Friday, December 30, 2005

2005 wrap up

Kitchen department, Liberian Government Hospital, Buchanan, Liberia
December 31, 2005

Best wishes for a wonderful 2006 to any readers out there.

I'm writing this at 10:13pm on New Year's Eve and I think I'll be too tired to stay awake until midnight.

What an amazing year I've had. In these 12 seemingly brief months I took a mere 60 flights, visiting eight new countries (Brazil, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Ireland, India, Nepal and Liberia, bringing my official country total to 40), riding overnight trains in India, Canada and the US, and setting foot on five continents. I finished one job (working for the Survey Action Center in Afghanistan), started and finished another (with Oxfam in Afghanistan) and begun a third (with Merlin in Liberia).

Amongst my adventures were the following (not quite chronologically):

  • Leaving Afghanistan on Business class, drinking Turkish coffee in Istanbul - and then finding myself back in Kabul six weeks later;

  • Dancing until dawn in Itajuba, Brazil during Carnaval;

  • Being spied on by monkeys with Jenny on the Pao De Acucar in Rio de Janeiro;

  • Riding an elephant through the jungles of western Thailand after rafting through gorges, jumping off waterfalls, and enjoing welcome serenity in an eco lodge;

  • Learning to Scuba diving at Koh Chang, Thailand;

  • Taking my most comfortable (yet affordable) overnight train trips ever (Bangkok to Chang Mai) in Thailand;

  • Climbing and pondering the incredible monastery at Angkor Wat, Cambodia;

  • Swearing yet again that I'd attended my last Formula 1 Grand Prix (this time in Malaysia);

  • Gazing up (from valley floors) and down (from tiny aircraft) at the most beautiful country (Afghanistan) I've ever seen;

  • Being given an improbably large number of interpretations of whether or not the Holy Koran permits alcohol consumption;

  • Being told (before takeoff from Yawkalang airfield above 8'000 feet in the Central Highlands of Afghanistan) that we would make an immediate right-turn because otherwise "if one of the engines fails we'll hit that hill...";

  • Being the only person to follow Blue Rodeo around all twelve of their UK tour gigs - and in so doing drinking Guinness with some of them until long after their Bambridge show, being played 'Lost Together' for my personal loyalty in Leeds, and bar hopping with some of them and their most wonderful fans in Dublin;

  • Continuing the process of falling in love with Scotland;

  • Realizing that the Kings Cross bomb exploded 48 hours to the minute after I'd been there;

  • Visiting the incredible Taj Mahal but also the arguably more wonderful nearby Agra Fort;

  • Being required by kidnapping threats to ride cars from within and between walled compounds in Kabul;

  • Emerging from an ultra-modern cinema in Delhi into a darkened shopping precinct and bumping into a very dark and sacred cow;

  • Feeling a gentle swaying of the ground in Kabul - then flying to Delhi before learning that it had been a devastating earthquake in Kashmir;

  • Reaching out to hold hands with friends - riding in a separate speeding auto rickshaw weaving in and out of Delhi traffic;

  • Discovering truly wonderful restaurants in Delhi that would star even if I hadn't just emerged from Afghanistan;

  • Relaxing on a houseboat in Srinagar - then while at 10,050' in Indian-administered Kashmir being hailed by my tour guide from western Thailand;

  • Wallowing in the friendliness and extreme comfort of Kathmandu;

  • Feasting at American Thanksgiving (with great friends old and new);

  • Confirming once and for all that I'm too old to sleep on transcontinental railways without a bed;

  • Not sleeping in one bed for more than five consecutive nights between October 8 and December 25 (as I've already moaned);

  • Requiring the services of an English <> English translator in Liberia;

  • Beginning my potentially most rewarding and meaningful job ever.

Above all meeting lots of people in lots of countries, almost all of whom are immeasurably more gentle than their governments, and meeting and revisiting many wonderful and very very special friends (in one or two cases, quite unexpectedly). Almost my only regret in 2005 was that I couldn't go to see all the rest of my friends. You're all welcome to come and visit me in Liberia!!

Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Project Coordination - Buchanan

Buchanan street scene
December 16, 2005

As predicted I had a very quiet and peaceful Christmas - for which I'm grateful because responsibilities have now landed quite firmly on my shoulders.
One or two loyal and curious readers have asked what my new job involves. Therefore I present this summary.

I am the Project Coordinator for Merlin in Buchanan, Liberia. I finally took over from my predecessor yesterday, as such I am now referred to by my staff variously as "Bravo-1", "Tom Plus Fifteen Letters" and "Hey you". I haven't received a job description yet but if I adapt the one I had for the town of Harper, where I expected to be posted, I get this:

  • Supervision of Buchanan field base;

  • Project management based on project proposal, budgets and donor regulations;

  • Overall co-ordination of logistics, finance, administration and HR;

  • Reporting – internal to Merlin, and external to donors ;

  • Representation & liaison with local authorities, NGOs & International Donors;
    Programme development ;

  • Security monitoring and management;

  • Financial control.

I have two main projects and one minor one. One big one is support of the Liberia Government Hospital here in Buchanan. While Merlin only 'advises' we do so with quite a bit of authority because we entirely subsidize all the staff salaries and we pay for all the drugs and other costs. The other main project I manage is Merlin's support for 10 Primary Health Centres around Grand Bassa County, Liberia (for which Buchanan is the capital). Technically I also manage a small project that is constructing a surrounding wall, outpatient clinic and X-Ray laboratory at the hospital grounds.

See my last post for some spiteful comparisons between this job and my last one.

I'm happy to be here - as much for any other reason as because I can finally unpack all my bags. Since I left Kabul on October 8 I've slept in the following places, (plus some overnight flights) none of which were my own (although most were extremely lovely):

Delhi, India
Srinagar, India
Two overnight Indian trains
Bhairawa, Nepal
Kathmandu, Nepal
Delhi, India
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Ottawa, Canada
Two nights on a train to Kamloops, Canada
Penticton, Canada
Overnight train to Vancouver, Canada
Seattle, USA
Richland, USA
Overnight train to St. Paul, USA
Mankato, USA
Overnight train to Albany, USA
Albany USA
Montreal, Canada
Ottawa, Canada
London, UK
Monrovia, Liberia (two different beds)
Buchanan, Liberia
Monrovia, Liberia
Buchanan, Liberia
Monrovia, Liberia ...and now I'm settled in Buchanan (except I may be moving rooms next week!!!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas in Monrovia

Merlin residence, Liberia, Monrovia
December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas from Monrovia, capital of Liberia!

This is going to be a rather lonely Christmas for me - symbolized quite well by the tree where I'm staying. On the other hand I'm looking forward to two days of peace and quiet. I've had a very good two weeks working on mapping and data collection with three colleagues from England and I'll miss them but I'm also glad to be able to turn my attention to my upcoming responsibilities. And what a contrast they are to those of my previous job where very little I suggested was accepted and implemented. There I could not procure paperclips - now (and this is after being transferred from Harper, where I've never even been, to Buchanan) I'm responsible for two projects employing about 38 actual staff and over 200 more subsidized by Merlin, and having a combined annual budget of over 1.4 million US dollars.

I'm looking forward very much to actually moving to Buchanan, which I'll do on Tuesday. I've already been there twice (and when I went the first time I didn't know that that was where I would be stationed) but Tuesday will be my first chance since OCTOBER 8 to completely unpack my bags and settle somewhere where I'll remain longer than five days.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Blog updates

Quick news flash: I've won a contest on Ryan Schuh's web site!!

Less excitingly, I've just worked out how to send group mailings via Gmail. Please send me a note ( if you'd like to subscribe to alerts when I post new news.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Next few days in Liberia

Beach at Monrovia
December 10, 2005

Sitting on a veranda at 'London' - the main Merlin residence in Monrovia - reflecting on a very good but very surreal week since my last entry. OK, since typing that sentence I've fled to a different veranda because colleagues Andrew and Deston are having a meeting up there (it's SUNDAY for goodness sakes - and Sundays are our only days off) and because it was too bright to see my screen. Now I'm only disturbed by noisy Colin the cockerel, who doesn't know how close he is to a filling out a nice casserole. Maybe I can scare him away with Bizet's Carmen?

Surreal enough for you yet?
On Tuesday afternoon seven of us squeezed into a LandCruiser and set off on the 'two and a half' hour drive to Buchanan (further east along the coast). We got there six and a half hours later. I rode on the floor at the back and I think I was the most comfortable amongst us. Four staff sat across the back seat - I couldn't have coped with that. Amongst my failings as an aid worker are claustrophobia and the related abhorrence of personal-space invasions. (Other failings include my resistance to various staple vegetables and to tea.)

The first halt was called at the Firestone rubber plantation's grocery store. Firestone operated in Liberia continuously throughout the war - as did the breweries. (I have yet to get any satisfactory pictures of their plant or plantation but it's on my to-do list.) We also had very fruitful stops at a couple of Merlin's Public Health Clinics en route. This was my first exposure to what we actually do here - health care provision. The staff were extremely helpful and dedicated and I took it as a very good sign of things to come in my job.

Bokey Town Clinic staff, Grand Bassa County, Liberia
December 13, 2005

These things meant we weren't going to get to Buchanan before dusk, which is a contravention of security rules. But then the primary fuel pump of our LandCruiser failed and we were stuck - fortunately just within radio range of Buchanan. The Buchanan staff sent out a rescue vehicle but we jury-rigged a fix and set off, watching out for the rescuers. Then our vehicle failed again and we had to be wait to be towed the rest of the way. We got to Buchanan long after dusk with a water-tight excuse.

On Wednesday our Geographic Information System (GIS) people concentrated on their training and development and while I was given a life-changing tour of the Liberian Government Hospital in Buchanan by my friend Dr. Simon (from Tanzania).

Liberian Government Hospital, Buchanan, Liberia. (Construction of new Outpatient Department in the foreground.)
December 14, 2005

The hospital does such good work and I was very happy to learn from the tour so I could do a better job in my posting to Harper - and then on Thursday night I learned that I am going to be transferred 'from' Harper (I've not yet been there) to Buchanan. This means I'll be working with, for and at this hospital! I'm delighted and I'm looking forward very much to taking on the duties.

Liberian Government Hospital ward
December 14, 2005

The world's largest contributor to UN peacekeeping forces is Bangladesh, and they seem to be the largest contingent in the UN Mission in Liberia too (although in total 49 countries contribute). Friday was Bangladeshi 'Victory' Day and Buchanan Merlin staff were invited to their party. Um - it was a tiny bit stiff and bland. First we were treated to a video from the Bangladeshi Tourist Authority (or some such) during which stiff soldiers served tea and snacks. Then we were served delicious food but the atmosphere remained a bit rigid as a very old Bollywood-type film (I was told the next day that it was Indian rather than Bangla) was projected - without sound. Needless to say the event was dry. I'm afraid we preceded to the 'EK' bar in Buchanan before the film ended. I hope the lead character got the girl.

Yesterday some of us drove back to Monrovia while the rest of the GIS team explore the beach in Buchanan. (I'll have a lot of opportunities to explore it in due course.) I'll be here in Monrovia for a few more days.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Rocks thrown at Thai restaurant

Cece beach, Monrovia

December 11, 2005

Yesterday was a packed day. Went first to a Cece beach with our Oxfam friend Phil. Then to the pool where he lives - and then to a Thai restaurant ('the' Thai restaurant?). As I gather is common here, virtually every car at the beach and at the restaurant belonged to the UN or an NGO - rows of large white Toyota LandCruisers. While we were eating, supporters of George Wear (loser in the recent Presidential run-off election) were demonstrating around his nearby party headquarters. Rocks started to be thrown and we Phil had to move his LandCruiser further inside the compound when some came over the wall. We'd been eating in the garden with the frogs but retreated to the balcony. We had to wait until an UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia) security officer made his way into the compound and lead everyone out in a rather high-speed convoy of large white LandCruisers. 500m later all was peaceful.

At this writing we have been told to stay in our residences until the situation is assessed.

Thursday, December 8, 2005


Monrovia, Liberia
December 6, 2005

I've now had two nights in Monrovia (Liberia). I haven't yet taken on my Project Coordinator responsibilities in the town of Harper - at the moment I'm shadowing a Merlin team which is demonstrating the capabilities and usefulness of Geographic Information Systems. As GIS used to be my gig I'm going to be the national focal person for GIS in the future. We're going to be here until about Monday, when we'll go to Buchanan for several days to develop a GIS demonstration. We return to Monrovia on the 17th and I'll only get to Harper on the 23rd.

This Merlin team consists of Sarah from headquarters and Lynne and Johnny from an NGO called MapAction. They flew here with me and yesterday was our first full day in Liberia. We had meetings in the morning and then had a tour of Monrovia including a visit to one of Merlin's Primary Health Care facilities.

Monrovia reminds me a bit of Freetown, Sierra Leone, although I think it's flatter.

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Tavistock Square

Tavistock Square, London
December 5, 2005

It's the middle of the night in the Tavistock Hotel, Tavistock Square, about 80m from where a bus was exploded by a suicide bomber on July 7. I can't sleep because I allowed myself a nap yesterday afternoon after flying here over the previous night.

I've began my newest adventure: a year (perhaps?) as Project Coordinator with Merlin. I'm in London for two days of induction. Too bad two of my three bags aren't - I haven't seen them since Ottawa and British Airways doesn't know where they are. Luckily I'm in the habit of not packing many valuables into checked luggage although my brand new external hard disk (wonderful Christmas gift from Dad) is in there. The rest is clothes and books. Fortunately for two or three reasons, the one checked bag that did arrive is the one containing gifts from my new boss from her parents that I'm delivering from Ottawa.

I had a wonderful dinner and evening with my friend Susi who I'd met in Delhi and her boyfriend Jon and their friend Dave. It was a great reintroduction to the UK.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Megan Miller

Mount Pleasant, Iowa, November 26, 2005

I'm in Montréal and I'm about to ride Via Rail home to Ottawa. This has been a bit of a grueling holiday (too many nights trying to sleep in coach-class train seats) but I've enjoyed it. The best scenery was the Canadian Shield, the Rockies near Jasper, the Cascades near Seattle, Richland WA and Glacier National Park in Montana. (Sorry, Minnesotans and Iowans!) The best part of all though was meeting and re-meeting Christa, Matt, Kathleen, Lucas, Jenny, Caitie, Cynthia, Tom, Chan, Mari, Ben, Megan, Jim, Elaine, and José.

Monday, November 28, 2005


[Image and caption removed by request.]

Feeling much more refreshed after a night at the Hampton Inn in Albany - although I feared for a while last night that I was going to go hungry. The only place I could find to eat was in a dingy bar/restaurant with one other customer - a drunk. In order to get him to leave as soon as his beloved Redskins had lost on the TV the staff pretended to close down, turning off the lights, but whispered to me "You're OK Sir, it's just him we want to throw out". I had an actually very good hamburger but it came with potato chips and macaroni and a pickle, which inspired me less. The two Coronas were up to scratch though.

Now I'm about to work out what I've bought here in the US for Canadian customs declarations. I think we're looking at:

  • Two t-shirts: one of the Hamburg Inn in Iowa City (where I ate in the seat once used by President Clinton) and one of Schuhs' Saloon. (I am in negotiation to be the Schuhs' Saloon VP in charge of overseas franchise development. I have already done some foreign beer research consultation.)
  • six-pack of socks
  • a copy of Kangaroos with a picture by me on page 14

I'll be riding Amtrak's "Adirondack" to Montréal.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Poor sleep in the North East

[Image and caption removed by reqest.]

Had a pretty brutal night on the train. Tried to sleep on the floor but never got much rest. We left Chicago about 1½ hours late and now, after Rochester NY, are running over 3 hours behind.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Crossing America

Somewhere in Minnesota
November 21, 2005

I'm writing this aboard Amtrak's "California Zephyr" riding from Mt. Pleasant, Iowa to Chicago, Illinois. Scenery boring - except the bridge over the mighty Mississippi. Have just finished most of the Midwest component of my North American railway adventure. After two uncomfortable nights on the train from Pasco (but actually Spokane) I had seven hours to kill in Minneapolis - St. Paul before collecting my rental car. I doddled over breakfast at a Perkins and ambled around downtown Minneapolis, feeling perhaps colder than I can ever remember. It was only a few degrees below zero (C) but it was bitterly windy. Luckily, it seems that everywhere you might want to go in Minneapolis is connected by wind-proof bridges.

Then I drove to Mankato, Minnesota, to meet friends Tom, Chan and Mari. The last part of this drive was tricky because I'd been told to take the downtown exit off the highway. Before I saw any urbanization that looked like 'downtown' I'd left Mankato completely. Hm - need to re calibrate my 'downtown' and 'rural' sensors. City boy!

The rendezvous was to be at the 'Nile' restaurant in Mankato, which I assumed was Egyptian. As soon as I entered and saw the manager's face I knew it was either Ethiopian or Eritrean. She said she was Ethiopian, which was just a tiny bit of a pity because while I can remember quite a few words of Tigrigna, I only knew about two words of Amharic. (At the end, when I asked how to say 'goodbye', she said 'Ciao'.)

I stayed the night at Tom and Chan's wonderfully renovated hip-style house on the Mankato parade route but first zoomed to Mari's house in Mapleton to make portraits of her and her rabbits. One or two of these will be posted when she's given approval.

The next morning I drove to Iowa City, Iowa, to meet Ben and Megan. I've known Ben since we were roommates in Eritrea seven years ago. Megan is very much his better half. Both are wonderful friends and very very funny. It was so great to see them again. The next day was American Thanksgiving and 'we' hosted Ben's parents Jim and Elaine and Ben and Megan's friend José. Mr Hippen is a retired historian and he and I talked on and on about railways and bridges - I could see Ben and Megan smiling at our fit. I learned a lot. José is a visiting doctor from Mexico working at the University of Iowa. Megan's Thanksgiving dinner was perfect and I think a splendid time was had by all. The next day Ben, Megan, José and I saw "Good Night, and Good Luck". Yesterday Ben and Megan and I went to West Branch, IA, and toured the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Museum and visited the Hoover grave. I had known nothing about his first career as a mining engineer (working in Australia and China) or his post-WWI work on European and Asian famine relief. The library definitely supports the view that Hoover was not to blame for the depression but did so in quite a fair way and did not stray from criticizing him in certain aspects. Megan and I both remarked that his pre-White House career made him look (at least as interpreted by his library) much more liberal than one would expect of a Republican.

Last night we collected José and and drove to Merion, Iowa, to see Nick Parks' "Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit". While these films could not be more different they were both very very good.

I was sad to say goodbye to Ben and Megan this morning in Mount Pleasant but it's good to be moving on towards home and Liberia. This train takes me to Chicago and then I'll travel overnight to Albany. The next day takes me to Montréal and finally on the 29th I get home to Ottawa.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Nearly missing The Empire Builder

Amtrak "Empire Builder" traversing Montana
November 21, 2005

Finished a few days visiting special friends Jenny and Caitie in Richland, WA. Currently traversing Montana - back on the
Amtrak "Empire Builder". Said goodbye to the girls last night and headed to the station where I was told the train in from Portland was 1½ hours late - and running without a coach car. Settled down to watch most of 'Fargo' on DVD and then casually asked precisely when the train would arrive. Learned then that passengers without sleeper accommodation were meant to be on a bus to Spokane (where we would meet the part of the train that originates in Seattle) - and which was just about to leave. Wanted to ask sarcastically when they would have told me this but instead just ran to the bus. Rode to Spokane and waited (partly in a student bar) for three hours for the eastbound train.

Unfortunately had to share a pair of seats on the train and never got comfortable. Spectacular mountain, then foothills scenery is now competing with my eyelids for attention.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

New job offer

Seattle, Washington
November 15, 2005

I'm having such a great railway holiday - except for the sad farewells (which began with goodbyes to Christa and Matt in Toronto). On Monday I was so sad to say goodbye to my dear friends Kathleen and Lucas, who had looked after me so well in Penticton. However, I did enjoy the Okanagan scenery on my bus ride back to Kamloops. From there I finished my ride on "The Canadian" (Via Rail's flagship train) overnight to Vancouver and then took a Thruway bus to Seattle. Friendly US border guards confiscated my pepperoni sticks because they contain Canadian beef but I saw it coming and gobbled two of them down first.

I've always liked Seattle. It was nice to walk to my hotel and I had a splendidly decadent (and very non-vegetarian) dinner at the '13 Coins'.

Today I head to Richland WA by train. First I take Amtrak's "Coast Starlight" to Portland OR. Then I'll take the "Empire Builder" to Pasco, WA, where I'll get off to visit dear friends Jenny and Caitlin for a few days.

To celebrate receiving and accepting a new job offer from Merlin (I will fly to London on December 3 for headquarters training and then to Monrovia on December 7. Soon after that I'll get to Harper where I will be Merlin's Project Coordinator. I'm looking forward to it.) I've bought myself a handy little point-and-shoot camera - a Canon PowerShot A410. Of course it will never be anywhere as good as my Canon 20D but that's not the point: it's very small and light and that's why I wanted it. It worked well enough for the picture above. It's pretty hopeless in low light though.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Job interviews in but not for Penticton

Am enjoying a lovely time in beautiful Penticton, British Columbia, with my friends Kathleen and Lucas. Had a second phone interview this morning for a Monitoring and Evaluation volunteer job in Malawi (although they also want somebody for Botswana). I think it went well. Yesterday I had a phone interview with Merlin for a (paid!) Project Coordinator job in Liberia. I hope I get at least one job offer from these. I've been invited to a training session in Ottawa (December 12-16) for the first one so that's encouraging, and Merlin have asked me for a second interview so that's a good sign too.

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Crossing Canada

Carnaval Itajuba, Brazil
February 6, 2005

Approaching Sioux Lookout on Via Rail's "The Canadian". I left Ottawa on Friday by train for Toronto where I met my friends Christa and Matt. Left Toronto yesterday morning and last night was my first of two I'll spend riding west towards Kamloops, British Columbia. One hour out of Toronto found us in wilderness. Most of the way since then has been through beautiful Canadian Shield, filled with tranquil lakes, scrubby pines, and granite outcrops. There's about 2cm of new snow everywhere, but the lakes are not yet frozen. I woke up early and went to the Vista Dome to watch the dawn. It turned out that I got there about 90 minutes early but it was nice to be alone and quiet. The first glimpses of misty lakes was well worth it.

I had the rather expensive breakfast in the dining car and met a wheat farmer called Roger from a bit west of of Winnipeg. He farms on both sides of this track and has seen a lot of change in his career. His wheat used to go Thunder Bay, Ontario, for shipping (through Hudson Bay) to Europe. Now it goes west for shipment from the west coast to Iran. What he's noticed about the actual railway going through his farm is that it now carries mostly containers instead of mostly wheat cars.

I'm very happy with my decision to bring Lappy along after all. Who was I trying to fool when I thought of leaving her behind? Last night I watched "Contempt" by Jean-Luc Godard and now I've got my iTunes on shuffle and I feel very well equipped. I'm not quite sure when I'll be able to upload this - I had a few minutes of wireless connectivity when we were stopped at Washago, Ontario but this wasn't ready then. If I not sooner then I'll upload at my hotel in Kamloops tomorrow night.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Back in Ottawa

Idaho Falls, Idaho,
December 7, 2001

I'm in Ottawa! I got back, tired and happy, on October 31 and have been resting, doing errands, raking leaves, job-hunting (no luck yet) and catching up with Dad, Breeda, and Bailey ever since. But a good friend just asked me if I can ever be still - because tomorrow I start my next adventure: a railway trip across Canada and back through the States, visiting several of my most special friends.

My camera, laptop and I have come to the agreement that we need a little time apart. (They're heavy and I'm tired of packing them up, carrying them around and protecting them.) But I'll go into withdrawals though, specially as my trip will put me in three different Hampton Inns, where guests can enjoy free wireless Internet. This will also impact my blogging, but I'll see what I can do... I think it's fair to expect an update, authored and uploaded somehow, from Penticton, British Columbia, and from Richland, Washington. [Later edit: In the end I couldn't resist Lappy along..]

I'll be back in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 29.

Dad and I have just completed a crucial rescue project. Three years' worth of my photos were on a failed Maxtor external hard drive. Dad (who is an Electrical Engineer) obtained some replacement parts, performed surgery on the printed circuit board, made an organ transplant, and resuscitated the data. It took 30 hours to transfer it to a new Comstar drive, which I will back up properly! Thanks Dad!!!! (See my first rescued image above.)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Icon Villa, Delhi

Pashmina scarf display, Kathmandu, Nepal, October 25, 2005

Hanging around my room at the Icon Villa trying not to imagine that every bang I hear from the street is a bomb. I should know the difference having heard the bomb that exploded in Kabul in late 2004 but my nerves are still on edge. I've altered my plans for the day and won't go to the nearby cinema or shops, but I am about to go just along the road for a shave. I think I'll head to the airport early.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Back to Delhi

ADDEMDUM: I'm in New Delhi now - safe and sound and unaffected by the horrible bomb blasts (or the train crash).

Market wares, Kathmandum, October 27, 2005

Waiting in Kathmandu International Airport to head back to Delhi. Excited to see Twin Otters (great Canadian aircraft that I used to ride in the Canadian Arctic) puttering around.

I'll miss Nepal but it's certainly time to move on. I feel something strange about my three weeks since leaving Kabul - time is supposed to feel quick when one is having fun and I have had fun but strangely, three weeks in my job in Kabul always seemed faster. Inexplicable.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Last night in Nepal

Market seller, Kathmandu, Nepal, October 27, 2005

Today - my last full day in Nepal and anywhere before I get home to Ottawa on Monday - was both lovely and interesting. On my way out morning I noticed that almost all the shops were closed. I learned that the government recently shut down a critical radio station and several political parties had called for a national strike today. Somebody explained that shopkeepers were confused about whether it is better to support the government (by opening) or the opposition (by closing). In the meantime many of them were washing their closed shutters in preparation for a big festival tomorrow. By late afternoon I noticed that some more shops had opened for business.

I met Kabita (pictured yesterday) again and she introduced me to her father whose rice she's been drying. She lead me to her real job which is money changing in the Thamel (mostly touristy) part of Kathmandu. We went for tea and I learned that she's studying business - but that's on hold because she has also had to help her sister in law with a new baby. She hopes to resume her studies soon.

She then showed me something I'd been told didn't exist in Kathmandu: a tattoo parlor. I now have a third tattoo. I got my first tattoo on my left arm about four years ago - it's my own design of a penguin holding an old Speedgraphic camera, representing two of my passions. It only has black ink because I like black and white photography. (I only stopped the artist just in time before he added some coloured detail.) When I visited Thailand this March I was so enchanted by the country and its people that I decided to get 'peace' in Thai tattooed onto my right arm. I planned then to add 'peace' in the local language of any other country I visited and came to love. The writing is one centimetre high and the plan was to allow one centimetre of space between 'entries'. Nepal has been the next qualifying country and I now have 'santhe' ('peace') tattooed exactly to specification. (I also had it embroidered onto a t-shirt.)

Tonight will be my last night in Nepal. I've gone to a different restaurant every night and eaten nothing but splendid food. I confess it hasn't really been Nepalese. (Some lunches have been.) The first night I was so excited to learn that there are Mexican restaurants here that I didn't hesitate. I had a steak. The next night I stayed at the hotel and had pizza. On the third night I went to a fairly well-known restaurant called 'K-too' - it has all sorts of world food but I went straight for the steak. Last night I went to the Via Via Cafe which is a very swanky lounge - and I had an extraordinary chicken fillet in a delicious mustard sauce. I don't know where I'm going tonight but I think it will involve another steak as tomorrow I'll be in Delhi and beef will be right out of the question - even at T.G.I.Friday's, where I'll probably end up.

[Added later: I had spaghetti bol. at La Dolce Vita... then found a restaurant called 'Steak Restaurant' on the way back... sigh...]

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Kabita, Kathmandu, Nepal, September 27, 2005

I think I'm ready to admit two things:

  • I'm looking forward to going home.
  • I've seen quite enough temples, stupas, Buddhas and erotic carvings.

Today I did most of the Lonely Planet's walking tour number 1 ... until making admission number 2 (above). Even when a statue in a bazaar is impressive because it's over 1000 years old and being used to prop up some seller's wares, I've had enough of it.

I did, however have two special moments with local people.

Firstly, one of very many touts in the Durbar Square approached me with the usual "Where do you come from?" routine, but then knocked me for six when in response to "Canada", he said "I am a great admirer of Margaret Atwood". (He has a degree in English lit.)

The second was when I stopped to photograph Newar women drying rice in a tucked-away courtyard. I started talking to Kabita (which means 'Poem'). She is very interesting. The courtyard is a common space for rice drying and they take it in turns to spread the ride on tarps under the sun. They rake it into patterns that remind me of Japanese gardens. Most of the rice being dried today is for eating but a slightly darker type is for making beer which Kabita hopes I'll try. On a hot sunny day, 20 minutes is enough drying time. Then they shovel it up. She gave me a chocolate and asked me for a CD of my photographs so I'll be back tomorrow to learn more of the process. I confess I was a bit surprised that she seemed so educated and conversational but so completely unpresumptuous - a lesson I shall try to remember.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Swayambhunath Stupa

Guardian monkey, Swayambhunath Stupa, Swayambhunath, Nepal, October 26, 2005

Tried to walk to Swayambhunath, near Kathmandu this morning but got happily lost and ended up taking a taxi. The Stupa is wonderful - but swamped by tourist touts. Enquired about getting a Nepali 'peace' tattoo but tattoo parlors are apparently not found in Kathmandu. Took the afternoon off, as usual recently.

Am working up my Nepalese photos for my Souvenirs web site section. Here's a sneak preview but I have two days more shooting that might contribute.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Morning Stupa Stupor

Kathmandu, Nepal, October 25, 2005

It's been a pretty good day, although I was woken at 6am by the sound of irregular ringing of a big nearby bell. I later saw locals ringing another bell near a stupa (holy place) so I suppose it's a ritual - probably propagated by devotees who think that those who try to sleep beyond 6am deserve no pity. Pity.

After a ridiculously generous hotel breakfast (I'll have to hold them back tomorrow) I ambled out with my Lonely Planet and did 'walking tour #2', interrupted by a shave. Not just a shave, as it turned out. I'd already noticed that South Asian barbers go all out to please (head massages and the odd cream or other which I can't frankly be bothered by) but today due to a miscommunication I got the full beauty treatment. After being shaved twice (standard) I was asked if I want "mumble-mumble?" (?). Thinking it meant some sort of massage, and not wishing to offend, I said 'a bit, yes'. That lead to three different types of facial application, one of which was removed by a stretched and dragged thread (I thought he was going to floss my teeth) and then that funny waxy mask treatment which took ten minutes and a hot hairdryer application to set before being peeled off by the barber and his assistant. I got quite anxious to continue my tour but I must admit my skin felt good.

As per my new holiday protocols my tour was followed by a good nap. Then I went to a public call office and did a telephone interview for a voluntary job in Malawi (I think it went well - I would begin in early January) and then had a passable steak dinner at "K-Too".

Early to bed with John Fowles' The Magus, which I'm re-reading.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Arrival in Kathmandu

Flour mill, Sunauli, Nepal, October 23, 2005

As usual I seem to have fallen on my feet. I'm now settled in a luxurious hotel in Kathmandu (for a hardly atrocious US$12 per night). Today was marvelous - I had a leisurely morning and then flew on Cosmic Air to Kathmandu. (The other airlines at Bhairawa airport - Bhairawa is close to Sunauli and is also called Siddharthanagar - are the splendidly-named Yeti Airlines and Buddha Air.) I was met by a hotel representative who, while looking like Hitler, taught me a lot about Nepal in just the time it took my bags to be delivered and for us to ride to the Hotel Encounter. For instance, tourism has fallen upon hard times due to the Maoist uprisings although this is the best time of the year for the industry. I asked where most tourists currently come from - I think he said Japan first, then he named several of the wealthy western European countries. He said it's rare to find Americans here and, when prompted, he said the same about Canadians. I asked about Indians and he surprised me by saying that although they are fairly few, the five-star hotels here would close without them: they come to Nepal for the gambling or to visit Lumbini (close to Sunauli where I spent last night) which is merely the birthplace of Lord Buddha. I also asked about popular support for the Maoists, remembering learning in Cambodia that Pol Pot had never had popular support there. Perhaps it was a pretty naive question - he said about a third of the country support the Maoists. Another third support the monarchy and the last third support the democratic government. Right now the government is looking bad in the public eye for not recognizing the Maoist's three-month cease-fire. I also asked if the Maoists are propped up by China. He doesn't think so - he thinks there are no Maoists in power in China anymore - he says China has become a capitalist state.

Speaking of capitalism, this is extremely rare for me but I can honestly endorse Sight Nepal Travel & Tours (P.) Ltd. who have looked after me since I stepped off the train yesterday. They're enterprising to be sure but honest and they deliver good value. (Well - maybe the yesterday's bus wasn't quite as lovely as they lead me to expect... but the accommodations have been fine. Anyway, I%2


India-Nepal border at Sunauli, Nepal, October 23, 2005

I've been in most of the places that have 'half-hour' time zones (Newfoundland, Darwin, Afghanistan, and India - I think I only have Rangoon still to go) but I'm now in my first (and the only) '45-minute' time zone: Nepal. The Lonely Planet says that Nepal is offset GMT+5:45 rather than GMT+6:00 just for some sort of sovereignty statement. Anyway, time has been surreal since my last post.

After watching two western movies - 'The Four Brothers'(not bad - and Mark Whalburg continues to impress) and 'Into the Blue'(unrealistic but nice for babe-watching) I rushed to the station - to discover that my sleeping accommodation on the Delhi - Gorakhpur train was identical in class to yesterday's - rather than the luxury I was lead to expect and which I confess I'd been hoping for. Still, I did have a berth to myself (along the aisle) instead of in a less-private cluster of four. Departure was at 21h45 last night and arrival was scheduled for 09h00 this morning. I felt I had to be alert because this was my first non-terminus destination but I had some very helpful fellow travelers so my only real concern was how to arrange transport from Gorakhpur to Kathmandu.

We got into Gorakhpur at around 09h30 this morning - I don't consider this delay very significant - and I stepped off the train wondering what to do next. ONE MINUTE LATER - and within 5m of the coach step - I had been offered and accepted transport to Kathmandu. I soon worked out that the touts were targeting my first class carriage. Fair enough - I was a willing mark. I was rushed to their office where I paid 1,025 Indian Rupees for 'luxury' (four abreast) bus transit to the Nepalese border and on to Kathmandu plus one night in the Kathmandu Hotel. They said I'd be at the border in two hours and in Kathmandu by 20h00. I was then rushed onto the bus and towards the border.

It was a pretty cramped bus. It let people on and off at every village and I had a variety of seat-mates, including two mothers with children. I couldn't communicate very well with anybody but I was reassured by the shadows that we were heading north-ish and eventually we arrived at the friendliest border crossing I've ever encountered (not counting the border between Northern and Republican Ireland, which was invisible). I'm pretty sure I could have walked through without any formality - it looked as if many people were doing so. I found the Nepalese customs office in a cottage beside the road and there discovered that I'd bypassed the Indian exit formalities. I walked back and found the Indian office amongst a row of shops set back from the border. I'm always a bit nervous at border offices - expecting that I've done something wrong or that I must pay a bribe (or worse - see my timeline entry about risking jail in Ghana. Soon after getting my Nepalese visa I was met by representatives of the transit company I'd engaged in Gorakhpur. I learned in their office that by now the only bus to Kathmandu would run through the night. I was hot and tired after two long road trips and two overnight train trips so I immediately accepted an unplanned alternative: a 30-minute flight to Kathmandu. Unfortunately a flock of Thai tourists had booked the whole plane so I was quite pleased to check into the Nepal Guest House which is clean and serviced with proper hot water. I'm booked on the 10h20 flight tomorrow

I might be favorably biased because I wanted what they were offering (a flight, hot water, a bed) but my first impression of Nepalese people is that they are, if it's possible, even friendlier than Indians. I feel I've neglected to remark before now that Indians are in general the friendliest and warmest people whose country I've visited. Now they're rivaled by the Nepalese.

While relaxing in my hotel room I've been updating my web site - specifically my travel maps, my biography, my
timeline, my contact me page, a link to my CV, as well as routine updates of my cinema and reading pages.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Indian Overnight

Eagle, Srinagar, Indian-Administered Kashmir
October 20, 2005

Wild day yesterday. Left Srinagar in a microbus crammed with six passengers and a mad driver with a penchant for honking (tooting) and driving on the right hand side. (India drives on the left.) He estimated that it would take 7 or 8 hours to drive the 305km to Jammu where I would meet my train to Delhi but due to many slow-moving army convoys and protracted prayer stops it took 10 hours and I only made my train by 45 minutes.

My first Indian overnight train was a lot less posh than my experiences in Thailand but I'm told my next one tonight will be better. It will take me to somewhere near the Nepalese border where I'll sort out how to cross the border and begin exploring Nepal. My only fixed itinerary once I'm off the train is my flight out of Kathmandu on the 29th. (Hope I make it.)

Meanwhile the job hunting is not going too well...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Gulmarg and Dal Lake

Dal Lake, Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir, October 19, 2005

Yesterday: drove to Gulmarg, high in the Kashmir valley. Once a mountain retreat for the occupying British it is now being developed by an apparently very effective local organization into a superb alpine resort, featuring India's best skiing and the world's highest golf course. Engaged a very good local guide who, at 67 remembers Independence and who has been in his current profession for the last 53 years. And - by an absolutely amazing coincidence, ran into my Thai guide from my adventure holiday in Mai Sod, Thailand, earlier this year. (He was here guiding Thai tourists.) This is probably one of my best 'small world' events.

Today's program was a four-hour paddle around the Dal Lake propelled by one very hard-working boatman. Took lots of photos but few seem pleasing. Couldn't get close enough to the soaring eagles and always seemed to be on the wrongly-lit side of the interesting boats.

No plan set for tomorrow - despite the promises made by my travel agent in Delhi, the last proposed day-trip involves extra cost...

Monday, October 17, 2005


Water ferries, Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir, October 17, 2005

I'm now in Srinagar, in Indian-administered Kashmir. (Not that the local maps admit to the existence of any Pakistani-administered part.) It's been nine days since the earthquake that was centred about 160km to the west. I'm told there was very slight damage here, but the people fear for those in the remote villages.

I flew here today on Sahara Airlines. Amongst the normal baggage emerging on the belt were boxes marked as medicine for earthquake victims. I was met by my travel agent's father and brother installed on their houseboat 'Kismat' (meaning 'good luck'). Then was taken to see three lovely botanical gardens and a surprisingly interesting and low-pressure carpet makers cooperative.

There's a huge military presence, even with soldiers standing bored every few hundred metres along the main road which itself is choked by army convoys. Yet it's a somehow gentle presence. The soldiers smile rather than threaten. India has never seemed to be a very stern place.
I've been offered an upgrade to a 'water trek' - three days and two nights aboard a slightly larger boat (paddled by two men instead of one) and marvelous scenery. At $250 I can't afford it right now but I wouldn't mind coming back here with more time, money, and perhaps some companionship.
The power only just came on and there's certainly no Internet connection so while I can write each of the next few days, I won't be able to upload this in anything like real-time.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Movie reviews

Wyoming, April, 2002

Yesterday I solved the Oxfam loyalty issue described on Thursday. I had to sit at Oxfam for 3 1/2 hours to get a meeting with the Human Resources manager but to her credit it only took her 3 1/2 minutes to agree that Oxfam is legally liable for their signed contract. Whew.

I then saw the first half of an amazingly bad movie and then a rather good substitute. The first was "Monster in Law" with Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez. What was Jane thinking? It wasn't just bad - it was completely boring. I left at the intermission (Indian cinemas have intermissions!) and a friend who was subjected to it on a plane assures me that I didn't miss any redemption in the second half. Then I saw "Flightplan" with Jodie Foster. It's a pretty good psychological thriller with fairly little necessary suspension of disbelief. I'm giving it a 7.75 in my movie database. [Later addition: interestingly, I see Internet Movie Database users have given it only a 6.00. I rarely give higher scores than they do.] (I'm giving "Monster in Law" a 4.50 - which makes it the first addition to my 'worst movies' list since 1997.)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

National Railway Museum and Oxfam duplicity

Boy Scouts at the National Railway Museum, New Delhi, October 13, 2005

Well, a lot of what I described on Monday has gone pear-shaped. Specifically, my 'volunteering' at Oxfam, allegedly my Oxfam loyalty bonus (13% of earned pay upon contract completion), and now at risk: my actual Oxfam loyalty.

To explain: On Tuesday I was told that Oxfam Kabul is 'uncomfortable' with my working in New Delhi for the remainder of my contract. There was always something fishy about me being asked to leave three weeks early and now it's confirmed although not explained. Today's blow was that I had been given the 'wrong contract' when I joined. Although my contract was explicitly six-months, contracts of six months or less are not meant to have the loyalty clause that mine contains. I'm sure it was a mistake - and I'm sure I'm going to collect because it's what we signed.

Before receiving this blow I had a nice saunter round the National Railway Museum. It's not the poshest in the world - and all the model trains were derailed or otherwise inoperable, but it was all very pleasant. (The Indian Railway system is, by the way, merely the world's largest single employer.) The museum holds a large collection of locomotives and rolling stock, coping, as does India, with a large collection of track gauges. (The turntable accommodates three.) As I was leaving the museum was invaded by a swarm of Boy and Girl scouts who seemed to think I was one of the attractions. They all wanted to shake hands (to the consternation of their master) and they all seemed to need to be reminded to do so left-handed. (They got the three-fingered salute right.) I was pretty amazed that I remembered that Scouts should shake left-handed. If I recall correctly, while normal hand shaking is meant to signify that you hold no weapon, Scouts shake left-handed to signify that they hold no shield. It's a nice symbol for what is otherwise sometimes almost a neo-fascist organization.

To cheer myself up tonight I worked hard on refurbishing my portrait gallery. Here's the link:

Monday, October 10, 2005

Earthquake SITREPs

Jenny Talbert, 2001

Well, my holiday is cancelled - but I'm still in New Delhi. Instead of traveling around India on my own dime I'm going to be working at the Oxfam Regional Centre on the 'India - Pakistan Border Earthquake' relief. Today I helped prepare a SITREP ('Situation Report', apparently) and I'll be doing that each day as well as, I hope, other more exciting stuff.

This came about after I decided to volunteer to help yesterday. I also contacted the Red Cross / Red Crescent and they accepted my help this morning but I feel I should commit to Oxfam as they're still paying my salary. I explained this to the Red Cross person and he said he understood and all was well as long as we were all helping people - very friendly and it sounded as if he was almost inviting me over for a Kingfisher!

Sunday, October 9, 2005

Indian cinema

Brigitte, 1977

Just saw "Red Eye" - quite a good thriller. I like that it didn't have too many unbelievable aspects. I'm fine with the absurd when that's the point, but not when reality is the goal. It's the 727th film I've seen since I started recording notes. (You could go to my cinema database page here.)

Observations on Indian cinemas (or at least the PVM in Delhi):

  • computerized seat reservation is excellent,
  • projected censors' certificates (before commercials, previews and the feature) - including hand-written remarks and X-d out text are amusing,
  • intermission is disruptive
  • cleanliness is pleasing.
With respect to good management accountability, let me review today's goals as established yesterday:

  • watching the Japanese Grand Prix - this will be just the second race I've been able to see on TV this year; DONE,
  • getting a shave and a haircut from my friendly neighborhood roadside barber hovel, DONE,
  • buying a phone charger and credits, DONE,
  • investigating flying to Nepal, PARTLY DONE,
  • investigating getting to Dubai on the 29th, PARTLY DONE,
  • finishing a little bit of left-over Oxfam work. AMAZINGLY, DONE.
Not too bad.

Saturday, October 8, 2005


Quokka, Kabul, Afghanistan, October 9, 2005

Just after I finished packing in Kabul this morning we had a small but noticeable earthquake. Learned since that it hit with deadly force in and north of Islamabad.

Meanwhile, I've left Afghanistan, perhaps for good. I'm bittersweet about that because I've left behind some friends who are suffering from some pretty bad management. On the other hand I'm personally happy to be back in India, where things generally work. I'm planning an early night tonight but I have a lot of tasks for tomorrow, including:

  • watching the Japanese Grand Prix - this will be just the second race I've been able to see on TV this year;
  • getting a shave and a haircut from my friendly neighborhood roadside barber hovel,
    buying a phone charger and credits,
  • investigating flying to Nepal,
  • investigating getting to Dubai on the 29th,
    finishing a little bit of left-over Oxfam work.

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Verbal warning

Fuel wood market, Eritrea, 1999

"Tom we are sed to see you go. We wish you saccees." This was the sweet note left for me by our wonderful household staff today.

Unfortunately I'd left work under a bit of a cloud. Four of us had gone to The Elbow Room restaurant for lunch but none of us booked the car or asked for security clearance to go there. Plus we got in the wrong car - even if we'd had permission to go we weren't meant to use that driver because he doesn't speak good English (and thus our security could be compromised if there were a crisis). My colleagues reasonably thought I'd done all the preparations but I'd neglected them. We all received verbal warnings, which will (and this is typical Oxfam logic) be written into our personnel files. I'm terribly sorry to do this to my friends. (It wasn't my first warning - I and two different colleagues got one a couple of months ago for breaking curfew.)

The work day had started quite nicely because there were a few nice words of farewell in the morning, including a charming speech in developing English by our cook. (Everybody remarked, however, how spiteful the Country Director's remarks were.) The rest of the day was up and down.

Anyway it felt good to walk out of Oxfam's gates. Everything was lovely again until damned Quokka beat me at Scrabble again.

Scrabble: Quokka 5 - Tom 1

Chess: Quokka 0 - Tom 1

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Visa euphoria

Quick entry: I am probably the happiest and most relieved person in Afghanistan. I have my visa and ticket for New Delhi on Saturday. I'm just now arranging where to meet my New Delhi friends for Kingfishers...

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Ramazan in Afghanistan

Elephant riding in Mai Sod Province, Thailand, March 2005

This picture was from a marvelous holiday I had in Thailand in March. (
See my pictures.) I seem to be falling into a pattern of going on great holidays between periods of employment (not to mention on the occasional mid-contract holiday). Thailand was unforgettable.

Today was the first day of Ramazan (Ramadan) - the most holy of Muslim months. Here's what I know and have observed about it:

The uncertainty about the beginning of Ramazan makes planning anything difficult. The first day of Ramazan is an important national holiday and so it's hard for my western mind to cope with the fact that although we know precisely when the moon will be new, we can't persuade various old Mullah's to commit to it until that day. There's a maximum length (30 days) for the previous month so if the Mullah's hadn't declared it today they'd have to tomorrow. In the case of our projects it influenced when an important peace building workshop could begin.

Next there are issues of fasting. Proper Muslims fast between sun up and sun down during Ramazan. Children, the sick, I think the elderly, the pregnant or nursing and travelers are excused. Work schedules are altered to allow some prayer time but generally a shorter working day because there's no lunch. At Oxfam we normally have lunches provided on weekdays but I've had my last of those because of Ramazan. There are various views on the proper behavior of non-Muslims who exist amongst Muslims. The most respectful behavior would be to fast too. The next level would be to eat and drink only behind closed doors. That could be for respect but it could also be so that food and drink aren't flaunted in front of the hungry. This is my second Ramazan in Afghanistan and I am planning a compromise position - discrete eating but no hesitation about drinking.

My first exposure to Ramazan was in Ottawa. I joined the Geographic Information Systems Division of Geomatics Canada - which had a Muslim director, Dr. Mossad Alam - during Ramazan. He was fasting and would hold long meetings right through 'lunch time'. He also invited me to his home for a magnificent evening (post sun-set) feast.

Last year I was working in the field (for the Landmine Impact Survey of Afghanistan) during Ramazan. I remember stopping for dinner in a Kebab restaurant near the Salang Pass. The Kebabs were all ready to go but everybody was waiting for the amplified voice of the local Mullah for the go-ahead.

Anyway, insh'allah I will only be here for a three more days. Thank goodness India is a Hindu state!

Sunday, October 2, 2005

India planning

What a crazy few days it's been. I've had a lot of work to do but it seems to be under control now. I'm now NOT going to a climate change conference in New Delhi at the end of October because it won't happen until later. But I AM still supposed to leave my job on the 10th (I'm still unclear why) ... so I'll have a three-week holiday (with pay). I'm still going to go to New Delhi but only for me, not for work. My travel theme will be 1) trains and 2) mountains. That's normally all it takes to make me happy. However, making me happy is a pretty tall order at the moment.

I expect to fly back to India on Saturday. I'll stay as much as a week at the Icon Villa where I was in September - where I'll re-gather myself and work out a plan, while visiting friends and the National Railway Museum. Then it's off to the Himalayas - and maybe even Nepal.

In other news, I'm experimenting with Mark McIntyre's Web Album Generator 1.6.5 software available free from[....]

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Not much personal news today (but there may be something good tomorrow) so I've decided to launch the beginning of my perpetually-in-need-of-updating timeline. Here's the link: timeline

In broader news however, there was a suicide bomb attack on the Jalalibad road in Kabul this afternoon. About 12 people were killed by a motorcyclist who aimed himself at a bus. All Oxfam movements are suspended except travel to and from work.

Monday, September 26, 2005

'Release' from Oxfam GB

Lotus, Habitat Centre, New Delhi
July 11, 2005

I got fairly gob smacked yesterday afternoon.

I'm being 'released' from work here at Oxfam in Afghanistan about three weeks early (meaning early in October) because there'll be 'no more work'. This is partly to do with the fact that International staff cannot go to the field in October (because we fear post-election troubles) but I can't agree that there'll be 'no work' - it would take a lot less imagination than I have to come up with useful tasks for the rest of October. There's something behind this and I'd be upset if I weren't actually pleased to go early. Now to work out how to take advantage of three weeks of time off in Asia, with a squillion Star Alliance points available. Actually, option number 1, which I'm investigating, is to attend an Oxfam climate change conference in New Delhi. I'd already been invited but thought I had to decline because of having TOO MUCH WORK here in Kabul. Now I'll see if New Delhi will fund it. Option 2 might be to go and visit my friend Phil in Bangkok. Hm, perhaps I should ask him first...

Today I'm home with a cold and I'm working on a new project for a timeline of my memories, from the earliest the most recent significant event in my life. It'll take a long time and a lot more preparation before it's ready to be linked to my site but I might make an early link from here for my loyal readers.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Back in Kabul after Delhi

Near Agra Fort, Agra, India
September 18, 2005

I'm back in Kabul after two marvelous weeks in India. Five of us from Oxfam Afghanistan were sent there as a security precaution during the Afghan elections. We spent most of the time in fascinating (but noisy and smelly) New Delhi. Colleague Nancy headed to England but the remaining four of us (me and Christian, Candace and Quokka) spent a weekend in Agra were we met some of Quokka's friends and visited the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal
September 17, 2005

I had a splendid weekend with colleagues Quokka, Candace and Christian and Quokka's friends Miranda, Finn and Jeremy. We returned by train from Agra to Delhi on Sunday. I like Indian train travel - at least the two trips I've had so far. As my friends here now know, if it's on rails I love it and I hope to go to the Railway Museum before leaving Delhi. The Indian trains I've seen seem a bit antiquated but quite smooth and quite efficient. Our trip to and from Agra took about three hours. The train is electric-hauled and the track gauge is broader than standard (but I haven't found what it is yet).

We had a fairly busy weekend although we didn't see everything that was on our list. On Saturday we visited the Taj Mahal and its thousands of other tourists. On Sunday morning three of us went to the Agra fort. Both were wonderful. I'm currently selecting pictures for a Taj Mahal and an Agra Fort web page.

Today is our forth-last day in New Delhi.

I've updated my map of countries I've visited.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Scrabble and Chess update

September 18, 2005

More stuff to come soon.

Scrabble: Quokka 4 - Tom 1

Chess: Quokka 0 - Tom 1

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Delhi Tuk-Tuk drivers

Jane and Jonah, Edmonton
June 2000

I like our Oxfam New Delhi (Regional Center) colleagues. Last night we went out to a bar in a completely-western-style shopping mall. I admit to loving the cleanliness and westernness. Then we rode auto-rickshaws ('Tuk-tuks') to the Thai Wok restaurant. Our gang required three Tuk-tuk and we were sometimes holding hands between them as we sped through the traffic.

I've asked every taxi and Tuk-tuk driver I've met whether they know India's Formula 1 Grand Prix driver Narain Karthikeyan. I thought he was supposed to be the newest hero of India - he's certainly in a lot of the ads I saw during the Belgian Grand Prix - but so far, nobody understands who I'm talking about. I shall carry on with the research. And if I see a Narain t-shirt I'll probably buy it.