A few weeks ago my elder son Jamie, who is living and working in Addis Ababa, told me that he was going to a meeting in Geneva in January, and he fancied a couple of days skiing whilst in Switzerland. So, we quickly thought it might be possible to meet up with him on the slopes, and I started investigating the options.
The main problem was the lack of snow. There had been a big dump in the Alps in November, but nothing since, so that meant that Morzine, which is close to Geneva but not high altitude, wasn’t really an option. Verbier is very expensive. I finally settled on Chamonix, which is not too far from Geneva and has some high up slopes, and it was possible for Jamie to get a bus transfer to the resort mid-week while the rest of us booked a full week with Inghams. We ended up staying at the Rocky Pop Hotel in Les Houches, down the valley from Chamonix itself. Two days before we travelled there was a big fall of snow! The weather forecast for our week was for lots of mist, but in the event every day was lovely and sunny, but cold – down to minus 25 one day.
The skiing was wonderful. Most days we went to a different place: Les Houches on Sunday, Domaine Brévent-Flégère on Monday, Domaine des Grands Montets on Tuesday, back to Les Houches for a half day on Wednesday when Jamie arrived at the hotel, over to Courmayeur in Italy on Thursday, and finally Domaine de Balme on Friday. Each resort has its own characteristics and challenges. I’m not up to doing black runs, but the reds and blues were very good in each place.
Below is the seven minute video of our stay, showing slides and clips from each resort plus the interior of the Rocky Pop. I’m not a good skier, and had no GoPro, so most of the clips are of pretty flat runs.
I mentioned Ben Rawlence’s book City of Thorns previously on this blog, in the context of a presentation I went to at the Edinburgh Book Festival. The book is about the Dadaab Refugee Camp in northern Kenya. Dadaab is the biggest refugee camp in the world, with over 300,000 people living there, and is the third biggest city in Kenya, though many people have never heard of it. Some refugees have lived there for a very long time.
Rawlence covers the stories of nine of its residents. His book provides an excellent description of what life is really like in the camp, and how people make the most of their circumstances. For some, living in Dadaab is better than existing in Somalia, but just about everyone would like to leave.
Al-Shabaab have a presence in the camp, and bombs are a fairly regular occurrence. The police in and around the camp are corrupt. The police and al-Shabaab are heavily involved in sugar smuggling. Soon after the agreement between Kenya and Somalia in 2013 to start the repatriation of refugees the level of violence increased drastically. Rawlence writes “…attacks on incoming trucks along the road to Somalia were a weekly occurrence. Policemen kept getting killed. No one knew the precise details of the sugar smugglers’ conflicts. One theory had it that the cartels were paying off the police and groups within the police were taking sides. Another rumour claimed the slowdown in trade was making the police chief in Dadaab greedy and the cartels were picking off his officers as a bargaining tactic.” When we think of refugee camps we probably don’t expect such a level of violence, but it regularly goes on in Dadaab. It shouldn’t be like that, but no-one seems capable of changing things. Rawlence’s book is revelatory in this respect.