Friday, 1 September 2017

Footnotes: September

This post comes to you from the past. I am currently living my dream: I'm on an uninhabited island with no electricity or WiFi. Literally only sheep. It's pretty much my favourite place in the world.

No but seriously, remember that lighthouse thing I shared in my most recent post? (If you don't, a) how dare you not internalise every pixel of my blog, I'm offended, and b) scroll down.) It was about wanting to live in a lighthouse. But where I really want to live is a reservoir tower.

There's a train I often get that goes up from the countryside through the south side of Glasgow, and going through the green country the line passes a couple of beautiful reservoirs. I love that railway -- the trains are old and creaky, bodies painted dull red and yellow, cheerful somehow -- and I love those lakes. And I always look at the reservoir towers as I pass and have a surge of longing.

Anyway, I'm getting away from the point.

It's the first of September, which means it's time for Footnotes!

Ashley and I began this link-up last month. It's quotation based -- each month we post a prompt asking you to choose a quotation on a particular theme, and you respond pretty much however you like! Thanks to those who got involved in August! This month's prompt:

A quotation that makes you laugh.


Ana Rosa

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

A lot of life updates // a book haul

It's been so long since I did a life post, recap, or book haul that I've forgotten how. I do have these blogging crises sometimes, when I'm like, what am I doing, why do I spend so much time writing about myself and taking photos of books, nobody cares. And then I remind myself that I love reading other people's writing about themselves, and looking at their photos of books, so why shouldn't I do it, too?

I could dwell on my angst further, but instead let's plunge into THE BOOKS (that's why we're here!).

So, this is what happens when you don't do a book haul post from December until August. OOPS.

// lobster pots are fun. And this edition is so pretty I could cry.
These four -- Shadow and Bone, Finnikin of the Rock, A Darker Shade of Magic and Neverwhere -- were all Christmas presents from my great brother. (My family has finally figured out that I want books for presents. It's taken nearly nineteen years but it's happened and it's wonderful.) There are all super pretty and, more to the point, the entire blogosphere is OBSESSED and throws them all at my head. (Maybe not so much Finnikin (which is in the picture with Shadow and Bone, hiding), but the other three? Pftt. I can't leave the house without the bloodthirsty chant of “Schwab, Schwab, read some Schwab!" rolling into my ears.)

Have I actually read them yet? Considering I've owned them for eight months? Hahaha. As if. I need a healthy four years to make it through my TBR ... (I hate myself.)

 Despite being Scottish, do I ever read Scottish literature, ever? Nope. I could count on one hand the number of Scottish books I've read IN MY LIFE! (I mean, I would need about twelve fingers. But let's not bore ourselves with the details.) So here's two Scottish books.

Trainspotting was a Christmas present from my lovely friend Cat (along with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings). It's an iconic book about the Edinburgh drug scene. According to a friend who has read it, The Goldfinch alludes to it. So I'm there! (Metaphorically there. Literally, who knows when I'll read this book. I'm a travesty of a sham, asphyxiating under a TBR pile.)

Nil Nil is a poetry collection by Aberdonian poet Don Paterson. I got this book last December from an incredible place in Oxford called The £3 Bookshop. They sell NEW BOOKS for £3 EACH?!! How does that business make money? I HAVE NO IDEA. When I go to Oxford, will I fritter away my life's savings in increments of £3 and buy everything from the entire shop? Yeah, probably!

Also bought in The £3 Bookshop! What a place. This is one of my FAVOURITE BOOKS EVER and I can't wait to reread!

A Further Stack // the university edition

Yup, these books are all new (to me) for the purposes of my degree! Ahahahaha. Who needs education, right? I think I'll pack it in, move to Paraguay and herd alpacas. I do love South America ...

I got my reading list for Oxford a month ago. It is ... what's that word? Long. As you can tell from those books! I'm meant to read all those by October?! As well as Great Expectations and Moby Dick, (not pictured because I already owned them)?! The alpacas look more and more inviting ...

I did have a small crisis when I got the list. Suddenly the next three years of my life lay stark before me: read through the list. Go to uni. Study, write essays, die a little. Get reading list for next term. Go home for Christmas holidays. Read through list. Return to uni. Study, write essays, fall further into Tartarus. And repeat for three years??

You hear people say it, don't you, that studying books ruins the love of books. Allow me to be a massive narcissist for a minute and quote myself. This is what I said on this blog on 1st October, 2016 (which is actually not far off a year ago. WHAT IS THIS THING WE CALL TIME):
I'm currently going through the uni application process again.  I have unexpectedly had to navigate people telling me a) not to apply to the uni I want to go to and b) even more bafflingly, not to apply for English Lit ... 
my exact face
But, Emily, studying English means studying books and thinking about books and writing about books and criticising books and you've not been taught it in school the way it will be at uni! AND YOU'LL STOP LOVING BOOKS!"

I'm not trying to be an annoying 17y/o who disregards adults' advice and generally yells “YOU DON'T KNOW MY LIFE, MOM*" ... but equally, don't patronise me and tell me that what I think I want is not actually what I want?! In fact, I know what I want. And I'm not expecting uni to be the same as school, obviously, and even if I do get there and hate studying English I can always drop out and still like reading, it's not as if I'll be like “SHAKESPEARE IS A LIE AND GATSBY NEVER HAPPENED!" 
*To clarify, it's not my actual mom" who has said these things. She's a great lady. 
So you can see, my past self was mighty convinced that this Stopping Loving Books thing would DEFINITELY NEVER HAPPEN. “Don't patronise me and tell me what I think I want is not actually what I want?!" I said in a rather angsty way. I STILL STICK BY MY ANGSTY PAST SELF. But I did have that moment of horror where I wondered, what if I could find my degree a grind?

I don't think so, though. Because I've had such a great time with the books so far. I've read Moby Dick, which was blimming great, and Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction -- fascinating -- and some great poetry by Browning, and I'm now really enjoying The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, so I can confirm that I do not hate books. And anyway, since getting the list I read The Mark of Athena. I'm not going to stop reading YA and fantasy. That just isn't going to happen. I WILL ALWAYS MAKE TIME FOR PERCY. (Gosh, though, my Percy emotions are running high at the moment. SOMEBODY HOLD ME.)

I'll leave the angsty rant there for today, but send me good vibes for getting through the reading list!

Peter LiversidgeĆ¢€™s-everythingisconnected:
In Life


Ashley! As in the blogger behind [oddly novel title], the co-hoster of Footnotes, the beta reader of my first novel, and my great friend of several years! 


throwback to when I had dreads
My mother was very concerned. She kept saying things like “but are you SURE she's a real person?" and “don't get in a car with her!" There is quite a lot of stigma surrounding internet friendships -- firstly, the assumption that the people we talk to online are definitely secretly 50y/o men, and the idea that “internet friendships aren't real friendships". It was absolutely wonderful to meet an internet friend face to face! We had such a nice afternoon. Unfortunately we spent it in a rather down-at-heel small town north of Glasgow -- I wished Ashley could have seen better parts of Scotland than that! -- but in spite of the less than inspiring setting, it was pretty delightful. Have you ever met an internet friend? Don't forget to hit me up if you're ever in Scotland!


Basically, 90% of our friendship is based on Sherlock gifs. Ashley is a better person than me and has actually read some of the books, instead of just watching the BBC series (side note, I still haven't finished series 4?! It came out while I was in Kenya!), and is encouraging me to do the same!

Such a good day, folks!

In July I went to Dublin!

I went on holiday with my Kenya team and it was really lovely. I have always been very attracted by the celtic magic of Ireland, the myth and the music. Dublin is a great city, both exciting and traditional. We got lost around the cobbled streets; walking out in the long July evenings live music would float from the beautiful pubs and bars. Once I did a bit of impromptu ceilidh dancing in the street, to the tune of a busking fiddler. There was so much character in each lovely Georgian building, and the River Liffey, winding through the city's heart, was gorgeous.

I always think there is something so atmospheric about straight beams of sunlight, something divine. The glory of the Lord descending through clouds.
It was a hilarious holiday of art galleries and museums, of cooking pasta in a youth hostel, of walking until our feet blistered because we refused to pay for public transport. Sitting drinking wine by the Liffey, reminiscing about Kenya, wondering about the future, laughing about the present.

One glorious day we walked to the beach. I love cities by the sea.

Image may contain: 6 people, people smiling, people standing, sky, ocean, cloud and outdoor
It was so nice to spend time with these girls. Ft. the fun skirt I got made in Kenya.
Of course, no holiday would be complete without some secondhand book-buying! Because I really have nothing to read .... *ahem*

Chosen because The Road by McCarthy is one of my faves.

It was a great holiday! (I spent a lot of time looking out for Derek Landy, who lives in Ireland, but somehow didn't manage to spot him. It's so fun, though, seeing the place where your fave books (in this case, Skulduggery) are set!)

In Writing

I am redrafting Stay In the City!

No but seriously! It was November when I finished the first draft of this book! That's like half a year ago! Heck, that's like nearly a whole year ago! It's just SO NICE to be jumping back into the story with my beloved team of characters. I loved working on the first book in May/June/July, but I always had this knowledge that their story had continued past that book, and they needed me in the future! Now it is the future. If that makes sense.

If you want to know more about the book (bless you) you can click here.

This morning I finished reading it and made a Redraft Action Plan. I'm very professional, me.

This is only the second book I'll ever have redrafted! It's a learning curve, right? Right. Ahahahaha.

Seriously, though, I'm excited.

So, I was going to talk about stuff I've been reading recently, but I think I may die if this post gets any longer, and goodness knows how you're feeling! If you actually read this, you're a hero. Anyway, TELL ME ALL THE THINGS: what are you writing? What are you reading? Have you been to Dublin? Do you ever have blogging crises? Are you an internet friendship success story like I am? Have you ever been to the setting of your favourite book and got stupidly excited? Any recent book haul excitements? Share it all!

I'll leave you with this, my most recent favourite thing.

I want this life a painful amount

Until very soon!


Friday, 4 August 2017

Other Worlds

Footnotes is a new link-up hosted by Ashley and me. For quotation obsessees (and isn't that all of us?). This month's prompt is: a quotation from an author.

Adams Carvalho
“Characters pre-exist. They are found. They reveal themselves slowly – as might fellow-travellers seated opposite one another in a very dimly-lit railway carriage.” ~ Eudora Welty

I had to Google this quotation to find its source, Eudora Welty. A Goodreads search told me she’s a twentieth-century writer from Mississippi. I did not know this before. These words were simply written on a scrap of lined paper, stuck to my wall: a jotting from an English lesson some year or two ago, copied down without reference. Nonetheless, I have long loved this quotation and often thought about it.

Characters are not names and eye colours and favourite foods, bullet pointed in a notebook. They are not stick figures. They are at first the whisper of an idea, a shadow, and slowly they move out of darkness and the writer sees them, fully human, having waited there all along.

Often the characters I write surprise me; they do, say or think things completely unexpected, and I look down at my hands, my pen, and think, I am a vessel for someone else.

Is a writer therefore a creator or a conduit? I am a prophetess, looking through the veil from this world to another. Think of fantasy lands; do they not spread, real and vast, far beyond the brains of their writers? Does George RR Martin know every complexity, every inhabitant, of Westeros? Did Tolkien look upon Middle Earth with the benevolent smile of a god; or did he gaze up at its hills and wonder? I think it was the latter. I think there is a third space, between our physical world and the writer’s abstract brain, where all the multitudes of voices from fiction dwell. A parallel universe? A series of parallel universes, bobbing against each other like a conglomeration of stars? Perhaps.

Because it’s true, isn’t it, that readers find things in books which the author did not knowingly place there. Think of those times when you find in a book something so exquisitely specific, so pertinent, it makes you sit back, blinking with recognition. Haven’t you found yourself in the books you read? You have known the book, as the author themselves did not know it. But the truth you have found is real, valid, not merely a cheap insertion of your circumstances or emotions. It is there, shining from the page. Must it not, then, exist somewhere, somewhere neither the author’s brain nor yours?

It amazes and excites me, this shadowland of people, places and ideas, just waiting for someone to discover then. All the books I’ve not yet written, all the characters I haven’t met, seem to float around me, like fish lying deep out of sight in a still dark pool.

To return to Welty’s image of the train: I am a passenger on a journey, heading I don’t know where, and all the possible destinations fill me with wonder. What a privilege, to pull back the curtain and look upon another world, here in the dimly-lit railway carriage.

Agata Wierzbicka_Hidden
[source] // Agata Wierzbicka
ft. my wall

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Introducing Footnotes (new link-up, get excited!)

If there's one thing readers, writers, bloggers and even normal humans love doing, it's quoting each other.

AA Milne wrote, “[A] quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business." I enjoy the irony of this -- when he wrote these words, did he picture future generations wanting to quote it, yet not wanting to quote it for fear of hypocrisy, and laugh to himself? Maybe there's truth in it, too; maybe sometimes we hide behind the words of others. But I'm sure that our yen for quotations is more than a cheap recycling of others' thoughts. To explain what I mean -- and, in the explanation, give an example -- I'm going to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald.

It's all getting a bit meta, isn't it?

F. Scott Fitzgerald

We quote others because, when their words match our feelings, we find ourselves part of some great and unstoppable tide of literature. Others have stood where you stand now. Others have felt what you are feeling, and translated that heart into language, and spoken it out. “You belong."

Now, do you remember way back in the dark and misty past of October 2015?

Hahaha, me neither, but reliable sources tell me that was the month when Ashley and I started a link-up called Starting Sparks. 

Starting Sparks has since reached its conclusion -- to quote (see, there's a theme going on here, folks) a wise Kenyan baker, “Everything that has a beginning has an end." But your favourite dynamic link-up hosting duo is back, and, to quote someone somewhere, “it's going to be fun!"

It's an easy concept, really. On the first of each month, Ashley and I will post a quotation-related prompt. You will choose a quotation and tell us why. That simple. This month we're starting easy:

A quotation from an author.

Hope to see you around!


(And, to start us off on a good note, comment one or more of your favourite quotations!)

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

What I Learned On My Gap Year

1. The world is bigger than you realise

Now obviously I'm going to talk about Kenya here, but first, let's slip back to those far-off autumn days when I worked in a lowly shop. Last September and October, I was a shop assistant in a cheap little shop in Glasgow selling tacky jewellery, sparkly shoes and other low-grade paraphernalia. It showed me a side of the city I'd never seen before. If you have the opportunity to work in a shop, take it! Because meeting the general public each day, with their needs and their desires, is a wonderful way to learn about people.

Also I went to Kenya.

The clouds are different there. More tousled. The skies are huge, because so much of the land is so flat. Once in Tuum, Samburu (Kenya's the rural north), I stood upon a mountain and thought about the size of the view. Here in Britain, the horizon is always so much closer; my eye is brought to a stop by a mountain range, or mist, or the sea. But looking out over Samburu, the land rolled on for hundreds of miles. I have never seen the world like this before. It is vast and beautiful, and it made me realise how great and mighty God is, because He made it all.

2. A woman does not need money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction // you are capable of a lot

It was Virginia Woolf, in A Room of One's Own, who said that's what a writer needs. But in Kenya, sharing a tiny room of four, I wrote a novel. That's one of the things Kenya taught me: to make the best of any situation. Sometimes, what once seemed impossible becomes normal. You are capable of far more than you realise.

Really. I lived without electricity and running water for a month. At one point near the end of my trip, I slept in a goathouse for four nights. That is the weirdest place I have ever slept! When I got there, the man who owned it said, “you will sleep here. Sweep it, but don't sweep the yellow powder in the corner, it's toxic. Oh, and walk around to kill the goatworms." Yellow toxic powder? Goatworms?? But by that point, I was up for anything! And, by the light of a dodgy solar-powered lamp, I swept happily away. (Avoiding the toxic powder, of course.)

3. Books really are friends everywhere

When I slept in that goathouse, I was working on a farm in a village called Waso Rongai. I'd get up at 6:30am and hoe fields, and during the hot part of the day, I'd return to my raw mattressed goathouse bunk bed and read Uprooted by Naomi Novik. I remember, back in my long-ago no-thought-of-Kenya life, looking at Uprooted in Waterstones and thinking how I'd like to read it. Little did I know then that I'd plunge into Novik's fairytale world of trees and magic in between watering and planting kale in the wild north of Kenya! I loved that book. Similarly, I sat in the shimmering, solitary heat of the village of Keleswa, where I met tribespeople and had saw a life I had never imagined, and read The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan. Percy Jackson won't desert you, friends. Books are timeless.

Peter, me and Gerald in Keleswa. Not sure what I'm writing, but I can see my copy of The Idiot against the wall! (Cream/dun cover with a red border and a black circle in the middle. See it?) That was the book I finished before diving into The Son of Neptune.
4. Don't get dreads in Africa if you're white // your appearance is not the be-all and end-all

So a sad thing has happened to me. I no longer have dreadlocks.

Basically, Caucasian hair needs to be crocheted into dreadlocks, whereas African hair can just be backcombed, waxed and twisted. Because I got mine done in a salon in Nairobi, they did it the African way. But as the weeks and months went by, it became more and more apparent that the dreads were just unravelling. Also they were gross (full of sand from a recent beach trip, for example) and I was too scared to wash them.

So yesterday I washed/combed them all out!

MY HEART IS BROKEN I'm trying to take the philosophical view.

Which is that it's fun to do fun things with your hair when you're a teenager! It's good to experiment, and I'm still glad I got dreads in Kenya, for the story. Now I just have to live the short hair life for a bit until it thickens out again (I lost a lot of my hair yesterday in the combing process. I mean, a lot. My bathroom bin looks like it has a puppy in it), and then I shall merrily dread again! Properly, this time.

OK but you know the really important thing to learn? Your hair is not that important. It doesn't define who you are. Take risks with your appearance and have fun, because ultimately, it's what's inside that counts.

5. God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good

That's a saying in Kenya. One person says, “God is good!" and the crowd replies, “all the time!" “All the time!" cries the leader, “God is good!" choruses the crowd.

Really. I have learned so much about God's sovereignty. The two weeks we spent running kids' camps in Samburu were some of the hardest two weeks of my life, and I remember looking at the clock during sessions and literally just praying, “Lord, please get me from now until lunchtime." And He did! Every time! The more I live my life, the more I can praise God for being with me every step of the way.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
(Psalm 139:16)

Isn't that verse amazing? God has planned it all. Yesterday, today and forever.

6. It's OK not to swim in the mainstream

I used to think that taking a gap year was a horrific perversion of the True Course of Life. “But I want to go to uni!" I said. “Not put my life on hold for a year!" Here's what I've learnt: you do not have to sit on a conveyor belt like a bit of sheep intestine being turned into a sausage. You do not have to do what everyone else is doing. Sometimes the unexpected path is the most fruitful.

7. Don't take education for granted

Having a Proper Adult Job like a Proper Adult is exciting. Getting paid is exciting. But sometimes I used to stack shelves in my shop jobs, or wash plates in my Kenya school job, and think, “remember when I used to go and paint and learn about books every day?" When I was at school, I think I took my education for granted. And I cannot wait to start uni, to be back in the world of academia! I want books.

Sunset in Keleswa
8. Don't settle

Why did I take a gap year?

In 2015, when I was still at school, I applied to read English at Oxford. I got rejected.

Before the rejection, I was quite philosophical. Here's what I said on this very blog, December 23rd, 2015:
 I'll find out next month if I have a place or not. A lot of people have said things to me like “It must have ruined you for anywhere else", or, “you'll be so disappointed if you don't get in." I loved it so much that it must be easy to imagine crushing disappointment. But the truth is I won't be heartbroken, not in the slightest. Before I'd even sent my application I knew very, very well that the chances of my being accepted are extremely small. This doesn't upset me, because I think it's very foolish to stake all your hope on something you might not get. If I don't get in I'll still have my family, a country at peace, my novel, books, Jesus. It's called perspective.
At that time, I really did think I'd go to uni in 2016 regardless! But when the rejection came ... I mean, in one way, my past self was right. I wasn't heartbroken. But I did have a strong feeling: this isn't over. So I took a year out, I reapplied, I worked, I went to Kenya. And guess what?

I'm going to study in Oxford in October.

Oxford - Bridge of Sighs Less than an hour and a half, makes a great day out
[source] // The Bridge of Sighs
The other day I was in Waterstones in St Andrews and, on the table beside which I sat, there were some lovely red hardback editions of a book called Lyra's Oxford by Philip Pullman. I've never read any Pullman, but I picked it up and read the epigram, which quoted from Baedeker (a historic travel guide):

“Oxford, where windows open into other worlds ..."

It was a moment of serendipity, a breath of the future with its beautiful cobbled streets.

So don't settle, because if you pursue what you want, you might just get it. (A side note: if I hadn't got into Oxford, I'd still be mightily glad to have done this gap year. It was not a means to an end. Getting into Oxford is just an extra gift God has given me. Isn't He amazing?)


What have you learned in the past year?

Cow/unicorn, I love it.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Kenya Diaries: What I Got Up To In Tuum

During the month of April, I lived in Samburu in rural northern Kenya. I posted the first part of that time here: going to live in villages with the Samburu people. After those four days we returned to the town of Tuum, to the compound of some Northern Irish missionaries, to run two children's camps.

[Thursday April 20th]

I’m sitting under a tree in a blue plastic chair. A camel is browsing not many metres away.

Camels are fantastical creatures, like something from a myth or a dream: their series of curves like an undulating sea; the long, swinging, wrinkled necks that don’t look like they should hold the head; the way they sway when they walk. Their skinny legs, ending in huge, bell-shaped hooves; their pronounced knees. Their round noses and smiling mouths. Isn’t it amazing to think that the God who made stags and goldfinches and porpoises and all the other animals of Scotland also made the animals of Africa? That He created such distinctly beautiful landscapes: the mountains of home, and the bleached vistas here with their regular, flat-topped trees? And elsewhere there are icebergs and rainforests and prairies and turquoise-lipped beaches, and all in the same world. It is a vast and wonderful place, and He made it all and dwells in it all. And still our planet is only a blue speck in His universe, wreathed in clouds.

There are two bulls who live in this compound. I think every camp should have a couple: walking to a teaching session, it lifted my heart to see one strutting across the volleyball court. One is horned and black and entirely amiable. The other is brindled, red-eyed and not to be trusted. Ten minutes ago I sat here, about to start writing, when I looked up and saw him bearing down on me like a warship. I scarpered, and he began to sniff, worry and eventually knock over the chair on which I’d been sitting. Talk about near death experiences.

It is mid-afternoon, and after two back-to-back camps, the final busloads of children have gone. I feel like a deflated balloon, or maybe a long-term prisoner who has been released and emerges, blinking, into a forgotten sunlit world. The time before camp is a far-off memory.

The camel is eating shoots, its black feathery tail flicking.

Last week was the junior camp; our theme was Who Is Jesus? My group was all girls (apart from two little boys added the next morning). I was glad when I saw all the skirts filing past. Girls are much easier to understand. They were sweet and they loved me; by day two, one of them announced, “you are my mother”. I wonder if she had a real mother. There were sad moments like these, for example when we played a game involving choosing a character (lady, lion or warrior). “Who do you want to be?” I asked my girls. “I want to be a mzungu [white person],” one replied. I didn’t have time to talk to her about it. 

I pray they learned about Jesus. Sometimes they seemed receptive; other times they appeared to have listened and responded to nothing at all. But there were nearly four hundred of them; surely one child must have come to know the Lord in a new way, and if they did, our work was not in vain.

It was a strange dynamic; I felt like less of a leader than a teacher, sleeping up in my separate house, eating away from them. As with every aspect, it was nothing like camp at home. But I hope they felt loved, and enjoyed themselves.

One particularly brutal feature was the 6am devotions and exercises. We only had to do this one morning each, but for the children it was the daily routine. We started before it was light, the children huddling in the church like little ghosts wrapped in shukas, wan and sleep-hazed. After singing and preaching we ran and played games, and saw the sun rise over the mountain. The land is still and hushed then, in reverence of the light breaking out of darkness in hues of pink and grey. In such light worlds are made.

When the children departed we wanted to fizzle out like spent toys, but we had to wind ourselves up again in preparation for youth camp. These ones were older, wilier, harder to impress. Some of them were older than me.

One thing that made me laugh on the first night – something that has struck me throughout this time in Kenya – was how the English Premier League has infiltrated. A boy, one of the campers, came up to me. I said, “Supa?”, which means “Hi, how are you?” in Kisamburu. He said, “Manchester United?”

Over the camp we studied 1 Thessalonians. Did they learn? Were they changed? It’s so hard to say. Kenya is a confusing country. Churches are everywhere; buses blare synthetic worship music, their windows plastered with stickers saying IN GOD WE TRUST and THIS VEHICLE IS PROTECTED BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS. Christian Religious Education continues all the way through school, and pretty much anyone you asked on the street would tell you they loved Jesus. For high schoolers, owning a Bible is a legal requirement. But when the whole education system is based on learning by rote, it’s quite possible – even common? – to slide through school without really learning who Jesus is, CRE lessons notwithstanding. On camp, when we tried to do Bible studies with the youth, it was plain they’d never done anything like it. We were trying, almost desperately, to show them that truth and joy and life can be found in the Bible’s own pages, that God is not a thing we have to learn from others, but can learn through His Living Word. We studied a passage from Mark 1, trying to help them see that in the text itself – not through a pastor’s words, not through a school lesson, but in the text – it says Jesus is the Son of God. “What does this mean?” I asked, wanting them to find a response in the passage.

“It means He died on the Cross for our sins,” a girl replied.

Yes, of course, that is what the Son of God did, but she hadn’t got it from those few verses; it was answer she had learnt. Her concept of Christianity was a collection of empty creeds and confusion. I can only pray that these teenagers will open their Bibles and be amazed by the living and active Word they find, shining there with a light they have never yet seen.

A combination of poor English, shyness and disinterest made the teenagers hard to befriend. Interacting with the children was easy – they stroked my hair, and if we didn’t speak the same language we made faces at each other until we both laughed. Not so the youth. All my early efforts at conversation were met with silence or laughter. But I learnt that you should always keep trying, because on the Tuesday afternoon my efforts paid off and at last I made friends with a group of fourteen-year-olds.

Felister, Alice, Rafaela, Gladys, Lydia, Pauline, Christine and Lucy. They taught me words in Kiturkana, and when I told them I’d done Spanish at school they asked for each word “in Spain”. Every time someone drifted past where we sat on the ground, the girls beckoned them over and, pointing at my knee, say, “say in four languages!” “Acong, goti, knee, rodillo”: Kiturkana, Kiswahili, English, Spanish. It amused us all no end. They wanted to know everything – my parents’ names, how many brothers, how many sisters, nephews and nieces, what grades did I get in school, had I been to uni, how old was I, what was my surname, how much did it cost to get to Kenya from the UK, even what were my dogs called? Then they could rattle the details off in quick succession.

The next day I saw them again and they tested me on Kiturkana words – mountain, tree, sky, child. I taught them to say “¡Hasta luego!” They were some of the best girls I’ve ever met. Being with them was the best time on that camp.

[Saturday April 22nd]

On the last afternoon it rained. I was chopping carrots when it began. At first it was light, dancing in the sun and the wind in frenetic diamonds. Then it grew heavier, and there were real puddles, great drops splashing in them and rippling out in circles. It was the first time I’d seen rain in puddles since leaving home. It was almost British. And yet, standing in the open kitchen door, I could feel the heat of the sun, yellow through the water.

We ran outside, laughing and shouting, and found a tiny, perfect rainbow stretched over the valley, so close we could have run to the end. It was a flawless curve, the colours jewel bright against the dark bruise of the sky, and I thought of Noah emerging from the ark. For him it was the first sunshine after the horror of the rain; for us it was rain after relentless sunshine. For all that, I don’t think our feelings were very different.

Now the teenagers have gone, and here we are, and it seems ever stranger, this mini Gap Team life. Real life would never be like this, the lack of autonomy most of all. But I have love this micro-climate existence, all the same, the community of it, the love, my team, the unending cycle of laughter. I am used to being a team member. It will be so odd to go back to being only myself.

I just frigging love camels, man.