It is undeniably trivial, but, as a librarian, one of my first thoughts was of the atlases that now need updating.
I have always liked maps – an interest no doubt fostered by the year I spent at intermediate school sitting facing a wall-size map of Africa. While the teacher droned on, I’d listen with half an ear, while my mind would take off on flights of fancy, flitting from the mosques of mysterious Timbuktu to the markets of Zanzibar.
I’d follow the path of the Nile from its source at the centre of the continent, near that tantalising line that signalled the Equator, past the pyramids in Cairo to Damietta and Rosetta where the mighty river fans out to meet the Mediterranean Sea. And I’d wonder at the bravery of those first explorers who, prior to the opening of the Suez Canal, ventured to circumnavigate Africa to reach the fabulous Spice Islands.
It’s difficult to fathom the many ways in which Africa and the world have changed in the twenty or so years since I sat daydreaming in front of that map. And I’m not thinking only in terms of political changes of borders and placenames. As we have recently been reminded, the earth is constantly transforming itself: mountains rise, sea levels fluctate high and low, and rocks crumble.