Vicki Kellaway’s understated yet brilliantly observed vignettes document her travels through South America and later her everyday experiences in Bogota, Columbia, which becomes her adopted home.
Over some twenty months readers bear witness to a remarkable transformation in her character. At the outset we are party to the fears of an outsider in a strange land – daunted by an alien language, unnerved by corrupt officialdom, bemused by the idiosyncrasies of Columbian culture and inwardly yearning for home. Gradually; unexpectedly; she succumbs to its charms and falls deeply in love with Bogota.
An experienced journalist, her eye for detail shines through, frequently elevating her tales of a city dweller into prose which is surprisingly moving. Recollections of otherwise mundane encounters are imbued with pathos during moments when we are privy to her unguarded thoughts. She regrets never having truly explored her home city of Lincoln. Now, marooned thousands of miles away, she laments: “When you live somewhere, there’s always mañana. Except, sometimes, there isn’t.”
At times it is a meditation on the ephemeral nature of friendships formed whilst living out a nomadic existence. Kellaway encounters the kindness of strangers and shares private moments with others as they disclose their deepest hopes and fears to her – yet just hours later they bid each other farewell in the knowledge that their paths will never cross again.
Her innate journalistic inquisitiveness occasionally sees her unearthing darker recesses of the national psyche. Employee’s rights are practically non-existent in Columbia, she discovers after some digging:
“He told me that no-one in his company ever gives the standard four weeks’ notice, for fear of being sacked on the spot and losing their final month’s pay. You can apparently seek compensation for unfair dismissal, but the network is so tight you’d never work again. It’s best to pack up your mug and family photo and disappear quietly into the night.”
We are afforded insights into the corruption that permeates all strata of Columbian society – not always stated explicitly, but inferred through the actions of her characters:
“The mens’ prison can be a little tense,” he said softly.
“You should also take something for the women. Maybe some shampoo, maybe some fruit.”
I mentioned that very dirty word (journalist) and asked, if I met anyone suitable, would I be able to take photographs?
“Just give the guard a dollar or something,” he grinned.
There is abundant light amongst the shade here, however. Equipped with a sardonic, somewhat ‘British’ sense of humour, Kellaway offers a wry smile at the absurdities of Columbian beaurocracy:
“Last week we successfully obtained our full visas via the embassy in Quito. That involved a trip to the bank and a trip to buy a folder (had to be blue and a specific size) and an envelope (had to be yellow and a specific size).”
Navigation here is simple but sufficient, delineating blog posts by month and location. The stark, minimalist appearance of Banana Skin… – black text on a white backdrop and little else – is never detrimental in the hands of this skilled author. Illustration is wholly unnecessary when her vivid dialogue is so effective at infusing life into her characters. To her credit, perusing Kellaway’s blog is often akin to digesting snatches of a thoroughly engaging novella.