My Harry Potter obsession


Originally written for Gulf News “Off the Cuff” Published May1, 2016

‘Sweetheart?” I prod her on the shoulder gently. She looks up distractedly from her book. “It’s time for lunch,” I tell her, gesturing towards the book in her hand, which she must now close and join the family. I see her slip the book discretely behind her back and throughout the meal, the book is open at a strange angle on her knee, held with her left hand as she surreptitiously reads while eating. She thinks I’m not aware but I watch her eyes moving swiftly across the concealed book and she knows I know but reads on the Famous Five novel anyway with a sheepish smile.

We have a “no screens on the table” policy but I wonder now if I will have to include books in the agreement too. My oldest one reminds me of myself a lot. I remember when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth book in the seven-part series came out I was 14. I was the biggest Potter-fan I knew — the orphaned boy-wizard in his magical world had me hooked and I would have given anything to get into Hogwarts. I had read the first three books so many times I could probably recite them verbatim from memory. The new 640-page book was eagerly devoured in a matter of three days and two nights. By the end of it I was a mess (much to my mother’s dismay), but I felt great. The rest of the series was read with a similar frenzy, but by the time the last book, The Deathly Hallows, came out, I had a year-old baby, and reading without a break was far trickier, but of course, I managed somehow.

This same baby is now ten years old and she adores reading. She was recently gifted a white Kindle reader for her birthday by her paternal grandparents with the entire Harry Potter series preloaded. I was, understandably, very excited. She’s loved all the books I loved as a child — Heidi, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Pollyanna, Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl’s books to name a few, and I couldn’t wait to introduce her to J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece. I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t see her for the next few days as she would want to read the Harry Potter series like I did — all at once.


It was lovely to read the opening pages of The Sorcerer’s Stonetogether until she took over and was enjoying the book. I would finally be able to discuss Hogwarts and Hogsmeade with her, and we could do a little quiz to see who remembered more spells!

She finished the first book in a day or so and began reading The Chamber of Secrets. Then after a couple of days, I expected her to begin The Prisoner of Azkaban, but things had taken a different course. The Kindle was lying on her bedside and she was back to her Malory Towers. I was positively despondent. “What, you’re not reading Harry Potter?” I said ashen-faced. She shrugged. “I think the second book is a bit boring, honestly.” The book hadn’t even been read halfway through.

I began reading the book (again) from where she had stopped. It didn’t have the charm that it did when I was younger but it was fun all the same. It came as a bit of a shock that my daughter wasn’t glued to Harry Potter like I had been. The Potter-fan inside me was indignant, but the mother shrugged as though to say, “Well, it’s her life after all. She certainly wouldn’t like everything you did as a child.”

From that point on, I gave up trying to make her like the Harry Potterbooks, but I did have another sneaky plan. The movies! Over the weekend, I played The Chamber of Secrets and began watching it myself — all the while looking at her from the corner of my eye to see if she was interested. The plan worked! She plopped down beside me on the couch and began to watch. When we reached the place where she had given up on the book, I told her we could go on only if she’d read the written work first. She finished the book by the next day and has now embarked upon The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Harry Potter made up a huge chunk of my teenage and young adulthood and I’d love to share the fun of the enchanting series with my daughter, and relive an interesting part of my childhood. While I certainly hope that she gets nowhere near as obsessed as I did, I do hope she discovers all of what goes on inside the mysterious magical world and appreciates the literary genius that is J.K. Rowling.


What are my children reading?

Originally written for Gulf News

Published April 2014

As a child, the image of a fairy godmother, in all her Disney glory was etched firmly inside my head. When I looked at my metal mouth (and the food that got stuck in the braces) in the mirror, I wondered if a kindly fairy godmother could just come, wave a wand and poof! I’d have a set of perfect pearly whites. I wondered if the same one could please, please come to school to help with the Math (whisper the answers in my ear) and deal with all those who bullied me. She never came. Obviously.

The image eventually faded away, and I was jolted out of my world of fantasy tales and magical beings into harsh, practical reality. Why did a fairly logical young person ever even harbour such thoughts? If only books played a better role! Fairy tales were loaded with the ‘feel-good’ factor, and felt so complete that my vivid imagination ran away to the moon with them. As my girls grow and discover Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, I want to have a close look at the pros and cons of fairy tales. Should I willingly let my girls accept fairy princesses, magic wands, fairy godmothers and witches as a fact of life? My little one has woken up in the night (terrified) a few times dreaming about the ugly and scary witch. The images get stuck in the mind, and I’m not sure I want the valuable real estate of her little developing brain to be occupied by some stupid horrifying sorceress that doesn’t even exist. Then there is the worrying matter of the ‘damsel in distress’. I am unconsciously providing a role model when I show them the beautiful princess with her blond hair, perfect skin, lovely gowns and her big blue eyes. She appears to be perfection personified. Yet she is seldom able to fend for herself, she rarely ever does something daring or intelligent, and is almost always rescued by this wonderful, amazing Prince Charming.

Extremely questionable

Isn’t there more to this seemingly innocent (and ever-repeated) plot that meets the eye? Am I unintentionally telling my girls that women are nothing if they are not gorgeous and that they invariably need a handsome man to rescue them? Is love really so simple, and is life all about ending up in the arms of Mr Right? One might argue that I am being obsessive about what is essentially harmless but I beg to differ. The entire plot upon which these fairy tales stand is extremely questionable. I can’t help feeling that I am either filling my children’s heads with a bunch of lies, or a lot of confusion. Imagine, telling a little girl to ‘enjoy the story’ but at the same time saying — no the witch isn’t real and neither is the fairy!

I do want them to devour modern day classics like Harry Potter after they have crossed a certain age and can distinguish between reality and fantasy and can appreciate someone like J.K Rowling for her simple yet eloquent style of writing, without worrying if wands are for real.

The power of stories is unique and unparalleled. There is a reason why all the religious scriptures in the world talk about past nations. Because stories affect the human psyche in a way that little else does. Imagine if we were to harness this power to build rather than confuse the thinking of our children, how much that would help in providing them with a sound upbringing! As for me, I fully intend to let my children discover fairy tales, but at the same time I want to make sure they know it’s fantasy, and that way better books that are just waiting to be discovered (including some selected ones by Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl) line their bookshelf. And I want to ensure that the bedtime stories I read to them are real, believable and leave them with some kind of lasting benefit.


Revisited: Baker Street

(image credit: google images)

There is something about the musty smell of a book, its dog-eared pages – something about the book being in your hand that suddenly makes everything right in the world again. Problems don’t seem quite so drastic anymore; heartaches can be forgotten, and worries flung aside as one is effectively transported into a whole new world.

For me, I’ve always found pleasure in reading a proper physical book, rather than, say an e-book that you peruse peering into your computer with tiring eyes, scrolling down as you read ahead. I was quite surprised then, when the iBooks application on the iPad bowled me over completely.

It’s as large as a book in your hand, feels right, there is a dictionary at hand when you come across difficult words and most importantly, you can read in pitch darkness even as your significant other snoozes away peacefully. Determined to give the much-hyped software a try, I began searching the free ebooks and stumbled upon Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on it. The magic is still the same as it was when I was a teenager eagerly devouring each detail of Holmes’ world.

Holmes’ precise art of deduction and Dr Watson’s eternal amazement of it, Sherlock’s wry humour, his remarkable disguises and his indomitable, supremely competitive spirit all combine to create some timeless classics. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s words flow with a beautiful coherence and are not tedious or complicated, and are in fact quite lucid.

The thing I find most enjoyable about the books is the fact that as a person they elevate you, further the frontiers of your thought. What I mean to say is – how many fictional novels will explain to you how the finer details of a person’s hat can point to significant lifestyle habits? How often can you learn so much from a fictional book? To be honest, I find it fascinating, mentally stimulating. Holmes’ mind is like a finely-honed computer with the human capacity to handle danger and risk and pure adventure. And for this insider’s peek into that genius mind, I am ever grateful.

Good writers have their own distinctive style and sometimes, you don’t need to see the byline of the author to know who they are; just reading their work is enough. Holmes’ adventures carry many such characteristic one-liners. You often come across a beginning like, “A narrative which promises to be the most singular which I have listened to for some time,” said by Holmes or Dr Watson on the latest case, immediately sparking reader-interest.

Holmes, although brilliant and gifted, is an eccentric man. He snorts cocaine, has the stiffest upper lip in all of Britain, is proud and arrogant and can wrong-foot anyone with his clever and cutting remarks. And women – he doesn’t care for them either – apparently he is way above them. And yet, readers across generations from each corner of the world have loved Holmes, loved his aura and loved his peculiarities.

Sometimes I wish I had Sherlock Holmes’ great insight into the human mind, and his expert understanding of clues that he so passionately unearthed. For there is a mystery I’m trying to solve – it’s called ‘Life’ and sometimes, I just don’t have a clue! Singular, is it not, Dr Watson?

Volunteering ship is changing young lives

First published in Friday, (a weekend magazine by Gulf News) – in the ‘Making a Difference’ section

Logos Hope

  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Logos Hope is owned and operated by Good Books for All (GBA) Ships, a Germany-based not-for-profit organisation.

The little boy was standing patiently in the queue looking longingly at the goodie bags, which were being handed out to the children ahead of him. His eyes lit up when his turn finally came. The moment he received it, he quickly dug into the bag and couldn’t believe his luck. Never before had he received a gift like this: a bag full of books, a bunch of pens and a packet of colour pencils. And they were all new! Surely he’d have to return these precious materials the following day? His eyes full of mixed emotions, he looked up at Norma Hernandez, a Mexican volunteer on board Logos Hope who was handing out the gifts, and voiced his concern.

“Oh no, you don’t have to,” she told him. “These are for you only. Enjoy the books and you can use the pencils to your heart’s content. The little boy looked overjoyed. I still remember the pure glee in his eyes,” recalls Hernandez. “So ecstatic was he to receive the gift.”

The boy was not alone in his exhilaration. All around him, other children were equally ecstatic and were showing off their newfound treasures to their parents.

“They had never had books and pencils of their own and were overjoyed to be owners of these things,” says Hernandez. “To many children around the world, these are everyday commodities – things to which they don’t attach value. But to these children in Liberia, books and writing instruments were priceless.”

Hernandez should know. As a volunteer on board Logos Hope, the largest floating book fair in the world, which docked in the UAE recently, she cannot mistake the importance of an endeavour like this.

Setting sail

Logos Hope is owned and operated by Good Books for All (GBA) Ships, a Germany-based not-for-profit organisation. The organisation’s goal is to “bring hope, help and knowledge to the people of the world,” says Hernandez.

Originally used to ship books from England to India (as the demand for literature from European countries was high in India), the vessels operated by GBA Ships are today floating libraries, which welcome people at the ports they dock offering books at heavily discounted prices. Over the years the ships (four including Logos Hope) have welcomed 400 million visitors in 1,400 port visits in 162 countries, she says.

Logos (a Greek term meaning ‘word’) Hope is the company’s newest acquisition and the atmosphere on board is lively on the day I visit. With 7,000-plus titles arranged on shelves on the ship’s deck, the air is heady with the smell of books. Off the book zone, at one end of the deck is a café and in between perusing the books and buying popcorn and ice cream, children with their families turn the atmosphere on board almost carnival like. Eager young ones pose for photographs in front of a red lifeboat on the main deck and smiling crew members are at hand to guide and help visitors.

The crew of Logos Hope is multicultural boasting over 50 nationalities. Each person on the ship is assigned a task and many people serve in their professional capacity – as seafarers, doctors, cooks, engineers and electricians – and work eight hours a day, five days a week. What is noteworthy is that the 400-member crew are all volunteers.

From the time the vessel began sailing way back in 1970 the crew of Logos Hope (which changes every year) have been busy giving hope and solace to the underprivileged. Logos Hope has been active in Guyana and West Africa – particularly Sierra Leone, Ghana and Liberia – where last year the doctors on board carried out hundreds of free eye examinations and dental treatment in clinics set up on the ship.

“As someone who’s had regular dental check-ups all my life, I was surprised at how little dental care is available to people in these countries,” recalls Jessie LaPlue, a 23-year-old volunteer from the US, who helped the dentists.

Medical aid is not the only solace that Logos Hope offers. In Liberia last year, the team helped rebuild orphanages and donated 50,000 books to community groups and colleges. In Sierra Leone, they donated 1,300 books to establish 13 new library branches in rural areas and trained 37 people to run them. While in Georgetown, Guyana, in 2009, the crew helped to complete several building projects for the community.

A few weeks before docking at a port, Logos Hope sends some crew members into the city to research the needs of that particular community. “We stop at a port for only two weeks and want to make sure we channel our energies in the right areas and the team helps us decide exactly what charitable activities are needed the most,” explains LaPlue.

Hernandez remembers being sent to Liberia to find out how Logos Hope could contribute to the community. “One wanted to do so much to help the people there – but with limited time and means we could only contribute in certain ways. Schoolchildren were not allowed to take the stationery home because the school management had a very limited supply.” All the reason why giving a child his own stationery makes such a big difference. The things most people take for granted in their everyday lives, says Hernandez, have for others a huge value.

Not only does the crew of Logos Hope make a difference to the lives of countless less privileged children, the experience of being on board a ship as a volunteer creates a life-changing impact on them as well. Seelan Govender, a South African volunteer who has been working with GBA Ships for the past 12 years, says what keeps him coming back to the ship is that special feeling of being able to transform people’s lives. For example, in 2002, in Yangon, Myanmar, GBA Ships was responsible for erecting a water tower (to collect potable water) for an orphanage. “They had never had something like that before. Suddenly there was water in the bathrooms, in the kitchen, even for irrigating the fields. To be able to contribute to something like that was wonderful,” says Govender.


Living and interacting with 50 cultures on a daily basis is, according to Govender, a great learning opportunity apart from also being an enriching and rewarding experience.

The beneficiaries too have only words of praise for the ship and the team members. “The ship brought some great experiences into our lives,” wrote John Nyavor from Tema, Ghana, to the crew. He recalls the time when children from an orphanage called Charity Kingdom in Tema, climbed up the gangway into Logos Hope. “It was my first time on a ship, as it was for all the children with me. They were very happy and I will never forget that event. We still have the bikes that were given to us. (The crew had visited the orphanage for a project and donated their personal bicycles to people who were in dire need of a means of transportation.)

At a school in Monrovia, Liberia, called the Bethany Industrial Mission, that provides free education to children without educational opportunities, help and intervention from Logos Hope seems to have made a remarkable difference. Mark Kartakpah, from the school management says, “Over the past six months (August 2010 to January 2011), there has been dramatic growth in the number of students at Bethany Industrial Mission as a result of Logos Hope intervention and support. This semester, BIM also received an additional three female and three male teachers who are very enthusiastic. A total of 225 students are enrolled… This is manifested by many parents making enquiries to send their children on a daily basis.

“Associated with this growth has been a growing concern about identifying the level of achievements since Logos Hope visited in 2010. A number of teachers have produced their own teaching guides/plans for monitoring and evaluation. The books that were donated are having a lot of impact: students are getting along with reading, and the teachers are using dictionaries… and other teaching aids to assist in giving attention to assessing performance.”

What keeps them afloat

Logos Hope’s revenue comes from the sale of (discounted) books, sponsorships and donations from several organisations around the world. Port charges are frequently waived by the countries where the ship stops – a huge savings for the operators.

For an individual who comes on board for a couple of years, doesn’t the task of doing voluntary work get clinical at times? Govender says: “There are many days I feel like giving up – but I guess that’s part of life. What keeps me motivated is how this project keeps on touching people’s lives, day after day.”

The experience of being part of the crew is fascinating and for Raluca Cardos, a volunteer from Romania, one incident was particularly inspiring. “There was a young African boy who was told not to attend school because the teachers said that he could not read as he had become visually impaired. So after a free eye examination, we provided him with glasses and he returned to school, and is able to read and write as before,” she says.

Sailing to different nations and providing help whether it be of the aspirational kind as in donating books, or building facilities that make living easier or providing the much-needed medical relief, the crew and volunteers of Logos Hope take significant pride in the fact that they are privileged enough to help improve the lives and condition of people who are less fortunate than them.

It is a lot of hard work but life on board has its lighter moments. Govender relates an incident when the female crew and volunteers went off the vessel for a period of two weeks at one port. When they returned, they were unable to find their quarters. A hue and cry was raised until the ship’s carpenter revealed that he had moved the wooden door marking the entrance to their bunkers hence leading them to believe that their bunkers had vanished off the ship.

But such intervals of mirth notwithstanding, it is a sea life of many compromises. Volunteers have to share cramped quarters, the food can become predictably repetitive and the internet connection can be very, very slow. On lucky days, they can see a bit of television though they cannot be too choosy about what beams through.

“It’s a challenge, adapting to everything,” says Cardos, who when she joined was the only one from Romania. After an initial bout of feeling isolated, she soon began to appreciate the advantages of sharing her time with people from diverse cultures. The disadvantages too turned out to be a learning curve.

Sometimes, says LaPlue, “Arguments and minor scuffles do break out but the ship’s management team has established a special department to handle such situations effectively.”

For Hernandez, the toughest ordeal about being a volunteer at Logos Hope is having to say goodbye when it’s time to disembark. “After having formed strong friendships with people – they become like your family – it is hard to let go. At the end of each year, the crew changes – those who have completed two years move on. Some of my best friendships have been on board and I really miss those who have moved back to their countries.”

Also, when you live for such long stretches of time in a world that is a place unto its own, emotional attachments take on a different meaning. “You have two choices,” says Hernandez. “You can either invest in a short-term relationship or be lonely on the ship.”

Life on board

Some volunteers have joined Logos Hope with their families, and for the children there is an on board school offering the British curriculum. Govender, whose three-year-old daughter attends the play school, feels since there are 30 children, the teacher-student ratio is good.

For the crew members who don’t have their families with them, they often ‘adopt’ families. LaPlue’s ‘adopted’ father, Des, is Irish and is in his sixties. He lends his experience in the training department on the ship and she says they spend occasions such as Christmas and Thanksgiving together. But the moments of longing for home are not far away. At night. lying on her bunk bed, as the ship sails through the silent dark, making its way to yet another port, LaPlue misses being home. What helps sleep come easily, however, is the prospect of seeing a smile on yet another face tomorrow and knowing that she played a role, however big or small, in bringing that smile.


  • Who: Logos Hope
  • What: The world’s largest floating book fair that has also built schools and libraries in poor countries

If you would like to volunteer, visit

Greg Mortenson in hot water

Still can’t believe this piece of news I read on, by AFP.

plus this link as well

America’s bestselling author of “Three Cups of Tea,” an inspiring account of building schools in Afghanistan, fought for his reputation Monday after reports said he’d made up much of the story.

Celebrating the written word

First published @

DUBAI: I have always wondered whether writers who write proficiently could also speak that well. My curiosity was quelled when I got a chance to listen to Greg Mortensen give a talk at the Emirates Literature Festival earlier this month.

The co-author of the New York Times bestseller, Three Cups of Tea, Mortensen walked out to a thunderous ovation from a packed audience in traditional Pakistani garb, a shalwar kurta. Mortenson, who started building schools in the northern areas of Pakistan after a failed attempt at reaching the summit of K2, talked about how important it is to educate girls to bring about change in society. “You can drop bombs, build roads or put up electricity wires, but unless the girls are educated, a society won’t change,” he insisted.  Currently, the Central Asia Institute, Mortenson’s brainchild, has built and operates 178 schools in the rural and generally unstable areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Around 68,000 children are enrolled in the numerous schools and close to 54,000 are girls. In his talk Mortenson pointed out that the real fear of terrorists is not a bullet, but the pen, because education can empower people and give them courage.

Mortenson’s second book, Stones into Schools has been described by the New York Times as well as the Washington Post as a timely narrative, though not quite as compelling or as well-written as Three Cups of Tea. Coincidentally, I realised that his talk, although informative (and interspersed with self-deprecating humour), wasn’t quite as riveting as Three Cups, but then the book had been a hard act to follow, especially with David Oliver Relin’s expert wordplay.

Another attraction at the Literature Festival was a cooking demonstration by well-known Indian actress and food writer, Madhur Jaffrey. Even at 77 years of age, Jaffrey, a prolific writer, continues to come up with new recipes (as her latest effort‘Curry Easy’ showcases) and had the audience salivating at her ‘Bhuni jhinga’ and ‘Salmon in a Bengali mustard sauce’. An interesting tip that Jaffrey gave during her demonstration was that for an excellent tomato puree, one can simply grate a tomato with a grater.

After weaving through a throng of people waiting for book-signings by Madhur Jaffrey and Greg Mortenson, I found myself looking at the collection of books for sale at discounted prices at the Intercontinental Hotel (the venue for the festival). I picked up The Messenger – The Meanings of the Life of Muhammed by Tariq Ramadan, a professor at Oxford University, who is a renowned Islamic scholar and writer, and is originally from Switzerland. The first few pages of the book are beautifully written, with a depth and spirituality impossible to ignore. And when Tariq Ramadan spoke at the festival the following day, his talk was every bit as eloquent as his written word. An incredibly open-minded and often controversial Islamic scholar, Ramadan said that after reading his most recent book The Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism, a French journalist asked him, ‘Are you still a Muslim?’ to which Ramadan quipped, ‘Your question speaks far more about yourself and how open-minded you are than it does about me.’ He also outlined the importance of intellectual humility and said that one must always be willing to learn from others and not have a tunnel-vision in one’s beliefs.

I also got a chance to listen to Isobel Coleman, senior fellow for US foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Coleman recently wrote ParadiseBeneath Her Feet – a book that talks about how women are transforming the Middle East. She revealed that over the last few decades, there has been a remarkable change in the role of women in the Arab society. In Saudi Arabia for instance, at one time, girls were not allowed to attend school. In 1962, in an agreement with the United States, the then king allowed females to get formal educated at school. Now, nearly half a century later, in the Kingdom, 63 per cent of all college graduates are women. Another remarkable fact she revealed was that a study by the Harvard Business Review found that women make up an increasingly high number of the most talented professionals, and that the ambition index of the women from UAE was much higher than that of the average female American professional. Coleman’s session was full of statistics and somewhat eye-opening, but the paltry attendance was a little disappointing.

When I scanned the list for a Pakistani author, I found that apart from Sadruddin Hashwani, chairman of the Hashoo Group, who spoke about his upcoming autobiography, Pakistan had no representation at the LitFest. One hopes that will change next year as the country is a burgeoning ground for extremely talented writers who have already made their mark at various international festivals.

The Festival hosted talks from many noteworthy writers such as Karen Armstrong, Lynn Truss, Michael Palin as well as many regional Arab writers, including Khalid Al Khamissi, Maha Gargash and Sara Al-Alewi. Workshops for children, and aspiring writers were also held. For a lot of booklovers (myself included), it felt like being a child in a candy store – you wanted buy all the books and attend all the talks too. But I don’t think attending more than three completely absorbing sessions in a day (the festival was over three days) is a very good idea, because by the end of a long day, I was exhausted (mentally and physically) as well as famished, and was indignantly wondering why the audience wasn’t offered Madhur Jaffrey’s (presumably scrumptious) stir-fried shrimps.

Floating book fair: Hope on a ship

Mehmudah Rehman

DUBAI: Visiting Logos Hope and meeting her crew was every bit as enlightening and enjoyable an experience as I had hoped it would be. For the uninitiated, Logos Hope is a vessel owned and operated by GBA Ships e. V., a German non-profit organisation. Nearly four decades ago, GBA Ships decided to bring the written word to the ports of the world through their floating book fairs.

Since 1970, their ships have made over 1,400 port visits in 162 countries and have welcomed over 400 million visitors on board. Not only does the crew bring a floating book fair, they also carry out charitable activities and on a large scale and organise events at every port that they dock at. Logos (a Greek word meaning ‘word’) Hope is the company’s newest acquisition, and it happens to be the largest floating book fair in the world. Run entirely by a group of 400 volunteers, the vessel is currently docked in Dubai, and will be here until February 5, after which it will depart for Abu Dhabi.

I walk up the stairs into the ship and I am received on board by a smiling crew member. “Welcome!” she says to all visitors and ushers them inside to the book fair. I enter a large hall with a wooden floor that carries a delightful collection of more than 7,000 books mainly from Europe and the United States, as well as some local language books, in this instance Arabic.

All genres including fiction, children’s books, self-help, self-development, cookbooks and course books and so on are neatly stacked on the shelves. The books are priced through a unique unit system by which the crew need not price the books for every port. A book may be priced at 10 units – which might mean 10 dirhams in Dubai, or 20 rupees in India. By simply applying a reasonable conversion rate to the units, the books are kept accessible to everyone. This is especially useful when selling books in various countries. For instance, what would be a reasonable price in Dubai might be an exorbitant one in Ghana hence the method of unit-pricing is quite useful.

After half-an-hour of window-shopping at the book fair (and wanting to purchase nearly everything) ,I think of my impossibly cramped tiny bookshelf and am content with buying just one: “Tasty Low Fat Cooking.” (I am hoping the bright pictures and recipes will magically improve my kitchen-related disasters). I find that the only part open to the public is the deck which holds the book fair and the adjoining coffee shop.

Soon I meet with Jessie LaPlue, the media relations officer for Logos Hope, who has been on the ship for a year now. She is a young American who offers to take me around the ship. I am only too eager and we walk through the ‘authorised only’ door into the other decks. Logos Hope is an enormous ship with seven decks and I find myself in a real maze of staircases and doors.

“The easiest way to get lost on a ship is to take the wrong staircase,” quips Jessie, noticing that I am observing everything with a confused look on my face.

Suddenly we are another world as Jessie expertly weaves through the labyrinth of staircases and leads me to the deck outside. I am stunned by the view of a glittering Dubai skyline against the waters and a grand Queen Elizabeth II nearby (also docked at Dubai) and wonder what it would be like if we were actually sailing. I have vivid recollections of the Titanic as I see the life boats, rafts and finally the bridge (similar to the cockpit of a plane) where the captain commands the ship when she is sailing. We walk back inside and see the huge dining hall which accommodates all four hundred passengers at the same time.

So what drives all these people, all 400 of them, to serve on a ship for two years as volunteers? “Primarily,” LaPlue insists, “it is the feeling of being able to make a difference, to bring a smile to the faces of disenfranchised people.”

Not only does Logos Hope bring reasonably priced books (at a fraction of their original price) to far-flung nations such as Ghana, Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone, it also conducts a great amount of charitable work on each port that it docks at. The crew distributed medical aid, food supplies and literature suitable for children in Guyana in 2009, while in West Africa in 2010, over 900 eye-examinations were completed and hundreds were treated in dental clinics. In Liberia in 2010, the crew helped rebuild orphanages, provided computer training to young people and distributed 50,000 books to community groups and colleges. In Sierra Leone in the same year, the crew donated 1,300 books to help establish 13 new library branches in rural areas. Their work has been commendable and LaPlue explains that two years on board a Logos ship can have an impact on you for life.

“It’s been a fascinating experience, really,” LaPlue says. “To be able to bring books and hope to people in West Africa, for instance was wonderful. There were queues of people who had never had access to books outside the ship, just wanting to catch a glimpse of the book fair,” she reminisces.

“Moreover, you get a chance to sample so many cultures on board without actually living in any country because the community aboard is truly international with almost 50 nationalities, and you get the chance to visit so many locations across the globe”.

I wonder if traveling to different lands and working abroad the Logos Hope is glamorous – anything like being on a cruise? “Oh no! Not glamorous at all! Remember we are volunteers (from the captain to the cooks) from different nations and each person on the boat has a task. Some are responsible for laundry and cleaning, some attend to the galley (ship kitchen) and some work in the engineering department, while some serve as doctors and so on. But since no one here is paid for their services, we do not have a hierarchy. Living on this ship for two years is all about compromising on your needs, adapting to others, and most of all having a true passion to serve. For, if you become a crew member just to travel and don’t truly desire to give of yourself, there is no way you can last for more than a month here.”

There is a very slow internet connection that runs throughout the ship, and if they are lucky, they sometimes get one news channel on TV. LaPlue tells me how the food can become tiresomely repetitive and that you sometimes wish for something other than the boring menu on board.

Families are missed and remembered by those who have left their dear ones back home, but a lot of passengers come with their children. “We’ve got about 30 children on board,” says LaPlue who herself has an ‘adopted’ family on the ship. I meet her ‘father’ from the Netherlands who explains that people on the ship usually form close friendships and adopt families. But there must be rivalries and enmities too? A department has been created that caters specifically to people management and unpleasant incidents which are unavoidable over a long period of time.

How does one go about registering as a volunteer? “Anyone above 18, who is of sound health and willing to work as a volunteer is welcome to apply. Rigorous examinations are carried out to ensure that the individual is healthy and extensive training in the water is then carried out before we set sail. To anyone who is eager to serve the people of the world, the website is a good place to start the procedure,” says LaPlue.


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