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Dervla Murphy

  • ... the sudden violent dispossession accompanying a refugee flight is much more than the loss of a permanent home and a traditional occupation, or than the parting from close friends and familiar places. It is also the death of the person one has become in a particular context, and every refugee must be his or her own midwife at the painful process of rebirth.

  • To me writing was not a career but a necessity. And so it remains, though I am now, technically, a professional writer. The strength of this inborn desire to write has always baffled me. It is understandable that the really gifted should feel an overwhelming urge to use their gift; but a strong urge with only a slight gift seems almost a genetic mistake.

  • ... perhaps there is something more than courtesy behind the dissembling reticence of childhood. ... Most artists dislike having their incomplete work considered and discussed and this analogy, I think, is valid. The child is incomplete, too, and is constantly experimenting as he seeks his own style of thought and feeling.

  • Whatever the theologians might say about Heaven being a state of union with God, I knew it consisted of an infinite library; and eternity ... was simply what enabled one to read uninterruptedly forever.

  • ... I finally reconciled myself to the fact that she had partly lost her reason. ... The death of the mind is infinitely more terrible than the death of the body and I mourned my mother that day as I was never to mourn afterwards.

  • The Irish have a flair for wringing from death the last drop of emotion and they do not quite understand those who react otherwise.

  • It is far easier to explain to a three-year-old how babies are made than to explain the processes whereby bread or sugar appear on the table.

  • That was, I think, the most magical dawn I have ever attended. But when I remarked to Rachel that one wet night was a small price to pay for such an experience she merely grunted and went on wringing out her flea-bag. Perhaps at fourteen one's aesthetic sensibilities are still latent.

  • Without evading the grimness of life in much of modern Africa, one can recognize that this continent is not yet sick as our continent is sick. Most Africans remain plugged into reality. In contrast we have become disconnected from it, reduced to compulsively consuming units, taught to worship 'economic growth' — the ultimate unreality in a finite world.

  • ... hatred, however apparently justifiable, excusable or inevitable, always damages the hater.

  • ... apartheid still hangs in the air like a poisonous cloud left over from chemical warfare.

  • Buying a bicycle is a momentous event, akin to marriage: you are acquiring a partner.

  • ... strong bonds are forged in high emotional temperatures.

  • While I was eating a tin of sardines the baboons came quite close and sat round scratching and making insulting gestures and abusive remarks ...

  • There are two phases of enjoyment in journeying through an unknown country — the eager phase of wondering interest in every detail, and the relaxed phase when one feels no longer an observer of the exotic, but a participator in the rhythm of daily life.

  • ... one feels guilty on behalf of Western civilisation. What damage are we doing, blindly and swiftly, to those races who are being taught that because we are materially richer we must be emulated without question? What compels us to infect everyone else with our own sick urgency to change, soften and standardise? How can we have the effrontery to lord it over peoples who retain what we have lost — a sane awareness that what matters most is immeasurable?

  • ... the most important — and surprising — thing is his endearing expression. It had never occurred to me that one could be on more than civil terms with a mule ...

  • [On Addis Ababa:] Among the city's handicaps are an immaturity for which no one can be blamed, as it was founded only eighty years ago, and a proliferation of architectural excesses for which many people can and should be blamed.

  • ... its dapper Ethiopian manager could hardly conceal his agitation when a room was booked by a repulsive object covered in mud and blood and wearing a shirt and shorts so torn that they had become mere tokens of the will to be decent.

  • I wonder if those experts who tell us that our sexual appetite is the strongest know what real thirst feels like; I can imagine the desire for water driving someone to commit a crime to which sexual desire could never drive them.

  • ... I know a number of Western children who would benefit greatly if only someone were primitive enough to inhibit the development of their personalities.

  • ... for moments only a silver pallor hung in the east. Then quickly a faint pink flowed up from the hidden horizon — giving mountains and valley a new, soft, shadowed beauty — and soon this haed deepened to a red-gold glow which seemed briefly to hold all the splendour of all the dawns that ever were. To lie beneath such a sky, surrounded by such peaks, brings an almost intolerably intense awareness of the duality of our nature. We belong so intimately and joyously and tragically to this physical world, and by its own laws we soon must leave it. Yet during these moments one knows, too, with humility and certainty, that each human spirit is immortal — for time cannot destroy whatever element within us reverences the glory of a dawn in the mountains.

  • ... one of the advantages of cycling is that it automatically prevents a journey from becoming an Expedition.

  • At Doybayzit, the last little town en route to the Persian frontier-post, I stayed in the local doss-house ... The squalid bedding was inhabited by a host of energetic fleas, but their attentions were wasted on me and within minutes of retiring I was sound asleep. Some hours later I awoke to find myself bereft of bedding and to see a six-foot, scantily-clad Kurd bending over me in the moonlight. My gun was beneath the pillow and one shot fired at the ceiling concluded the matter. I felt afterwards that my suitor had showed up rather badly; a more ardent admirer, of his physique, could probably have disarmed me without much difficulty.

  • This is a city of absolute enchantment in the literal sense of the word. It loosens all the bonds binding the traveller to his own age and sets him free to live in a past that is vital and crude but never ugly. Herat is as old as history and as moving as a great epic poem — if Afghanistan had nothing else it would have been worth coming to experience this.

  • This frank devotion is for me one of the most impressive features of Islamic culture. If we accept that it is more than a superstition then there is something very wonderful indeed about mixing one's daily deeds and one's daily prayers in such an unselfconscious fashion, instead of keeping each in an airtight compartment.

  • The more I see of life in these 'undeveloped countries' and of the methods adopted to 'improve' them, the more depressed I become. It seems criminal that the backwardness of a country like Afghanistan should be used as an excuse for America and Russia to have a tug-of-war for possession.

  • ... poverty denotes a lack of necessities and simplicity a lack of needs.

  • Undoubtedly the Afghans must be, by our standards, the best-looking people in the world. They have everything; height, proportions, carriage, features and complexion.

  • Sunnis consider Shias a pack of unwholesome fanatics and Shias consider Sunnis a gang of lukewarm no-goods — there's nothing like religion for spreading brotherly love!

  • Is this something else our age does — on the one hand make communication easier than ever before, while on the other hand widening the gulf between those who are 'developed' and those who are not?

  • With our mad lust for Uniformity and a Higher Standard of Living and Expanding Markets, we go to a country like Afghanistan and cruelly try to jerk her forward two thousand years in two decades, giving no thought to the profound shock this must be to her national psychology.

  • Last night I was bitten all over by mosquitoes while asleep on my charpoy and I'm tormented with itch this evening. Between that and the jackals who are howling like damned souls beyond the garden wall I see no prospect of sleep tonight; unfortunately all the drinking is done before dinner here, so that by bedtime one has sobered up.

Dervla Murphy, Irish writer, touring cyclist