England

Remembering in December

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:

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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:

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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:

House, Valley, Hills on Hike - Pre-Monsoon Season

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:

Ngauruhoe Summit View of Lakes & Clouds

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:
Rivers-Abia Border Boats & River

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.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA


Loving London in the Springtime

As they are annoyingly prone to do, these days of concerts & plays, strolls in the park and vege Vietnamese food on Wardour Street have raced past as though determined to rub my nose in my own impermanence. Yeah, yeah, I get it – I want to say…but can’t I just slow time down a bit, pretty-please? I mean, what person that knows London – as I flatter myself I do, somewhat – would even dream of SEVEN days in a row where the sun shone either most or all of the day?? 🙂 It has been spectacular – and I feel as though I’ve grown to know every blossom and every blade of grass in certain corners of Hyde Park, so much time have I spent there relishing the freedom and peace to amble anonymously among the daffodils and cherry blossoms. Friends have been seen, concerts have been enjoyed, dance and opera have thrilled, and … well, I think I haven’t slept quite enough, which is rather a problem when you consider I’m supposed to be resting. Oh well – que sera sera, and it’ll start sera-ing once I complete the prolonged return journey to Mweso, which begins tomorrow. The good news, the silver lining to the cloud of KLM’s canceled overnight flight to Kigali: I get to spend Wednesday in Amsterdam, and I’ll get to stay & catch up with a friend there as well…then have the daytime view of all that desert in northern Africa as our plane races over southern Europe, the Mediterranean & just about all of Egypt & Sudan on its way to the green hills and mountains of Central Africa. Then, duffel stuffed with legumes (at Waitrose yesterday: Paul bought out the shelf full of Native American loose tobacco – for a colleague, not me; the lady behind the counter rightly guessed that I was going to, as she put it, ‘another country’  – and put a major dent in their yellow split peas, red and green lentils, and mixed-bean soup packets, as well as their vege bouillon cubes…can you tell I’m missing pulses/legumes in Mweso?) and toiletries, I’ll begin that beautiful but painful overland bump-fest back up to Mweso. Wish me well.

Oh, right, about the photos: mostly taken on the South Bank and some in Hyde Park; as you may know I pride myself on not taking the tourist-standard shots of the most famous landmarks (think how James Bond films always tell us we’re in London with a closeup on ol’ Big Ben; I attempt, feebly I know, to distinguish myself at times by my off-center approach), but felt that, after all these years of visiting London, perhaps it’s time for me to take my first photo of such classics as Big Ben and St Paul’s, or such new classics as the Eye. These are mostly South Bank shots, and my love affair with the fish-shape lamp poles on the South Bank, with a few views from Hyde Park. How unusual that I don’t have any flower photos. If you see any in this posting after all, it will mean one thing: that after drafting this and loading all the photos I had, i decided on one more pot of tea at the Serpentine Bar & Kitchen, and on the way finally got a few flower shots to add some color here…think of me, sipping my pot of tea and looking out at the lovely serprentine as shown in one of those lower photos here. That’s the image for this trip…that and, of course, many a concert and play…

 

…and yes, just to confuse you all and see how much you’re paying attention, I decided to throw in a few of the shots I took while ambling through Amsterdam during the eight-hour layover there on the Saturday of my inbound flight. Hehe.


Hill, Dale, Family, Sculpture & The Year That Was

So just like that, another year has managed to slide by. This life I’m living has many odd consequences, one of which is the telescoping of life (the period between date A and date B goes by so rapidly!) which, in my oft-befuddled brain, occurs simultaneously with a high level of intensity that makes me feel, often, as though I’ve lived a few lifetimes in a few months. So yes, as I enjoy the relative dry coolness of Port Harcourt’s first legitimate harmattan day (google it [copy/paste – spelling is important to get the right entry]: you’ll learn something new about Africa, weather patterns, and even South America!) in our living room on a late pre-Christmas Saturday afternoon, it feels very much as though 2007 has slid by ‘just like that.’ Everyone else is still at the hospital, but Paul slipped out early to run some errands (one of my functions is team cohesion and esprit de corps, so I’ve arranged some fresh croissants as a surprise treat for our Xmas breakfast, and done a few other things I hope will aid team life over the coming holidays) and now I get to ponder the year I’ve lived. Given my internet connection here in PH, this entry is going to double as the end-of-year holiday note to those of you who would ordinarily get such an item delivered to your own personal email box. And for those lucky few who grew accustomed to the occasional postcard out of Sri Lanka, China, or other points in the past years…know that this has not yet appeared possible in Nigeria, but know also that my thoughts are very much with you this holiday season. You know who you are! 🙂

 

‘But what are we looking at?’ you may be wondering. OK, I will tell you: the photos above and below were taken at Yorkshire Dales National Park, which is north of Leeds where Steve was teaching this autumn. He and I took the train up after seeing Mom off on her train to Kings Cross, whence she found her way (ably assisted by fabulous Tracy, for which thanks again, my dear) to LHR for the flight across the ol’ pond; after wandering the Dales a bit, we headed back to Skipton for a canal-side lunch — pix of Skipton duly appended, below, after which a few more of the Dales. I remain sad that I was unable to join the larger family gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving at the beer & cider festival, but happy that I caught at least the tail-end of Mom’s visit, and saw Steve a bit of Yorkshire also.

…for those of you who don’t know, that’s Steve, my older-but-not-oldest brother, looking like a well-known Rodin sculpture (sans chin in hand) out on the Dales.

At this time last year, I was finding my way back to health in Colombo after a most unwelcome visit from dengue fever. With that nastiness largely behind me, I rang in the new year with Mom and Steve in Bangkok before boarding an early flight for Cambodia, where Steve and I caught the first sunset of the new year from the top of Phnom Bakheng (cf archives: Feburary 2007). Thus began my first four-continent year, in the course of which I actually managed to spend time with Steve and Mom on three continents. That’s something I’m both grateful for and proud of: that at this point in my life, I’m able to spend quality time with my mother and at least (so far only) one of my brothers in such lovely, enjoyable, historic and educational spots as Angkor Wat, Bangkok, Phuket, Paris and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
In 2007 I’ve also begun to feel more in touch with my own mortality. For the first time since the early 1990s, I lost a close friend of my own generation when Sigrid passed away this spring. Perhaps this, coming not long before I myself turned 45 and admitted that my body simply no longer qualifies as young by any measuring stick, has found me putting things more in perspective. And I like the perspective. Two more odd dualities of my current life – ‘oh no!’ they groan, it’s another Paul philosophy entry – are: 1) At the same time as I’m really owning up to my own mortality in new ways, I’m also constantly humbled and kept young by everything I’m learning and all the remarkably committed and competent people I run into again and again in MSF projects other parts of my life; and 2) By leaving my known world of LA and SF behind three years ago, I’ve come closer to many of my family and friends, even if I see them less frequently day in and day out.

It has much to do with quality vs. quantity, I believe: I may talk to Mom less on the phone or see her less frequently, but when we do get together it’s focused and dedicated: 10 days in Paris, two weeks in Southeast Asia, a lovely 36 hours in the Yorkshire Dales –and during all that time I didn’t have work to worry about work. (The sad part to the last one is that I missed Chuck, Jill, Bill & Judy by only a few days…but operational realities are what they are. And I certainly do hope one day I’ll get to share some of the rest of the world with Chuck and Jill, at least!) The same applies to everyone else – were I still working a day job in LA, I’d not have had those glorious months to dedicate to the many far-flung friends who graced my life in 2007 whether by inviting me to your homes, allowing me to share a special birthday celebration with dozens of friends & family members, by sharing movies, plays, concerts and meals with me, or by overwhelming me with generosity at Ojai or elsewhere.

It’s probably the most remarkable year I’ve had yet (lacking perfect recall on the first year of my life, I can’t say whether being born and learning to breathe for myself compared), between the challenging and interesting work it began with in Sri Lanka, and ends with in Nigeria; the European sojourn from late March through early May, graced by such lovely time with friends from London to Zurich, Hamburg to Paris; and the US road trip and summer vacation. I have my moments of loneliness and exasperation in the field, when the expats turn over and I need to get used to a whole new set of people and a new mix of personalities; or when I just wish, to quote the song… “if it’s not asking too much, please send me someone to love.” But the pluses certainly have outweighed the minuses since I started on this path, and I remain tickled that I get to walk it.

After the heat, humidity, concrete-jungleness, and dreadful air pollution of my temporary home in Port Harcourt, the clean green windiness and visible nature (however affected by milennia of agriculture) of Yorkshire felt like a balm to my tired spirit.

That’s really more than enough to say in one entry, is it not? I shall quit while I’m ahead, or at least not too terribly far behind. I’m sending out my thoughts, my wishes, my good energy and lots of love to my family and friends who have been amazingly steady sources of comfort, support, and encouragement these last several years. I am eager to share more details of my Nigerian life & work with you, one on one, whenever this chapter closes next spring. ‘Til then, smile and be nice to folks you’ve never met or don’t even like much, try a new act of kindness or generosity any chance you get, and (if it’s legal) make sure you’re registered to vote in the US (and please please do not simply assume that Hillary’s the candidate: give them all a good solid look before you pull that lever). So long for 2007 from smw, slt.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

On the Yorkshire dales outside Westfield is an absolutely lovely sculpture park which occupies many acres and includes a number of delightful indoor galleries and – in contrast to Storm King, to my & Mom’s great joy following an afternoon wandering the wet and wooly hills – a cozy cafeteria. Henry Moore, creator of the sculpture above, grew up in this landscape, which over the years has been much shaped by human agricultural interests, most often of the four-footed variety seen here. I’d never before enjoyed sculpture while keeping one eye on my path for sheep pies. 🙂

The Yorkshire dales were, after all, home to the Brontes, so it’s such dramatic, lovely, and often dark and rainy landscapes that shaped the imaginations from which sprang Jane Eyre & Wuthering Heights.


This Season by the Thames

The Tate Modern has a great Louise Bourgeois exhibit (would you have spent a day in London to see it, if you’d known, Mom?) which spans the length and breadth (broader than I, who’d only seen her later sculptures at Storm King, really appreciated) of her inspiring career. This spider, commissioned (who knew? not I!) for the opening of the Tate Modern, was almost the only overlap between this and the smaller, more limited exhibit that Mom & I took in at Storm King on…another rainy sculpture park day last May!

I don’t know since when the symbols of the season outside the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square have been multi-religious, but I was delighted to note the Menorah. Can anyone enlighten me on the meaning (or lack thereof) of the multi-colored thing at the top left? Is it Chrismachanukwaanzaka, or just modern art?)

I truly do tend to get choked up when I think about WWII and what London, and Britain as a whole, had to handle once France and the rest of Europe had been invaded, and before the US had finally entered the war. It seems Norway has not forgotten its gratitude to Londoners for holding out as long as they did; every year the embassy of tiny Norway sponsors concerts at the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields (lovely concert, this year), and the citizens of Oslo donate a tree to thank the citizens of London. How I wish gratitude, for example to France for making our revolution possible, were a more dominant note in the American citizen’s international-relations vocabulary…