A good friend of mine occasionally publishes a film review, which is invariably… concise. And so, in the spirit of learning from friends, I present to you my 6th Annual Annual Update:
Today, I will be reviewing 2013. I thought 2013 was interesting.
For my [insert relation, plural form] who would like me to elaborate further, hereunder can be found a selection of 80 photos from the year 2013. But first, a pie chart!
On the first day of 2013, I woke up on Mars. Pretty cool place.
After Mars, I returned to Earth and visited Petra, Jordan. I’ve been to a lot of interesting places, but I’ve not found any suitably strong superlatives with which to describe Petra.
In that first week of January I visited a bunch of other places in Jordan and jumped really high for this selfie, which shows how happy I was during most of my Jordan adventures:
Then it was back to work in Iraq, where I saw the White House in passing several times (it’s the headquarters of the KUP, a major Kurdish political party) while driving to and from Kirkuk.
In late February, I flew back to Sweden for the first time since 2009, for a United Nations Logistics Induction Course. Instead of arriving directly to the training just outside Lund, I flew instead to Gothenberg to see some old friends. I spent the first couple of nights staying with Vania and Dave at their home in the forest overlooking a frozen lake while horses grazed on tall blades of grass jutting out of the snow. How’s that for a contrast from Iraq?
Next, I spent some time with my old friend Namiko, including a raucous raclette night with a bunch of Swedes.
And then, it was time for the training course, which involved a lot of sitting, listening, and talking. It was interesting, though!
At the end of the training, we were driven across the bridge from Malmö, Sweden to Copenhagen, Denmark,
and in the outskirts of Copenhagen we visited the massive, relatively new, and mostly automated (read: cool robots running the show!) Unicef warehouse.
As the other participants headed to the airport to fly to their home countries, I took a train back across the bridge to Malmö, where I met and stayed with a particularly inspiring young couchsurfer and her inspiring housemate, sharing hours of conversation, then flew the next day back to Iraq.
Back in Iraq, we had to spend a few weeks out of the project location for security reasons, so instead of sitting around bored in Erbil, I went back up to Duhok (where I’d spent three months in late 2012) to lend a hand to the logistics team in Domiz Refugee Camp. And, lucky me, the day I arrived was a special day to celebrate traditional Kurdish dress, so my friends were all dressed up!
I had left Domiz Refugee Camp at the end of November 2012, at which point only the foundation was finished on the new health centre I had designed for the camp with the help of the Directorate of Health engineer. I was happy to find the centre had opened about five weeks before my return, though it was already starting to prove too small for the constantly growing camp population.
I stayed in Duhok for two weeks, during which time a windstorm followed by a sandstorm did some serious damage to the huge tents MSF was using as extra clinic space:
Many of my midday meals in March came from this kebab shop in the camp:
It was springtime, the best time of year to visit Duhok, if you ever have an opportunity.
After a lovely stay and a lot of hard work, I headed back down to work in Kirkuk and Hawijah in the last week of March.
On April 1st, my friends and colleagues in Kirkuk, Iraq bought me a cake because they thought it was my birthday, despite the fact that I never told anyone it was my birthday (it was not),
and did a lot of springtime hiking in the mesmerising mountains of northern Iraq, in the Kurdish Autonomous Region:
In May, still in Iraq, I deliberately smashed my car into other people as hard as I could!
I also oversaw the start of construction on our new house,
ate huuuge meals in the temporary house I’d designed and had a contractor build,
did more hiking in Kurdistan, luckily surviving each trip,
and played ping pong in my plaid pyjamas.
The first day of June was my last day in Iraq, so I caught a taxi to Duhok to visit my old friends, who then took me to see one of Saddam’s old palaces,
and we nearly got the little car stuck while offroading!
During the next week, I spent time with Turkish protestors in Taksim Square, Istanbul,
had a sunny sidewalk lunch with Julia in Geneva, Switzerland,
celebrated Aidan’s birthday in Aylesbury, England,
had tasty Thai food in London with Malin,
crashed at Dave’s place and talked over beers, finally visited Tate Modern after more than ten years of frequent visits to London,
ate lunch with Miriam, then took an out-of-focus selfie in the bus station,
caught up with Sam over coffee, then took an out-of-focus selfie at the British Red Cross office,
stared as hundreds of people cycled past in the World Naked Bike Ride (which, incidentally, originated in Vancouver),
laughed with Will and Natalie,
talked about Amnesty International and things less serious with Estelle,
then flew back to Canada.
In July I managed to catch the last Ruffled Feathers show before their lineup changed,
and that same night I saw Laura Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk and bought their album, to which I listened many times over the following months.
I also found this beautiful Golden Buprestid beetle on Bowen Island,
repaired a small bridge with my brother,
spent time with AJ at Queen Elizabeth Park where we spent a few moments appreciating a monkey puzzle tree,
began restoration work on our family’s old rowboat,
witnessed my friends catch a hipster crab,
witnessed my sister’s friend get served coffee at a Main Street cafe out of the exact same Christmas mug we’ve had in our family’s home for years,
witnessed a beautiful fireworks show from the West End balcony of a friend of a friend,
cycled around the seawall and under the Lion’s Gate Bridge,
took a shameless bathroom selfie with Shawn and Denise,
admired Mark’s colourful carrots at one of many delightful documentary nights,
got help from two siblings to pack my things again, and left Canada once more.
In August I enjoyed an evening in Amsterdam with my friend Martin and a day of meetings and walks along canals,
then arrived in Afghanistan for the first time and flew to Helmand,
saw these fantastic locally-made, heat-activated coffee mugs,
and figured out how to service and repair industrial laundry washing machines.
In September I continued to eat a LOT of good food,
found a scorpion on my bedroom floor, just a few centimetres from my bare foot,
laughed daily at something new,
figured out how to take apart an x-ray machine, and luckily also how to reassemble it after repairing it,
spent a weekend in Kabul, with a short but scenic visit to the top of TV Mountain,
and learned how to use a compactor as I began work on a water backup system for the hospital.
In October I worked too much, slept too little.
In transit to Nepal in November, I spent a night in Dubai hanging out with couchsurfers I met there in 2012.
In Nepal I made a new friend – a singer, climbing instructor, and trekking guide,
saw some colourful things,like Boudhanath,
learned the correct way to eat rice with my hands,
went hiking in the Himalayas and lost my glasses,
played basketball for the first time in years, at over 2800m altitude, and lost,
played Carrom for the first time in my life, at over 2600m altitude, and lost,
ran as fast as I could off the side of a mountain for the first time ever, and won (my paragliding instructor bet another instructor that we could reach the highest altitude first, and we did).
In November I also saw massive sets of reinforcement bars being assembled in Dubai during my return trip to Afghanistan,
and watched the Helmand River rise dramatically after just a few hours of rain.
In December I saw a tanker truck transported on top of a bus in Lashkar Gah,
marvelled at this small pickup making its way through town,
caught a mouse and ate it to show my staff how tough I am,
learned how to use a massive new incinerator (which might double as a superspeed pizza oven if I get my way),
catnapped a kitten from the hospital, taught her some manners, and named her Lion,
flew from Lashkar Gah to Kabul for a weekend off,
got MRI exams for both my knees and looked through the resulting images as if I had a clue,
woke up on December 30th to find the first snowfall of the season had settled on the streets as I slept,
watched the biggest snowplow I’ve ever seen, clearing the runways at Kabul Airport,
flew back to Helmand over spectacularly beautiful Afghan winter landscapes,
woke up to my midnight alarm blaring as 2013 came to a close, and sent a text message to spark one of my grand adventures of 2014, which was just then beginning to take shape.
As always, I’d love to get an update from you – whether we know each other well or not at all, whether it’s a quick hello or a rambling email telling me every little detail of your life. I promise to read it, no matter how long, and eventually even reply (this year, it took me 11 months to reply to some people, but I did reply!).
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 = ?).
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:
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:
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!
Family birthdays with tasty cakes baked by Dad:
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:
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:
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.
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 bikebefore the 2011 playoffs).
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:
Apparently our 2nd place victory high-five was quite painful for her…
I also got to watch a couple of cycle races in Vancouver. This one was on West 10th Avenue, from Trimble up to Sasamat:
Two weeks later, with my friends Mike and Lauren, I sped downtown on my BumbleBike to watch the end of the Gastown Grand Prix:
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:
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:
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).
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!
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.
Moon Rock Disco 2, a final farewell to the Basement Sound Lounge, was also a big hit with the laser lovers (which is everyone).
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.
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.
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.
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:
Bike Dance Party in June:
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.
While the Bike Rave was winding down, some people played around with LED hula hoops:
(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!
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.
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:
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).
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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:
Other culinary curiosities…
I baked 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.
And just to be extra healthy, I stuffed a bunch of pickled jalapenos full of cream cheese, then wrapped them in bacon:
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!
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.
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.
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:
Jaro is more than 20 years older than me. It’s my favourite boat in the world:
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.
Others focused on the bigger picture, like this gargantuan lobster:
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).
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!
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:
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:
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.
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:
Walking in Domiz Refugee Camp for Syrians, Iraq:
Dusty day in Domiz Refugee Camp:
The city of Duhok is supplied with water from a big reservoir held back by Duhok Dam. What a beautiful place:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
Me with some refugee children:
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:
A preschool almost ready to open, with roses planted in the inner courtyard and a Kurdistan flag flying:
Looking eastward near the entrance to the camp one evening, I again wished I knew how to paint:
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:
The following week, three of us drove to Zakho, where we visited the famed Delal Bridge, built many centuries ago:
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:
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!
At 5am on Boxing Day, I flew to Amman, Jordan to search for Santa Claus. Success:
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.
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.
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:
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.