Dear [insert relation],
A good friend of mine occasionally publishes a film review, which is invariably… concise. And so, in the spirit of learning from friends, I present to you my 6th Annual Annual Update:
Today, I will be reviewing 2013. I thought 2013 was interesting.
For my [insert relation, plural form] who would like me to elaborate further, hereunder can be found a selection of 80 photos from the year 2013. But first, a pie chart!
On the first day of 2013, I woke up on Mars. Pretty cool place.
After Mars, I returned to Earth and visited Petra, Jordan. I’ve been to a lot of interesting places, but I’ve not found any suitably strong superlatives with which to describe Petra.
In that first week of January I visited a bunch of other places in Jordan and jumped really high for this selfie, which shows how happy I was during most of my Jordan adventures:
Then it was back to work in Iraq, where I saw the White House in passing several times (it’s the headquarters of the KUP, a major Kurdish political party) while driving to and from Kirkuk.
In late February, I flew back to Sweden for the first time since 2009, for a United Nations Logistics Induction Course. Instead of arriving directly to the training just outside Lund, I flew instead to Gothenberg to see some old friends. I spent the first couple of nights staying with Vania and Dave at their home in the forest overlooking a frozen lake while horses grazed on tall blades of grass jutting out of the snow. How’s that for a contrast from Iraq?
Next, I spent some time with my old friend Namiko, including a raucous raclette night with a bunch of Swedes.
And then, it was time for the training course, which involved a lot of sitting, listening, and talking. It was interesting, though!
At the end of the training, we were driven across the bridge from Malmö, Sweden to Copenhagen, Denmark,
and in the outskirts of Copenhagen we visited the massive, relatively new, and mostly automated (read: cool robots running the show!) Unicef warehouse.
As the other participants headed to the airport to fly to their home countries, I took a train back across the bridge to Malmö, where I met and stayed with a particularly inspiring young couchsurfer and her inspiring housemate, sharing hours of conversation, then flew the next day back to Iraq.
Back in Iraq, we had to spend a few weeks out of the project location for security reasons, so instead of sitting around bored in Erbil, I went back up to Duhok (where I’d spent three months in late 2012) to lend a hand to the logistics team in Domiz Refugee Camp. And, lucky me, the day I arrived was a special day to celebrate traditional Kurdish dress, so my friends were all dressed up!
I had left Domiz Refugee Camp at the end of November 2012, at which point only the foundation was finished on the new health centre I had designed for the camp with the help of the Directorate of Health engineer. I was happy to find the centre had opened about five weeks before my return, though it was already starting to prove too small for the constantly growing camp population.
I stayed in Duhok for two weeks, during which time a windstorm followed by a sandstorm did some serious damage to the huge tents MSF was using as extra clinic space:
Many of my midday meals in March came from this kebab shop in the camp:
It was springtime, the best time of year to visit Duhok, if you ever have an opportunity.
After a lovely stay and a lot of hard work, I headed back down to work in Kirkuk and Hawijah in the last week of March.
On April 1st, my friends and colleagues in Kirkuk, Iraq bought me a cake because they thought it was my birthday, despite the fact that I never told anyone it was my birthday (it was not),
and did a lot of springtime hiking in the mesmerising mountains of northern Iraq, in the Kurdish Autonomous Region:
In May, still in Iraq, I deliberately smashed my car into other people as hard as I could!
I also oversaw the start of construction on our new house,
ate huuuge meals in the temporary house I’d designed and had a contractor build,
did more hiking in Kurdistan, luckily surviving each trip,
and played ping pong in my plaid pyjamas.
The first day of June was my last day in Iraq, so I caught a taxi to Duhok to visit my old friends, who then took me to see one of Saddam’s old palaces,
and we nearly got the little car stuck while offroading!
During the next week, I spent time with Turkish protestors in Taksim Square, Istanbul,
had a sunny sidewalk lunch with Julia in Geneva, Switzerland,
celebrated Aidan’s birthday in Aylesbury, England,
had tasty Thai food in London with Malin,
crashed at Dave’s place and talked over beers, finally visited Tate Modern after more than ten years of frequent visits to London,
ate lunch with Miriam, then took an out-of-focus selfie in the bus station,
caught up with Sam over coffee, then took an out-of-focus selfie at the British Red Cross office,
stared as hundreds of people cycled past in the World Naked Bike Ride (which, incidentally, originated in Vancouver),
laughed with Will and Natalie,
talked about Amnesty International and things less serious with Estelle,
then flew back to Canada.
In July I managed to catch the last Ruffled Feathers show before their lineup changed,
and that same night I saw Laura Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk and bought their album, to which I listened many times over the following months.
I also found this beautiful Golden Buprestid beetle on Bowen Island,
repaired a small bridge with my brother,
spent time with AJ at Queen Elizabeth Park where we spent a few moments appreciating a monkey puzzle tree,
began restoration work on our family’s old rowboat,
witnessed my friends catch a hipster crab,
witnessed my sister’s friend get served coffee at a Main Street cafe out of the exact same Christmas mug we’ve had in our family’s home for years,
witnessed a beautiful fireworks show from the West End balcony of a friend of a friend,
cycled around the seawall and under the Lion’s Gate Bridge,
took a shameless bathroom selfie with Shawn and Denise,
admired Mark’s colourful carrots at one of many delightful documentary nights,
got help from two siblings to pack my things again, and left Canada once more.
In August I enjoyed an evening in Amsterdam with my friend Martin and a day of meetings and walks along canals,
then arrived in Afghanistan for the first time and flew to Helmand,
saw these fantastic locally-made, heat-activated coffee mugs,
and figured out how to service and repair industrial laundry washing machines.
In September I continued to eat a LOT of good food,
found a scorpion on my bedroom floor, just a few centimetres from my bare foot,
laughed daily at something new,
figured out how to take apart an x-ray machine, and luckily also how to reassemble it after repairing it,
spent a weekend in Kabul, with a short but scenic visit to the top of TV Mountain,
and learned how to use a compactor as I began work on a water backup system for the hospital.
In October I worked too much, slept too little.
In transit to Nepal in November, I spent a night in Dubai hanging out with couchsurfers I met there in 2012.
In Nepal I made a new friend – a singer, climbing instructor, and trekking guide,
saw some colourful things,like Boudhanath,
learned the correct way to eat rice with my hands,
went hiking in the Himalayas and lost my glasses,
played basketball for the first time in years, at over 2800m altitude, and lost,
played Carrom for the first time in my life, at over 2600m altitude, and lost,
ran as fast as I could off the side of a mountain for the first time ever, and won (my paragliding instructor bet another instructor that we could reach the highest altitude first, and we did).
In November I also saw massive sets of reinforcement bars being assembled in Dubai during my return trip to Afghanistan,
and watched the Helmand River rise dramatically after just a few hours of rain.
In December I saw a tanker truck transported on top of a bus in Lashkar Gah,
marvelled at this small pickup making its way through town,
caught a mouse and ate it to show my staff how tough I am,
learned how to use a massive new incinerator (which might double as a superspeed pizza oven if I get my way),
catnapped a kitten from the hospital, taught her some manners, and named her Lion,
flew from Lashkar Gah to Kabul for a weekend off,
got MRI exams for both my knees and looked through the resulting images as if I had a clue,
woke up on December 30th to find the first snowfall of the season had settled on the streets as I slept,
watched the biggest snowplow I’ve ever seen, clearing the runways at Kabul Airport,
flew back to Helmand over spectacularly beautiful Afghan winter landscapes,
woke up to my midnight alarm blaring as 2013 came to a close, and sent a text message to spark one of my grand adventures of 2014, which was just then beginning to take shape.
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 (this year, it took me 11 months to reply to some people, but I did reply!).