Friday, August 31, 2007


Dad in front of his new house in Ottawa

As I mentioned recently I could not give myself enough of a holiday between jobs and my Ottawa trip was also far too rushed. I had a nice time though, with one highlight being the aftermath of a lovely dinner at the Glen Scottish restaurant... where I forgot to leave a tip. The service there is always friendly and so when I went back the next morning to pay up they joked about taking my name down from the front window and so on. If I hadn't tipped them I wouldn't be welcome when I get back from Afghanistan.

I only had three nights in Ottawa and I was pretty busy with sorting through my personal effects, moving some to and from Osgoode Mini Storage (a division of 1457993 Ontario Inc.), and getting my Indian visa. Then I was off to Kabul.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Scotland the Brave

I left Sri Lanka on August 20 and headed to London for a final debrief from Merlin (at which I rather spoke my mind). In London I also arranged my Afghan visa and had a wonderful dinner with friends and then a very comfortable overnight train ride on the Caladonian Sleeper to Dunkeld, Scotland.

I had a FANTASTIC (but ridiculously short) holiday in Scotland. I recommend the comfort and luxury of the Ardeonaig Hotel and Restaurant.

Ben Lawers (a Munroe and the ninth highest hill in both Scotland and the entire British Isles) across Loch Tay.

Sue at the Ardeonaig Hotel



Sue and I visited Fortingall to gaze at a tree which is variously described as Europe's or the world's oldest living thing, dated variously at over 2,000, 3,500, or 5,000 years old. (Google it, the way I did.)

Sue and me (yes, Candace, that is the correct grammer) in front of the Fortingall Yew

The beautiful Falls of Dochart at Killin

We climbed part way up the hill behind the hotel and I discovered something I'd suspected since walking across the island of Rhum in June: In Scotland there is no law of physics that requires bogs to be level. Scottish bogs can exist quite happily on slopes of at least 45 degrees.

Fellow hill climber

We got to about 560m, hardly more than half way to Munroe level (3000'). When I bag my first Munroe, you will hear all about it. Loudly. Make no mistake about this.

Like 1.7 million other people, Sue and I also attended the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The highlights were 'The Man Who Planted Trees' and 'Basic Training' by Kahlil Ashanti (future website here) - two wonderful (but totally different) productions.

My Scottish holiday was far too short. I was off next to see Dad in Ottawa. I'd have liked to have had more time but potential employers all seemed to want either someone else, or me 'tomorrow'. I've learned a lesson and won't allow myself to be rushed next time.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Goodbye Sri Lanka

I fly to London today. In two weeks I'll be in Afghanistan.

It has been yet another unique experience in my life.

I had lived and worked in several war-torn countries before and once had to evacuate from the beginning of a war but this is the first (and I won't mind if it is the last) time I've lived in a country that is at war. Most depressingly, Sri Lanka is at war with itself and Sri Lankans are being lead to hate and to kill each other.

This is arguably over in Eastern Sri Lanka where I lived and where the displaced are returning home (to very serious protection issues) but it goes on in much of the rest of the country and even - or especially - where the government has 'cleared' the area the healing does not seem to have begun.

I am leaving early for two reasons. At best I think our work is less necessary than the work I have done and hope to do elsewhere. It is needed but the quality of life, even for the war displaced, is better than most Liberians, for instance, can dream of. I think there is a trap of perpetuating work without justifying it and we may not have escaped that trap.

At worst, I fear our work is perpetuating the killing in Sri Lanka by endorsing and bandaging it. NGOs are distrusted by the government but they are tolerated because they do this.

I am going back to Afghanistan where I more or less trust the government and where I believe my efforts will help for good. That was how I felt in Liberia. It isn't here and it wouldn't have been in Pakistan, where I considered accepting an offer.

Sri Lanka has a lot of beauty and although I've found people in most countries to be friendly Sri Lankans are the friendliest of all. Everyone I waved to waved back. This was true of soldiers, paramilitaries, parents and children. I never saw a stony stare.

My Sri Lankan colleagues were the cleverest, hardest working and most trustworthy I've worked with. Just as importantly, Sri Lankans work for their communities. We trained many many people on their weekends. We supported many many volunteers who are helping their fellow displaced people or strangers.

My next post will probably be from Kabul.

Friday, August 3, 2007

South Korean Hostage Crisis

Tragially two of the South Korean hostages held by the Taliban in Afghanistan have been assassinated.

Here is an important statement from Amnesty International about the kidnapping crisis in Afghanistan.

Please consider signing this petition calling for the remaining hostages' immediate release. (At this writing 75,888 have signed.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Equal Access introductory video

Here is a short introductory video introducing my next NGO, Equal Access.

It refers to all the countries we work in, rather than just Afghanistan.

Initial Afghan program(me)

I've been given my preliminary program (not 'programme' - I will soon be working for a US NGO again) for my first month in Afghanistan. I arrive in Kabul on September 2nd and then...

September 4/5: Herat
September 8/9: Mazar
September 12/13/14: Bamiyan (I've been before - it's lovely)
September 18/19: Jalalabad

I've been promised it will be very exciting and I have no doubts at all.