Dear family, friends, and those who fit into both (or other) categories, this is that once-yearly mass email I send out and post to my blog to bore you with the details of 365 days of my life. It’s safe for work, except that you might fall asleep face first on your keyboard while reading it, thus creating a small commotion in your office.
The short version:
- Canada, South Sudan, England, Wales, England, Canada, Netherlands for a few hours, Germany, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia for a couple hours, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, France for a few hours, Canada;
- Watched South Sudan vote to become the newest country in the world;
- Built two custom single speed bicycles in Canada;
- 2 months still working for Merlin, 3 months lazing around Vancouver, 6 months working for MSF;
- Missed the 5th Legendary Annual Summer Camping Trip, will try not to let this happen again;
- Finished reading War and Peace and several other books;
- Saw elephants;
- Grew beard.
And now for the extended version, with a sprinkling of photos, some of which I’ve put within sentences (how clever).
When 2011 started off, I was nearing the end of a super fun three week holiday in Vancouver. Technically speaking, when 2011 started off I was on a dance floor surrounded by green lasers…
…and booming bass, doing my best to jump up and down and side to side in what I hoped might be mistaken for dancing, while wearing a Buzz Lightyear costume with glowsticks lighting my flightpath at the wingtips.
All good things come to an end, however, and by January 2nd I was sitting back comfortably in a Vancouver International Airport departure lounge. The fact that I can show a little piece of plastic to a company and they then let me sit in a chair, in the middle of the sky, speeding over the land and sea at sometimes over 900 km/h, still amazes me. Two days of travelling took me back to work in Juba, South Sudan, where I had two months remaining on my contract. On January 9th I was lucky enough to witness the referendum on secession that resulted in South Sudan becoming the world’s newest country six months later.
I also witnessed the delivery of, and first flight of, South Sudan’s first air force…
…went hiking up Jebel Kujur to take a Sunday mid-morning nap…
…and got a guided tour of the Physical Rehabilitation Reference Centre run jointly by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the South Sudan Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare:
In my final week in South Sudan, I just barely managed to make it to see Juba’s best kept Engrish secret, the manure cure shop:
After leaving South Sudan, I spent the last week of February visiting friends in the UK. Within hours of landing at Heathrow, I was in real doctor’s scrubs in London, complete with anti-bacterial silver oxide thread participating in the Imperial College med school’s time-honoured, purely academic activity known as the Circle Line Pub Crawl with my friend Aidan and his fellow future doctors.
I also visited my friend Jackie in Cambridge, where we went to a show and the next day I took a long walk along the River Cam…
…and also saw my friends Katie and Louise in Oxford before hopping on a plane to return to Vancouver at the beginning of March. While waiting for my plane, I saw the mythical Airbus A380 roll by, the largest passenger aircraft in the world:
I spent the next three months waiting in Vancouver to go somewhere new and unknown. I filled my time sleeping with no alarm, going to physiotherapy for my knee, building a couple of custom single speed bicycles (one for my sister, one for me)…
…checking the forecast for days when I could comfortably take my motorcycle out on the town (there were very few of these days in what was apparently Vancouver’s wettest and coldest spring in the last half century)…
…and watching the Vancouver Canucks make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since I was 10 years old. The city came alive like nothing I’ve seen (I was in London for the 2010 Vancouver-Whistler Olympics, living 5 minutes from one of the 2012 Olympic sites, so I missed out on all that craziness), with free taxi rides, SkyTrain antics, downtown street parties, and all kinds of awesome all around.
Into these three months, I also somehow squeezed a trip to Kelowna…
…a couple of quick visits to Bowen Island…
…a two night trip to Ottawa to get a visa for Côte d’Ivoire and see my friends Alex and Luke…
…and a motorcycle ride to Salt Spring Island…
With the Canucks comfortably ahead in the final series against the Bruins, I left town to start my next job. Having spent a year and a half with Medical Emergency Relief International (Merlin), in the UK, DR Congo, and South Sudan, I’d decided to try on a different pair of shoes: Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders, aka MSF). They decided to send me to Côte d’Ivoire, but first, I flew to Germany (with a few hours spent hanging out in Amsterdam to see my friend Pieter-Henk) for the MSF PPD, a 10 day group introduction to the organisation for new staff. I can’t spoil any secrets by talking about it online, except to say that it was really fun, and I met and befriended some very cool people.
During the PPD, I even woke up one morning at 4am to watch Game 7 of the playoffs streaming online, then had a productive day in Germany not torching police cars on camera.
By the morning of June 19th I was back up in the skies.
By supper time that day I was eating supper (how appropriate) with my new colleagues in Abidjan, the biggest city and former capital of Côte d’Ivoire (Abidjan was also the name of the local watering hole in Buea, Cameroon, where my friends and I used to eat barbecued meat with a beer in the evenings after a good day’s work back in 2007).
The next day I arrived in Daloa, where I spent the next three and a half months working my butt off. Work was hard, but I gradually trained my staff to do a lot of the work I was doing myself, which greatly increased the number of hours I spent sleeping. It also let me get out of the office a bit more, including a day trip across the border into Liberia to help bring some medical goods into Côte d’Ivoire.
In Daloa, I saw our medical stock grow from taking up the space of a small bedroom with a few shelves…
…to taking over my bedroom as an overflow area.
At the end of July I organised to move our office out of the house and into a dedicated office space, where we had a new warehouse space in which I had custom shelves built…
…and another room of boxes stacked on pallets. What a difference a couple of months makes!
We also helped the Ministry of Health run a measles vaccination campaign for over 15,000 children and later on collected the dozens of sharps boxes from remote health centres.
I also helped improve the water and sanitation standards of health centres around Daloa by donating soap and other supplies, and making these hand washing buckets for patients and staff:
We also spent a fair bit of energy rehabilitating a couple of health centres that had been looted and badly damaged by armed groups during the conflict.
They needed doors repaired, smashed locks and windows replaced, electricity and lighting restored, furniture built and donated, grounds cleared and cleaned, and much more.
My logistician, Moussa, did a great job of supervising all this work.
Two months into my time in Daloa, a few friends and I managed to see a huge wild elephant nearby.
By the end of September I was pretty tired out, so I decided to take a week’s vacation next door in Ghana. I had to fly out of Abidjan, so on the way from Daloa to Abidjan I visited the biggest church in the world in Yamoussoukro:
In Ghana, I became perhaps a bit too familiar with Ghanaian buses for such a short stay…
…and had two different vehicles break down from radiator leaks, but the trip was really fun, and I got to see a whole bunch more elephants while I was there.
I also saw lots of sideways lightning, which I’ve only seen in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
Back in Côte d’Ivoire, within two days of my return to Daloa, I was asked to move to Tabou to replace the logistician who was leaving a bit earlier than planned. I was a bit surprised, and quite moved, when two of my staff broke down in tears when I announced the news to them. Tears of joy, perhaps, to finally be rid of their boss? The next weekend I arrived in Tabou, a very small town on the Atlantic coast, just a few kilometres from the Liberian border, overlooking the Gulf of Guinea.
I spent the next two months in Tabou, squeezing in three short trips north as far as a town called Para, with some beautiful stretches of road…
The last few weeks in Tabou were really focussed on closing down the project, which at its peak had over 40 national staff running 20 mobile clinics, plus support to 12 health centres (of which the farthest was 6 hours away), and running an intensive therapeutic feeding centre plus an ambulatory therapeutic feeding centre for malnourished children. Closing the project involved a LOT of paperwork (I might have drowned if it weren’t for the wonders of mail merging), but also some fun stuff like big donations of drugs and supplies to health centres and the Ministry of Health.
Our office/warehouse space went from being completely packed with medicine…
…to completely empty!
Other big jobs in closing the project in Tabou included donating all sorts of furniture and office supplies to another NGO working in the health sector, which involved lots of trips back and forth from our office to theirs…
…and uninstalling our radio and comms equipment, like the VHF antenna bolted to the top of a 15 metre pole. The VHF antenna is on the left, not the huge mobile phone tower in the background!
I also got to burn all the unimportant paperwork in our big fire pit, fun!
Having closed the project, and with the December 11th parliamentary elections having passed without any violence, our team returned to the MSF coordination office in Abidjan. Eating extra oily omelets with my colleagues on the way to Abidjan was, as usual, good times:
I spent the next few days in Abidjan, finishing up some final reports and burning more unimportant paperwork…
…then took a three day road trip to the Liberian border to import a Land Cruiser into Côte d’Ivoire as the Liberia mission was also closing.
My last few days in Abidjan were spent helping the Financial Coordinator with some actually important paperwork (sadly, this did not involve any fire).
Then, on December 22nd/23rd an Air France jet kindly carried me to Paris for a coffee with Thomas, a friend and all-round amazing guy on break from his job in Afghanistan. Having finished coffee and a croissant, I high-tailed it back to the airport just in time for my flight to Toronto and eventually Vancouver. I landed about three hours before a DJ show downtown, for which I’d bought a ticket online a month earlier. Knowing that several friends would be there, I showed up downtown to surprise them. And, with the 6 month beard that was weighing down my chin, they were definitely surprised.
The next day, Christmas Eve, I went to Studio D Hair Salon…
…and to the extended family at our annual Boxing Day party.
With that over, I removed all my white Santa hair in time to avoid scaring the surgeon who’ll be slicing my knee open in the future. On December 29th we met, we talked, and we settled on fixing my knee once I return from wherever I go next, if it’s about 5-6 months from now (oh, how I love waiting lists).
On December 30th a huge group of friends descended on the King’s Head in Kits to say goodbye to the place…
…which then shut its doors on New Year’s Day. Apparently it’s going to become a Wing’s. The following night, a potluck of culinary delights…
…followed by another crazy New Year’s Eve party with friends…
…helped shut 2011 down, and open 2012 up, a year bound to be filled with 24 extra hours of adventure, and boy am I looking forward to it!
If you got through this entire summary, I’m impressed; if you take the time to send me an update on your life, whether it be short or long, I will be even more impressed, and promise to read it too (I’ll even reply!).
Cheers, beers, and bicycle gears,