Ah, Berlin












It felt like a good idea — now that I can access the blog host site again — to finish off the last photos I planned to post in 2018. This is a sampling of views from a few June days in Berlin, where my brother showed me some of his favorite corners of the town and I got to meet with various colleagues after my time in Central African Republic. Enjoy, and happy new year :-).

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

Berlin With Autumn Color & Sun…Who Knew?!

…that Berlin could be so gorgeous if the sun is shining and you know where to look?! Regular followers of smw, slt may remember the teary post I wrote in November 2010, after my first return to Berlin since the wall still stood. I was back again – v e r y briefly – in March this year for pre-assignment briefing, then for a wee bit longer in mid-October, for work-related meetings onto which I tacked a 5-day weekend, basically. ‘Twas lovely. It was also an all-too short but still restful change-of-pace-and-scenery break in a work life that’s been quite busy, perhaps even unrelenting, for some time now. Just before that trip, we’d hosted some some journalists who were recording and reporting some of the people we treat around the world, some of the places we work and some of the folks who do the work. If you’re interested in seeing and hearing some of what we do in PNG, feel free to check any of the following links, each of which is a different fairly short video with some of my colleagues, important interlocutors, a bit o’ yours truly, etc. all talking about the situation, the work, the people.

Viewing those videos, you may understand why for me a lovely weekend of blue skies, fall foliage, discovering lovingly restored and renovated old buildings along the waterfronts and side streets of Berlin was such a pleasure and a break for me. Other followers of smw, slt may recall last year’s work in North Kivu…and you can imagine my thoughts and heart are absolutely going out to the hundreds of thousands, or millions, of civilians who’ve been experiencing yet another in the ongoing waves of displacements and fighting that have plagued the region for nearly two decades. Please hold DRC and especially the east in your hearts. These folks deserve better from a theoretically humane world order than they are getting, honestly.

But there is always hope, that being one quality which seems so quintessentially to define us human animals. Immediately above is a photo I took right across the street from the hotel where MSF puts us up in Berlin, right by what used to be the wall. The wall itself ran smack down this street for three decades or so. If you look really closely, you can probably see the cobblestones under the lovely smattering of fallen leaves, above, which marks where that slice through the middle of this lovely city ran for three decades too long. It gave me great pleasure to walk along those stones, kicking the leaves, imagining how different the experience would have been ca. 1990.

As I write this, bread is rising and I’m off for some last-minute shopping in half an hour or so, all prepping for a lovely delayed american thanksgiving meal that one of my colleagues is spearheading. My contribution – the oven for the pumpkin pie, and homemade cheesy sundried-tomato bread. We’ll have a few friends from the greater (ex)-MSF family in POM over, we’ll eat drink and be merry, and no doubt we’ll send a thought to colleagues all over everywhere, and miss our families and friends back wherever our homes are. Hope your weekend, hope the start of the hectic year-end season is are going well. Peace.

Rambling Through Berlin @ Christmastime

smw, slt has been in Europe for five weeks. First we did some training in Holland, then we visited some friends and family in parts of Germany (rather than burn extra carbon and money just to fly across the Atlantic two more times in a short time period), then we came to Paris where we’ve been trying to get our French up to full strength before working in it every day down by the equator. After a month of grey skies and f**king freezing temperatures – yikes! – I’m definitely ready for equatorial weather. As it turns out I’m cutting things a bit short and heading to work earlier than planned, which is just fine by me: I’m ready to work; I’m sad to miss my last week in Paris and my chance to see colleagues and friends again in Amsterdam, but I’m eager and excited to get to work again in what I’ve always heard is a beautiful, complex country that is, as the French like to say, très passionant.  My dictionary says that word translates as fascinating, gripping, enthralling, exciting…which misses the point that its root is passion, a word and a concept that the French, among all, take really quite seriously. I’ll be in touch, when I can, from DRC…wish me luck and much passionant-ness. In the meantime, enjoy some views of Berlin, Paris & Holland under mostly grey skies.

I visited in Berlin in 1980, 81 and 90. I lived in West Germany in 1980-81 and first experienced the old Soviet Bloc in August 1980, when I traveled with a class trip (from my German high school-for-a-year) to Poland, just weeks after the Solidarity movement began its strikes in Gdansk. I think historical consensus is that those strikes were the beginning of the (long) end of the Soviet bloc, indeed ultimately of the Soviet Union itself. I have dear and close friends, as good as family, scattered around northern West Germany who had relatives in East Germany throughout the GDR/DDR’s existence as a separate state. Those relatives never had the freedom to cross the border and visit their families west of the border, and West Germans faced various impedimentary rules and restrictions when visiting their own relatives in East Germany. I last visited this great world city in May 1990, when the wall and the GDR/DDR both still existed, physically and legally, but were both clearly in a caretaker, end-of-life state. That’s the only time I ever crossed the border through the “Palace of Tears,” aka Berlin Friedrichstrasse S-Bahn station, where GDR (West German) citizens were required to enter and exit East Berlin: other times I crossed that border I, like all American citizens, had to cross through Checkpoint Charlie. (It’s called Palace of Tears, of course, because of how many were shed over the years by families from east and west required to part company there until the next visit from west into east could happen.) Now I walked through Checkpoint Charlie unimpeded, along an un-walled & Christmas-decorated Frierichstrasse; and yes, with tears in my eyes thinking about how this great city and the people of this nation were cut in two for so many decades, and enjoying how very vibrant, alive, and whole both the city and the country now seem to be. Berlin’s a mighty fine city full of culture, museums, history, lovely streets and buildings both old and new, whose local and national governments have done a great job of reuniting, in a pleasant and functional way, what for so long were two halves of one whole, cut off in the middle. Enjoy the photos.

Immediately above: Synagogue on Oranienburgerstrasse, which I guess benefited from benign neglect through the GDR years as it was on the east side; below, the stunning and functional new main train station (don’t ask how trains were organized in the divided Berlin; it was messy and far from ideal), smack in the middle of what used to be the no-man’s zone; it, like most of the ultra-modern govenrment buildings you’re seeing in and around the banks of the Spree in the heart of the city, have all been put up in the past 20 years to make good use of the old barbed-wire & guard-tower death zone on the east side of the wall.

Have you noticed I took as many pics as possible when the sun managed to break through the clouds? Most of the blue-sky photos are from Gendarmenmarkt, a gorgeous public square a few blocks north of Checkpoint Charlie (and the Wall) in the former East Berlin, whose twin churches and concert houses are now lovingly restored and, these days, hosting a classic German Christmas Market. Below: one of my brother’s homes away from home, Berlin’s greatest university which has gotten a shot in the arm by being on a newly reunited Unter den Linden, also on the former east side… And below that, one of the grand old buildings on (formerly east side) Museum Island, which amply demonstrates why taking photos is more fun when the sun is shining.