Is it possible to be jealous of yourself? Because I think that’s how I feel right now. ‘I hate you’ seemed to be a phrase I jokingly heard from my friends a lot over the last few weeks. I had flown from Melbourne to London to Malé to the tropical island of Medhufaru, which was home to Soneva Jani, all in a matter of weeks. My body didn’t know what time it was, let alone which side of the planet I was on. Along the way, I had become a quarantining, Covid test-taking professional. In normal times, I would consider myself extremely lucky to have bagged the job as a Barefoot Bookseller on Soneva Jani. In Covid times, I feel lucky just to have been able to get on a plane and fly long haul – let alone the whole new job on a tropical island thing I also had going on. The number of people who mentioned feelings of jealousy that I was going to get an airplane meal. ‘Ohhhhh I dream of the the tomato pasta on Etihad….’ That’s what our conversations had become these days. With only 21 people on my flight, nobody batted an eyelid at my 15kg excess baggage. A total win-win, I would say.
My journey to becoming one of the Ultimate Library’s Barefoot Booksellers in the Maldives didn’t follow the same path as those who tread the sand before me. I have a nutrition degree, not a publishing one and spend my days as a Geography teacher, not a bookseller. But, I guess I do really love books. Books and people. I also wore my lucky pink Ugg boots in my interviews. Thank god for Zoom.
I spend my life in equal parts teaching and travelling. My reading obsession, I think, has always been in existence. I read to fit in, to understand, to escape. I read to learn about where I have travelled to, books set in Greenland, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, or the D.R.C. Train travels across Russia, walks across Spain. Reading enables conversations with people from all over the land. So while, perhaps on paper, I don’t have the same qualifications, my drive and passion are just as strong.
I spent a chunk of my childhood growing up in Singapore, therefore being slammed by the humidity as I stepped off the plane just felt like a bit of a nostalgic hug. Deciding to head away for six months came after feeling how we all felt at the end of last year. Desperate for a change. Anything, something. People have been pushed to the edge, and I think, are ready to take chances more readily than they would have pre-Covid. Plus. It’s the freaking Maldives! Who says no to that?!
So, I have arrived on this magical, dreamy little sun-bleached island. My nose slightly squashed from how hard I pushed it up against the window on the plane, desperate to see all the colours of the ocean. The shades of turquoise and blues being created by the changing of the Earth over time. The remains of prehistoric volcanoes. You can literally see history. The Geography teacher in me exploded with wonder. The Australian in me will never get used to all the shades of colour created by water and earth. Obviously, those dark blue bits are where the sharks are lurking, right?
I’ve found myself waiting patiently (ish) for my quarantine to end. Watching the intense sunlight streaming through the cracks in the frosted window. Eager to get my hands on the keys left by the lovely Alice, Bookseller before me. Hoping that I can continue on her work, encouraging people to open a book and discover a whole new world. To learn, to adventure. More important than ever in these days of lockdowns and missed moments.
Thank you Alice, for setting up such a magical little shop and leaving me with big shoes to fill. Fingers crossed, here goes. X
Quarantine escape books. Books of foreign lands.
His only wife - Peace Adzo Medie
It’s setting, in Ghana, is what first pulled me to this book, the author’s debut novel. I sat down and read it in two days, it was impossible not to fall in love with the main character Afi she is fierce in her attitude to life. She is what we are all fighting for on the inside, to be heard. Afi is relatable and kickass. Determined not to get bogged down into how women should behave, she stands her ground and you will find yourself cheering along. Being set in Ghana, it is a world away from my life, but Peace has written with those glimmering elements of relatability, showing that where we are born doesn’t change the fact that at the end of the day, we are all humans beings. Humans with minds of our own.
Klara and the Sun - Kazuo Ishiguro
Another winner for Ishiguro. He keeps you questioning all the way till the end. Just when I thought I had it all worked out, I didn’t. Totally relatable to our changing world, written through the eyes of Klara, who just makes your heart totally melt. It makes you feel all the feels and think all the thoughts about unconditional love, friendship, and what is going to happen to our planet in the future. It made me want to, even more so, act to protect our future generations, to wonder where we are heading.
Syria's Secret Library - Mike Thomson
Certainly not a carefree read, but I guarantee, stick with it, and you will be feeling all sorts of life-affirming feelings about the power and resilience of human beings. The book offers up a hope for humanity. It shows us the power of having a purpose and of the community around us. Set in Daraya, Syria, during the Syrian Civil War, I had to keep reminding myself that this was real, this is a work of non-fiction. The fact that this story got out and has been told is down to nothing but determination. Have a read, and I dare you not to both fall in love and be totally enraged at the power of human beings.