Hints of Holi 

Days after Holi, India’s festival of colours, the powdered dyes linger on in tiny cracks, on walls, on doors, paving stones and alcoves – even on cows and dogs. They are reminders of a happy day filled with colours and joy. In the desert town of Jaisalmer, the pavements and brickwork made from locally quarried…

Varanasi: Notes from the banks of the Ganges

India wakes early and Varanasi is no exception – at dawn the eastern sky above the sandy floodplain shines pink and the ghats, ancient stone steps on the edge of the Ganges, Hinduism’s holiest river, are glowing and already abuzz with life. From the hotel roof terrace we see devotees in the water’s edge at…

A special place of remembrance, hope and beauty

It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever worked in: a creamy-white building with balconies facing the hills of central Kigali, nestled in rose gardens and shaded by palms, in a peaceful air filled with birdsong. But more than just beauty, this quiet, modest site, the Kigali Genocide Memorial is one of the world’s truly special…

Getting to work, Rwanda style

Whoever first coined the term ‘the Dark Continent’ to describe Africa was either wearing very powerful sunglasses, or was nocturnal. The Rwandan sun is enthusiastic, its light is sharp and sunrise is rapid – the sun doesn’t drag itself up; it skyrockets in a steep trajectory and by the start of my commute at 7.30am…

A letter from the heart of Africa: settling in fine

 Dear friends, I made it, I’m here, in Kigali, Rwanda, writing to you from the hilly heart of a distant continent. I’ve been here a week now and I’m settling in fine. On the flight here, just as we passed Lake Victoria, the land suddenly rose to resemble a fairytale kingdom, a mountain fortress, rising…

My mum, the pilot

Once upon a time, a little girl was told that women shouldn’t fly airplanes … I grew up knowing ‘mum flew planes’. This was one of a series of simple facts in my childhood: my sister and I were born in London; our parents came from India; dad sang; mum flew. She told us stories…

The flight to Rwanda and getting rid of the contraband

After a short layover in Nairobi airport, the great African plains appeared below us, followed by Lake Victoria, its shoreline edged in pink flamingoes between jealous, grey clouds. (This is part of a series of posts called Letters from the Heart of Africa and a table of contents and background can be found here. This…

Letters from the Heart of Africa

A few years ago I spent six months volunteering at the Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda. This serialised post is based on letters and emails sent home to friends during my time there, and from notes in my personal journal. Names of people have been changed, employer’s confidentiality preserved, but all of the facts are…

Peter and the soup confusion

Peter, my Rwandan housemate, is a man of many talents – he’s my gym training buddy, my security guard, a law student and a boxing champion for the Kigali Police First Team. I don’t really need a security guard, Kigali is the safest city I’ve ever lived in, but I enjoy his company especially at…

Jodhpur: In the shadow of the clock tower

We’re in the desert in the middle of the dry season and we got a rainstorm. Someone knew the British were in town. It was one hell of a downpour, branches fell, swallows froze in mid-air – thunderbolt and lightning very, very … mildly disconcerting. This morning the dust is quelled, puddles remain on the…

Jaisalmer: camel rides, missing jeeps and other desert perils 

I should’ve known better when we booked a desert safari from a small tour operator in the narrow streets inside the fort walls of Jaisalmer. Jeep and camel hire in the same billboard as chowmein and tacos? I mean, really? I fell for the laminated photos: shiny happy people taped to the walls of the…

The Purple Shell

In response to today’s daily post word: “purple“. A purple shell caught my eye on a sandy beach yesterday. A lovely shade of purple, caught in a dimple in the sand, brought in on a line of bubbles from a warm wave. Such a lovely shade of purple, with fine white striations, whorls and ribs….