Archives for category: Culture

… a single day of sunshine gets a slot on the national evening news.


Any Brits want to join me for a disturbing read?


… the security guard at Gatwick Airport greets you with “Hello, my darling!”

Down here in Cornwall, you’re more likely to be addressed as “my lover” or “my hansum”. And all this in a culture with a reputation for being reserved.

At the port in Lomé looking for second hand cars…

Me: This car has a higher mileage than the other one you just showed me.

Salesman: That’s not a problem, I can easily set it to zero for you.

Writing from Kyoto this time where I’m enjoying 3-day retreat at the Myoshinji Daishin-in Buddhist temple. So much of what goes on here is familiar to me from my experience in Benedictine monasteries: prayer at dawn, sparsely furnished rooms, silent meals, generous hospitality, well-tended gardens, encounters with like-minded guests, space to listen…



George is three, and is proud of his new responsibility in the Pidassa household. Every evening at sunset, it’s his job, without ever being told, to catch six chickens and put them in the chicken coop. It’s easier for him to do it than anyone else because he’s closer to the ground. It’s great fun racing round the courtyard until all of them are caught. When jobs like that need doing, who needs toys?

Still piecing this culture together bit by bit after 21 years. Today I learned that as long as I have no beard it would be considered presumptuous for any of my employees to grow one.

The road through our village has several very steep parts which get eroded during the rainy season, leaving nothing but ruts and sharp rocks. Passengers get thrown about in the back of the car, and it plays havoc with tyres and suspension rods.

So it’s become something of an annual tradition, between Christmas and New Year, for the entire village to descend on the road to repair it.

I joined 100 other people early this morning. The younger men dig earth and stones out of the nearby fields . The women and children transport the loads on their heads to the road. The older men fill in the holes to make the road smooth again.

Then we all go back to my place for millet beer and grilled sesame seeds.

Another day of hard work, interdependence and laughter in an African village.

When I arrived at the bank this morning, there were thirty-four people already waiting in line. One transaction could easily take all morning. Still, I have a seat and it’s air-conditioned, so I get out my laptop and continue working…

Recently, a thief raided the village dispensary and sold the medicines in Benin. He has only just got out of prison, so that’s clearly not working as a punishment. Instead, the village chief decreed that he must work, unpaid, as night guard at the dispensary for the rest of his days. If he doesn’t turn up to work, he will be handed over to the police again. So far, he has diligently turned up to work every evening. Echoes of the Mikado: “to let the punishment fit the crime”.