanted anything, it was the least I could do because she had walked me all the way there. I saw they sold 7up, Fanta, Coke, etc and I asked her to choose something she wanted. She looked really shocked and grateful that I had offered and she said 'really? I can have something? Anything I want?' I said that it was ok, of course, she had done me a great favour so she could choose whatever she wanted, bless her.

She said, 'in that case I'll have chicken and chips, a cocktail and some top up air time for my phone from the bar opposite'.




So I bought her dinner at this place and we sat and listened to the live band playing the lambada in African style and talked about kids and the Tonga language and people. We talked a bit of music, a bit of men and a bit of politics.

People here, in fact I have found in lots of African countries, know about their politics. Me, I couldn't really tell you who anyone is in our government apart from the obvious Cameron and Clegg, but here they can tell you about the political history of their towns, provinces, countries and the whole region in quite some detail.

I have enjoyed several conversations about colonialism already. People mention it here a lot more than they do in other countries I have been to. It's definitely brought out the guilt complex in me and I have found myself becoming angry at the shameful actions of historic Britain. I feel embarrassed that the West still has some superiority complex and a sense of entitlement to resources and land that isn't really theirs.

But a friend who I met on my first night here, in response to my rant about it all, simply patted me on the shoulder and said 'Lucy, let bygones be bygones...' Wow. That's amazing. These guys are still struggling with internal conflicts, the seeds of which were sown by the British, they've had their natural resources pillaged by foreign interested parties since Livingstone and even now they have to accept low paying jobs working for European or Chinese rich people, and their attitude is one of forgiveness and patience.

This is the biggest lesson I have learnt so far. Anger doesn't really get you anywhere.

There was another thing that made me lament Western culture, but the thought has its roots in tragedy.

In my lodge in Lusaka there was a swimming pool, and while I was at work on Friday a boy drowned in it. He and some school friends were messing about and the boy jumped in, I think showing off, but none of them could swim. This is terrible. It is sad and it is terrible, terrible for the parents, for the friends and for the community. But the parents accepted that he couldn't swim and he shouldn't have jumped in the pool.

The next day as I was sitting waiting for my lunch there was a large group of people being baptised in the same pool.

If that was in Britain, someone, somewhere would sue something. The whole area would be cordoned off for an investigation that would produce evidence so that someone could use it to press charges and sue the lodge. Then there would more than likely be a campaign to change health and safety regulations around pools and children. A bit like how they've banned sand pits in some counties because they pose a health and safety risk. A bit like in some parks (in the North of England, I think), they have banned playing ball games because of health and safety. And you can't take photos in some public places because you're probably a paedophile taking pictures of young kids. You can't change the clothes of a kid if they've wet themselves at nursery without phoning their parents for permission first because you might be a child molester.

It isn't like that here. People are strong, strong enough to live without a blame culture, strong enough to say what they want, especially if they want chicken and chips and a cocktail. Strong enough to forgive, strong enough to ask questions, strong enough to live their lives honestly and accept tragedy and blessings for what they are.

It makes me really happy to be here, and really happy to be learning these lessons.


Saturday, 14 July 2012

A series of unfortunate events...

Just as I knew in my heart they would, as soon as I got to my lodge my pre trip nerves disappeared. And now I feel stupid for banging on in previous posts about all the fear stuff. I comfort myself with the fact that I knew this would happen, so I'm only half stupid, but I recognise that that still makes me...half stupid.

However, this is the first trip for a long time that things have actually sort of gone a bit wrong on arrival, which wasn't great at the time, but funny in retrospect. And nothing serious.

The first thing that went wrong was I was late. I was late because of storms over Amsterdam, and for the same reason I was terrified. Did I mention I'm not a good flyer? I downed valium and it was sort of ok.

Because I was late everything was closed when I got to the airport. That includes the bureau de change, and seeing as you can't get Zambian Kwacha outside of Zambia and that they just changed the law to mean they won't accept dollars here, it meant I had no useable money on me. However, all that is irrelevant because the water shop I so wanted to find in the airport on arrival didn't exist anyway. They confiscated all my water at the gate in Amsterdam and so I was freaking out that I was going to dehydrate on the plane and arrive in Africa all shrivelled. I didn't, but still, I was looking forward to the water shop. But it didn't exist.

So I waited for an hour and a half in an immigration queue. And by the time I got out it was almost midnight. That was ok, though. My country manager who met me, Peter, he was understanding and he just took me straight to my lodge for some sleep.

Luckily, my cleanser and toner leaked in my toiletries bag and through to all my clothes en route. Oh and all over my toothbrush. So I couldn't clean my teeth. Well, I did, but with my finger and no water because I was scared that I was going to get cholera from the brown water that comes out the taps in my lodge.

It didn't really matter, though because at least I could sort stuff out first thing tomorrow morning. Oh no - I couldn't because I got picked up at eight o' clock for my first day of work in the head office! But that's ok because at least I can go into the office stinking of the witch hazel, tea tree and ethanol that makes up my cleanser and toner. Grrr.....

So anyway, that doesn't matter. At least my new big boss would be there to meet me and reassure me that he didn't mind me smelling of alcohol. Hmm...well that's what I thought. It turns out he didn't turn up, anyway. He got called to an important meeting, so I got put in an office and sort of left to my own devices. But those devices weren't really sure what they were doing because I hadn't had a brief or a meeting or any real conversations with anyone other than the information officer who was amazing, but just told me things I already knew. All this not knowing and not speaking and not having people around me was kind of getting to me, not because I can't be independent, but bear in mind I still hadn't had any water and my concentration was kinda going.

So that's ok, at least everyone is finishing at one on a Friday. Uh uh - Africa time even applies to working late! So, three o clock finally comes and I ask someone - anyone - to please give me a lift into town so I can get some water, a phone, a toothbrush and some food because by this time I am also very hungry.

Luckily, I find a spar. Of all things - in Africa - a spar.

So my first meal in Zambia was a beef and onion pasty and a packet of bacon wheat crunchies.

The story obviously ends well because I'm fine. I'm writing my blog, which means I'm alive, which means I have water and food and everything I need.

The real stories are happening every minute and I already feel after just two days that I have so much to say and to tell people. This post is beginning to look a bit lengthy, though, so perhaps I'll save it til tomorrow.

For now, from (clearly not) deepest darkest Africa, night night!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Welsh Government, you can start reading from here, because this is the post that is the start of the Africa stuff, but anything before might make you feel a bit ashamed of me....

So, basically, I'm off now.

I can't speak or type or write or even listen because I'm blummin' nervous and I'm blummin' busy trying to sort everything out.

My next post will be from Zambia and I'll be less nervous, but maybe more busy. I might have seen some animals or birds by the time I write next and I might be covered in mosquito bites. I might have screamed at a cockroach and I would definitely feel regretful at having brought so much stuff.

I think my next couple of posts could be a little more serious than before, but who knows. Maybe it will all be a massive joke.

But I have to go now, because I can't speak or type or even listen because I'm blummin' nervous and I'm blummin' busy trying to sort everything out.


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Deep, man...

One of my absolute pet hates of the 21st century is philosophical one liners on twitter.

It might be really intolerant and inflexible of me, but I just find them so insincere. And if they're not insincere they are just really f**king obvious. I don't know anybody who doesn't think that 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' or 'that kindness makes the world go round'.

And all the quotes that come from somewhere else, Gandhi, Shakespeare, Siddhartha Gautama, etc - you just know that the people tweeting them have just googled 'inspirational quotes' and tried to make it look like they always knew it was said by that person and it's something they carry with them in their minds every day.

My inspirations are definitely in conversations that I have with friends and family who understand the context of their words in a bigger picture. The wisest advice that I get is from people who tell me to 'sort it out, Luce' or 'get a grip'. Genius. They have the best and most insightful words for that moment. If, when I was spinning out, someone came up to me and told me to 'be true to myself', I'd have to give them a slap. I'M BEING F**KING TRUE TO MYSELF - I'M SPINNING OUT!! THAT'S THE TRUTH!!! Unfortunately they do it on twitter now, so I can't slap them, but I shout at the screen that they are a knob.

It took me ages to realise that my boyfriend was a wise old owl. I thought at the beginning that he was just being pretentious. But the more he speaks about his commitment to Buddhism and how it makes sense to him, the more I see that his ideas and his thoughts resonate with me and have so much relevance in life and in the world.

I, personally, am completely agnostic when it comes to faith, but having studied religion in university and consequently having talked to people about it deeply for over six years, I find the people who really understand their faith and it's history are very inspirational and their words are often moderate and subtle, but effective and make a certain amount of sense. Unfortunately, so many people associate faith with homophobic, fundamentalist, nazi Christians from Mid-West America, or Jihadists. That says more about the press and the media than people, if you ask me. The vast majority of religious practitioners in the world are moderate and they use their faith to guide them into a morally good lifestyle.

Of course, the obvious exception is Scientology. That's just stupid.

Unfortunately, the people who do give religion a bad rep, quite often have the loudest voices and take the most memorable actions in support of their beliefs. It's this ill-considered, self-righteous, brain-washed and shallow reactiveness of individuals that I think is damaging for everybody.

This is why I think we should really believe what we say before we say it. Being 'true to ourselves' is living and breathing our philosophies for ourselves instead of just shouting about them in an attempt to make the world a better place. It starts with the behaviour of the individual. And this applies to social media, too. Twitter one-liners are so often an attempt to look clever, look like a 'deep' person ('I'm not relgious, I'm just spiritual, blah, blah'), or just said and not actually practiced in the real world.

So, 'deep' twitter users, if absence makes the heart grow fonder', f**k off.

I am sorry if all that offends anyone! Maybe last minute Zambia nerves are fraying my patience a little! I'm pretty sure there aren't any hardline Christian fundamentalists reading my blog, and all the tweets that I can't tolerate pretty much come from people I hardly know, but if I start getting hate mail, I'll change my tone of voice!

Saturday, 7 July 2012


My friends are so talented and amazing. I love it.

My sisters are writers. Both have written books and one a screenplay, too. She has an agent and everything. The other one is an amazing contemporary dancer and an amazing mother to an amazing child who is an amazing baker and an amazing artist. I'm so proud of both of my nieces.

My parents are equally as amazing. My dad is an inventor and has a creative mind which always produces such wonderful ideas. My mum is waaaaay cleverer than she gives herself credit for. She knows loads about different countries and she's artistic with interior design.

In my circle of friends I know people who are amazing with textiles, but I don't what they're called. Textilers? Textilliers? Textilents? Anyway, Helen is amazing. She makes dresses and other bits and bobs with her own prints. How clever is that?! - this is her.

Then there's Liz who is BooBoo Bakes, which is the best cupcake place in this neck of the woods, if not ever in the universe in all of time.

Miss Patisserie is bath bomb heaven and doing really well, Charlotte is her name. She gave me free bath bombs the other day. They were amazing. I normally take a shower, but I had to have three baths in a row just so I could use the bath bombs. I was smelling so fresh that day.

I know heaps of musicians who are way amazing! Too many to list, maybe but there are about a billion of them. I know a lot of producers and DJ's, too, who blow my mind with their musical genius when I see them. Like Marcus. Or DJ Kinx. He's very cool and teaches me cool words and phrases that I can say to the young people to not look embarrasing. He teaches me how to connect with the yoof.

Myke and Christie are amazing, too. You could lift Myke up and put him in the most wildest of wildernesses and he would survive because he's even better than 6 or 7 Ray Mears's put together. He's a forager. Christie is an artist and is always channeling her beautiful energy in something creative.

The volunteers in SAFE land blow my mind every day. They're amazing and clever and strong. Chanty plays baseball, Stella is a great cook and Jade is an actress. Bea is so clever and going to be a midwife. Eve is uber intelligent, too and is an adventurous traveller in her heart.

Dan G and Emily G are amazing photographers and Beth at Forbesfield Flowers is the best florist that you'll find anywhere. Annie is amazing with horses and she's a proper solicitor, too. Clever!

There's more to add to the list! There's academics, scientists, musical souls, scientists who are musical souls, (George), animal people, people great with kids, great parents, skateboarders, skiiers, snowboarders, footballers, nurses, doctors, builders, film makers, carpenters, computer geeks, webbie designers, massage therapists, theatrical people, mathsy and numbers type of people, people who have built their own eco houses, fishermen, wine connoisseurs. The list is endless.

I should have Africa on my mind today, but all I can think about is how amazing my friends are and how committed they all are to what they do. I'm very, very proud and grateful to have the best people in my world. I'm sorry I don't get to see them enough, but I appreciate them all the time.

I'm not sure how to end this without sounding completely soppy, but I love you all very much.

Perhaps my subconscious thinks I'm going to die on the plane, so I'm doing a shout out to everyone now? Is that what's happening? Perhaps I should just stop typing before my mind gets all thinky and deathy?


Thursday, 5 July 2012

Getting a grip

Today is a day of Africa nerves.

I'm leaving in a matter of days to do a job I've never done in a country I've never been to with people I've never met. I don't know where my house is or what it's like, I've never even talked to my colleagues, I haven't actually got any money for contingency or emergencies and I don't know what to take. Eek!

I have to give myself a little slap from time to time and ask myself 'what exactly am I scared of?'

I can list my fears, and when I do I suppose the fear does get a little bit better and more manageable. So here is a list of the things I'm scared of;

1. Death


I think I have to work on my list, really. If I force myself to expand a bit on that it looks like this:

1. Death by plane crash, (I HATE flying, I turn into a terrified, hyperventilating mess);
2. Death by exposure when I turn up at the airport and don't know where to go and no-one meets me and I get lost in the savannah;
3. Death by starvation because I haven't got enough money to buy nutrient rich food;
4. Death by lion because there are lions there;
5. Death by terrorist activity because you just never know...

Luckily I have a thought process that helps me when I get freaked out and nervous about things like this. You have to go with it, but here goes...

In the 12th century my favourite person in history (Eleanor of Aquitaine) joined her husband Louis VII on the second crusade. It didn't really go down well because she was a woman and she took a bunch of her girl friends with her. They branded themselves as 'Amazons' and joined the main army on it's massive trek from England to the Holy Land. Loads of stuff happened on the way, in Constantinople and Antioch etc, and on her way back her ship went off course and she was captured and ransomed by pirates.

She was also imprisoned by her second husband, Henry II, for helping her sons in a rebellion against their dad, she had a fair bit to do with damage contolling the whole Thomas Becket thing and in her 80's she rode across the Pyrenees to introduce one of her granddaughters to their betrothed. It might have been the Alps, actually, but still...

Anyway, the point is that people in history have done loads of nuts, amazing stuff and it blows my mind thinking of the capacity of the human spirit and the human body to do stuff, to get through trials and challenges. It is amazing. Eleanor of Aquitaine's life was amazing and it wasn't even a story! It was true!

Same as that guy who went mountain climbing and fell and got trapped under a boulder and chopped his arm off so he could survive.

Same as the Dalai Lama - in exile still promoting his message, his cause and his faith.

Same as Ffyona Campbell, who walked around the world and is a heroine of mine. Same as anyone who has every climbed Everest.

Aung Sang Suu Kyi is another one, Terry Waite, Nelson Mandela, PoW's, victims of natural disasters, the list goes on.

Juliane Koepcke. She was in a plane crash in the 70's in the Peruvian Amazon and survived the crash to find herself lost in the deep jungle, so she walked around for ages and found her way out, after having fights with crocodiles and scorpions, and surviving on nothing but sweets. She didn't even have anything with her - just the clothes on her back, AND to top it off she was only 16 or 17.

The world and it's history is alive with stories of bravery, spirit and survival. It's full with stories of people who have been through so many challenges and faced obstacles that they've had no choice but to overcome. Not just physical ones, but mental, emotional and spiritual, too.

And it makes me think how tiny I am.

And how f**king stupid I am for being so terrified of going to Zambia to work in an office.



Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Here's the thing.....

It p**ses me off when people hate Bono.

I don't like his music and I don't know the guy, he might be a dick, but when he comes up in conversation, which is surprisingly often, people are very quick to judge him.

The main reason why people I know hate Bono is that he gets everywhere with his message. My dad says that he should just stick to music and not get so righteous about the world and it's politics. But then why don't people mouth off about Billy Conolly or Bob Geldof? What's so different about Bono? Is it his sunglasses? Do they really offend people that much?

The way I see it is the guy's got an international stage, a platform, to influence and affect positive change. And nobody can really say that his message is a bad one. Help poor people. Don't do bad things. Stop corrupt governments. And anyway he's allowed to have more than one passion in his life. He doesn't have to be a one-dimensional musician. He's passionate about the world, so why not use his publicity to channel that?

Maybe people are a bit envious of the fact that he's rich. I do understand that. I think there should be a lot more wealth sharing in the world, but why hate him more than anyone else?

I feel like the guy has been singled out, bless him.

The cult of celebrity is a crazy one. It's really scary how obsessed people get with public figures, me included. As an obsessed person, I mean, not as a public figure. Although this blog is really taking off. I got a follower from Russia today.

Anyway, the point is that people are influenced by celebrities to various degrees and it's scary.

If you read the comments on news pages sometimes the scariness is really explicit. I was reading some entertainment news the other day and there was something about one of those plastic Kardashians losing their rag about something. One of the comments was along of the lines of 'OH MY GOD, LIKE, KARDASHIAN BARBIE, I FRICKIN' LIKE LUV YOU AND UR AWESOMENESS!!!! I TOTALLY ADMIRE, LIKE EVERYTHING YOU DO, AND YOUR FASHION AND EVERYTHING!!'

Oh my. I despair of this. I really, really despair.


If someone can name at least three ways in which a Kardashian barbie has changed the world positively I will eat a fat slice of public humble pie, but come on, really? Is that going to happen? Yeah, they might have a perfume and a couple of promotional things going on and they are pretty in a kind of a Henry Ford, production line way, but they are contributing to this culture of brain drain, one dimension, shallow, vain, materialistic emptiness. I don't like it.

It's not just them, either. Yes, there are people who are vaguely talented, but so what? So is everyone I know. In fact, most of my friends have quadruple the amount of skill and talent that the Jessica Simpsons of the world have, but they manage to have quadruple the amount of integrity and depth as well.

The thing is, I'm not blameless here. I want to make a baby with Adam Levine for no other reason than he's handsome, he can sing and he can play guitar. How shallow is that?! I can't believe myself and I feel ashamed.

I have grown up weak to the cult of celebrity, just like stupid Kardashian fan and I hate myself for it. Adam Levine is just a boy, after all. He isn't a demi god. He isn't the best person in the world. He isn't better than anyone just because he's on the TV.

I had to think about that sentence before publishing it because I was considering whether or not it was misleading or false. I mean look at that face.....

...and those arms....

...and that smile....

Hmmm...I could quite possible be talking myself out of my point, here...

Well, anyway back to my original point - I really don't think it's fair to hate Bono. I personally think he's doing a good thing by promoting good, fair development in international communities. So there.

And while we're on the subject.........

Monday, 2 July 2012


The other day someone called me a narcissist.

I think it was a joke, and it was in reference to blogging and the fact that I wanted people to read my blog, which I admit is a bit indulgent. It was said tongue in cheek, but nevertheless I had a minor meltdown and my neurons got all crazy on me for a day or two.

During the neuron crazy day I went a bit overboard on questioning my motivation for publicising my blog along with reassessing parts of my character that I'm not happy with.

I came to the conclusion that there are elements of my personality that not so much seek attention, but seek validation and that can come across as narcissistic.

It's not that I go out of my way to look good, talk about the good things that I'm doing, boast about the opportunities that I get, blah, blah. I just make a certain amount of effort to cover up the stuff that might make me look bad or embarrassing or incompetent so that I feel like I'm as good as everyone else.

This is stupid. It's stupid because no human in the world is immune to being a knob sometimes. It also doesn't make any sense for me, personally because I'm totally unafraid of making mistakes. I'm completely comfortable with making mistakes and learning from them, and I'm not afraid of telling people that, either.

People seeing me make mistakes and looking like a dick doesn't sit as well with me, though. And that is probably vanity.

So seeking validation, for someone with insecurities is a tightrope because it can slowly turn into attention seeking and that, in turn, can slowly turn into vanity without them even being aware of the process happening.

I know myself and my flaws waaaaay too much for narcissism to become a real problem, but nevertheless, after crazy neuron day I committed to negating the potential problem by conducting a pre-emptive strike on vanity, anyway.

There are a few ways of doing this, but the best way for me is to remind myself of all the stupid, dumb, off the mark things I've said and done recently to bring myself back down to earth.

The first thing I can think of is that yesterday I had to ask my mum what 10% of £1 was. What's completely scary is its genuinely not obvious to me. Duh.

I also have incredibly bad logic. I'm really not a clever person at all, and although I can talk for Wales about international development and humanitarian issues, I wouldn't be able to pass my maths or science G.C.S.Es if I were to sit them now.

I cut corners. Big time. I can be quite lazy sometimes and I often find a way of doing things the quick way instead of the right way.

My hair is in terrible condition. I had dreadlocks for a long time when I was younger and it ruined my hair, which has never quite gotten back to the condition it was in.

I'm not an 'all rounder'. My skills sets are really limited. I can play guitar a bit and dance a bit, but I can't cook, drive properly, be in charge of children, do anything technical with computers, understand social media technology, draw or create anything artistic, sight read, write correctly, do anything businessy, manage money or understand anything vaguely sciencey or health related. Nor can I retain information very well. I did my first aid course, but if you're thinking of collapsing don't do it around me because I wouldn't know what to do.

But all of these things are the reason I have a twin, right? I have to admit I am a little complacent with her saving my arse all the time. If I'm in a pickle, which I quite often am, all I have to do is telepathically ask her to sort it out for me, and she does.

Hmmm...this all leads me to ask, how the f**k am I going to manage in Zambia on my own for a few months. Hopefully, the plus side to it is I'll come back skinny because I can't cook for myself.

The last thing I'm going to do in my effort to combat vanity is stick in a few pictures up of me looking quite disgusting. I figured with facebook, twitter and all those public places people put up the pictures that they want people to see, and it might add to the potential vanity problem. I've definitely fallen into this trap, so I'm going to counter balance it with some minging pictures of me....

The End

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Self centred introspection...

I think the difference between what you feel about yourself and the impression other people have of you is fascinating. For some people I guess the two are the same, but for me it's generally different.

When I was younger and more social I was always out and about in town. I had a lot of friends who were older than me and I followed their lead in a lot of things. I always felt a bit scared and intimidated. I was aware that a lot of my friends were 'it people'. They made up a lot of Cardiff's social scene and I wanted to fit in and have my place in that. Me, being me, was always paranoid that I let the 'cool' side down.

Once I was in town and this girl walked up to me really timidly and said 'excuse me, I always wanted to talk to you but was always too scared.' I asked her what she was scared of and she told me that she had seen me around and just found me 'terrifying'.

I'm so unterrifying. I'm tiny, for a start, always nervous of people, always worrying that I've got bits stuck in my teeth or my skirt tucked in my knickers.

Because I set up a charity when i was 19 and another one when I was 25 a lot of people comment positively on my commitment. I am 100% committed to what I do, but I feel so chaotic and disorganised most of the time. I can't fathom how i get things done and most of my working day is spent making enormous f**k ups.

The other thing people comment on all the time is how I'm the 'confident twin'. Not so. Not so at all. Hannah is confident, competent, clever and sane. It makes sense that we are so different, though. To me, anyway. In my head when the egg split she got all of one type of stuff and I got the other.

She got logic, I got incomprehension.
She got focus, I got faffing about.
She got intentionally funny, I got fairly embarrassing and unintentionally funny.
She got respect, I got rebel.
She got strength, I got massive wuss.

I don't want to be entirely self depricating, though.

I got massive woobers.

The doctor doesn't agree with me about this theory. She laughed when I told her, so I laughed too and pretended I was joking.

Anyway, none of this bothers me. It's just something I woke up thinking about and which was reinforced when I got to work and someone told me I seemed really organised. No, I'm really not. I'm in work, sat in a corner on my own, blogging.

Maybe I should go look busy......

Friday, 29 June 2012

The mad old cat woman

When I wash the dishes, I like to use a sponge. Normal cloths just don't do it for me and they don't feel like they get all the bits off.

There's a problem with my sponge love. There's another little person in my life that loves sponges.

We put the sponges high so she can't find them, but she does. We hide them in cupboards so she can't find them, but she does. We put them under stuff so she can't find them, but she does. And then this happens....

You might not be able to see the carnage that she causes in this photo, but in my house tiny bits of sponge EVERYWHERE is the norm.  She rips it up with such energy, that I believe she is truly threatened by the sponge.

She isn't stupid, though. She plays fetch and understands Welsh. She's sensitive enough not to eat birds, instead she eats the seeds in bird feeders.

The history of my cat, Sati, is a troubled one. I found her on my way to the gym early one Sunday morning. She was ten weeks old, shaking, she had cuts on her face and a plastic band around her neck, which was supposed to be a collar.

I knew immediately that she was probably traumatised and suffering from abandonment issues. Han says that I anthropomorphise too much and treat her like a human too much, but I'm telling you now she communicates to me and I know.

When I had my tarot cards read once I honestly thought it would say that I'm an emotional wreck, albeit a keen humanitarian who is going to live abroad and save the world and get married to a funny, sensitive, slightly eccentric traveller. However it said I was 'at one' with animals. The group I was with all laughed and so did I. It was like they were telling me I was Dr Doolittle when I wanted to be Mother Theresa.

Anyway, it turns out I can talk to my cat. And I love her so much, yeah she's a little needy, but as I keep saying she's got abandonment issues and she can get a bit insecure.

She's so affectionate and loving, its amazing. She gets in to bed to have a cuddle and she leaps onto my shoulders and head butts my head. She's got the best pink nose and massive paws and she's the best little girl in the world.

When I got up this morning I decided I was going to write a long blog post that made up for the last few days of not blogging, but then on my way into work we had a car accident and I can't really concentrate because I think I've got an injury. So I'm going to go and pick up my cat and go to the hospital, because she wouldn't want to not be with me at a time of trouble.

Here are some more pictures so you can see how amazing she is and how obsessed with her I am.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Serious Lucy revelation number 1.

I have OCD.

Not the kind of OCD that everyone says they have when they feel uncomfortable leaving lights on or doors ajar.

Not superstitious and moderate ritualistic behaviour.

I have full blown, severe, diagnosed and medicated OCD.

I have seen psychotherapists, psychiatrists and doctors for almost 12 years, now and I have been medicated for almost as long.

Writing this blog is a kind of therapy, I think. I'm not secretive about it, but banging on to someone at a party when you're trying to have a beer is boring. I don't talk about it often at all, really.

I met my friend's girlfriend, (now wife), for the first time a few years ago and it was the first time in my life I'd met someone with OCD as severe as mine. I get really sick of people saying 'Oh and me...' when I mention having OCD, and complaining that sometimes they can't go to bed without putting their picture frames straight or washing their hands thoroughly. Everyone has a ritual, its really, really normal - but this lovely girl actually really did have the anxiety disorder as it is medically defined.

So do I.

The other reason that I don't often talk about it, aside from it being a mood killer, is because talking about it really sets my crazy behaviours off. I get a bit more twitchy and ritualish when it comes up in conversation, which it does from time to time. I took my mum out for a cup of coffee today and she was telling me this story about some guy on the telly that had OCD and I immediately felt my heart speed up and my breath get a little fluttery.

I can rationalise everything. The best psycho doc that I ever saw was amazed at how rational and reasonable I was when I talk about it. In short, it stems from the fact that at a very early age I was sensitive and quite forward thinking. I was aware of the problems in the world before I was aware of who the Mister Men were.

I also learned very quickly that anything can happen at any time and  we're not necessarily prepared for it. This lesson is common to everyone in life and is normally learned at a nice pace, through conversation, mistakes, experience and instinct. I kinda followed that formula, but with a series of traumas that happened in really quick succession and shocked me. My brain and it's chemicals got all out of sync and imbalanced. I felt out of control. I felt that I couldn't control anything that happened in the world and I couldn't ever stop the bad things happening even if I wished and hoped until my head popped.

The only thing in my life that I could control was my movements, my behaviours and my rituals. Therefore my crazy brain overcompensates for the feeling of being out of control by uber controlling my lifestyle behaviours, movements and thoughts. Make sense?

The other added bonus is that there's a piece of our brains in the very front of our heads in the centre. It's small and looks like a sausage. Mine is slightly twisted, which causes a lot of these thought processes to happen.

I've got a twisted sausage.

One of the biggest mistakes I have made in my reaction to my mental health issues is to minimise or internalise my rituals. A lot of people with severe OCD have really obvious behaviours, but I didn't want to look like I had a mental health problem, so all my rituals are basically hidden. They do, however, dominate my life just as much as if my rituals were extravagent and big.

I can't tell you how exhausting that is.

Every breath is counted. Every word is carefully chosen. Every movement of my tongue when I talk, of my eyes from the minute I'm awake, of my fingers and my toes - is considered and controlled. What I touch, how I read, how I type, what I say, how I eat and drink, how I walk - everything, everything has a correct way.

If I do it wrong, I'm f**king screwed. That means I have to repeat the wrong way and the right way alternately 8 times until it feels ok.

Hannah noticed a few years ago that my fingers move funny. She also wondered why I pause a lot when I talk. I didn't think those were noticeable things. Anyway, she knows why now and she absolutely takes the p**s out of me. Which is amazing. That's the best, best, bestest way to deal with it.

I am trying exposure therapy at the moment. Riding high with anxiety by not adhering to ritual until the heart rate has no choice but to come down. It works for the most part, but when I'm stressed, tired or a bit out of sorts it doesn't really do the trick.

But I'm totally learning and coping and happy. Although it might seem hard to believe after this blog, I'm a perfectly normal, functioning human being.

Albeit with a twisted sausage.