(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Switz/France

Most times when things come at me hard and fast. Putting it all the interesting things in a blog would be impossible. I'm obviously way behind but I'll try to catch up a bit, all the while knowing that I'll just never get to some of it.

Switzerland/France

One of the things I wanted to mention was my trip to Switzerland after I was in NY for a week. I realized today that I've been too busy to include it. So here it is.

the old city of Lausanne
I arrived in Geneva a few weeks ago on a Saturday. After the long week of meetings and all that led up to it, it was a wonderful thought to be taking a couple days off. It's not much in the grand scheme of things but it was something that I was SO looking forward to. Plus, it's been years since I've been in Switzerland. In fact I was trying to remember the last time I was there (other than an extended layover visit to the city of Zurich a couple of years ago). Because of my anal photo archive I was able to look it up. My last trip to Lausanne was in the spring of 2002 when I went to Paris to do the Paris Marathon with my friends Eve, Penny, Peter, Lauren and Brian. A very cool trip, I must say. But at one point the group sort of went in different directions and I was able to squeeze in a very quick trip to my old stomping grounds. I don't remember much about what we saw or where we went but I do remember visiting my old friends Les and Veronique and making a quick trip up to the Ecole Nouvelle – the place where I worked and, for the most part, lived for eight years.

me in front of the main building of my old school
Skiing!

Back to the present. So this trip began with a nice dinner in Priya's sister Liz's town of Ferney Voltaire, just across the border into France from Geneva. Jet lag wasn't much of a problem having just arrived from NY and, by the next morning we were off to ski at a resort a couple of hours away in the French Alps. Les Contamines is a resort that is not well known outside of France. Nonetheless it is a fantastic location on the flipside of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe, from the famous ski area of Chamonix.

me with Europe's highest mountain in the background
I have been through the area once but I hardly remember it at all. I'd never been to Les Contamines but I have to say it's excellent. It's a great mountain without all of cost and fluff of the famous Chamonix. I would definitely go again.

Liz's friends were headed up that Sunday anyway and there were able to lend me some ski clothes which worked out great. In fact we ended up being a group of about eight. So much fun. By about 11:00 I was swooshing down the slopes on the back side of Mont Blanc the day after arriving from NY. Very cool. After a rather freezing start, the day was sunny and absolutely beautiful. The snow was average towards the bottom but quite good on the higher slopes. I could have cared less. I was just happy to be there.

Lausanne

The next day we took a trip to Lausanne. I was kind of excited to see it again. We went directly to the school and drove into the parking area. There were a few changes from the last time I was there. A new building and a few new construction additions were the obvious changes but the feel of the place was the same. We went to the reception and I spoke to the secretary. A photo on the wall surprisingly revealed to me that probably a fourth of the faculty were the same as they were in the mid-90's when I left. One had become the director. Though very tempted to seek out some of them to reconnect, school was in session and I didn't want to drag out the visit by trying to hunt down and enter into long conversations with all of these people from my past. We had a lot to do and I decided it was best to carry on with our visit of the city. Maybe next time.

the cathedral in Lausanne with Priya and Liz
Afterward it was off to the old city. It was Monday and my favorite creperie was, sadly, closed. We walked around a bit and nonetheless found a good place to eat some traditional Swiss cuisine. We then headed down the hill towards the lakeside part of the city called Ouchy (like "ooshie"). I used to hang out there a lot back in the day. We walked around a bit, took some photos, had another bite to eat and then decided to head back to Ferney.
above the cathedral door


dinner in Geneva
That evening we hooked up with a friend and colleague from our time in Tanzania, Lara, who's now living in Geneva. Cracked me up but on the way we ran into a guy I know (from TZ and Burundi) who also had recently moved to Geneva. I know it's not that large of a city but I thought that was a pretty random encounter. I've had a few of those in my day. One was when my brother and parents were visiting me while I was living in Brussels. We had gone to London and on a random street corner a guy came up to me and said "Richard?" with a French accent. Turns out it was a former student of mine from several years before. I've had a few others and probably would have had more if I was better at remembering people's faces.

lunch with Nicolas and his mother
The next day was spent hanging out in and around Geneva. I don't have the same love affair with Geneva as I do Lausanne but it was still fun.
One interesting and rather enjoyable lunch we had was with a former student of mine from Lausanne and his mother. I hadn't seen Nicolas since 1995 and a lot happens to a 13-year-old in 16 years. Liz works with Nic's mother and they'd somehow figured out the connection. I have to say, it was really cool to see him. Certainly he'd changed a lot and as he walked up to the restaurant, I wasn't even sure this was the little kid I used to know. However as he walked up to the table and smiled, there was no question that the chubby little kid I knew was now the poorly shaved, buff adult that was shaking my hand. At least he told me I hadn't changed since he last saw me except for the gray hair. I think he was being polite.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wisdom is Coming

Amsterdam has been one of my favorite blog writing locations. I'm here frequently and it's often a rare moment where I have time and internet access. I don't have much time but I have a few minutes here in the lounge to briefly mention the past week.

I've been in NY for our regional meetings. It was probably the most helpful of any of my trips to HQ. Very practical in nature and I definitely think that we are all the better for it. The days were full and quite tiring. Most mornings I was out running along the East River, to Central Park and back to the hotel. Evenings were normally spent catching up on things back in Burundi. And so was my routine.

The week began inauspiciously. Monday morning I headed down to the meeting room lobby to greet the many friends and colleagues. I poured my much-needed coffee and went in to the meeting room to have a seat. As I sifted through my folder reviewing our documentation, two colleagues behind me greeted each other with a handshake. How it happened I don't know but the handshake proceeded to also shake the coffee cup in the hand of one of them such that about half the cup went streaming onto my left shoulder and down my back. The scalding, dark brown liquid did a number on both my skin as well as my shirt. Everyone makes mistakes. Could have been me, particularly since I have a long-standing reputation for spilling things. Anyway, I quietly stood up and went up to my room to change. Fortunately the burn was minimal and the shirt cleaned up nicely.

Dinner with Liya
On Thursday night I went to dinner with our friend Liya who now lives in NYC. While I had intended on doing some walking to get to her place way up in Harlem, the cold evening and late start prevented me from doing so. As such I was able to partake of the NY subway. I rarely take the train while in NY since I much prefer to walk – as much as thirty blocks or so if I have the time. This time was different and, in addition to getting me to my destination sooner, the journey reminded me of that world that exists beneath the surface.

I find it interesting that the subway is generally such an emotion-less place in contrast to most other places that contain masses of people. Few people make eye contact and there is not a great deal of conversation. It's an immense collection of people flowing in and out of tunnels, most of whom, like me, wanted to be left alone.

On Friday we finished mid-afternoon. I mixed in a few last minute individual meetings and as darkness approached I caught my cab for the airport. My Sudanese driver was curious about my work in East Africa and I gave him the basics of what I do. Then I turned the conversation on him and asked him about the future of his country. He appeared to me to be from the north (which he was) and I was curious regarding his thoughts about the future of the region with the recent decision by the southern part of the country to secede. As we pulled up to a red light he looked at me as intently as you can through a rear view mirror in the dark and said that the secession was a good thing. He noticed my raised eyebrows and continued by saying that this was the only way that there would be peace. I asked him about the shared claims by the north and the south of the large oil reserves. He said that would be worked out. "There is enough for everyone and they will come to an agreement." "You know," he continued, "in Sudan they did the right thing. They put the decision in the hands of the people without waiting for the people to force the government to allow them to decide as in North Africa. The leaders showed more dignity."

I told him that he was wise and that maybe he should go back to Sudan and go into politics to help his country. He laughed and said, "In most of Africa politics has nothing to do with wisdom. Only power." I looked up at his eyes in the rear view mirror and smiled. "But," he said, "wisdom is coming."