Writing As a Way of Life

A beautiful essay on writing as a way of life. There are many ways to write and forms of expression. Is it through writing in your own personal journal? What about short stories? Poetry? A possible novel? A blog? Or is it writing academic articles? Policy reports? A PhD? What is writing for you? How often do you write?

boy with a hat

woman writing painting

Many people want to become authors these days, to be published and make a living writing fiction. And many of them work hard on their books. Yet only relatively few writers bloom into authors in the true sense of the word — dedication doesn’t guarantee success. I sometimes wonder what makes the difference between those who work hard and succeed and those who work hard and don’t.

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Getting to know a place through critical authors and novels

There are many ways to prepare for a trip, an adventure, a journey. Many ways to critically reflect on the place in which you are travelling to but also prepare yourself mentally and physically to travel. Or perhaps you are not going to a country to travel, but are interested in knowing more about it because of a research project or a distinct personal interest. I think the most obvious way to prepare or to get to know a place is to buy a guidebook. Read a bit about the country and start to explore what you would like to see and do. For me, this is usually linked to nature, national parks and the outdoors such as hiking, climbing, surfing, etc. Each place offers different types of opportunities for adventure. However, its important to think of a place, not just as a ‘destination’ but as having its own history, culture and heritage. But then, how do people prepare to enter a new place and space with some understanding of it through the lens of its own people? How can you hear a distinct view of its society, politics and heritage? As well as the challenges it has faced and perhaps conflicts it has experienced?

Shwedagon Paya, Yangon, Myanmar

Shwedagon Paya, Yangon, Myanmar

As a researcher, I do admit that I like to also do research on a place before going there. This includes reading some academic pieces on its history, culture and politics but also current issues through newspapers or op-eds or local business or lifestyle magazines. On a lighter side, it also includes looking at travel blogs and discussion forums that are really useful to get a feel for what’s in store. One practice that I really love to do to help get to know a place is reading novels about it. Preferably written by authors who come from that country or who have worked/lived there for a long time and who provide stories or reflections that are critical, political and offer insights into the challenges that people from that context face. Both fiction and non-fiction provide different types of insights into a space.

Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda

Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda

Some of my favourites:

DRC: King Leopold’s Ghost (Adam Hochschild)

India/South Asia: The White Tiger (Aravind Adiga), anything by Jhumpa Lahiri and Salman Rushdie

Myanmar: Finding George Orwell in Burma (Emma Larkin), The Glass Palace (Amitav Ghosh)

Nigeria: Things fall apart (Chinua Achebe), anything by Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teju Cole, Helon Habila

Pakistan/South Asia: anything by Mohsin Hamid

Rwanda: Baking Cakes in Kigali (Gaile Parkin). Although in the case of Rwanda and the Great Lakes region, I would recommend anyone going there to read more critical historical and political work by Philip Gourevitch, Susan Thomson, Mahmoud Mamdani…

South Africa: Cry, the beloved country (Alan Payton)

Sri Lanka: The Road from Elephant Pass (Nihal de Silva), Funny Boy (or anything by Shyam Selvedurai), Running in the Family (or anything by Michael Ondaatje)

Pottuvil lagoon, Sri Lanka

Pottuvil lagoon, Sri Lanka

Of course, there are so many different types of books about a place that one could refer to to get to know it. But I think novels written by persons of that country or authors who have worked in/know the country well offer distinct perspectives. How do you get to know a place before going and what are the novels or books that you would recommend to people who would like to visit a certain country/place?

Getting the ball rolling…

I confessed to a friend that I had started a blog but I hadn’t published anything on it yet. I had just made some draft’s that remained so. That put some pressure on me to actually get the ball rolling. But, what is this yet-another-blog about?

Confession numero uno: I’m still trying to figure that out…

I think it’s about travels. But not just any travels. It’s about travels that make us think, reflect and question our existence but also pushes us to learn about a place, context, people, political situation. That place, mind you, might be right here, in front of your eyes – and not necessarily a far away land.

I think this is a space of reflection. Of combining academic knowledge, research and practice of particular contexts to leisure, travel and adventure. It’s about the outdoors and the indoors. The spaces that some see that others don’t and vice versa.

I’d like to think that it’s also about photography. That it will provide a space for me to explore my photography and try to push it to new limits. Let’s see if it works… 🙂

I hope that it can be a space where one can muse about another world, other realities, as well as the ones that we face ourselves on a daily basis.

The journey home, Rwanda

The journey home, Rwanda