The Slum Girl

 

I was on my way back to my hotel, when she ran up behind me, yelling.

It was a high pitched sound, bird like.

Before I knew it, she was standing in front of me and pointing at my camera.

It was a young girl wrapped in a blanket and all too obviously from a poor, lower caste family. She was sleeping on the streets, along with so many others……..

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Woolly Mammoth

Arriving in Prague that morning, we had time on our hands.

Our flight to Amsterdam was in the evening.

It was the summer of 2018, at the height of the tourist season in Europe and wherever you looked, there were people and more people. 

Seems like another world now and well, it was.

We had been walking in the south of the Czech Republic for the previous month and now, after weeks of solitude, there was no avoiding it: a long day in super overcrowded airports and public transport.

We weren´t interested in sight-seeing. We had visited Prague several times in the past and didn’t want to devalue our memories. Like most other European cities including Amsterdam, Prague was over commercialised, over-priced and over-crowded.   

For want of any other ideas, we went to the Prague City Museum.

It was housed in a beautiful old, classical style building, but besides it’s architecture, the exhibits didn’t make a lasting impression on me. 

Except for one: a replica of a woolly mammoth……

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On The Nile

 

In early 2012, Anya and I went on a river cruise on the Nile.

We went as a part of an organised group.

It was the first time we had done so.

Normally we much preferred to travel on our own, as individuals, determining where we went and where we stayed. This is how we had travelled on a previous visit to Egypt.

But this time round, there was little choice in the matter.

Egypt was embroiled in a political crisis….

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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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Lest We Forget

 

 

I travelled the endless land

Flat horizon panning out to nowhere,

Vast swathes of land cleared of every tree and bush,

White man desert.

 

And arriving in a town I saw the monument

Like you see in every country town

Commemorating the generations of white men

Who fought in the two World Wars

And many other besides

South Africa, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq…

Bearing the same words like the other thousands of monuments

All over Australia

´Lest We Forget´.

 

Then

I saw the people who once lived out there

On the land, now a white man desert

Who now found themselves marooned

In another kind of white man desert: the modern life:

Suburbs, Mc mansions, shopping centres, SUV´s,

Commercialism, emptiness and glitz……

 

Saw them

Survivors going nowhere with nowhere to go

Bereft of a reason to live, the only country left to them

A haze of drink and drugs

Marooned in a land which no longer made sense.

 

´Lest we forget´.

The fallen, those first people

Driven from one desert to another

By invaders who remembered

Their own dead

Never mind the corpses under their feet.