On a recent journey from Nairobi to Stockholm, via Cairo and London, all of four of our flights were late. This resulted in a frustrating domino effect of missed connections, transit confinement and delay after delay after delay.
Transit is NOT a place I like to be.
For me being in transit is being stuck in a characterless generic air-conditioned airport lounge. Everybody is waiting to go somewhere, wanting to go anywhere and no one can get out.
Delays are frustrating and unfortunate, but when travelling with three young children, it is at best a humongous pain in the arse. When I discovered that one of the layovers was to be a ten-hour wait in Cairo airport, I was seriously miffed.
But on our arrival at Cairo airport we were told that because of the inconvenience we had endured, we could go to a nearby hotel. Here we could rest for a while and have a meal. This idea I liked.
It was then also suggested that in addition to this we could go on a tour of the sights of Cairo. This idea I liked a lot.
So we left our passports at the transit desk, left the airport through a secret door and spent a couple of hours taking an air-conditioned taxi tour Cairo and a fleeting visit to the Pyramids and the Sphinx.
Driving around in a taxi through the streets of Cairo, Egypt
ThEse were some of the things that WE SAW ON our day out of transit in Cairo
I’m not sure what made me first want to visit Cuba. Whether it was the film Strawberry and Chocolate, the Buena Vista Social Club, posters of Che Guevara, a curiosity of socialism or a love of Cuba Libre.
What I do know is that for a very very long time I had wanted to visit Cuba.
When I finally visited the largest of the Caribbean islands, I walked round in a daze, because there was a ‘photograph’ or ‘painting’ opportunity on every corner.
Here are a selection of paintings and pictures from my trip there.
Cuba in Black and White PhotographsCuba in Colour Photographs
Travelling back to the beginning of time is something I never thought I’d write about, as I am not Doctor Who, Marty McFly or Hermione Granger. But when I visited Olduvai Gorge I actually visited the place where human life began, without even setting foot in the TARDIS.
Located in the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania, Olduvai Gorge is the place where the origins of humankind were discovered. It is widely considered as the most important prehistoric site in the world as it holds the earliest evidence of the existence of human ancestors.
Olduvai Gorge was formed about 30,000 years ago by aggressive geological activity and streams which erupted through volcanic activity. The area, situated between the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, is named after a Maasai word for a plant which grows in the area. It is also known as Oldupai Gorge.
Here between layers of rock, that acted like a series of time capsules, paleoanthropologists unearthed hundreds of fossilised bones. The bones were found next to stone tools which had been shaped by human hands. It is estimated that the tools and bone fossils dated back approximately two million years.
Mary Leakey and Louis Leakey
The paleoanthropologist-archeologist team was led by British couple Louis Leakey and his wife Mary Leakey. The discoveries they made significantly changed the understanding of human evolution, leading to the conclusion that humans evolved in Africa.
Important discoveries made by Mary Leakey
Mary Leakey’s big discovery was in 1949. She found a partial skull fossil of Proconsul Africanus, an ancestor of apes and humans that later evolved into the two distinct species.
Her find was truly remarkable. The fossil, believed to be 18 million years old, was the first species of the primate genus to be discovered from the Miocene era.
After Louis Leakey died in 1972, Mary continued to research and hunt for fossils. In 1979, nearly two decades after finding the skull, she discovered a trail of early human footprints. The footprints, found at Laetoli about 30 miles from Olduvai Gorge, had been preserved in volcanic rock 3.6 millions years old. There were three separate tracks of a small-brained upright walking early hominid.
Imprints of these are displayed in the Olduvai Gorge museum.
The AGE-Old evolution and creationism debate
Visiting Olduvai Gorge leaves you with a weird feeling like you have indeed travelled back in time to the cradle of mankind. It also seems to support evolution 100 percent and laugh in the face of creationism. Saying this, as I was leaving the museum I overheard another visitor say to her friend: “You know, I don’t believe a word of it.” So I guess there are some people who just don’t want to believe in evolution even when faced with the facts.
My sketch of Olduvai Gorge in the Great Riff Valley from my Tanzanian sketchbook
From sailing solo around the world to walking independently across continents, these influential female travellers will leave you in awe.
Single-handedly they defied the societal norms for women. At times when it was frowned upon for ‘the fairer sex’ to go unchaperoned they crossed borders, sailed over oceans, flown aeroplanes, climbed the highest peaks, discovered artefacts from prehistory and even drew up boundaries of modern countries. In short these female travellers passion and curiosity for the world set a precedent for generations to come.
So in no particular order here is my list of fifteen feisty female travellers that you really should know.
“It is confidence in our bodies, minds and spirits that allows us to keep looking for new adventures, new directions to grow in, and new lessons to learn – which is what life is all about.” Oprah Winfrey
1. Nelly Bly
Nelly Bly (1864 – 1922) was a pioneering American journalist who in 1890 became the fastest person to circumnavigate the globe in 72 days.
When Bly, whose real name was Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, told her newspaper editor about her plans for the trip, he said that a man would have to do it, since a woman would require heavy trunks and piles of luggage. Carrying just a small bag and the clothes on her back, Bly proved him wrong.
2. Gertrude Bell
Gertrude Bell (1868 – 1926) was an English writer, archaeologist, linguist, traveller, political officer and administrator. She learnt Persian and Arabic to enable her to travel extensively around Greater Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor and Arabia.
Because of her knowledge and contacts built up through travel, she became highly influential to British imperial policy-making. In addition to this Bell is credited with drawing the boundaries of the modern state of Iraq in the 1920s.
3. Dame Ellen MacArthur
Dame Ellen MacArthur (b. 1976) is a solo long-distance yachtsman from English who broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe on 7th February 2005. So the story goes, her first sea voyage with her aunt when she was four and from then on she was hooked on sailing.
4. Bessie Coleman
Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) was a pioneer of women in the field of aviation. She was American civil aviator and in 1921 became the first African-American and the first of Native American descent to earn the coveted international pilot’s license.
She planned to open a flying school so she could teach other black women to fly and said she did not want black people to have to experience the difficulties she had faced. However, when Coleman was only 34 she was tragically died during an aerial show.
“The air is the only place free from prejudice.” Bessie Coleman
5. Mary Leakey
Mary Leaky at Olduvai in 1963 with her Dalmatians and pet monkey, Simon
Mary Leakey (néeNicol, 1913 – 1996) was a British paleoanthropology and archeologist and is credited with many discoveries that have changed the way scientists think about human evolution.
She worked alongside her husband Louis Leakey on excavations for fossils in East Africa. In 1948 she made her first discovery at Olduvai Gorge in the Great Riff Valley in northern Tanzania of the first fossilised Proconsul skull, an extinct ape which is now believed to be ancestral to humans. She went on to unearth some of the earliest members of the human family, their footprints, and their tools and weapons.
6. Jeanne Baret
Jeanne Baret (1740 – 1807) is recognised as the first woman to have completed a voyage of circumnavigation of the globe.
By disguising herself as a man and calling herself Jean Baret, she became a member of Louis Antoine de Bougainville’s expedition on the ships La Boudesuse and Etoile 1766–1769.
7. Maureen Wheeler
Maureen and Tony Wheeler
Maureen Wheeler (b. 1946) is a Northern Irish-Australian businesswoman, who co-founded Lonely Planet with her husband Tony Wheeler. She is considered an entrepreneur in the publishing industry.
In 1972 she travelled with her husband overland from London through Europe and Asia, then on to Australia. That trip resulted in a guidebook Across Asia on the Cheap which was published the following year in 1973 and laid the foundations of the travel publisher Lonely Planet.
8. Junko Tabei
Junko Tabei (1939 – 1916) was a Japanese mountaineer. She was the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, and the first woman to ascend all seven summits by climbing the highest peak on every continent.
Her interest in mountaineering was ignited by a classroom mountain-climbing expedition when she was a child.
“I can’t understand why men make all this fuss about Everest” Junko Tabei
9. Isabella Bird
Isabella Bird (née Bishop 1831 – 1904) was a nineteenth-century English explorer, writer, photographer and naturalist. She made a remarkable series of journeys at the end of the 19th century to places including America, Hawaii, India, Kurdistan, the Persian Gulf, Iran, Tibet, Malaysia, Korea, Japan and China.
She climbed mountains and volcanoes and visited palaces and slums and recorded her intrepid journeys in books, with both written and photographic memoirs. She was also the first woman to be elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
10. Lady Hester Stanhope
Lady Hester Stanhope
Lady Hester Stanhope (1776 – 1839) was a British socialite, adventurer and traveller. In the early 1800s after an abortive love affair had scandalised London society, she left England and set off in search of adventure.
She travelled across Europe and the Middle East and spent two years in the Middle East. Her archaeological expedition to Ashkelon in 1815 is considered the first modern excavation in the history of Holy Land archaeology.
When I first moved to East Africa and heard about the Elephant Orphanage and Giraffe Centre in Nairobi, I knew I had to go there to do some sketching.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Giraffe Centre are not only a must for animal lovers, but for all visitors to Kenya’s capital city.
Orphaned elephants are rescued from National Parks in Kenya and brought to the Trust for rehabilitation. Founded in 1977 the centre is one of the world’s most successful conservation projects for elephants.
Everyday the baby elephants are led out in to a big muddy watering hole, where they are fed milk from bottles and given a mud bath.
But be warned, don’t wear your best clobber. Not only do the little elephants push themselves to the viewing fence hoping to get their muddy backs scratched by eager members of the public and but they also intermittently like to spray jets of water into the air.
Details about Visiting the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
The David Sheldrick Trust is located about 10 km from the centre of Nairobi in the southern part of the city, just inside the Nairobi National Park. The Trust is open from 11 am to noon most days and it costs 500 Kenyan shillings per person (aged 4 and above). The entrance fee must be paid in cash.
The construction and demolition of the Gingerbread House is well on its way to becoming a Christmas tradition in our house.
I have built gingerbread houses with my children every year since we moved to Sweden seven years ago. Even when we lived in East Africa between 2014 – 2018 I still made them. But this year, when we returned to Sweden, I was determined to make this year gingerbread house my best yet.
Here in Stockholm the making Gingerbread houses is taken quite seriously. So much so that there is an annual Pepparkakshus exhibition at ArkDes – Sweden’s National Centre for Architecture and Design. Children, young people, adults, amateurs and professionals compete side by side to see who can build the best gingerbread house.
I went along to the exhibition to get some inspiration, although I fear many of these were way out of my league.
Gingerbread House 2018 Exhibition at ArkDes in Stockholm
One of my favourite things about living And working in East Africa over the last four years was seeing Zebras in their natural habitat.
Every safari trip you take in either Tanzania or Kenya you are pretty much guaranteed not just a glimpse of these beautiful black and white animals, but the site of scores of them grazing on grasslands.
Zebras live in Africa, but the various varieties inhabit different countries. The Plains Zebra lives in the eastern and southern Africa, Grevy’s Zebra in the Ethiopia and northern Kenya and the Mountain Zebra in South Africa, Namibia and Angola.
Whenever I see a punda milia, zebra in Kiswahili, I am always amazed at how perfect their patterns are and I also love the fact that each zebra’s stripes really are unique. Just as no two human finger prints are alike, no two zebras have the same stripe pattern.
My love for these graceful animals has resulted in them being featured a lot in my sketchbooks. Following visits to the Serengeti in the Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania and Amboseli National Park in Kenya, I have done lots of paintings of them.
Embroiderers from around the world have joined forces with a British artist to create a single red dress in an international textiles project called Barocco.
The decade long UNESCO supported global embroidery collaborative is the idea of artist Kirstie Macleod. After obtaining funding from the British Council in Dubai, Kirstie contacted textile artists from around the world, including Kenya, India, Tobago, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Egypt, Palestine, Dubai and the United Kingdom, to unite their skills and cultures.
Since 2009 the dress has been travelling around the globe being continuously embroidered on and added to by more than 50 participant.
At the beginning of this year, Kirstie put an appeal out on Facebook asking for international textile individuals or groups who would be interested in joining the project.
This is where ladies of the Kenya Embroiderer’s Guild and I joined the venture.
I contacted Kirstie told her that I was an artist and a member of the Kenya Embroiderer’s Guild and that we would love involved with the red dress in some way. After a positive response, Kirstie sent us a section of the red dress, measuring 200cm by 40cm, the only instructions we had was to create something which would embody the cultural identity of Kenya. Collectively the Guild came up with the design of a line Masai women completed using embroidery and applique.
Members of the Guild who wanted to be involved took home a stencil and were given up to two months to finish their individual design – in whatever stitch or style they chose.
In total 22 figures were completed and returned to me and using my manual Butterfly sewing machine I set to work on putting the panel together.
Nairobi is one of those places which seems to have had everything turned up to 11. Its noise, colour, heat, traffic, population, pollution, smells, security, crime, wealth and poverty are an assault on the senses.
Home to three and a half million residents, or six and a half million if you include the suburbs, the Kenyan capital is the manufacturing, industrial, and financial hub of East and Central Africa.
But the Nairobi’s commercial success is juxtaposed with its poverty. According to a 2014 World Policy report 60 percent of its residents live in slums. In fact the urban slums of Kibera are the largest in Africa with an estimated population of about two million.
It comes as no shock that Nairobi crime levels are high – with regular robberies, burglaries, carjacks, and street crime. In spite of this the positive energy of this city prevails and the smiles people give you as you walk along the street are some of the warmest I have ever had.
Here is a collection of some of my favourite street photographs taken over the last 12 months, while I have been living.