Category Archives: Germany

Annual update v5: Now with twice the pictures!

Dear family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, random people I email in order to feel more popular, and people whose email addresses are easily confused with those of people I do actually know:

This long-winded email and blog post is my two-and-a-half-weeks-delayed annual attempt to let you all know how I’ve been wasting and/or taking advantage of an arbitrary selection of 366 days, which happens to be congruent with the Gregorian calendar year 2012, so that we can talk about more interesting things when we actually manage to hang out next. If we meet up for coffee, and you ask me, “So, Chris, it’s been n years since we saw each other last; what have you been up to?” I will grab the nearest napkin, clean or otherwise, and upon it I will write: “www.photodiarist.com/tag/annual-update/”. I will fold the napkin neatly, place it in your hand, then proceed to tell you an unrelated story, like the time a piece of paper fell off my desk and landed on the floor… on. its. EDGE. This annual update is longer than usual, because I’ve posted almost nothing in the past six months. It has exactly twice the number of pictures as last year’s annual update (do the math: 67 x 2 = ?).

For anyone with a normal (7 seconds or less) attention span, here are two Twitter-length summaries of my annual update:

1. Was in Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Uganda, DR Congo, Uganda, Switzerland, Canada, Switzerland, Jordan, Iraq, Uganda, UAE, Iraq, Jordan
2. Measles, knee surgery, parties & cycling, motorcycling, gardening, homebrewing, camping, Bubble Dome, Nova Scotia, Iraq, LOT Uganda, Jordan

Pie charts are tasty

And now for the longer version, suitable for anyone seeking a free alternative to soporifics:

I started off January 2012 in Vancouver, having just returned on December 23rd after seven months away. I thought I’d be in town for at least a month, but I got a call from MSF on January 5th, asking me to leave on January 7th for an emergency measles vaccination campaign in DR Congo. After a quick visit to Frankfurt and a couple of days in Geneva, I flew to Uganda and on to DRC. I spent the next two months adventuring around Province Orientale aboard tiny planes and beat up motorcycles, doing my part to help the medical team vaccinate tens of thousands of (often screaming) children, and winning $40 in the First Annual Faradje Olive Pit Spitting Competition.

Buying donuts in Faradje, DRC
Faradje, DRC
Flying co-pilot from Faradje to Dungu
Dungu, DRC
MSF measles vaccination in Dungu, DRC
Cessna 208 Caravan I
MSF measles vaccination near Ndedu, DRC
MSF measles vaccination in Kpekpere, DRC
Children in Duru, DRC

I also caught a few peanuts:

Chris Anderson, Peanut Catcher Extraordinaire from Chris Anderson on Vimeo.

After finishing in DRC in early March, I spent an excellent long weekend with my Aunty Jo in Kampala

Me and Aunty Jo in Kampala, Uganda

…before returning to Vancouver via Geneva, where I spent a couple of hours at the 2012 Salon International de l’Auto, my first ever visit to a car show.

2012 Koenigsegg Agera

In 2012, I spent a full SIX MONTHS in Canada — the longest since I left for Cameroon five and a half years ago. The reason for this unusual staycation? Another good old-fashioned knee surgery, but on the other leg! Back in December 2010, while on Christmas holiday from my job in South Sudan, a friend kindly helped me tear the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) off my femur in my right leg. In December 2011 I finally managed to see a surgeon, and by March 2012 I had scheduled the operation for April 10th. I went several times in March to see a physiotherapist at UBC to strengthen my knee in anticipation of post-operative muscle loss due to decreased use. On the 10th, Dr Patrick Chin repaired my knee at UBC Hospital and my dad kindly took care of all the practicalities (driving, drugs, many ice changes, and more). The rest of the family helped a lot, too!

This is what my knee looked like four days after my ACL reconstructive surgery:

4 days post-op ACL right knee

Aside from my knee surgery, the various adventures over the six months I spent in Canada are best explained, categorically rather than chronologically, as follows:

1. Family

Every weekend for a couple of months, I joined my three Vancouver-based siblings for Sibling Brunch. I’m not sure to whom the credit should be given for coming up with the concept, but what a great idea it was! Hosted at one of our homes each Sunday morning, we made food, drank coffee, talked about our week, the challenges we were facing and the successes we were achieving, plans to be made, and all sorts of random but interesting topics. And HEAPS of hugs!

Lisa with the house cat

Family birthdays with tasty cakes baked by Dad:

Josephine's birthday

I don’t have any photos of the many long conversations I had with my parents, but it was really nice spending time with them at home.

One day, the home where I spent 14 years of my childhood was knocked down to build something bigger. I walked by a couple of nights later to have a look:

Childhood home in Vancouver torn down

Not only did my childhood home get demolished while I was in Vancouver, but so too did my parents’ garage and driveway! Before the heavy machinery came in, I relocated hundreds of flower bulbs and other plants, including dozens and dozens of crocuses:

Family home

My brother salvaged a large part of the garage to make a neat shed, with some help from my dad and Matt D, the evening before the cat came to play.

Dan and Dad salvaging part of the garage

The next day…

Destroying the garage
Destroying the garage
Destroying the garage

One of the best things about family is the support we give to each other, so it’s always fun to have a chance to help out. My sister Josephine is an up-and-coming documentary filmmaker sure to impress anyone who sees the stuff that she and co-conspirator Brittany Baxter come up with. The duo, who formed Moosestash Films in 2011, were about to release their interactive online film project in June, so I was lucky enough to help them out, mostly as a volunteer chauffeur.

Among other sun-soaked destinations, I drove the ladies out to Global TV BC‘s studios for a live interview. Don’t they look excited to be in the Global TV cafeteria?

Jos and Britt in the Global TV cafeteria

The staff kindly invited me to sit in the wings and watch:

Sticking Place Film on Global TV

The day after their TV appearance, I drove them to the airport to pick up Olympic wrestler Leah Callahan, the subject of the Sticking Place film. In the afternoon, at the launch party, one lucky guest got to thumb-wrestle Leah!

Leah Callahan thumb-wrestles contestant at Sticking Place Film launch

Check out the Sticking Place interactive film by clicking the picture below:

Sticking Place Film - Leah Callahan

I also got to spend a couple of weeks with my dad in Nova Scotia at the end of the summer, hanging out with my grandma, my uncle, and a plethora of other relatives and family friends.

Visiting family in Nova Scotia
Visiting family in Nova Scotia

Check out this panel of a stained glass light shade my dad made for his parents before I was born – he even cut the glass himself!

Stained glass lampshade handcrafted by my Dad
2. Bicycles

Ten days after the operation, I returned to an intense physio programme with superstar physiotherapist Teri-Lynn Fraser at the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre at UBC. She did an excellent job helping me to regain strength and range of motion in my knee, work on my balance and proprioception, and retrain my muscles to react correctly to different situations like jumping, walking on uneven ground, sudden changes of direction, etc.

As part of my rehabilitation, I spent a lot of time on my bicycles and the stationary bike at physio. Once I gained enough confidence in my knee, I began riding my single speed BumbleBike more often than my geared touring bike. At first, there were some hills up which I had to walk, in order to avoid straining my knee. However, it turns out that cycling without gears leads very quickly to an increase in the size and capacity of the muscles around the knee (plus all the other leg muscles, of course!). Soon, I was gliding up hills on my BumbleBike without much difficulty or any risk of overtaxing my knee. There was another benefit to riding the BumbleBike around town – lots of compliments from strangers on the street, despite the unintentional similarity to a certain Stanley Cup champion hockey team from the East Coast (I painted this bike before the 2011 playoffs).

BumbleBike

In the first week of June, I went on my very first bicycle scavenger hunt. My friend Jasmine was my teammate, though it was difficult trying to win while my partner was always taking breaks:

Relaxing near the Roundhouse Community Centre

Apparently our 2nd place victory high-five was quite painful for her…

2nd place high-five

I also got to watch a couple of cycle races in Vancouver. This one was on West 10th Avenue, from Trimble up to Sasamat:

Adults on toddler bicycles on West 10th Avenue, Vancouver

Two weeks later, with my friends Mike and Lauren, I sped downtown on my BumbleBike to watch the end of the Gastown Grand Prix:

2012 Gastown Grand Prix bicycle race, Vancouver
3. Parties

Throughout my stay in Vancouver, people kept finding excuses to celebrate this, that, or the other thing. Rarely one to refuse an invitation, I enjoyed many nights of dancing (both before and after my knee surgery) to live music and DJs, such as my friend DJ Goremay at the UBC Blank Canvass paint party:

DJ Goremay spins at UBC Blank Canvass party

About to be blasted with paint, my friends and I show a mix of welcoming anticipation, fear, and, in the case of the mysterious bearded photobomber who appears at the top right: readiness for battle:

UBC Blank Canvass party

In April, Lisa threw the most impressive birthday party I’ve been to, including a DJ, burlesque troupe, and these fantastically musical fellows who call themselves Maria in the Shower (pictured here with Geneviève, as Maria was home making waterproof origami cranes that evening).

Maria in the Shower performing for Lisa's birthday

For my birthday, I was lucky enough to share the party with Leslie, who decided it would be a good idea to let people paint the walls! We bought a bunch of different colours and brushes and gave people the chance to paint freely. Paulie and Jana painted Oscar the Grouch for me, my favourite character from Sesame Street!

Paulie and Jana painting Oscar the Grouch for my birthday

The next day I went with a couple of friends to an eatART party with a number of performers, the most impressive of which were the Scantily Clad Clowns. Each time one of them would drop headfirst toward the ground (the ceiling of this room is much higher than it appears in this photo), I found myself surprised not to see a crumpled body on the floor. All part of the act, they used the cloth masterfully in their aerial gymnastics.

Scantily Clad Clowns performing at eatART party

I also helped organise a few parties, including Moon Rock Disco: Woodstock in Space! My accELeration speedcrutches helped me dance better and faster, and helped me make friends with people like this guy, who seemed to actually believe that he’s a robot:

Mark and me at Moon Rock Disco - Woodstock in Space

Moon Rock Disco 2, a final farewell to the Basement Sound Lounge, was also a big hit with the laser lovers (which is everyone).

Preparing for Moon Rock Disco 2

I even made it to a couple of daytime parties, like Danielle’s Hello Kitty themed birthday party, where I ate all the lumpia while people weren’t looking.

Danielle's Hello Kitty birthday

Word of advice (but not official advice, so you can’t sue me if you follow it), to those of you who like musical mashups but don’t have the skill to pull it off. Make a lightshow mashup instead, by taping glowsticks to a ceiling fan. Turns out it’s AWESOME.

Glowsticks on ceiling fan - great idea

The loudest party I went to was the huge and very bright music festival, a nice short 9 hour drive by car from Vancouver, known as Shambhala. If you like lasers, you should probably check out Shambhala. They have a lot of lasers.

Pagoda stage at Shambhala 2012
4. Bicycle parties

As a humanitarian logistician, it’s part of my job every day to (attempt to) achieve objectives by the use of logical reasoning. Said logical reasoning ensured that during my stay in Vancouver I spent time not only on my bicycles or at parties with friends, but engaging in both activities simultaneously. The two are not mutually exclusive, but complementary! If one night you’re lucky enough to see a pack of bicycles dancing down the street, bright lights flashing and music flowing, join them if you can. You won’t regret it.

Conrad getting ready for a Bike Dance Party in June:

Conrad preparing for a June bike dance party

Bike Dance Party in June:

EL wire and flashy lights at bike dance party

Vancouver has an annual Bike Rave, which was attended by several thousand people this year. It was MASSIVE. And fun, despite my friend losing her bag with both of her phones, camera, and glasses in it.

Vancouver Bike Rave 2012

While the Bike Rave was winding down, some people played around with LED hula hoops:

Post-Vancouver Bike Rave

(The day after the Bike Rave, we spent several hours using a lost iPhone app to track her bag down to the lost and found of a pub several kilometres from where she lost it, but with nothing missing)

In July, we had yet another Bike Dance Party!

July bike dance party
5. Motorised transport:

As a good North American, I also had to do my part in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. To this end, before my knee surgery I rode around on my 1979 Honda CM400T motorcycle a bit, though not before first removing and cleaning the carburetors with some help from my dad.

Removing fuel tank from 1979 Honda CM400T motorcycle

Having your ACL replaced with a couple of doubled-up hamstrings is not particularly conducive to comfortable riding, so on the morning of my knee surgery I cancelled my motorcycle insurance. The gentleman processing my pro-rated refund asked me why I was cancelling. Surprised by my answer, he asked whether the surgery was a result of a motorcycle accident. “Nope, I’ve never been in an accident yet,” I told him. Seven weeks later, I had regained enough strength in my knee to brake safely while driving a car, so I borrowed my dad’s car to do some things around town.

Unfortunately, a German girl was also out on four wheels that day, and happened to cross paths with me. Literally.

Just a block away from my old high school, she ran a red light and plowed into me on my first day of post-surgery driving. Luckily I realised she was going to blow the light, so I stopped with loads of space for her to steer around me. Unluckily, despite my loud horn blasting to catch her attention, she only hit the brakes as she entered the intersection, and didn’t think to steer around me until the last minute. Even then, she didn’t release her brakes, so she still smashed into me. Luckily for me, I wasn’t hurt or shook up, as I could see it coming and was able to position myself comfortably for the impact.

This is her car, Manfred the Terrible, after the accident:

Manfred the Jeep is a terrible driver

After we exchanged information, some firemen stopped by to check on us, and they tried and tried to get Manfred started again but he just wouldn’t start. I walked away smugly to my father’s destroyed 1994 Buick, which still started perfectly and drove quite acceptably all the way home (and, later, to the ICBC claims centre).

Dad's car totalled by Manfred the Jeep

Suffice it to say, she got 100% of the blame for the accident, and ICBC wrote off my dad’s car as a total loss. I returned to BCAA a couple of days later and renewed my motorcycle insurance. Many days, I had no reason to ride anywhere, but took the motorbike out for a quick spin around town for fun. One day, my friend Stephanie bought a brand new 2012 Honda CBR 250 crotch rocket. Not long after, we met up at Central Park and went for a long ride around town, out to UBC and down to Spanish Banks, where we tried to look cool for this photo. Unfortunately, my helmet messed up my hair so I don’t look as cool as I’d hoped:

Steph's Honda motorcycle is 33 years younger than mine
6. Music

Music was flowing all over the place while I was in Vancouver. Among the many musical marvels that made my time in Canada so memorable, these ones really stick out:

In April, while doped up on painkillers, I went with my siblings and a couple of friends to see Chor Leoni, one of the premiere all-male choirs in the world, of which my friend Stash is a member. Their Rebirth spring concert was a nice distraction from the sharp pain and swelling in my knee only four days after my operation.

Chor Leoni Rebirth concert 2012

Only four days after Chor Leoni, myself and a group of my friends piled into the tiny performance theatre at Le Centre Culturel Francophone de Vancouver to watch the Bomb-itty of Errors: a hip-hop adraptation of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. I had low expectations, figuring it would be mechanical and forced, but I went because our friend DJ Oker was the DJ for the play and I wanted to support him. Turns out the Bomb-itty of Errors is a mindbogglingly marvellous mix of old school Shakespeare and old skool rap. It was easily the best stage performance I’ve ever seen. We were in stitches the whole time!

DJ Oker spinning for the Bomb-itty of Errors Vancouver

Two days after the Shakespearean adventure, I joined a couple of friends for the CD release party of “Oracles” by the Ruffled Feathers. The band that opened the show is called Jasper Sloan Yip, with Hannah Epperson joining on fiddle and some vocals. You should listen to their music, and then thank me for telling you what to do.

Jasper Sloan Yip and Hannah Epperson

The Ruffled Feathers put on a great show – their new album is full of great tunes! Gina’s voice is something special, and the band beautifully blends trumpet, piano, ukulele, guitars, drums, vocal chords, and more.

The Ruffled Feathers Oracles CD release party

To make sure you follow my advice on this one, I’ve made it easy for you to listen (and watch) the Ruffled Feathers: First, place a cushion on your desk to avoid breaking your jaw when it drops, then click the play button below and try to soak everything in. After that, check out their website, where you can get FREE MUSIC!

The day after my birthday, I hopped up the stairs to the choir loft of Oakridge United Church to enjoy a Corpus Christi College Chamber Choir concert. Many of the singers went to the same high school as I did, and I enjoyed spending a year and a half in this choir a decade ago.

Corpus Christi College Chamber Choir 2012

One night in May, I met up with my friends Noor and Jasmine, among others. We played some Jenga in one establishment, and invited a couple of people at a nearby table to join us. When the joint closed, instead of going home, the guy runs to his car and pulls out a gorgeous guitar. Instant live music street corner dance party.

Post-Jenga street dancing

A month later, on a particularly rainy night, I found myself with Noor and Jasmine again, but this time in Fortune Sound Club in Chinatown, watching Art vs. Science put on a terrifically energetic show. Not only that, but within seconds of arriving, I recognised the back of one of the heads bobbing around in front of me — the lovely people I knew from weekly documentary night were dancing up a storm right in front of us!

Art vs Science

Just fifteen hours later, I was sitting with my brother Dan in the Mainstage tent at Bard on the Beach in Vanier Park, for the Chor Leoni Reeldiculous concert. Sadly, the founder and leader for two decades, Diane Loomer, died in December. In addition to pieces from the Lion King, 8 Mile Road, and South Park, they did a well-choreographed rendition of a song from Kal Ho Naa Ho:

Chor Leoni Reeldiculous 2012

In June, after a dubstep show, a couple of friends and I went to Spanish Banks where we happened upon some friendly strangers who were happy to welcome us to their musical circle around a fire.

Rolly playing at the beach

While I was in Nova Scotia in August with my dad, we had a couple of really nice “kitchen parties” in the living room. Tom and Geline stopped by one day, and Charlie came around the next! If you don’t know what a kitchen party is, head out to a rural part of Atlantic Canada sometime and ask. You’ll surely be invited to one in no time.

Tom Cohoon in East Ship Harbour
Charlie DeWolfe in East Ship Harbour
7. Making and tinkering:

It would be unfair if I were to spend six months enjoying everybody else’s musical efforts without doing anything creative myself. So, to keep things balanced, I gave my best shot at making stuff that could be shared with the people around me.

Knowing I would soon be incapable of any real outdoor exertion, I spent many early spring days out in the garden. My objective was to create a walkway using the paving stones my grandfather had carefully laid several decades ago to create a path to the driveway, which this year was due to be torn up. He died eight years before I was born, but I’ve always admired the things he designed and built. I dug up each stone (much harder than I expected – these things are like icebergs, with a lot hidden under the surface!), heaved it onto a trolley, wheeled it out to the boulevard, rotated it 90°, then put it down. This way, I kept as close as possible to my grandfather’s original arrangement. Lots of digging and jumping up and down on stones ensued. As I dug holes to make space for the stones, I put all the dirt nearby for removal later. By the time I finished the path, however, I had such a huge pile of dirt next to it that I decided to create a raised bed there instead. It took about a week in total to do the path and raised bed, but I was pretty happy with the result. I finished well after dark, the night before my knee operation.

Boulevard path and floral island
Aquilegia flower
Poppy
Free roses

My brother and some friends of ours joined me on a number of occasions to brew up some tasty barley juice, following instructions as best we could (i.e. we made a LOT of mistakes). I was surprised at how good the results were after our first couple of batches. Some of the bottles will have aged a year by the time I’m back in Canada to taste them, if they haven’t already been tasted to extinction!

Dan racking beer from the secondary fermenter

Creativity is fuelled by calories so I spent a lot of time in Vancouver making food. Among the things I made, the simplest was this blueberry-stuffed raspberry:

Blueberry inside raspberry equals flavour explosion

Other culinary curiosities…

Pasta salad and garlic bread
Cheese melted with basil on tomatoes
Four huge brownies with walnuts

I baked my first apple pie…

My first apple pie

…and my first cherry pie, which took a while, owing to the pesky pit I had to remove from each cherry.

Preparing my first cherry pie

And just to be extra healthy, I stuffed a bunch of pickled jalapenos full of cream cheese, then wrapped them in bacon:

Bacon-wrapped jalapeno peppers

I had lots of fun making my accELeration speedcrutches, and even more fun showing them off in public. When my physiotherapist told me I didn’t need to use them anymore, I was actually sad!

cranderson enterprises accELeration speedcrutches
Feeling the need to make more things that light up, I created the cranderson enterprises IncrLEDible Power Vest, which I wore every evening at Shambhala:
cranderson enterprises incrLEDible power vest

Cranderson Enterprises IncrLEDible Power Vest from Chris Anderson on Vimeo.

And what would a summer in BC be, without a Bubble Dome? I wouldn’t know, because my summer in BC did have a Bubble Dome. And it was AWESOME.

Using a drill press
Testing the Bubble Dome
9. Casual socialising

Somehow I didn’t find quite enough time to spend with all the people I should have, but I very much enjoyed the time we did spend together. Some of the highlights of the occasions I photographed:

UBC Beer Tasting class in the AMS Council Chambers, Spring 2012:

UBC Beer Tasting class, Spring 2012

Sushi at UBC with Helaine, Renée, and AJ:

Sushi at UBC with Helaine, Renée, and AJ

Science World with Helaine, because the HeliJet flight to Victoria was fully booked:

Science World with Helaine

Kits Beach with Dave:

Kits Beach with Dave

Enigma brunch with Conrad, Mike, and Geneviève after the last Basement Sound Lounge party:

Enigma brunch with Conrad, Mike, and Geneviève

My St Pat’s high school ten-year reunion downtown, part of a perfect weekend:

10 year high school reunion
10. Admiring Vancouver

No explanations required:

Cherry blossoms under storm clouds on 22nd Avenue
Science World
Burrard Street Bridge from a False Creek Ferry
BC Place Stadium at sunset
Irving K Barber (Main) library at UBC
11. Trips out of town

I was lucky enough to make a bunch of short trips during my stay in Canada. I went a few times out to Bowen Island to appreciate the calm beauty of the forest and ocean:

Bowen Island, BC

For a second year in a row, Mike C invited me on his friends’ 6th annual May long weekend trip to Kelowna. We ate and ate and ate, and lounged in the sun while people strummed guitars and ukuleles:

Guitar strumming in Kelowna, BC

We also visited Urban Distilleries again…

Urban Distilleries, Kelowna

…and visited Summerhill Pyramid Winery again…

Summerhill Pyramid Winery, Kelowna

…and visited a bunch of other wineries in the region, including Quail’s Gate

Quail's Gate Estate Winery, Kelowna

..and Mission Hill Winery:

Airplane at Mission Hill Winery, Kelowna

Back in the Lower Mainland, in June a carload of men ventured to the far corner of the Earth (Aldergrove) for a tour of Dead Frog Brewery. The tour, given by Founder and President Derrick Smith, was well-organised, informative, and tasty. Plus, during the drive there, Stash won a radio call-in contest for two movie premiere passes and convinced the host to give him enough for all of us! The movie, Safety Not Guaranteed, blew us all away.

Dead Frog Brewery, Aldergrove, BC

For the Canada Day long weekend, Omid organised a trip to a campsite outside Squamish, where it rained. A lot. We still had fun, the site was beautiful, and Jason made lots of tasty food for me.

Unofficial camping trip outside Squamish
Lichen

In late July, Lisa organised a trip for a group of friends to come out to Bowen Island and do some sea kayaking. I took our rowboat out, and tried my best to keep up. Dan made friends with a couple of seals in Deep Bay:

Two harbour seals with Dan in Deep Bay, Bowen Island

Jaro is more than 20 years older than me. It’s my favourite boat in the world:

Me rowing Jaro in Deep Bay, Bowen Island

Dinner at Sandy Beach, Bowen Island:

Sandy Beach, Bowen Island

A few days later, on the August long weekend, a few carloads of us drove out to Ashnola Campground for the 6th annual Legendary Annual Summer Camping Trip. I spent the entire weekend as a gecko.

Legendary Annual Summer Camping Trip - Gecko and the Danger Flag
Gecko woodsplitting at Legendary Annual Summer Camping Trip v6

Right after Legendary camping, Conrad and I drove about nine hours to bring the Bubble Dome to Shambhala. Once it was all over and I arrived home, I got a couple nights’ sleep, packed my bags, and boarded a plane with my dad, headed over the mountains toward Nova Scotia.

Aerial view of the Rockies

One day, my uncle John and I went to see the annual sandcastle competition at Clam Harbour Beach, which was neat. Some of the creators, such as this cathedral builder, put a great deal of detail into their designs:

Sandcastle cathedral, Clam Harbour, Nova Scotia

Others focused on the bigger picture, like this gargantuan lobster:

Giant sand lobster, Clam Harbour, Nova Scotia

We spent most of the time down home with family in East Ship Harbour, a picturesque little place with beautiful views (when the flies aren’t too much of a distraction).

East Ship Harbour

One day, we drove across the province to Wolfville, where I was born. I’d never visited Wolfville since we left Nova Scotia a quarter century ago, so it was nice to see the town, albeit very quickly. We even managed to find the hospital where I was born, which took some time because it had been downgraded to a community health centre a few years ago – no one we asked on the street knew of any hospital in Wolfville!

Eastern Kings Memorial Community Health Centre (formerly hospital)

Dad and I landed in Vancouver on August 30th, I had a lovely shared going-away party with Chloe on the 31st at the Legion on Commercial Drive, and by the afternoon of September 1st I was back up in the air. Destination? Iraq, with a few days each in Geneva and Amman.

From the moment I arrived in Amman, Jordan – my first visit to the Middle East – I’ve enjoyed my experience tremendously. The mosque near our apartment in Amman has a particularly soothing call to prayer:

Mosque minaret in Amman, Jordan

After a few short days in Amman, I flew to Erbil, in the autonomous Kurdish part of Iraq. The city, while developing incredibly quickly at the moment, lacks much character, with the exception of the Citadel in the centre of town:

Citadel, Erbil, Iraq

For relatively obvious reasons, I won’t go into much detail about my work with MSF here, though I’d be happy to tell you privately by email or Facebook message. I’m saving up the stories and some photos for a few years down the road. However, here’s a cursory glance to give you some idea of what I’ve been up to in this wonderful country:

Drinking loads of coffee! Turkish coffee, Lebanese coffee, instant coffee, JJ Bean coffee (I brought 4 bags with me!) — there’s been little shortage of caffeine so far.

Coffee, Iraq

In September I went up to work in Domiz refugee camp for Syrians. In my first hour there, I saw Angelina Jolie just a few armlengths away:

Angelina Jolie in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq

Walking in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq:

Walking in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq

Dusty day in Domiz Refugee Camp:

Dusty day in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq

The city of Duhok is supplied with water from a big reservoir held back by Duhok Dam. What a beautiful place:

Duhok Reservoir, Iraq

I was invited several times to join local friends driving out into the mountains where their families have fruit orchards and cottages. The mountains and valleys made me wish I knew how to paint. The Kurdish farmer below insisted we pick an enormous bag of plums from his trees to take home with us. This kind of generosity is something I experience every day here, from people of all backgrounds – regardless of whether they’re wealthy or not, Kurdish or Arab, Assyrian or Turkomen, whether holding Jordanian or Iraqi or Syrian passports. Iraq is an incredibly friendly country and I’ve been doing my best to let some of it rub off on me.

Kurdish farmer picking plums in his orchard

In October, I flew to Uganda for a two-week training course run by MSF called the Logistics Organisational Training. The site where we lived and did all of our training was right at the edge of Lake Victoria; the setting was as close to ideal as I could have imagined.

Fisherman at sunset on Lake Victoria, Uganda

There were many lightning storms at night. One night I spent about half an hour perched on a plastic lawn chair of questionable structural integrity, holding onto a barbed wire fence for balance, taking long exposure photos until I got a couple that I liked. This was my favourite, with lots of horizontal lightning:

Lightning near Entebbe, Uganda

Of course, we also did some learning, such as installing a quad loop HF skywire antenna. I thought the training course was quite well done overall, and would highly recommend it to other MSF logisticians.

MSF training - setting up HF quadraloop antenna

My return flight from Uganda to Iraq involved an overnight 9 hour stopover in Dubai. Not one to sit around an airport when there are adventures within reach, I found some friendly people through CouchSurfing.org to meet up and show me around Dubai by night. I arrived back at the airport in time for my next flight, only to discover that it had been cancelled! They put us on the next flight, 16 hours later, so I left my stuff at the Left Luggage and headed back into sunny Dubai to explore the shiny town by day. This is the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, at dusk:

Burj Khalifa at dusk, Dubai

Back in Iraq, the weather was becoming colder and much wetter. Heavy rains turned Domiz Camp into a very muddy place, but the refugees for the most part continued to put on a brave face and smile as they tried not to lose their shoes in the sticky mess. This garbage truck got stuck and had to be pulled out by a tractor later:

Garbage truck stuck in mud in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq

Me with some refugee children:

With refugee children in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq

One of the interesting things I got to do in Domiz was help plan the layout of a new health centre, the construction of which began in mid-November:

Foundation for the new health centre in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq

A preschool almost ready to open, with roses planted in the inner courtyard and a Kurdistan flag flying:

Preschool in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq with Kurdistan flag

Looking eastward near the entrance to the camp one evening, I again wished I knew how to paint:

Late afternoon near the entrance to Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq

One weekend, we made a trip through the mountains to visit Amêdî, an ancient town perched on a flat mountaintop. This is the view westward from the top:

Looking west from Amêdî, Iraqi Kurdistan

The following week, three of us drove to Zakho, where we visited the famed Delal Bridge, built many centuries ago:

Delal Bridge, Zakho, Iraq

In December I began working in another project, which is also fascinating. I also signed a three-month contract extension to stay until at least the end of May because this country is so interesting. Since I always take photos of flags, here’s one of the current Iraqi flag, in use since 2008:

Modern Iraq flag

In keeping with my accidental pattern of spending every fifth Christmas overseas (Uganda 2002, Denmark 2007), I spent Christmas 2012 in Erbil, celebrated with lovely MSF and ICRC people. Just look at all the homemade Christmas treats!

Christmas goodies in Erbil, Iraq

At 5am on Boxing Day, I flew to Amman, Jordan to search for Santa Claus. Success:

Santa Bus outside Amman, Jordan

After a couple of days hanging out with friends in Amman, I caught a bus up to Jerash to see the impressive Roman ruins there. Although I went alone, I ended up having a lot of fun because I met a Japanese tourist with whom I explored the ruins properly – going into dark, non-signposted tunnels, jumping down into hidden underground rooms to see where they would lead us, and going far beyond the main sites to which the vast majority of tourists limit themselves.

Jerash, Jordan

The next day I rented a 2013 Nissan Sunny in order to make the most of my short stay in Jordan. On December 31st I drove through stunning gorges and valleys along the Dead Sea Highway, stopping to see the sights on the way to Petra. My favourite spot en route was Mukawir, where the ruins of Herod’s fortress are found. It wasn’t the ruins that were particularly impressive, but the snaking roads with breathtaking views on the way there, the mountains dotted with caves, the deep blue of the Dead Sea, and the cliffs of Palestine on the other side.

Looking out from a sandstone cave in Mukawir, Jordan

I slid down the side of the mountain on which Herod’s fortress was built, then jogged along the ridgeline of mountains heading for the Dead Sea, until the strong wind nearly picked me up and threw me off. After that, I walked more carefully for a kilometre, found a rock ledge behind which I could hide from the wind (not unlike the rocks behind which Alasdair Benson and I hid from the elements in the south of France back in April 2003), and spent almost an hour simply chilling and marvelling at how amazing the world is, looking at this:

Dead Sea view from Mukawir, Jordan

By the time I arrived in Petra it had already been dark for some time. I found a place to sleep, and by 23:00 I was in bed. Precisely 10 years earlier (literally within minutes of being exactly 10 years apart) I fell asleep in Kampala, only to wake up at 9am and be surprised that my watch showed 1-1-2003 on it. This time it was no surprise to wake up the next year, but I was more than happy to get some shut-eye, for there were some intense adventures awaiting me in Petra and beyond. However, those all happened in 2013, so it may well be another twelve months before I find time to put those photos online… ;-)

Now, if you tell me that you actually read this entire blog post, the longest one with the most photos that I have ever posted, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll believe you. Still, to those of you who graced me with your presence in 2012, thanks for making it a good one. I intend to make 2013 even better (but don’t worry, I don’t plan on writing a blog post this long ever again), and I look forward to the adventures ahead.

As always, I’d love to get an update from you – whether we know each other well or not at all, whether it’s a quick hello or a rambling email telling me every little detail of your life. I promise to read it, no matter how long, and eventually even reply.

Vancouver to Frankfurt to Geneva to Brussels to Kigali to Kampala to Bunia to Faradje in 5 days

Back on January 5th, I got a call from MSF Canada asking me to leave on the 7th for a short contract in DR Congo with the emergency team. I quickly finished typing up my annual update, then proceeded to cancel all the plans I’d made to meet up with friends. Having spent only two weeks in Vancouver after six months abroad, I first flew to Geneva, Switzerland for a briefing and to get my Congolese visa.

Sunset over the clouds en route to Frankfurt, Germany

Of course, what would a flight to Geneva be without a stopover in Frankfurt, Germany? With about five hours to spare before the second leg of my flight, I was through customs and in the airport train station within minutes of landing. I’d never been to Frankfurt before, only the airport (the only time in my entire life that I missed a flight, in March 2008, due to a late connection, I spent many hours in the Frankfurt airport) and train station, so this was a great chance to have a quick look. As luck would have it, while I looked for the right train to take me into town, I got a phone call from a random German number. It turned out to be none other than my good friend Darren Peets, who was already in the airport waiting to surprise me!

Darren and me in Frankfurt

This was a terrific surprise, and really made my day! Not only was it great to see an old friend in an unfamiliar place, but it also meant I had to put zero effort into figuring out the trains and various signs in German, as Darren handled all that with ease. Together, we visited an old church, strolled around the old town centre admiring neat old buildings, walked over and quite a ways along the river, ate German food outside while the restaurant staff looked at us as if we were a pair of crazy Canadians, and caught up on each others’ lives over the course of about three hours hanging out.

Frankfurt old town centre, with massive Christmas tree
Frankfurt old town centre
Neat tower in Frankfurt, Germany

This bridge over the river is decorated with thousands of padlocks, each symbolic of a couple’s love. Every once in a while, they’re all removed by the city.

Pedestrian bridge with love locks in Frankfurt, Germany

After Darren and I returned to the airport and said our goodbyes, I caught a quick flight to Geneva and headed to my hotel to sleep. I spent the next day at the MSF Switzerland office meeting a few people for briefings, getting my documents in order, and generally appearing out of place. Early the next morning, before the sun had shown his face to the snow-covered Swiss Alps, I caught a taxi to the airport with two colleagues. After downing a much-needed coffee, we were soon up in the air over Geneva.

Taking off from Geneva, Switzerland
Flying out of Switzerland

That first flight took us only a short distance, to Brussels, Belgium where we rushed from one side of the airport to the other, with the typical Brussels Airport ridiculously long queue to get through security. We then flew to Kampala, Uganda with a one hour stopover in Kigali, Rwanda. After a night’s sleep in Kampala, we headed to Kajjansi Airfield and boarded a tiny little Cessna 206 to head to DR Congo.

Preparing to board a Cessna 206 at Kajjansi Airfield, Uganda

From Kajjansi Airfield we first flew seven minutes to Entebbe International Airport to clear customs, during which time I was in the co-pilot seat for the first time in my life.

Cessna 206 interior design

At Entebbe Airport, pictured below, we went through customs and bought food from the duty free store, then continued on to Bunia, DR Congo.

Entebbe International Airport, Uganda

Heading out of Entebbe, and over Lake Victoria:

Fishing boats line the shore of Lake Victoria

Winding road just outside Bunia, Province Orientale, Democratic Republic of Congo:

Winding road just outside Bunia, Province Orientale, Democratic Republic of Congo

We landed happily in Bunia on January 10th and by the 12th were back at the airport, this time to board a slightly larger Cessna 208 Caravan I, which would take us from Bunia to Faradje, in the northeast corner of DR Congo, not far from South Sudan and Uganda.

Loading cargo on a Cessna 208 Caravan I at Bunia Murongo Airport

For this final flight, I was seated the farthest back, just in front of the rear door. This turned out to be an excellent seat choice: as the plane began to pick up speed, there was a loud click, and a warning light on the pilot’s dashboard lit up red. The pilot looked back toward me, with the unhappy grimace of a father trying to manage some semblance of control over his difficult children on the drive to school in the morning. “OK, who left the door open?” he says. Of course, the answer was obviously his ground crew, but I figured out how to close and latch the door pretty quickly, the red light turned off, and within seconds we were climbing high into the sky.

The flight from Bunia to Faradje took exactly 60 minutes. The large Catholic church is visible near the top of this photo of Faradje from above, as we did a quick pass over the town before landing. Just below and to the left of the church is the parish centre where the priests live, and where we slept during our time in Faradje:

Faradje from above

Having landed in Faradje, we went straight to work organising a measles vaccination campaign for the town. More on that in the next post.

Yet another Annual Update: my year 2011 in 67 photos

Dear family, friends, and those who fit into both (or other) categories, this is that once-yearly mass email I send out and post to my blog to bore you with the details of 365 days of my life. It’s safe for work, except that you might fall asleep face first on your keyboard while reading it, thus creating a small commotion in your office.

The short version:

And now for the extended version, with a sprinkling of photos, some of which I’ve put within sentences (how clever).

When 2011 started off, I was nearing the end of a super fun three week holiday in Vancouver. Technically speaking, when 2011 started off I was on a dance floor surrounded by green lasers

Laser green goblin

…and booming bass, doing my best to jump up and down and side to side in what I hoped might be mistaken for dancing, while wearing a Buzz Lightyear costume with glowsticks lighting my flightpath at the wingtips.

Buzz Lightyear

All good things come to an end, however, and by January 2nd I was sitting back comfortably in a Vancouver International Airport departure lounge. The fact that I can show a little piece of plastic to a company and they then let me sit in a chair, in the middle of the sky, speeding over the land and sea at sometimes over 900 km/h, still amazes me. Two days of travelling took me back to work in Juba, South Sudan, where I had two months remaining on my contract. On January 9th I was lucky enough to witness the referendum on secession that resulted in South Sudan becoming the world’s newest country six months later.

Biggest polling station in South Sudan's referendum on independence in Juba, South Sudan

I also witnessed the delivery of, and first flight of, South Sudan’s first air force

South Sudan Air Force Mi-28 transport helicopter, Juba

…went hiking up Jebel Kujur to take a Sunday mid-morning nap…

Taking a nap atop Jebel Kujur, Juba

…and got a guided tour of the Physical Rehabilitation Reference Centre run jointly by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the South Sudan Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare:

Touring the PRRC in Juba, South Sudan
Artificial foot at the PRRC in Juba, South Sudan

In my final week in South Sudan, I just barely managed to make it to see Juba’s best kept Engrish secret, the manure cure shop:

Thong Ping Salon, Juba, South Sudan

After leaving South Sudan, I spent the last week of February visiting friends in the UK. Within hours of landing at Heathrow, I was in real doctor’s scrubs in London, complete with anti-bacterial silver oxide thread participating in the Imperial College med school’s time-honoured, purely academic activity known as the Circle Line Pub Crawl with my friend Aidan and his fellow future doctors.

Circle Line Pub Crawl with Imperial College medical students

I also visited my friend Jackie in Cambridge, where we went to a show and the next day I took a long walk along the River Cam…

Narrowboats and rowing clubs on the River Cam in Cambridge, England

…and then Fraser and Kate in Abergavenny, where Fraser and I went mountain biking

Fraser above Abergavenny, Wales

and also saw my friends Katie and Louise in Oxford before hopping on a plane to return to Vancouver at the beginning of March. While waiting for my plane, I saw the mythical Airbus A380 roll by, the largest passenger aircraft in the world:

Qantas Airbus A380 at Heathrow Airport

I spent the next three months waiting in Vancouver to go somewhere new and unknown. I filled my time sleeping with no alarm, going to physiotherapy for my knee, building a couple of custom single speed bicycles (one for my sister, one for me)…

Custom single speed freewheel bicycle for Lisa
BumbleBike custom single speed freewheel bicycle for me

…checking the forecast for days when I could comfortably take my motorcycle out on the town (there were very few of these days in what was apparently Vancouver’s wettest and coldest spring in the last half century)…

Honda CM400T motorcycle

…and watching the Vancouver Canucks make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since I was 10 years old. The city came alive like nothing I’ve seen (I was in London for the 2010 Vancouver-Whistler Olympics, living 5 minutes from one of the 2012 Olympic sites, so I missed out on all that craziness), with free taxi rides, SkyTrain antics, downtown street parties, and all kinds of awesome all around.

Celebrating a Vancouver Canucks win on Granville Street

Into these three months, I also somehow squeezed a trip to Kelowna

Kelowna, BC

…a couple of quick visits to Bowen Island

Bowen Island, BC

…a two night trip to Ottawa to get a visa for Côte d’Ivoire and see my friends Alex and Luke…

Parliament Hill, Ottawa

…and a motorcycle ride to Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island, BC

With the Canucks comfortably ahead in the final series against the Bruins, I left town to start my next job. Having spent a year and a half with Medical Emergency Relief International (Merlin), in the UK, DR Congo, and South Sudan, I’d decided to try on a different pair of shoes: Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders, aka MSF). They decided to send me to Côte d’Ivoire, but first, I flew to Germany (with a few hours spent hanging out in Amsterdam to see my friend Pieter-Henk) for the MSF PPD, a 10 day group introduction to the organisation for new staff. I can’t spoil any secrets by talking about it online, except to say that it was really fun, and I met and befriended some very cool people.

MSF PPD, Bonn, June 2011

During the PPD, I even woke up one morning at 4am to watch Game 7 of the playoffs streaming online, then had a productive day in Germany not torching police cars on camera.

By the morning of June 19th I was back up in the skies.

Flying to Côte d'Ivoire

By supper time that day I was eating supper (how appropriate) with my new colleagues in Abidjan, the biggest city and former capital of Côte d’Ivoire (Abidjan was also the name of the local watering hole in Buea, Cameroon, where my friends and I used to eat barbecued meat with a beer in the evenings after a good day’s work back in 2007).

Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire

The next day I arrived in Daloa, where I spent the next three and a half months working my butt off. Work was hard, but I gradually trained my staff to do a lot of the work I was doing myself, which greatly increased the number of hours I spent sleeping. It also let me get out of the office a bit more, including a day trip across the border into Liberia to help bring some medical goods into Côte d’Ivoire.

Welcome to Liberia (Pékanhouébli border crossing)

In Daloa, I saw our medical stock grow from taking up the space of a small bedroom with a few shelves…

First medical storeroom in Daloa

…to taking over my bedroom as an overflow area.

My bedroom, the overflow storage space in Daloa

At the end of July I organised to move our office out of the house and into a dedicated office space, where we had a new warehouse space in which I had custom shelves built…

Building shelves in the new warehouse space

…and another room of boxes stacked on pallets. What a difference a couple of months makes!

Medical goods on pallets

We also helped the Ministry of Health run a measles vaccination campaign for over 15,000 children and later on collected the dozens of sharps boxes from remote health centres.

Sharps boxes for safe disposal of vaccination needles

I also helped improve the water and sanitation standards of health centres around Daloa by donating soap and other supplies, and making these hand washing buckets for patients and staff:

Hand washing stations for health centres around Daloa, Côte d'Ivoire

We also spent a fair bit of energy rehabilitating a couple of health centres that had been looted and badly damaged by armed groups during the conflict.

Smashed glass on the floor of a looted health centre near Daloa, Côte d'Ivoire

They needed doors repaired, smashed locks and windows replaced, electricity and lighting restored, furniture built and donated, grounds cleared and cleaned, and much more.

New door for a health centre outside Daloa, Côte d'Ivoire
New door handle and lock for a health centre outside Daloa, Côte d'Ivoire
New electrical panels for a health centre outside Daloa, Côte d'Ivoire

One health centre had a puddle the size of a lake right out front, the perfect breeding place for mosquitoes, so I organised to have it fixed:

The lake outside Zoukpangbeu health centre, Côte d'Ivoire
The lake is gone outside Zoukpangbeu health centre, Côte d'Ivoire

My logistician, Moussa, did a great job of supervising all this work.

Moussa, my logistician

Two months into my time in Daloa, a few friends and I managed to see a huge wild elephant nearby.

The elephant outside Daloa, Côte d'Ivoire

By the end of September I was pretty tired out, so I decided to take a week’s vacation next door in Ghana. I had to fly out of Abidjan, so on the way from Daloa to Abidjan I visited the biggest church in the world in Yamoussoukro:

Basilique Notre Dame de la Paix, Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire

In Ghana, I became perhaps a bit too familiar with Ghanaian buses for such a short stay…

Bus broken down near Mole National Park, Ghana

…and had two different vehicles break down from radiator leaks, but the trip was really fun, and I got to see a whole bunch more elephants while I was there.

Elephants in Mole National Park, Ghana

I also saw lots of sideways lightning, which I’ve only seen in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

Horizontal lightning in Mole National Park, Ghana

Back in Côte d’Ivoire, within two days of my return to Daloa, I was asked to move to Tabou to replace the logistician who was leaving a bit earlier than planned. I was a bit surprised, and quite moved, when two of my staff broke down in tears when I announced the news to them. Tears of joy, perhaps, to finally be rid of their boss? The next weekend I arrived in Tabou, a very small town on the Atlantic coast, just a few kilometres from the Liberian border, overlooking the Gulf of Guinea.

Tabou, Côte d'Ivoire

I spent the next two months in Tabou, squeezing in three short trips north as far as a town called Para, with some beautiful stretches of road…

The road from Tabou to Para, Côte d'Ivoire

…and some short stretches of road almost as bad as the one we travelled from Buea to Mamfe, Cameroon, or the not-really-roads outside Kindu, DR Congo.

Rough spot of road en route to Para, Côte d'Ivoire
Rough spot of road en route to Para, Côte d'Ivoire

The last few weeks in Tabou were really focussed on closing down the project, which at its peak had over 40 national staff running 20 mobile clinics, plus support to 12 health centres (of which the farthest was 6 hours away), and running an intensive therapeutic feeding centre plus an ambulatory therapeutic feeding centre for malnourished children. Closing the project involved a LOT of paperwork (I might have drowned if it weren’t for the wonders of mail merging), but also some fun stuff like big donations of drugs and supplies to health centres and the Ministry of Health.

Paracetamol to be donated to health centres near Tabou, Côte d'Ivoire

Our office/warehouse space went from being completely packed with medicine…

The MSF office and warehouse space, full to capacity

…to completely empty!

The MSF office and warehouse space, totally empty after many donations

Other big jobs in closing the project in Tabou included donating all sorts of furniture and office supplies to another NGO working in the health sector, which involved lots of trips back and forth from our office to theirs…

Donating a vaccine fridge to a medical NGO in Tabou, Côte d'Ivoire

…and uninstalling our radio and comms equipment, like the VHF antenna bolted to the top of a 15 metre pole. The VHF antenna is on the left, not the huge mobile phone tower in the background!

The VHF antenna (on the left) in Tabou, Côte d'Ivoire
Removing the VHF antenna in Tabou, Côte d'Ivoire

I also got to burn all the unimportant paperwork in our big fire pit, fun!

Burning unimportant documents in Tabou, Côte d'Ivoire

Having closed the project, and with the December 11th parliamentary elections having passed without any violence, our team returned to the MSF coordination office in Abidjan. Eating extra oily omelets with my colleagues on the way to Abidjan was, as usual, good times:

Evening omelet time in Gagnoa, Côte d'Ivoire

I spent the next few days in Abidjan, finishing up some final reports and burning more unimportant paperwork…

Burning unimportant documents in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire

…then took a three day road trip to the Liberian border to import a Land Cruiser into Côte d’Ivoire as the Liberia mission was also closing.

Bringing a Land Cruiser from Liberia to Côte d'Ivoire

My last few days in Abidjan were spent helping the Financial Coordinator with some actually important paperwork (sadly, this did not involve any fire).

Important paperwork

Then, on December 22nd/23rd an Air France jet kindly carried me to Paris for a coffee with Thomas, a friend and all-round amazing guy on break from his job in Afghanistan. Having finished coffee and a croissant, I high-tailed it back to the airport just in time for my flight to Toronto and eventually Vancouver. I landed about three hours before a DJ show downtown, for which I’d bought a ticket online a month earlier. Knowing that several friends would be there, I showed up downtown to surprise them. And, with the 6 month beard that was weighing down my chin, they were definitely surprised.

DJ show in Vancouver, BC

The next day, Christmas Eve, I went to Studio D Hair Salon

Studio D Hair Salon, Vancouver, BC

…and had my beard bleached white, morphing into a very odd-looking Santa Claus for the next couple of days, long enough to show it off to my grandma in Nova Scotia on her first ever Skype video call…

Santa beard
Grandma's first Skype video conversation

…and to the extended family at our annual Boxing Day party.

My cousin's kid testing whether my Santa beard is real

With that over, I removed all my white Santa hair in time to avoid scaring the surgeon who’ll be slicing my knee open in the future. On December 29th we met, we talked, and we settled on fixing my knee once I return from wherever I go next, if it’s about 5-6 months from now (oh, how I love waiting lists).

On December 30th a huge group of friends descended on the King’s Head in Kits to say goodbye to the place…

Closing party for the King's Head pub, Vancouver
Closing party for the King's Head pub, Vancouver

…which then shut its doors on New Year’s Day. Apparently it’s going to become a Wing’s. The following night, a potluck of culinary delights…

Preparing a veggie roast for New Year's Eve potluck
Mike's bacon coated turkeys for New Year's Eve potluck

…followed by another crazy New Year’s Eve party with friends…

New Year's Eve party in Vancouver

…helped shut 2011 down, and open 2012 up, a year bound to be filled with 24 extra hours of adventure, and boy am I looking forward to it!

If you got through this entire summary, I’m impressed; if you take the time to send me an update on your life, whether it be short or long, I will be even more impressed, and promise to read it too (I’ll even reply!).

Cheers, beers, and bicycle gears,
Chris

Vancouver to Amsterdam to Bonn to Abidjan

On June 8th I left Vancouver to begin my first contract with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF aka Doctors Without Borders), in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa. As usual, I didn’t take the most direct route. Before starting work, I had to attend a ten day introduction to MSF, which was held in Bonn, Germany. Another guy from Vancouver, John, was on the same flight, which had a six hour stopover in Amsterdam, so when we landed on June 9th the two of us left the airport to see my old friend Pieter in town.

Clocktower, central Amsterdam

The three of us visited the MSF office, walked around a bit, talked a lot, and had strange but tasty Dutch sandwiches before John and I caught our train back to the airport. There, we met up with a few others heading to the induction, flew to Köln together, and figured out the buses to get from the airport to the outskirts of Bonn for the induction.

I can’t really say anything about the MSF induction itself, just that it was a lot of fun, with some really cool participants and organisers, rather bad (and I suspect perhaps decaffeinated) coffee, and no fresh vegetables for the first few days because of the big E. coli outbreak in Europe at the time. A few pics of Bonn:

Bonn Münster:

Bonn Münster, central Bonn, Germany

Bonn’s historic Town Hall:

Bonn's historic Town Hall

Bonn’s most famous citizen, Beethoven:

Beethoven statue, Bonn, Germany

Street art in Bonn: an East German soldier jumping over the line:

East German soldier skip rope street art, Bonn, Germany

After ten days, all the other participants left Bonn, except for me and one other guy. I stayed part of an extra night in the hostel, caught a taxi to the Bonn Hauptbahnhof in the middle of the night, and a little after 5am on June 19th I was zooming along the Rhine River watching the castles glide by around me en route to Frankfurt by train:

Castle on the Rhine, Germany
Castle on the Rhine, Germany
Castle on the Rhine, Germany

From Frankfurt it was a quick hop through the sky to Brussels:

Flying from Frankfurt to Brussels

From Brussels, the plane passed over the Mediterranean with its pretty islands and coastline:

Islands in the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa
The northern coast of Africa

By 515pm I was on the ground in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s biggest city, to start a six month contract.

Sunset in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire