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,

Mud vs Sheep vs Bike 2009

Last year, when I was an intern in Oxford with the Fritz Institute, I was invited by my boss, Fraser Stephens, to go on his annual mountainbiking trip: Mud v Sheep v Bike. This year, I got him to invite me again. He chose Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales for this year’s trip, and it was amazing!

Leaving London Paddington train station to Wales on September 18th:

I got to Cardiff in the early afternoon and spent a few hours walking around and reading my book, then caught my bus from Cardiff up to Brecon. Fraser drove down to Brecon to pick me up, and after a nice evening chatting with him and some of his friends, I went to bed. In the morning, we all got our bikes ready to head out into the hills. I was very lucky that Fishy, one of Fraser’s friends, brought an extra bike just in case. I had planned to use Fraser’s rigid bike, but Fishy brought one with front suspension, which just happened to be the exact same one he lent me last year!

The first obstacle we encountered was bovine. Well, actually we were just waiting for the stragglers to catch up on the road leading to the trails, and this is where we chose to wait:

To get to the mountainbiking trails, we had to cycle for a while on the tow path alongside the canal near Tallybont. I’m decent at taking photos while cycling now…

…and working on improving my behind-the-back shots too:

Some nice views:

Me and my ride:

Mike took a tumble end-over-end coming down the steepest part of the trail – I’m very surprised he’s the only one who did! It was really tough! Luckily his bike didn’t land on him as it came down, which is a common way to get injured – it hopped right over him. But his glasses did cut his eyebrow:

Nurse Dawn had her first aid kit, including medical superglue (used in place of sutures to close wounds). I noticed one of the tires had partly come off the rim so Fraser deflated the tire, put it back in place, and re-inflated it:

A few minutes later we were at the pub for our midday lunch break. Outside the pub was a tiny pony:

Soonafter, we were back on the trails. We passed through the gap / over the saddle between Pen Y Fan (the highest point in South Wales) and Corn Du, and then it was back down, down, down.

It didn’t take long before two bikes got flat tires at the same time on a section I chose to walk because it was quite tough.

One of the two flats was Dawn’s bike, so Mike wasted no time in fixing it for her, which was a nice way to repay her earlier help with his eyebrow:

By the time we got back to Cantref Farm, where we were staying, my GPS unit showed the following figures for the day’s trip. I took the photo because it was strange that all of them were multiples of 5:

This plaque is on the building, but it doesn’t actually say why it’s there. It just says when it was unveiled. It’s basically a plaque that just describes itself, and says nothing about why it was put there (obviously it’s somehow linked to the Foot and Mouth crisis, but what about it?)

That night we had a massive feast. Fraser made his traditional banoffee pie that he does every year:

Fraser’s girlfriend Kate led the cooking effort, and it turned out very well – a bunch of super tasty Indian dishes.

The next day, September 20th, six of us went out for a second day of cycling. Although Fraser always says that the second day will be much easier than the first, I think most people have figured out that it’s never really that easy, so they all stay back and relax. Paul, Kate, Fishy, Adam, Fraser, and I had a great time on our second day, so I’m glad I forced myself to go.

Adam and Paul on one of the easier sections of the day:


Cycling back along the canal to Cantref Farm:

On the ride back, we had ice cream, then relaxed at the farm for a little while before everyone took off for their respective homes. Adam kindly drove me to Newport, and I walked around town for a bit before catching my train back to London. Here’s the only
photo I took in Newport, near the train station:

All in all, it was a great weekend. The mountainbiking was tough but fun, Fraser’s friends were very friendly and interesting, and somehow the weather was perfect too! Hopefully I somehow manage to attend a few more editions of Mud v Sheep v Bike in the future!

Manchester, Aberystwyth, and Cardiff!

I finished my four week internship on September 12, and on the 14th Katie drove me to the Oxford train station with my stuff to set off on a few more adventures. When I climbed aboard the train en route to Manchester, I was a little surprised to find the thing was packed with people and far too much luggage. Though I had a reserved seat, I couldn’t fit my two bags anywhere near that seat so I chose to stand with a few other people and luggage at the end of the car. For an hour and a half. Smelly and cramped, but not all that bad really. The guy sitting on the floor near me looked like he had a crazy hangover, so I didn’t feel so bad about my slight discomfort.

I spent three nights in Manchester, visiting my friend Vania who’s just starting a Master’s degree in Psychology at the University of Manchester. Nice enough city, but I wouldn’t recommend bothering with it if you’re only going as a tourist with no friends to visit. I only took three photos in four days.

My friends and I like to share a pint or two in Vancouver at the King’s Head on Yew Street in Kitsilano, and I actually went to the King’s Head in Bristol with my boss Fraser a few weeks back, and I thought it appropriate to take a photo of the King’s Arms. Maybe next I’ll find his legs and torso.

This is Vania’s living room, with an excellent couch that unfolds into a big bed. Such a nice flat.

The big, old (built between 1869 and 1871), Catholic Church of The Holy Name of Jesus near the University of Manchester in the centre of the city looks kinda cool but we didn’t go in:

On the 17th I caught a couple of trains to get from Manchester to Aberystwyth on the Irish Sea coast in Mid Wales to visit Will, who was also a volunteer in Cameroon when I was there. He and his flatmate Regan were terrific hosts, giving me a room all to myself and taking me out to some student parties. I didn’t take many photos of that, though, so you’ll have to settle for scenery instead. And believe me, when the weather is good in Aberystwyth, the scenery is quite something.

Someone’s boat and a couple of swans on the River Ystwyth (Aberystwyth = Mouth of the River Ystwyth) a few metres from Will’s flat:

There’s a set of castle ruins in ‘central’ Aberystwyth (it’s a very small place, so the centre of the city is not quite a bustling business district) and I spent a few minutes looking around and over an hour just sitting on a bench among the ruins relaxing in the sun and ocean breeze.

Part of a wall that has clearly tumbled over:

Castle ruins in the foreground, St Michael’s Church on the right, Aberystwyth University “Old College” on the left, Constitution Hill in the background:

As I walked along the promenade overlooking the water, I stopped to look out on the ocean and saw this gull flying overhead. My lens managed to get a fairly good focus just in time for a photo:

Looking North toward Constitution Hill:

I managed to walk to the base of Constitution Hill, and started up the rocky path upward. There’s a neat gravel path that takes a more direct route, but I preferred to take the track that was steeper and took in better views. A short way up, looking back South toward Aberystwyth; note the tower of the castle ruins is the left one of the two things sticking out of the peninsula in the distance:

After some difficult walking, I found a place to sit down at the edge of quite a high cliff, and stayed there at least half an hour. Looking Northwest from my spot:

Some little flowers:

I eventually scrambled up to the top, bought an orange juice at the little shop up there, and continued my way along a thin walking path heading further North along the coast. It was really beautiful, walking along the cliff edge overlooking the ocean. Eventually I started down toward the neighbouring village, and I thought this bit of the path was particularly neat-looking:

Looking North toward the next village:

I turned around when I reached the village, and returned to Will’s house after a solid day outside and almost a sunburn. On Saturday morning I caught a bus en route to Carmarthen, then a train to Swansea, and another train on to Cardiff to visit my friend Augustine. Cardiff is a really neat city and Augustine is another terrific host and friend, so I had a blast. She only arrived in town the day before me, for two semesters on exchange from UBC, so we got to explore Cardiff as tourists/adventurers together!

This is the Welsh National War Memorial to the soldiers of WWI and WWII:

Cardiff City Hall:

Close-up of the super cool dragon sculpture on the top of the dome:

There’s a castle in central Cardiff, so of course we went for a visit! Although I spent my first year of university studying in a castle, it was Augustine’s first time in a castle – exciting!

Inside the castle walls, a fort is built up on a motte (the hill of dirt) made using the dirt dug out to form the moat that surrounds it. There used to be a high wall running from the fort to the outer castle wall. The stairs you see leading up to the fort are built on what was once the wall, the remainder of which you can see running to the right corner of the picture. The original doorway is the one up in the air, which would have let someone walk out onto the wall and along it.

View of the tower housing the Chaucer Room, a really cool part of the castle. We toured through this and other rooms, but sadly no photos were allowed inside.

Maybe not the best flag photo in the world, but it’s the best I could do for the Welsh flag at the time, and I think it’s kind of neat:

Of course, with university starting the following week, all the new students were arriving in town and that means one thing: parties. We went to several, along with Augustine’s super friendly flatmates, all from different parts of the UK. Here’s what the David Pearce concert looked like. I took this pic from a position quite close to the stage, in a massive room holding hundreds and hundreds of students.

Of course, because we’re both so cool, we discovered that Augustine and I both wear the same shirt as a pyjama shirt, our MUG leader shirts from UBC orientations! Mine’s got an extra line of stuff written on it, because I’m so old and it was the 10 year anniversary of Imagine UBC Orientations when I got mine.

On the 22nd I caught a taxi to the local train station, then a slow train to Cardiff Central station, then a faster train to London Paddington station, then the tube to London Liverpool station, then the Stansted Express train to Stansted Airport. I tried to sleep the night there, but unlike Gatwick (highly recommended as airport sleeping goes) Stansted had a LOT of people doing the same thing and there weren’t any benches left by the time I arrived. I settled for a spot on the floor as many others had done, and got about an hour and a half sleep. Then I caught my Ryanair plane to Weeze airport in Germany.

To be continued…