I sat outside last night, gazing at stars. Stars, here, for me, are like the chickens; I know they exist and I’ve seen them before, but suddenly they are all around me, as much a part of the day-to-day landscape as the terracotta coloured dust ingrained in my feet and ankles.

I counted 25 right above my head, one for every year of my life. I tried to take a photograph, but of course, I failed. There is only so much that this tiny little piece of technology can do. So instead, I tipped my head back and stared, and tried to recall the little Yeats I know…

“Had I the heavens embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet…”

Of the houses I have visited, Lydia’s, Cheresia’s, Irene’s and Maria’s, none have boasted lightbulbs glaring their synthetic lights from the ceilings at all hours of the night. You quickly adjust to sitting in the half-light that softly through tiny windows and chinks in doors, a welcome relief from the glaring sunlight outside.

Back home, I will miss the stars. I wish that I was in Tanzania long enough to reset my circadian rhythms – even the jet lag from a 10 hour night flight pales into insignificance when I manage to wake with the dawn.

Last night we sat outside in the almost-pitch black at 8pm, sharing fish and ugali around a low wooden table, turning our heads in the direction of our companions voices as they spoke.

I do not miss England’s fluorescent parades of shops, nor the insistence of the street lights and other peoples windows late at night. I do not miss the curious orange glow of the night time, where it is never quite dark. I do not miss the cities that do not seem to sleep.

Back home, I frequently suffer migraines that put me to bed for days, popping yellow and pink Migraleve and ibuprofen and aspirin by the handful, burying my face in a pillow with the duvet pinned over my head, desperate to shut out the light that makes me feel as though I have a giant, crushing hand gripping my left temple, its bullying fingers forcing their way into the nape of my neck. I have been here a week, and guess what – no migraine. I suspect I could stay here a month (and oh how I’d love to) and the dreaded agony would not rear its ugly head.

Between fried fish, wonderful people, and starlight, my heart has been well and truly stolen away by Tanzania. Away from the heads-down rush-rush-rush of everyday life in England, away from a reliable mobile phone connection, wrapped in a mosquito net and Deet to protect against tiny predators as I sit outside tonight, I have nothing to distract me as I throw my head back, rest my chin upon my hands, and dream into the night, the light, and the half-light.

“Tread softly, for you tread upon my dreams.” – W.B. Yeats.

Asante sana.

Jack. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

Categories: Blog


  1. This is beautifully written – I’ve never been to Tanzania or indeed anywhere in Africa but I can picture it in your post. The true darkness is something I miss now that I live in a city; at my mum’s semi-rural house it gets properly dark, even though there are lights in the distance. It feels unnatural that darkness never falls properly here.

  2. Know how you feel….cycled and camped with my hubby and kids through Kenya and Tanzania in 2012 and none of us can get over it! Every pic of me ( and there were many ) I have a HUGE smile all the time. Simple pleasures…..the consolation now is that I’ll be in Uganda in about 48 hours with a suitcase full of stuff for the kids,YAY! Africans are the finest people 🙂

  3. I absolutely know how you feel. I have migraines and suffer from insomnia. When in Fiji, with no electric after 9pm, no light pollution and no wifi and a diet of fruit and rice mainly, no migraine and lots of lovely sleep. Good to hear how you are learning so much, and not just about others but about yourself.

  4. Jack,

    *Wait till you visit Death Valley for stars.

    When I came back from Senegal, about half way over the Atlantic, the noise of the USA, came into my head. I had been at peace, my eyes no longer needing glasses in Dakar, were needed just to stand up and get off the plane. Hit with the insanity of NYC full bore, it took days to shut down the dream of Africa. But I was changed. Stories that can not be passed on, shared only by a few. That is Africa.

  5. Ii agree with May you have way with words which not everyone is lucky to have use it too it’s full advantage

  6. As May says: beautifully written.

    You might try seeing your dentist re the migranes – a bite raiser worn at night might help. #2 daughter used to suffer the same way, until she got one. It might be that you have to wear it and not wear it randomly to stop them completely. Worth a try.

    Good to see you totally relaxed – you deserve it.

  7. its strange. when i lived in canada i used to look at the northern lights and actually listen to them too the rushing noise. i know exactly what yu mean.

  8. Oh Jack this is beautiful. It sounds like you’re having the most amazing time. I’m a keen stargazer myself and the orange glow that is ever-present at night-time in the cities is a source of much annoyance. When I visited India a few years ago, I did some trekking in the mountains and saw so many stars it was difficult to identity even the main constellations because the sky was so full of them!

  9. You need to get some magnesium. When I feel a migraine coming on, I take at least 1000mg. Repeat in a few hours. Drink as much water as you can handle. Also take some B2. This has changed my life. Ann

  10. I have been to Africa and I speak a little Swahili. Your post summed it up so beautifully that I could picture everything. It made me quite emotional for the people and the places I know. Asante sana Jack.

  11. Your writings took me straight back to three wonderful camel treks I did in the Sinai desert sleeping under the stars, keep hold of the feelings, Jack, they will sustain you in tough times.

  12. Your writings of these experiences took me immediately back to the three wonderful camel treks I did with the Bedouin in the Sinai desert, sleeping under the stars. Keep hold of the feelings, Jack, they will sustain you in tough times.

  13. You write so beautifully and descriptively. Enjoy the moment, and thanks for passing on the details so that we can savour it all too x

  14. Hi Jack. You’ve come such a long way since I first started following you early last year. It always amazes me that you say you didn’t do well at school. Your writing skills along with your knowledge of wider references surpass many ‘educated’ people I know and I know a few!! I hope your life now is that of your dreams and that you allow yourself the odd indulgence that paid employment can provide. You having nothing to prove. Keep writing and I’ll keep following. Best wishes. Sian

  15. Beautifully written and a very important message. After a only century of increasing amounts of artificial light in our environments we are beginning to discover that humans (and other animals) did biologically not evolve over hundreds of thousands of years to live under such conditions. I have seen it described as a”massive public health experiment” on human populations. Light pollutions is, amongst other things, a public health issue. We cannot live a healthy life without daily regular natural darkness and natural light patterns. Light pollution also destroys the habitats of nocturnal animals and interferes with othwer forms of wildlife and plants. .

    I recommend the recent book “The End of the Night” by Pauk Bogard, ISBN978-0-00-742820-5 about these things and other aspects of the issue.

    Please support the UK organisation CDfS (Campaign for dark shies). Link:

  16. I suffered from migraine for decades (as did my mother) and pre-menopause the thing that helped most was acupuncture.

  17. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so well. I spend most of the year in Gambia, and like you, I love to see the stars without light pollution. Here we manage mainly by torchlight once it gets dark, and as you say, it seems to fit my body rhythm so much better. I also rarely have a migraine when I’m here.

  18. A lovely post. Africa…I have only been once, back in 1993 when I visited The Gambia for just 7 days. At the end of those 7 days, waiting to board the plane, I was in absolute floods of tears. I felt at home there (actually from the minute I set foot on the tarmac getting off the plane I felt a connection) and you express it as I felt it……heart stealing.

    You will never forget and as I know you know already, it will change your outlook on life even more. And if you’re anything like me you’ll be really really intolerant of people’s petty whinging about stuff that just *does not matter* for a long time after you’re back!

  19. I knew an inspiring Lady who sadly died last year at the age of 93 (or was promoted to Glory as the Salvation Army say). She slept in total darkness for many years ,in a room with a small window open,come rain come shine as they say. She would add to the darkness by wearing eye masks .

    Unfortunately,for security reasons,She eventually had to keep the window closed as She grew more frail and eventually,after a Scooter fall,ended up in a Care Home.

    She loved fresh air ,natural light and darkness to sleep in. Never afraid of anything ,it was not her decision to shut the window,but concerned Family.

    We do live in a much artificially lit and heated world and like her ,I often crave the natural light and fresh air of being able to open windows in Offices and Shopping Centres..I feel better general, as if I am feeling the World with my senses .Even airconditioning in cars makes me feel sick.

    Beautifully written article by you Jack.

  20. Jack this sounds fantastic. You might have to come back but stay migraine free – find a health kinesiologist near you and away they go.Mine were down to a funny mix of foods I was intolerant too – all “healthy” but not what my system liked and I don’t have to avoid them completely – just know about them and steer clear if stressed. Give it a go? Lovin your work – I’m a newbie to it, so thank you.

  21. Edwina Currie’s moral compass failed when she stayed behind for her cabinet tête-à-tête sessions with John Major.

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