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Well this is sudden.

I’m going to be spending the next year-ish in Tanzania doing my PhD dissertation research. I’d procrastinated in renewing my passport, making things a bit tight since I’d been intending to leave in the middle of June all along – but I finally got the new one today, and this means I can leave next week. I’ll be chronicling my adventures here!

City of London photo essay

Since I’m finished my degree now and don’t have to bike to school anymore, I have to think of other destinations.  Often I’ll just pick a destination and make a rough loop in that direction.  Last week I decided to poke around the little nooks and crannies of the Square Mile.

I started near Spitalfields, then headed past Bishopsgate and the instantly recognisable 30 St. Mary Axe (aka “The Gherkin”) towards the old lady on Threadneedle Street – the Bank of England.  It was a busy weekday afternoon with suits scurrying everywhere.

I headed northwest from there, passing office buildings old and new.

Near the Museum of London there’s a section of the original Roman wall (around the city called Londinium at that time).  Near there is also a roundabout which is nice and quick and smoothly paved, so I did laps around there for a bit just for fun.  It’s probably the only place in the City where you can get up to speed and maintain it for any appreciable time.  Ghettodrome!

I continued on towards Smithfields and St. Bartholemew:

Then headed south towards Fleet Street, with its narrow buildings, and the Temple complex, with its hidden gardens.

I carried on eastward and homeward, stopping by St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Monument to the Great Fire of 1666, and the Tower of London.  As I headed home, the sun set behind me, covering everything in that golden afternoon light that is the best part of autumn.

On Flickr:  City Ride

I think I used up all my words

In the past few months I’ve written many many thousands of words, just not here. Yesterday I handed in my dissertation, which in a fit of creativity I titled “A Review of Literacy Practices and Critique of an Evaluation of Ugandan Adult Literacy Development Programmes”.  I feel a bit out to sea now; it’s been my constant companion for a few months.  I won’t find out my results for a couple months, but I am feeling pretty confident about it.

Now because I don’t feel like writing anything else that needs a structured train of thought, I’ve decided to list all the hotels, hostels, B&Bs, etc. that James and I have stayed in.  We were trying to think earlier of what the best one was, and couldn’t quite remember everything.  Hence my decision to try to catalogue them.  Behold:

Wisteria Guest House, Saltspring Island, BC – pretty good, awkward relations with the hostess though

Hayes Valley Inn in San Francisco – Small rooms but otherwise excellent, especially in terms of value.

The Enchanter B&B in Pender Harbour, BC – Nice place, very friendly; James’ office had a complete server catastrophe while we were away and they let him use their own computer several times.  It’s a geodesic dome.  Bike-friendly.

Global Village Backpacker’s Hostel in Toronto – Bad.  It was really bad, they dicked us around, moved us twice even though we had reservations.  When they tried to move us again, to separate rooms, we left and refused to pay any late cancelling fees.

Victoria Hotel in Frankfurt – alright.  Breakfast was good.

House Renata in Dubrovnik – basic but very nice, good value and location.  We liked it a lot.  It’s a private house (though the guest rooms are separated from the owners’ living quarters obviously) so you’re basically on your own.  We had a harbour view which was nice, especially with the breeze at night.

Hostel in Sarajevo (I can’t remember the name or address, but I think it may have been Kod Keme) - I think we got a bit fleeced, $50 USD for tiny room with a twin bed… but then it was 10:30 pm, every other hostel we’d checked was full, and the owner had already gone to bed.  It was her only room and she came downstairs in her housecoat to make the bed up for us and everything.  We only stayed one night… too bad, I would have liked to see more of Sarajevo.

The Old Farmhouse on Saltspring Island – really nice.  Also bike-friendly.

Formule 1 King’s Cross in Sydney, Australia – not good.  On a big busy loud road.  There were big scary bugs and the place smelled weird.  On the plus side they did give me a full refund when we checked out after one night (though the booking agency didn’t, bah).

Frisco Hotel in Sydney, down the street from Hotel-O-Garbage:  Very nice.  Same price for a much bigger room in a better location (on a quiet street in Wooloomooloo) which smelled nice and had no bugs, and with a good pub on the ground floor and a nice restaurant on the first floor, then us on the second floor.

The White Pig B&B, Schuyler, VA - fabulous setting, really good vegan breakfast.  It felt a bit rushed; I think we would have enjoyed it more if we’d stayed more than one night, it definitely is a place to relax.  The hot tub and sherry was really nice.

Bath Harbor Marina & Hotel in Bath, NC: Basic but adequate and comfortable.  There’s a nice patio right over the harbour.

Residencial Dandy in Faro, Portugal: Very nice, in quite a typical old Portuguese house in the old centre.  Owner speaks barely a word of English but is really friendly.

Denewood B&B in Castleton, Derbyshire:  Nice place, very friendly family.  They don’t have breakfast facilities themselves but have an arrangement with Causeway House down the road.  £5 for a giant fry-up; the lady there is very friendly and chatty as well.  Given the choice I would probably stay at Causeway House for convenience, but both are lovely.

Locanda Silva in Venice: Good location, close to San Marco but still fairly quiet.  We had a positive if unremarkable experience.

Rental in Rome – not a hotel but a private apartment booking service and the service/location/price will depend on the individual landlord, but still nice.  We got “Navona 3″ near Piazza Navona, had a small kitchen and living/dining room with dishes, pots/pans etc. and a separate bedroom & bathroom upstairs.  Possibly the best value place we’ve ever stayed in, and definitely the most comfortable bed.  We were on our own aside from meeting the landlord when he first gave us the key.

Albergo Bernini in Siena – possibly my favourite.  Great location, they have a really nice terrace, you feel like the owners are your long-lost friends, there’s even a good camaraderie amongst the guests, it’s not expensive… I don’t have a single bad thing to say about it.  Possibly the family-est of family hotels ever; the current owner was actually born in the very building.

Albergo Barbara, Vernazza, Italy – Average place for an average price, nothing at all to complain about.

Bristol Backpacker’s Hostel – I was pleasantly surprised, I thought it might be a bit grotty for £15 a night but really not bad at all.

Perfect Hostel in Paris – We had a private triple room with breakfast included, so it was closer to a hotel/pension than hostel for us.  Nice basic budget place.  The toilet was on the same floor as us, but the shower wasn’t.  What do you expect for €25 a night?  The staff was very friendly and helpful (I speak French quite well though).

Margrethe’s place in Copenhagen – it’s just part of her own flat.  The room itself has a separate entrance but the bathroom is in her flat.  Two separate twin beds (the room is long and narrow).  You make your own breakfast in her kitchen.  It’s like staying with your grandmother, if your grandmother were a friendly Danish woman.  We both liked it.  She doesn’t have a website but I’ll send you her email if you want.

Pension Vestergade 44 in Ærø – fantastic place to stay.  Really really great, it is worth the money and it’s not even that expensive for Denmark.  The hostess is charming and friendly and the house is amazing and big and old, the garden and library are both fantastic places to sit and relax… it’s up there with Albergo Bernini.

P-Hotel in Oslo – generic budget chain hotel.  No complaints really.  The breakfast is really more like a school lunch – boxed sandwich, juice box, and a piece of fruit.  It’s a really good deal if you get the Oslo Package which includes admission to every museum/gallery/castle/fortress/sightseeing destination in the city plus unlimited transit.

Balestrand Hotel in Balestrand – also very nice place, it’s definitely a hotel and not a B&B though breakfast is included, but it still feels quite homey.  The owner is really kind and helpful and there’s a nice library/lounge.

I think that’s all, but if I remember anymore I’ll add them.

It’s the sneeziest time of the year!

I have to say I miss springtime in Vancouver. This has something to do with its 36,000 cherry trees.

Now London doesn’t have entire streets, hundreds of them, completely lined with blossoming cherry trees:

But the ones there are have exploded, and are leaving pink fluffy linings in many of the gutters, and bringing back fond memories for me as well. One of my absolute favourite things to do is ride my bike alone in the dark, and feeling of exhilaration I derive from it is exponentially higher when it’s a warm spring night and the air is heavy with the scent of cherry blossoms.

This has only happened to me once in London so far, but between March and May in Vancouver I’d find myself riding through the dark fragrant streets night after night. It’s almost intoxicating.

Nighttime mumbling

You will be delighted to learn, I’m sure, that James has started talking bollocks in his sleep.

When I came to bed last night, he said, “This thing finally joined me!” while holding up his hand and wiggling his fingers. It looked like he was indicating his wedding ring, but he wasn’t wearing it.
“See, it got to the right length.”
“It got shorter!”
“Your finger?” no. “Your hand?” no. “Then what are you talking about?”
“The THING! [Still indicating something to do with his hand.] You know, when you… the thing, when you cut it to the right length!”

Then he turned over told me to go to sleep.

Welcome to Thesisland

I had my first meeting yesterday with my supervisor, and it went fairly well. So far my progress has been limited to drafting the thesis proposal and finding a bunch of literature – so not very much, but I am quite well on track time-wise and the purpose of this meeting is just to make sure I’m getting started in the right direction.

In case you’re wondering, the proposed topic is adult literacy development in East Africa.

He was fairly impressed with the bibliography since it’s quite a bit larger than the ones he’s seen from other students (right now it’s sitting at 55 sources).  I don’t doubt that at least half of it will be of no use to me whatsoever, but I’m pretty sure plenty of it will be quite useful.  It’s quite heavy on the historical and background material, though there is a bunch of quite recent stuff there as well.  Which our library doesn’t have, of course, so I’ll have to put in my acquisition requests quite soon.  What I haven’t found is some really good ethnographic case studies, but I expect I’ll be able to dig some up.

We also discussed my research questions.  They are:

  1. How are literacy programmes (as development interventions) designed, managed, and implemented? By whom? Where? In what contexts?
  2. What are the underlying assumptions evident in these development programmes?  Are they borne out in reality?
  3. How are the programmes received by participants and perceived by other (non-participating) members of the community?
  4. What are the programme outcomes, according to the development agency, participants, and community members?
  5. What are people’s experiences of attempting to become literate?
  6. What are the implications of literacy programmes being deployed as a development strategy?

Some of them are more to find out background information, which will help me make my argument (1, 3, and 4) and others are more in-depth questions, the answers to which would be my argument (2, 5, and 6).  My supervisor also had a really good idea about comparing different types of literacy programs – secular vs. religious, for example – which would presumably have different approaches and goals.

So, my job for the next meeting will be to refine my research questions, decide which routes of investigation to follow, and find the literature that’s going to answer those questions for me.

Where have I been?

Right here.

Unfortunately this:

is my life now.  What I’m working on:  3500 words each on Oromo ethnicity and nationalism for my East Africa class, longterm conflict in Central Africa for Anthropology of Development class, and Lévi-Strauss’ structuralism in myth for Anthropological Theory class.  Plus a 2500 word review of Shadows of War by Carolyn Nordstrom, also for Development.

Classes are finished though, and the one exam I had was easy peasy.  So now I don’t have anything distracting me from essay writing!  Until James’ sister gets here tomorrow anyway…

James envies my student status and the ability to stay at home two days a week.

James:  Do you want to come to work with me and hide under my desk so I can pet you?

Elaine: What?  I’m not your pet.

James:  Well… we could snuggle in the closet then.

Bar Fridge Meal Planning

One tactic I’ve often used for budgeting is meal planning.  Usually I’d do it on at weekly basis, or sometimes I’d make meal plans as far as 2-3 weeks in advance.  I’d sit down with my recipe box, pick out what to make, and formulate a list from that.  Then I’d buy everything in one trip, except the perishables, which I would buy weekly.

This does not work when you have only a bar fridge.

At first I thought it would be pretty difficult to adjust, but hell, it’s been the norm for plenty of Brits, and half the world has no refrigeration at all, so I figure I can cope just fine.  And it has been very easy.

The first casualty of the minimalist regime was the condiments.  Gone are the days of having six bottles of salad dressing, two kinds of hot sauce, BBQ sauce, ketchup, three kinds of mustard, hoisin sauce, teriyaki sauce, four jars of jam, and of course the horseradish.  We have one kind of jam at a time, and at the moment none of the other standard condiments, because we haven’t cooked anything yet that they typically go on.

The second shot fired was the go-shopping-every-day cannonball.  My typical grocery bill these days is under £5, and I’ve only topped £10 once or twice.  The exception is the Saturday farmer’s market where I get all my vegetables – generally I will spend about £20 there and fill up most of my fridge.

Then instead of making specific recipes, I’ll generally just make three things, including one or two vegetables.  Steamed vegetable with a can of baked beans and biscuits for example.  Or baked tofu with stir-fried cabbage and green beans.  Or pasta with tomato sauce and roasted turnips.  Or baked potatoes and carrots and brown rice.  Soups have started to figure prominently.  You get the idea.  So once I get home, I look in the fridge, figure out what to make, and go buy what I need.  Usually it’ll be something like an onion and a jar of sauce.

Another result:  with the combo of only buying what I need right before using it, and having no room for things to get lost at the back of the fridge and turn into science experiments, there’s much less wasted food.

Fall in Stoke Newington

Autumn here has been lovely so far. I’d gotten used to Vancouver’s leaf sludge and feared more of the same here, but it hasn’t been so. A couple rainy days and that’s it.

I do still miss Vancouver – you don’t get that combination of sea and mountains here, for one. I miss my friends of course, and the relatively small size of Vancouver’s biking community that meant I’d often run into one of my friends when I was out for a ride or walking around the Drive. I haven’t met enough people here for that to happen yet, and I don’t expect I will in a year.

But there’s room in my heart for London, especially on a crisp sunny autumn day, when the best thing to do is take a walk in the park.