Favourite recipes from afar

I recently wrote an article about a favourite curry recipe brought with us from Pakistan for an excellent blog called Eat Your World. It was one of a handful of local recipes handed to us by our helper Ansa just before we left under difficult circumstances, following the bombing of the Marriott hotel in 2008.

You can read the article here, but in the meantime I have been thinking of other recipes, ideas or food that we have “brought” back with us from various postings.


One of the best things about travel is, of course (as all us foodies know), trying the local cuisine. It is one of the reasons I love travelling to Thailand and other parts of South East Asia so much – it’s almost impossible to get a bad meal in that part of the world (unless you are pregnant as I discovered: suddenly going off spicy dishes wasn’t a lot of fun in those circumstances).

But when your time in that country is done, whether it be a holiday or a posting, how easy is it to recreate the dishes you have known to love back home?

So far from South Africa we have had some success with bunny chow and my husband still likes to make his own biltong. We also have some great braai recipe books that we dive in to from time-to-time, including for a favourite Namibian meat stew cooked with coca cola and red wine. But braaiing is hard because the weather is generally too cold and wet, plus the price of meat here compared to South Africa makes it more of a treat than an everyday thing. I also have yet to attempt to make a milk tart.


From Pakistan of course we have Ansa’s recipes, as well as a beautiful book of recipes  which we occasionally get out and attempt one of the simpler dishes. Getting fresh spices here isn’t as easy as it was in Islamabad but nevertheless most things are available if you look hard enough.

My husband was a huge fan of Jamaican food and luckily now there are Caribbean restaurants popping up all over the place (we have yet to try this local one in our town, but it is on my list). You can also buy patties, jerk sauce, even Ting in local supermarkets here. And I have become a dab hand at making banana bread from one of our Jamaican recipe books. But I think we would have to fly back to Kingston to get the red pea soup, jerk chicken with breadfruit, rice and peas, country chicken etc of the quality that we grew used to while we lived there.


Overall though, I think our lives have been incredibly enriched by the food we have eaten overseas and the recipes we have brought back with us. It is getting easier and easier to try different things here in the UK – the latest meals we are enjoying use fresh recipe kits that give you the sauces and spices you need for curries and other dishes, making it quick and easy to whip up a quick delicious dinner in the evenings.

But there is still nothing like recreating favourites from places you have lived. You might not be able to go back there, but by cooking some of the food you remember and loved so much you can at least pretend you are back there living that life again.

Now if only the sun would stay out long enough, we could get the braai out….

Picture credit (milk tart) – Dimitra Tzanos

Have you got any favourite recipes or dishes that you still make from places you have lived in or travelled to in the past? I would love to hear about them. 

Should I write a wish list?

I have a Big Birthday coming up this year – one which ends in a 0 – but to be honest I am sort of ignoring it. Partly because I don’t really want to think about getting older, but also because the last year has been so chaotic, with the move back to the UK, single parenting for five months, getting the girls settled into new schools etc, that the thought of organising ANYTHING more than a trip to the supermarket seems just too overwhelming right now.

But today I saw one of those “40 things to do before I am 40” lists which looked…kind of fun. The blogger originally wrote the list in 2013 but was updating it to see how many she had left to do (a few, but she had completed most of them). It led me to think what I would have written on my list 5 years ago, and how many I would have completed.

Five years ago, we still had no idea a move to South Africa was on the cards. So, it’s hard to know whether some of things I might put on this list in retrospect (eg seeing wild dogs and cheetahs in the wild, going up Table Mountain, climbing a huge sand dune, visiting the highest pub in the world etc etc etc) would ever have even occurred to me. I know I would have added “write/publish a book” and “swim with whale sharks”, which have been the two things on my wish list for as long as I can remember (I have managed the first but still not the second). But what other things do I think I would have tried to do before I got to this age had I thought to write them down?



Quite frankly I have no idea! Mostly because life has a habit of changing to the extent that I have stopped trying to guess where I will be or what I will be doing be in a year’s time, let alone five years. Which makes it hard to set myself a list of tasks to do when I don’t know if I will be in a place (physically or mentally) to do them.

Not only that, but I have also been extremely lucky and already done many of the things that might make it on to this sort of a list.  Learned to dive? Tick. Whale watching? Tick. Swim with dolphins (tick – and in the wild in New Zealand, rather than in an enclosed artificial environment). I’ve given birth, bought a house, been up in a hot air balloon. Star watched in the desert, visited Petra, swum at the base of the Angel Falls, slept in a hammock in a rain forest, walked on a glacier. Owned a dog, learned to make bread, started a blog.

Okay of course there are many, many more things I could put on a list that I have yet to do. But somehow I feel like I have been spoiled and perhaps I should just wait and see what life will throw at me rather than making a list which may, or may not, be achievable depending on circumstances. And which may just make me feel even more stressed when I can’t get through it (it’s bad enough just trying to get through my normal day-to-day To Do list). Additionally, there’s something slightly depressing about making a list of things you want to have done in a decade’s time: who wants to think that far ahead? When you get to this stage in life, it’s easier not to think how old you will be in ten years time.

So for now I am holding off making any kind of a list but I will continue to mull it over and see if I can come up with anything more than “re-visit Jamaica” which I decided I wanted to do after seeing a programme about the island the other evening. I’d love to hear if anyone else has such a list and, if so, what’s on it. If I do start a list I need some inspiration. Just don’t suggest anything safari related (although come to think of it, returning sans kids to Kruger really IS something I want to do at some point….then there’s all the children-free wine tours….not to mention adult-only liveaboard dive trips….hmmm, there seems to be a theme developing here….).

Hit me up – what’s on your wish list?

Photo credit: _Bunn_



Learning to live with the New Normal.

Phew! What a week. I don’t know about you but I feel like I’ve gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson over these past few days, with news coming at me from every direction. There was the travel ban in America, the huge protests against Trump being invited on a state visit in the UK, and then there was the Brexit debates and vote in London. It just seems like every time I check the news something else has happened….

But somehow, with all this going on, we have to learn to carry on.

In all honesty, I am finding it inceasingly difficult to focus on anything. I have plenty of work and am in the middle of an essay-writing course with a view to increasing the amount of freelance work I do. I also have this blog to keep up! Never mind all the normal, daily routine work like shopping and dog-walking that you can’t just forget about. But on the other hand there is Facebook and Twitter and another check of the latest news and before I know it half the day has gone. I also find my mood swings all over the place with the increasingly worrying information we are getting on a daily, nay hourly, basis.

But I know it’s just going to keep on coming so somehow we have to find a way to live with this new normal. And one of the ways I have been doing it is talking to people who have been surviving for years, decades even, in the sort of uncertain political environment that we in the UK and the US (and other stable democracies) perhaps haven’t ever had to contemplate. In particular, I spent last weekend in Harare visiting with relatives.

For those that don’t know (which hopefully is few of you!), Zimbabwe has been living under Robert Mugabe for more than 35 years. I am not about to go into a plotted history of the country and its politics – especially as, to my shame, I am actually pretty ignorant as to exactly what is happening in that country despite living righ next door and having relatives there. But if you are interested to learn more, here is a link.


Trying not to get crushed in Zimbabwe

However, what is true is that life in Zimbabwe has become increasingly difficult for many of its nationals and change still seems elusive. It is that lack of WHEN things will improve that I think is the hardest to deal with – many people can cope with difficulties if they know it is for a limited time. If nothing else, contigency planning is easier when you have an idea how many months, years or even decades you are planning for.

It obviously isn’t easy and there aren’t any simple rules but it certainly seems that trying to get involved, in one way or another, in any opposition to the ruling government can make you feel a lot more positive. Just to feel like you are DOING something can certainly lift your spirits. How much you are actually able to do will of course depend on where you are and your particular situation – but in the UK and the US we are still in a position to be able to petition, march, write, donate and share information pretty widely. Hopefully all of those things will continue.

Otherwise, distraction is a great way to deal wth whatever is going on around you – epecially when you feel so helpless to change it. Change does and will come – we only have to look at history to know that we won’t stagnate in this situation forever. But it may be slow, a lot slower than we would want – so in the meantime we need to find ways to cope with the wait. Whether that be writing or crafting or sewing or baking or even burying yourself in work, it is always going to be healthy to take your minds off things for periods of times.

Getting together with like-minded friends is another thing that can really help when you are feeling despondent. As an expat I do sometimes feel quite isolated from everything going on in my home country, especially as I am surrounded by American expats so the news of Trump does tend to dominate. But every so often I get together with another sympathetic British friend who reassures me that no, I am not alone in feeling like this (I know the internet and Facebook in particular is another way to bring people together but there is nothing like a proper, face-to-face get together).

Finally the other thing that really helps me is what this blog is really all about – which is that many people, in many countries have been living with these uncertainties for years and whatever happens we will still almost certainly remain some of the most privileged people in the world just by dint of our passports. Although I speak about Zimbabwe, South Africa also has been going through interesting political times with a difficult and unpopular government, student riots, allegations of corruption right to the top of government…..

But I look around me and people are getting on with their lives. They are shopping and cooking and drinking wine and selling mobile phone cases at traffic lights and sweeping leaves and walking dogs and going to business meetings….in other words, life goes on. It is frustrating, incredibly frustrating, when you feel that you can’t do anything to bring about the immediate change that you crave but actually what you do need to be doing is living.

Now I am going to take my own advice and go and make a cup of tea. Please let me know your thoughts – these are interesting times.

People Who Live in Small Places #10: Roatan

I am so glad I started this series because I am finding out about so many interesting and beautiful places – and have so many people I can now look up if I ever decide to visit! The latest Small Place is a teeny sland off the coast of Honduras. Known as a holiday and diving destination extraordinaire, it’s certainly on my list of places to get to one day. Contributer Deb blogs at Mermaid on a Raft and has this to say about herself:
I am a 60 something retired banker. I used to wear fancy clothes and high heels every day. I used to do my job work at home because there wasn’t enough time in the day. When our kids were grown and on their own, we flew the coop and moved to a small island. We came here for vacation for 7 years, then finally made the move. It’s not always dolphins and gorgeous sunrises but it’s pretty damn good. Life on a rock is always different and interesting.
By the way, I wear as few clothes as possible now, no more fancy bras (only wear one in public because I must) and no high heels, ever again. Most days you can find me in flip flops (I have 7 pairs) a short cotton skirt and the loosest shirt I can find. I often only wear a handful of clothes for weeks on end..Life has changed.
I’ve wanted to be Ariel the mermaid since I can remember, so living here and being able to fulfill my “mermaid fascination with the sea” on a whim is pure magic for me.
Rock life is not for everyone BUT it may be for you..
So now we know a bit about Deb, let’s hear about her island:

First of all, can you tell me a bit about your “small place.”

We have lived on the island of Roatan Honduras since October of 2013. The island itself is approximately 40 miles off the coast of Central America and it is about 35 miles long and 5 miles wide at the widest point. The island is surrounded by the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world, the Meso-American reef, which makes Roatan a divers paradise. There are well over 80,000 people living on this rock. There are no chain stores, except Ace Hardware, no chain restaurants and the shopping is mainly tourist related items as we have 2 cruise ship docks. During the winter months there are often 5 cruise ships here on one day, adding 10-15,000+ more people A DAY. Cruise ships are a huge part of the islands economy.

And what are the good and not so good things about living there?
The good things about living here are the slower pace of life, the gorgeous sea and reef that surrounds us, the nice island people and the simpler lifestyle. It’s so different from living in the states where everyone dresses to impress, drives big flashy cars and spends more money than they make. Living here, the only place we spend a lot of money is buying groceries and dog food. The bad things about living here are the slower pace of life (yes I said it was a good thing but not when you are trying to get someone to finish a job for you), the limited items in the grocery stores, fresh peaches, yummy strawberries, never..Often times it is very difficult to find the simplest things, and when you do find them they are 4 times the price that they were in the states. Overall, the good outweighs the bad. You learn to make do or do without.

What do you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?

I have very little spare time; to begin with I have 3 four month old puppies, a 9 month old puppy, an almost 3 year old dog and another dog that has 3 legs, maybe 3-4 years old and is the mother of the puppies (she had 7 but I found homes for 4). She was pregnant when I rescued her, had to have her leg amputated then she blessed us with the pups. All of my dogs are rescues. I also have a cat. I spend a lot of time cleaning up dog poop and feeding and cleaning up after the dogs.

I am also very involved in a group here on the island called Because We Care. We provide food and Christmas gifts for over 1500 families during the holidays, we fit over 9000 pairs of TOMS shoes this year so far to needy school children, we give out school supplies and back packs and we also raise money for school desks. The government does not do anything for the schools, many kids have to stand for classes or sit on big bags of beans or rice. Today we are delivering more desks to a school and passing out flip flops to the kids.

I also am a volunteer for Helping Paws Across Borders. They are vets and vet techs from all over the US, Belize and the Bahamas who come here and do free shots, spay and neuter, flea and tick and mange management and treat all other type of medical situations for animals. This last trip they even neutered a pig! They left their meds here so a friend and I have been setting up shop weekly and we do shots, clean ears, remove ticks, de-worm and treat for fleas and mange and ringworm. The vets were here in Feb., July and are coming in November again. I also volunteer on art days at a school called Cattleya. It is for mentally challenged or physically handicapped kids. They have downs, autism, some can’t walk well or talk, it’s a great school. They even take them to Zumba classes, so much fun. And last but not least I volunteer for the Bay Islands Visitors Association as a greeter at the International airport. I work two, sometimes 3 Saturdays a month and am the first person people see when they enter our immigration building. It’s great fun getting to meet people from all over the world. When I do have spare time I am kayaking, snorkeling and am waiting for some extra spare time for my dive refresher course so I can start diving again.

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?

I have been back to the states only 3 times in 2 years, to see my elderly parents. We actually are very limited to where we can go because of the animals. Either my husband or I have to be here to take care of them, so escaping is not something we do. At this point in the game, we don’t feel the need to escape, it’s pretty serene here. That could change in a few years but if we have had a hectic week or two we go to the beach with some beers and chill.

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?

There is a huge, well connected ex-pat community on this island. We have friends from the west end to the east end. (we are middle islanders) There are several ex-pat hang outs and everyone is welcomed. The east-enders have Mondays Don’t Suck days at a beach, Fridays it BJ’s where the Banditos play music and people dance and enjoy each others company. There is a lot to do, but we are usually too busy to do all the partying stuff. We have also found the islanders to be fabulous people and are very close to many of them. They are warm, kind, happy people who live very simple lives but would still give you the shirt off of their back if you needed it. We are very proud to be able to call some islanders our best friends, people we totally trust. The woman who runs Because We Care is an islander and one of the most incredible women I have ever met, I adore her.

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What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your small place or somewhere similar?

RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH. We have several friends that built or bought homes on one end of the island but they prefer the lifestyle on the other end of the island so they spend a couple hours each day driving to where they would rather be. Visit the island for a few weeks, stay in resorts in different locations, talk to people, go to the ex-pat hangouts, look at the different areas of the island and what they offer. Island living is certainly not for everyone, many think it is paradise but after a few years are disillusioned, unhappy and they leave. It is what it is.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and why/how you came to be living in your small place?

After out 2 sons were grown and on their own my husband and I began traveling to different islands for a few years. Once we were PADI certified for diving we traveled more, to Mexico, the Caribbean and the South Pacific for several years. We considered a few places in Mexico but the difficulty in actually owning land there was an issue. I have always wanted to live on an island, I love everything about being near the water. In 2007 on a whim we came to Roatan.

I had been reading and researching the island for a long time and was interested in retiring there. We contacted a reputable realtor, met him the second day here and traveled up and down this island looking for land or a house. He took us to a piece of land and we fell in love with the view. After seeing more properties and homes we kept coming back to this one piece of land. We made an offer and it was accepted before we went home.

My husband and I both had very stressful jobs in corporate America, working 45-50 hours a week was normal. Fast forward to November 2012, I had hand surgery and was no longer able to do my job so I retired and I moved to Roatan alone with my cat for 4 months to get a feel for the island. We were at the point of starting to build our home so the groundwork began. After 4 months on the island, I went back to the US with my cat and a dog I had rescued down here. We sold our home on 30 acres, our cars, dump truck, tractor, airplane, most of my husbands tools and all of our furniture. My husband made 10 crates filled with the things we wanted to bring, clothes, artwork, tools, things that meant something to us and we shipped that down by boat from Texas right before we were leaving.

On October 26, 2013 we packed up 2 dogs and a cat, 5 checked bags, 4 carry-ons, drove to Seattle, boarded a plane and moved to the island. We rented right next to where we were building and in March of 2014, we moved into the first floor of the house and July of 2014 we moved upstairs, there are  much better views of both sides of the island from the second floor. We also have a rooftop deck with amazing views of sunrise and sunset. The lower level is a guest condo. The house is a work in progress, still have some kitchen shelves to build, we are building a workshop for my husbands tools and a pool for me to do my mermaid thing in. I also blog at www.mermaidonaraft.com. My blog is filled with my take on our island life. As the saying on the rock goes, “You can’t make this s*it up”.
Thank you Deb for another fantastic contribution to my series about people who live in small places. If you want to read more in this series then do click on the tag below. And if you live somewhere small (an island, a village, a rock…) and would like to feature on this blog, then do get in touch 🙂

Watching sport as an expat: does your heart expand with every country you live in?

When I was pregnant for the second time, I went through that thought process that I suspect every parent goes through: how am I going to love this one as much as my first? How will I find room in my heart for another? And of course, when the new baby comes along you do – because, as the saying goes, your heart expands.

For me, it’s like this with the countries that I have lived in. Every time I go somewhere new, my heart grows and I let it in.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have never loved everything about any of the places I have lived. Whether it be the food, the weather, the people, the shops – there is always something that I grouch about. But I know that deep down I still have a huge affection for each place because whenever there is a major sporting event, I find myself cheering on the athletes from Jamaica, Pakistan, the Philippines, St Lucia….and now, South Africa.

As a huge lover of athletics, this tends to be the Olympics or (as it is at the moment), the World Athletics. I am lucky in that, having lived in Jamaica, I get to do quite a lot of cheering. Usain Bolt beating Justin Gaitlin in the 100m last weekend was one of the highlights of my watching career. Almost up there with Mo winning an Olympic gold in London, or seeing Jessica Ennis-Hill finish first in the Heptathalon just one year after having a baby…


But I also enjoy sportsmen and women doing well in the more obscure events: boxing, weightlifting, hockey….it doesn’t matter what it is, I feel pride in my once-adopted countries whatever the sport. Yesterday, for example, I watched the highlights of the World Athletics from the previous day and found myself willing on the South African runners in the 400m hurdles. And these are runners I have previously never even noticed. It doesn’t matter if I have been cursing all things South African moments before (which I actually haven’t been – so far, I have found very little to dislike about this country…), as soon as those athletes hit the track/pitch/pool, I am back in love with my new home.

It probably helps that most of the places we have lived DON’T feature too much in the Olympics: Jamaica really is the only flag we see raised more than a handful of times. But whenever they do, I’m there, cheering them on. If there is a Brit in the race with them I will them into second place, or at least not to come last. And if they finish first, then I feel national pride like all the people of that country. Even the next best thing counts – I have been enjoying the Caribbean nations doing particularly well in these games. And when they don’t do so well, especially if they are expected to, I feel the pain of the nation. And I will them to get up and try again.

Just like a proud mum!

Do you cheer for your adopted home in sporting events? What about countries you used to live in – do they still have a place in your heart? Or are you loyal to your home country?

Usain Bolt picture courtesy of Richard Giles via Wikimedia Commons

People Who Live in Small Places #6: The Scottish island of Unst

I’m so excited about this entry into my Small Places series because it’s in my own country! As I’ve posted this series, I have learnt so much about so many different places. But when you get a post like this you realise how many places there are really close to where you live that you just knew nothing about! To be honest, the northern islands of Scotland are as alien to me as some of my other “small places” (in fact, I have visited the Seychelles and lived in Gibraltar so they are a lot less alien!), which is what makes this post so fascinating.

A joint mother-daughter effort, this post about Unst, a small Scottish island, comes to you courtesy of Rhoda (mum) and Morag (daughter). Morag blogs at Wir Unst Family.

Please tell me a bit about your “small place”

Unst is an island in Shetland. It is Britain’s most northerly inhabited island and is closer to Norway than the mainland of Scotland. Often when you see a map that includes Shetland, it is in a box due East of Aberdeen, but that’s not actually where it is! There is a whole facebook group determined to get Shetland correctly on maps!

Unst has an interesting geology with multiple bands of different types of rock, all found in the area of Unst which is only 12 miles long. As a result of this diverse geology Unst has a wide variety of habitats giving a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Having said that, trees are not in abundance on the island, due to the combination of wind and salt air.

There is however, a small wood planted by a renowned Botanist, Dr Laurence Edmondston, in the mid-1800s which has a sheltering wall around it, and so the trees are a decent size. This attracts bird life that prefers trees, although there is a huge range of birdlife which arrives on Unst, some native, some migratory.Unst is often the first land mass they reach on the way south from the Arctic. Over the years we have also played host to some rarities that were blown significantly off course. As you might therefore imagine, Unst is very much a bird watcher’s paradise.

Unst is the home of some unique flora, one of which was discovered by Thomas Edmondston, and named Edmondston’s Chickweed . It only grows on the island of Unst, and no where else in the world. Unst, as with other places in Shetland, has a good population of Shetland ponies, and Shetland sheep. The Shetland breeds of ponies and sheep are smaller and hardier than their mainland counterparts, to better survive the conditions, especially the winter winds. The same has also been said of the people!


Shetland Pony and Foal. Taken at Uyeasound, Unst

What are the good – and not so good – things about living there?

As I suspect may be true on many small islands, Unst is fortunate to have a thriving and close community which pulls together in hard times, and celebrates together in good times. This has obvious good points, the rallying spirit when things go wrong, recent examples include the community pulling together to protest the possible school closures; but also has some not so good points, because everyone knows your business.

Many facets of life have a good and bad side because of isolated island life. Take a simple thing like produce for example, on the one hand there are still many small-holding farmers (crofters are they are called in the Highlands and Islands) who grow vegetables, so you can get produce such as potatoes, cabbage, and turnips which were grown locally, but then, because of the isolation, other things that won’t grow in Shetland, such as fruit, costs more due to freight prices.This has encouraged the creation of a small business on the island, The Unst Market Garden, which produces salad plants, fruit and vegetables in a poly-tunnel.

Unst is an island in between the North Sea and the Altantic and so its weather is very much at the mercy of the elements. Due to being surrounded by the sea, the temperatures are mild, winters, although cold and sometimes snowy, are not anywhere near the harsh winters of the North East of the U.S.A., although the wind chill factor does makes it feel colder than the recorded temperature might otherwise advertise.

In summer we have long light evenings, the Simmer Dim as it is known, and around the longest day, the sun barely sets. We are at 60°North, on a level with the South of Greenland. The reverse is of course true in the winter time when children come home from school in the dark. The on-line shopping revolution has made a huge difference to isolated places such as Unst, so you can order things online that you couldn’t buy on the island. However, there are also some marvellous shops on the island that stock a whole range of goods, and islanders are very good at supporting these shops with their custom because we know that if we don’t support them, we will lose them.

What do you find to occupy yourself in your spare time?

The Oil boom of the 1970s saw Leisure Centres being built all round Shetland, so the island of Unst, with a current population of 600 people, has a Leisure Centre with a 12.5m pool, squash court, three badminton counts, and a gym which is actively used by the community and the school which is located right across the road. Each village on the island has a community hall which is used for events, agricultural shows, evening dances, weddings, and even regular fish and chips nights. These events are always well attended.


Winning Veg entry in the Unst Agricultural Show

Since retiring as Britain’s most northerly head teacher, Rhoda had become involved with the Unst Heritage Centre and the Unst Boat Haven which are run by volunteers on a trust. She helps with researching new topics for display at the centre as well as helping to create unique books about the history of the island and the knitting heritage. Many people come to the centre looking for family history information as well, and Morag is currently working on a complete Unst family tree to supplement what is in the centre for those visitors.

Once a week, Rhoda also runs a Fairtrade shop every Saturday afternoon. She says the rest of her spare time, which isn’t a lot (you’re supposed to be retired mum!) is spent reading, walking and visiting friends.


The Unst Boat Haven has a unique display of Shetland Boats

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?

The north isles of Shetland (Unst, Yell and Fetlar) are linked to the mainland of Shetland by ro-ro ferries, which run regularly through the day. To take a day-trip to Lerwick, the capital town of Shetland, is about a couple of hours from Unst. To travel further afield, there is the choice of the overnight boat from Lerwick to Aberdeen, or the plane from Sumburgh, the southern-most tip of Shetland. In the winter, the seas can be rough, so beware sea-sickness. The planes can be affected by strong winds, but the pilots who man the flights to Shetland are quite amazing, and seem to be able to land them in all sorts of weather.However, Morag feels she has spent many extra hours in airports when travelling to and from Shetland in the winter, due to bad weather delays.

In the summer, seas and air flow is much calmer, but sometimes too calm and the flights can be disrupted as much, if not more, by fog in the summer, than any bad weather in the winter. When Rhoda traveled south for Morag’s wedding, they made sure there were a few extra days before the wedding in case of any summer travel delays. Rhoda still likes to get away from the island to see other places, mainly to visit friends and family. She does notice less need to escape than she had in her younger years. Internet shopping has meant that getting to shops is less of a draw than it previously was.


Caption: Puffins come on land for only three weeks a year. Taken at Hermaness, Unst

What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving to the island?

The island of Unst has been very used to a flexible population for centuries. In the late 1800s the herring fishing season saw a huge influx of herring fishermen and herring gutter lassies for several months. The population swelled from 500 in the village of Baltasound to 12,000! More recently in the 1950s, there was an RAF early warning radar base on Unst, which brought a new population of RAF families to the island, increasing the population and filling the schools. This base was decommissioned after 2000 and the population decreased accordingly. Nowadays the population is a mix of native Shetlanders and people who have chosen the island life.

If you’re thinking about moving to the island, come to visit in the summer, but also in the winter. Island life draws many people because of the quiet, slower pace of life. Make sure you can cope with this slower pace of life. Winter weather is possibly the hardest thing to cope with for those who aren’t used to it.


Caption: Skeotaing Beach – wouldn’t look out of place in the Med, a few degrees cooler though!

Can you tell me a bit about yourself, and your mum?

Rhoda has lived on Unst all her life, apart from attending school in Lerwick which required staying in the school accommodation for a term at a time, and a brief spell in Aberdeen at Teacher training college. She returned to the island as a qualified teacher and got a post teaching at the Baltasound school. Later in her teaching career she became Britain’s most northerly head teacher at the Haroldswick school. When the Haroldswick School closed, the building was re-purposed as the Unst Heritage Centre and Rhoda was back in her old stomping ground.

Morag is Rhoda’s daughter and also grew up in Unst (after being born in the hospital in Lerwick) and lived there until she went to school in Lerwick (which by this time was weekly boarding rather than whole term boarding as it was when her mum went). After finishing secondary school in Lerwick, she went to University in St. Andrews and then got a job in Hampshire. Although she doesn’t currently live in Unst, she is still in regular contact with friends and family who still live there, and is trying to put together a complete Unst Family Tree.

Thank you so much Rhoda and Morag for this fascinating insight into life on a small, Scottish island. I hope one day to visit! In the meantime don’t forget to check out my earlier People Who Live in Small Places posts: Mayotte, Gibraltar, a small village in France, the Seychelles and a small country in Europe. And if you live somewhere small, and would like to feature in this series, get in touch!

People Who Live in Small Places #5: The Netherlands

When I started this series, I wasn’t sure what I would end up with. I started with Mayotte, simply because I had never heard of it so thought it would be interesting to hear about life there from someone who actually lived there. But while in the process of putting together those first set of questions, I kept coming back to my own experience of living in a “small place” and how similar life must be in Mayotte as it was for me in St Lucia – despite being half a world apart. So the concept of People Who Live in Small Places was born. Since then, I have branched out to include a small rock (Gibraltar), a small village (in France) and a small series of islands (the Seychelles). And then when I spotted a blog called Small European Country I knew I had to ask the owner to contribute. It turns out the small country in question is the Netherlands – and Michael is the blogger. So here it is, yet another take on what it is like to live in a small place.

Small places Netherlands 1_1

Thanks for helping me with this, Michael. First of all, can you tell me a bit about your ‘small place’
I live in Rotterdam, a city of over half a million people which can hardly be called a “small place”. It is, however, in the Netherlands, which is a small European country, so you can say that I live in a small place. What I love about living in Rotterdam is that it is a no-nonsense city, where attitudes and poses are not appreciated, it is a rough-around-the-edges port city.

And what are the good, and the not so good, things about living there?
The Netherlands is a very colourful country to live in – the Dutch countryside still looks much like a classic Golden Age landscape painting, and the spring flower colours are amazing. The living standard is quite high, and its a great place for children – playground facilities are superb here! I love cycling so of course I enjoy the world-famous Dutch cycling infrastructure. The downside is that it is a very crowded country, with little wild nature. Especially in Rotterdam, where there is a lot of industry, the air is rather polluted and the roads are very congested.

Dutch cycling infrastructure is superb

What to you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?
As I mentioned, I like cycling, and in the weekends I often go for a ride. I am also a runner, and in the summer I participate in triathlons (not the full one, but the shorter versions). Writing is my creative outlet. Besides my own blog about the living in a small European country, I also write about my favourite spots in Rotterdam for Spotted By Locals.

I have two children one 2 years old and another 2 months old, and they of course keep me busy, so my spare time activities have in the past two years been more centred on playgrounds and petting zoo’s. We do go to museums and exhibitions together. The Netherlands has probably the highest density of museums in the world – there’s a museum here for everything! I have a so-called Rotterdam Pas, which gives me free access to museums in and around the city, so even if the children’s attention span is only half an hour, its still affordable to visit museums.

The Utrecht canals on a sunny day are packed with boats

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you even feel the need to escape?
As most small European countries, the Netherlands is very well connected to the neighbouring countries and there are flight connections to every corner of the world, so yes, it is very easy to “get away”. As I mentioned, this small European country severely lacks wilderness, and it is of course known for its flatness. I love hiking in the mountains, so I do feel the need to escape the flat Dutch landscape every now and then. Fortunately, there is another small European country just around the corner – Belgium – that is more three-dimensional.

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?
The first years after my arrival I spent studying at the Delft University of Technology. I jokingly say that Delft is a big university with a small town in it. As befits a technological institution, Delft is highly internationalized, so everyone’s accustomed to foreigners. I once checked the newspapers offered at the Delft train station and was a bit surprised to find no less than 9 in Russian – more than in Dutch! Of course, moving to a new place always takes adjustment, and I am not the easiest person to welcome, so my housemates sometimes raised an eyebrow about my habits and customs, but the Dutch have quite a few quirky habits themselves, so I’d say we’re even.

Small places Netherlands 4

What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your small place, or to somewhere similar?
Even though the locals, especially in North-Western European countries like the Netherlands, speak fluent English, making meaningful connections in the local community is difficult if you do not speak the local language. And since the locals speak English well, and generally do not understand why would you want to learn their insignificant and difficult language, it is rather challenging to learn it – and the vicious circle is complete! I am fluent in Dutch but local people still try to speak English to me as soon as they spot a slight accent, weird but true.

The Dutch climate is best described as ‘moist’, so be prepared. Especially people from more stable climates and drier places have trouble imagining how the unpredictable weather can effect your daily life. For example, winter temperatures of 5 degrees feel much colder in the wet, windy Holland than -25 in, say, dry and sunny Novosibirsk, where I was born. Sure, here in the Netherlands it can be dry, sunny and warm. But (almost) never all 3 on the same  day.

OK, so the Dutch have their wilderness - on the water

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your family, and why/how you came to be living in your small place?
I am a “serial immigrant” – I was born in Novosibirsk, in what was then the Soviet Union, and when I was 12 we moved to Israel. I came to the Netherlands more than 12 years ago, to study Aerospace Engineering in Delft. The choice for Delft, and the Netherlands, was a bit random, in short, I could find arguments against studying in pretty much every other place but had no reasons not to go to Delft. I applied, was accepted, and here I am 12 years later, still studying in Delft (doing a PhD by now), married to a Dutch girl, with whom I have two children. My local friends now plague me for being the most assimilated foreigner in the country.

Thank you Michael for that insight into what looks like a really pleasant place to live (despite it’s petit size). Michael does include guest blogs from others living in small European countries on his blog so let him know if you’re interested. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out my review of Dutched Up if you want to find out more about living in the Netherlands as an expat; and to read my earlier posts on People Who Live in Small Places if you haven’t already done so: Mayotte, Gibraltar, a Small French Village and the Seychelles.

When Foreign Aid Can Work

It’s polling day here in the UK, and so many of us will be off to put our x’s in the boxes (I would like to say most of us but the number of people who actually bother to go out to vote have been woefully low in recent years; personally I think it should be compulsory to vote – even if you just spoil your ballot paper in protest at the non-inspiring choices). This has been an interesting election for one reason only – no-one knows what the outcome will be. It’s too close to call between the Conservatives and Labour to win the larger percentage of the vote, and whoever does win will almost certainly then need to form some sort of coalition if they are going to get anything done.

So, it’s been fascinating for that reason – but the campaigns haven’t exactly set the world alight. For the Tories, it’s been “all about the economy, stupid”. Labour have tried to imply that not voting for them would mean the death of the National Health Service. The honest truth is that it’s impossible to KNOW the truth – you can vote for who you THINK will make less of a mess of it, but really it’s anyone’s guess as to how the next few years will pan out.

In the meantime, one of the things this election hasn’t been about is foreign aid. Well, it has – but perhaps not overtly, in the same way as the economy, health and education have tried to grab our attention.

Foreign aid in this country has been ring-fenced during this parliament and, to be honest, we should be proud of the fact that we do contribute more per GDP than most countries. But, there are many – and at least one main party (UKIP) – who think we should do away with foreign aid altogether, that the money would be better spent back here in the UK on our homeless, our malnourished children, our poorly educated and our destitute. However, I think what people possibly don’t realise is that foreign aid, ultimately, helps not just the people in some far-off land, but themselves as well. I think the problem is that the people who “do” foreign aid just aren’t very good at explaining it properly.

So, as some of you reading this head off to the polls this morning, let me do my best to explain why keeping our foreign aid budget is a good thing. In my very amateur way!

A few nights ago, I watched a programme about the Caribbean. In it, the presenter visited Honduras, a country which quite honestly should be described as a basket case. Crime, particularly violent crime, is through the roof. Gangs have taken over huge swathes of the country – even the prisons are now a gang-stronghold. The presenter walked around the city surrounded by armed guards, all wearing flak jackets.

After Honduras, he changed direction and flew to Jamaica. Ah, we were able to sigh, a beautiful, friendly country – what a relief after the madness of Honduras. But ten years ago, when I lived and worked in Kingston, Jamaica was Honduras. It was a country on a one-way road to collapse. The murder rate was one of the highest in the world. Drug gangs made parts of downtown Kingston into total no-go areas. We weren’t able to drive to certain areas unless in armoured cars. The police and the military were riddled with corruption. The economy was plunging, the IMF had been called in. Despite the beautiful beaches and the friendliness of the people, it was a difficult and depressing place to work.



Except, while we were there, we – the UK – along with allies the US, Canada and the EU, started a co-ordinated aid effort to work with Jamaica to try and rescue it from the abyss it was heading towards. Why would we do this? Well mostly because the drugs that were passing through Jamaica on their way from South America were ending up on the streets of London, New York, Toronto. And so their problems were our problems. And our problems were theirs – the desire for cocaine in the west was fuelling the atrocious criminality in the Caribbean.

It really was a coordinated effort. Not only did we work with our American, Canadian and EU friends (as well as the Jamaicans), but it was also coordinated between the different government departments based in the high commission in Kingston. So people who understood the politics talked to the people who understood the police and the gangs. People who understood aid spoke to the people who understood military operations. And all of us spoke to contacts within the Jamaican government law enforcement agencies and civil society groups.

Now lots of things happened that I can’t write about here, and I am sure lots of things happened that I was never even aware of, but I left at a time when a lot of what we were doing was very much still in the early stages. However, even by this point a great amount had been done – we had paid for police officers from the UK to come to work alongside their Jamaican colleagues, mentoring and supporting them. The Department for International Development (DfID) had started working closely with the local civil service to try and bring their astronomical wage bill down – and encourage more people to pay taxes. Law enforcement did their bit and eventually a number of the major players, the “king pins” of the drug gangs were extradited to face charges in the US.


Headlines like this were commonplace

I moved on and lost touch with what was happening in Jamaica. It’s hard to get a perspective when you’re not living there. But the programme we watched the other night was one of the most encouraging things I have seen for a long time. According to the programme makers, the murder rate is down by 40%. FORTY PER CENT. The country is now apparently known as one of the least corrupt in the region. Parts of Kingston that were no-go area are now relatively safe. Youngsters are finding jobs rather than being forced into gangs.

I realise there is a long, long way to go still, and that things could slide backwards as quickly as they seem to have moved forwards. I also realise that the people who really need to take the credit for what has happened in Jamaica are the Jamaicans themselves. But to me this is a major success story. And what it means for us, the people of the UK, is that when Jamaica heals, the drugs stop flowing our way. Which means we all benefit.

The beautiful beach in Negril, Jamaica.

The beautiful beach in Negril, Jamaica.

This is the story of how foreign aid CAN work, as long as it is targeted and coordinated aid. As long as all the players talk to each other and as long as we work closely with the right people in the host nation.

Whoever wins our election tomorrow, I hope this is one area that doesn’t suffer.

The programme I mention above is Caribbean with Simon Reeve. To watch it please click here.

To read more about the UK’s committment to global development click here.

To read where we stand on Foreign Aid compared to other countries click here

This is England

So many people think of rain when they think of England. Well, this was yesterday – and the day before….and the day before that….and today in fact…..

EDITED TO SAY: I CAN’T BELIEVE I PUT THIS UP AND FORGOT TO MENTION THAT IT IS ST GEORGE’S DAY! ENGLAND’S NATIONAL DAY. For years we have been made to feel ashamed of being English because the right wing parties like the BNP high-jacked our emblems and national-pride was associated with racism. Now with the rise of Scottish, Welsh and even Cornish nationalism, I think there is a move back to claim England, the English flag and all that goes with it (including St George’s Day) as our own. We live in a multi-cultural, tolerant, open and democratic country and I am proud to be English.

pink blossom blue sky

People Who Live in Small Places #4: Seychelles

Today I bring you paradise! I could stare at the photos of those beauiful beaches forever, dreaming of the day we will hopefully visit once we are living in South Africa. However, having lived on a beautiful small island myself (St Lucia), I know that all that glitters isn’t always gold. Here, the lovely blogger Chantelle, who lives in the Seychelles with her son, Arthur, husband Mark and their ever-growing new “bump” and who blogs at Seychelles Mama tells us a bit about her small place.

So, tell me a bit about your “small place”

My “small place” is Praslin island, part of the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.  There are around 6,500 people living here.  It’s the second largest island in the Seychelles at around 38km squared.  When it was first discovered they thought they had found the real garden of Eden! A couple of our beaches (Anse Lazio and Anse Georgette) are frequently featured in top 10 beaches of the world lists.

beautiful seychelles sceneIt’s also only one of two places in the world where the amazing Coco de Mer tree grows naturally (the other on an other near by Seychelles Island) in the Valee de Mai.
coco de mar

And what are the good – and the not so good – things about living there?

Something that’s good for us (but would be bad for some) is that life is quiet and pretty slow here. Despite being a tropical island there are not that many dangerous things here on land.  There are centipedes that have a nasty sting but other than that nothing crazy!  It can sometimes feel pretty isolated here, I don’t know what I would do without the internet to be able to stay in touch with family and friends. Power cuts are  also pretty common….

Food is becoming easier to get all the time but there are still times where certain foods aren’t available for a while such as onions, chicken breast, potatoes!!  It wasn’t until I couldn’t get onions that I realised that cooking without onions is really hard….We have friends that have lived here for over 10 years who tell us there used to be a time when things like toilet roll wouldn’t be available!!!!!!!

There is a small but supportive expat community here.

And while we do get rainy seasons there is no monsoon season so you’re never stuck indoors for too long!

What do you find to do to occupy yourself in your “spare time” (if you have any

Being a mum to a toddler, “spare time” is hard to come by!  But, the beach is always a lovely way to pass the time and we’ve definitely got our pick of them here!

beautiful seychelles beach scene2
We love to go for walks in the Vallee de Mai!
walk in seychelles

Boat trips are always nice, as is heading to another island for the day.  I love going to visit la digue and it’s only a 15 minute ferry ride away.

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you feel the need to escape?

It depends on your definition of “Getting away” It is fairly easy to get to another island.  Price can often restrict staying anywhere though. We are lucky having resident rates in a lot of places which helps. We don’t really feel the need to get away too often though, pace of life is slow and a trip to the beach is usually more than enough to feel like you’ve been on holiday.

To go to another country is fairly expensive as we are pretty far away from anything here.  We have been to Sri Lanka we also want to visit some other places in Asia as well as South Africa while we are here

What is the local community like? Is it close? Too close? Did/do you feel welcomed?

We have been really welcomed by the expat community here, we are lucky that it seems to all centre around the school that my husband works at. The local community have been very welcoming too, there are also those that like to keep themselves to themselves…the same as any community really.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving to the island?

To be aware of how slow the pace of life is here.  Things take time to get done!!!  Its something that can be difficult to get used to coming from a more built up “westernised” society.  Being such a small place, news travels fast.  Don’t be surprised that as an expat, people know a whole lot more about you then you do about them…

Living costs here are rising.  It’s definitely not as cheap as you might expect. We didn’t really appreciate how expensive it is here until we went to Sri Lanka and saw how cheap it was there!!

 Being a tropical island there is not a whole lot going on.  If you are into a lively nightlife this probably isn’t the place to be!

And finally can you tell me a bit about yourself and your family

I live here with my family.  Myself and my husband moved here 2.5 years ago right after we got married as my husband got a job in the international school here.  We have since had our son Arthur, and are now pregnant with number 2!

beautiful seychelles scene 3
Before I had Arthur I did some volunteering work on a nearby island monitoring turtle nesting.  Now I am a full time mama blogging about our life here.

Thank you so much Chantelle – I think we’ve all just fallen a little bit in love with Seychelles from these photos (packs suitcase). And if you like Chantelle’s blog please also check out her Expat Family link-up where expats from around the world post blogs about their lives once a month.

 And don’t forget you can read about what life is like in other small places here too – Mayotte, Gibraltar and a small French Village.