My wandering field life passed the ten-year mark earlier this year. That’s ten years of finding my way into a new work environment and getting to know new colleagues once a year or so. In a more mundane way, it’s ten years worth of photo files to keep up-to-date and to try to remember to share on my blog. A cousin (thanks, Juliette!) noticed that the entries from my earliest days had lost their photos: mine was a rather early blog, and the ways of uploading photos have changed since then. (Many of those earliest posts appear frankly so embarrassingly shallow to me now that I’m tempted to simply wave my editorial wand and have done with them…but thus far my sense for historical accuracy is controlling that temptation…) If my continued research succeeds, many of those photos will be directly restored onto the blog as I find their originals in backup hard drives and other obscure locations: ah, new year’s resolutions before the old year has even wrapped up!
In the meantime, I’m uncovering little treasures that never made it up here, while fondly remembering where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I was recently saddened to learn that Nancy Schrom Dye, former president of Oberlin College, had passed this year. During my years of active alumni-association work I greatly appreciated her contributions to my alma mater – so I was proud to join some other colleagues in taking her for an end-of-year meal which, the digital date stamp tells me, occurred in Beijing on December 31, in 2005. Up above are also a few rediscovered December 2005 Beijing-area shots which somehow didn’t get posted at the time. (Posting photos was more challenging in those early days…)
Just below are some previously-unposted 2015 shots: early-morning moonset at my home here in Haiti; me with my brother and a colleague when I gave a talk at Carnegie Mellon University earlier this year; and some shots from the lovely Frick House & museum in Pittsburgh, from the same visit. And since this put me in the mood, I’ve wandered through the many countries & continents, family meals & trips & assignments on four continents that have filled the years between these two sets of photos so very fully. Assembling them’s been fun for me so I hope viewing them is fun for you too :-).
This time last year? In December 2014, I returned from Sierra Leone & later went with great friends to enjoy the Ai WeiWei exhibit on Alcatraz Island (more photos from that one in the original post….though that particular set of great friends – you know who you are! – are remarkably camera-resistant):
Where’d I spend 2013? Living in PNG, participating in meetings in Amsterdam & dive trips in Australia, then celebrating the holidays with Steve & Mom in New Zealand:
I began 2012 in the US (where I visited Washington, DC in cherry-blossom season), turned 50 in the company of Howard & Gene at Kakadu National Park in Australia, and finished the year in PNG:
2011 was mostly Mweso, a little Lamu, a little London and a year-end back home seeing Frank Lloyd Wright homes of Pennsylvania with family:
2010…wow, what a year. Just seeing all the continents and countries where I spent time (actually meaningful time, with friends and family and work) makes my head spin even now. The photos evoked so much for me that I just couldn’t narrow it down to three or four…so I’m giving you a lot from 2010, a mix of Manipur (start of year) and Mweso (end of year), with a sprinkling of Sweden, Berlin, Paris & California in between:
I entered 2009 in Tahiti, yes it’s true: during the year I took off from work to help Mom with her house, I dedicated two months to exploring Australia (and watching the Australian Open!) and New Zealand, flying in via Tahiti with a few nights in Papeete, just because I could. The year ended, of course, in Manipur and included a great trip to see excellent sites of Rajasthan with Howard & Gene:
2008 started in Nigeria, and ended in Tahiti…with a lot of good work in Nigeria, a short assignment for the earthquake in China, visits in Germany with my exchange family friends there….and a good deal of time in and around NYC (Mom, aunt Judy & I enjoyed a harbor trip past Ellis Island where our own immigrant ancestors entered the country, and also a trip to our favorite sculpture park up th Husdon)…with a side trip for some hiking in Sequoia and other California adventures:
2007…I began the year based in Colombo but spend the new year’s period with Mom & Steve at Angkor Wat, returned to Colombo to finish out an assignment, headed on for training in Paris where I also got celebrate Mom’s 71st birthday…back to the US to reorganize my life after my first two years in the field, and then off for a new assignment in Nigeria. At the time it felt big. Now it’s all fond memories:
…which will bring us back to year two of this current phase of life’s great adventure, the lovely year 2006. From Beijing & Yunnan in China, to Polonnaruwa & Sigiriya in Sri Lanka (where I was based at year’s end), with family time on Cumberland Island (Mom’s 70th birthday dinner!) and in Germany in between. With a special souvenir from Seoul, where I had the opportunity to work a bit with the young ladies pictured with their daffodils. In a small-world twist, I had dinner with one of those two young ladies just a few nights ago in Port au Prince, which she visits sometimes in her current work with the CDC. So much small world, so little time for it all. Happy end of 2015, and many good hopes for a 2016 of more peace and health to everyone, everywhere.
Visa came this morning, and with a little nagging I managed to get the departures office here at MSF HQ to arrange my ticket Paris-Hong Kong for 23:15 tonight. So I should arrive Hong Kong late afternoon tomorrow, in order to connect onward to Nanning from there. No idea whether or how I’ll be able to maintain the blog from there, and if there are challenges it may take a while to work out a solution…so thanks for your support, take care, wish me luck, and keep in touch!
Today’s big activity was my downright determination (spurred in part by my cousin Pat’s supportive comments on the blog about how she hopes to see some photos some time soon and how she’ll help me get the USB cable if I can’t find one in China) to exhaust all possible avenues for finding the right USB connection here in Paris. And now, a few hours, twenty-plus Euros (i.e., nearly 30 dollars) and more than eight stores later, I am back in the library at MSF headquarters in Paris with my newest electronic gadget, a portable card reader, hooked up. If this entry goes where I want it to (things sometimes appear in odd places in the blog, witness the two train photos below…), then what you will see immediately below are the photos I have taken so far. I am sorry it’s not more — I took some nice scenery and archtitecture shots, and there was one of me in Bordeaux…but, funny thing, turns out my camera has a video function that I didn’t know about, and most of those were videos. Oh well. There’ll be more from China — though, fair warning, a new poster on the blog here (see comments from last Thursday’s post) has warned me I may not be able to access this blog from China; seems the government there does still try to control access to some forms of information perhaps, even in this digital age…
OK, suggestions for my friends: if you buy a digital camera, don’t lose the USB cable. It also helps to read the manual before you start using the thing.
Logging off now. Love y’all and thanks. Send me good wishes for a VISA so I can go to CHINA soon. Pretty please?!
fabulous museums this past weekend, and am extremely glad I did since
I spent nearly two hours in the special exhibition about “Neo
Impressionists, From Seurat to Klee.” This was a FANTASTIC exhibit
with some truly gorgeous paintings that I’d never seen or heard of
before, often by painters I’d never heard of before but whose works I
hope to see again. My only comment is if you go hoping to see lots of
Klee, you will be disappointed — lots and lots of Seurat, but only
one Klee at the very end, unless I missed some — which I doubt, since
I loved the exhibit so much I went through once then turned around and
went back through backwards and then forwards again. 🙂
Anyway, for those of you who’ve not yet had the chance to visit this
fantastic museum situated in an old and beautiful railway station on
the left bank of Paris, here is the mandatory shot of the great hall
taken from the viewing platform high up on one end. It’s a wonderful
found time to snap this shot of, from left to right, Séverine (who
flew to Guinea to start her mission on Sunday), Diane (who’s now tying
up loose ends in Montréal before starting her mission), Xavier (who,
despite seeming asleep here, will leave for the Democratic Republic of
Congo tomorrow), and Aggripine (who is home in Burundi now).
afternoon in Amsterdam on March 19. In her diary (so Bart tells me; I
can’t claim to remember it so well), Anne Frank wrote about looking
out at a church tower and hearing the bells ring, and how that lifted
her spirits sometimes. This is the church immediately next to the Anne
Frank house in Amsterdam.
New Jersey, and with whose family I then spent school year 1980-81 in
Schleswig-Hostein, but whom I had not seen since my last visit to
Germany in 1990) met me at the train station in Emden, we went for a
beautiful and windy walk along the dike by the north sea near where
they live. They are in a flat and green area right by the border
between Germany and Holland, with sky and clean air for miles and
boyfriend (now fiancé, congrats to you both). Left to right it’s
Séverine, me, Xavier, and Aggripine. The TGV trains cover the 570 some
kilometers between Bordeaux and Paris in three hours, with only three
stops. Wow. And they’re comfortable, too!
some real beauty. Here’s more or less my first view of the Seine
during my perambulations around the capital upon my arrival, February
27. (Eek! It’s been more than a month!)
It’s Thursday afternoon in Paris, the magnolias and all the beautiful bulbs are in bloom — from the jardin des plantes (botanical gardens, where I ran yesterday morning) to jardins de Luxembourg (where the senate meets and I sat and read on Monday) to Pere Lachaise cemetery (not far from where I’m staying, and yes, where I paid homage to Oscar Wilde’s tomb yesterday). But first, some updates:
–I won’t leave for China until next week: my passport is currently back in NYC, since the Chinese won’t issue expedited visas for American citizens here.
–This means I’m all ready to go, finished with my briefings, finished with the last rabies and encephalitis shots, and furnished with an ice pack and a meningitis vaccination to take with me on the plane (can’t get that one at the same time as the others)…and now I get to spend easter week in Paris. 🙂
Yes, there are worse fates. True MSF’s idea of a per diem (23 euros a day) does not cover the real costs of food and basic life here in Paris..but let’s face it, with them footing the hotel bill and kicking in that much, this is a great opportunity to improve my French and get to know this gorgeous city very well, much more cheaply than I’d otherwise get to!
Let me also admit the problem with the whole photo thing: I lost the darn USB cable for my camera. Somewhere between packing and repacking and traveling, it’s been lost or seriously misplaced, and despite long walks and visits to several computer super centers today, I’ve not found the right USB connection for my camera. So, sorry — even though I’ve now go some real nice photos of myself in Bordeaux, Amsterdam, etc., along with just some decent scenic shots…it’ll have to wait until I can find the right cable or get to China and order it from there. I truly apologize!
21 days: when I returned to Paris on Sunday, it was exactly 21 days after I’d first arrived here for the training course, and it was a great chance to observe what a difference 21 days can make! Paris itself had gone from snowy and wet to vibrant, sunny and full of flowers and people: kids kicking soccer balls in every free space they could find, families and couples and singles promenading along the Seine and through the parks…it was gorgeous! Then on the personal front, so much had changed in a way to let me enjoy it all the much more. From knowing no one in this city earlier, coming back now felt almost like coming home. I had plans for dinner with one of the friends from the course (Xavier, the guy from Paris, who should be off to Democratic Congo in a week); I knew I had work to do at the MSF office the following morning…and so on. It’s a cool feeling to come back to a city this special and new to me, and to have a job to do here.
21 years: the only time I was ever in China proper – or the mainland, as we referred to it when I was in Taiwan – was just about exactly 21 years ago this month. Without access to my journals (in storage in LA) I can’t verify the exact dates, but it was the spring of 1984. I spent time in Hong Kong, Canton/Guangzhou, and Macao…at the time only one of those cities was governed from Beijing, and now all three are. I look forward to returning soon, and seeing what’s changed and what’s new and how my Chinese has held up in the intervening 21 years. Interestingly, I will enter China at Guangzhou this time as well: the flight is Paris to Guangzhou with an internal connection to Nanning from there.
OK, I think that’ll be it for now. I have reading to do about the China projects, and more to digest from my briefings this week, but mostly I’m trying to relax, sleep, go to movies and plays to improve my French (saw one new release last night, and have another in 40 minutes next to Centre Pompidou), and do all the reading in French I can manage. So great to be using my languages again!
Love to you all…thanks for your messages on the blog (Mike Wong – I’ll try to write you personally soon, but hope you love that book as much as I do; and if you do, consider checking ou Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy…which I’m also trying to locate in translation here)…hope I’ll get pictures and word about the visa soon. 🙂 Happy Spring!!!
This’ll be another quick one because I’ve got only twenty minutes before this internet cafe shuts down, and since I train back to Paris tomorrow to get started with MSF in earnest, I want to post once before leaving. The clock is now ticking for real; though it’s all been real so far, there’s been an indefinite quality to the nature of my China posting until I found out, yesterday (Friday) morning, that I have a flight booked and it leaves at 3:15 (15:15) Wednesday afternoon. To be honest, up until this point — despite the seriousness of my work in France and the intensity and so forth — the past three weeks have been alomost as much a partially-paid vacation and language practicum in Europe as anything else. But now I know I’m really leaving Wednesday and will, as soon as Thursday afternoon or more likely Friday morning, be working hard to get the books ready to close for March and to learn what I’ll need to do once the woman I’m replacing leaves after a week or two…it’s all seeming mighty serious!
So anyway, a few more quick images. Three nights, roughly four days, in Germany were highlighted by high quality time with the exchange family with whom I lived twenty five years ago for a year. Having not used my German for fifteen years, it was good to see that it came back very quickly and I was pretty conversant and even almost fluent quite rapidly. Highlight: a fantastic late afternoon and evening with Mutti and Vati (that’s mom and dad in English) walking around the historically important and very beautiful Baltic seaport city of Luebeck. It’s a city we visited often when I was a student living nearby, but now that the border between East and West Germany, which used to run very nearby, has come down, I have the sense that the city is somehow a bit more lively and alive. We had dinner at a lovely restaurant there and then walked around after dark a bit on a warm evening and saw the city lights reflected in the moat/river that surrounds the main part of old city…it was a really great afternoon and evening.
Other highlights: both the sister and the brother of “my” family have had two (more, in her case) children since last I visited, and what GREAT kids they are! Meeting them, having a chance to hear Daniel practice piano and watch Jan figure out the best way around a board game challenge; chatting with Fabian and Miriam and being treated to a dance performance by Miriam (thanks!) and shown the impressive programming books that 11-year-old Fabian is working on…these were treats! Only sorry Jens and Birget (also a delight finally to meet Birget, with whom Jens has built such a wonderful home and family in the beautifully green coastal and canal area of East Frisia) and I didn’t manage a game of Skat…though we did solve some of the of world’s problems!
Now I’m in Amsterdam. Having gotten to know much of Europe reasonably well, one way or another, it’s a treat to find such a completely DELIGHTFUL city that I’ve never been to before. I’ve long assumed I’ll love Holland and the Dutch, since those I’ve met are so interesting and cultured and multilingual. It’s nice to find my best expectations fulfilled. What a great way to spend my last weekend in Europe — the Van Gogh museum (lots of time to ponder the fact that the man really accomplished most of what we know him best for in fewer than six years,and that his whole painting career was ten years…ponder that, says Paul to himself as he sets out on his new journey)…time to have lunch and a nice city walk with my old friend Bart…and above all to relax and walk the canals and see all the gorgeous bulbs start to bloom.
Gotta go. There are pictures of all this that will post from China. The place is shutting down. Sorry. Bye.
Hi Everyone —
A partly sunny afternoon in London now after a week that simply flew by. I’ll do my best to keep this post shorter since the last was so long. To start, some thanks are in order: I REALLY love reading the comments that folks are posting, so thank you very much to Beth (former colleague) and Pat (cousin), my most reliable posters so far. You should both know I’m committed to resolving the photo thing ASAP, so check back. (I need to figure out software and hardware and connections with computers that aren’t mine and don’t have my software loaded, etc.) Thanks also to all other posters so far: Steve (brother, though he hasn’t figured out how to post again — anyone who can help, let him know!), Dale (so good to hear from you and thanks for the kind words!), Kate (do I know you in person or only online now?), and Enigma America, whoever you may be. Hope I didn’t miss anyone.
Another brief moment of thanks for PETER, you ROCK — you have no idea how much I’m LOVING the ability to just hang around in your gorgeous apartment here in London while you are out of town, listening to Philip Glass’s Akhnaten on your stereo and doing my laundry! This is JUST what the doctor ordered, and I feel completely blessed in having these few days to unwind after the intense training. ( Not to mention being able to invite my dear friend Howard over for a very relaxed and civilized and smoke free breakfast this morning.)
Humble thanks to you all, as well as the readers who haven’t commented yet. You are my community and bring meaning to what I am doing.
Now just two verbal “snapshots,” if you will.
Image one: Wednesday night in the MSF Logistique (it’s what it sounds like) training center at Bordeaux, around 10:00. Delphine had already left (bye, Delphine; have a GREAT vacation in Tanzania with Michael, and good luck on the new mission at the orphanage in Khartoum!), so it was us five remaining students, plus Tierry (head of finance for MSF-France) and Frank from the MSF Logistique operations center…it’s been a long day that included our last financial policy classes, followed by a quick afternoon summary on the mechanics of disaster relief from a logistical standpoint — what to focus on, which questions to ask, etc.; followed by a film and discussion about cholera and cholera epidemic response and treatment. Now we’ve had dinner, all the while discussing (in French, of course) various policy and practical issues around disaster and humanitarian relief. Dinner’s been cleared, and over wine and cheese (GREAT double-cream chevre!) we’re talking the politics of malaria treatment in countries whose ministries of health have not yet approved a drug cocktail treatment protocol, which is generally known(as I understand it to be the currently most effective treatment). And there’s Paul, doing my best to stay completely in the moment: fewer than five months after I first conceived the idea that international nonprofit relief and humanitarian work was my goal, and that using my languages wanted to be a big part of it, and wanting to feel part of something bigger than just me in my apartment alone…here I am, in a community of people I hadn’t met 11 days earlier, yet with whom I now have bonds of shared time and common interest, using my French to express myself and understand them on matters that truly touch life and death for the 5,000 people worldwide who die EVERY DAY of malaria, for lack of drugs that are quite inexpensive compared to just about any developed-world national budget item. It was a very sweet moment: caught on the cusp, not yet working with MSF, but being carefully trained and prepared; savoring a great meal in great company in a just-right (not too expensive, nor too cheap)training center, and knowing I’ll shortly be off to do what I can to support our two projects in China: AIDS treatment in Guangxi, and all-round support (housing, nutritional, psychological, and medical) for street children in Shaanxi.
Second image, going to Paul’s use of his languages which lay dormant for the duration of my (fondly remembered and greatly appreciated) business career: yesterday, first full day in London (took the EuroStar train through the chunnel late Thursday — way cool). Still finishing the French translation of The Amber Spyglass, while sitting in the all-you-can eat Thai buffet off SoHo Square, noticing that the wait staff are all speaking Mandarin…so I shift from my French book to striking up a Chinese conversation with them about where they’re from (Liaoning) and so on…and then move on to the phone booth to call my German family and let them know when I expect to arrive at their home outside Hamburg on Tuesday. For someone who wanted to feel more engaged in the world at large again, and to be using my languages again, I count myself very lucky to be able have accomplished so much so fast. And I remind myself to keep living in the moment, and cherishing this remarkable gift of a life in which I can follow my own path with such support from friends and family. Was that too gooey? Sorry.
I may not write a lot more for the next couple weeks, until I’m in China. I’ll try to post some photos (me at the house in Bordeaux, my class on the train, etc.), but the next ten days will be London, Hamburg, perhaps Amsterdam (maybe Zurich, but I’ve a feeling I won’t make it, sorry, Carrie…next time)…then Paris to brief and get last shots and health checks before departure. I should be in Guangxi by about March 24 or 25, and the folks there have already started sending me e-mails and some reports, so I’ve got my train reading!
Thanks again. I know I say it a lot and I’m sorry if it’s too much, but knowing I have an audience that appreciates these means the world to me. And Beth, hang in there. When in doubt, go with your gut and remember to be who you really are, not who someone at work or outside you wants or needs you to be. 🙂
Howdy dear folks, from a somewhat slushy early Saturday afternoon in the City of Light. Since I promised executive summaries, here it is — even though I think I want this entry as a whole to be a bit more expressive, really:
–Administrator training at MSF HQ in Paris is more than half over, with five solid days behind me, the weekend off, and a group train trip to Bordeaux tomorrow for the last four days of class.
–Confirmation came Thursday afternoon that I am definitely on for the China post (but putting it so bluntly takes away from the experience, so I suggest reading on) and will most likely head out around the 24th or so of March, from Paris.
Now for the more fun parts…let us, as we say in what I’m learning is “MSF speak,” look at the “context on the ground.” Many friends commented in the last few weeks before I left that “you must be SO excited.” To be honest, I was generally far too busy — more or less from December right through pretty much the end of class yesterday — to FEEL the excitement. I knew it was there, lurking beneath the focus, but I was absorbed in what I knew I had to accomplish. Please note, they were things I was proud to be accomplishing — this was not the heavy busy-ness of obligation, but the proud busy-ness of responsibilities I’d chosen and wanted to complete with integrity.
As you probably know, the reason for being in Oberlin was principally to become the driving force behind a booklet presenting Shansi’s 100-year history of educational, social and cultural exchanges between Asia and the U.S. through illustrations with a narrative thread that discussed themes and events. Once I got word from MSF NY that I would likely be doing what I am, in fact, now doing — that is, leaving Oberlin easily a month earlier than I’d really thought I would — I went into overdrive. In the course of 16 days, we took the booklet from nonexistant, to a 24-page very solid first draft, designed in a 4/c mockup format that looked AWESOME. I have rarely felt more proud than when the designer brought in his first design. I’d written the entire text in about three days (lots of late nights, etc.), and was delighted it held together as well as it did. Anyway — so then we had our committee meeting (Friday and Saturday, February 25 and 26), at which I chaired my last subcommittee meetings (at least until I’m back in the U.S.), and then literally when the meeting ended, a week ago, I hopped in Laura’s car for the drive to Cleveland airport and on via Chicago and Heathrow to Paris de Gaulle. Boom. Just like that.
So my first excitement — the first chance it really had to break through — was that first afternoon in Paris: landed in time to have most of a sunny late afternoon for wandering from my hotel on the northeastern edge of the Marais, down past Place de la Bastille, and along the Seine, where they shut the traffic down on Sunday afternoons so folks can promenade along the riverfront. It was great…and I was reminded — twenty four years after I last visited it — how truly gorgeous this city is. But remember: MSF had been very careful to make sure I understood that my actual placement in the China post would depend on how well things went with the training to start the next day…in French…about bookkeeping and human resource policy…with what I imagined would be a bunch of very high-powered French people snickering at my feeble attempts to express myself.
First three days of class: very intense, very focused. LOTS of HR policy and even philosophy in fact. A major focus for MSF right now is how to develop the “national staff” — meaning staff of the country in which the project is happening — so that they can become stable long-term staff members of the organization at the coordination and country-management level and beyond. Understand that the classic model for MSF has been a coordination and management team of expatriates with developed-world training and experience (all of them on short-term assignments of usually a year or less), working with and training national or local staff at each project site. In the past two years or so, MSF France (at least — perhaps other operational sections as well) has placed increasing emphasis on long-term retention and training of a strong corps of local staff in each country where they work. Naturally, for an organization run out of Paris and whose lines of reporting usually come through an international developed-world corps of expats working three to twelve-month contracts…there are many aspects to be sorted out to accomplish these goals!
That was the first three days, and on Wednesday morning I sort of hit my low point. I’d seen the HR officer in charge of the China projects on Tuesday afternoon to ask some questions about timing for appointments to complete my vaccination series, and to get the pre-departure health checks and tests…and she’d been quite noncommittal, a la “but you understand that if you don’t go to China then we wouldn’t really be needing the vaccinations, of course” variety. Again, understand how MSF-F works: these guys are the experts at true emergencies, and within the MSF family, France is known also as the bare-bones folks who devote the highest chunk of resources directly to project stuff. So when it comes to expat volunteers like myself…especially first mission expats…we sort of have to let ourselves float freely until all the stars align right: staff (both expat and national) in the field agreeing on when the replacement needs to happen and what kind of person they want; more importantly, in the case of administrative jobs, both HR and Finance here in Paris agreeing on what the key parameters for selecting a replacement are, then combing through the pool of all possible available candidates coming in from offices all over the world, to see if there might be someone slightly stronger in a key area than me for this specific post, even if that would mean delaying a bit before filling the spot, and if so where would they send me instead — i.e., what other project or country is crying out right now for someone with my apparent skill set. You get the drift. And I knew all this — but it is a little hard when you’ve packed your bags, said goodbye, and mentally prepared…to remember that until you are on the plane, nothing is really definite with MSF-F! (And that still applies, really — I mean, I sort of know it’ll happen…but they might decide they need me somewhere else even more, still.)
So Wednesday morning the jet lag, the culture lag, the accumulation of so much work and so many changes, and no yoga or tennis or workout in a week or more, combined to bring me pretty far down — I was just frustrated and trying to stay focused in class, and to really understand all that was being said and to be appropriately responsive. I did manage to let go, and remind myself that none of this really matters — that I’ll find the right path for myself, and that the process really is more important than the outcome…but I did still spend some time wondering what I’d do if I got sent back to the U.S.! 🙂 By Thursday morning things were going better, and we were getting into very hands-on stuff: indeed, after spending most of the first three days getting presentations and discussing HR policy, and reading and making comments on forms and so on…between Thursday and Friday, I learned two new software programs: both in French, one to track history and salary and payroll information on national staff (brand new, version 0.7 — not even beta yet!); and one (all day yesterday) for all the bookkeeping and accounting that I’ll be doing in the job. This was fun — I suppose only a geek like me could be thrilled at learning exciting French words like “pointage” (double-checking, as in bank statement against check book) or “lettrage” (backing up, as in checking receipts for expenses). And having spent my professional career AROUND accountants without ever being one, it’s kind of fine to learn how great some of the computer tools are — the system (custom made) that MSF has is pretty darn cool. Can’t wait to start using it — and the scary part is in pretty much exactly one month, I’ll be starting to close the March books, in China, on a project I will know precious little about at that time.
Thursday afternoon at lunch, my HRO (HR officer) told me that in fact China looked about 98% — apparently three folks needed to sign off: the HR director (VERY impressive) in charge of national staff policy and direction and the HR officer tracking the pool of administrators internationally, with both of whom I worked closely the first four days; and the head of finance for all of MSF-F, with whom I will work closely in Bordeux apparently. During the afternoon session on Thursday, my HRO came and showed me a contract packet for me — something which apparently tells me that I have the green light now. So. As of that moment I felt able to start really planning, and here’s what we’ve got: Thursday we come back from Bordeaux and I will head to London immediately with high hopes of good times with many friends there (Tracy and family; Peter; Howard and Gene, others if around); Monday I’ll head to Hamburg (anyone with thoughts on cheap and fast transit London to HH, let me know: looks like I might have to fly to Cologne then train to HH to keep time and fare reasonable); and by Sunday, March 20 I’m due back in Paris, to get final medical stuff done and be briefed for the mission starting on Monday the 21st. I think I’ll probably go to Amsterdam the last couple days before coming to Paris, just because I’ve never been and this might be a good time to do it, plus perhaps I can see a friend in Den Haag as well.
OK, that’s a lot of detail and I apologize if it’s too much. I feel so liberated, and as of the end of class yesterday I truly am feeling excited and outrageously blessed — walking from Place de la Bastille (my hotel, and MSF, are both nearby there) down to Jardins de Luxembourg (I’m in an internet cafe close to La Sorbonne right now) today, I kept grinning and repeating to myself “man, life sure is great.” 🙂 I mean, after all: true, I’m working hard, and true, I’m giving up my developed world salary and perks and lifestyle. But let’s put things in context: this is my first-ever international trip on someone else’s tab (MSF paid for the flights and the hotel, plus $15 a day toward food while the course is on — of course the intra-Europe travel and expenses are fully on me); and right now, since we actually don’t have class on the weekend — which I thought we would, but enfin…on est Francais — I’ve got a weekend free in Paris, with a (decent) hotel paid by MSF, and the chance to go where I will – Versailles, Giverny, Chartres…still making up my mind for both today and tomorrow. Then tomorrow, MSF takes me by train to Bordeaux. Oh, and last night I had one of the most wonderful meals of my life in the non-smoking room(!) at cafe de l’industrie, with one of my classmates, a lovely woman from Montreal who may be off to Liberia shortly. The others in my class are another young American (Belgian dual citizen and strong French), a young woman from Burundi who’s worked with MSF-F in Burundi for several years and is being trained to take on full admin responsibilities in another country, as MSF-F reduces operations in Burundi; and then two Parisians, a man with Ernst and Young background and a woman who’s worked with some other NGO’s in Africa. They’re all wonderful and I really love the vibe in the class…and my French is getting pretty darn good. 🙂
OK. I think that’s it. I’ve taken some photos here in Paris but don’t yet know how to download them from my brand new digital camera, so stay tuned. I’ll try to load some before I leave Europe.
Wow. Hope I’ve not bored you too badly. Please drop some comments on here…you gotta register, I think, but I think it’s easy. And I love to read from you here. Much love! Be well! Wish me luck…. 🙂
Executive summary and updates: Remember that if you try to e-mail at the oberlin.edu address and it bounces back, you can try again later. Sorry that the forwarding service is having trouble again, or so I hear. Or you can post here, of course. Thanks to those who have. I’m posting two photos I just got today, but otherwise this note has no new updates…it’s all thanks yous. 🙂
One last pre-departure post. I’ve carried with me since that busy period from the holidays to the time I left LA a list of folks I want to thank for so many things, along with the note cards to do the writing and thanking, and so on. Reality has intruded on my best intentions and made me recognize I’m not going to do the individual thanks I’d hoped to, prior to getting swept up in travel, training, and then trying to act like I know what I’m doing in China. My critical self tells me an entire post of thank yous is far too Oscar-like to be worth doing, but I want to close the circle on this wave of support that’s carried me to the airplane door, so to speak…even if it does seem maudlin. So here, with regrets to anyone whose sweet tooth can’t handle it, and deeper apologies to the many I’m surely missing, are some notes of appreciation for people who’ve given me support and courage, in no particular order.
My colleagues at PPG made me feel so valued and appreciated that I truly left that job humbled. It is so much more than the individual or group physical presents you gave me, or that Pat and Ed treated us all at the lunch you guys organized — though all of that was greatly valued (and the B&N gift certificate is now travel and info books on China, and the REI certificate brought my bike to Oberlin with me). It’s the warmth and generosity of your spirit that’s really touched me. Thank you.
I don’t know where to begin with Gary, but I want to acknowledge that he may be doing more single-handedly to make my travel year(s) wonderful than anyone, including myself. When I mentioned an intention to get an MP3 player, he not only said he’d pick one up on his next Best Buy visit, but he then researched them and came up with a really great and unusual (non Apple) one, and far from stopping there, he’s been diligently converting my 300-some CD’s and, since I left before he was done converting, he’s set up a special FTP site and written all the scripts so I can condense my music library to a 1″ x 4″ x 6″ miracle for my travels. Thank you.
Two yoga teachers in particular made my last weeks in LA both healthy and spiritual, and have given me the base from which to maintain my own practice now. Thank you to Micheline Berry and Hala Khouri. One yoga teacher put me on the path to a deeper practice: thank you to Cindy Michel.
Oberlin Shansi has provided me a home this month and the support and encouragement to leave with the job unfinished, fully supporting me in this rather crazy undertaking, because they know it matters to me and think it may bring a little more generosity to the world. For that, and for giving me goals and tasks I could shine at this past year, I am very grateful.
The ways in which friends and family have supported me in this whole undertaking defy listing. My brothers (and Jill) have both offered to take my mail while I’m traveling; both they and my Mom have told me how much they respect what I’m doing, and even say they’re feeling empowered by it. This truly humbles me.
Steve and Sharon provided the vacation time and distance from my life to reach this decision; time on Kaj and Bob’s boat let the thoughts come clearer; Howard and Gene, Amy and Nancy and Kip, are all always pillars…plus Amy and Nancy have been there done that, so they can help me when I get down. Steve and Joezen let me bid adieu to LA tennis and an LA culinary landmark, plus my beloved doubles partner, for the time being. Mike and Sue helped clear out my apartment, and Susan has given Kona a home (Mike, Susan — feel free to post an update telling me how Kona’s doing…hint hint?)
Aunt Judy and Jen have been unstinting in their encouragement, and I’m letting this serve as a thank-you for the physical items of beauty Judy’s left me to travel with for the time being. (Yes, they’re going with, little tokens of family and home.)
I’m running out of steam but I just know I’m missing people. Please forgive me. Oh yes: thanks so much for posting comments! I love it — what a cool way to communicate! Now if I can just figure out which Kate and which Steve have said hi, I’ll be able to sleep soundly.
Be well and stay tuned. Peace.
Darren, who sent this to me and was my roommate at the hotel MSF put most of us up in, reminded me that this is a picture of “the guy who said he was going to be quiet for a while.” My type A personality won out.
Sorry, folks. Oh, gotta mention Tony, who’s helping keep the board
from collapsing: in a room full of mostly medical staff, let’s note
that an administrator and a logistician coordinated the group
feedback session. How’s that for playing to type?
I got a few pictures from Darren, one of the people who did MSF
training with me, so I thought I’d post two of them for you. This is
the group…if you look closely, you’ll see me at the back on the
right. This was day three of intense talk — but we all look pretty
alert, don’t we?
Howdy Again Folks!
I’ll try to always put the basic important developments and updates up front, often as bullet points, in my blog entries, so if you’re real busy you can read that and skip or skim the balance. This’ll be my MO going forward. Think of it as the executive summary. 🙂
–I encourage and request folks to make any general and support comments and questions right on the blog. If it’s really for my eyes only, of course you’re welcome to e-mail. But 1) I’ll do a lot less e-mail once I’m on the road; 2) I’ve always liked to personally answer all e-mail notes, and am falling behind with all else to do, and feel bad about it; and 3) Above all, I’m hoping this blog can build community and connection with this great group of my friends and others to come.
–Thanks again to everyone for your support and encouragement. It’s amazing. Please keep in mind that I’ll need it even more once I get to China, especially about two to three months AFTER I get to China, when history tells me I’ll hit a real wall of personal and intercultural challenge. 🙂 Hint, hint. That’s when the blog comments will be GREAT!
–MSF has booked my flights to Paris. I leave 2/26 in the evening. They have my passport and are working on the one month visa for China. My posting for China will depend on my successfully completing the training course on administration, finance and logistics in Paris and Bordeaux, but I am trying to be confident. The course ends 3/10, and I’ve asked for ten days to visit family (exchange family) and friends in Germany and the U.K. (possibly Holland/Switzerland as well), and to debrief and integrate what I’ve learned before the hard, long flights to China and my need to hit the ground running.
End of executive summary, beginning of detail and backstory. I finished the rough draft of the 24-page Shansi history booklet very early (4:00) Wednesday morning (I’m not even bothering with schedules anymore: when I sleep, I sleep; when awake, I’m working on something), and presented the rough to our graphic designer and two committee members as well. Feedback positive, and I’m feeling GREAT about the work we’ve done. Many of you have seen this work, and I’ve put many of you on the mailing list. Those who’d like to see the booklet when it’s done, or the other publicity and P.R. documents from our committee (on all of which I was the lead writer, editor and conceptualizer), should feel free to go to http://www.oberlin.edu/shansi, and contact the office asking to be added to their mailing list.
Having cleared that big hurdle, Thursday I moved on to…vaccinations! Woo hoo! For China postings, MSF asks me to get vaccinated and/or boosted for: hepatitis A & B, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, and typhoid. The first four are multi-shot series, and mercifully I fought with insurance to get Hep. A & B three years ago, since the longest of that pair is a six-month series! I got rabies and Jap. Enceph. started Thursday…so I’ve got sore shoulders and those viruses floating in my bloodstream as I write…and will get shot #2 next Thursday. The final shot will be due 3/17, when I’ll be who knows where. Details, details.
In France, I’ll also have to be tested for HIV (an insurance thing for MSF France; if I seroconvert while on assignment, they provide coverage if I can document prior negative status), and TB. Once in China, I’ll need to be tested for HIV again to convert my tourist visa to a work and residence visa. So of course my current paranoid fear is I’ll somehow come up positive in China, not get my visa converted, and have to come home in disgrace having let my family, friends and MSF down.
I’ve got about a two-inch stack of briefing paperwork from MSF on the China projects and am VERY excited about the work. The Nanning AIDS treatment project has been open, it seems, since late 2003 — so is quite new. Site was chosen due to combination of high incidence of HIV infection, lower standard of available medical care than in several other parts of China, and Guangxi provincial government (it’s actually an autonomous region, which has some meaning on the ground) was interested in and supportive of the project. I’m not yet up to where I know how many patients are in treatment, but I’m excited to get in so early on an important project for both MSF and China, as I see it.
The project in Baoji, which I now know is in Shaanxi province, three hours’ drive from Xian (of terra cotta warrior fame, and not far from accessible portions of the great wall)(see map below), is also very interesting. It seems it’s a residential and educational facility for roughly 40 to 50 children in difficult circumstances (homeless, etc.; many developmentally challenged), which tries to prepare them for reintegration into main society. The kids range from 6 to 18 in age, and mirror the general gender demographic in China, which is to say many more boys than girls. The Baoji project, it seems, has been open since the late 1990s, and may have been MSF’s first project in China, though I don’t know enough to say that. I do know one other operational section, Brussels, is running a project or projects in China.
Once I get to France I’ll be taking some pictures and hoping to post them here. The course is in two parts — admin/finance in Paris, then around midpoint we travel to Bordeaux for the logistics part. I’ll try to get shots of MSF Ops Center in Paris, maybe the Logistics Center in Bordeaux, me drinking wine to wipe away my worries over my ability to pass the course in French and then pass the HIV test in China, etc. To do so, of course, I must first acquire a digital camera. So keep looking. And please post any questions you have or would like more info about on the blog — I’ll try to get answers posted when I can.
Expect me to go silent after next week, for at least two weeks or so. I’m sure I’ll post at least once from Europe after the course, before I go the China. But during the course I think I’ll be crazily boning up on the French business and logistical vocabulary.
Next posting will be this weekend or early next week, and its topic will be “Thanks.” You’ll have to tune in to find out what it all means. 🙂
Love you all. I’m closing with a picture of Kona, because I miss her. 😦
When last I wrote, I let you all know that the possible China post with MSF was still up in the air. A big news flash came with a call on Wednesday from my HR Officer (HRO) at MSF, who had the following questions and information:
1) How does Paul feel about taking the training course for administration, finance and HR in French?
2) The other Chinese-speaker has definitely said no to the position (wants a non-admin spot), so there’s just me and one other person.
3) They need to put someone in the spot ASAP, and since the next English-language course isn’t until May, that’s too late.
4) Their plan is to get someone in the next French-language training, which begins Monday, February 28 in Paris, and when the course is done on March 10 to more or less immediately fly that person directly to China.
Naturally, I said yes. So, pending confirmation from the project desk in Paris (my HRO hopes to hear early next week), I currently expect I’ll be en route to France two weeks from today, for eleven days of intensive training in French (eek!), thereupon to leave more or less immediately for south China. I’ll be responsible for HR (national and international staff) and finance (including payroll) for two projects, one providing AIDS treatment in Nanning, and one providing medical care for street children in Baoji.
I would/will be based in Nanning, the capital of China’s southern Guangxi Province, which as you’ll see on the attached map (below) is quite close to Hanoi in fact. It’s also very close to Hong Kong, which is one of the main airline hubs for Asia…hint hint. So, once you’ve given me a few months to adjust and hit my stride, I do hope you’ll think about coming for a visit, or at least meeting me for a weekend in Hong Kong!
I’ve also posted a map of France below, since I’ll be training first in Paris, then in Bordeaux in southwest France. Bordeaux’s where it’ll get cool: it’s the site where MSF manages a huge on-airport warehouse from which they staged, for example, all the pallets of emergency relief supplies they sent out for the Tsunami-relief efforts. As you can imagine, being the operations geek that I am, I can’t WAIT to get see the operation in Bordeaux!
For those of you thinking “gee, this sounds like the good life, Paris & Bordeaux…” may I remind you that my last training days for MSF included 11- to 13-hour days of training. And that was in English. No, don’t pity me…but don’t envy me, at least not ’til you hear more. But do wish me luck.
Thanks for reading, and feel free to post commments here or to write me personally.