Notes from the field

Our work takes us all over the world. Here we share some of our more personal perspectives on some of the destinations we have visited, filed on location.


Lebanon’s turmoil

Beirut’s banks are in the eye of a storm. In and around the city centre, the epicentre of a months-long protest over economic mismanagement, some branches have been daubed with graffiti, others have had their windows and ATMs smashed. They are so short of hard currency that informal capital controls have been imposed, infuriating customers desperate for dollars. more >

You say Moldovan, I say Romanian..

Not long ago, while visiting my parents in Chisinau, I searched my mother’s bookshelves for a Jack London novel that I wanted to show my wife, a Russian native speaker. The book was in Cyrillic, a relic of pre-independence Moldova, then part of the Soviet Union. I eventually found it and handed it to my wife, who looked puzzled. No wonder. The text was written in Moldovans’ native language. more >

Sarajevo’s balancing act

Late October in Sarajevo, and the Bosnian capital is a far cry from the bustling tourist centre it becomes during the summer months, when large groups of travellers from Gulf countries arrive to escape their countries’ oppressive heat. more >

Latvia seeks to rebuild tarnished banking reputation

Riga is a city of contrasts. Its gleaming office blocks, sleek airport and western hotel chains speak of the strides it has made since breaking away from the former Soviet Union in the early 90s – a confidence driven in no small part by thriving tourism, one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. more >

Beirut experiences controversial facelift

Although it is summer and the high season, there is an eeriness about Beirut’s city centre shopping arcades. The fashionable boutiques feature top international brands, yet but for the odd smattering of well-heeled shoppers, the stores appear largely devoid of customers. Nearby gleaming office blocks likewise seem bereft of activity. And some of the area’s glittering new apartment complexes also look distinctly vacant. more >

Mexico’s political upheaval

Approaching Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport by air I catch a glimpse of a beetle-like shape etched into the ground on the outskirts of the city, thin lines and dots indicating where construction equipment once dug and shifted. more >

Madagascar between pepper and vanilla

On a recent trip to Antananarivo, a contact asked us over lunch what the perception of Madagascar is in the UK. Having just discussed Brexit in some detail - as I had with several taxi drivers over the course of the trip - it was almost shameful to admit that in the popular imagination here the Dreamworks film named after the island almost certainly remains people’s most immediate reference. more >

West Africa’s oasis of stability

After spending a few days in Cotonou, Benin’s largest city and still very much its political and economic heart (Porto Novo, about 40km to the east, is formally the capital), one cannot help but ponder how this West African country of around 11.5 million inhabitants has so successfully avoided the security problems faced by its neighbours. more >

A wary Colombia enjoys peace dividend

They were images that spoke of Colombia’s guarded optimism as it seeks to move on from decades of conflict with left-wing rebel group FARC that left scores of thousands dead and displaced millions. more >

Reconstructing Dushanbe

Days before my arrival in Dushanbe, a prison riot in the northern city of Khujand, allegedly sparked by Islamic state militants, led to the deaths of over 20 inmates and several guards, raising a few eyebrows in the office. more >

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