Archives for the month of: January, 2017


Odile learning how to read her own language for the first time.


End of week four. The last couple of weeks we’ve been busy teacher training. Emmanuel and Josephine are doing an amazing job juggling two spelling systems, one in the morning, the other in the afternoon. Unfortunately, we lost 3 of the 8 candidates on the way, but on Friday we were still able to recruit two of them, Odile and Abednego, to help us with the teaching next week. If all goes according to plan, 30 volunteers should turn up 8am Monday morning.

I’m prompted to write this after the recent news from Glasgow and Gloucester Cathedrals:

Back in October, I led a linguistics workshop in Togo at which, as usual, there were Christian and Muslim participants. On such occasions the Christians generally take it in turns to lead morning devotions, and most Muslims usually choose to arrive twenty minutes later.

But when Andy’s turn came round, he had another idea. The day beforehand, he explained to the Muslims what he wanted to do, and they agreed to attend the following day. Andy printed out the parallel Bible and Quran passages about Abraham, the father of both religions, offering hospitality to the unknown guests. He led a simple meditation on the two passages, picking out the common themes of friendship, communion and hospitality.

To my knowledge, everyone in the room – African and expat – had a positive reaction to Andy’s initiative. It seemed perfectly natural, given that Togolese Christians and Muslims live peacefully side by side.

End of week three in Man, Côte d’Ivoire. This week, Emmanuel, Josephine and I have been training eight Dan people how to read their language using two different spellings, four in each group.

Today we very reluctantly pulled the plug on running the experiment in the local primary school. The teachers here are still on strike and there’s no telling whether they’ll be back by the time we need to start. So the next challenge is to find 60 willing volunteers from somewhere…

Lines from Yeats’ poem have been in my head all this week, with one slight tweak:

“Things fall apart…
… everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity…

… A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs…
… And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards the White House to be born?”

And Joni Mitchell’s unforgettable interpretation of it (from Night Ride Home, 1991)

Went to mass at the parish church of St Marie this morning. I estimate that there were over 800 people there, mostly young people. Two choirs, one traditional one modern, 20 servers all under the age of 25, 200 enrolled in confirmation classes. Nothing unusual: just an average parish church in Africa, where the church is dynamic, inspiring and growing apace.


End of Week 1 in Man, and Emmanuel and I have just landed on our feet. We’ve moved to the wonderful Focolari centre, which is half the price of the hotel we were in before, and far more spacious. Lush green grounds, with lovely views of Mont Glas from my bedroom window. The hot water is welcome for showers on these harmattan mornings. A wide veranda has become our dining room. They’ve even given us a classroom free of charge, so that’s one less expense and an exceptionally short commute to work each morning. And a beautiful church right opposite our rooms to pray in. We’re going to be spoiled for the next ten weeks.