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.