Reaching Out

Dear World,

I remember a time when Brexit didn’t mean an awful lot to us. When it was just the latest in a string of buzzwords bandied about by the press. Before the year when the experts were all wrong. Before the referendum, President Trump and the sudden violence of world politics, like a particularly large and menacing dog woken from slumber by the rumble of a passing car.

I have tried to keep my mouth shut on Brexit since the beginning, suspecting that we could only have come to such a junction because of one failing or another in the system. Mutiny might breed in idleness, but anger, hatred and intolerance do not come from nowhere. The spark must have been glowing within the ashes, even if so few of us saw it smouldering there. And how could we, in the echo chamber of our comfortable social media bubbles, where everything hurtful and unorthodox is slammed before it is questioned, and the angry back down in silence to nurse their wounded pride and their encircling fear in the darkness. Certainly, we are not the architects of our own destruction, but we are not entirely blameless in bringing about the situation that so many are now quick to decry.

I was in Morocco when it all kicked off, now almost three years ago, when the referendum was as out of sight and mind as the essay I was supposed to be working on for my university. I was informed of the outcome by an American, who came rushing into the classroom to tell me, holding nothing back, that ‘your folks voted out’. Of course I was shocked, though perhaps not as much as I should have been – I confess to having forgotten entirely about the referendum that morning. Last night’s Arabic homework seemed more important at the time.

It was certainly not the result any of us had been expecting. But then, I did study languages at a British university, so almost all of my contemporaries were naturally predisposed to take an immediately dismissive view of anything akin to Brexit out of hand. I don’t think I ever saw anything other than rage against Brexit on my Facebook feed, and that in and of itself made me concerned from the start.

The eldest son of my Moroccan host family saw in it a cause for celebration, and he wasn’t the only one. I remember seeing fireworks from the balcony, set off from somewhere within the city outskirts. “It’s the best thing England could have done,” said the son. “Anything that weakens the EU is good for us.” I suppose being in a country that felt ostracised by the EU opened my eyes early on to the other side of the argument, in spite of my obvious leanings towards the remain camp, not entirely unconnected to being of Spanish blood myself. Without my grandfather to voice his European view on the matter, I had to find the answers myself. And as much as it hurt me to imagine where it all might lead, I had to listen. I had to know. Because there’s no use in complaining about the situation if you aren’t prepared to listen to the other side.

It seems strange to me that, in an age when even Disney’s recent heroes and villains have become various shades of grey, today’s politics should provide the black and white.

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It’s been a few years since then. The strange, almost unbelievable scenario I discussed at length with an American in the shade of a Tetouani hotel roof on a hot July afternoon has now shimmered into reality. In a matter of weeks it will be B-Day – unless something radical happens. The last few months have been nothing short of chaotic. Defeat after defeat in the House of Commons. An increasingly beleaguered Prime Minister who soldiers on, determined to defend the decision of the referendum in spite of those who call for a second referendum, claiming the British public was lied to by the Leave camp – as if the concept of politicians spreading lies were something revolutionary.

Would a second referendum help? I can only hope that it would do more good than harm. We have walked right into a bear trap. To say the first referendum was wrong would be to call into question the referendum process, nay, democracy itself. And though it would not be the first time the United Kingdom has changed its mind over its core values – see attitudes towards homosexuality in the former African colonies – it does us no favours, having sold, extolled and foisted democracy upon the world to then tamper with it. In the words of the Spanish philosopher Baltasar Gracian, “never open the door to a lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it”.

Tonight the MPs voted against a “No Deal” Brexit. Tomorrow there will be a vote on whether or not to delay Brexit altogether – if the EU will even allow such a thing. I have given up predicting politics, preferring instead to take after my namesake in Animal Farm and hold to the adage that things will go on as they have before, that is, badly.

It is, of course, entirely plausible that Brexit was all one big power play – a high risk, high return move in a long and complicated game of chess. Perhaps Farage, Johnson and the rest of the Brexiteers are simply riding the storm, and have done very well out of it, to the detriment of millions. It is also entirely plausible that I have spent too long looking into the abyss, trying to empathise with a point of view that is so alien to my heart. The Spaniard in me cries out and beats his chest, with true melodramatic flourish, for all the harm that will be and has already been done to our sense of European unity. The Englishman I am, contrite to a fault, pleads for patience and searches desperately for answers.

Time, the master of all things, will tell on the matter of Brexit. And if there is indeed a special place in Hell for those who led us to this junction, we may yet all see a window into the inferno on the night of the 29th. Or we may simply wake up to another unpredictably disappointing morning, where everything stands on its head. The era of topsy-turvy politics continues.

World of the future, when you look back on all of this… Be kind with your judgements. Remember those who fought tooth and nail for unity, remember those who fought for what they thought was right, and remember those caught in the middle who tried to listen.

BB x

British street artist Banksy takes on Brexit in Dover ...

PS. I confess to not having read enough on the subject before writing, and being informed only by my European family, the odd snippet on the BBC and my almost entirely Remain camp circle of friends. But I have tried to be honest about my stance on the subject.

Exile

I’ve deliberately waited to pen this one. Being both out of the country and out of WiFi meant that I didn’t get the news until I got to class this morning, by which point I’d already forgotten yesterday’s referendum buzz. I had more important things on my mind, like how many men were really killed at Covadonga, and what kind of a world would Spain have been had Navas de Tolosa gone the other way. Stuff like that.

Waiting has also meant that you’ve been spared the knee-jerk, bloody-hell-it’s-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it attitude that I spent most of this morning suffering from. In fact I was so shocked by the news that I could hardly talk for the first twenty minutes or so of class. And whilst I was a little tongue-tied for the first two weeks, the last few days’ confidence boom has brought out the chatterbox in me, and therefore it felt quite odd being left with suddenly nothing to say.

I’m talking, of course, about Brexit. About my country’s decision to ignore sanity, common sense and all basic human emotions besides fear and to rally behind some of the most sinister British politicians in living memory.

It smacks of Weimar. It smacks of Trump. It smacks of the start of pretty much every slow run-up to fascist mind-control. I’m not going to start spouting nonsense about the end of the world – it’s really not – but it was a knock I was certainly not expecting this morning. 

And that’s the strangest thing of all. I simply never saw it coming. It always seemed so… laughable. Oh, I’d be the first to confess that I’ve barely looked into the consequences or the data. I got most of my updates from Have I Got News For You. In the end, if the truth be told, I simply let instinct and common sense decide my stance on the matter. Perhaps that makes me no better than anyone else. But if my Facebook page is anything to go by, the Brexit voter is a very rare beast indeed – at least, amongst my generation. I’m told it’s the fault of the older generation; they voted for Leave in their droves, apparently. Personally I have no idea. I have no grandparents, no great uncles or aunts, and therefore no contact with that generation whatsoever. I don’t have the foggiest how they live, or how they think. Therefore I refuse to buy into rumours or make claims about what I don’t know. If only some of my countrymen had done the same.

It still shocks me, though. How did it happen? It was just a joke, right? Everyone and their tabby cat was against it: Patrick Stewart, Alan Sugar, Ryanair, James Bond, David Attenborough, the Prime Minister… The list was endless. Who was supporting Leave? I mean, apart from Trump, Kim Jong Un and IS, who naturally all want what’s best for us, of course. I was baffled enough by the Trump campaign. How could a man faced with such a fierce backlash ever get to be the Republican candidate for the President of the United States? And yet he did. It was tempting to think ‘only in America’… and yet, here we are. Severed from the European Union by another silent majority who – if the rumours are true – won’t have to live with the results for even a breath of the time that we will. We, the generation who came out so strongly in defense of the Union… Ignored.

To say that it swayed my mind on moving abroad after university would be heresy. I’d already made that decision many months ago, and I’m proud to say that I made it out of love, not fear. My decision stands. Only, perhaps now there’s a sense of urgency, a feeling of Cortés landing in Mexico about it. My plans were laid, but somebody went and burned the boats. It may take all of ten years to obtain my Spanish citizenship, or – if that old Hispanic obsession with blood still stands – it may be less, but the way things are going, I’m bound for exile no matter what happens. BoJo and Farage and their silent worshippers have made it just that little bit harder now, as my road is now fraught with VISAs that had never been necessary before, but I won’t let that stop me. They can try, but they’re not treading on my dreams.

The way some of us Brits have reacted to this – myself included – you’d think that war had just been declared. That’s the worst part of it all: the fear. It’s fear that has got us in this state. Fear of what? The unknown? The migrant crisis? I would pay handsomely to send the average Leave supporter to one of the refugee camps in Jordan or Greece for a couple of months, if just to see if there really is a right answer. Familiarity: that’s the obvious solution. Once you know that which you’ve only seen and heard in the news, it’s suddenly a great deal more than a number on a piece of paper (Would Stalin have sent so many to their deaths if he’d had the chance to get to know them all?).

Of course, I’d go for the laughter route myself. Laugh at your fears, laugh at the world and especially laugh at yourself. I almost walked into the same lamppost twice today, and I had to count the hours between nine o’clock and twelve just to be sure there were three of them. And yes, I just did it again to confirm. Yours truly has some remarkably oafish tendencies. But I revel in my bouts of stupidity. It’s what made the Greek gods so much more interesting than the Abrahamic belief in perfection. None of us are perfect, nor ever could be. We’ve as much hope of being ‘perfect’ as a Jack Russell has of explaining quantum physics to a nursery group. But we try. And that’s kind of funny. We should laugh at that.

 J.K. Rowling had it down: laughter really is the best cure for fear, but familiarity is the next best thing.

Where am I going with this? I’ve literally just got home. My phone wouldn’t make the connection to my host family for some reason so I ended up sitting in the doorstep for an hour, as I’ve done in one way or another so often in my life. I’m quite used to it by now. Waiting is no bad thing. It gives you time to think, to muse, to watch the world go by. Life goes on. Britain may have decided to leave the European Union and we may or may not be headed for troubled times, but it’s business as usual in Tetouan.

I’ve been waiting my whole life in one way, shape or form: the right girl, the right moment, the right place, the right language. Patience: birdwatching taught me that. I can wait a little longer. One day, when of all of this fear and hostility has blown up and/or over, we’ll look back and have a good, long laugh. No matter how dark it gets. BB x

Beginning is the Hardest Thing

‘Business or pleasure, sir?’

‘Does language study count as business?’

‘Ah, I guess that’s a bit of both, then. Enjoy your stay, sir.’

I don’t think I’ve ever had a worse case of cold feet than I did last night. If I paint myself as a seasoned traveler, the reality couldn’t be more disappointing. I spent most of this morning flying about the house in a panic, weighing, re-weighing and rearranging my suitcase, adding and removing books, cursing and swearing about how little I actually know about what happens when I leave the airport at Tangier. Shameless.

For the record, I had cold feet before going to Spain last September. Not quite this bad, but I still had my doubts. I suppose knowing Sevilla and being very confident in my Spanish did help, but having a firm knowledge of where I’d be sleeping that night was an added bonus. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve had precious little over forty-eight hours at home that had me unsettled, most of which I spent traveling anyway.

It could also be the fact that I’m striking out alone.

I’ve forgotten my little green Arabic grammar book. It’s not essential, but it would have been nice to have – like so many things in my life. Al-Kitaab will do.

On a similar note, I’ve a lot less baggage this time. 18 kilos of hold luggage and a much slimmer rucksack than usual. Benjamin learns. It’s only two months, after all. I’ll need to invest in some decent sandals when I’m out there, though. Like as not it’ll be much too hot for socks. That might mean haggling, and I hate haggling, but… I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. This is why I’m heading out alone rather than waiting for the others. I have to push myself. I have to, or else I’ll never learn.

The gate info will be up in a minute. I guess I’d better get up and get ready to go. I’m not feeling quite so jittery anymore. Excited and a little scared. Good combination! I’ll see you in Africa. Ma’as-salaama! BB x

Whistlestop

I’ve been in the UK for just over twenty-four hours. In another twenty-four hours I’ll be gone again, somewhere over the Iberian peninsula on a plane bound for Morocco. I finished work on Tuesday night and I’ll be back to the grindstone by Saturday afternoon. Even by my standards, I’m cutting it fine for breathing space.

It’s my birthday that spoiled it. It’s quite stupid, really. I should have been heading out next Saturday, not this one. Any other day and I’d have been quite happy to head out to begin the third and final stint of my Year Abroad… But it’s the thought of spending an entire day traveling and winding up in Tetouan, alone, and very probably lost in translation on my twenty-second birthday that held me back.

It’s only another day in the year. And twenty-two is nothing special. But I’d rather have got cozy and settled in before I think too hard about aging another year. If I’d had half a brain and just a pinch of common sense, I’d have ignored the detail and given myself just a few more days to rest. Another week, perhaps. But I didn’t, and I’m off tomorrow, to begin the placement I fought so very hard to win last summer. I guess I have little choice but to tackle it head on, beaming.

There’s also the fact that I won’t be ‘alone’ for long. Just two weeks after I touch down, I’ll be joined by two Arabbuddies from Durham: Team Jordan’s very own Katie Lang and Kat, both Team Morocco veterans. The temptation to resort to English will be strong. All the more reason to knuckle down and get stuck in first. As the first Durham Arabist to test the waters at Dar Loughat – a pioneer, if you will – it’s my prerogative to get off to a good start, which means the less tempted I am to fall back on English, the better. I won’t have any repeats of Jordan.

Not that it’s a competition or anything like that. Language learning never should be. Even if it were, I’d have lost already. Kat will be fresh from at least five months and more in Jordan, Team Fes totaled six or seven shortly after Christmas and the Lebanon lot have just clocked a whopping nine months in Beirut, so any chances of the Arabic class of ’17 coming back on an even playing field are already dead in the water, but at least Katie and I are of the same mentality: namely, one of ‘ah heck, let’s just get this over with, shall we?’.

But that’s ok. Arabic is fun, it’s interesting and the countries where it’s spoken doubly so, but I never really wanted to go anywhere with it. A desire to explore North Africa and to make myself understood in the process are all I really wanted from it, and that’s exactly what Dar Loughat can provide. So what if I’m going to return to Durham near the bottom of the Arabic pile, despite having started off so strong? Put me in a Spanish class instead and watch me fly. Arabic is no lost cause either. Morocco will bring out the goods. All I have to do is hold up my end of the bargain and work for it.

The train’s pulling in to Paddock Wood. England looks so very green and lush and beautiful… And cold. It was almost worth making this brief sortie back home just for the train ride. The Kentish lowlands are really quite pretty.

I know next to nothing about what happens after I touch down tomorrow. I know I’m getting picked up from the airport, which is a plus, but as for the name and number of my host family for the next two months… Zilch. Kaput. I’m just hoping there’s something fixed on the other end. I seem to remember that it was just as laissez-faire in Amman, but I’m striking out alone this time. And whilst it’s hardly more a priority than having a roof over my head, I wonder if they’ll have WiFi… Internet access has been very touch-and-go this year; quite literally so, now that I have a portable device in the form of this Durham courtesy iPad. Since July 2015 I’ve leant out of windows, loitered about cafés and put in extra hours in the staff room in search of WiFi. Even here at home I’m going to have to go next door into the common room to post this. Here’s to third-time lucky.

First priority when I get home is to get packing. If I could finish unpacking first, that would be a plus, too. I suppose I should also spend tonight thinking about my dissertation; module registration opens tomorrow, so I’d better do that just before I go. I’m not lacking in ideas. I’m holding a book on captive narratives in the Empire years, and in my rucksack are a further two studies on women in the Indian mutiny and the role of Lawrence’s young men in the Khyber border disputes.

Unfortunately, I’m not studying for a History degree, and since the Spanish never had a hold over the Indian subcontinent, there’s precious little good any of that will do me, besides being thrilling reading. I’ve been obsessed with the Raj since Pavilions.

It’ll be something literary I suppose – that’s where I work best – but I haven’t quite narrowed it down yet. I’ll try to focus my three potential fields into two titles apiece and see what Durham’s advice is. I’m getting myself another £9000 in debt this year just for the privilege of studying at university (future generations, look back and weep); the least I can do is ask them to do that much for me so that I’m all cleared to begin in September.

Before that, two independent research projects in the target language are outstanding: one each for Spanish and Arabic, on bandit legends and the Barbary pirates respectively. All I need is reliable internet and I’ll get cracking. Morocco, don’t let me down.

The next time you hear from me, I’ll be in Africa (oh, but that felt good. I should say that more often. It makes the next leg a great deal more exciting, when you think of it like that). Until then, wish me luck. It’s going to be quite the uphill struggle, getting back into Arabic after almost a year’s wanton neglect, but I’m up for a challenge. Bring it. BB x

Back in Action

It’s been a while!

I kept my word, it seems. It’s been about two weeks since my last post. Probably more. In that time I’ve not honestly been up to much at all, hence the dearth of posts, though that probably has more to do with a real need to take some serious time-out; last term was pretty hectic, especially towards the finishing line.

Coming home for Christmas was never part of the original plan, but I’m glad I did. England at this time of year is pretty magical, with the mist, the frost and the rain in the pine woods about the house. Doubly so this year, as it’s been all of three months since the last time I saw rain in Spain. Apparently global warming is to blame. Whoever the culprit may be, it’s impressed upon me just how much I like rain. I don’t know whether that’s ineffably English or the reverse. I don’t really mind either way. I wasn’t really complaining about the gorgeous blue skies and twenty-two degree heat right up until my last day in the country (the twenty-second of December, in fact). All I hope is that it keeps for one week longer at least, so that it doesn’t put a damper on my stay in Madrid next week… more on that later.

That said, I haven’t sung a single Christmas carol this year, and that makes me feel more than a little wierd. Not even Silent Night. That must be the first time in my life where I haven’t. Next year had better make up for that.

I haven’t made anywhere near as much progress on the grand drawing as I’d have liked. Nor have I finished my series of 2015 doodles. What I have achieved over the last two weeks, however, is a new camera. The trusty old Nikon D70 has done me wonders over the last ten years, but… ten years is a long time. Especially in the fast-moving world of digital photography. I got my comeuppance for my loyalty when I went into Extremadura’s biggest camera store and was roundly told by the head clerk that nowhere stocked the ‘gigantic’ CompactFlash memory cards that the D70 runs off anymore. Time, perhaps, to move on.

Fortunately, I’ve been working two jobs and several private lessons over the last three months, so I’ve enough set aside for such adventures.

Introducing the Nikon D3200. In all its 24 megapixel glory.

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Tech that can crack out magazine quality prints on AUTO mode is worth the investment. Sadly, most of my lenses are a little out of date too, and the autofocus doesn’t work, so it’s been an ordeal learning to use manual (finally). A necessary one, but an ordeal nonetheless. Manual and nuthatches simply don’t mix.

To put it through its paces, I took it to Deal for a final coffee with the family before I jet off back to Spain for the unforeseeable future. Even on manual mode alone, it did a fine job.

The phrase ‘a kid at Christmas’ springs to mind; but then, I am a kid at heart, and this is technically still the Christmas season, so there you have it. I’m waiting on baited breath for my kit lens and the ol’ telephoto to have a functional autofocus (I haven’t been able to check thus far as I left them in Spain), but in the meantime, I’ll just keep practising with manual.

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A gannet far out to sea (Sigma 500mm, where are you when I need you?)

Apart from getting back into some serious camera hijinks, it was worth coming home for a reunion with two very special friends, and a whole panoply of others close to my heart. That’s what Christmas time is for; being with your nearest and dearest. A phrase I heard bandied about a lot this Christmas was that people had learned to distance themselves from those they ‘simply no longer really had time for’. I guess that’s a good ethos, and a strong marker of that over-the-hill feeling that is turning twenty-two. The first winnowing of friendships that were once so strong, and at the same time the moment when you see clearly, perhaps for the first time, who the people are that you will fight to keep in touch with. Having always had it in mind to leave these rainy shores to chase my dreams in Spain, I’ve never allowed myself to grow too attached to anybody here in England, but for two shining lights I would return home anytime and oft, and you know I would. You know who you are. Thank you.

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Things you’d be hard-pressed to find in Spain: a tankard of whipped-cream-topped hot chocolate

Well, Kent is behind me now, I’m back in West Sussex – where the rain and the darkness has not ceased for several days – and counting down the hours until my plane whisks me back to Seville and home. But for the wind, the place is as silent as the grave. That hasn’t stopped the birds from letting me know that they have not appreciated my absence, so I made sure to throw out some New Years’ seed for them. They’ve got to be so tame now that I hardly need to freeze when the camera’s out.

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Such is the power of that camera that neither of those have been zoomed in or edited whatsoever. Oh, but we’re going to have some serious fun with this thing.

Well, I’ll keep you posted. My next insert will probably be from Spain, but whether that will be pre- or post-Madrid depends entirely on whether the Bar Atalaya WiFi is in operation. In any case, hasta pronto, amigos. The rain in Spain falls mainly on England x

Searching for God

I’m not a Christian. At least, not in the truest sense of the word. Insofar as my upbringing is concerned, I guess I don’t fall under any category other than Church of England, but when the occasional questionnaire gets handed my way, I tick the box marked ‘agnostic’ without a second’s thought. Only if that’s not an option, and it usually is, Christianity gets my vote over the ‘no religion’ box. Why does this matter? Because today I found myself, once again, in a position where it made more sense to come down on one side of the fence. ‘Christian’ simply makes a lot more sense than ‘no religion’. Strong words for a not-so strong belief, don’t you think?

Let me explain (you’d better get comfortable). I was baptised as a Christian. Church of England. Standard fare. I had a fairly regular English upbringing. I attended a Church of England primary school. I went to church every Christmas and Easter, like almost everyone else. The only minor difference was that my parents both had various musical roles in their respective churches, which meant that I probably spent more time in church than most kids my age. It just so happened that one of them was Canterbury Cathedral, where my dad was a lay-clerk. I guess you get a little blasé about that kind of thing when evensong is a biweekly venture. Not to mention all the school carol services held there. It certainly made the local church back home seem a little small by comparison, though I have warmer memories of that. When I was little I went to church every other Sunday, or at least when Mum played the organ. The memories get a little fuzzy sometimes; this is reaching quite a way back into my childhood. I remember only that I used to sit behind the choir near the organ pipes, and you could hear the organ humming long after everyone had filed out of church and Mum took her hands off the keys. Between that and the old gas heater glowing a dim red in the corner, I have this musty image of your run-of-the-mill Church of England parish tucked away in my head. That’s my strongest memory of the early days, at least. Nothing particularly special. I wasn’t even old enough to sit in the choir then, but I knew most of the hymns well enough, especially the ones they used to roll out on the projector at school. Morning has Broken, for one.

Fast-forward on a few years and it gets a little more interesting. Moving back to England from a year abroad in Spain finds me singing in the church choir in my new home town. It’s nothing more than something to do, I suppose, as I have little else to do at the weekends but go birdwatching down at Stodmarsh or Sandwich Bay – I’m still too young to be thinking about girls or going out – but it pays my first wages, and it feels ‘sort of right’. Right enough to take that next C of E step and decide to get ‘confirmed’. It’s not as big a deal as it is over in Spain, with the sailor suits and all the bells and whistles that go with it, but like I said, it seemed like ‘the right thing to do’. And the other kids in the choir were a lovely bunch, too.

Then along comes my early teenage years, a girlfriend and the beginning of a new approach: evangelicalism. She got me into it, I suppose, but it was something I took to with relish. Prayer and worship, spiritual healing, speaking in tongues… It was a brand new world and I loved every second of it. Ever heard of Soul Survivor? That kind of thing. It was a far cry from ‘open your hymn-books to Hymn no. 348‘ or what-have-you, at the very least. I might even go so far as to say that, for a little while, I even believed it. But it was the people that really made it for me, not the spiritual side of it. Just like playing the violin, the practising of which I had come to loathe, it was more the sense of community that went with it that I craved: the orchestra over the recital, and the worship group over the prayers. I guess you could say I built my house on the sand. Little wonder, then, that it all came crashing down with the end of that relationship. Coincidentally, it was raining that night, too.

I wandered for a while. I asked a lot of questions. I even stopped saying prayers at night, realising that most of them had been selfish anyway – especially the later ones. If not selfish, then love-blind at the very least. Eventually I returned, somewhat shame-faced, to my local church youth group, whom I’d abandoned for almost a year and a half. That was where I met Seth and Jenny Cooper, the Walmer Parish, and Katherine, that everlasting beacon, who showed me that there was more to life than a constant search for answers. For a little while longer, I continued to carry the flag, stronger than before. I was happy. But it was not to last. A series of unfortunate events came as the second hammer blow to my faith. I started to read about the Empire, and all the horrors that had been wrought in the name of God. My brother was assaulted on the way home from school. And Katherine, ever the kindling flame, went out of my life. A few weeks later, I gave up altogether.

As a true Christian, that was my final chapter. I had another fling with the Church in Uganda – ain’t no party like an African Baptist Prayer and Worship Party – but that was little more than a dalliance. Back in England, on the gap year that seemed like it would never end, faith eluded me. Mum, on the other hand, found her way to the Catholic Church and embarked upon what she has described as the ‘road her whole life had been leading towards’. I coveted that, I suppose. It wasn’t her new-found happiness of hers that I wanted, but that contented state of mind. Structured. Ordered. At peace. At one. Something that I’ve struggled with in all the hypocrisies of my life for the last seven years. Her faith gave her life a new meaning. I’d been looking for that meaning for a while with no such luck. People say that ‘finding yourself’ is the first step on the road to that level of understanding. If I could have ‘found myself in Africa’ as so many jokingly think I did, I’d probably have more of an idea as to where exactly I am right now. Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately, as God knows how lost I’d have been – I didn’t, and the search continues. Right up until last night, when I found myself sitting in an Iraqi church, listening to a Californian preacher explaining the meaning of John 3:16 whilst a translator conveyed it to the congregation in Arabic. Talk about a new way of looking at things!

Now we come to the heart of the matter. I’m not a Christian, like I said at the start. I might have been once, but for a token gesture or two of late, I’m not labelling material at the moment. I can go through the motions like a mynah bird, of course, but that’s got more to do with habit and observation than anything else. That, and a burning desire to believe, whenever that day comes. Until it does, everything seems false. To pray to a God you don’t believe in with all of your heart, with all of your soul – does that not seem a bit ingenuous? That’s not to say I’m not religious, though. Given the choice I’d rather be spiritual than to disbelieve entirely. I’ll put it this way: there’s a hole in my heart that’s waiting for faith. I just haven’t found it yet.

I’ve had this discussion/argument with Andrew recently. I put it to him that I’d be happier not knowing all the answers; that sometimes it’s better to stop asking questions and to have a little faith in what you can’t see; that some things, like as not, are necessarily beyond our understanding. It goes against a great deal of my character, and I think he took umbrage at that, but it’s a principle I try to stick to, and as far as I’m concerned it’s connected to the most fundamental principle of all: hope. I swear by it. There is no greater sin in my book than despair. I might not have the staying power that others prize – indeed, if something is beyond my capability (or, more often, interest) I’m more likely than not to throw up my arms and walk away – but I never truly give up on the inside. And as long as that’s the case, I’d like to believe I still have a chance.

Faith lies somewhere along the road, of that much I’m sure. Wherever it may be is, for the time being, beyond my understanding. And that’s not a bad thing. I tried to find it out here, but for all the strength of the community and the goodwill of the people, it continues to elude me. Maybe I’m being picky. Maybe I’m looking too hard. I don’t know. I’ve just got to keep trying.

I leave you (and this gargantuan post, which is approaching essay length as the clock strikes twenty minutes to midnight) with the only Bible verse I’ve consigned to heart, as it speaks to me on much the same level as it ever did five years ago, when first I found it:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:5

I wonder whatever happened to Katherine? I hope her light is still shining brightly for the rest of the world, wherever she is. BB x