About Louisa

Musing on the Greek island of Samos ...

 

Hello there! Over the years my travels have taken me from Central Asia to the Balkans, Gaza, Burma, the Central African Republic (CAR), Kenya, then Mali and, more recently, Senegal. I’ve survived bad times, rocked good times, and blogged about my adventures, and learnings, along the way. During the last six years I’ve frequently worked with refugees, internally displaced people and communities living in environments directly affected by armed violence.

To re-wind a bit: back in the mid-90s I moved to Mongolia, and liked it so much – apart from the appalling food (think meat, flour, black tea and vodka) that I stayed there for three years. I spent my final year there living in a remote village in the western Altai Mountains. My first book, Hearing Birds Fly, based on my time in Tsengel village, won the inaugural Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize in 2004 for “the book that most evokes the spirit of a particular place”.

I used some of the prize money to go on a Caribbean holiday, and the rest paying off my bills and researching my second book, Selling Olga, an investigation into combatting human trafficking across Europe, which was published in 2006. A year later, I moved to the Middle East. I spent the first six months in Ramallah on the Palestinian West Bank, editing an online human rights resource (the Palestine Monitor) then almost 18 months in Gaza City, working for a prominent and dedicated Palestinian human rights organisation (phcrgaza.org). I also studied Arabic and made friends for life with Gazans from profoundly different backgrounds, many of whom I am happily still in touch with. My third book, Meet Me in Gaza, tells stories of ordinary life inside Gaza that you rarely read in the press; beach life, salty jokes, visits to the ancient Hammam, the local lingerie market, the vivid textures of daily life inside the Strip – alongside the turbulent, violent and poignant history of Gaza, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities on earth.

I left Gaza in 2009, exhausted and needing some rest. After some time back in the UK, I was inspired by the work of War Child to travel to the Central African Republic (CAR) in the summer of 2013. I spent 6 months based in the sprawling riverside capital, Bangui, and traveled independently across the country by motorbike (often with gangs of monks, nuns and NGO workers) investigating the humanitarian situation. Living and traveling in CAR was intense, exhausting and life-affirming; when I finally ran out of money I was forced to return to Tory infested, rain-soaked England, and immediately began to look for a job back in Bangui.

Just as my hope was crumbling a few months later, I was offered a position with a wonderful, creative peace-building NGO, Conciliation Resources as their Central African Republic (CAR) project manager, and returned to Bangui to manage a national peace-building project for two years. I love peace-building because it is not about distributing cash or food, but about personal, communal and national transformation from the inside. It is essentially the laying of foundations for trust, regeneration and reclaiming space on all levels.

When the project in CAR came to an end, I decided to take a few months off work: I traveled to Nepal and trekked till I (quite literally) dropped, spent some time in Lebanon re-learning Arabic and some other time over summer volunteering on the Greek isle of Samos in a camp for refugees from, amongst other places, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. These are people stranded through the disastrous  and dysfunctional EU / Turkey response to this ongoing crisis. I cannot speak highly enough of Samos Volunteers who are still entirely run by unpaid volunteers and who’s capacity to respond quickly and effectively to crises as they erupt puts many major INGOs to shame. The sole camp in Samos, originally built for the military, has capacity for 5-600 people: there are currently more than 6,000 asylum seekers crammed into the camp and living in desperate conditions outside, on a steep hillside now known as ‘the jungle.’

From Greece, I moved to Mali, home to wondrous music and other cultural richnesses, spicy rice, appalling traffic, papayas, watermelons and a political landscape so complex I had to stay for two years just to figure it out for myself! My work included supporting communities in Timbuktu, who were a joy to work with: I had the opportunity to see the fabled Ahmed Baba Institute, where sacred manuscripts are still stored, and how the small city centre has been carefully preserved. Mali is a fierce country with many problems, including many competing and questionable international military agendas fixating on counter-terrorism.  and. her best interests at heart. I left Bamako feeling pessimistic about the future, and determined to continue working in building peace.

I write this blog based on my personal experiences and insights, plus other vignettes that move, outrage or amuse me. I love my life in all its flowing, messy and unpredictable beauty.  I am to the very best of my abilities, truly alive.

So do browse my website, read my blog, and leave a message or comment. Thanks!