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Take the first left to Africa

PUBLISHED: 15:50 17 February 2006 | UPDATED: 10:25 07 September 2010

MY work experience internship at BBC World Service started yesterday and in preparation, I was into intense research on Africa the week before. Seeing as I am a student at SOAS (School for Oriental and African Studies) I decide to go there first. Well,

MY work experience internship at BBC World Service started yesterday and in preparation, I was into intense research on Africa the week before. Seeing as I am a student at SOAS (School for Oriental and African Studies) I decide to go there first.

Well, when I say I am a student there, it actually feels more like being a mobile phone that goes there once a week to be recharged. My knowledge of the Chinese language leaks out of me steadily and every now and then mental flashes come into my head repeating ominously: "Chinese low, recharge unit".

So I telephone the head of the Africa department and leave a dozen urgent messages which are ignored completely. I decide it will be much easier to go to Daunts Books in Belsize Park where they are really helpful, and weighed down with the essential volumes I retire to Boulangerie Jade in South End Green, another favourite of mine. They do great coffee and brilliant patisseries. Best croissants in Hampstead by my reckoning, maybe even in the world?

About Africa: for starters, where is it? Well, not where I expected. From my map I can go down to the Royal Free, do a right up Pond Street, a left into Haverstock Hill, keep going, and there's Africa.

It is a big and mostly messy continent with altogether too many unpronounceable names and countries and way too many problems. Did you know that Egypt is in Africa? And that Pyranees is not the plural of Pyramid?

But I must admit, the more I read about Africa the more fascinating I find it. For example, I can now include in my vocabulary words such as: coups, despotism, corruption, tribal genocide, dearth of democracy and one-party-politics. I cannot wait for next dinner party to try these words out on my unsuspecting friends.

So yesterday I got onto the tube bright and early. Seems like commuting habits haven't changed in the months I have been unemployed: lots of people looking ridiculously fresh and alert at this absurd hour. Strangely, it feels good. Being one of the many setting off to put in an honest day's work, keeping the economies of the world revolving yet again. Well, now I am being romantic.

Nevertheless it makes me feel grown up, standing in a carriage full of fellow workers, dark-suited men and women on the Northern Line clutching briefcases with heads buried in newspapers. This of course is my first day and perhaps the novelty will wear off by the weekend.

Bush House is magnificent. Having graduated from a red brick university I never quite resolved classical architecture but it really is nice walking into an elegant building and I practice on the grand lobby stairs a bit. I am aiming to make a good first impression, but I couldn't find anyone to impress. They all use the lifts.

I misjudged the dress code completely by arriving in my Jewish Princess best: more cocktail party than media cool. Ok, so I got it wrong. It turns out most everyone here dresses "classical slob".

So I wandered around the corridor asking directions, and eventually found the Africa department behind a set of doors inscribed: Africa Department, which seems appropriate. I intentionally arrive a little late in the hope that everyone will already be there and the impact of my entrance can be maximised.

I pause at the door. Should I knock timidly and peak my head round cautiously. I decide not. I swing the heavy doors open and proclaim: "I'm here!"

But the room is empty.

jewishprincess@hamhigh.co.uk

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