Freedom of Speech and truth-telling

Ruth Hartley Storytelling, Book Publishing, Conflict, Creativity, Feminism, Human rights, Nuanced Thinking, Power2 Comments

The BBC Reith Lectures

I listened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Reith Lecture on Freedom of Speech on the BBC and I knew I was once again in a world of curiosity and questioning where books are open doors to the whole world. As Adichie said, the essential freedom to be creative is only possible if there is freedom of speech. The Reith lectures were by four people on the subject of President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. I had felt lost and homeless after our travels in the Middle East ended. We had journeyed through changing landscapes, differing perceptions of life and many other ways of being human and telling truths. My longed-for home seemed to have become a closed and narrow trap. I didn’t feel that I belonged anywhere. Once again I was a citizen of nowhere and not a citizen of the world.

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The Banshees of Inisherin

Ruth Hartley Storytelling, Art Process, Conflict, Film, Music, Politics, Uncategorized2 Comments

Film poster shows colm on the left and Padraic on the right as silhouettes with colm's dog between them. They are on the beach staring across the sea at the Irish mainland.

The Banshees of Inisherin was on at the local cinema the night after the Golden Globe event on TV. We decided to see it because Colin Farrell had won an award for his role in it. The film is set against the background noise of the guns of the Irish civil war. Innis Erin – Inisherin means the island of Ireland (Erin) and the lives of the few people on this tiny fabulous island who are apparently dull and boring, are as violent, passionate and dangerous as that of the warring mainland. I didn’t know what it was about but I hoped it would be good entertainment. In its favour, it was also a ‘Version originale’ rather than dubbed. (C’est à dire dans la langue dans laquelle il a été tourné.) That turned out to be just as well because Irish -spoken English is poorly translated into rather dubious French subtitles.It is a brilliant movie.

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Egypt’s COP27 and Zambia’s Kariba Dam

Ruth Hartley Storytelling, Apartheid, Books by Ruth Hartley, Colonialism, Creativity, Displacement, Freedom Fighters, Identity, Politics, Power, Southern Africa, The Shaping of WaterLeave a Comment

Disembarking at Cairo, we were confronted with an enormous billboard welcoming delegates to the COP27 climate conference. 40 000 delegates were meeting to discuss, among other things, the painful question of financial responsibility for fixing the climate crisis caused largely by the activities of developed countries.

Visiting Egypt was a long-held dream. It was wonderful for many reasons, not least of which is our brilliant Egyptian guide Mohammed Ali who explains and inspires in equal measure. However, exploring the ancient rise and fall of the Pharaohs does not shield me from today’s concerns. Rather, it amplifies the question, “When will we learn from history?” Mohammed and I talked about the Aswan Dam and the changes it has made to Nile River agriculture just as the Kariba Dam has changed the Lower Zambezi Basin. We also talked about the displacement of the Nubian villagers and compared their plight with the Batonga of the Middle Zambezi

A huge blue billboard with a white, blue and yellow sunburst logo and white and yellow text says WELCOME TO COP27, SHARM EL-SHEIKH, EGYPT2022, with the logos of 20 partners including Microsoft and Google displayed to the right of the welcome message.
COP27 sign at Cairo International Airport

Kariba Dam: A giant unpredictable experiment

Considering the challenges of COP27, I was reminded of my early 2020 visit to Zambia for an interview about my first book, The Shaping of Water, published some years earlier. Although Zambia is a very different African country, there are familiar parallels.

In Learning from the Kariba Dam, an article published on 22 July 2020 in The Climate Issue of The New York Times Magazine, Namwall Serpell says, “The history of the Kariba Dam is the story of a war over the past and the future of a river.” Namwali Serpell is a Zambian who has written a prize-winning book about the Dam called The Old Drift

The Kariba Dam which created Lake Kariba was one of many engineering projects built by a colonial government to serve their own interests, at a huge cost to the local and downstream ecology and population, and a financial cost which continues now as the Kariba Dam Rehabilitation Project (KDRP) attempts to repair the 80-metre deep plunge hole endangering the dam.

What follows is a repost of my reflections on that visit and the “giant unpredictable experiment that is changing the natural environment of the region”, first published on 21 March 2020:


The Shaping of Water: Returning to the past to build the future

Daniel Sikazwe interviews Ruth Hartley on the terrace of the Ridgeway Hotel

This year (2020), I time-travelled back more than 30 years. I returned to the Ridgeway Hotel in Lusaka to the place where golden weaver birds build their nests above small sun-worshipping crocodiles. Here, there were once an excellent Zintu craft shop, a regular Zambian ladies’ lunch, an Independence Day National Art Exhibition, and gin-and-tonics on the verandah under the management of Richard Chanter.

On this occasion, I was meeting Daniel Sikazwe, journalist, broadcaster and PEN member to interview me about my novel The Shaping of Water. The Ridgeway was as pleasant as ever! As with the Alliance Francaise event compèred for me by Daniel, it was a very enjoyable interview. Daniel asked penetrating questions about the reasons I wrote The Shaping of Water, and the truth of the facts in it.

“It’s a book that should be standard reading for Zambians,” Daniel said. “It tells of a part of our history that is not known about.” And so we talked of how I came to write this book and of the problems of writing cross-cultural history as a novel.

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A nomad in the Middle East

Ruth Hartley StorytellingLeave a Comment

Gone away travelling

COP27 advert that greeted us in Cairo airport

I intended to write two blogs to cover the time I was away travelling. I didn’t. Packing and organising were more essential before I left. One option was to repost older blog posts that had become relevant again to cover that period. I didn’t. There wasn’t even time for that. Readers, I apologise. You are always in my thoughts!

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The Halley’s Comet Exhibition at Mpapa Gallery Zambia 1986

Ruth HartleyHistory, Mpapa Gallery, ZambiaLeave a Comment

Rockets, comets and Deep Space research

Comet P/Halley as taken March 8, 1986 by W. Liller, Easter Island, part of the International Halley Watch (IHW) Large Scale Phenomena Network.

Ariane, is the rocket developed in France by the European Space Agency and first launched in 1979. I feel that I have a connection with it that goes back 36 years to 1986 when I was one of the directors of the Mpapa Gallery in Zambia. The Ariane rocket was named after Ariadne the woman abandoned by Theseus after she saved him from the Minotaur. As Ariane is a 3-stage rocket that is non-recoverable I suppose this is the reason for the choice of name.

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