Monday, 30 December 2013

2014 reading list

I've always been a keen reader- as a child my love of books led to my family mocking me for not even being able to go on a short journey without a well-thumbed favourite or new literary adventure for company. I would go as far as to say that my love of books is the reason behind my habit of carrying a large handbag around -another mocking point for my family and friends.

Yet despite my love for reading, I am often ashamed to admit that I have never read many of the great 'classics' that I feel I should have read. I'm all about reading for enjoyment rather than chore, nevertheless I have been wondering recently whether I'm missing out. Not being one for making new year's resolutions, I've decided to make a list of books I want to read in 2014, and it goes something like this (in no particular order):

Around the world in 80 days by Jules Verne
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Grapes of Wrath by John Stenibeck
A Passage to India by EM Forster
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger
One flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Moby Dick by Helman Melville
Little Women by Louisa M.Alcott
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
The Sherlock Holmes series (or at least part of) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

As I tick them off, I'll be writing a brief review of each one here. If you have any more suggestions of what I should read, tweet me @scribbling_lau!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Upcoming artist: Mariama Samba

It's been a while since I've done a music post - anyone who knows me knows that music isn't really my thing - but I've heard some great stuff coming out of Mariama Samba's YouTube channel recently and wanted to share it with you. This is her video for 'My Other Half' - have a listen and let me know what you think!

Friday, 13 December 2013

A reflection on Soweto

Following Nelson Mandela's death in 2013, and the resulting attention on South Africa, and in particular the township of Soweto, I thought a lot about the time I spent out in South Africa in 2012 and I remembered this piece I wrote about my visit to Soweto, which never got published at the time.

We pulled up at the side of a road on a busy flyover, the driver seemingly oblivious to the speed of the other traffic – just another example of the reckless South African driving that we had become accustomed to and fearing of in equal proportions. None of us wanted to be the first out of the minibus; even with the doors closed, the extent of the poverty could be seen. For miles ahead, row upon row of tumbledown shacks stood precariously, as if the lightest wind would bring the whole settlement down, and with it, the lives of the thousands of residents.

However,step outside the minibus we did – with our expensive cameras, nice clothes and full stomachs, we owed it to these people to, at the very least, bear witness to the trials and tribulations of their everyday lives. Looking at the traffic going past on the flyover, thousands upon thousands of people must drive past the shanty town every day, rushing between the centre of Johannesburg and the wealthier parts of Soweto, or beyond, too busy to care about what is going on around them.

Whilst the extent of the shanty town was shocking – not only did it reach far into the distance, but it continued the other side of the bridge, close to railway lines, and up into the hills, all the while watched over by the iconic Soweto towers – the most shocking part was looking directly below us. This allowed us to look into the lives of real people, individuals, rather than a vast number of people. We saw children playing, women hanging out washing on a makeshift line, people putting their lives at risk crossing the lethal railway tracks.  If anyone had ever doubted the reality of the scenes shown to us on Oxfam appeal adverts, had thought they were staged, or exaggerated, this alone was proof that they were not.
As we spent a few minutes taking in the scene, an elderly woman and her granddaughter approached us and engaged us in conversation, asking our names and where we were from, before telling us they lived in one of the homes below. The genuine interest they showed in our lives was humbling. We bid them farewell as they continued their journey, and as we turned around, we were faced with a wall of children, around 15 of them, all keen to talk to us. Shouting below alerted us to the arrival of more children – word was being spread around the settlement about the visitors up at the road, and groups of children were scrambling up the grass bank and climbing over the railings to see us.  Sadly, their interest stemmed from their need to beg – we were later told that their families send them up to the road to get food or money from tourists.

Within seconds we were surrounded entirely by the children, some as young as 3 or 4 years old, and our guide decided it was best for us to get back on the minibus. Even as we climbed back in, the children were still following us, until the minibus driver- who had grown up in Soweto himself-  intercepted, and spoke to the children in a language we didn’t understand. We later asked what he had said, and he had explained to them that those who had not been lucky enough to receive food or money from visitors today would have to hope that tomorrow was a better day for them.

We then drove to another area of Soweto – getting a sense of how large it is was astonishing – where we were to have a tour of one of the settlements with one of the residents. On arriving, a couple of people decided to stay in the minibus, too upset by what they had already seen. Those of us who did venture out were blown away by the friendliness of the people. As we walked down the dirt track past their houses – some of them smaller than our bedrooms at home- they waved, smiled, said hello, welcomed us to their township. One elderly lady even invited us into her house, insisting that we come in and look around. We tried to politely decline, but she was very insistent, and our local guide, Sam, said that it was an honour for her to be able to show us her home – a matter of pride, if you will. So in we went, the house barely big enough for the ten of us. It consisted of three tiny rooms – a kitchen, a living area and a bedroom. Decor was non-existent. The walls were lined with tarpaulin in an attempt at insulation. It was small, but she was proud of it, chattering away to us all, enquiring about where we were from, telling us about her life, laughing and smiling the whole time. As we left the house, a group of children were waiting for us in the garden – the news of our arrival had quickly spread around the settlement, and as at our previous stop, parents sent their children out to try to elicit food or money from visitors.

The children latched onto us, one on one, in a well rehearsed routine, asking our names, where we were from, if we had any siblings, before asking “do you have anything for me?” We had been told to leave our belongings in the minibus and not to give them anything. As harsh as this sounds, giving them money teaches them that begging is a sustainable way of life and offers them no motivation to search for employment when they are older. They walked with us for a while, until we headed back to the minibus, and even as we got on and closed the door behind us, they could still be heard asking “Do you have anything for me?”

An overwhelming sense of guilt hit us knowing that these children would have to go back to their parents, some with 10 or 12 mouths to feed, and tell them that they had not managed to get any money today. Yet the thing that stuck with me most about the experience was the attitude of the people we met. They all had next to nothing, lived in conditions that most people are lucky enough never to encounter, and have to fight just to survive every day, yet they were some of the most joyful and welcoming people I have ever met. Always laughing, smiling, greeting strangers and inviting them in to their homes. There’s a lesson to be learned from these people!