Hazel’s Journal


A Gap in the Life is a collection of entries from Hazel’s journal, written during her gap year working at the Otjikondo School in rural Namibia.

The book is on sale from the 14th May and can be ordered from Hazel’s Footprints Trust, Legerwood, Earlston, Berwickshire, TD4  6AS  for £10 (or £12 including post and packaging) by cheque or postal order made out to Hazel’s Footprints Trust.

It runs to 234 pages with many black/white pictures and two sections of colour photos and makes a good read in itself or particularily for anyone, or their parents, who are considering taking a Gap year and even appeals to children as young as 12year old – so it’s not too early to get a stocking filler which will inspire them in later life!!!!

If anyone has access to a potential outlet – it doesn’t have to be a bookshop even, as long as they don’t want too big a commission!! – please let us know.   All proceeds will go to the Trust.

The following is a review of the book by that well-known literary critic Peter Moore:-

Book cover

A Gap in the Life. By Hazel Scott Aiton.

’A Gap in the Life’ is a story that but for a tragic twist of fate would never have been told. The book contains the gap year journals, letters and quotes of Hazel Scott Aiton a Durham student who died in a car crash near her home in the Scottish borders late last summer.

Both deeply personal and sincere the journal documents a journey that begins in a Paris airport and ends in a cardboard box in the Namibian town of Windhoek. Along the way Hazel deals with such familiar emotions as fear, anxiety and loneliness as she attempts to adjust to twelve months away from her family and friends teaching and working at The Otjikondo School deep in the Namibian countryside.

There is a certain spring in the writing which helps to bring alive the sights, sounds and smells of a non materialistic and affectionate African society. At the age of just eighteen years the innocence and enthusiasm of Hazel can at times be quite striking, as she struggles to settle and cope in this new and very different environment. People who have spent time travelling can relate to the stories of stolen credit card and passport difficulties. You can also imagine situations like the one she found herself in on her nineteenth birthday: stuck in a BP garage in ’a stinking slum’ surrounded by ’sad, lonely, depressed, mad, drunk, beggars’, with no chance of a lift for 48 hours.

Gap years are now so often the subject of criticism with a certain prevailing opinion that they only consist of three months stacking the shelves in Tesco followed by a trip to India to buy a set of wooden beads. Throughout the pages of her book Hazel does much to destroy this myth – and you can sense her learning and experiencing more as time passes. In one of her frequent letters home she muses, ’I’d love to go home and make everyone that I know go away and do a year like this. I feel that so far in my life, it’s the best opportunity I’ve had and can’t imagine where I may have been or how I’d of felt had I chosen not to come’.

It is a comforting thought that all of the proceeds of this book go directly to its subjects – the African people. And moreover it is a book everyone can take something from. Those who knew her can almost hear her talking. Those who have been to Africa can relate to the cheerful, enthusiasm and late night game drives. And those who will travel in the future can take heart from the fact when they are stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no money and no phone and an expired passport, there is a way out.

Finally as her parents have pointed out in the cover notes – she always said she was going to write a book. And here it is.

(As an additional chapter her parents have included her description of her climb of Mount Kilimanjaro with Durham students a year later in 2003. A ’hellish’ five days of mountain sickness, fatigue and determination that eventually saw her get to ’Ururu Peak’ the highest point of Africa.)

Not only is it written exactly as she spoke but it also tells a tale of a young, frightened girl heading off to Africa, adapting to the surroundings and people she finds herself with and coming home a much more worldly-wise and confident person. In fact, all one could wish for from a gap year!

To give you a taster here are a few extracts from Hazel’s journal and letters:-

September 1st 2001

Well here I am in Paris airport and surprise, surprise, the flight’s been delayed—mechanics on strike or something of that sort. The beaureau de change is shut and I’m starving, with only Gran’s travel sweets (meant for landing and take off) to survive on. The flight this far was on a plane too small to even hold half an engine as far as I could see and consisted of a near crash with an equally small airoplane and then a luggage trailer (that will be the next thing—lost luggage).

Anyway basically I’m excited but very lonely and very sad. I’d love to just see someone I know or at least speak. But the phones don’t work—great. Well I hope Africa’s a step up. It’s a scary thought not seeing anyone for a year. I hate crying in airports—I’ve learnt that so far. Everyone looks at you with sort of pity but unknowing as to what to do.

Anyway, if the plane people get organised, this year will be an adventure—hopefully a fun one. I’m going to give it all I’ve got and this shall be a small piece of that fun and determination so I’ll remember it for life. Shit I’m scared.

6th September

The children are definitly who make this place. They are so so lovely, though as all kids, they can be annoying & bad. All of them are so affectionate and as keen to like me as I am to have them like me. Learning names is a nightmare though because they all swamp you saying whats my name, whats my name & I haven’t got a clue on most parts! I feel so bad not to know!

18th November

Well, we thought when the parents come to collect their kids at a weekend that they looked well cute sat beside their parents on the top of a donkey cart – not any more I can assure you. The donkeys were completely loopy, and even more so, when whipped or shouted about. When it came to a stop you’d feel you were going to tip out the back, and round a corner it was the side which was scarily insecure. How the thing held together with everyone on I have no idea and I’m certainly in no hurry to hop on another! So having survived that I’ll have no problems bungy jumping at Christmas!

24th December 

We stayed at Away with the Fairies B/packers. It had the most amazing view ever.

That night –Wendy’s B/day. Gate crashed their meal ‘romantic’ – felt a bit guilty but they assured it was fine! Then came back & had champagne and cake at the bar followed by many of the most gross Shooters you can imagine (3.30 am bedtime!)

Relaxed next morning!! Surprise, surprise then we were meant to go paragliding but wind was all wrong so we sat on top of a hill & had a few beers!

Didn’t want to leave this morning. Georgeous place & georgeous people. How can you get so attached in 3 days!? I hate how you meet all these people then won’t see them ever again!

Friday 1st Feb

I hate when there are no words to describe just how happy I am here. I’m absolutely knackered & feel rough with a horrid cold, sore head & shattered leg but still I’m happy – odd eh! My days at the moment are fairly non–ending. First week of proper training & I’ve pushed the long distance group, whom I’ve been given, quite hard.

11th June

When I think of all the people I know who haven’t taken a GAP Year or even those who have and have used it on something like a round the world ticket going from backpacker’s hostel to backpackers hostel I wish I could give them just a tiny little bit of how I’m now feeling nearly a year after leaving school so they can share it with me and be just as lucky a person as I now feel. However mad I may get with kids who don’t concentrate in drama or mess up the books in the library I love them with all my heart and wish I could somehow take a bit of their smiles, voices and ways home with me in a much more permanent way than memories.

So there’s a few tasters of the block-buster to come and it will be available to order from this web site address  info@hazelsfootprints.org so keep an eye out on this section.

Image credit: urbanmuser