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Showing posts from 2006

Fighting, Dancing and Fires

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Life is interesting in the field and you never quite know what is just around the corner.

Fighting broke out 10 days ago in Malakau, a small Nile River village 180km to the east of us here. It only lasted about 48 hours but may have left a couple of hundred dead. A southern SPLA (Sudan Peoples Liberation Army) unit thought they would have a crack at knocking off a northern SAF (Sudan Armed Forces) general that was not leaving the area as promised in the CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement). It all got a bit out of hand with tanks and mortar rounds apparently… hate it when that happens.

All quiet here in Bentiu but I now have the evacuation box safely in my tukul beside my bed and the spare landcrusier key around my neck.

At the weekend was the leaving party for Dorothy, the only other New Zealander in the area that I have met so far. She has been with ACF (Action Against Famine) and is returning home for Christmas. We all got together for a feed and then some wild music and dancing which …

My First Day Off

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I've been in Bentiu, my new home for the next six months, since Wednesday afternoon, only a matter of a few days. There seems to have been a lot to take in during that time and today there seems to be a minute now to type some descriptions of where I am on my first day off.
(Background: After far too long waiting in Paris for a Sudan visa to enter the country I finally boarded a flight by Quatar Airways to Doha in the gulf. Then after a short wait in the half finished airport another flight down to Khartoum, the capital city of this, the largest country in Africa. I spent a few days in Khartoum and then it was another set of three flights in progressively smaller aircraft until I touched down in a little eight seater Cessna with a charming smart arse macho south african pilot).
I'm now typing this email on my laptop while sitting in the living tukul, which is a very traditional African hut with a thatched roof made of dried grass and walls of sticks and mud. The floor is a mixtu…

First Impressions of Bentiu

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Jet black kids playing in the mud. Striking african women with platted hair and colourful clothes. Two green military tanks being washed in the river. A comical meeting with our french field coordinator and his little english, and the new government finance ministry, in a room full of people doing nothing all day. TB patients coughing behind the grass isolation fence. Chatting to the young french doctor who wants to know what a kiwi looks like. Invited to play volleyball on Sunday with the Red Cross expats down the way. Trying to help Kaliphar the mechanic with the generator even though we don't speak each other's language. Meeting with the UN World Food Program woman to try and explain needing to destroy 200 bags of donated wheat which are full of insects. Trying to figure out what exactly 'it's broken' means with respect to the vehicle radio. So many white land cruisers stirring up the dust on the road. Showering under a tap sticking out of the tin ceiling. Rice …

White and Blue Nile Rivers

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Couldn't help but break the rules and get some photos of one of the most famous geographical points in Africa, and so I wandered past the teenage soldiers on the bridge and headed along the flood bank until I came to the where the two rivers meet. It seems that as it is the end of the rainy season the names are misleading and the usually Blue Nile is very brown. Any other country would have a wonderful public area with signposts and tourists and cameras and touts, but here it is just the back end of a run down kids play park which seemed pretty closed up??

Also checked out the local National Museum which had a number of things saved from the flooding caused by the building of the Aswan Dam by Egypt (which I visited way back in 1994, I think I'm getting old).

I'm off tomorrow morning on a World Food Program flight south and so this will be my last post for a little while, will check back in with text but probably no more photos for a little while sorry (or maybe I'll add …

Into Africa

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Africa is hot and dusty and huge, just as expected really. I have landed in Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan, and leave soon for the south of the country and my home for the next six months, Bentiu. I flew here from Paris on Quatar Airlines via the city of Doha in the gulf.

I am keen to see a little of this historical city, sitting at the confluence of the Blue Nile and White Nile rivers. Taking photos seems to be a bit of a problem here though and so I grabbed an aerial photo from google earth to show the joining of the rivers. It also shows the main airport from which the government here launches bombing raids in Darfur and if you zoom in you can even see the attack helicopters that are also used against villages. The MSF office and house where I am staying is located just to left of the end of the runway near the blank square area (a cemetery actually) and the main town area is in the centre of the photo on the south bank of the clear flowing Blue Nile.

I'm stuck in the office…

Flying Machines

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I'm back in Paris again for final briefings from the MSF France office. I've been given the background of the mission, the budget and a few hints and tips on the people already down there in Sudan. I've been out to the bookshop and got a guidebook and map for some more background info.

I'm heading for a little place called Bentiu which is in the south of the country where a peace deal was signed last year and things should be pretty stable. Certainly in comparison to the Darfur region just to the north, things should be very quiet.

Today was a holiday in France and so with no chance of my visa or plane tickets coming through I thought it was time to check out the Paris Air and Space Museum. What a place, just fantastic for an aviation and technology nut like me. Lots of rockets, nuclear missiles, jet fighters and even two shiny Concordes! Most excellent.

More Wanders in the Mountains

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While filling in time waiting for my upcoming MSF job I have been getting into the hills as much as possible.

I visited Chamonix and the the large area of walkways, paths and refuges on the western side of the valley. This allowed for fantastic views across to the 'big' mountains (inluding Mt Blanc) on the main French Italian boarder.

I had a bit of luck on my way to the mountains one day as in a little town second hand sale I spotted a pair of TR12 ski touring boots. I had mine stolen along with my car just before leaving New Zealand and so picking up a replacement pair for 35 euro was great.

A great overnight trip was up another little valley in the Chamonix area to a little refuge which had an open 'winter' room to stay. The weather was not too cold at all and there were great views from higher up on the range.

I also visited the Grenoble area, and did some day hikes up a valley inland from the town of Allevard. The weeks of waiting for a mission have been a little frus…

Climbing in the Alps

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I had a fantastic weekend out in the hills of the Aosta Valley in the north of Italy. The valley leads up to the tunnel under Mt Blanc (through to the swiss side of the alps) and has wonderful castles dotting the country side along the way. The weather was not the best but we still got out and up into the mountains to stay at my first European refugio for a somewhat cold night.

The next day started wet but eventually dried out enough for Rory and I to get in a four pitch rock climb up some wonderful slabs. It was fully bolted and wonderful climbing with fantastic views from sun warmed granite. Just great.

On my way heading back up to Paris via Geneva I'm hoping to get some more time in the hills around Chamonix, fingers crossed I can get it all to happen.

Visiting Milan

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My good friends and ex flatmates Jane and Rory happened to be in Milan, Italy, and so a visit was certainly in order. I bused through the famous Mt Blanc tunnel and down the highway through the Italian side of the European alps. Great views of castles, mountains and amazing roading feats of engineering.

Milano is a big city with the associated pollution and traffic, but it does have some amazing sights including the 'Durmo' which is a huge cathedral in the centre of town. It is covered with the most amazing statues of all shapes and sizes in brilliantly white marble. There is also a huge castle in the centre of town which provided light climbing relief.

Milan was also in striking distance of Venice and so we all went on a day trip to one of the tourist centers of Italy. There certainly were a lot of people, but the city itself still lived up to expectations with lots of little alleyways and waterways to see and explore.

Geneva, International City

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The international city, home of the old League of Nations, and now the european seat of the United Nations and headquarters for the Red Cross, WHO, WTO, UNHCR etc etc. There are a number of beautiful old buildings which is not surprising for a city with such a history, and plenty of museums. The real bonus though is the lake around which the city is built, complete with the highest fountain in the world, sending a column of water well over 100m high.

I'm staying with my friend Fiona just around the corner from the lake in a typical Geneva apartment, quite small and simple but with everything from the railway station, post office or supermarket right on the doorstep. All the advantages and disadvantages of high population density at once.

I've explored the city a bit, visiting the Red Cross museum and got myself a card for the UN library for the internet access. Fiona's friend here Jean Micheal has been very kind, with two rides into the Fench alps and a sailing outing on the…

Return to London

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My first view of London after emerging from the train ride through the chunnel and finding my way through some back streets was really quite something. The London Eye, the Houses of Parliment, the River Thames, the dome of St Paul's Cathredral. A little dull and grey granted, but for a first visit back since being born here and moving to New Zealand aged two, not bad at all.
I stayed with friend Vanessa and Andrew and had a fantastic time exploring the sights and visiting the wonderful museums, mostly in search of historic aircraft. This meant that RAF Hendon, the Science Museum and the Imperial War Museum all got a good portion of my time. I also managed to catch an airshow down near Brighton with a good range of spitfires and a display from the BBMF Lancaster bomber. I worked on a Lancaster bomber restoration project in Auckland and so had a particular interest in catching one flying.

I guess second reflections on London would be that it was more dense than expected, a little more…

Passing Through Paris

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What a place!! An amazing number of old buildings and stunning architecture and art work. All quite overwhelming in many ways to have so many famous sights all within a small city centre area. I spent time at the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and of course the Louvre. I shared the time with Hannah who was on the MSF course in Bordeaux with me and some of her friends who visited for the weekend from London.

Traveling now in my thirties rather than my twenties is pretty weird. Most people at the hostel are younger and some are a whole lot younger. Quite off putting to find out the group of people you are chatting to haven’t even had their 21st birthday yet. I guess a quick train trip to Paris from London is pretty easy for uni students on holiday break.

I think it reinforces my view that I would like to travel with friends, family or a partner if possible in the future. Even if you get less done and there is lots of compromise at least you get to share the experience. Onto the train now to Lo…

MSF (Doctors Without Borders)

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I had been trying to get a position through the Red Cross but with no luck in this field I thought I would go back to my first choice with MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières), a French emergency aid organisation based in Europe. I got lucky and scored a position on the logistics training course run in Bordeaux, France. With two weeks notice I packed up, flew around the world, had my bag go missing on the way, and then spent a wonderful week with ten other aspiring MSF’ers.

The course was good, quite full on time wise with sessions from 8:30 in the morning till 8 at night. The people were great with a good cross section of backgrounds and personalities. I’m now eligible to be placed on the ‘mission’, although there are no openings in the near future and so I’ll have to wait and see if I get selected for anything soon. It’s a bit stressful not knowing what the future holds but in the meantime I’m checking out a little bit of Europe.

Leaving the New Zealand Alpine Club

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I ended my five and a half years as executive officer of the New Zealand Alpine Club on a high note with the opening of the Home of Mountaineering. This new building provides a great new office for the organisation, as well as meeting and storage areas. It was opened by Sir Ed with a couple of hundred people along to all celebrate.

The club certainly drove me mad at times with the lack of responsibility from the Club management but hopefully this can change in the future. The job did give me new skills in accounting, staff management and generally moving things forward. It was a dream job in many ways working in an area I love with a lot of freedom.

After finishing with the Club I spent a week with the parents up in Auckland, some time in the hills ski touring, and then a lot of time packing up little Selwyn Street cottage. I’m getting ready to see if I can get a job doing international aid work. I’m very sad to leave this phase of my Christchurch life and look forward to returning.