Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Post (the movie)

Steven Spielberg and Amy Pascal’s movie The Post is a compelling depiction of the decisions made by Katherine Graham (played by Meryl Streep) to publish the Pentagon Papers in opposition to the Nixon administration, against the advice of her lawyers and investors, and in support of her news staff led by Ben Bradlee (played by Tom Hanks). Two themes stand out: Freedom of the press against an ill-motivated government and the courage and insight of a very impressive woman, Mrs. Graham.

Like many documentaries, the movie was selective to fit a complex event into a two-hour film – to paraphrase Ms. Graham’s husband, Philip, it was a rough draft of history. What was missing included the decisive Bazelon appeals court scene between Pentagon officials with a “top secret” supposedly contained in the Pentagon Papers, which the Administration forcefully argued supported non-publication, and the Washington Post lawyers and experts, highlighted by George C. Wilson’s decisive testimony. This deeper investigation of prior restraint and rule-by-facts is covered by Geoffrey Cowan’s 2008 play Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers and described by CBS's interview with George.

I had an insight from George, my father, that fit nicely with Spielberg’s movie, which I submitted to Pascal’s creative executive early in 2017. It fit nicely with movie scenes portraying the tension between Ms. Graham and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara – though it may have been overelaboration, given the already effective screenplay.

Here’s part of the bit I offered: “Every time Robert McNamara saw Katherine Graham, Secretary McNamara would jab his finger at her (I imagine at a high society Georgetown cocktail party) and say: ‘George Wilson is the worst reporter in this town.’ Mrs. Graham would turn, smile and say, ‘I know.’ (We like it that way, she'd convey.)”

Dad had a strong track record taking on the military and Pentagon on many counts, wrote sharply and critically about the Vietnam War, sometimes covering the front page of the Post with three stories of breaking news.

An amazing thing about Mrs. Graham, Dad later reflected, was that she never told Dad or others about Secretary McNamara's criticisms. She kept the newsroom from this undue or tilting influence. Mrs. Graham was extraordinarily decent.

In any case, please see The Post, an enlightening and hopeful film. You can purchase a copy of Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers play on Amazon or learn more from this USC Annenberg web site.

-- Jim

-- originally published on Facebook on January 1, 2018

References --

-- The Post movie --
-- Top Secret (play): The Battle for the Pentagon Papers -- (USC Annenberg)
-- Top Secret (play/docudrama) on Amazon:
-- CBS New article about George C. Wilson and Bazelon courtroom scene --

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Time to Cry

11.14.2015 -- Why do I cry? I am very fortunate. I was walking my boxer Soot in the woods and fields at Langley Forks, adjacent to the CIA. A soccer game had mustered in the lower field. Soot ran and leapt with joy, cavorted as we walked about the upper field and through the woods. The day was beautiful, crisp air, blue skies, and puffy white clouds -- cliche. We walked about the soccer game at the lower field. The grass was damp but crisp. The players were good, very good; a mix of men and women in their twenties and thirties, I surmised. Cheers and lacing teamwork, as they cut and pushed the ball back and forth, quick stepping in corners or about an opponent. About two-dozen spectators sat on benches and folding chairs at the side of the field. Young children ran about, dodging in and out of spectators, between blankets and coolers. Meadow, woods, and a bit of marsh surround the field. Soot was in heaven, nuzzling the crisp, dried grasses, golden-hued, rolling and gyrating on her back. I was crying.

This was the field some 40 years past where I had run joyously, running laps for fitness and playing rugby with many beloved friends. Age and injury had taken away my athleticism. But I cried because of the gap, the missing joy of this experience, for my boys. In the restricted and constrained lives that they were given, I felt they missed some of the careless joys I had. And I missed holding them; I missed their happiness and love, which was somehow abrogated in a broken relation. I walked further with Soot and sat in the tall grass at a meadow, out of sight. Soot rolled joyously. I began to sob.

The night before I was at Blues Alley with Adriene, an artist and creative, a journalist, friend of Barack and Michelle, and many. We were listening to Jonathan Butler, a South African, who sang and played deeply, soulfully. His work includes a tribute to Nelson Mandela, which I had listened to earlier this week, and cried. My seat and table had me twisting to watch Jonathan, about eight feet away on stage. Various lights shined. Tears flowed on my face. It was the beauty of Jonathan’s music, the close scene, Adriene, and my release from Ethiopia.

When one walks about the impoverished, the destitute, and as much or more, the givers who make things better, much comes to the soul. I was heavy with emotion. Joy, yes, because we made things better. But trouble and sadness because things are so bad. “Shee-shee-shee,” replayed for me. I wanted to go back, to help more, and give comfort.

I was also afraid. Adriene did not know until I told her. Nor did the band. (I told the keyboardist, Arlington Jones, after the show.) More than 100 people had just been killed in Paris, victims of coordinated terrorist attacks. Many were youth attending a concert, inside the Bataclan, slaughtered by submachine gun. Others were dining in a couple popular Right Bank restaurants. Others were incised, avulsed and compressed by suicide bombs. Paris was littered in blood.

The event was live, as we listened to soulful music in a nightclub in Georgetown. I checked the exits, my path there through people, tables and chairs. How I would pull Adriene down and cover her if something happened. The blood, death, trauma, and injury in Paris were alarming, but I don’t think I cried because of it. I cried because of the beauty of the human response. Those who care, those who ran in to aid (and some thus killed), those who opened their homes to the injured and displaced. (“#Porteouverte” was the social media hash tag -- Our door is open if you need.) I cried because of the innate beauty of the human response, like those who gave me care, those in Catalog.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Those We Serve -- Liver Cancer

Liver Cancer

10.27.2015 – I had dinner with Dr. Alemayehu at Rodeo, a cowboy-themed open-air restaurant in Bole, Addis Ababa. It was lovely; wood fires burned ambitiously in large pits about the patio. I had steak and beer; Alemayehu, chicken and rice and mineral water. We coursed over many topics, from the deeply personal to operational matters for our charitable healthcare program, EHN. We spoke of the larger framework of governmental health programs, charity and NGO management, including work by the Gates Foundation. I said I understood that the government’s model is to provide a healthcare worker (a nurse) or two for every 100 households, and one clinic for every 1,000. I thought this was good, and hoped that it would put my small non-profit out of business.

Alemayehu lamented the quality of care at the large health centers, and said there are still large gaps that EHN and NGOs fill. In fact, today, he said, he saw a man [1] who had terrible stomach pain. He had been to multiple doctors and health centers. He paid 1,700 ET Birr (about $90 USD) for an invasive endoscopy. They had given him medicines and many tests. Nothing improved. Alemayehu touched the man, palpated his abdomen. He felt a mass on his liver. He conducted ultrasound. There was a large mass, a tumor. LeAlem’s lab analyzed the patient’s liver enzymes and function. The numbers were very high. The man had liver cancer, and was going to die. Alemayehu respectfully and kindly gave the accurate diagnosis and prognosis. The man was comforted, thankful, after months of stress and wrong diagnosis and treatment.

We discussed the patterns where the large health centers perform the function, but do not treat the patient, and as a result they miss things. I’ve seen this in the United States, for example, where my father was on needless chemotherapy (Neupogen) for months, and my mother’s amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease) went undiagnosed by esteemed practitioners. (Even the suggestion of ALS, by my father, was laughed at by our family physician, my wife’s doctor.) So nothing is perfect. But my base sense is the medical care provided by a patient-focused doctor, who seeks to understand the full context, is better. More, I think a community-based physician in a developing country like Ethiopia may be more skilled because he or she has to cope with a broader array of affliction, with less technical intervention and support. In the main, a third-world community doctor, like Alemayehu, is very closely connected to those he treats.

[1] The subject is a private patient, not an EHN beneficiary.

Those We Serve -- Kittens


10.27.2015 – A few doors down our next beneficiary lived in a similar one-room hovel, a bed, a couple of boxes as chairs, and a box of kittens and mom-cat. She paid about 35 cents US (7.5 Birr) per month in subsidized rent. For the prior four years she had lived on the street under a plastic tarp. She was about 50 years old, brightly colored and beautiful. I insisted she sit next to me, atop her bed, legs trailing down towards the room center. She had suffered so much, but was thankful for the medical care we gave. With the health care, she was now able to get out of bed and go to work, where she could make money to help support her daughter (who had lived under the plastic tarp with her). Her deferential sensitivity struck me. I wrapped my arm around her back. Her husband, her daughter’s father, had died several years ago, of AIDS. She and her daughter are HIV positive. I gave 200 Birr, about 2-year’s rent. Better, I hope, a good meal.

Those We Serve -- Maggot Head

Maggot Head

While Kneeling describes recognition and a compassionate response, other recognitions did not yield such kindness. There are many poor, begging on the streets of Addis. Some with grave deformity, young children pressing out before their mothers, old thin women pointing a finger into their mouths, ‘give me food.’ My one-kilometer daily walk from the Jupiter hotel to LeAlem Higher Clinic passed perhaps a dozen sad cases. I did not take pictures. In the first block, a higher sidewalk in front of construction sites, I’d walk past men sleeping on the cement, splayed like fish on a dock. One fellow’s head, face, and neck were crawled over by hundreds of white maggots. This was shocking. I thought, should I bring him to the hotel room and have him bathe? Part of me considered buying a bottle of disinfectant alcohol and swabbing and cleaning his head, then bringing him to the clinic for de-lousing and medication. I did nothing but let him sleep. There are limits and one develops filters in such situations. When I was trained as an emergency medical technician (EMT), we learned ‘scene safety’ as a first, most important rule. You have to protect yourself. An ill or dead caregiver is a greater loss than one person’s suffering, than to go forward with an unsafe incident. With maggot head, I considered my own susceptibility (and that of the next person to sleep in my hotel room). Also, I thought about the general structure of the problem. A man without employment, sleeping on the street, covered with maggots. There are many contributing problems that need repair to make a durable solution. My conscience was also eased by the fact that I give so much already, to mothers and children in need, in Addis. Alas, though, it is an important question and urge. We wish we could fix many more things. There is no shortage of need, of the compelling and grotesque that may be improved. But we are mortal, and cannot cure all.

Those We Serve -- Kneeling


10.27.2015 – We were at Meseret Humanitarian Organization, a women-focused NGO in Addis Ababa, sub-city Kirkos, to see their tour of capabilities and accomplishment. After, we visited several beneficiaries. The first was a mud-walled, tin-roof home about 12 feet square, with a rear niche that was for cooking. A man, about 46 years old, sat rocking on an upturned bucket for his chair. He was crying gently, “Shee-shee-shee,” as he rocked back and forth. With the oncoming of three social workers and me, his niece, a beneficiary, turned and relocated him to another chair (an upturned box with a towel atop), more in the corner, out of the way. He complied. We learned he was mentally retarded, deaf, and blind in one eye. Assembled in the dark house, we talked our normal business with the beneficiary: How have you worked with Meseret, what has been your experience with healthcare provided by LeAlem? Do you have children? How are they? Are there areas we can improve? The woman answered steadfastly and appreciatively. She had had right leg pain and diffuse stomach pain, epigastric pain. She had been treated well at LeAlem, with respect and good results. (This wasn’t her prior experience at other centers, she said.) Her children had scalp fungus, which was treated with antifungal cream and antibiotics provided by EHN/LeAlem, and cured. We spoke for about 15 minutes. These things passed through. I took a couple pictures. Four healthcare workers. We’d ignored the man. I asked, “Can I touch him?” I kneeled on the mud floor, and reached my right hand to the man’s back, and stroked. I reached and held his left hand, and squeezed gently. I drew a bit closer, and held for a few minutes. His crying and rocking stopped. The man’s older sister, also disabled, had hidden herself behind a dingy curtain in the kitchen. She started to cry.

We stepped out of the house to the alley. I lingered. The sister came out and hugged me. “Thank-you-thank-you-God-Bless,” she said. I touched her face and said, “Thank you.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Catalog – Why Write? (Precis)

PrĂ©cis—Why Write?

Robben Island Prison, Cape Town, SA, where they held Nelson Mandela and others

A base reason for writing is to preserve – oneself, knowledge, ideas, experience – and in some way to change the reader. Change may occur by providing technical information such as how to develop a glass plate negative using chemicals in a darkened room, or a map providing guidance to a location down the road, or a pathway to the top of a complex mountain. More vastly, writing may change the way we think and how we feel.

Writing also serves the writer’s soul and mind, helping him [1] to understand, proportion, and organize. Writing and reading can engage so many responses: interpret, inflame, enlighten, entertain, relieve, inform, enrich, persuade, teach, memorialize, inspire, depress, defile, and many thousand more.

Catalog is here to capture, reveal, transfer, and inspire. This is an intertwined story of James Ricalton in Africa, destitute women and children of Ethiopia, and myself, James Ricalton Wilson.

Today, as written in 1905: “The public knows less of Ricalton, one of its obscure great men. He has gone through a long life, with his nose to his work, like a dog to a scent, heedless of fame and money. He is original, alone, and has done things no other man has done. It was he that Thomas A. Edison sent into all the tropical jungles twenty years ago [1885] to search for a vegetable fiber for the electric lamp… He has traveled through every country on the globe, exposing 75,000 negatives, and has photographed most of the great men of his generation … At the battle of Caloocan a soldier near him was winged; Ricalton picked up the useless rifle, grabbed the cartridge belt and went up with the skirmishers. At the siege of Tien Tsin he stood on the walls and photographed Americans as they were dropped by Chinese bullets. Little the public knows when it sees photographs of war how few of them come from the front. Ricalton is one of the few who gets the real things.” [2]

Ricalton's grandson, George Wilson, my father, a military reporter and war correspondent, was like this, too. George was at the front in Vietnam, in the trenches with mud soldiers in the A Shau Valley, in 1968. A young soldier at his side was shot through. (George was horrified and panicked; he unraveled a bit.) George was embedded with the Marines in Iraq at age 76, advancing from Kuwait to Baghdad, during the US-led invasion, in 2003. They called him ‘Canary,’ a detector for poison gas, because he slept unprotected on the ground, while the soldiers dug foxholes every night. George pondered destitution in Beirut during war with Israel in 1974; despaired high politics inside the Capitol and Pentagon; unraveled prior restraint by the military, saving Mrs. Graham, Mr. Bradley, and the Washington Post in 1971; and more. George would frequently say that he cared deeply about the ‘little people,’ those without voice; and he saw a core mission in giving voice to those without, cutting right, lighting truth, with his swift sword, the writer’s pen. George was reviled by a number, but he was loved by many more.

So many of my family, it seems, touched and observed trauma and mortality, and saw great moment and gave keen observation. Ricalton had a fascination with crude executions in India and China, war mortalities (the “opposite shore is lined with bloated human forms” [3]), and other scholarly detail and endings. He was a petulant and righteous Scot, soberly observing, bringing to light with his cameras, in writings, and public lectures, barbarisms and shocking tumult. Ricalton was cut down, himself, brought to his knees sobbing, as his beloved son of 24 years, Lomond, died before him, on May 26, 1914, stricken with jungle fever (typhoid pneumonia) over two weeks, in British East Africa, Kenya. (James and Lomond were working on a film project for Edison.)

Ricalton’s wife, Barbara Campbell, never spoke to him again. A man of thirty-nine Atlantic Ocean crossings and more than 500,000 miles journeying in 68 countries, and 100,000 photographs, Ricalton travelled abroad no more, after Lomond died. He walked his beloved Saint Lawrence River, many tens of miles a day, elongating his sadness, in Waddington, New York, where he died, angrily, on October 28, 1929.

Ricalton’s daughter Mary fell to her knees, too, 63 years after her brother Lomond’s death, when her grandson James Ricalton Wilson was gravely injured and not expected to live, after he was brutally struck by a drunk driver, on New Year’s, January 1, 1977. James’ brain was cut open by surgeons, and he lay in deep coma for days, before inching back.

33 years later, in 2010, James Ricalton Wilson, Jim, this writer, fell to his knees when a negligent truck driver struck down his beautiful 19-year-old son, Nathan, while he was training in Tucson, Arizona, for bicycle races in Europe and across the US.

Jim’s grandfather, Harold Ralston Gibbons (H.R.), who worked for Alfred Sloan, fell to his knees and begged God as he watched first his wife, Dorothy Francis, then his son, Junior, die, of influenza in 1918. H.R. was spiritually emptied and cast to zero. He married his son’s nurse, Dorothy (Dot) Binns. Subsequently, Dot herself mended as many as she could, and comforted those who did not mend (and died), as an infantry nurse during the Great War, in France, 1919.

What more of these people, our family catalog? How did they cope with tragedy, death, and loss? I learned and observed that they and we were many things. They grieved, they became furious, they mourned, they were derelict, they became spiritually vacant, and they cried and wailed. Some became drunk. Most were in some way extreme. Each was immensely deepened by their intimacy with loss, and in some way despondent. I sense each became painfully aware of his or her good fortune, to have not died or been wounded, and was thus drawn to charity and love, albeit sometimes with unformed vocabulary. Each found a need, new or sharpened, to make the world a better place. We continue to learn, and we try to better love, to “much love,” as the Gibbons meme impels.

Death and trauma can be cherished experiences, immensely enriching relationships, deepening personal knowledge; providing opportunities to nourish, comfort, and give; and awakening the survivor’s awareness of his good fortune. (The decedent also experiences great depth, but he ultimately can make no response.) One recognizes an immense gap between those who remain, and those who do not, between those who recover and those who fail. We observe a sense of inequity and are drawn with compassion to mend the gap, as we hope others will mend the gap, provide comfort, when we are afflicted.

Survivors of trauma may feel obliged to return the favor of compassion they received; they may have injured others in their broken recovery and experience guilt; and some may feel obliged to heal others in order to more fully repair themselves. I sense that members of the Wilson catalog carry these traits, some that are learned by unkind experience, others imprinted by family lore and behavior, and perhaps others made by epigenetic casting.

Let us look at their journeys and consider what is given. Let us also mind, but not deeply, contrary patterns, among those who flee, the avoidant. Perhaps we will find a bridge.

[1] My intent is to be gender neutral. Him/he/his can usually mean her/she/hers.
[2] Railroad Men, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, “An Intrepid War Photographer,” October 1904; p. 337.
[3] Ricalton, James, The Boxer Uprising, Underwood and Underwood, 1902; p. 193.

Ricalton in his Study, c. 1920

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Africa 10.17.2015

Saturday, 10/17. Good launch in Ethiopia. Landed 6:40 AM at Bole, cleared customs and got to Jupiter Hotel in Cazanchis about 9:30. (Melaku met me at airport and drove.) Not having slept on plane, after unpacking clothes and gear, I quickly fell to sleep until early afternoon. I then headed over to clinic for visits with Gashaw and Dr. Alemayehu. Spent a couple hours making observations and note taking, including reviewing beneficiaries' case records and developing questions for formative evaluation. Then a couple kilometer walk to Hilton for a late pizza and Amber beer, outside on lower terrace with a small concert underway -- African and American songs. Very lovely. Walked home and continue to read and write. Cape Town looks like a good respite later in the trip. I brought Ricalton's diary of his 1909 time there, including hikes up Table Mountain and trekking the area with his view cameras. (Ricalton subsequently trekked from there to Cairo.)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Family Skiing

To the top we go, my sons and I, to the Vista Haus, for coffee, juice and muffins. At near 12,000 feet, we look over the high valley to peaks mng the Continental Divide. “Hey, Dad, this is great. It’s beautiful up here, I can see everywhere,” my son declares as he quaffs breakfast. The sun is brighter than ever, set amidst perfect blue. The air is thin, making me feel like an old man, struggling to keep up with my energy-filled boys.

We push off through the crunchy snow. “Whee!” and “Whoosh!” we go, slanting down a well-named run – Psychopath, High Anxiety, or Crescendo. My boys are shredders, bashing about on snow boards, while I carve and cut powder on 15 year-old skis, still serviceable, shrieking phosphorescent orange from days long gone by.

It’s a rush! I bend and fall forward, leaning onto the tips of my skis, tossing my back and pelvis up high, shoving my knees out over the toes of my boots. A subtle nudge right, coupled with a stronger push in the knees. I rise and press down and left, and repeat. Seven or eight times, and I stop and look up the hill. Behind me lies a gentle serpent cut in the snow. My boys follow, crisscrossing my tracks. One falls, and leaves a scattered, bright angel in the snow. He pops up and quickly rides down the rest. We three gather and look up at our art. “Awesome,” says my oldest. “Yahoo! That was great,” cries the younger, huffing to recapture his breath. I am inwardly jubilant, wondering at the temporary helix of family DNA carved in the snow.

-- From a lost journal, composed in June 2003, when my boys were in middle- and high-school. Breckenridge, Colorado.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Eulogy for George

George Cadman Wilson, July 11, 1927 - February 11, 2014

Thank you, so many, for sharing your love and memories of George.

Dad was an immense man, a man in full, who touched many people, and impacted the course of important human events – he helped end wars.

I am going to focus on one part of George that you may not know much about, because George was very private with his inner self.

George Cadman Wilson was the strongest man I ever knew.

He schlepped and lugged a rifle, armor, and backpack among Mud Soldiers in Vietnam. There he found great dignity, integrity, and selflessness – and, yes, humor.

At age 75, Dad enlisted as an embedded correspondent in the Iraq War drive to Baghdad. The young soldiers asked and thought, “Hey, how old are you? You must be at least 50.”

Dad had two major heart surgeries, in 1979 and about 1995. Dad was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome in 2001; this is sometimes caused by Agent Orange used in Vietnam … MDS kills most people in 6-7 years … Dad sailed past that.

Last March 2013, George and I went to Los Cabos, Mexico. He met an attractive 40-something journalist from Canada, and joined her for a trip to a fishing camp up north … His parting words were, “Jim, I’ll meet you at the airport Saturday.” There was a raw strength and masculinity to George.

He also had the strength to be sensitive, to cry and feel other’s pain. He certainly did this for me as I struggled from deep coma and traumatic brain injury for 35 dark days in 1977, and for many years beyond. In January, when we had an important family matter, apart from Dad’s cancer, Dad wrapped me in his arms and fought to find reason with life’s events, and we sobbed together.

The comfort George has given others is greater than any I have known or seen.

On Tuesday, February 11, two days after visiting with dear friends here with us today, Dad could barely communicate as he battled raging fever and sepsis that poisoned his blood. Abeje and I were at his bedside continuously, anointing Dad, providing morphine and other care.

This Titanic strong man, this New Jersey and Pennsylvania track star, rose to his final hurdle. I held and kissed him, calling my, Kathy's, and all our love into his ear, as he fought with every last fiber the air hunger that in the end took him from us and upward to heaven. I kissed and spoke to George as his breathing ceased, and caressed his wrist and neck until his pulse was no more.

George was an immensely strong man. His strength is not lost. You see it in his family. Kathy who works a farm, teaches school, and raises a beautiful daughter with Jason. Jim, me, who lived when very few expected him to survive, and fought mightily to gain successful footing in academics, at work, and family. Nathan, his grandchild, who survived a horrific accident when a truck hit him while riding in Tucson; he went on to win and place high in major bike races in the US and abroad.

The Wilson family is a strong family, not just raw physicality, but a family of deep love and courage.

My father gives us all a lesson, an example of a life lived quite well, and the strength to be kind. Let us carry this forward. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Where you go ?

Out the window, perhaps, but it is not so high
to provide a merciful end, more likely a crumpled
cripple unable to complete the task, dragging
the rest, under a cerulean sky lighting crimson,
bone shards piercing skin. Gasping.

There is much anger here. I do not fathom
the physics, but view hard-wiring made before.
I dampen dissonance with some stroke of
compassion, pulled from a time I was cruel,
crying and injured.

Loss unresolved but taken, under quiet trees,
magnolias in sunshine. Old bells ring, high walls
protect the cobbled city, streets damp and
slippery. I do not know which way, but I go on,
meekly hopeful, forces diffuse.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Awash and Afar

Things have gone well in Ethiopia, sorting through business/political matters for healthcare program, meeting partners, reviewing areas of performance. I'm so impressed by Dr. Alemayehu ... he designed, indirectly, a very nice and effective time for me. He is truly a gifted healer.

I had a great time this past weekend in Awash / Afar, very restful. Quite a primitive place. All driving in Ethiopia sucks -- sooty diesel trucks traveling 25 MPH on two lane highway, inexplicable traffic jams, all sorts of livestock and people (occasional naked tribespeople ...) ... the lot. That aside, after 6+ hour drives each way (and a fuel filter bypass breakdown on the way back, plus a flat tire an hour later..), Awash National Park was amazing. Think of a bunch of thatch-roof cabins spread around a waterfall canyon in an area roughly the shape of Yellowstone, but with lions and other African fauna. When we arrived after the long drive, we captured a lounge area on the second floor of a hut dining structure, ordered a beer or mineral water ... I fell asleep in the cool breeze to the sound of the waterfalls, was out like a baby for a couple hours.

When I woke, Alemayehu said "let's use our time" and we piled back into the big Toyota Land Cruiser and headed north into Afar, a tribal state made up predominantly of pastoralists. (One of our partners provides social and healthcare to the tribespeople, especially for women's enablement, e.g., microfinance, feminine hygiene.) We drove a 'short distance' (compared to the aforementioned welfare program) 30 Km off road, into the volcanic valley where there are hot springs. The springs and water catchment create a jungle-like biome, compared to the arid savannah predominant in Awash.

When we arrived latish (6 PM) at the hot springs end-of-road, we were chastised by the area ranger for not having hired a 'scout' at the national park to take us about. (A scout is a 20-something kid with an automatic rifle who for a fee escorts you about your hikes, etc. The idea of the rifle is to ward off lions, hyenas or such. I saw no such need, my sharp penknife secure in my pocket ... ). The ranger proved quite convivial, escorting us to the hot springs, an about 1 Km further hike through marshy/sketch paths (I fell in the mud twice, once going, once returning ...).

As we walked, we saw many animals -- warthogs, water bucks, gazelle, others, many birds -- on the edge of the tree lines, awaiting further darkness before venturing into the waters / marshes. The last couple hundred meters were through deep forest -- jungle, I'd say (picture above). When we arrived at the deep, clear hot spring pool, Alemayehu quickly stripped to his skivvies and jumped into the pool. He urged me to join him. I resisted, but after a couple minutes I joined him. The water was about 130 degrees F, and soft as can be given the decaying vegetation at bottom and such. Squishy mud in the toes. It was great, very great.

As noted, on the dusky return hike, I slipped into the mud once more (hard dirt crust covers mud holes). (Holy Tarzan, quick sand?) We piled into the truck and made the 30 Km/90 minute return drive to the highway. As we approached the tarmac, Alemayehu hollered, "Praise the Lord." We'd made it. Perhaps some had doubts. We turned left and headed east to Awash town and scurried up some roast chicken and beer for late dinner. (Late being relative, because I tend to think Africa doesn't really have much to do with time, as we've grown to obsess about it in America.)

I slept like a baby across the night, wind and cataracts roaring. Next morning, the others hiked about while I wrote notes and edited photographs on my Macbook, and slept some more on the outdoor porch. Long drive home with two breakdowns, as noted -- handled with aplomb by our extraordinary driver. He handled the large Land Cruiser with grace and, when the fuel pump proved clogged at the first breakdown, he implemented an engine-running fuel-pump bypass. (I did some lightweight EMT work, helping clean his eye which was splashed with diesel.)

Amazing. Tonight my hosts took me for a final dinner in Addis, hitting the western-style Lime Tree restaurant, which I last visited with US embassy staff and Abeje. Being so kind, Alemayehu bought me gifts of 5 Kg of Ethiopian honey and about the same amount of Harrar coffees. (I had brought second bag full of medical and technical equipment that I delivered to the LeAlem clinic ... they were intent that I return with the second bag still full ...)

So it goes. 16 hour flight leaves Addis at 10 PM Tuesday, stops in Rome to refuel, and arrives Washington Dulles at 8:30 AM Wednesday. Back at the office about noon.

Look forward to getting home, moving on to the next chapter.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Seeking Muse

Normal wander it seems, about an attic mostly content, rattled some by vagaries of age, complex job. A day ago I went to honor a great lion, honest journalist, Murray Marder, who took down McCarthyism. I was in a funeral room full of old lions, most faded ... one greatest generation.

What mark time? I do not know. My future is planted, aloft in sturdy and smart young men (my boys) and empowered women (Care and others). I will dig deep and uncover what's next. A mudpuppy? A wander in African forest, arid plain? A walk among the ill and needful ... time will tell.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Nate @ 22

Here's to Nate, age 22, racing in Europe, living the dream.
Our wonderful son who has risen above, ever stronger.
May the wind always be at your back.
Happy Birthday!

L, Mom and Dad

Nate Bontrager Kit, 3.2013 ... Nate training, 1.2011 ... Nate and Avery, Block Island, 8.2001 ... Care and Nate, Saint John, 10.1991 ... Day 1, Arlington Hospital, 3.29.1991.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Vacaciones ...

Vacations are difficult by criteria. We like to go new places ... it's unlikely we'll go back to the same place, certainly not temporally. So I dig planning and detailing it, sometimes only Walter Middy concepts, a lift from the daily grind. It's hard but important work -- work hard, play hard, get the details right. Capture deeply what you do, live for the experience, and enjoy. Embolden and empower your children, your passions.

We've done many different things, some gifts, some hard-earned. Gift: Flew Concorde to Paris, a week in Hotel du Crillon, Opera House w Rob and Nicolete, our honeymoon. Not gifts: Traipsed Cairo slums, refugee camps in Gaza ... bicycle ventures on Route Verte (Quebec), Bend, Olympic Peninsula, Mallorca, New Mexico, Sundance, Val d'Or, Valloire, Sonoma, Santa Barbara ... touring Prague, San Francisco, Tetons, Cozumel, Saint John, Nova Scotia, Granada, Chamonix, Berlin, Smokey Mountains, Block Island, La Jolla, Athens, Madrid, New York, London, Marbella, Ibiza ... others ... My favorite was two weeks in Ethiopia, quietly occupying a desk in a small office with three social workers, documenting patient care in a maternal and child health program ... HIV site visits ... I was never so engaged, content.

This vacation in Los Cabos has been pretty cool, tho' I'll be light on details. Root cause, my 80-something father has been pretty lonely, most contemporaries of his are gone, one way or another. So he proposed a 'bonding' experience, where I could get to know him better. First idea was a sailboat cruise in Greek isles, conceptually cool, but pretty pricey, and truthfully I wasn't terribly keen on spending 8 days in a 2 berth, 1 squatter no WiFi sailboat w Ol' George and a bunch of National Geographic types. Call me picky. Recollecting an impractical notion he had to take his wheel-chair bound high-school girl friend whale watching on the Sea of Cortez, I proposed that (w healthy me). My initial target was Loreto, a Jacques Cousteau-lauded place about mid-Baja, very uncomplicated, essentially eco-tourism. Great idea, but 'we' didn't get our act together, and all airline seats were booked (only Alaska Air flies there), so we settled on Los Cabos, specifically San Jose del Cabo (SJC), on the eastern tip of Baja California Sur, the Sea of Cortez.

I've loved SJC, a lot of wonderful art galleries, restaurants, a scenic preserve/estuary, lovely people, whale watching at Cabo San Lucas. I've read a couple books, swum, enjoyed fantastic Latin jazz, meshed with internationales of many distinctions, improved my Spanish ... hit the local brew pub, ate and drank liberally, enjoyed tremendously Hotel Tropicana and Latin jazz performances there by passionate chanteuse (and new friend) Rosalia de Cuba ... ¡Todos! George met a former journalist of sorts (Dad was pretty famous, in his day, at WaPo); she a divorced, wealthy 40-something (with two children, age 2 and 4, in tow) ... so they headed an hour north to Rancho Leonero, a fishing camp on the Sea of Cortez. Sounded wonderful, but I chose to stay put in the Tropicana, to enjoy more jazz, art, pool swimming, reading and relaxing.

Overall, a good trip. I think given the evanescent excitement for George, mission accomplished ... (I'm reminded of W's aircraft carrier banner 'post' Iraq ...) ... I certainly had some fun, enjoyed local culture and artistry, saw some whales, and took a few good pics (above and below). So it goes ... !