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

A Paris Interlude

Leaving Port Harcourt and Nigeria, I headed to Paris for what should have been some debriefing and a chance to catch up with my friends Howard & Gene, who’d kindly rearranged their schedule so we could spend a little time together after not seeing each other for nine months. As always, they rather overhwelmed me with their generosity and kindness — it was such a treat, after eight months of performing-arts deprivation, to see on my very first afternoon back from Nigeria, a truly fantastic dance performance at the beautiful (is it rococco? I think so) opera house (Palais Garnier) with H&G – as their treat, no less. Thanks, guys!

…This is another favorite new museum in Paris, as foreground for one of the more renowned symbols of the city of light: Musee du Quai Branly, a truly exquisite museum both in collection and in architecture and gallery layout. It houses an enormous collection of art and artifacts from traditional cultures in Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas.

Quatre Semaines a Paris

Well, that’s that. Outta Sri Lanka, outta Europe, back in the US, which I must say feels as unreal to me (after ten days) as any place else I’ve been in the world. Actually, in many ways more unreal since the US floats through the world in a bubble of its own making, blithely ignorant of what so much of the rest of the world experiences and lives. Here we still drive hummers and SUVs and don’t ponder that ignoring all speed limits burns gas far more rapidly…at the same time as we expend more energy screaming about gas prices than lobbying our congresspeople to invest in public transit (duh) or letting AAA know we think they’re evil for not having gotten behind higher public spending on pubtrans decades ago, and lower subsidies for roads, armies in Iraq, and all else that prioritizes individuals behind the wheels of cars, rather than in seats on trains. Duh. Enough soap box for now, and sorry to start that way…it’s just, the US and its issues are sometimes so unreal to me.

The Musee d’Orsay remains one of my very favorite places in Paris, and it’s clearly been added to Mom’s favorites list. Above you see the view from within the clock of this former train station now housing one of the world’s finest collections of art, including the ever-popular impressionists; look closely and you’ll see runners in the Paris marathon on the other side of the Seine: this was a great vantage from which to enjoy the marathon! I take this opportunity to remind you that I listen and respond to my beloved readers. Ever-loyal and supportive Ondrej commented some months ago that he wants to see “Paul here, Paul there…” so here you have the first of many self-portraits I took during this period: me reflected in mirrors while taking in the cultural highlights of the museum. Rather artistic, don’t you think? 🙂

To answer the most FAQs I’ve had since returning: Yes, I’m done with MSF for the time being. Yes, I’ll be heading back out with MSF, most likely in the fall (Sept) and most likely somewhere in Africa. Most likely for six months or so. Yes, it’s definitely the right thing for me at this point in my life. Yes, I do get a bit lonely every now and then and it’d be nice to find someone (a gay someone, that is, preferably cute but if wishes were fishes…) as interested in the (out there) world as I am. No, I don’t think doing the work I do makes it any less likely I’ll meet Mr. Right, since staying in LA on the off chance I might meet Mr. Right one glorious day, while doing work that was putting my soul slowly to sleep, wasn’t really working either. Yes, Sri Lanka was depressing and challenging, but I’m incredibly glad I did it and proud that I’ve learned everything I learned there. Yes, it was hard and sad to leave China so suddenly, especially just when my Chinese reading and writing were making major headway…and no, I’ve hardly done anything with my Chinese since last August. Yes, I’ll be in LA all summer. I’m incredibly tired, even seven weeks after leaving Sri Lanka, and I need to just settle in some place where I can sleep and have no obligations, no responsibilities, no one needing anything from me.

That summarizes the answers I’ve given almost everyone since landing. Can I sign off now?

Nah, I guess I’ll say a bit about the Europe trip. 🙂 ColomboàDubaiàParis went reasonably well; despite a four-hour delay leaving Colombo in the aftermath of the below-mentioned small-aircraft strike on the air base next to the CMB airport, I just barely made the connection at DXB and landed on time at CDG. Debriefing at MSF Paris: check, a good experience all round. Ten days of class at MSF: check, a chance to talk about humanitarian issues (gosh, my French really must be getting better) with other folks who’ve been facing similar issues, and to put them in broader context and with some historical considerations.

Then Mom came in to celebrate her birthday! And this is what you’ll be looking at: pictures of Paris and what we saw there; Switzerland, Germany and Holland and what I saw there after escorting Mom back to CDG for her return flight to NYC and so on and so forth and so on. There’ll be captions explaining most of what you’re seeing…and if you have questions, drop a comment on the blog and look again a day or two later, and you shall see a response from yours truly.

Long time readers of SMW, SLT will recognize Max, my former head of mission in China who’s now settled with his wonderful family back in Paris, where he works for Action Against Hunger and Delphine works with MSF HQ. I think Mom really enjoyed meeting a lot of my Paris friends…and I’m only sad I didn’t get pix of our outings with Thierry, Judith & Xavier, and Xavier & Delphine. (Yeah, reading the list of my friends, you get an idea of what names were popular in France 30 years ago or so, huh?)

Before it all gets stale, I want to ponder a few developed world vs. developing world “top ten” type lists. I’m stunned that so much time has zoomed by since leaving Colombo, and I’ve chosen to use my last full afternoon in NYC sitting in a café with reliable WiFi in order to post all these photos and these thoughts so that I can cross this off the to-do list, thus leaving me free for other items on said list while I visit Steve in Pittsburgh and then do my whistle-stop drive back across the country, re-accreting all the detritus that I deposited in basements in Pennsylvania and Ohio 2-1/2 years ago so that it can then be unceremoniously dumped back in that lovely storage space in Marina del Rey. I’ve realized the summer, too, will pass too rapidly and all too soon I’ll be off in Chad, Central African Republic, Niger or Democratic Republic of Congo trying to figure out what it means to be a field coordinator as opposed to an administrator. So better get this done while I still can!

I met a wonderful smart and handsome guy named Marc (see, Lola, I DO try…) on Easter Sunday, and the next day we took a walking tour throug the Paris he wanted to show me. The photos of me nicely posed on a bridge over the Seine (above), and in front of La Colonne at Place Vendome and the Palais de Justice (below) were taken by him. Sadly, we lost touch after that. 😦

What I realized I love about the developed world (European version):

–great trains that run on time

–bathrooms in the trains that are other than disgusting

–plentiful supplies of toilet paper in said bathrooms

–drinking water straight from the tap!

–ability, even in larger cities, to go for extended runs without asphyxiating oneself

–tennis on television!!!!!!

–supermarkets full of great cheeses, pastas, sauces

–many varieties of olives! (Colombo featured green and black, period; some Beijing foreign-food marts would have kalamata or imported Italian olives of OK quality)

–clean streets usually free of dog souvenirs

–the ability to be anonymous, since my skin color doesn’t make me stand out

What I (already) miss about the developing world:

-whole families coming home from work and school together on one motorcycle

–negotiable pricing in most places

–outdoor fruit and vegetable markets that kick butt

–vibrant community life on the streets, even in the big cities: from Beijing grandpas in their pj’s out walking their birdcages in the morning, to the neighborhood cricket boys in Colombo and everything in between

–bicycle fish vendors in Sri Lanka’s towns and villages

–learning new things every single day

— the sense of being special because my skin color makes me stand out

After two days of debriefing in Paris, I hopped Eurostar for a weekend at Peter’s place (thanks, as always, Peter) in London. Watching the rolling green fields slide past outside my window, I realized I’d also missed the kind of rolling green glaciated landscapes in which I’d grown up. Though Sri Lanka and China are both remarkably beautiful and I was constantly thrilled and excited to live and learn in them, and indeed I came to feel at home in so many ways, somehow they were always alien landscapes that my heart knew weren’t really mine, so to speak. I hope you enjoy these pictures. A few friends have informed me they’re eager to see the updates, and I’ve certainly been eager to get them up here. I have no idea if I plan to post over the summer or not. Consider me on summer vacation, from the blog as from all other obligations, until further notice. Get in touch personally, if you’d like to: I’m sure I’d love to hear from you.

Musée d’Orsay on Easter Sunday

Musee d' Orsay Easter Sunday 2005Yes, I finally motivated myself to take advantage of some of Paris’s
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
museum, truly.

Arriving in Paris

Seine & SunOn a late afternoon in the late winter, one can still be blessed with
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!)