Monday, 21 October 2013

Wales through African eyes

I took my two African students to experience Wales and meet my mother. They were amazed by the greenness of Wales and surprised that the sheep were safe out overnight without boy shepherds to guard them.

My African PhD students, Edessa and Omer responded warmly to the invitation to visit Wales when I next visited my mother. Omer is from Sudan, Edessa from Ethiopia and Edessa has not been outside London during his nine months in the UK. The train journey from Paddington to Abergavenny gives fine views of the English countryside with views of the river Thames, small farms and villages. They were surprised by the sixe of the trees, Edessa surmised that we did not cut down so many of our trees. They brought gifts for my mother including soft dates.

Brecon is an ideal city for showing visitors, it is small, lively on Saturdays and one can walk everywhere. I took them to the city centre where we looked at the old Georgian house and inns. The Town Hall is a fine Victorian building. We also saw the City Hall, a Victorian building with cast iron interior, here the farmers market was just finishing with farmers from all over Wales selling their produce and interesting cheeses. We walked up to the cathedral through the cool green woods. Omer had not been in a cathedral before. Here a mixed voice choir was practising and we walked around looking at the memorials to soldiers and the local great and good. Brecon does have some modern architecture, a fine public library made of grey stone with long thin windows. One can see different ages in Brecon, the cathedral feels medieval but the city centre feels Georgian with town house where visiting lawyers stayed, and now there is a modern retail square and a huge Morrisons.

We all went up to the viewpoint Epint, here one is deep in the Beacons up on the peaty grassy treeless moorland and where one has contrasting views of the mountains with views down towards the green valleys and small scale farms.

We meandered back along tiny roads with high hedgerows and trees, green vistas everywhere. We stopped at St Cynog’s church, Merthyr Cynog. This is a 14th century church with a stout tower. Once it was a place for pilgrimage, then fell into disrepair. Now it has been restored but with an admirable plainness. There are no memorials on the walls and the space feels far more spiritual to me than the cathedral.

Brecon is a party place on a Saturday night., filling up with young farmers enjoying themselves boisterously.. We had supper in a beer garden drinking welsh Red Dragon beer en plein air with swallows swooping overhead and left before the party got rowdy.

We rose early on Sunday and Omer and I climbed up Peny Fan (890 m) It was a lovely walk, we did it early because we knew it would be hot and Omer was fasting for Ramadan. I was worried about having a fasting companion on the Beacons on almost the hottest day of the year. But we ascended easily and enjoyed the fantastic views. One looks down onto the farms and villages around Brecon. The beacons themselves have craggy tops and high lakes. The views down to south Wales are splendid with lakes and mountains, all glinting in the summer sun.. Back in Brecon Edessa enjoyed the Sunday roast Welsh beef in the cathedral café, a new experience for him. Omer sat in the cathedral to cool off.

We also squeezed in a stop at Llangorse lake, Wales’ shallowest lake and with a recreated ancient reed hut. The lake is now full of boaters, pedalos and windsurfers. The slow Sunday train services were a low point with a long hot trying bus and train ride back to Paddington. Omer could not drink until 9.20 and I was keeping an eye on him in case he dehydrated. If urgent he could have broken his fast. When we got back we also realized that this was the day that one of the TA soldiers died in the Beacons.

It was lovely seeing Wales through their eyes. They were amazed by the sheep, Edessa especially that the sheep stayed out over night and did not have little boys guarding them, fortunately we do not have hyenas in Wales. They were also surprised at how few people there were and the absence of buses. It is difficult imagining African style buses in Wales.

They loved meeting my mother although they were sad to see her living alone, and she warmed to them. When I went to work on Monday they were telling my research group what a beautiful old lady my mother is.

I had not anticipated how varied the rewards would be from taking Edessa and Omer to Wales.

No comments:

Post a Comment