“Que todo lo que quiero decirte esta en la canción.”
– Dembow, Danny Ocean
Cambridge is, hands down, one of the best cities I’ve lived in. But when one compares this to other cities I’ve called “home” in the past, like Conakry, it’s no wonder that this tops the list. I spend perhaps 75% of my time here in the 500-year old Queens’ Library writing up my doctoral thesis on love, marriage, and polygamy. The other 25% I lavish on meeting friends in various coffeeshops around town, building lifelong friendships I will cherish for many years to come.
A brief tour of my day around this charming town may perhaps convince you of why I am absolutely smitten by this place, which was once upon a time known by its medieval Latin name, “Cantabrigia”.
I always begin my day — if it is sunny — basking in the rare English sunshine streaming in through my front attic window, pictured above. When it’s sunny, it is indeed glorious. I take my time starting my day in the morning: I wake up, then read a few pages of Tolstoy or Dostoevsky in bed. It is incredible how much time I save when I don’t browse through my phone in the morning. While I contemplate on what scarf to match with my outfit for the day — every hijabi’s struggle, I assure you — I make my morning hot chocolate, which I have with Marks and Spencers’ amazing chocolate chip brioche.
After putting on five layers of tops, coats, and sweaters, I then embark on the joyful journey on my bicycle to Queens’ College. This is a two-mile, ten-minute journey. As I cycle, I think about what I am going to write that day. Already the words begin to gather together in semi-comprehensible sentences in my mind, which I will detail in my notebook as soon as I settle in my desk for that day.
But for now I feast my eyes on the beautiful architecture of the buildings I see along the way, such as the Senate House and King’s iconic Chapel, which seemingly never age.
At times, unexpected surprises may pop up along the way, such as this classic car holding up traffic as it made a turn on King’s Parade.
Other times, it may be Stephen Hawking who captures the attention of tourists, cyclists, and pedestrians on Trinity Street.
When I reach Queens’, I park my bike on Queens’ Lane, and head straight for the Library. Usually I work solo, but at times my childhood friend accompanies me, on days when we feel confident we can be productive together. (When this is not the case, we’re usually browsing through the Home section in TK Maxx, wondering whether that Le Creuset dish would make a worthy addition to our collection of homewares.) I spend a minimum of eight hours in the library every day, writing with the beats of reggaetón blasting through my ears. The music, the ambiance, and having the gift of time to write about the things I love makes writing one of my greatest pleasures.
I often have a heavy brekkie then dinner at the college buttery, or a light brekkie, then a massive lunch at college, followed by light dinner at home. Mealtimes would require me to cross the River Cam on our rustic Mathematical Bridge to what we call the “Light Side” — that is, the newer, and modern part of the college. I don’t mind the walk at all, especially as I get to pass through well-manicured green patches of grass, and this breathtaking sight:
Can one ever tire of this view? Never, I say!
On sunny days, I may feel compelled to leave the library and (attempt to) enjoy the (theoretical) warmth outdoors on one of the many wooden benches around the college. This is great for finding inspiration, untangling the threads of a section still under construction, or to simply make friends with wandering ladybirds.
On certain days of the week, I return to my Department on Free School Lane for the Writing Up Seminars, where we discuss our chapters, and the Senior Seminars. This is the intellectual hub of Social Anthropology here at Cambridge. Naturally, some of the big thinkers in our discipline call this their intellectual home. A colleague of mine gave a seminar recently in which a few people he cited were actually in attendance, which, I think, gives these theorists we usually only ever read about a face and a whole different sense of (sur)realism.
After an exhausting day, it gives me great pleasure to enjoy the cycle or walk home, sometimes in the company of a great friend and companion. I go home, have a big or small dinner — depending on my appetite — and then settle into bed with my book. I sleep underneath a mountain of fleece blankets and duvets, then begin another day.
Cambridge is indeed beautiful, but after four years here, I do think it’s time to leave. But some people never do. And while it would be nice to return in the future and see familiar faces, I fear settling into this comfort zone and becoming sedentary. My spirit begs to be let free — to roam the Sahara or to fly to Siberia. Wherever.
My doctoral journey is now complete. It is time to begin a post-doctoral life elsewhere.