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,

A July Visit to Vancouver and Bowen Island

During my two week stay in BC, I did stuff and things and so forth, etc. These activities included…

Giving my brother Matt tips as he learned how to ride a motorcycle:


Going to Tuesday night karaoke at J-Lounge with Denise and Dan, who were awesome on stage:


Watching Toy Story 3 and seeing Kevin James, of the movie Grown Ups, in the theatre:


A long sunset walk around part of the seawall and Yaletown with my friend Amanda:


Attending the Canada Cup of Beer with Stash (not in this pic), Dan, and Lyndsay. Got to catch up with Colin and Rick, the organisers, as well. Rick is on the left of the truck:


Eating pho at KPXL twice, the second time being a post-glup dich noodle celebration with many amazing people:


And cycling with my brother Dan to Bowen Island for a bit over a day by the sea, which deserves more than one photo. Arriving at Horseshoe Bay for the ferry, sweaty and tired from far too many hillclimbs:


The ferry ride to Bowen Island:


When we arrived on Bowen, the tide was the lowest I can remember ever seeing:


My brother Matt took the windsurfer out a few times, and had not fallen until I pulled my camera out, assuming he’d fall. It took less than 30 seconds for my prediction to come true:


The three of us decided to get ice cream in Snug Cove, so we had a ‘race’ to get there. Matt took the windsurfer to Sandy Beach while Dan took the canoe and I rowed Jaro, the half-century-old fibreglass rowboat, across Deep Bay and into the cove. I would have beat Dan by a long shot if I hadn’t stopped to wait for him for this photo op, but I still barely beat him. Matt was still out on the water when we walked over to Sandy Beach to find him, and he had to paddle to shore for lack of wind.


There were quite a few deer on the property this time. In fact, at one point I counted seven (!) of them altogether in the front and back yards – three adults and four fawns.


The ferry heading back to Vancouver, with UBC behind it:


Deep Bay:


A good place from which to stare at the ocean:


I found this creepy crawlie, a steatoda borealis, on my bedroom floor in the cabin I stayed in:


One of the fawns that were running around the property on Sunday:


Dan and I spent at least an hour in the forest picking berries to give a friend of mine back in Vancouver. We got a whole bunch of huckleberries, salal berries (which is what he’s picking in this pic), and plums – delicious things you’ll probably never see on a grocery store shelf (the plums in question are not the kind you see in stores).


One of the deer in the backyard as seen from inside our kitchen:


On the ferry ride back to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, the haze was nearly non-existent so the green trees of the mainland coast actually looked green!


The cycle from Horseshoe Bay back to Vancouver was much easier than the opposite direction the day before. Dan insists it was the evening tailwind, while I believe it was a combination of me not having any luggage on my bike and having a small coffee on the ferry ride. The lighting was amazing as we cycled along the scenic Marine Drive, through Park Royal, and on toward Lion’s Gate Bridge.


Views from Lion’s Gate Bridge:


Dan and I parted ways at Denman and Robson, where for about 3 minutes (Dan timed it roughly) the underside of these clouds lit up like fire:


On the 13th, Dan and I spent some time at Kerrisdale Cameras testing out extension tubes on my camera for macro photography. This is part of my finger:


On the evening of July 13th I caught a McDonnell Douglas MD-11 owned by KLM from Vancouver to Amsterdam en route back to DR Congo.


A Week in Vancouver

After finishing up in London at the very start of March, I had just over a week to waste before flying down to Africa, so I decided to head to Vancouver to see family and friends.

As our plane came in to land on the afternoon of March 4th, I had an excellent view looking north to Bowen Island, which is one of the best places in the world:


After arriving at my parents’ home, my sister Lisa told me that Fred Penner was going to be holding a concert at UBC’s Pit Pub that very night. Fred Penner was a children’s TV show host when I was a child, and I used to watch his show every day on CBC, sing along to all his songs full of good wholesome values and happiness. When I heard he was holding a concert at a student pub, I decided there was no way I could miss it. Lisa got there early and managed to get me a ticket. My friend Sarah, who studied with me in Sweden, and her sister joined us as they were visiting Vancouver.

And let me tell you, Fred Penner’s show was LEGENDARY. It now ranks as the number one concert experience of my life.


At UBC it’s still impossible not to bump into people I know, and at Fred Penner’s show I was very happy to run into my friend Mike. After the show, we waited together in line for a long time to get autographs, hugs, and photos with our childhood idol:


Aside from that first crazy night, my time in Vancouver was a lot of fun. The weather was pretty nice most of the time:


On Friday night I went to another party at UBC with a lot of friends, and met up with two girls from, Carmen and Franziska, who are both really awesome people.


On Saturday night it was yet another party, this time a prom-themed party in the Downtown Eastside with DJs and live bands.


I lent my brother Dan one of my tuxedos, which made him look professional as he played pool at the party:


On Sunday morning, we went over to Bowen Island for the day. There were a few deer around that day in the forest:


We met up with our friend Alasdair, who grew up on Bowen but moved to France and who I hadn’t seen since 2003 when I visited his family in Lourdes. Together we walked to a little beach to look for crabs under the rocks.


We found a little eel!


And Alasdair managed to find a few photogenic crabs, like this one perched on his fingertip:


After a few more days spent seeing friends and family around town, on my last night in Vancouver I went back out to UBC for another show: Jokers of the Scene. My friend Jason was the DJ opening the show:


My brother Matt happened to fly in from Yellowknife that night so he came out to the show to meet up with us. And so it came to be that, on my last night in Vancouver, all five of my parents’ children (each of which has attended / is attending UBC) partied together on campus:


The night ended very late, and the morning of March 13th began very early as I packed my bags at home long after the airport check-in counter had opened, headed to the airport after boarding had begun, and as always somehow avoided missing my flight. Destination: Democratic Republic of Congo via Montreal (Canada), London (England), Nairobi (Kenya), Bujumbura (Burundi), and Kigali (Rwanda).

More photos of Bowen Island

My granny would have turned 100 on August 17, 2009 and we always had a birthday celebration at Bowen Island on the Sunday closest to her birthday. It was one of two days of the year (along with Boxing Day) when most of the extended family would get together in one place. This year we decided to get together even though Granny’s not around anymore, and have a family reunion of sorts.

I cycled from downtown Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay to catch the ferry, which was 25km and took me 45 minutes, pushing the bike pretty hard. As usual, I had one of my cameras mounted on the handlebars, to take photos like these:

On the ferry to Bowen:

I met up with Lisa and Dan in Snug Cove, and Dan bought us ice cream.

I cycled up the 7 hills (I don’t know why they call them the 7 hills, since I can never count 7 – it seems more like one hill to me, but cycling up it is ridiculously hard). On my way down the hill on the other side, at a speed of 46km/h, my front brake pad wore through its wear line and began making terrible noises. Stopping the bike was lots of fun without proper brakes but I managed it, and walked the last few hundred metres.

As I was coming down the last bit of road to our place, I saw this stag nearby. I only had my small camera with me, sadly, so the photo is blurry and distant, but it’s very uncommon to see a stag:

The view from the cabin balcony:

Lisa taking care of our cousin’s kid:

And me doing the same a little while later:

Matt, Dan, and our cousin Jenn all took turns taking the windsurfer out on the ocean. Here’s a shot of Matt sailing along:

So many people on the float!

My uncle Stephen took his grandson and great-niece out in the rowboat, which they both thoroughly enjoyed:

Matt showed off his diving skills:

My cousin Jasper took his niece swimming:

And everyone spent time staring at the water, though I have no idea what they were looking at:

That evening, I went out rowing at sunset as I often do when I’m at Bowen, and the sky was amazing! I only had my point-and-shoot, so it’s a blurry shot, but these are the real colours I saw:

The next day, Josephine and I hiked up Mt Gardner for the second time in two weeks. These are Oregon Grapes, tasty but a bit sour:

A grey squirrel eyeing us from a tree:

Views from the top:

Tron apparently visited the top as well at some point:

That afternoon, Jos had to head back to Vancouver, so my uncle David took her as he was driving anyways. I was out in the rowboat with Lisa when we took this shot of the ferry leaving Bowen:

And if we zoom in to the shot, uncle David and Josephine are waving to us!