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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

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A few random photos from Vancouver, Ottawa, and Salt Spring Island

Here are a few random photos I felt like posting when I was in Canada, but which didn’t really merit posts…

Framed portrait:

Framed portrait

I glued a 1-cent stamp from 1935 onto a parcel wrapped in blank 1960s sheet music paper to give a gift to a friend:

1935 1-cent stamp

A tasty cracker manwich, with Oker in the background:

Cracker manwich

Denise’s crazy nails, which were done by a lady at Lady Orchid’s Rejuvenating Spa down on West Broadway a few doors west from Manitoba Street:

Nails looking sharp

I made strawberries stuffed with chocolate mousse and added a peppermint leaf to each one:

Strawberries stuffed with chocolate

And I also made peanut butter cup cookies. I didn’t make the peanut butter cups, though, they were in a package…

Peanut butter cup cookies

After the Vancouver Canucks won Game 5 of Round 3 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, sending them to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994, a bunch of us went downtown to celebrate – we weren’t the only ones!

Celebrating after the Canucks Round 3, Game 5 victory

I had to go to Ottawa to get my visa for Côte d’Ivoire, and as I do on every visit to Ottawa, I took a quick walk around Parliament Hill:

Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

While in Ottawa, I also visited the Canadian Museum of Nature, which has some really cool dinosaur fossils, including this triceratops skull:

Triceratops skull, Museum of Nature, Ottawa

Back in BC, my last weekend in Canada was spent with a bunch of friends on Salt Spring Island. The float plane is faster than the ferry:

Float plane en route to Salt Spring Island, BC,Canada

The trip by ferry is really beautiful, winding between loads of little islands along the way:

View from the ferry to Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada

On Saturday morning, we went to Ganges, the main town on Salt Spring Island, to have a look at the market. This busker, Mack Pinchbeck, was amaaazing!

Busking skateboard bluegrass fiddle prodigy Mack Pinchbeck in Ganges, Salt Spring Island

Later on, we headed to a dock so people could take a dip in the water. Conrad the 4-legged, 4-armed wonderboy dove right in:

Conrad, the 4-armed, 4-legged wonderboy

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Road trip to Québec!

On July 19th my sister Josephine, her boyfriend Matt, and I packed our stuff into Matt’s car and left my grandmother’s home in East Ship Harbour, Nova Scotia to make our way to Gatineau, Québec (across the river from Ottawa, Ontario). It was a tight squeeze with all our stuff and my bicycle packed in the trunk, but it all worked out quite well.

The drive was quite tiring, especially for Matt as the driver, so we stopped at a rest stop somewhere in New Brunswick for a nap in the car and then some morning coffee. This massive sign (for the huuuge trucks that park at the rest stop) was quite neat:

After eating breakfast at a Macdonald’s (yes, it’s true) in the francophone part of New Brunswick, where they call a drink “un breuvage” instead of “une boisson,” we entered the Province of Québec. It’s amazing what photos can be taken from a moving car with a cheapish point-and-shoot camera and a little bit of luck:

The flag of Québec:

Entering St. Louis of the Ha! Ha!

A field of canola in bloom:

On our route, we passed through Québec City, the provincial capital and quite an old city, by Canadian standards. Matt had been there before, so he was able to drive us to the area by the old fort ruins where all the tourists go to look at the St. Lawrence River:

We soon hit the road again, and on the way we passed a crazy school bus lot of some sort. We were driving full-speed but luckily I managed a couple shots, and I must say this is one of my favourite photos ever taken from a car. I’ll probably edit it in Lightroom later to make the yellow in the buses a bit more vivid, but I’m really happy with the luck of this one:

We reached our destination in the afternoon on the 20th, about 20 hours after we started. Our destination was Matt’s brother’s apartment in Gatineau, where we helped him and his assistant assemble a TV stand and mount his new flatscreen in the living room (which doubled as my bedroom for a couple nights). It really did take 5 university-educated people over half an hour to put together a simple TV stand:

The perfect picture of relaxation after a long night/day of driving, complete with a refreshing and well-deserved beer:

On the 21st I got an important phone call from London, England. It was a phone interview with Medical Emergency Relief International (Merlin), for a humanitarian logistics internship. I felt it went well, and not long after I was accepted to join the internship programme beginning September 1st!

The rest of the day we all just chilled out, did laundry, and I met up with my friend Dennis (with whom I studied in England way back in 2002-03) and his fiancée for dinner in Ottawa and a long conversation. On the 22nd, Matt and Jos and I took a drive into Ottawa to run a few errands and walk around a bit. Ottawa isn’t the most exciting city in Canada, so there tends to be a gravitational pull toward Parliament Hill every time I visit. As seen from the bridge coming from Gatineau:

The Peace Tower below a cloudy sky:

This bell has a neat history. I already posted a nearly identical photo on my blog three and a half years ago when I still had lots of hair on my head. So, if you want to read that tiny little plaque and find out why this bell is actually interesting (because, seriously, most bells are not very interesting) check out the old blog post here: http://photodiarist.com/2006/04/04/kingston-and-ottawa/

The RCMP have been wearing Stetson brand hats since the 1800s, but did you know how this came to be? It all started with this guy, George Brown, who fought ardently for Confederation for Canada. This close-up distinctly shows bird crap all over his head and dribbling down his face:

This second photo shows Mortimer Stetson, nephew of John Stetson (found of the famed Stetson hat company) offering a hat to protect George Brown from the birds.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police witnessed the offer, saw the practical application of this style of hat, and from this came the tradition for all mounties to wear a wide-brimmed Stetson hat while outdoors:

Josephine the Giant decided to scare the little tourist children by showing them how easily she could crush the Library of Parliament:

The next day, Matt drove us to Prescott, we took my bicycle out of the trunk, and I started off down the road to Toronto, only about 400km away. More on that in the next post, though.

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Kingston and Ottawa

A few weeks ago a buddy of mine sent out an email to all the students from our first year at the castle in England, asking us to show up April 1st for a few drinks at a pub in Kingston, where most of the castle kids go to Queen’s University. On a whim, I decided I might as well make the trek out east, as I had never managed to go visit my old friends out there and had only seen a few of them since I left the castle three years ago.

I stayed at Bill and Alvin’s place from the 31st to the 3rd. Bill was my roommate in the legendary room B120 in Bader Hall back in our castle days. Alvin was a good friend and student govt president that year.

Bill and Alvin have a really nice foosball table in their house. The players are all the same colour – silver – so it was hard for me to figure out which ones were my team but I got used to it.

The first night I was in Kingston was the formal dinner/dance event for the grads of the year, so a bunch of people were all dressed up when we went and did the rounds of the local residents. Two particularly crazy former Bader residents, now living in Kingston and preparing to go party, were Bunny and Amy.

On the 1st, we headed to Tir Nan Og pub to meet up with old friends. While Bill and Alvin see these people regularly at Queen’s, I was excited to see them all again after so many years. They all looked almost exactly the same as in first year!

Bunny, Bill, Alvin, Janelle, and Christine (I see her all the time at UBC):

Luke:

Danielle and Lauren (I’ve bumped into her in Vancouver a few times over the years):

Paige, Amanda (visited me in Vancouver and I saw her in Australia), and Emma:

Andrei and Trini:

Ashik:

Bill, aka Beej, Billiam, William, possibly the best roommate ever:

Rob:

Rob’s little brother, Johnny:

In Kingston I basically just spent the evenings out with friends and the days sleeping and eating… then at 7am yesterday Bill drove me to the bus station and I headed for Ottawa to catch my plane home.

I got to Ottawa at 9am and my flight wasn’t til 4pm so I decided to have a look around. I was in Ottawa in grade 11 for a few days but didn’t get to leave the huge school group I was with to explore on my own. This time I had to figure out the transit system, which luckily is a good system and wasn’t too difficult to use.

Once in the downtown core, I spent about 4 hours walking around. Of course I walked past Parliament, on the first day back in session with the new Harper government:

While I was walking, I looked up and saw a plane carrying a message and laughed my ass off when I realized what it said:

The bell from the old tower is on display outside with a very interesting little description on a plaque:


I then headed down the road, past a memorial to peacekeeping:

I decided to take a tour of the Royal Mint, since the National War Museum was closed (Mondays are not so great in Ottawa). We weren’t allowed to take any photos at all inside the mint. It wasn’t a very interesting tour, but it helped me waste about an hour of my time.

It was a bit cold and somewhat windy, so the less fortunate in town were bundled up quite a bit:

Finally, I caught a bus to the airport, spent a couple hours there reading my book and sleeping, then flew to Calgary which looks like this from the air:

From Calgary I flew to Vancouver on a half empty plane and Dad came to pick me up and drive me home, and that’s the end of my weekend adventure in Ontario.

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