…I spend a pedestrian life trying to find excuses to return back to the region. I have set up FromOverHere, a consultancy providing international affairs and strategy advice. Its mission is to support organisations navigate a complex world. I’m especially interested in how governments might address 21C challenges. Given my motivating principles are a focus on social justice and the need to bring different sectors together to jointly address the challenges of the 21st century world, it seems like the right place to be at the moment.
It’s increasingly hard – which is a nice thing – to separate work and fun time. I’m reading, writing, rediscovering cooking, travelling, and catching up with people (whether my Portuguese family, friends from UK or studying abroad, living in Brick Lane, my adopted Senegalese family, or the many fascinating people whose ideas I get to listen to). What has been most precious about life since my silk route journey is the freedom to follow my somewhat wibbly, often sartoriously challenging, always entertaining star.
Origins of the blog
This blog was started for my trip through Central Asia in 2010. Eight years previously, Christian Aid had sent me to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Before my visit, Central Asia was a place I hadn’t really thought about, that had no defining features in my consciousness. Yet once there, I was captivated by the two countries and wanted to learn more about them. My experience was shaped by the tension between the sense of an ancient heritage and modern soviet anonymity. Complex fluid identities were feeling their way through evolving nation-statehood – while remaining proud of their importance to the world’s history over the past 4000 years. I saw great beauty in the places and people I visited, facing hospitality and suspicion, and contrasts of arid and fertile landscapes. The fascination of my brief stay there meant I developed an addiction for reading about this region, from Alexander the Great to the Silk route travelers, Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, Tamerlaine, Genghis Khan, the Great Game, Andrew of Lonjumeau and Tavernier. On leaving my job in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, I decided to match words to places and seek out the 21st century reality of the silk route region. Russia | Kazakhstan | Uzbekistan | Kyrgyzstan | Turkmenistan
The best-laid plans…in fact, what happened was that I got detained for a month in Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan on the border with the closed-off section of Turkmenistan. As I was under lax oversight by very nice people and got to know this fascinating part of the world – where one ‘walks on the bones of history’ as Savitsky puts it – this was a great adventure. But it did mean that my time soon disappeared and I had to fly from Turkmenistan to Turkey, missing the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Syria. Given developments over the past year in that part of the world, I am somewhat sad I missed these countries. However given the people I met and the experiences I had in Karakalpakstan, I would not change my itinerary as it occurred.
Oh for the best-laid plans… In fact, what happened was that I got detained for a month in Karakalpakstan in North Uzbekistan on the border with the ‘closed-border’ zone of Konye-Urgench in Turkmenistan. I was held captive as many before me in the palm of Old Urgench, Khwarezm, Khiva and Parthia. As I was under lax oversight by very nice people and got to know this fascinating part of the world – where one ‘walks on the bones of history’ as Savitsky puts it – this was a great adventure. But it did mean that my time soon disappeared and I had to fly from Turkmenistan to Turkey, missing the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Syria. Given developments over the past year in that part of the world, I am sad I missed these countries. Given the people I met and the experiences I had in Karakalpakstan, however, I would not change not one day of my expedition.