A-Z activities

A-Z countries

What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Reading the Middle East - my book list

As part of my family's attempt to keep our world outlook broad and carbon footprint narrow books can't be beaten. The challenge was to read a book (translated!) from every country in the world, see this post. Obviously I can cheat a bit as I read around 60 books a year and as I haven't just stuck to books from the UK over the years I can revisit old "friends". Let me know if you have any ideas for books you reckon are a must read (PS I prefer novels!).. The collection below are books with a particular Middle East perspective that I've read recently and enjoyed. My local library has been a godsend, your nearest may well be too.

  • Egypt - Diary of a Country Prosecutor
  • Iran - Persepolis
  • Iraq - Reading Jane Austen in Baghdad
  • Lebanon - In the heart of the heart of another country


Clockwise books that focus on Iran, Lebanon & Egypt.
EGYPT - Diary of a Country Prosecutor by Tawfik al-Hakim (1898-1987, a man with an astonishingly long life!). This classic short book was published in Egypt in 1937. It's a darkly comic tale of how an imposed legal system wrecks the lives of legal bureaucrats and the people. I laughed so much and was also reminded of my favourite non-UK title, Tales of the Tikongs by Epeli Hau'ofa from Tuvalu. Both books show how introducing foreign bureaucratic systems (in the Egyptian case, the Code Napoleon) was unworkable unless the administrators tweaked it to suit their particular circumstances. Bribery and sloth figure highly - but most of all in Egypt there's a Kafakesque sense that the system will be the undoing of you too.

Although Tawfik is a man there are some shocking insights as to how women are treated done through the administrator's diary entries of gossip; his own approach to the beautiful girl Rim and a horrifying tale of how a local midwife typically treats a mother to be (both baby and woman die - the mother's vagina stuffed with straw, it's grim).

The story races along - starting with a murder and our administrator hero setting out for the scene of the crime half asleep and deeply resentful. He knows how the case is going to go... and in some ways it does, but there are twists and turns along the way which would outwit anyone. I loved the description of getting to places - especially in a car and on a horse (the rider longs for a safer donkey). The restorative power of a cup of tea or coffee reminded me of the more modern Botswana fashion for Rooibos tea in Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series starring Precious Ramotswe written by African-born Scot Alexander Mcall-Smith
Should you read it? 10/10 (!) Comic classic.

IRAQ - Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad by May Witwit and Bee Rowlatt - a compilation of emails from a north London mum and radio researcher (Bee) and an Iraqi university professor (May) which switches from ordinary to extraordinary (teething babies in London via the complexities of shopping in Baghdad). I've now met both Bee and May - they are amazing women.
Should you read it?  Brilliant book club choice as it compares two women's lives without judgement.

IRAN - Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2000) is a wonderful,well-known black and white graphic novel (originally published in French) by an Iranian woman who documents with great skill the miserable mistakes women especially (but men as well) are forced to live through by being born an Iranian in the 20th and 21st centuries. Outsiders love it: the New York Times voted it in the top 10 books published during 2000-2010 - more than 1,500,000 have been sold, and there's a film of the same name). Yet this book is a peon to the love Iranians have for Iran at the same time as it shows the hideous decisions families have to make to stay alive. I also read the Complete Persepolis - which follows the heroine Marji (it's an autobiography!) through the 1980s in an increasingly troubled Iran and then on to a new life in Vienna, Austria, and finally to France where she lives now.
Should you read it? Yes - ideal for 14 year olds and up, especially girls.It's shocking in all sorts of ways, and there lies its power.

LEBANON- In the heart of the heart of another country (2005) by Etel Adnan (woman) takes an overview of Arab-American perspectives on war in the Middle East, most especially the bombing of Baghdad which starts the most recent Iraq war. She is well known for her Lebanese civil war novel Sitt Marie Rose, but this was the first time I'd read her work. It's not fiction, more a Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998) style collection of poetic journalese written with emotion and insight rather than just facts... I have to admit that I didn't much like this book. But Etel is a stylish writer and her life view is massively different to someone like me who has been brought up in the UK. She talks of chestnut paste, lemon trees and old women washing clothes where I'd write pasta, oak and washing machine. So when I wasn't finding it indulgent I was admiring the imagery.

That said her final section is an astonishing piece of writing - the breakdown of sentences as Etel tries to cope with the lovely pleasures of a sunshine holiday and then back home to safe day-to-day normality in the US (her adoptive home although she has an uncontainable world view) as the Western allies start to bomb Iraq. The truncated style echoes her state of mind, and by this stage in the book you do feel you live in her mind.
Should you read it? If you like poetry yes.

Over to you
Any suggestions about armchair travel via books (or films) are welcome. 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Looking after books in Africa

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post is about how one how to guide has just been reborn to help readers in Africa get their hands on more books. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).  

Back in 1994 I wrote a book for Voluntary Service Overseas called Setting up and running a school library. It did really well for VSO - was used by loads of their volunteers, hopefully leading to more books being shared and read all over the world. By 1999 it had sold 20,000 copies. It was even translated into Malaysian.

I did the work from a rented student flat in what was then a grotty part of east London, Dalston. I remember writing the book chilled to the bone after spending two years in the South Pacific (volunteering for VSO).

My real babies pretending to eat books - that's
how much they love to read.
Midwives 
Writers sometimes describe their books as babies. Certainly some books have a life of their own. Not long after Setting up and running a school library was published (by this time I'd moved to live in Oxford) the book was translated into Malaysian and found its way into many of their schools.

Roll on timeNow a US organisation called the African Library Project has just done a revamp of the content so "my" book has a new look, new content and a new name - How to Set Up and Run a Small Library in Africa.The NGO - its remit is "saving lives, book by book" - is currently focusing on Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Malawi and Ghana.

The "new" book is available as a pdf from here. I'm thrilled to see this second, perhaps third, life for a library guide from an organisation that by the end of 2012 had started 894 libraries in Africa (boasting around 950,000 books).

So here's good luck to all readers, and an extra pat on the back to anyone who is managing a library in the tropics, however small their book collection is. Sometimes it seems every insect is against you!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Gifts that tick every box

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post is about how you can buy items that look lovely and support producers in some of the poorest countries by armchair shopping. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).  


The hottie cost £6 - part of which goes towards supporting school children in Sierra Leone.
I'm lucky: lots of family give me gifts at Christmas, and some even pick the perfect things for a person trying to keep their carbon footprint down. My brother found a fairly traded recycled aluminium bowl made in India. The bowl he picked out has a gorgeous green enamel interior and is a pleasure to introduce to my kitchen. Anything put into it looks tempting.

Snow purchase
As it is cold this week I decided to make sure everyone in the family has a hot water bottle. In our local chemist I found the Fashy brand which supports a school in Sierra Leone. Fantastic to be able to buy something I need which is also giving support to such a good cause.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Polish beer and cod philosophy

Ready to recycle. Sadly there are plenty more cans (and takeaway carcasses) to pick up next time I go to the park. 

Tatra turns out to be the top Polish beer - chosen by my local park's litterers.
This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post is about how a walk in the local London park introduced me to favourite Polish lager brands. Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).  

Don't tell anyone but I semi try to do something good every day. But the sort of good I'm looking for is not meant to nterfere with my life or family - so doesn't always happen. Today while walking the dog I noticed a bank of beer cans had sprung up on the entrance to the park. The cans look horrible amongst the mugwort and teasel and are sure to get in the way if it ever snows again as this is where the little kids whiz down. So I picked them up: about five bags worth of Polish canned lager amusing myself by trying to learn the brand names - Tyskie (turns out to be the best selling brand), Tatra (most popular on my park's bank and named after the mountain range between Slovakia and Poland), Okocim (posh pilsner style) and Lech (reviewed here by a beer-loving blogger).

Several passers-by praised me for this not so noble action, which got me talking to strangers (also a good deed, possibly), but also gabbling that it's easy to walk on by one can; but much harder when there's a blizzard of them. Genocide should not be compared to litter, but I guess it is like that too - you ignore and ignore, until you can't. I think this is the same reaction as what's happening after the world outcry when the people in Delhi became so enraged by the hideous gang rape of a 23 year old woman who subsequently died. There is a remarkable (and amusing) blog piece here about how hard it is to be female in India and get rape taken seriously.

Apologies for the cod philosophy. Take comfort that at least another 50 aluminium cans are going to be recycled and you've just learnt the Polish word for beer, piwo (pronounced piva). Happy new year!