Tag Archives: travel

The real France

Yvette rolls her eyes and clucks her disapproval. “Do you remember the Parisian who lives at number 23? We haven’t seen her for ages!” Though Yvette is 82, she keeps a close watch on everyone. Yvette lives with her 85-year-old brother Maurice. “Living with your sister is actually worse than being married,” he jokes. “I can’t divorce her.”

Yvette and Maurice are our neighbors in Anduze, a village in the south of France where Spouse and I bought our first house. The region enjoys an abundance of wine cellars, hiking trails and medieval castles. Unfortunately, unemployment is very high. After a few blissful years spouse and I had to move to the other side of the country. We let our house in Anduze. Maintenance offered us the chance to revisit.

We were welcomed back with open arms. “It’s not the same without you,” our neighbor Monique said. “Are you moving back?” the baker’s wife asked hopefully. “I don’t allow Dutch people on my terrace,” the owner of our favorite café said with a grin, “but I’ll make an exception for you”. We were informed about births, deaths, the dry weather and the shortcomings of monsieur the mayor. This is no simple gossip. It’s care for the village, its inhabitants and surroundings and comes with sunshine and the easy lifestyle that characterizes the south of France.

The contrast with our new habitat couldn’t be bigger. People here don’t know their neighbors. They don’t care who the mayor is and what decisions he takes. The weather allows for lush vegetation, which people fight with trimmers and chainsaws. They are too stressed to tolerate the mooing of cows, the leaves of a tree on their terrace or a teenager turning up his music. There’s no café here, the only place for people to meet is in the traffic jams morning and night. The average income is twice as high as in Anduze but people seem four times as unhappy.

When I say goodbye, Yvette grabs my hand. “Will you say hi from us to your girlfriend?” Maurice asks me if we’ll come back soon. I’m already dreaming of it.

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Ethiopia’s future

Two five-year-olds in Gondar, Ethiopia, who insisted on being photographed and giggled incessantly when they saw the result.

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Working (out) in Ethiopia

“No problem!” My Ethiopian colleague smiled encouragingly. He had just welcomed me to the medical centre of Gondar University, in the north of Ethiopia, where I was to give a training. Then he showed me the computer room I was expected to use. I looked at the dodgy PCs and felt slightly concerned. The training’s e-learning tools were developed in the UK with the best intentions but not quite the same system requirements as in Africa. “What if we get a blackout?” I asked him. “We have a generator,” my colleague replied. “No problem!”

I work for the Geneva Foundation for Medical Education and Research, a non-profit organization focusing on sexual and reproductive health. My colleagues and I provide health professionals in developing countries with trainings and help them conduct and publish their research. We often work together with other organizations and institutions. In Ethiopia, I represented my NGO as well as Oxford University. I was expected to gather health professionals, facilitate a digital training on a certain complication of pregnancy and reward the participants with a certificate.

There proved to be a few challenges. More people showed up than had inscribed for the trainings so there were not enough PCs available. Internet slowed down or halted completely. Plan B was to hand out CDs with the course material. But many computers lacked the software required for the training’s complicated graphs. Or the CD was not compatible with the brand-new Macintosh computers that had been donated by a well-wisher. Or passwords to allow updates were missing. Wireless keyboards and mice that didn’t match proved another problem. During my visit to Ethiopia, I became accustomed to running around in hot, stuffy computer rooms, explaining the course here, pointing out the proper side of a CD there and updating software everywhere. As soon as I had everything up and running, a blackout would mess things up. And generators never worked.

After the last training I sank to the floor. My Ethiopian colleague stooped over me. “That went really well,” he said casually. I nodded, panting and wiping the sweat of my brow. He shook his head. “Crazy Dutch girl.”

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You’re being watched

Having arrived at the temple Spouse and I went to see in rural Gujarat, the biggest local attraction proved to be… us.

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Spicy South of India

South Indian Restaurant Lingo:
“No spicy ma’am” means the dish is quite hot.
“A bit spicy ma’am” means add several bottles of water to your order and fasten your seatbelt.

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