Yearly Archives: 2007

Deutschland

After those few days readjusting to Europe following my summer in Cameroon, I stopped for two nights in Paris at Mike’s place then headed eastward for Bochum, Germany to begin my Master’s program in International Humanitarian Action. But Germany is not Sweden, you say, and you are right. I told you all I was going to Sweden, not Germany!

The thing is, there are 7 partner universities across Europe offering this degree with various specializations in the second semester, and we all go to one place for the first two weeks: an Intensive Programme or IP.

Bochum is a rather lacklustre and depressing town, with drunks sitting around all day at the train station just boozin it up, and the second most depressing university campus I have seen in my entire life (first place remains SFU Burnaby Mountain campus, which is eerily similar to this one and built in 1965, around the same time that Ruhr University Bochum was built).

The best day out of the IP in my opinion was our day trip out to the THW training grounds. THW is a volunteer-based organisation run by the German Government. They do rescue stuff with really cool machines and dogs and stuff. Here are some pics from our demo day:

Super organized for mission departure within just hours of receiving a call. All these THW cases of equipment are designed to be taken in the same manner as normal passengers take their luggage on a 737 airplane, which makes it very easy to get the cases processed at the airport and loaded onto the plane in minutes:

Training area for collapsed building / rubble rescues:

This is a camera with a ring of LED lights around the edge. It can be dropped down fairly small holes and has a speaker and microphone on it to communicate with a person trapped under rubble. It allows the rescuers to see in there as well as figure out the condition of the victim and best approach, if they can get the camera to fit and not get obstructed.

This dog has just been let loose to find a person trapped in the rubble. The dog was really fast and accurate!

This is not a gun, it’s another camera! This one telescopes even longer than shown, and the tip with the camera lens on it can move from side to side!

Close-up showing maximum right angle bend of the camera tip:

They also do water and sanitation, and this huge tub is an important component of their portable water purification facility. They just need a source of non-salt water and fuel (they have enough fuel for a day or two usually, then need to find local sources) to process thousands upon thousands of litres of clean, crazily-filtered and chlorinated drinking water which has extremely high health standards.

This is the head of the water purification team. He LOVES his technology, and I don’t blame him! Any Engineer would be happy to have a look at the neat filtering technology they’re using and the interesting way they’ve set it all up for ultimate portability and durability. Like their cases above, this filtering equipment all stores in containers specifically designed to fit in standard airplane holds:

That night, my old flatmate Marcus managed to catch a train from his home in Munster to my hotel in Bochum. Marcus and I were two of five people living in a house together in Dunedin, New Zealand for a year in 2005 and he and I spent a month backpacking Australia together. We had a great time talking about all sorts of random stuff and catching up on old times.

On the 13th, we had a huge Karaoke Night at a local bar, organized by one of the students, Ruslan. Almost everyone was there, which means >100 out of the 140 program participants. It was a tonne of fun and very memorable.

September 14th was the last day of our program in Bochum, and I was not sad to take this photo as Danielle, Greg, and Tanaji left Ruhr University Bochum campus for the last time:

Next stop: Sweeeeeeeeeeeeden!

Back to Europe

I flew to the UK on August 27th, but I had an 8 hour stopover in Brussels, Belgium on the way. Arriving in the morning on the 28th in Brussels, I left the airport and headed for the train station with advice from my friend Lysandra to head to Leuven. I had been to Brussels already 4 years before, so for me Leuven seemed like an ideal little place to go for the day. After a 15 minute train ride, there I was in the city where Stella Artois is brewed.

There are pretty buildings…

And not so pretty buildings…

I basically spent the entire day walking through every little street of the central area of town, sitting on park benches and enjoying the fresh air and distinct lack of mosquitoes or staring eyes. I then headed back to the train for Brussels airport.

I landed at Gatwick, caught the train down to Poole, picked up keys from Oz’s cousin Stu, and made myself at home in Oz’s parents’ temporarily empty home (Oz was in China as the English National Cerebral Palsy Football Team’s physiotherapist).

After a few days lounging around doing absolutely nothing (aside from laundry and computer stuff), I headed up to London with all my stuff, and zipped out to Heathrow airport to meet my aunt. Aunty Jo spent the summer in Vancouver while I was in Cameroon, and was on her way back home to East Africa so we were luckily able to meet up for several hours in Heathrow airport before she had to catch her next flight. It had been 4 years since we’d last seen each other!

I slept in Waterloo International train station in London that night, very uncomfortable but I had no money for a hostel and, after some persuading, the security guard decided I wasn’t causing any trouble and could stay. With my train booked for 4pm the next day, I had all day to waste once I got up off the floor. So I went for a walk along the River Thames at 645am.

City skyline:

Neat insignia on an old rail bridge:

Cool bridge:

Some sort of pirate ship or something. I would have looked at the information but a sketchy guy was coming my way so I kept on trekking.

The famous Tower Bridge of London, a really beautiful structure. The colours on this one (taken with my point-and-shoot) turned out pretty badly so I grayscaled it, but I’ll pull up a better one from my SLR sometime when I have more patience.

Another shot that turned out poorly on the point-and-shoot, but I’ll post it anyways because the small road with the walkways (they’re actually patios with chairs and plants and barbeques) is really quite cool. Something like this would make big money for developers in Vancouver. These are old buildings that have been fixed up and sold to people with money.

More fixed-up old apartments nearby:

This is one of the coolest bridges I’ve seen. You can’t really tell from this photo, but it’s a real work of art and the engineering is really interesting. It’s actually a swing bridge so boats can enter the side channel in the photo above, which branches off from the main river.

This guy had tonnes of tiny flies all over his web (most are outside the frame of this shot) on this neat bridge. He definitely won’t complain of starting his day on an empty stomach.

As I was getting back from my 4 hour walk along the Thames, I spotted this display of several innovative water fountains. This guy was definitely my favourite:

I then spent another 6 hours chilling around London, mainly in Waterloo International station reading and napping and people-watching, before catching my train to France.

More on that next time…

Where I Lived in Cameroon

I realized today that I never did post a good description of my surroundings in Buea, Cameroon where I spent my summer volunteering. So, lazy man that I am, I will now post such a description. But I didn’t write it, Mirte did. Mirte is another volunteer who lived in the same house as me. She had been in Buea for a month before I arrived and who is still there for a little while longer – talk about dedication! Here is a really good description of where we lived, from her blog which is now in both English and Dutch, at http://mirtebijuac.waarbenjij.nu/.

“The main street of Buea (there is only one) is paved (asfalt), but most, if not almost all other streets are unpaved. “Unpaved” here ranges from incredibly muddy and bumpy (like the road to Mamfe) to stony and trash belt like. The street in front of the volunteer house that I am living in is a combination: it is very muddy, has many bumps and parts that have been cut away by the rain, and at the entrance has something that truly resembles a trash belt in the sense that you’ll be able to find objects ranging from the rather ordinary bags, can and half-eaten food to used condoms, shoes, t-shirts and bra’s. If you end up in there at night wearing flipflaps you definitely will want to go and wash your feet!

If it rains (which is does, a lot), the street transforms into a muddy little stream – resembling the ones that I used to be so excited about when I found one at our campsites as a kid: “Look Mum, we’ve got our own RIVER!” We have a complete duck family living around the corner, six ducklings and one mother, and there are a few more down the road. Need I say more?

At the side of the road you will find countless little stands selling anything from airtime (in the absence of fixed payphones, people offer their mobile phone for usage against payment) to roasted peanuts, oranges, coconut sweet (cut and fried coconut) and soya. The latter is as far from vegetarian you can get: it’s a stick of meat from the fire, and truly quite yummie!

At night, this scene transforms into a lively and cosy place: the sellers continue until approximately 21.00 or even 22.00, and all the bars open their doors to allow the inhabitants to engage in their favorite way to spend time: drinking Castel (local beer) or Guinness. Everywhere you go, you’ll see the little parasols lit up by lamp bulbs indicating someone’s presence as a seller, the music of the one trying to outweigh the music of his neighbor.”

Big thanks to Mirte for that neat description of where I used to live!

Us volunteers eating soya at our favourite hangout, ‘Abidjan’ (photo taken with Bram Stelt’s camera)

Creature Photography

Over the course of the three months I spent in Cameroon, I managed to take a few photos of strange creatures. It was rainy season, so there were not as many opportunities to take wildlife photographs as one might expect. I was also living in a densely populated, garbage-strewn city, so there was not so much wildlife right by my house.

Geckos are of course everywhere in Cameroon, and the more the merrier – they keep the mosquitoes at bay and they make no noise and no mess!

Various types of lizard also live all over the place, like this one near the ceiling outside one of the school buildings on the new site:

I really liked these colourful lizards. The males were colourful like this, the females rather dull and smaller. This one is near the beach:

Centipede on the path at the new school site, with size perspective from someone’s hand:

We found this guy sitting on the root of a tree at the beach:

This is the inside of my bedroom door. This beast didn’t live to see this photo unfortunately:

We couldn’t identify this species, but she was very cute and cuddly:

These guys liked to chill outside my house, which they were not allowed to do:

Maybe an anthropologist knows what this is? I don’t, and I’m the one who made it with my food…

This skink decided to visit us on our table on another beach trip. It seems every beach trip (I only went 3 times the whole summer) resulted in neat little creatures showing up! Seems he was interested in reading my book, Globalization and its Discontents, by Joseph Stiglitz.

The colour combination of the plastic bag and tablecloth, combined with the effect of the maximum possible aperture of f/4.0 on my lens, created a neat effect in this one:

To get Mr Skink back off the table and into his natural environment (and also to take a nice photo) I carefully got him to climb into this empty glass for transport: