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Preview: Voice in the Desert

Voice in the Desert

Published: 2010-11-11T08:10:13+00:00


Hacking Timbuktu - Truth or Fiction


HACKING TIMBUKTU comes out in the States next Monday, published by Clarion Books. Often I read a novel and find myself wondering how much of it was true. I don't mean the characters and plot, I mean the setting: the history, the geography and other bits and pieces of background colour. Were they a result of extensive travel and painstaking research, or did the author simply sit down on a wet Saturday afternoon and make it all up? So here's a short guide to HACKING TIMBUKTU: what's real and what's not. Timbuktu Timbuktu is a real town. It was a great centre of culture and learning during West Africa's golden age. The Timbuktu Manuscripts Project is also real, and the process of digitizing all those thousands of ancient manuscripts is still going on. You can browse the manuscripts at Mali Exhibit and if you stumble upon a treasure map, please let me know. The character of Akonio Dolo and the legend of his amazing gold heist are entirely made up. Dogon country In 2005 I visited Dogon country in the south-east of Mali. Everything you have read in this book about the cliffs and the Dogon people is factual. Nommo, snakes, burial chambers, onion pounding, guano collecting, none of it is made up. In the words of Omar: “Meet the Dogons. Let them blow your tiny mind!” Dogon country is an amazing part of the world, but having visited as a tourist, I do question whether tourism is enhancing Dogon culture or ruining it. Hacking HOPE (Hackers on Planet Earth) is a real series of hacking conferences. It takes place in New York, not in London. Using Skype to 'tunnel' into someone's computer is technically possible, as is the 'Man in the Middle' airport hack, but they are both extremely difficult. With cybercrime on the rise, the line between white hat and black hat hacking is finer than ever. Try not to cross it. Parkour Parkour started in France and has since become popular all over the world. I first came across it when I watched the 'Jump London' documentary back in 2003. I am a big fan of David Belle and Sébastian Foucan and have spent many happy hours watching their clips on Youtube. Parkour is now commonplace in action films and commercials, but HACKING TIMBUKTU is perhaps the first ever parkour novel. I have tried to make the parkour sequences as authentic as possible – they all consist of real moves which you can learn to do yourself. I could not resist writing a few roof scenes but please note: real traceurs are infuriated by the popular misconception that roofs are necessary for parkour. To find out more about parkour, or to meet up with traceurs in your area, visit Urban Freeflow. Finally, in case you were wondering, there is indeed a Knights of Akonio Dolo Facebook group, but it contains disappointingly few loonies. If you buy HACKING TIMBUKTU next week, I do hope you enjoy it....

July Flood Update


Another letter from Alan Dixon in Ouagadougou. If you would like to make a donation which will benefit homeless families and/or reconstruction, you can make a secure online donation here. In the box titled 'Missionary or Project Name', please type BF General 93918 Ouagadougou Flood Relief. Thank you so much. Mariam had been camping under a tree surrounded by her few possessions. She had been allocated a small building lot, 20 roofing sheets and 30 sacks of cement, but had nowhere to sleep. The tree at least offered some shelter from the wind and rain. She was discovered by another newcomer to Yagma living nearby in a newly constructed home and invited Mariam to take shelter with her. Mariam’s situation was brought to our attention. When Alison and I visited Yagma on Saturday Mariam’s building lot was occupied by a new house, half-way to being completed. Mariam’s house is the thirteenth we have built in the last three months and will be the last till the rains abate in late September. In addition to building these thirteen houses we have been able to provide microcredit loans for small businesses to 49 widows who are now able to provide some measure of income to support themselves and their children. We have continued (till school closed July 15th) to provide a noon meal to the 400 students of the Yagma primary school, a school currently under the shelter of UNICEF tents. Thanks so much to each of you who have helped us to make a difference in the lives of the Mariams of Yagma. Please pray for Ismael, Boukary, Ablassé, Paul, and Jeanne, all working with us faithfully in Yagma. Alan and Alison...

Outlaw manuscript finished


Very pleased and relieved to have finally finished THE OUTLAW. Wrote the final scenes yesterday at the library. I'll post a back-cover blurb asap. For now, though, I'm off to France to eat some cheese. We've booked tickets for our return to Africa, 29 July 2010....

James K A Smith


I discovered a fascinating Christian blog today: Fors Clavigera, written by James KA Smith. I particularly enjoyed this article entitled Poetry and the End of Theology....

New book 'Outlaw' almost finished


This has been a busy month. I've been working 9-5 down at the public library, which helps me to concentrate. I wrote my first book almost entirely in Chesterfield public library, which has neat bookable study cubicles - all boxed in and distraction free. As for Chichester library, it may not have cubicles but it does have an excellent reference section with desks and plug sockets and huge windows looking out on the cathedral. And it subscribes to the Bookseller, which is a good source of industry gossip for browsing during break times. The new book is called 'Outlaw' or 'The Outlaw' or 'African Outlaw' and it's a Western. Or a techno-western, if such a genre exists. Horses and GPS. Deadline 31 May. Publication May 2011....

Hacking Timbuktu coming to USA


An American hardback version of HACKING TIMBUKTU is now available for pre-order on HACKING TIMBUKTU by Stephen Davies...

Bus Jump


So yeah, if Hacking Timbuktu ever gets made into a film, these are the guys I want to play Danny and Omar!...

March Flood Update


Another letter from Alan Dixon in Ouagadougou. If you would like to make a donation which will benefit homeless families and/or reconstruction, you can make a secure online donation here. In the box titled 'Missionary or Project Name', please type BF General 93918 Ouagadougou Flood Relief. Thank you so much. As temperatures edge into the forties, the humidity hovers around 20%, and a heavy layer of harmattan dust blankets the city of Ouagadougou, memories of the flood of September 1 have dimmed. For many thousands of people in Ouagadougou, however, the aftermath remains a daily reality. On Tuesday we visited Paspanga, one of the several neighborhoods largely destroyed in the flood, and visited the local SIM-related church and several of the 22 families whom we are helping with reconstruction. The local church has identified the neediest families in the neighborhood and with the help of another organization, Burkina Faso Outreach, we are helping with reconstruction, providing food-aid, and providing school fees for a number of families. Other than for this input and that of Compassion International, which is also rebuilding some homes for families of sponsored children, this neighborhood has benefited from very little outside help and remains for the most part, in ruins. Last week we were also in Yagma, the resettlement site for many who lost their homes on September 1. On our first visit there just before Christmas we had encountered only a hundred or so new arrivals living in makeshift shelters made of sacks of cement and grass mats. Yagma is now a growing community of several thousand, mostly living in temporary shelters, with many in the process of erecting permanent structures on the small building lots allocated to them. Several wells have been drilled and water is being trucked in to provide water for construction. The Red Cross has been especially impressive in the scale and quality of their involvement in this resettlement effort. With the help of a few of the newly settled local residents, we have been able to identify and begin meeting with small groups of widows, about 180 women in total, in order to help them re-establish themselves and find new means of earning a living and providing for their children. We have arranged micro-credit loans for thirty women to help them start or expand small businesses and have financed the beginning of a small soap-making business for another group of ten. We met with leaders of AFEC (the women’s group of the SIM-related church) on Thursday to see how they may get involved with us in reaching out in other ways to this group of women, some of the most vulnerable in the growing settlement. We will visit Yagma with them this week. A group of seven tents make up the growing primary school in Yagma. A week ago the number of students in the school had grown to 405 with new arrivals each day. The grade one class has 120. Following a request from the Parents Association of the school, we have begun providing food for a noon-meal program for the students. This we hope to be able to continue through the remainder of the school year, with several of the moms doing the cooking. Alison continues her coordination of English for Everyone with 105 students enrolled in six classes. Thanks for praying for the teachers and for the spiritual impact of this program. We have a team visiting from England this week who will be helping out with classes and who will participate in a games night for the students at the end of the week. Leadership classes continue to add an element of challenge to my schedule. One week of teaching in Fada at the end of February reinforced for me our need to continue to plug away at modeling and teaching biblically-based principles of leadership to our current and upcoming leaders. I have begun facilitating a course on Integrity and Finance with a class of eleven at IMS, our miss[...]

Great offer on Ebooks


Until 3pm this afternoon all ebooks are half-price over at WH Smiths...

Books of the Year 2009


Hacking Timbuktu has been selected as one of Lovereading's Books of the Year 2009 in the 11-13 age category....

Why I deleted my Facebook account


I just deleted my Facebook account. It was becoming too much of a time-waster. Right now I feel oh-so-free! If you want to quit Facebook, go to 'Settings' and you'll find 'deactivate' and 'delete' in the menu there. I think I'll miss the photo-sharing utility more than anything - it's a great way to see what people are up to. The rest is pretty much dross. Goodbye, Facebook. It was nice while it lasted. Photo from Ray...

Author Interview at Book Zone 4 Boys


I did an interview for Bookzone 4 Boys this week, talking about HACKING TIMBUKTU and the children's book scene in general. Hats off to Mr H for posing such interesting questions! This interview reminded me of my all-time favourite boys' book, Molesworth by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle. 20 Amazon reviews, and every single one gave the book 5 stars....

December Flood Update


Another letter from Alan Dixon in Ouagadougou. If you would like to make a donation which will benefit homeless families and/or reconstruction, you can make a secure online donation here. In the box titled 'Missionary or Project Name', please type BF General 93918 Ouagadougou Flood Relief. Thank you so much. Yesterday we went to Yagma, one of the three sites that the government is developing to provide lots on which new housing can be built away from flood prone areas of Ouagadougou. As I mentioned in my last update, November 30th had been set as the final date for leaving the tent cities and that those taking refuge there would be enabled to find some other solution to their individual housing crises. On Wednesday we visited Cissen, one of the tent cities where we have been helping with some food relief, to find that about half of those who had taken refuge there were still on site with no plans for leaving in the immediate future. Despite the fact that government aid at the centre has greatly diminished, many expressed their reality that a tent is still better than nothing. The spirit among those still at Cissen was much more agitated than on previous visits and there was obvious discontent that the government was so slow in coming through on the promises for housing and other aid. Many of those who have received promised government help for housing have left the center, most for other temporary shelter and a few to the newly developing areas, of which Yagma is one. We accompanied one father from Cissen to see where he would be relocating at Yagma and to see how things were progressing with resettlement there. What we found made both Alison and I think of what it must have been like, to some extent, for settlers in frontier days. Yagma is not far from Ouagadougou, but seems completely removed from the realities of big city life. Heavy equipment is at work scratching out roadways in what used to be farmers fields and surveyors are continuing to mark building lots and for distribution to those arriving. On arrival we found a group of about 200 people who had arrived recently, the real pioneers. These families have received their promised 30 bags of cement and each had piled the bags so as to be able to make a small hut, covered with a grass mat, into which they could crawl to sleep. No reconstruction has started as there is virtually no water in this location, people needing to walk 2 to 3 km to find water for washing, cooking and drinking. We talked to one father who had been there for 10 days who had found a small water hole about 1 km away from the Yagma encampment, where he was making mud bricks. He said the hole would be dry in a few days. We talked with several widows, there with their small children, wondering just what they were going to do if water was not soon available for construction. We left just a bit shaken by the realities of resettlement that many are facing. We returned yesterday morning and then again in the afternoon where Matthew, Alison, and I, with another SIMer Mark Dartnell and two Burkinabe colleagues from the Goundrin church, shared a week’s ration of rice and canned fish with 40 families, those we had discerned were the most needy. What next? We will meet together on Monday to discuss further strategy for Yagma and for those who remain at the tent city at Cissen. During our visits this week we were struck by the complete absence of any government authority at either Yagma or Cissen. We need more information as to what can be expected in the near future for both locations and how we can best contribute to meeting needs, both in the short and medium term. We continue to work through the church in Paspanga to respond to food, schooling, and shelter needs in that part of [...]

Happy Christmas


Dear friends, The Fulani of Burkina Faso have two words for shepherd. Duroowo is the more common word, defined simply as 'one who herds'. The other is banyaajo – a stronger word meaning 'one who herds and knows nothing about anything except herding.' It signifies someone who is most at ease when he is way off in the countryside, someone whose conversation is limited to cows, goats and sheep. Banyaajo is not necessarily an insult but it does have a humorous edge to it. I like to think that the shepherds in the second chapter of the gospel of Luke were young lads of the banyaajo variety. Just before the angel turned up, they were doing what they did best – keeping watch over their sheep. They may also have been humming, shivering and telling jokes, when suddenly God interrupted their pastoral idyll and gave them something else to talk about. Advent is here and we are wallowing afresh in the delicious story of the nativity. Light and life have come into the world. Unexpected glory has shone around us. Emmanuel, God with us, has entered our darkness, our sadness and our shame, intent on sweeping us up into his love. Unusually, Charlie and I are celebrating Christmas in England this year. We are also celebrating the birth of our first child, Liberty, who was born on 16 November. She's very sweet and we're asking God for wisdom to bring her up well. We are living in a small village called Lavant in the south of England. Steve is writing a new book; Charlie is looking after Lib and doing the occasional fashion shoot for girls' magazine Caris. Our cottage is just a stone's throw from the inn where William Blake wrote Jerusalem – a green and pleasant land which seems light years away from our home in sub-saharan Africa. That said, we are in regular contact with our friends and colleagues in Burkina Faso, and we fully expect to return there in the middle of next year. Steve recently assumed the role of Field Leader for the World Horizons teams in West Africa. Charlie is looking forward to developing various craft projects alongside the charity Save Our Skills. We both admit to feeling more than a bit vulnerable about the idea of being back in Africa with an eight-month old baby, and we would appreciate your prayers as the time approaches. For now though, we wish you and your families a meaningful Christmas and a happy new year. Alla beydu jam (May God increase your peace)....

Book Zone 4 Boys


There is an enthusiastic review of Hacking Timbuktu over at Book Zone 4 Boys. This blog is maintained by Mr H, an assistant headmaster somewhere in the UK. He has only been blogging since October but I suspect that his blog will become very popular indeed. I've been browsing his thoughtful reviews and made myself a must-read list. If you still need Christmas present ideas for boys, I invite you to head over to Book Zone 4 Boys!...