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This article is taken from PN Review 223, Volume 41 Number 5, May - June 2015.

Letter from Slovakia James Sutherland-Smith
At the beginning of last year I received a request to carry out a scoping study of the Peacekeeping English project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I’d left my position as a Queen’s Servant working for the British Council in 2009 and despite being on their register of consultants I hadn’t really pursued any of the tempting offers of a month in various Asian and African countries on short-term consultancies for which I seemed vaguely qualified. However, my casual response ‘Why not?’ to what appeared to be a lighthearted request on Facebook suddenly materialised into an offer from the Kenya office which runs sub-Saharan projects in countries where there is no British Council representation. What is more, they wanted me out there as soon as possible to conduct a scoping enquiry into a project that had ground to a halt through a recruiting mishap. A manager had been recruited to take over the project, but as he was arriving at Heathrow airport he received a message that his partner had been taken to hospital and promptly turned round, subsequently resigning. The project had languished and no-one knew whether to continue it or wind it up.

I decided to go because I’d never been south of the equator. The fee was attractive, too. Most of all I wanted to see the river Congo. The most productive times in my life have occurred close to water, either the sea or a river. Everybody in Britain lives within easy walking distance of a stream, a river or the sea. Even in the built-up regions of London where the ...

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