26 February Belief


Mary Jackson sitting, adjusting a control on an instrument. Photo: https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/mary-jackson-at-nasa-langley-1


Coming full circle, but also moving on. My first blog post was written after seeing a film, and completely unintentionally, so is my last.

Growing up I could never really understand why other children would watch films over and over again. This seemed totally alien to me, but there was one film that I could watch repeatedly and every time I would hold my breath, wondering how it was going to end… In fact, if I watch it now, I still do wonder! That film was Apollo 13.

I was reminded of it last night while I was in the cinema watching  Hidden Figures, probably because of the space race element to it. But I also sat there thinking – very rarely for me – I want to watch this again.

Although this time it wasn’t because of the dramatic tension, but because of the inspirational traits of the three main women in it. And how with intelligence, perseverance and humility they helped to shape science and advance human knowledge. Not only that, but they did it at a time when prejudice and sterotyping was an overt and instutitionalised brick wall. They chipped away it until it slowly crumbled. But it also took people who could see beyond colour, race and gender – people who believed in them.

Whilst there are big messages we can take from the film in light of the barriers that are rising in our society today  around crossing borders and #womeninsceince, for me the big message was abut belief: the belief these women had in their own abilities, in each other’s abilities and the belief others had in them.


31 January Pressing snooze…

Running late, running out of time, running to catch-up.

Speed and time seemed linked. Both have a sense of purpose. When we have little of it, we perceive time running away with us and from us. And that’s when the stress and anxiety kick in.

How much of this is about linear time? The idea that there’s always an end point, a goal, a time limit. How often do we find that it’s possible to cheat that end point, even if it’s only a temporary cheat? Shifting goal posts, the snooze button on the alarm clock, the cat’s nine lives. The very fact I’m a week late in posting this.

Much like Adam’s post (on the correct day I hasten to add, unlike mine…), time in the past, present and future is something that has kept coming up in the last week – with students, with colleagues, with friends.

Society dictates we act according to time, and when we don’t that can cause stress on others who are waiting for us, as much as it can stress for ourselves. And it can appear arrogant – you think time doesn’t apply to you. Or is it a reluctance to engage with the world and its norm? Either way society eventually pulls us back into line…

But wouldn’t it be nice if we could free ourselves from the clutches of this relentless taskmaster? I don’t quite know how we do it, but pressing snooze does feel like a small step in the right direction, albeit a slightly delusional.

6 January

Are we really only 6 days into the New Year? I’ve just realised it’s Twelfth Night*, if things hadn’t been so busy then I would have made a Twelfth Cake, which would have made a far more interesting blog post!

But, unfortunately, life takes over and instead it’s been a rather full-on day, with deadlines nipping my heels constantly. It started with waiting on tenterhooks for 31 radiocarbon measurements to come back from the lab. I’ve never received so many in one go, it was like Christmas. Thankfully there were no nasty surprises, they modelled beautifully and were then reported somewhat hastily for today’s deadline.

A quick nip into town for an appointment, then a funding application had to be submitted. They always seem like such a good  idea when you start them, but by the end, although I’m totally convinced it’s the best project in existence, I’m left wondering if I’m being slightly delusional. Maybe it’s just me?

And then to looking at reviewer comments on an accepted article that I heard back about this week. It’s a big milestone for me as it’s my first, peer-reviewed, first-authored paper. That was a bit of a mouthful, but well worth it!

After all of that, what do I have left to physically show for today (apart from a lot of radiocarbon certificates)?


I’d do it all again tomorrow, but I’m actually quite glad it’s the weekend 😉

*I’ve just realised it’s actually epiphany today, twelfth night was yesterday. Oh dear…

8 Oct 2016: Leaving Addis Ababa…

Today I should have been making my way back from the UNESCO world heritage site of Konso, in the south west of Ethiopia, to the captial Addis Ababa. But the on-going protests there (and strong government response) flared up again a couple of weeks ago. These events bypassed the international media. So my plans were duly changed and I would stay in Addis Ababa.



Lucy at the National Museum in Addis Ababa

Arriving in Addis Ababa last weekend, and having seen Lucy(!) I was determined to see some of the beautiful mountainous countryside that rings the city this weekend. I started planning a weekend trip out to the lake region around Bishoftu in Oromia. On Sunday, protests at the Ireecha celebrations, the resulting tragic deaths of over 50 people from the government response to the protests, not to mention the general anger felt against the government, meant that this was also a place to be visited another time.

The next idea was to change hotels and move out to the leafy outskirts of the city for the weekend. But with the protests also moving to the outskirts of the city on Tuesday, with foreign businesses being attacked and the sad death of a Californian-based researcher, this was also not a sensible option. So I am now travelling back to Nairobi instead.

The anti-government feeling is certainly strong. A taxi driver told me the other day that around 80-90% of city dwellers also had grievances against the government – it’s not just those in Oromia. But in the next breath he was acknowledging the good that the government has brought to the city. It is certainly not a simple issue.

This story makes it sound like Ethiopia is rife with protests and unrest. And whilst I don’t think this week’s protests and strong government response will be the last; to a certain extent the government’s message that everyday life continues as normal within the city is true. Restaurants and cafés are packed with people eating injera and pizza, and drinking macchiatos. Students roam the campuses. People go to work.


But those restaurants and cafés don’t have wifi. In fact all mobile data has been turned off. International calls and texts are not possible at the moment. And as I write this all internet appears to have been switched off again. There are fewer students coming onto the campuses from the regions outside the city. And some of those people at work are having meetings about the security situation.

The UN issued a statement yesterday calling for an independent investigation. The problems here are real and desperately need international pressure to help to resolve them. But on a smaller scale, in the centre of Addis Ababa, everyone I’ve encountered, from the people I’ve met at meetings, to taxi drivers, to the ticket officers at the railway, to people who live close to the hotel, to people on the street – all have been welcoming and friendly. I took a different route back to my hotel the other afternoon, just because I wanted a change, and a man on the corner of the street stopped me, concerned that I was lost, and told me that my hotel was the next road up.

Considering everything – I’ve felt welcomed and safe here, and I sincerely hope to return in the future, but more than that, I hope the government starts to listens to its people…


View from my room in Addis Ababa this morning

(Due to the internet being off again this moring I won’t be able to post this until I get to Nairobi.)