Between February and June, I worked in Central African Republic. I rarely had an opportunity to pull out the camera – combination of very busy, respect for people’s privacy, and some security questions, mostly. Nonetheless, a thing I feel increasingly in today’s global social environment is that, despite social media which claim to connect us all, so very many people especially in the wealthy countries like my own home just simply lack interest or ability to imagine or respect human life as it plays out daily in vastly varied communities spanning this beautiful world. CAR has many challenges – a quick web search will find reports on those challenges easily. But it’s an amazing, enormous, lovely country defined by rivers, forests, and hills which sits quite literally in the heart of Africa, at the meeting of desert-dry north and tropically-moist south, on trade and herding routes which humans have plied no doubt since long before the first Europeans thought of coming to North America. It also has some of the most engaging and resilient citizens I’ve met, many of them colleagues with whom it was a daily pleasure to work.
Something I love about my current work is that restoring human dignity (even in the most trying moments like conflicts, natural disasters and epidemics) is at its heart. I dearly wish more of us humans found time to deepen our own heartfelt respect and fellow human feeling for everyone – whether in different places or of different convictions. I love how my work connects me to a broader fabric of humanity than most Americans ever have a chance to imagine. This feels so much more meaningful and rich than the “purchase this gadget or app to give your life meaning” approach which seems so to dominate social culture and politics here.
For the first time I am trying some videos here. Friends or viewers from low-bandwidth contexts, tell me if this impedes loading the entire entry or just the videos themselves. I can put them into a separate entry if needed, but as you’ll see, I tried to place them where they inform the photos around them. And if any colleagues don’t agree with me posting any of the party or other photos, just write and I’ll take it down. It’s a fine line, making lives in other parts of the world real vs respecting individual privacy 😊. Peace, out.
Notice, in the photos above, how the bush rules everywhere, and you can clearly see where human settlement has cut itself a home out of the bush. Where you see a much larger number of houses, we’re close to landing at the Bangui airport.
These photos of a broad river with hills on the other side are all from downtown Bangui (the capital of CAR). Across the river is the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the river is the Oubangui, which when it flows into the Congo River a few hundred kilometers downstream of Bangui is the largest tributary to the Congo. Here’s a video, below, which I made just before taking the photo above:
The selfie of me by a river, and the shot of a sunrise over the river, are all the Ouham River near Bossangoa. I sent some friends a photo or two — still photos — and told them there were hippos in the photos. But since the hippos look like rocks until they move (often), people expressed some doubts. Here are the videos, narrated by me and the colleague I did that morning run with: Also, you’ll see there was a bit of a farewell party, with fantastic entertainment by some other colleagues; a short clip is here:
If you haven’t been to the San Francisco Bay Area yourself, and if you wonder why I’m always so happy to get home to it; or why visitors to SF and the bay area so often rave about it — a good place to start is to take in the photo just above. I’m still working my way through photos I took last year, before I headed over to Bangui, where I’ve been now for more than two months. I shot all of the photos in this post during a take-off from SFO en route to EWR last year, in May — but what I’m posting are just photos from the bay area and up til the time we reached the still snow-covered Sierra Nevadas. Since it was nearly a year ago, and this year hasn’t seen as much snow — just remember: it’s last year! Enjoy!
After that last visit to Amsterdam, I flew home to California in late April, the end of a wonderfully wet and snowy rain season on the west coast: which meant lots of much-needed snow even in the mountains of California! As always, I aimed for a window seat and kept my camera handy. I no longer remember the precise route, but I think we went about 1/3 of the way up Greenland and across northern Canada, then angled down around the mountains between British Columbia & Calgary in Canada, and across into the US south of there still angling southwest. The four big photos (above, below, and after the gallery) are out of order — look closely and you’ll see the Hollywood sign on the hills in the photo of LA just above, as the plane flew inland then swung around and line up for the southern runway’s approach route. And I’m fairly sure the photo directly below is from Greenland. (Yes, a thing those from the East Coast of the US may not know is that when flying from the West Coast to Europe, one usually flies over Greenland, as opposed to just south of Iceland which I usually seem to do when flying from NYC.) The shots in the gallery are all in order. I think we crossed the Sierra Nevada south of Yosemite and I was seated as you see on the left of the plane, so I didn’t see Mt Whitney or Yosemite from the air, more’s the pity – the few times I have, my camera has not been handy. Oh well…next time :-). Enjoy!
At the end of March, I left my two-year assignment in Haiti. Amazingly, two months have passed since I flew out. I’ve been back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean and the North American continent twice each, since then. This whole post-mission period, however long it will last, all began with a day on which I flew from tropical, hot, dusty and green Port au Prince, to what you are seeing in this post. Since my US base is coastal California, I very rarely bump up against snow and ice. Which made those days in Canada especially interesting and hard to adapt to! I was in both Toronto and Ottawa, for work meetings and some public speaking – you’ll find links to a few of the interviews I did (all in French) in the post just below this, or in the “about Paul and smw, slt” page. For now, just some of the sights of wintry-spring in Toronto, Ottawa, and on the plane between the two — including some shots taken while our plane was being de-iced before takeoff when I left Ottawa, and airplane views of a still-frozen countryside. I hope you’ll enjoy some of these shots despite the gray skies!
Sunday afternoon in Port au Prince. There’s a great big mass of clouds, wind and rain named Hurricane Matthew, currently a few hundred miles south of us in the Caribbean and slowly working its way north. Seems that tomorrow, parts of Haiti will see massive rain, probably flooding, and very likely substantial risks to homes and lives and communities. For now, not much to do but wait: hasn’t yet started raining. My tennis buddy is taking a weekend in the mountains, so I’m at loose ends while also behind on both sleep and de-stressing recreation.
So I started thinking about all the clouds I’ve looked at from airplane windows the past two months. Figured I’d share some of them with you.
Trip one: late July (all the files are named yymmdd so you can tell which flight it was, and numbered in sequence, so if you think of the plane’s route, you can guess as I do roughly what we’re looking at – some landforms are obvious, others less so), the first time on a flight from PaP to Maimi that we went as far east as we did. Usually, the flights have passed just west of Ile la Tortue; this time the plane clearly diverted to the east, and I think it must have been to avoid a storm system: I think the first photo you see above is that storm system. Nothing like Matthew…but certainly on that day, flights were delayed all across North America due to storm systems, and we here had our little flight adjustments as well.
Trip two: the return leg from Miami to PaP, from the same vacation trip, in later August. I just love looking down at the islands, sandy bottoms and coral formations of the Bahamas. Then watching the shores of Haiti creep slowly closer and become landforms, towns and cities that I recognize and can place on a map.
Trip three: from JFK down to PaP this time, leaving quite early in the morning on a clear Sunday. Saw the moon rise; saw rainbows in clouds as we approached a somewhat cloudy Haiti. Saw deforestation runoff coming into the bay near Port au Prince, and the bump of the Commune de Carrefour just west of downtown PaP. Saw the mountains to the south of downtown PaP, which I’ve explored a bit by car and on foot. Again – numbered in sequence from sitting on the runway at JFK, to a view at Jamaica Bay as we took off…and all the miles of ocean, clouds, moon and rainbows and bays and islands between.
It’s eight weeks since I returned from my lovely May break back home – from which the photos in the last entry emerged. Those eight weeks have been, as usual, mighty busy at work and I’ve not gotten out with my camera at all here in Port au Prince, let alone out of town. Also, I have to admit I’ve been pretty distressed at the state of the world — from Dhaka to Istanbul, Dallas and Orlando to Nice and London, it feels that these past weeks have brought a steadier diet of disheartening news of violence and people closing their hearts to each other than we’ve seen in quite some time. At such times, I tend to focus as locally as possible, on what’s in front of me that I can do. I also tend to look at photos of all the great people and places I’ve met around the world – memories of fonder times. And I did take some photos on that last flight from Miami to PaP – another set of mostly surreal-looking photos of islands in the Bahamas, and some of Biscayne Bay, as seen from an airplane window. Enjoy…and shed some light and kindness on those around you, please. 🙂
Mostly when I’ve flown out of the Toussaint Louverture PaP Int’l Airport, we’ve taken off toward the east, then circled around north-westward until the airplane has climbed to its altitude and established its flight pattern toward whatever US airport it’s aiming for. On my last trip, I had a window seat and I took full advantage: friends and followers may remember how much I loved staring out the window and capturing the views in PNG and over the Coral Sea between PNG & Australia…well, the views on this route are equally wonderful. All photos in this post were taken during one flight, following that trajectory up and over Haiti and on to Miami Int’l Airport. Two highlight full-size shots are kicking it off here, out of order, but the gallery below is strictly in order as the plane advanced along its course. I’ve named each photo and hope if you run your cursor over it, you’ll see which was when; where I knew I was looking at xx or yy geographic feature, I cited it. I find the contrasts between Haiti, the other islands and the finally Miami very interesting. And many of the shots nearly modern-art-like in their beauty. Hope you agree!
The grand road trip ended in Albuquerque, capital of the state of New Mexico. For those readers who aren’t from the U.S., this was the 47th state to join the union, in 1912. This happened, of course, several decades after the upstart revolutionary nation of the US declared war on Mexico, so far as I can tell essentially in order to take over most of what’s now our Southwest as well as my own adopted home state, California. Naturally, long before the Spanish-colonial creation Mexico declared governance and “ownership” of this parcel of beautiful desert, mountain and high plains, the area had been home to many native America tribes, both more nomadic and herder types, and more city-based agriculturalist-types. I believe one might think for example of the great difference in cultural habits and practices between the Apache, the Navajo, and the many different pueblo cultures such as Taos, Zuni, and the famous Hopi from what’s now Arizona (the 48th state to join the union, a month after New Mexico). Anyhoo, that’s enough about the past – in the present, New Mexico remains for me a place of beauty, cultural interest (its long history of human habitation and current highly visible and important presence of many Native-American tribes, but also of Hispanos whose ancestors were here long before the territory fell under US control), and … well, once simply can’t speak of New Mexico without pointing out its extraordinarily fine food! Inches were added to my waistline, which I’ve been working off by biking the hills of northern California. Enjoy these photos!
We were in New Mexico for my niece’s delightful wedding, which was on my own birthday. The best birthday present I’ve been given in years – a day surrounded by my family and getting to know the adult versions of my niece and nephew, and meeting her husband. Wonderful and pleasurable reason and occasion to get back to New Mexico for the first time since 2006. One thing (above) that I discovered is the city’s become more bike-commuter friendly than I recall from earlier decades. Yay! If you’re coming from an abundant-water region, the Rio Grande may not seem so very grande to you. But remember this is the Chihuahuan Desert so any river that carries water year-round is vital to all life nearby. Down below you’ll see one of many canals that channel water from the river to the fields nearby; this river’s water has been irrigating crops since the ancient native cultures, and northern New Mexico still abounds in centuries-old acequias, collectively-managed irrigation canals established under Spanish-colonial rule whose water rights have passed down through the generations and changes of government to support small-farmer descendants of the early colonial-era settlers today.
And then, of course, there are both the myriad native cultures, as well as the desert and its storms. Following are some sequences of photos of dancers at the Pueblo Cultural Center, a wonderful cultural and history center with an excellent restaurant in the heart of Albuquerque which celebrates and documents the many Puebloan cultures native to New Mexico; I think and hope these photos are permissable under their policy and will certainly remove them if they’re not. Then there’s a desert storm which rolled in one morning while I was in my hotel room. I do encourage visitors to the US to consider time in New Mexico – it’s slightly off the usual touristic beaten path, and well worth the trip in my view. What I show here is just the tip of the iceberg.
Like this butterfly which kept me company on my last afternoon in POM after I’d left the office & gone home to pack, I’ve spread my wings and flown away. (Ah, soooo many flights: pom->cairns->sydney->canberra where I pressed the pause button for three nights; then canberra->sydney->beijing->frankfurt->berlin where I pressed pause for one night then berlin -> amsterdam where I sit in the jetlagged early AM as I post this…) Farewells are not my strength, at least the social part of them: I tend to just get up and go, since for me belaboring the departure simply makes it more painful. I prefer, as it were, to pull the band-aid off in one painful pull rather than try to gently remove it – those staying on have the rest of their lives to get on with, and I…well, I had about a dozen flights awaiting me! And the rest of my own life, I guess. So yeah: the PNG chapter has come to a close, and as of last night when I wrapped up the debriefings I’m again a free agent in the world, unemployed and homeless but at least stranded for now on the shores of Europe where I’ll get to see lots o’ good friends and such in the coming two weeks. Yippee!
It’s become a habit for me to try to photograph, as I leave a project, as many of the faces of the colleagues I’ve been working with as possible. It helps me remember the generous, kind and hard-working people who will carry on the work after I’ve left. There’s a gallery here full of those shots, and otherwise mostly the farwell pizza-party & cake lunch that I threw for the office on my last day, last week on Friday. Otherwise this entry contains only the butterfly who visited me, and one shot of the coast near Cairns…at least I’m fairly sure that’s what it is. I suppose it might be the coast near Sydney airport but I don’t think so. This is also, after all, a farewell to that entire region including Australia which I flew into and out of, or visited long or short, many times while there. The next entry should show some views of Canberra during that three-day intermezzo. Ciao, thanks, peace.
So four weeks ago today as I post this, I was flying from Port Moresby in PNG to the lovely hillside harbor you see in the photo just above: Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands. We’re hoping to do some work there similar to the work we’ve been doing for years in PNG, and that of course would be the reason I was flying over. But since this remains as always the blog about my own personal observations of the places I find myself in around this world, we won’t talk about that. Instead, we’ll talk about all the lovely Pacific-Island sculpture to be seen in the National Museum’s courtyard, and about the importance of the airfield where I landed in the history of WWII. Yes indeed, 71 years before that shot above was taken, it would have been quite impossible for a non-military plane to fly past; and any plane flying past would have faced a scary battery of defenses set up by the US and Australian military when they landed here in August 1942. More about that a bit lower down. For now, isn’t it a lovely harbor? I found it to be quite a warm and friendly place – a bit more mellow and smaller than Port Moresby.
smt, slt reminds you that when we try to do nice things with photos such as make them smaller and larger or shift them left or right, this blog is best viewed in something other than firefox or i-explorer: we find chrome works best on windows-type machines.
Above, sculptures in the courtyard of the National Museum in downtown Honiara; lots more further on. Also, above and below, shots of the harbor of Honiara at various times of day. This is one of the most wreck-strewn harbors in the world, I guess, with so many ships of both sides sunk during the many battles fought between 7 August 1942 and about 9 February 1943 when the front line decisively moved a bit further north. And it’s all about that air field: why the Australians and Americans decided this would be the first place they would decisively commit to holding a line and stopping the Japanese advance across the Pacific. Had Japan completed and maintained an airstrip here, their planes would have been able to attack the shipping between Australia and the US West Coast, something Australia particularly wanted to avoid. I know someone, an old family friend, who in her childhood at the family dinner table placed a pin on the map for Honiara when they learned her marine brother had been sent here. Who knows, maybe he was among those who set up or used the gun in the shot below, which I assume (didn’t verify) was actually used during that war. History can seem cold and stiff if you’re born after it happened, but it’s good to remember that it happened to real living, breathing people who experienced real living strong emotions of fear and joy, and though time dims the immediacy, it’s still wise to honor the gains, losses and lessons learned by our predecessors…
This lovely plein-air structure is one of two waiting rooms sitting in front of the concrete airport terminal. Naturally I spent most of my time here, until immigration opened and we were allowed through into the actual boarding area – though the modern terminal building has a cafe, it couldn’t compete with the views out of doors. Lower down, a view of a small island across the way from Honiara Harbor: that’s Savo Island. History tells us that the very night after the first US-Australian landing on Honiara, a Japanese naval force disabled or sank nearly all of the allied ships remaining nearby; and if they’d realized the aircraft carrier was already powering back to Fiji, they could have stayed and possibly turned the battle back their way. They didn’t, instead hustling back to their main base at Rabaul (PNG) to be under cover of their air squadrons…and the war played out as it did.
And it was all for that airstrip there, photographed as we approached for landing on the 16th of February, 71 years and 7 days after Wikipedia tells me that campaign was officially considered ended. And now we get to the great local culture stuff: I loved all the wooden sculpture in Honiara, as you’ve seen from the airport waiting shacks. Here’s more, below, from the National Museum.
This is art from all over the Pacific islands, not just Solomons. There are three primary regions – Melanesia which includes both PNG and Solomons; Polynesia which is more famous in the US at least and stretches eastward to Hawaii and southward to Tahiti etc.; and Micronesia which is up north and includes, I think, Guam.
And with that little gallery, I wrap up the shots from Solomon Islands, and shift to more of my PNG pastime, aerial shots! Below, you see the following shots in the order listed: the bay on which I believe Alotau, at the eastern end of the island of New Guinea, is located; with a peninsula of land stretching east on the southern side of the bay. The next shot down, you see that peninsula ending in the sea, effectively pointing east towards Honiara more or less. And we end with a larger-area shot of Bootless Bay and Pyramid Peak on Pyramid Point, and then with one final shot of that personal-favorite landmark (Pyramid Peak, which you’ll find several other times in these entries…) just on the coast east of downtown Port Moresby. Since I’ve now left PNG for the last time (at least on this assignment), this is one of a few fond farewells likely to appear in these pages to a land that gave me meaningful work, a good home and very warm and welcoming friends and colleagues over the two years I was there. Tenk yu tru.