Divine Comedy

 

Vailankanni: we both made the same mistake.

When we read in our guide book that it was a former Portuguese trading outpost located on the south east coast of India, we imagined something akin to Goa and Dieu (their antecedents also Portuguese) on the west coast – only without the tourists.

We thought we had found a hidden gem.  

And well, the few lines in our guide book about Vailankanni were written by a travel writer who had never been anywhere near the place.

So there it was; after a long day travelling on local buses, hot, overcrowded, sitting on hard wooden bench seats or standing in an aisle crammed between people, we were expecting to arrive in a place with deserted pristine beaches fringed by palm trees….

And were met by a sight which left us momentarily in a state of utter bewilderment……

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Andu Part 2

 

It had been my idea to go in search of an endangered species.

It had been her idea to hitch hike from Adelaide to the northern Flinders Ranges.

I didn´t think much of that idea. I tried to talk logic to her. 

‘Why not use the organized forms of transport as far as we can and then hitch hike? From the 400 kilometers there, at least cover 250 with a bus?

Anya wasn’t interested: ‘Lets hitch hike all the way. It’ll be an adventure’, she said.

‘It’ll be impossible getting lifts with our heavy rucksacks.’ I retorted, ‘it´ll take bloody weeks to get there!´

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Andu Part 1

 

Looking out the windows of the SUV, we saw it: the gaunt outlines of the northern Flinders Ranges, a metallic red brown vein of cliffs and ridges and valleys running deep into Central Australia, one the most arid, barren places in the world.

Then we knew we were nearing our destination, the point at which one journey ended and another began.

From hitch hiking 400 kilometres to walking 200.   

They were tired looking those ranges, almost as if their venture into the heart of one of the world´s greatest wastelands had proved to be too much and they had renounced any ambition of being a normal range.

But early in the morning and late in the evening, they burst into a spectrum of colours, all the colours of the rainbow. It was a transformation as miraculous as the animal which had once thrived there and learnt to dress itself up in a coat of many colours, like the biblical Jacob – and to merge into its environment during the critical times of the day when it went to forage for food…..

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Sore Trouble

 

It’s 1897.

 We are in the south of Egypt.  

 There are three contingents of soldiers: Egyptian, Sudanese and British.

The Egyptian and Sudanese armies have been trained by British military instructors and are being led by British officers.

 We are in the heyday of The Empire. 

The Empire is living on borrowed time. Come the 20th century and it will crumble before the tumult and upheaval of two world wars, a Great Depression, and two major revolutions.

But right now, in 1897, The Empire is in its full glory. No power on earth can defeat it.

Or so it seems. 

 The three armies are following the river Nile through an immense desert during the hottest month of the year.  

 Their destination is the city of Khartoum, in northern Sudan. It’s the base of a nineteenth century version of Islamic State led by a ‘Mahdi’ or ‘Divine One’, a self-proclaimed reincarnation of Mohammed. He has at his disposal tens of thousands of fanatical jihadis who are prepared to die ‘under the shadow of swords’ (‘It is easier to reach heaven under the shadow of swords than by prayers alone’). 

 The British intention to wage war against the Mahdi is enthusiastically supported by the Egyptians and the Sudanese – for very different reasons. The Egyptian government fears the potential of the radical Islamists to infect its country and stir up rebellion. They also see the chance to unite Sudan with Egypt, a scheme supported by Britain.

 The Sudanese, Africans, are from the south of Sudan. The Islamists in the north are Arabs. The Arabs consider the Africans to belong to a lower race and for centuries have raided their villages, selling the men in the slave markets of Riyadh and Istanbul, and taking the women for their harems. The Sudanese aren’t concerned about radical Islam; theirs is an ancient hate of the Arabs and any campaign against them is a campaign they are eager to join. They are famous for their bravery under fire.  

 The British soldiers have been shipped over from London. The British have long harboured feelings of revenge against the Mahdi and his militant acolytes. Eleven years previously, a General Gordon was killed by the Mahdi’s forces. Gordon was sent with a contingent of troops to Khartoum to defend its people against the Islamists. When it became clear that the situation was untenable, the British government ordered its troops to withdraw. Gordon refused to join them. He had been appointed to defend the people of Khartoum and his sense of honour forbad him abandoning them. He organised the defence of the city and when it fell he was murdered with the rest of the defenders. The incident caused an uproar in the British newspapers and the House of Commons.

There they are: a truly odd mixture of men and motives, armed with the latest rifles, canon and maxim machine guns, united by a shared desire to defeat the Mahdi – when suddenly they are ambushed by an Invisible Enemy long before they reach the battlefield………  

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A Saturday in Belarus

The following blog was written in May, 2018. It came to mind when I saw recent events unfolding in Belarus. The mass upheaval in the wake of yet another rigged election –  echoes of the George Floyd demonstrations – has given me great hope and yet also, considerable angst – at the measures Lukashenko and his criminal friend Putin might resort to in order to crush the eruption of popular dissent. 

 

“To reach the city of Salihorst (population 100, 000) we travelled from one corner of Belarus to the other – from the east near the Russian border to the south, near the Polish border.

We left early on a Friday morning. It was a long and uncomfortable trip in an old mini-bus.

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