The diary begins: from hotel babylon to talking walls

3 min readApr 4, 2024

I want to use this blog to write about my experiences both at work and in work, so I’m going to try and rotate both — which might seem confusing! I’ve never been good at writing diaries, but not having the skills has never stopped me before, so I’m going to have a crack and you can tell me what you think!

I mentioned in my previous post that one of the experiences that had the biggest impact on my professional life was working with asylum seekers. Perhaps one of the experiences that had the biggest impact on my time as an activist was when I went to South Africa as part of an exchange. The journey starts on Tuesday, well no it actually begins on Sunday, but that was pretty much getting on the plane, digesting the playdo-like food and thinking of this film while jetting over most of Africa to reach our destination. Monday was checking into the trendiest hotel I’ve ever seen. It was like Hotel Babylon — with lifts themed around shark cages and cable cars — a swimming pool circling the restaurant and a climbing wall outside the hotel, so much for fighting consumerism.

We did manage to squeeze a trip to the Robben Island Museum, not being able to make the trip to the island itself because of lack of demand. I’ll leave you to think about the uncomfortable paradox between the shark cage lift and the human cages on the island. We also got the cable car up to Table Top Mountain which talks for itself I guess.

From reconciliation to truth: the final frontier?

From touring the South African Parliament, witnessing the creative use of tapestry to tell stories and capture memories to visiting the District 6 Museum, we realised how important it is to collect text and photos,
particularly in times of oppression. It reminded me of a quote by Nelson Mandela that we should “hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly”.

The curators made the museum visually exciting and emotional to capture the imagination and create a connection between the generation that endured the apartheid and the generation that enjoys the new democracy. It showed the personal attention to everyone that visited — a human touch rather than a stuffy set of artefacts.

The facilitators organise memory methodology workshops. They enable people to look at memory practices to share experiences and creatively explore the many ways memory work. The aim of this is to advance social justice and understandings of non-racialism. Could this work for “community cohesion” projects?

As we went through this living museum, I noticed the “talking wall” — it asked a set of questions that people could choose to answer: What can you/we do to change the injustice in the world? Do you have a bright idea?

Wouldn’t it be great if we could adapt a method used by a group like District 6 the other side of the planet?

What experience has most shaped you while you were abroad, either for a holiday, for work or for study? What did you learn? How did you feel?




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese