Showing posts from 2008

North Face of the Eiger

My year overseas came to an end with a little trip across to Switzerland for a couple of days skiing under the famous north face of the Eiger. The weather was not the kindest on the first day but with large amounts of snow falling and empty ski fields at half price for the beginning of the season, there was no reason to complain. Rode trains, giant cable cars, chair lifts with plastic covers and even skied off the top of the Schilthorn, the alpine set of an early James Bond film.

Actually since getting back from Lebanon most of my time has been in and around Paris, trying to learn a little of the French language, but with limited success. The weather has progressively moved to the colder end of the scale, with some snow falling the other day right in the middle of the city. While the city is still beautiful I can see the cold combined with short daylight hours makes a European winter quite harsh.

Some other trips around France in the last weeks have taken in the city sights of Strasbour…

Holiday in Beruit

Beirut is not the normal holiday destination that springs to mind when considering where to take a two week break, but it turns out Lebanon is a pretty cool place. Certainly the people are friendly, completely hospitable, helpful and generous, so much so that hitch hiking is a breeze.

Even though most of the devastation of the 1980's era civil war has now been carefully restored or completely reconstructed, it is hard to shake the standard image of the country as a war zone. Admittedly the Israelis do seem to have a habit of visiting by force in the south from time to time, and Hizbola is the dominant political party in many parts of the country, but it really is very peaceful and safe for travellers now.

Along the coast are crusader castles, inland a huge canyon with cliff side monasteries, then an amazing Roman era temple bigger than anything I've yet seen anywhere else, and there are even ski fields in the mountains, though we were a little early for the cold stuff, simply cl…

Heading Out

In a bit of a surprise move it seems that my time in Ethiopia is coming to a sudden end. My visa runs out after three months in the country and cannot be renewed here, so it is a trip back to Paris (that much was planned for some time). However it seems that there are others here that can take over my job so I'm no longer required. Oh well, it was excellent fun while it lasted.

The Wamura staff gave me an excellent send off party the night before I left. It was a great time with the most amazingly colourful farewell gift of a local traditional costume. Of course it had to be put on immediately and some dancing around the fire ensured. It was a good evening and I was glad that the speeches were kept to an absolute minimum.

I'm miss the green hills of Wamura, it is a beautiful area, and I would love to take my mountain bike and return one day. Perhaps some of the local staff will still be living there even after the mission closes at the end of November, although many come from ot…

Cheaters and other Criticism

Not everything goes smoothly with a humanitarian interventions. Being representations of a rich white western aid organisation certainly means that as an expat here there is a dollar sign halo ever present. This causes conflicts over pay for starters, and then other things like demands for blankets for the watchmen, gumboots of the logistics workers, and endless pens for the nurses. Most of the time it is not a problem but quite often conflicts occur. In Wamura I have been trying to use only contract staff (ongoing employemnt) with no daily workers (paid for the day). This enables trust and loyalty to develop with staff, and avoids some of the walking dollar sign feeling being an expat.

One of the other problems associated with being in control of seemingly unlimited resources while dealing with people with very little, is the 'cheaters'. Woman and babies who try, and succeed, in getting around and through the system twice or more times, picking up drugs and food on each round.…

The Big SFC Week

One part of the mission we have been preparing for, and now running, is the big SFC (supplementary feeding centre) program. Effectively this involves handing out a months worth of family ration to everyone within a certain criteria. One family gets 25kg of famix, five one litre bottles of oil and five very large pieces of soap. We were expecting about 200 people at each of the five locations we already run OTP's and so I had stockpiled literally tons of food and oil in the preceding week.

The big week certainly was an eye opening to behold. The whole team arrived back from each location in quite an exhausted state, having screened hundreds of mothers and children, thousands over the course of the week. Everyone ending up longing for Saturday and the end of the week. Screening involves a MUAC check and then, for some, a weight and height measure as well. Once accepted in the program, but before getting food, there is the paracheck to screen for malaria, a visit to the doctor and the…

Small Team, Big Team, Small Team

The mission here consists of three sets of staff. There are the expats; running around organising things. There are the inpats; Ethiopian medical staff and translators who have been recruited to help and moved here from other parts of the country, we have about ten here now. And then there are the local local staff from Wamura; the guards and cooks and cleaners; the numbers keep changing but I think we've employed about 60 now.

Our expat team started very small in numbers of expats, Florence the nurse, Cameron the doctor, and me for the logistics. We swelled in number over the next weeks with the arrival of Damien, an experienced nutritional nurse, another US nurse Leslie, an Australian doctor Matt, and then two further French doctors Claude and Agnes, and two French logisticians, Anne Marie and Abdel. With visiting coordination people from Sodo and Paris, the food bill certainly shot up, along with the queue for shower (don't think hot steamy room, more bucket of c…

Shocks to the System

Every now and then something just corners you out of the blue. For me here it was a normal midweek afternoon soon after I arrived. I was alone at our base at the Wamura health centre, busy organising things, with the medical team all off in an outlying village doing their screening, admission and treatment program. The first of the 10 truck convoys had arrived, been unloaded and left the evening before, which I guess would have been talk of town and a front page advertisement for our program. I noticed more mothers and babies hanging around mid morning than usual. By midday when I walked out of the office, I was greeted with fifty or sixty children, with fifty or sixty mothers eyes on me.

Malnutrition here is surprising in that it is not immediately apparent. The fields and hills are green and beautiful, and people generally look poor, but well and happy. So much so that up to this point the whole project had a surreal feel for me. Working my way around the crowd that had ga…

Rain and Mud

It's the wet season here in Ethiopia and the rain comes and goes each day with alarming regularity. Even if the morning dawns fine and still, by the afternoon the heavy rain can make doing anything pretty much impossible. Still, it certainly give me time to catch up on the office administration. For a couple of mornings we awoke to sound of rain and collectively all rolled over and went back to sleep.

The problem is not so much getting wet, or even getting covered in mud, it is the paralysing effect the rain has on the roads. The last sealed road is many hours travel away. Around here all roads are carved out of the hills sides and consist either of bone jarring rock, or raw clay. In dry conditions the clay surface is fine, hard and fast travel. When wet though, even with a light shower, the surface becomes slick with a film of wet clay. On an attempted trip to the next town of Lasho the four wheel drive vehicle I was in almost made the top of a small rise before the wh…

Nutritional Emergency

When I first heard of the mission here and the phrase 'nutritional emergency', I cynically thought it another phrase like IDP (internally displaced person) which has largely replaced 'refugee'. An IDP is a refugee in in their own country, whereas a 'real' refugee finds themselves displaced into another country. Either way they are refugees to the layperson. So a nutritional emergency must be a famine I thought, not enough to eat, so supply some food, then head for home for a spa.

It turns out though that it is not quite that simple. Here in this south western mountain area of the country the fields are full of crops and things appear fertile and productive. But unfortunately the subsistence living in the area is always so close to the edge that even a small loss of harvest due to too little rain, or too much rain will result in a small shortage of food. Not really noticeable in the general population, but first detected by surveying the under five yea…

The Green Mountains of Ethiopia

So, three different jobs in three days, now I really don't know if I have been promoted or demoted! I awoke in the morning and was told that it had been decided, sometime after I went to bed, to open a new field project in a place called Wamura. A doctor, nurse and myself for logistics would leave immediately. I grabbed my small bag, and then starting grabbing things from the store that I knew would be useful for a setup, some blankets, a satellite phone and computer, a water filter.

Then it was into the four wheel drive and onto the road into the mountains. The hills around here certainly are amazing and really remind me of Nepal, with little ridge line villages with spectacular views off each side down into the green valleys below. The roads wind there way up and down, with alternating rough rocky sections on the ridges, and soft clay and mud in depressions, or where waterways cross the road.

On arrival we were hosted in the local health centre by the very helpful head…

Changing Plans

Well, one minute I planning out my three month stint as Supply Logisitian in the wet sprawling capital of Ethiopia, next minute I am much closer to the field in a place called Sodo, which is well to the south of the country on the foothills of green mountains. I've been so surprised at how beautiful Ethiopia is, and how the wrong the image I have fixed still in my subconscious is. All around are ploughed fields full of crops, it rains every day, and I wish I had my gumboots.

Sodo is the main coordination for the project but there is still a lot of setup and organisation to be undertaken. I seem to be just keeping ahead of a wave of materials coming from Addis. It is great to be able to see the special vitamin enriched grain called Famix being prepared in the factory, buying 50 tons, sending it off to Sodo, only to be standing there when it arrives with a half finished store! Maybe next I'll see it dished out in the field.

It continues to rain and some of the expats in Gocho, the…

Back on the Job with MSF

One minute I was back in Paris enjoying Don Carlo at the grand opera theatre, the next minute I'm on a plane to Ethiopia of all places. On the flight down images from years ago fill my mind; Bob Geldoff, Live AID, staving African children and endless repeats of ''Do they know it's Christmas time at all...?''.

It looks like my role will be in Addis Ababa, the capital city, supporting a field operation in the south west of the country, which is an emergency nutritional crisis intervention. The rains failed and some significant numbers of malnourished children were identified by an exploratory MSF team last month. Certainly not a famine, but human suffering that required a response.

I've spent a week helping set up house and office, arguing with customs officials for the release of the international logistic equipment, therapeutic food, and medical drugs the mission requires, and trying to get an idea of the needs of the field team. Busy time and not a minute fo…


Once in Spain I met up with a good friend Lisa for a one week tour of the Pyrenees. We started in Barcelona and worked our way westward. On the way we discovered the (for us) unheard of country, Andorra. Quite amazing to randomly ‘discover’ a country in the middle of Europe? Guess that there might be a few more surprises lurking around the place.

We walked and explored and even climbed in the soft slushy spring snow. Ended up at the top of a wonderful hill and look forward to returning for more peak bagging one day. The whole mountain range from coast to coast looks like it is filled with all sorts of interesting corners, peaks, huts and viewpoints. It is very much like the NZ alps, with mountains about the same size, trails, and (in June) not many people at all.

Heading now for a weekend in Paris and then back down to Bordeaux for an MSF logistics training course.

Two Worlds Apart

The Mediterranean Sea separates Europe from Africa, with the closest point being between the two sides of the Straights of Gibraltar. On one side to the north are the very rich, developed nations of the west, with their huge economic and military power. On the other side to the south, separated by only a matter of kilometres lies Africa, with its poverty, underdevelopment, war, famine and disease.

While in other places it is possible to be struck by the culture shock of flying from a modern built up city such as Paris, to the simple depths of despair in a dessert town of Darfur over the course of a few days, here is the place where the difference between worlds is simply a two hour boat ride.

In a world of plenty it would seem to me that the current flow of wealth from rich to poor, whether looked at on the neighbourhood scale, a local regional setting, within nation states, between countries, or across civilisations, is so small as to be completely discountable in the greater transacti…

Jebal Tubkal

It seems to me that no matter how badly prepared and under equipped you think you are, when it comes to the highest or most well known mountains of the world, there are always many people less prepared than yourself. So it was with Jebal Tubkal, the highest hill in the High Atlas Range. I turned up with a route description, summer sleeping bag, lightweight boots and only some idea what to expect. Others that I met had no map at all, no sleeping bag, no raincoat, and little more than tevas for there feet!

Everyone seemed to make it to the top regardless (4000m odd), with great weather, only a little snow, and some great views in spite of a little heat haze. There ceratainly was quite a crowd in all, with a number of quite large guided groups, a whole host of guided couples, and then the odd ball do-it-your-self crew, me included. For a general little movie view from the top check out, otherwise just stick with the photo, which is complete with my american …


Mauritania gives way to the north to the Western Sahara according to many older map and atlases, however in practice, Morocco starts straight away over the boarder. The old Western Sahara 'country' was occupied in the 1970’s. The reason, national resources, as apart from iron and phosphate deposits, it is an endless dessert and barren empty coastline. Along that coast though runs a single solitary high quality highway, linked a few widely spaced towns long its 1000km old length. Not much to see , but certainly an easy high speed way northwards. Arriving in Morocco was a great shock to the system with so many tourists even in this the 'off season'. The wide open streets of the new city contrasted with the narrow winding allies of the old walled city. The souks and markets were indeed a sight to behold, though the star of the show was certainly the central square at dusk. Food stands full of local dishes, fruit stands offering fresh drinks, performers and story te…

Good Men, Bad Men

There are many poeple you meet along the way when travelling, some good, some bad. Often you don't really know until after you have left them far behind.

Some of the really great people have I meet in the last few days were the other locals making their way around Maurtiania on the various forms of transport: pickups (on the back with the goats), shared taxis (think four in the back seat), an iron ore train (travel on top for free). I learnt a few things along the way, like you need your Beduin head scarfe to keep out the dust and sand, don't go off the road because of landmines, and always take twice the water you think you'll every drink and then some more.

Some of the not so nice people were also keen to help, but for a price. The boarder patrol guys were particularly unsettling, along with the taxi drivers when they know your options are very limited.

The scenery is amazing, soring cliffs on the road to the once thriving ancient city of Chengetti, the sweeping dunes of th…

Dakar Farewell

My time is up for Dakar and my last weekend was an excellent send off. Elodie has had some family relations living here as well that we have visited several times. They won a plane flight in a raffle and wondered if we would like to come along as well, and of course the one hour flight over the Dakar peninsular was spectacular. The next day we also had a second visit together to the island of Goree which is undoubtedly the jewel of Senegal, its just so peaceful and beautiful. Recommended to anyone visited western Africa.

My language skills have not really improved with my weeks trying to learn French here, and I wish that I had bought both a bike and a kayak when I first got here, but otherwise I think my time here has been a good experience. The frustration of not being fully occupied, even with the little accounting job and host of other interests which I kept up with, was something I've found hard though and will be working to avoid in the future.

The Gambia

With the successful completion of my job, along with the end of my french classes, I found myself with some time on my hands again. So the last week has been a time of exploring the southern Senegal region of Casamance, and the tiny African state of Gambia. I sailed down overnight on a large ferry, and worked my way back north overland.

The landscape is certainly a lot greener than in the north with lots of trees and gardens, and great long beaches. These usually pull the tourists, but I seem to hit the low of the low season and the all the atlantic resorts spots were deserted. So I hung out with the wildlife instead, the crocodile pool at Bakau, and a forest reserve teeming with monkeys.

I found the Gambia an intriguing place. It was one of the longest uninterrupted democracies on the continent until a coup in 1994 placed in power a man who is still at the top. The unusual thing is that he seems to have been able to win two organised elections since, along with convincing the populati…

Does my arse look small in this...

Are you worried that you are losing your curves? Put on your favourite jeans on a Saturday night out on the town only to find them a bit baggy? Have had your significant other mutter something about eating a little more to fill out a bit?

Maybe what you need is padded underwear.

Now available from all good outdoor crazy markets in the backstreets of Dakar, just look alongside the wigs, printed t-shirts with spelling mistakes, extremely low lifespan jandals, and mass produced other junk.

Apart from this important discovery the other happenings of the month included birthdays for both Elodie and myself and a bit of kayaking. Elodie organised me a wonderful party with a great lot of people around for dinner. This also required a day in front of the oven and resulted in enough food for thousands. Most excellent to have good leftovers for the rest of the week. Elodie had a surprise party eight days later, held on the other side of town. This resulted in some minor problems trying to find the …

Micro Credit

I've been working for the last few weeks, and will be for the coming months, for a little organisation called 'Anti Poverty Initiative' (API) which provides micro credit for woman in Dakar. It was started by an American ex Methodist missionary who has been living in Dakar for many years. They needed help with setting up a new computer accounting system and various other tasks and so I am getting some good experience in the field of micro credit.

Micro credit is simply loaning small amounts of money to people with no security, effectively filling the gap below which normal banks and financial institutions operate. It came to major prominence recently when Muhammad Yunus, who funded the Grameen Bank in Bangadish, was awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. The loan money enables women, who are more trustworthy with repayment and usually provide benefits for the whole family, to start and run small businesses.

API has a model which sets up groups of 25 women together and gives the…

OIC in Town

During the past week the city of Dakar has been hosting a meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC). This has resulted in many cancellations, reorganisation of traffic, and general disruption to the city, as the leaders of 56 nations all arrived for the gathering. It turns out that many of the major infrastructure projects around Dakar were begun in expectation of this event, but unfortunately only a handful of them seem to have been completed. On the positive side the western coastal road was finished in the nick of time, on the negative side two large hotels are still only shells under construction. To cover the resulting shortage of accommodation a huge Italian cruise ship appeared at the port, appearing to outdo all the shore based hotels.

I heard via some friends here that the main two topics discussed at the meeting were first the lack of progress with the implementation of an investment fund for transfer of wealth from northern middle east members to southern …

Local Wildlife

The beaches of Senegal stretch to the south of Dakar and vary from highly developed tourist resorts to small little fishing villages. We have been spending the last few weekends exploring a few of them and the surrounding countryside. The heat of the sun in the middle of the day is so great that for me the only too options are hiding in the shade or complete immersion in the sea.

A nearby park known as Bandia Reserve provided some great photo opportunities with many large animals including rhino, giraffe, and antelope. Most of them are actually from South Africa, and the park is so small it could be called a very large zoo, but certainly well worth a visit if wanting to see such large beasts up close and in the open. We even managed to do it very cheaply by meeting some other helpful French woman who were able to include us in their hired car for the morning.

While out and about we have also met a host of great people, including fellow Dakar residents and travellers on an overland trip …