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Annual Update v8: a rambling recap of 2015

Dear family, friends, colleagues, and various types of acquaintance:

Only four weeks later than planned, this is the annual update I share with evvvvvveryone I know, because it’s far easier than actually trying to keep in touch with all of you individually. 2015 was a tough year, so I’m not entirely unhappy that it’s finally over, but there were some highlights and other parts worth mentioning: below you’ll find photos plus odds and ends of stories that have already begun fading from my memory. Good luck making it all the way to the end!

Key facts and figures:

Chart of countries visited in 2015

Canada -> France -> Guinea -> Portugal -> Guinea -> Portugal -> Guinea -> Belgium -> Canada -> Netherlands -> Djibouti -> Yemen -> Djibouti -> Netherlands -> Canada

30 flights, 8 countries (including 2 more letters of the alphabet), so many chameleons, uncountable airstrikes, and a lifetime worth of coffee consumed.

2015 in photos and video:

January 2015 found me in Vancouver, learning how the world of online dating works while waiting to leave town again. I therefore drank a lot of coffee with strangers and walked around town a fair bit, including strolling along the downtown waterfront simultaneously disliking but wanting one of the super yachts moored in Coal Harbour, and admiring the neatly moored seaplanes.

Seaplanes in Coal Harbour, Vancouver

I also watched ghosts playing ping pong in the basement of my parents’ century-old home:

Ghost ping pong

The ends of my trouser legs were white from being sprayed hundreds of times with chlorine in the Ebola centre in Sierra Leone at the end of 2014 so I made a solid effort to dye them brown again and met with some success – works well for blue jeans that are too faded but still in good shape, so give it a try.

Dyeing trousers

My sister Josephine is a crazygood documentary filmmaker; the client work that pays her bills is also fantastic. She was kind enough to invite my brother and me to help her film a piece about a UBC robotics professor, complete with hugging robot! You can watch the impressive, hilarious 2 minute video here: Rewild Films: A Robot in Every Home (UBC Trek Magazine). You can check out her other work at RewildFilms.com.

Robot hugging a human at UBC

Fun and games can’t last forever, though. I was contacted by the Red Cross in early January and asked if I would consider working for them. The significant wage increase compared to my Doctors Without Borders salary made it an easy decision for me. By 27 January I was in a fully-automated futuristic hotel room in Paris on a long layover, playing around with the LED mood lighting.

Mood lighting in the Citizen M hotel, Paris

I also managed to head into the city centre to see my friends Tom and Estelle before boarding my flight southwards, passing over North Africa en route to West Africa.

Scenic views flying south from Paris to Conakry

Flying in low over the jungle on 28 January, I arrived in Guinea – the country in which the 2013-2015 Ebola epidemic began.

Flying over West African forests

This would be the start of the longest five months I can remember, and easily the worst work experience of my professional life. However, I’ll spare you the details that support this statement. The experience wasn’t entirely negative, and still produced a few odds and ends worth sharing. As in other parts of West Africa, slogans adorn the taxis and minibuses all over Guinea, many wishing us “bonne chance” (good luck), an unfortunate necessity on Guinean roads…

Minibus taxi in Conakry, capital of Guinea

I spent my first few days in the polluted, congested, noisy seaside capital: Conakry. With very little to do in the coordination office, I left on 5 February to Kissidougou, a small town halfway across the country. Keita – my driver / makeshift logistics assistant – and I rolled along the potholed roads in our Land Cruiser pickup, pausing occasionally to admire the scenery.

Guinea landscape view on the drive from Conakry to Kissidougou
Traditional homes in Guinea
Bridge at the entrance to Faranah

I spent one week in Kissidougou, advising the local Guinean Red Cross team on correct procedures for disinfecting living people, dead people, equipment, and homes, as well as helping organise their stock of Ebola-specific supplies. The morning of my second day in Kissidougou, I helped manage the patient transfer of the last Ebola case (ever, hopefully) in that town, and the hospital room disinfection that followed.

Disinfecting the hospital room where Kissidougou's last Ebola patient stayed

Kissidougou isn’t a particularly impressive town, but this tree is:

Baobab tree on the main drag in Kissidougou

We were lucky to have a visit from MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders), who made a presentation that helped correct some of the misperceptions held by the local Red Cross volunteers, whose training over the previous year was dangerously and unforgivably inadequate.

MSF presenting to Kissidougou Red Cross volunteers

On 13 February we drove north to Kankan, the second largest city in Guinea, and regional capital of Haute Guinée, where I would be based for the following two weeks. Ryan joined us for the first couple of days – during the drive we played trivia over the radios from one car to the other.

Driving through Haute Guinée

In Kankan I spent my time preparing to set up a regional office and warehouse for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC – my employer), and visiting Guinean Red Cross committees in the surrounding sub-prefectures to check their supplies of Ebola equipment and materials, as well as advising on correct procedures. Much of this time was spent driving from place to place, staring out the window at the flora, fauna, and surroundings.

Guinean man walking along the side of the road in Haute Guinée
Farmer's fields outside Siguiri, Guinea

Here are a couple of short clips to give you an idea what the Haute Guinée countryside looks like:


I also finally got to eat cashew apples, which grow all over the northern parts of Guinea. More on that experience in this blog post from February 2015: What did the nut say to his buddies as he left the cocktail bar?

Children bringing us piles of cashew apples as a gift
Cashew apples and mangoes in Guinea

When we visited the Guinea Red Cross local committee office in Kouroussa, to the northwest of Kankan, I was impressed by the old French colonial administration buildings with trees growing Angkor Wat-like through them, and the sheer size of some of the older trees:

Abandoned French colonial administrative buildings in Kouroussa, Guinea
Trees grow through old French colonial buildings in Kouroussa, Guinea
Large baobab tree in Kouroussa, Guinea

Among other sights in the region, I enjoyed this Christmas ornament tree (sadly, not its scientific name), millions and millions of termite towers, and a few formerly motorised but presently human-powered vehicle ferries:

Nature's Christmas ornaments
Termite tower in Guinea
Ferry crossing in Guinea

By the end of February, I was driving back to Conakry, where I received some cash, sought approval for my plans in Haute Guinée, picked up the rest of my personal belongings, then set off to move to Kankan to establish our regional base. That process mainly consisted of finding a suitable building to use as a house and office with some storage space, then filling it with furniture and equipment to render it usable. I also continued visiting the Guinea Red Cross local committees in the surrounding sub-prefectures, so there was no shortage of back-breaking bumpy roadtrips. Combining aggression with a tremendous lack of skill, most Guinean drivers are true dangers on the road. Luckily my drivers were far above average, so we never ended up like these guys or the dozens of flipped and burned eighteen-wheelers lining the highways of the country:

Flipped car in the outskirts of Kankan, Guinea
Car crashed into a house in the outskirts of Kankan, Guinea

As I sat down for my usual morning sandwiche omelette avec café noir at an outdoor restaurant at the edge of a roundabout in Kankan, colonies of fruit bats (the natural reservoir for Ebola and a number of other terrible diseases) would sometimes play excitedly in the trees above:

I’d only spent three weeks in Kankan, and was nearly ready to leave on a weeklong holiday to Portugal, when I got a call from Conakry. They asked me to move to Basse Guinée and set up a regional base there, as Haute Guinée had become a quiet area with no new Ebola cases while Basse Guinée was the hot zone of the country. On 19 March I caught a United Nations Humanitarian Air Service flight from Kankan to Conakry, and that afternoon drove to Forécariah, where there were the largest number of active cases at the time. I spent the next three days helping scout out additional rental housing so that our local volunteers would no longer be sharing bedrooms in cramped quarters as they had been for some time, in blatant contravention of the standard protocols for working in an Ebola setting. I also got furniture made, helped disinfect and burn the mattress and belongings of a first Red Cross ambulance driver, Michel, who’d caught Ebola, and organised for the Land Cruiser ambulance below to be disinfected and repainted so the surfaces could more easily be disinfected and cleaned in the future. The driver of this ambulance, Sheriff, who I’d met only briefly when I arrived in Forécariah, also caught Ebola and died a few weeks later. Michel just barely survived, but will never fully recover.

Repainted ambulance for transferring suspected or confirmed Ebola patients

On 24 March I flew from Conakry through Casablanca to Lisbon, Portugal for a much-needed short holiday. This was my first time visiting a country starting with the letter P, leaving only O, Q, X, Y, and Z to cross off my list.

Portuguese coastline

I went straight from the Lisbon airport to the nearby city of Sintra, where I enjoyed the freedom to shake people’s hands, speak face to face at a distance less than 2 metres, take public transit, share food with other people, and generally do all the things that you can’t do in an Ebola context if you want to stay safe. I posted a whole whack of photos from this trip (39, to be precise), which you can see here: Two trips to Portugal. If you go to Portugal I highly, highly recommend spending a few nights in Sintra rather than simply making the day trip from Lisbon that most tourists do.

Three-wheeler on cobblestone in Sintra, Portugal
Waves crashing to shore in Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, Portugal
Cabo da Roca, Portugal
Views out to sea over Cascais, Portugal
Tower at Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal
Monserrate Palace, Sintra, Portugal
Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

I spent my last two nights in Lisbon, then flew back to work in Guinea. On arrival, I was asked to head to Coyah, just outside Conakry, to set up a regional base there. My work in Coyah was fuelled by black Robusta coffee from the local street vendors. They all owned the largest size of Moka pot and brewed over a woodfire, storing the strong coffee in thermoses. This was the only reliable and rapid service delivery I encountered in Guinea. Local Red Cross committee executives hung about one particular cafe and played a lot of Scrabble, albeit with extremely liberal rule interpretation and mostly invented words.

Scrabble at the café in Coyah, Guinea

In addition to setting up a regional IFRC base, I spent a lot of time creating an Ebola operational base for the Coyah committee of the Guinean Red Cross. The function of each of our operational bases in Guinea was for the Red Cross volunteers to prepare their protective equipment and disinfection materials before going out for safe and dignified burials, for which the Red Cross was solely responsible across the entire country. After burying someone or disinfecting a location, the teams also needed a place to return to disinfect and clean their vehicles and reusable protective equipment, dispose of their hazardous waste, and prepare for the next burial.

Sand delivery for construction at the Red Cross Ebola operational base in Coyah, Guinea
Coyah Red Cross Ebola operational base in use

Soon I was asked to support other nearby Red Cross committees in Dubréka, Fria, Boffa, and eventually even Boké and Kamsar near the border with Guinea-Bissau when the epidemic spread to the area and risked crossing another international border. I helped set up or kickstart operational bases in each of these places, with the bases varying in size and complexity depending on the number of burials being performed in each area. Sometimes we could use the existing Red Cross committee property, and sometimes we had to rent land or request to use it free of charge from the local governance structures. Here, volunteers in Dubréka receive basic training for disinfecting materials on a simple sloped washing platform with soakaway pit running the full length of the platform. It’s worth mentioning that local Red Cross volunteers bore the brunt of the workload, stress, and risk in the work we were doing in Guinea, and while they weren’t perfect they made a solid effort:

Training hygienists how to disinfect and clean reusable equipment at the Red Cross Ebola operational base in Dubréka, Guinea

Back in Coyah, where I slept most nights, we had some power issues at first. With the unbearable heat inside, and no power for the fan to blow hot air at me and help me sleep, I dragged my mattress and set up my mosquito net outdoors:

Quick mosquito net setup

This steep mountain dominates the landscape north of Dubréka:

Massif in Dubréka, Guinea

On the drive from Dubréka to Boffa, there’s a sign that reads “Bridge over the Ibola, length 105 metres”. Seemed fitting given the epidemic sweeping the region, but the poor grammar of writing “la Ibola” instead of “l’Ibola” bothered me. It was only after the third or fourth time driving past and considering this grammatical error that I noticed the first letter was in fact an ‘M’, worn partly off. It should be “Bridge over the Mbola”…

Bridge over the Ibola er... Mbola

On the drive into Conakry, there are a number of strangely-named so-called universities, including these two classics:

Winfrey Oprah University of Guinea
Barack Obama University

After eight long weeks racing back and forth across Basse-Guinée, to and from each of the places named above, with frequent weekend visits to Conakry, I took a second much-needed weeklong holiday in Portugal. Loads of photos from that trip are also in the blog post about my two trips to Portugal. Highlights of the trip included spending the whole time with my friend Angela, who I hadn’t seen since 2005; brunch with Callum in Porto; and fado and drinks with Sebastian and Mike in Lisbon.

Guimarães gondola with Angela in Portugal
Breakfast with Callum in Porto
Fado in Lisbon
Hanging out with Mike and Sebastian in Lisbon

Angela and I spent the first few days adventuring around Porto, plus a day trip to Guimarães where we walked around on the mountaintop and discussed my whimsical but never-gonna-happen-in-real-life plan to make a coffee table book about moss. We also spent one night in Lisbon before I flew back to Guinea. Some views of Porto:

Porto, Portugal
Porto streetcar

Some say this bookstore in Porto inspired the Hogwarts Library:

The inspiration for Hogwarts Library?
Porto, Portugal
Bridge over the Douro River, Porto, Portugal

Boats advertising for the major producers of port wine float on the Douro River in Porto, replicas of the ones that once carried the barrels of fortified wine from inland to the large storage cellars in Porto:

Replica port wine cargo ship on the Douro River, Porto, Portugal
Barrels of Taylor's port in Porto, Portugal

Moss in Guimarães:

Moss in Guimarães

Back in Guinea, I was asked to return to Kankan to close the regional base I’d opened just a couple months earlier, owing to a distinct lack of Ebola in the region. On the drives, we spotted a number of chameleons crossing the street, and several times stopped to take photos.

Chameleon on the road from Kankan to Kérouané, Guinea

This one got scared and puffed himself up to frighten me away:

Chameleon on the road from Kankan to Conakry, Guinea
Angry chameleon

Once I’d closed that base down, I was asked to fly to N’Zérékoré to do the same for the base that one of my colleagues had established some time before. A short while after closing this base, I reached the end of my time in Guinea. I flew home to Vancouver in the first week of July, with a short stopover in Brussels where I left the airport for an early morning walk around town and a coffee at the MSF Belgium office with my friend Elvina.

When I arrived back in British Columbia, there were forest fires raging all over the province, including several on the Sunshine Coast, not too distant from Vancouver. An apocalyptic haze of smoke and ash soon descended on Vancouver and the nearby Gulf Islands, including Bowen Island, where I spend much of my summers. The ferry in this photo is roughly 500 metres from me, and usually you can see the Vancouver coastline clearly right behind it:

Queen of Capilano through the forest fire haze at Bowen Island, BC, Canada

I never get sick of hanging out with deer on Bowen, or taking their photos:

Young buck on Bowen Island

One of the highlights of July in Canada was the wedding of my friends Ricardo and Isabel. Another highlight was hanging out with my grade 6 teacher (my favourite teacher of all time), Mme Grenier. This time I managed to round up all four of my siblings for coffee together with Mme Grenier in the sun!

All five Anderson children with our grade six teacher, Mme Grenier

At the end of July, I made it to my friend Stephanie’s West End apartment just in time to catch the offshore fireworks festival:

Fireworks in English Bay

Over the summer I also met up with several couchsurfers visiting Vancouver, taking them cycling along the seawall, walking around town, etc. One of them – a Torontonian named Jana – suggested we head to Whistler for the day so we rented a car on a whim and I drove us north up the Sea to Sky Highway. Once we arrived, we had a quick look around the village and signed up for a zipline ride. What I didn’t know at the time was that this would be no ordinary zipline: Jana signed us up for the Sasquatch – the longest zipline in Canada & the US, connecting Blackcomb Mountain to Whistler Mountain. After riding the chairlift up Blackcomb, we got strapped into harnesses and jumped into a huge passenger van which drove us further up the mountain, then hopped out to walk the last few metres to the launch platform.

Walking to the Sasquatch zipline platform
Sasquatch zipline platform, Blackcomb Mountain

Human beings hanging from a contraption with a wheel clipped onto a steel cable flying through the air at over 120 km/h… it still sounded like a great idea when I heard Jana say it, until we arrived at the launching platform and saw the steps leading down into thin air and the steel cable going nearly vertically downward through the trees.

Terrifying start to the Sasquatch zipline at Whistler

I can honestly say I’m not afraid of bombs going off nearby, drones circling overhead, or angry-looking men with very large guns. Standing there looking down at the Sasquatch zipline, on the other hand, had me completely terrified. With no way to back down, however, I had to go through with it. The advantage of the Sasquatch is that they’ve installed two cables parallel to each other so you have company, sort of. Jana and I got clipped onto our cables, walked through the safety gates and down onto the steps, and with much hesitation on my part (and absolutely none on Jana’s part, because she’s fearless), we counted to three and stepped into thin air. For the first few hundred metres, the cable is so steep that it feels like a freefall, but you’re flying through a swathe cut through the trees so there’s a very clear reference point to let you know how incredibly fast you’re moving, unlike skydiving where the ground moves slowly toward you at first. I started spinning around in the wind, my chest was so tight I couldn’t breathe, and then I gave up trying to resist. I guess the adrenaline must have kicked in, because I relaxed more completely than if I were in a hammock with an ocean breeze rocking me gently to sleep. At that point, the ride became entirely enjoyable – I took in the scenery around me, pulled my camera out of my pocket, snapped a few shots of Jana flying along on the other line, and tried (and failed) to get a good selfie. I highly recommend the Sasquatch, though it is a little pricey, and would definitely do it again (if I have to).

Jana sailing through the skies between Blackcomb and Whistler mountains
Trying to take a selfie. Photo taken by Jana.

The very next day, a group of my friends invited me to hike the Stawamus Chief, which I hadn’t done since I was maybe 11 or 12 years old in Boy Scouts. We took a group photo at the base, before I left them in the dust…

Group shot before hiking the Stawamus Chief first peak

I arrived at the summit of the first peak half an hour before my friends, and took advantage of my early arrival to have a nice nap in a spot where I was relatively confident I wouldn’t easily fall to my death.

Climbing up to the Stawamus Chief first peak

I spent the month of August split between Bowen Island and Vancouver, rather enamoured of a young lady I’d accidentally met in a coffeeshop, and cycling around town on my Bumblebike, enjoying the daytime sunshine and nighttime city lights.

False Creek and Science World at night

Much of my time on Bowen was consumed working on the rowboat restoration project I’ve been slowly tackling for the past couple of summers. This time around, I built a steambox to bend strips of teak for a new breasthook…

Early stages of my steambox
Bending teak strips into a new breasthook after steaming for a few hours

…carved out a new support for the centre thwart…

Cutting a new support for the centre thwart of Jaro, the family rowboat

…and carefully cut out new seat surfaces for the bow and stern seats from marine grade mahogany plywood:

New stern seat for Jaro, the family rowboat

Bowen Island has loads of interesting wildlife, including this mischievous little climbing creature:

Trinity showing off her ninja skills at the cottage on Bowen

One day in August, Nikki and I saw this seal making a commotion in Deep Bay:

Summer adventures must come to an end, however, and by the 1st of September I was airborne once more, flying over beautiful landscapes without knowing what I was looking down upon:

Pretty landscape, unknown location

This time around, my destination was Yemen via Amsterdam and Djibouti. After a few days in Amsterdam for briefings at the MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) office and a home-cooked meal at Martin’s place, plus a museum visit with Lysandra, I flew east to Istanbul then down to Djibouti. Djibouti city is not a particularly beautiful place, and I wouldn’t recommend it unless your aim is to head out to the nature reserves or offshore diving with whale sharks.

Arriving in Djibouti

On 5 September our little MSF plane took off for Sana’a, Yemen, but turned around and landed back in Djibouti a short while later as the cabin wouldn’t pressurise. On the 7th we tried again and made it all the way to Yemen, so I could cross Y off my list, leaving only O, Q, X, and Z. After a poor night’s sleep, owing to the lack of mosquito net on my bed in the MSF Sana’a guesthouse and sizeable mosquito population at that time of year, we made the six hour drive down through the mountains to Taiz, where I would be based for the following three months. Here are a few photos and a tiny video clip from that drive:

Green fields in Yemen
Yemeni scenery
Old fortress on the drive from Sana'a to Taiz

Bridge cut by an airstrike:

Bombed bridge on the road from Sana'a to Taiz

My first six weeks in Taiz were… disappointing. I arrived on the ground having been briefed in Amsterdam about my role as a logistician setting up a Mother and Child Hospital, only to discover that we had no permission from the authorities to run a hospital, nor a physical building in which to house it. Unfortunately, there was also very little I could do to speed up the process and tear through the bureaucratic red tape holding us back. I focused instead on office work, some preparations for the hoped-for hospital, admiring roadside camels, and hanging out with Clockwork the clothesline chameleon.

Camels on the Taiz-Aden road
Clockwork, the clothesline chameleon, in our backyard
Clockwork, the clothesline chameleon, in our backyard
Clockwork, the clothesline chameleon, on our clothesline
Clockwork, the clothesline chameleon, on our clothesline

We eventually got permission from the health authorities to run a hospital and, finally, in the evening of 19 October we received the keys to the building which, long before my arrival, had been selected for conversion from shopping mall to hospital. For a bit more on that process, you can read this blog post: Three Familiar Sounds.
From the morning of 20 October onwards, we worked full-tilt to get the new MSF Taiz Mother and Child Hospital up and running. My role was focused on setting up the physical infrastructure and medical warehouse. I opened an Instagram account on 15 October 2015, which has lots of photos of my time in Yemen, mostly showing progress on setting up the hospital: Instagram: @photodiarist.

The basement started out like this:

Basement of the hospital building before we took possession

Later, half the basement was filled with shelving and became the medical warehouse, while I set up walls, furniture, equipment, and lighting in the other half to create the Emergency Department and Lab. I use Trimble SketchUp for all my mapping and planning during my work, so I know beforehand exactly how everything will fit. Here’s the design I made for the basement, showing the warehouse along the left side and the emergency department on the right, with the lab on the far right:

Design of our hospital basement, which we completed before I left

This is the large hospital waste zone I designed and had mostly built before leaving Yemen:

Hospital waste zone design

Getting started on the generator shelter:

Rear compound at the start of work

Generator shelter nearly completed:

Generator and fuel storage area nearly complete

Cleaning the diesel storage tanks before installation:

Cleaning the diesel reservoirs

Installing walls to create the outpatient department on the ground floor:

Erecting walls in the outpatient department at the MSF Taiz Mother and Child Hospital

Putting in new basement doorways:

Installing better doors at the MSF Taiz Mother and Child Hospital

Welding outdoor waiting area benches:

Welding benches for the outdoor waiting area

Excavating for the waste zone:

Excavating pits for the hospital waste zone

Foundation work for the waste zone:

Early foundation work for the hospital waste zone

Converting a minibus into an ambulance for transferring patients to other hospitals:

Minibus converted into a patient transfer ambulance in Taiz, Yemen

We opened the hospital, with just the Outpatient Department operational, on 7 November:

Opening day of the hospital, 7 November 2015

We opened the Nutrition Programme a week later, and the Emergency Department a week after that. I worked late and slept several times at the hospital, enjoying the occasional sunset from the rooftop:

Sunset view from the rooftop of the hospital

Yemen has been in the midst of a civil war for quite some time now. Taiz was a particularly noisy place, with a nearly constant stream of bullets, bombs, and missiles flying through the air and landing all over the place. Here are a few photos taken immediately after airstrikes launched from Saudi-led coalition fighter jets:

Smoke cloud after an airstrike in Taiz, Yemen
Smoke cloud after an airstrike in Taiz, Yemen
Smoke cloud after an airstrike in Taiz, Yemen

I took this photo of the landscape nearby, for no particular reason, the day after arriving in Taiz:

Hilltop building on 9 September 2015

Exactly two weeks later, there were a series of airstrikes and at least one of them hit the building in the photo above, destroying everything but the reinforced concrete pillars and floors:

Hilltop building on 23 September 2015, shortly after several airstrikes

As I wrote in the blog post mentioned above, this airstrike on 2 December indirectly resulted in me arriving back in Canada a few days earlier than expected:

Smoke cloud after an airstrike near the MSF tented scabies clinic in Taiz, Yemen which killed one person and injured several

On 3 December most of our team drove up from Taiz to Sana’a, admiring the scenery along the way, with an overnight stop in Ibb where I got to catch up with Ahmed and Armando, two guys with whom I lived and worked in Iraq three years ago.

Terraced hillsides on the drive from Ibb to Sana'a, Yemen

I spent the next few days working out of our Sana’a office, speaking with suppliers for hospital equipment, finishing up some 3D hospital plans and designs, and writing up my handover report notes, before flying out to Djibouti on 9 December. The Sana’a airport runways were repaved some months ago so that aircraft could land again, but the place is still littered with the remnants of passenger jets, fighter jets, helicopters, military vehicles, and old airport buildings. The terminal itself is in decent shape, at least!

Bombed infrastructure at Sana'a International Airport, Yemen
Destroyed fighter jet at Sana'a International Airport, Yemen
Destroyed passenger or cargo jet at Sana'a International Airport, Yemen

Taking off from Sana’a on the little MSF Beechcraft King Air 200 with its leather aft-facing seats and matching 1988 safety cards:

Beechcraft King Air 200 cockpit

Goodbye, Yemen:

Looking back down on Yemen

After a night in Djibouti, I flew back up to Istanbul and then over to Amsterdam, where I once again had a fantastic homemade meal and fascinating conversations with Martin and Kat. Once my debriefings were over at the MSF Amsterdam office, I flew to Toronto on 12 December to finally meet the MSF Canada people who’d been employing me for the past few years, and to give a presentation about my experience and MSF’s work in Taiz, Yemen.

I was lucky to arrive on the weekend, so I had Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday to see friends; the last time I was in Toronto, arriving on a bicycle, was in the summer of 2009. I managed to see Nikki, Mike C, Danielle, Joy, Bill, Ashik, and Amanda, plus the CN Tower (from a distance).

CN Tower, Toronto, Canada

On 14 December, I landed back in Vancouver, where I enjoyed much coffee and food with friends, tried my hand at online dating once again, and even tasted a little mulled wine at Sonja’s house:

Sonja with her spatula-turned-sugar melting tool for making mulled wine

I also made it out to two incredible Christmas choir concerts: Chor Leoni downtown at St Andrew’s Wesley, and the Corpus Christi College Chamber Choir at Our Lady of Fatima:

Corpus Christi College Chamber Choir Christmas Concert

The rest of those final two weeks of 2015 were occupied by catching up on sleep, hanging out with my wonderful family, and wondering where in the world I’ll be heading next…

That’s it for 2015! 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.

7th Annual Update: Tenth Anniversary Edition!

Caution: this blog post has my favourite rainbow photo in it. Just in case you don’t like rainbows.

I started this blog ten years ago, but I didn’t start writing long-winded, chart-riddled, tiresome annual updates until Christmas Day in 2008. So, only 21 days later than planned, here’s my seventh annual annual update: tenth anniversary edition. Here’s what I did in 2014, illustrated with 112 photos. Protip: you can now click on any photo in my new blog posts, which will open up the high-resolution version of that photo in a new tab or window (unless your pop-up blocker dislikes me).

Key facts and figures:

Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Netherlands, Belgium, Netherlands, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, Canada, Netherlands, Central African Republic, Germany, Canada, Netherlands, Sierra Leone, Netherlands, Canada.

38 flights, 9 countries, 1 rose arbour

Chart - number of flights per year
Pie chart - percentage of 2014 spent in each country

January

On New Year’s Day 2014, I woke up in my cosy room with vaulted ceiling and whitewashed mud-brick walls as thick as my arm is long, to a frigid winter day in Lashkar Gah, provincial capital of Helmand, Afghanistan, where I was working with MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières aka Doctors Without Borders) as the Technical Services Manager at Bost Provincial Hospital.

We spent the month replacing the broken submersible pump in the primary hospital water well…

Replacing a broken submersible pump at Bost Provincial Hospital

…repairing and repainting room B-17, which had been badly damaged in a gas heater fire in late December…

Repainting room B-17

…building a structure to protect the big diesel incinerator we’d installed in December…

Incinerator cage

…removing unsafe heating appliances such as this one, to prevent further fires…

Bare wire resistive heater

…and sending our 250 kVA generator to have its engine replaced.

FG Wilson P250HE2 diesel generator

February

We had snow in Lashkar Gah in February, for the first time in more than a decade / more than fourteen years / more than twenty years (depending on who you ask).

Chris Anderson in the 2014 Lashkar Gah blizzard

The snow lasted several days, which caused some problems. Our medical office roof, being flat, held the snow beautifully. However, once the team arrived for work in the morning and the heaters were all cranked up inside, the ceiling warmed up and the white rooftop carpet liquefied, leaving a heavy pool of standing water which began dripping through any small fissure it could find in the concrete roof. My team and I climbed onto the roof to shovel snow, push water, drill more drainage holes at the edges, and cover the area with plastic sheeting to divert the water to the drains. While we were up there, of course, we started an epic half hour air-to-surface snowball fight with staff on the ground below. The human resources assistant took this photo as I threw a snowball right at him:

Air-to-surface snowball after launch

With our new 30,000-litre water backup system built and running smoothly, in February we closed off the 45,000-litre metal tank perched atop a 12-metre steel tower and began the process of rehabilitating the tank, starting with a thorough cleaning. Before:

Sediment on floor of 45 cubic metre water reservoir

After:

Cleaned floor of 45 cubic metre water reservoir

On 13 February, I flew aboard the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) plane from Lashkar Gah to Kabul.

Flying over Afghanistan

The following day, I flew to Dubai for a connection to Sri Lanka, where I spent twelve days on holiday. I had an incredibly warm welcome in Colombo from Oxana and her son Nikita, who I’d met three months earlier in Nepal. Oxana took me south to visit the old city of Galle on the coast, to kickstart my Sri Lankan adventure:

Galle Lighthouse, Sri Lanka

I also took some trains

Train ride from Galle to Colombo, Sri Lanka

…visited loads of ancient ruins in Anuradhapura, Mihintale, Sigiriya, Aluvihara, and Polonnaruwa

Kaludiya Pokuna

…and drove a rental scooter all over the teardrop island, admiring the beautiful scenery, wildlife, people, and mouth-watering cuisine.

Beach off the coastal road to the north of Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

I flew back to Kabul on 27 February, and arrived back to my workplace in Lashkar Gah on 3 March.

March

The winter cold soon turned to beautiful spring weather. I spent the month admiring colourful auto-rickshaws

Auto rickshaw

…scaring other expat staff by handling a completely harmless snake (Coluber rhodorachis aka Jan’s Cliff Racer)…

Coluber rhodorachis in Lashkar Gah, Helmand, Afghanistan

…getting up close to the beautiful poppies that seemed to grow overnight everywhere we looked…

Poppy close-up

…watching lightning storms for hours at a time…

Lightning in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan

…discovering four kittens that hadn’t yet opened their eyes, born in the room next to mine…

Newborn kittens

…and going to Kim’s room after hearing her scream from across the compound, to catch and then release a swallow that didn’t understand the concept of a glass window being solid.

A swallow I caught in a bedroom and released outdoors

April

I left Afghanistan in mid-April, but before my departure we spent several days working to unblock the Bost Hospital sewage system several metres underground which, after years of having large and non-biodegradable items flushed down the toilets, had become completely clogged in multiple locations…

Hussein working in the underground hospital sewage system

…finished condemning the former waste zone and converting that area into a materials storage area for bricks, sand, gravel, etc…

Materials storage area

…and completed the new fuel delivery system with carbon steel pipes and rehabilitation of the two fuel reservoirs:

7000 and 7700 litre diesel reservoirs with gauge and carbon steel pipe system

April was not only a month in which the opium poppies were in full bloom in Helmand…

Papaver somniferum (opium poppy) in Lashkar Gah, Helmand, Afghanistan

…but also the first round of the 2014 Afghanistan Presidential Elections:

Ink marks the finger of a voter to ensure he does not vote a second time, Afghanistan April 2014

I flew out of Lashkar Gah for the last time on 17 April after nearly 9 months on the ground:

Outskirts of Lashkar Gah viewed from the air

Very late the next day, I landed in Amsterdam, where Cathy met me at the airport. She drove me three hours through the night to Ghent, Belgium, where I spent most of the next four weeks, exploring the old town…

Ghent city centre, Belgium

…eating tinned apricots with tuna and mayonnaise for Easter…

Tinned apricots, tuna, mayonnaise. Must be Flemish.

…and appreciating the spring flowers and their guests:

Dragonfly perched on a Clematis bloom

May

In May, in addition to seeing more of Ghent…

Ghent city centre, Belgium

…I stopped briefly in Antwerp…

Antwerp train station, Belgium

…spent a half day walking around a sunny but wind-chilly Rotterdam…

Rotterdam riverscape, Netherlands

…and visited my old friend Pieter-Henk in the Hague, where he works as an artist at Suitup Studio in an underground nuclear bunker:

Suitup Studio, the Hague, Netherlands

I also made an impromptu decision to visit Luxembourg, where I stared at pointy buildings from caves carved out of steep cliff sides

View from the Bock, Luxembourg City

…and visited a rainbow-girdled castle in Vianden:

Rainbow over Vianden castle, Luxembourg

On 15 May I flew back to Vancouver for some summer fun, and ended up spending most of the next two months on Bowen Island, including removing moss from the roof of Glencairn…

Removing moss from the roof of Glencairn

…and planting dozens of herbs and flowers, like these columbines:

Columbines planted at Bowen Island

June

I spent most of June on Bowen Island, where I began building a rose arbour to replace the one that had existed decades before, one side of which remained to inspire the design:

First pillar of the the new rose arbour at Bowen Island

I also spent a few more days on rooftops, this time with a climbing harness and ascender, carefully removing several years’ worth of roof moss from Marycroft and Star of the Sea:

Rooftop moss work at Bowen Island, BC

Before:

Before removing moss from Marycroft

After:

After removing moss from Marycroft

July

In July, my brother Matt oversaw the big project of removing several hundred square feet of Hypericum aka St John’s wort, an invasive plant that was taking over the lawn on Bowen. Mom helped too!

Removing Hypericum at Bowen Island

Once the Hypericum was removed from the lawn, Matt did a grass dance to seed the lawn:

Grass seed dance

I found a snakeskin two and a half feet long in perfect condition – even the skin over the eyes remained intact!

Garter snake skin

While we worked, the deer chewed happily on all sorts of greenery:

Doe and fawn at Bowen Island, BC

It was nice spending so much time with all my siblings on Bowen; we even took a photo together down at the beach for our parents:

Sibling photo by the water

Matt also decided to build an arbour down near the boathouse, where there had been one many years before:

Matt building an arbour

I hauled several logs from the beach up into the forest, where we worked with our cousins to shore up the path to their cottage:

Path repair work

In mid-July I left Vancouver for my next field placement with MSF in the Central African Republic (CAR). When I arrived on the ground in CAR, I helped out in the warehouses in Bangui for a while…

Looking out from a warehouse by the river in Bangui, Central African Republic

…ogled bizarre plants…

Funny plants in the garden, Bangui, CAR

…watched the watchmen cook up a big pot of caterpillars…

Caterpillars for lunch

…and then sat down to eat caterpillars with them:

Eating caterpillars with baguette in Bangui, CAR

At the end of the month, we drove up to Bossangoa and then on to Boguila. We had an MSF plane land during our visit, and I was hugely impressed by the team’s preparedness: not only did they cordon off the airstrip to keep the hundreds of villagers clear of the landing area, but they had fire extinguishers pre-positioned and a huge signboard angled up toward the sky with the airstrip name and coordinates:

Boguila Airstrip, Central African Republic

August

In August, we were blocked on multiple occasions as French Foreign Legion convoys got stuck in the mud on narrow rural roads and made it difficult or impossible for us to pass:

French Foreign Legion Operation Sangaris stuck in the mud, again, Central African Republic

I spent some more time in Bangui, during which time I got to do one of my favourite things: teach the warehouse team the basics of cardboard box masonry! Look at how beautifully they stacked the gloves and anti-malarial drugs:

Coartem towers

I then flew east to Bambari, in Ouaka Prefecture, where I tried my hand at real stone masonry…

Stonework in Bambari, CAR

…then drove to Grimari, where I would spend the next two months. In Grimari, we got to eat the biggest mushrooms I’ve ever seen…

Giant mushroom in Grimari, CAR

…and I made a huge effort to improve the working and living conditions of the office and guesthouse compound, such as building an additional shower and latrine, and working on the poor drainage as it was rainy season:

Drainage work in front of new latrine and shower, Grimari

From Grimari, we supported several rural malaria treatment posts with training, supplies, and follow-up visits:

Malaria post supervision visit

But first, we had to get to them, which often involved cutting through trees blocking the roads:

Removing trees from the road, Ouaka, CAR

The conflict that brought us to the region had left thousands of homes burned like these:

Burned homes, Ouaka, CAR

We also ran mobile clinics, in which even the drivers and I participated by managing the setup and performing the rapid diagnostic tests for malaria:

Testing children for malaria, Ouaka, CAR

September

In September, we crossed dozens of bridges, many of which we had to reinforce with planks we carried on the Land Cruiser roof racks…

Crossing bridge in Ouaka, CAR after reinforcing with wooden boards

…MSF medics dressed wounds at the Grimari health centre almost daily…

War wounded dressings in Grimari

…ate raw coffee, straight off the tree…

Coffee beans fresh off the tree

…visited villages small and large, many of which had been decimated by the conflict…

Central Market of Lakandja, Ouaka, CAR

…helped organise and setup more mobile clinics…

Setting up a mobile clinic in Lakandja

…did heaps of pull-ups and chin-ups after Mark taught me the different techniques…

Chin-ups in Grimari

…and tested hundreds of people for malaria with Yvon, one of our legendary drivers. He tested me a few minutes after this photo was taken, and it turned out positive! My first time catching malaria since 2010!

Yvon during a quiet moment at a mobile clinic
My first positive malaria result since 2010

We also rehabilitated one bridge 6km south of Grimari and built this one from scratch 50km south of Grimari:

The brand new bridge we built - Pont Pende

In September we also benefited from all the base improvements, as the heavy rain finally began draining properly:

Heavy rain in Grimari, CAR

October

I left Grimari on 5 October then spent the next two days assessing a new base and planning the rehabilitation and construction needed to make it useable, before flying to Bangui on 8 October for my planned departure back to Europe. On landing in Bangui, however, I got stuck at the airport. Violence had broken out in the city centre while our plane was still in the sky, so I spent a couple of hours hanging out at the airport with Joe, the MSF Flight Coordinator, before we received permission to drive to our house. For the next five days a group of us were stuck enjoying each other’s company and the sunsets at Château, the MSF house overlooking Bangui:

Sunset over Bangui, CAR
Château house, Bangui

By 14 October, the security situation had stabilised sufficiently for me to fly out on a 19-seat United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) plane to Cameroon…

Snaking river seen from the UN flight to Douala, Cameroon

…from which I was able to fly via Paris to Berlin for meetings and aimless street wandering.

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, Germany
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

Two days later, following some interesting flight juggling, I arrived in Vancouver for a short break. Back in Canada, I spent time on Bowen Island admiring the autumn mushrooms…

Mushrooms at Bowen Island, BC
Mushrooms at Bowen Island, BC

…admiring Vancouver’s new stop sign template…

Stop Harper sign, Vancouver, BC

…and finally getting a taste of the Colin Jack Antidisestablishmentarianism Amber Ale – a beer created in memory of a great man who died unexpectedly in 2011.

Colin Jack memorial Antidisestablishmentarianism Amber Ale

Just after arriving in Vancouver, we got the sad news that our grandmother, Margaret Anderson (née Monk) had died back East in Nova Scotia. I boarded a plane in time to spend about 30 hours in Nova Scotia, though I forgot my suit on the plane when I disembarked in Toronto before my connecting flight, so for the funeral I had to borrow trousers from Matt and a belt from Josephine to pair with the shirt and tie I had in my carry-on. Dan and I stayed behind to help the funeral home close the grave and throw the first handfuls of soil in:

Closing the grave

In scooping the soil with our bare hands, we found this friendly little Eastern red-backed salamander:

Eastern red-backed salamander, East Ship Harbour, Nova Scotia

This was the first time ever in the history of the world that my entire immediate family was in Nova Scotia together, because my youngest sister was born after the six of us moved out West. Seeing as how it would also most likely be the last time, we took a team photo in Grandma’s backyard overlooking the Atlantic Ocean:

The entire Anderson family in Nova Scotia for the first time ever

Back in BC, I returned to Bowen Island and worked some more on the summer’s unfinished arbour project, preparing the beams and rafters for the arch and cutting lots of notches in them:

Notching rafters for the rose arbour, Bowen Island

I also got to celebrate Halloween for the first time since 2006! Every one of the intervening years had found me in countries where Halloween is hardly or not at all celebrated, so I was pretty excited! My sisters dressed up as dead My Little Ponies:

Dead My Little Ponies

November

On 3 November, with a lot of help from my oldest brother in the cold rain (and food prepared by my mom inside), I got the top of the arbour installed at Bowen Island:

Rose arbour with top installed, Bowen Island, BC

That same day we caught the ferry back to Vancouver just in time for me to pack my bags and get a ride to the airport that afternoon. When I brought my check-in luggage to the bag drop counter 2 minutes after the cut-off, the electronic boarding pass in my phone said I had seat 43A, which I’d chosen as the only window seat left online the night before. By the time I arrived at the gate, however, my phone was showing 13A! Sure enough, I’d been bumped to World Traveller (business class) on the long British Airways flight to London – dinner was Alberta tenderloin steak with a red wine gooseberry sauce and other fancily named foodstuffs.

After arriving in Amsterdam on 4 November, a large group of us attended a two-day MSF Ebola training course in a rented warehouse space, where we learned the basics we’d need to work in Ebola projects in West Africa. The training was well organised and included a mock-up of the layout of a large Ebola centre, complete with mannequins and fake body fluid spills to be disinfected and cleaned up!

Ebola mannequin

We learned how to don and doff our personal protective equipment – the spacesuits and accessories you often see in the news media – and had MSF staff role playing as patients to be transferred from a modified Toyota Land Cruiser ambulance into the centre.

MSF Ebola training course, Amsterdam

The modified Land Cruisers have a separation wall to protect the driver from exposure to Ebola if the patients in the back turn out to be positive cases. These vehicles also have a latch system (metal bits on the floor on the right-hand side of the photo) to secure a standard patient stretcher for transport. Very cool.

Modified Land Cruiser ambulance for Ebola

Five of us flew together through Casablanca to Freetown, while five others flew together through Brussels and Dakar to Freetown. By the morning of the 10th, we were on the road to our field projects. Some stayed in Bo, while most of us continued past Bo to a town called Kailahun, close to the border with Guinea and Liberia. On the outskirts of Kailahun was a 100+ bed MSF Ebola management centre. My role for the next five and a half weeks was to manage the logistics for the Ebola centre, more details about which I’ll post later on.

Ambulance arriving to Kailahun Ebola Management Centre with patients on board

Getting my first pair of gloves on:

Dressing up in full personal protective equipment (PPE) in Kailahun, Sierra Leone

Working with Kalla, our handyman, to repair some fencing:

Working with Kalla to repair fencing in Kailahun Ebola Management Centre, Sierra Leone

Stepping out of my spacesuit during the slow and careful undressing procedure:

Undressing in Kailahun Ebola Management Centre, Sierra Leone

We also had a visit from the President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma (pictured, wearing a white baseball cap) who toured the site rapidly and spoke to some of the staff before leaving:

Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma visiting Kailahun Ebola Management Centre

One Sunday in November, I found this baby kingfisher near my room. He was by far the most beautiful and multi-coloured bird I’ve ever seen in my life. I spent about half an hour hanging out with him, during which time he even let me pet him!

The most colourful kingfisher, Kailahun, Sierra Leone

December

In November, my team of carpenters built a new burning pit shade structure. In the first week of December, my team of daily labourers finished digging an enormous fire pit under the new structure, and we began burning scrap wood from the carpentry workshop in order to bake the walls of the pit before handing it over to the water and sanitation team for burning medical waste.

Piling up scraps of wood in the new burning pit at Kailahun Ebola Management Centre, Sierra Leone
New burning pit at Kailahun Ebola Management Centre, Sierra Leone

While we were working on that side of the Ebola centre, I found this cute little white tree frog (technically, I believe it’s called a shrub frog), in some orange net fencing that I was about to remove. He ended up spending the next seven hours hanging out on my neck before I found him a suitable tree.

I found a tree frog in Kailahun

One day I accompanied two medics to the local children’s orphanage, where MSF referred children who’d lost their parents because of Ebola. The friendly folks from the Public Health Agency of Canada lab, who lived and worked with us, had brought over loads of children’s items donated by their colleagues in Winnipeg, specifically for this orphanage, and we were the lucky people who got to distribute the stuff.

Playing with toys donated by staff at the Public Health Agency of Canada labs in Winnipeg

As the dry season took hold, the nights were cooler and we began waking up to foggy mornings more frequently. Driving through the fog to start each day, the leaves of the tall roadside trees played tricks with my mind, changing shape and shade as we moved closer.

Trees in the fog

As the rainy season had ended, the evening sunsets in December were magnificent. Huge groups of pied crows appeared as the rains subsided, and in the evenings would converge on certain large trees, like this one at the central mosque in Kailahun:

Sunset over the mosque in Kailahun, Sierra Leone

December was also the beginning of pineapple season in Kailahun, and I soon found myself receiving 1-2 pineapples on an almost daily basis as gifts. Each one had to be carefully and very thoroughly sprayed with a strong 0.5% chlorine solution, the same as we use for the bottom of our boots, before I would take them home to wash again and share with the others.

Spraying a pineapple with 0.5% chlorine solution

I spent a lot of time in December overseeing the manufacturing of hundreds of pieces of furniture and signage for a new Ebola centre in a place called Magburaka. As we already had a large carpentry workshop with 12 full time carpenters and a head carpenter on contract, plus a list of skilled labourers I could hire on a daily basis to be carpenters, the team in Magburaka asked me to sort their furniture needs while they got local carpenters to build the infrastructure for a 100-bed centre on the ground. We made most of the furniture in pieces that could be transported more easily and assembled by local carpenters in Magburaka.

Making shelves in Kailahun for Magburaka Ebola Management Centre, Sierra Leone
Furniture piling up for the first truck shipment to Magburaka

On my final day in Kailahun, I took a walk with my assistant past the cemetery and a little village, arriving at a small clearing by the river. Only 10 minutes on foot north of the Ebola centre, we found ourselves looking across the river to Guinea:

Standing in Sierra Leone, looking across the river to Guinea

I also spent a good chunk of that last morning hanging out with the Canadian lab staff, who allowed me to observe as they went through each of the stages of testing blood samples for Ebola RNA. The final step involves running a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) device for nearly an hour, as the results popped up in the form of a graph on their laptop screen. That day, several patients tested negative for a second time, which means we considered them cured and eligible for discharge – great news! When I left Kailahun on 18 December, there were only two patients remaining in the centre, which had been packed just a month before.

PCR results in progress, testing for Ebola RNA in blood samples, Kailahun, Sierra Leone

I landed in Amsterdam on 19 December, had debriefings on the 20th, spent the weekend wandering around town and hanging out with MSF friends, plus an intellectually stimulating coffee with my old friend Martin, then flew out on 22 December to Vancouver.

Amsterdam at night

Landing in Vancouver, I spent some time speaking with the quarantine officer in her “office” which had been prepared the night before in a disused janitor’s closet at Vancouver International Airport. The only evidence it had been repurposed was the writing on this whiteboard:

A disused closet converted into the receiving room for the Public Health Agency of Canada quarantine officer, YVR

After missing Christmas 2012 and 2013, it was nice to be home with family this year. We had our traditional Boxing Day party with the extended family over, including lots of food and good conversation.

Boxing Day family party

I also learned that putting multiple people on the same smartphone video call and pointing two of the phones at each other creates a neat sort of melodic feedback loop with intriguing echoes. This particular group call ended up netting us fresh bagels hand-imported from New York a few days later:

Feedback loops with Google Hangouts video calling

On 29 December I went out to Bowen Island to enjoy the fresh ocean air and the next day, in the forest, we spotted two bald eagles circling directly overhead. Perhaps they were thinking I might make for a nice lunch?

Two bald eagles circling overhead in December at Bowen Island, BC

The next day, I went to a huge eatART party to ring in the new year, and then… [2015 annual update coming in approximately 11.3 months].

6th Annual Annual Update

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!

PhotoDiarist countries visited in 2013

On the first day of 2013, I woke up on Mars. Pretty cool place.

Martian landscape

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.

Ornate Nabatean family tomb in Petra, Jordan

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:

Jumping in Jordan

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.

PUK headquarters outside Erbil, Iraq

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?

Dave and Vania in Sweeeden

Next, I spent some time with my old friend Namiko, including a raucous raclette night with a bunch of Swedes.

Namiko!

And then, it was time for the training course, which involved a lot of sitting, listening, and talking. It was interesting, though!

UN Logistics Induction Training at MSB Revinge, Sweden

At the end of the training, we were driven across the bridge from Malmö, Sweden to Copenhagen, Denmark,

Copenhagen canal scene

and in the outskirts of Copenhagen we visited the massive, relatively new, and mostly automated (read: cool robots running the show!) Unicef warehouse.

Unicef warehouse in Copenhagen, Denmark

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!

Salih, Ziyad, and Dilovan in traditional Kurdish dress

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.

Domiz Refugee Camp Health Centre

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:

Nahla rues the health centre tents destroyed by a storm

Many of my midday meals in March came from this kebab shop in the camp:

Kebab shop in Domiz Refugee Camp, Iraq

It was springtime, the best time of year to visit Duhok, if you ever have an opportunity.

Duhok, Iraq

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),

April Fools birthday cake in Kirkuk

and did a lot of springtime hiking in the mesmerising mountains of northern Iraq, in the Kurdish Autonomous Region:

Hiking in the mountains of Kurdistan, Iraq
Hiking in the mountains of Kurdistan, Iraq
Hiking in the mountains of Kurdistan, Iraq
Hiking in the mountains of Kurdistan, Iraq

In May, still in Iraq, I deliberately smashed my car into other people as hard as I could!

Bumper cars in Iraq
Bumper cars in Iraq

I also oversaw the start of construction on our new house,

The start of construction in Hawijah
The start of construction in Hawijah

ate huuuge meals in the temporary house I’d designed and had a contractor build,

Typical meal made by families of our staff in Hawijah

did more hiking in Kurdistan, luckily surviving each trip,

Trying not to fall off the edge of the world in Iraq

and played ping pong in my plaid pyjamas.

Ping pong in the basement

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,

One of Saddam's former palaces in Kurdistan, Iraq

and we nearly got the little car stuck while offroading!

Getting Ziyad's car unstuck

During the next week, I spent time with Turkish protestors in Taksim Square, Istanbul,

Hanging out with protestors in Taksim Square, Istanbul, Turkey

had a sunny sidewalk lunch with Julia in Geneva, Switzerland,

Julia in Geneva

celebrated Aidan’s birthday in Aylesbury, England,

Aidan in Aylesbury

had tasty Thai food in London with Malin,

Malin in London

crashed at Dave’s place and talked over beers, finally visited Tate Modern after more than ten years of frequent visits to London,

Tate Modern colourful lights exhibit

ate lunch with Miriam, then took an out-of-focus selfie in the bus station,

Miriam in London

caught up with Sam over coffee, then took an out-of-focus selfie at the British Red Cross office,

Sam in London

stared as hundreds of people cycled past in the World Naked Bike Ride (which, incidentally, originated in Vancouver),

World Naked Bike Ride, London 2013

laughed with Will and Natalie,

Will and Natalie in London

talked about Amnesty International and things less serious with Estelle,

Estelle in London

then flew back to Canada.

In July I managed to catch the last Ruffled Feathers show before their lineup changed,

The Ruffled Feathers at the Biltmore, Vancouver

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.

Laura Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk at the Biltmore, Vancouver

I also found this beautiful Golden Buprestid beetle on Bowen Island,

Colourful bug on Bowen Island

repaired a small bridge with my brother,

Dan testing our rebuilt log bridge by jumping up and down

spent time with AJ at Queen Elizabeth Park where we spent a few moments appreciating a monkey puzzle tree,

AJ mesmerised by the monkey puzzle tree

began restoration work on our family’s old rowboat,

Restoring a fifty-year-old rowboat

witnessed my friends catch a hipster crab,

Hipster crab drinks PBR

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,

Mug match

witnessed a beautiful fireworks show from the West End balcony of a friend of a friend,

Vancouver fireworks in English Bay

cycled around the seawall and under the Lion’s Gate Bridge,

Lion's Gate Bridge

took a shameless bathroom selfie with Shawn and Denise,

Shameless selfie with Shawn and Denise

admired Mark’s colourful carrots at one of many delightful documentary nights,

Colourful carrots with Mark

got help from two siblings to pack my things again, and left Canada once more.

Lisa helping me pack for Afghanistan

In August I enjoyed an evening in Amsterdam with my friend Martin and a day of meetings and walks along canals,

Amsterdam canal scene

then arrived in Afghanistan for the first time and flew to Helmand,

Flying with ICRC in Afghanistan

saw these fantastic locally-made, heat-activated coffee mugs,

Neat heat-activated mugs

and figured out how to service and repair industrial laundry washing machines.

Repairing a hospital laundry washing machine

In September I continued to eat a LOT of good food,

Big spread of Afghan food

found a scorpion on my bedroom floor, just a few centimetres from my bare foot,

Scorpion in my bedroom

laughed daily at something new,

We did not shortlist him for an interview

figured out how to take apart an x-ray machine, and luckily also how to reassemble it after repairing it,

Trying not to forget how to put the x-ray machine back together

spent a weekend in Kabul, with a short but scenic visit to the top of TV Mountain,

South side of Kabul as seen from TV Mountain

and learned how to use a compactor as I began work on a water backup system for the hospital.

Learning to use a compactor in Helmand

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.

Dubai cityscape

In Nepal I made a new friend – a singer, climbing instructor, and trekking guide,

Lama singing in Kathmandu

saw some colourful things,like Boudhanath,

Boudhanath, Kathmandu

learned the correct way to eat rice with my hands,

Learning to eat rice correctly

went hiking in the Himalayas and lost my glasses,

played basketball for the first time in years, at over 2800m altitude, and lost,

Basketball in the Himalayas

played Carrom for the first time in my life, at over 2600m altitude, and lost,

Carrom board in the Himalayas

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).

Paragliding over Pokhara, Nepal

In November I also saw massive sets of reinforcement bars being assembled in Dubai during my return trip to Afghanistan,

Massive reinforcements in Dubai

and watched the Helmand River rise dramatically after just a few hours of rain.

Helmand River rising

In December I saw a tanker truck transported on top of a bus in Lashkar Gah,

Tanker on a bus, Lashkar Gah

marvelled at this small pickup making its way through town,

Overloaded pickup, Lashkar Gah

caught a mouse and ate it to show my staff how tough I am,

Eating a mouse

learned how to use a massive new incinerator (which might double as a superspeed pizza oven if I get my way),

Loading the big new incinerator

catnapped a kitten from the hospital, taught her some manners, and named her Lion,

Lion

flew from Lashkar Gah to Kabul for a weekend off,

Bost Airport

got MRI exams for both my knees and looked through the resulting images as if I had a clue,

MRI results for my knee

woke up on December 30th to find the first snowfall of the season had settled on the streets as I slept,

First snowfall of the year in Kabul

watched the biggest snowplow I’ve ever seen, clearing the runways at Kabul Airport,

Snowplow clearing the runways of Kabul International Airport

flew back to Helmand over spectacularly beautiful Afghan winter landscapes,

Snowy Afghan landscape

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!).

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.