was a familiar phrase when I lived "south". Friends would drop by for coffee. Even on Graemsay neighbours will pop by...... however I was somewhat startled this morning to get a phone call from the ferry from someone I had last (and first) met in 2008! "Hi Sian, it's Louisa, I'm on the boat and coming over to you for coffee - I'll be there in 10 minutes!". "Fantastic!" I replied while simultaneously thinking "WHAT?!; Have I even GOT proper coffee; oh god the kitchen's a mess what will she think; and I haven't fed the hens and cats yet...". Spontaneity in the form of "dropping in for coffee" just doesn't happen on Graemsay when it takes meticulous thought and planning to work round the ferry schedule.....
But there I was at 11am this morning sitting in the conservatory having a chat with Louisa Waugh, author of "Hearing Birds Fly (a year in a Mongolian village)" and "Selling Olga: Stories of human trafficking and resistance", and discussing her new book (yet to be published) about her recent experiences in Gaza as a human rights worker. Part of her role in Gaza was recording the names of the children killed in the conflict and building up a story in photos and anecdotes so they wouldn't be forgotten. They wouldn't be "just another child" lost in yet another conflict far on the other side of the globe. As you can see - she is an extra-ordinary woman, and there we were chatting like old friends over coffee - on Graemsay!
I'd missed Louisa's reading from her latest book at the Pier Arts Centre last night as the logistics of another overnight stay in the town had defeated me. So I was delighted to have my own private reading and hear Louisa telling me the story of the train to Gaza City, and the delights of the Lingerie Market in Gaza (oh yes!).
OK I'm gushing a bit, but I love listening to her as she is a great story-teller. Some folk are excellent writers but they just miss the beat when reading even their own work. Louisa tells her stories in a way that draw you into the world, that help you see people as individuals and not just as groups defined by their conflict. I'm looking forward to reading the book when it's published - soon I hope.
And it was fun too because as I was trying to quiz Louisa on her recent travels etc, she was equally quizzing me on life on Graemsay - which seems so ordinary to me now, that I forget that living on a small island is rather different. But I live in a regular house - a very nice regular house, with adequate heating, water etc, and I can afford to take care of myself, eat, live etc, safe from the mild climate (compared to Mongolia!) and with little danger of conflict that will threaten my safety. It all seemed very ordinary and far from the exotic life of living with Mongolian nomads, or in the strife torn city of Gaza.
But that is one of the brilliant things in Orkney - you get to meet extra-ordinary people in an "ordinary" setting and can vicariously share in their life experiences. After her brief coffee stop she was off to explore Hoy for the afternoon before returning to Stromness where she has made many friends already. I caught a glimpse today of why she is such a good writer - she asks lots of questions and is really *interested* in people - she remembered things I'd said when we'd first met in the pub after her previous literary reading in 2008. She remembers details, she asks questions and she's interested - all this contributes to her very atmospheric writing.
I was laughing to myself as I drove back from the pier - when Louisa said she was going to Hoy for the afternoon I said "You realise there are no *shops* there? Do you have food? Water??" and then told her where she could find shelter etc, and repeated the times of the boats and watched to make sure she was paying attention. This to the woman who travelled Mongolia alone and has spent many months living in Gaza City......... oh dear....... she bore my fussing with fortitude and gently said "Sian, I'll be fine" as she waved from the pier....