The Road to the Horizon - Introduction


I come from no country, from no city, from no tribe.
I am the son of the road,
my country is the caravan,
my life is the most unexpected of voyages.

(From Leo the African by Amin Maalouf)


“I’m mad like hell and I am not going to take this anymore”
I remember it very well. Must have been somewhere mid 1991. I arrived home late from work one evening. I had a well paid management function in a respectable firm. I lived with Tine, my loving girl friend. We had two cars, two dogs, a flock of sheep, chickens and geese, on our villa-farm on the Belgian country side. The future looked bright. Nevertheless, that evening, as I sat in the car on the drive way, I did not feel happy. Some things were missing. It felt like at the age of 30, I had just finished my life. The plans for the future were all laid out so well. Autopilot from now on. But deep down inside, I hated corporate life and corporate politics that go with it. I hated wasting two hours of my life in traffic jams every day. And getting up every day at the same time, seeing the same faces every day, and dancing to the tunes of the people at work. Working my butt off until I could retire. I hated the limitations my job and life put on me.

African music played on the tape recorder, that night, as I sat in the car for what seemed like hours. I remember it very well. Just looking into the dark night. Listening to the exotic sounds, dreaming of exotic places. It suddenly darned on me: “This is not my life. Actually it is not a life at all”. Life is supposed to be creative. Variable. Free. Filled with the laughter of children, working with people one likes, working when one likes, doing what one likes. Going to places one likes. I wanted to do things so once, old and ready to die, I could take my grand children on my knee, and close my eyes, and look back on a life I could be proud of. A life that was filled with landmarks of what I had achieved, things I had done and seen. Things that would have an impact on the people around me, a positive impact.

As I got out of the car, I had made up my mind. “Something’s got to change around here”. I felt like on the movie “Network”, where a journalist encouraged people to throw open their windows and to shout “I am mad like hell, and I am not going to take this anymore!”. Well, I was not going to take this crap anymore!


Breaking the chains.
The first sign of madness was my spontaneous decision to participate in an expedition to Clipperton, a deserted island in the Pacific. Decided one day, gone on expedition three weeks later. It was a spiritual experience. For the first time since very very long, I felt deeply happy. I sat laid back, in the middle of the night, looking at the Milky Way in the middle of the Pacific, with palm trees waving in the moon light, listening to the music of Enya playing in my head over and over again. Completely sun burned to the second degree, dizzy because of the lack of sleep. But happy. I was doing what I wanted to do. I found part of my destiny, it seemed.

Once I got back to Belgium after the expedition, my job looked even more dull than ever. I needed another shot of adrenaline. The shot came one year later. Another expedition to the Pacific. This time, it was to an island called Howland. Guess you never heard of that one. Well, I did not neither. And what an adrenaline shot it was. A team of great people, each one still being a close friend today. A trip where I almost drowned in a stormy see. A trip during which I learned to love the Pacific. A trip where we lived on survival mode, using the very limited food and water provisions we had for almost a week waiting out the storm which made it impossible for us to leave the island with the small rubber dinghies we had. What more can one do to lead an intense life?

As we had trouble getting off the island, I arrived back at work one week too late. My boss schmuttered some remarks like “that is typical you again, is it not? Always trying to do the unconventional.”. Well he was right. And almost on the spot, I asked for 2 months leave without pay, for the next year, as I wanted to go to the Antarctic. He said no. I did the only sensible thing to do: I quit my job. That was June 1993. Since then, things have only been improving. Ha!
For one year, I did not have a paid job. But I enjoyed working home. I wrote a book. About past expeditions. Mostly for myself. And worked on the preparations for our expedition to an Antarctic island called Peter I (rather appropriate name, don’t you think?). Only then, I started to feel what the word ‘freedom’ meant.
We did the “Peter I expedition”. When I left home for the Falklands, where a Russian icebreaker would pick us up, I told Tine: ‘I do not know when I will be back. Might be in two or three months, but do not worry!”.

I still carry the memories of the Falklands and the Antarctic deep inside me. You had to be there to believe it. Life on Peter I was so intense you could almost touch it. The beauty of bright white icebergs floating in a dark blue see, with colours so intense that you have to wear sun glasses. And storms that wipe you off your feet. Talking about living your life!


Making a living
Many a time, life is determined by coincidences. The art of living, I think, is often to catch those coincidences, those signs and to use them as opportunities. One time such a coincidence happened. I am a ham, a radio amateur. At that time, I was a fanatic ham. One weekend, we were operating a ham radio competition from a friend’s home. Paul, one of the other radio operators, was a friend from the Howland expedition. During the contest, he received a phone call from someone offering him a job working for the United Nations as telecom specialist. I had never even heard the UN took civilian telecom people. I thought it was all military. Little did I know. I talked to Paul about it, that weekend. It looked interesting. Was this the road to take? I could put my skills as radio amateur and professional IT expert, to a good use. Travelling, working with people, and at the same time work for the humanitarian cause sparked off a lot of day dreaming in me.

So a few weeks later, I also applied for a telecom job in the relief work. That was April 1994. Three months after our Antarctic expedition, one year after I quit my corporate job, the Red Cross sent me to Angola. I started the ideal job: doing radio stuff, travelling and working with and for people, was all I ever wanted to do. Earning a living out of it made me feel I turned my hobby into my job. It never felt like a job, though. Not even up to today. It became a passion.

Angola was my first trip to Africa. And it was an eye opener. I had expected a hot and humid savannah, with loads of wild life, and villages made of clay huts. Quiet nights with stars overhead. Instead of all that romantic stuff, I got an flat in the middle of Luanda, with plenty of noise from hundreds of television sets and radios, each one tuned to shout over the other. And machine gunshots blasting in the city the whole night.

But the job was exactly as I expected it to be. Telecommunications. Loads of freedom to plan my job as I wanted. Loads of independent work, with improvisations every day. Meeting lovely people. One day, I was driving off to a town in the middle of the bush, another day I was flown into a shelled and deserted town given a few hours to install a complete radio station from scratch, training people in Portuguese how to operate a radio. And no, I do not speak Portuguese. Talking about challenges... I remember one night I was climbing a tree in the pitch dark to hang up a dipole antenna, thinking how much I enjoyed this work.

Fifteen years later
We are now fifteen years following that one night when I took my decision to quit my well protected life and to go on a totally different route, Since then, I have done several missions for the IFRC - International Red Cross: twice in Angola, twice in Malawi and one in Ivory Coast. Later on, I took over Paul’s job in Goma, Zaire –now DRC-, working for UNHCR, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The first two years I worked as a consultant, spending half of my time in Belgium, with Tine and Lana, our first born.

Early 1996 I was offered a job by one of the UN humanitarian agencies in Kampala, Uganda. Kampala became my base for four years. First I worked as a telecommunications officer in the regional office of our organisation. Later I was promoted as the head of the regional Technical Support Unit. We looked after a vaste area covering Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and Congo-Brazzaville.
After a second expedition to the Antarctic in 1997, Tine and Lana joined me in Uganda. Hannah, our second daughter joined us too. Two weeks old and already in Africa, probably marked her as a life long traveller.

Mats, another fellow radio amateur, joined our team, and together we founded FITTEST, which over the years grew to be the UN’s fast intervention support team. Side by side we have assisted in most of the humanitarian crisises in the world since 1997.

In 1999, I moved to Kosovo, and then to Islamabad, Pakistan. Tine said ‘she would rather be alone in Belgium than alone in some remote country’ and moved back to our home base. I started to work two months on and one month off, shuttling between home and work. A good decision it seemed afterwards, as with its global coverage, the work with FITTEST took me to well over a hundred countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Pacific, South and Central America. The funny thing was that once I got home, my ‘girls’ wanted to travel, so I was never really ‘home’ in Belgium for the past ten odd years.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we started our office in Dubai, where I worked until 2006.The office grew into one of the main UN humanitarian fast response facilities. Be in the midst of the Balkan’s crisis, the 9/11 fall out in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, the tsunami, the refugee crisis in Darfur, or the Pakistan earthquake, we were always on the frontline of the activities, calling ourselves the ‘special forces’ of the humanitarians. ‘Fast is good, First is better’, was our motto. Work was always presenting new challenges and had many sudden twists and turns giving us sleepless nights and exciting days, to say the least.

In 2006, I decided to take a thirteen months' sabbatical, so I could spend more time with my family, and do a bit of sailing. Taking that distance, I realized that as years flew by, my path crossed that of many people. Many situations came up unexpectedly, leading to funny, sad, moving or weird stories. I started to write them down. Some were published in magazines, some I wrote as Emails to friends, some I just jotted down for myself and some stuck in my memory.
During my sabbatical, I started this blog as an eBook, as a string of these stories.

Mid 2007, I started my new job, still as a humanitarian, but this time working in our Rome headquarters. But the blog continued. I added some stories of the travels I did with the family, sailing stories, and later on expanded with news items. All of them form "the tales while travelling The Road", my "Road of Life", my "Road to the Horizon".

Early 2010, after almost three years in Rome, I went to the Dominican Republic to head the support office for the Haiti Earthquake for six month. It was my first emergency deployment since three years, and I felt like a fish in the water. A great team, a massive workload, and an opportunity to put things into perspective.

In June 2010, I decided to take another sabbatical. Needed to spend more time with the family, and wanted to try out projects I had in mind since a long time: expanding on my experience in social media I am now adventuring into a new world stimulating the use of social media for different non-profit organisations. All while shuttling between the family in Belgium, my base in Rome and several field based assignments.

Once more, I don't know where I will end up, but I trust destiny to show me the right way.


I dedicate these stories to Tine, Lana and Hannah, my “three girls”, under the motto: ‘It is easier to be a nutcase than to live with one’. Their love has kept me going.
A sincere thanks to Els and Ekram for the work they have done on the short stories, for their relentless editing, their encouragement and tips.

Peter.
peter(at)theroadtothehorizon(dot)org


Continue reading The Road to the Horizon's Ebook, jump to the Reader's Digest of The Road.

41 comments:

Anonymous,  29 January, 2007 16:56  

Hi Peter,
Very interesting reading which remembered me when I leaved for french polynesia, begining to work at 22 old. It was a good way of life indeed. I went back to Europe after that and... stayed here :-(
Continue to make us dream and laugh.
Regards from Corsica Island
73, Fabien TK5MH

Anonymous,  03 February, 2007 18:23  

Bonjour Peter,

Formidable ! Voilà de quoi lire quand il n'y à rien à se mettre sous la dent sur les différentes fréquences HF.

Toutes mes amitiés

Anonymous,  03 February, 2007 18:25  

Living life to the fullest.....I envy you.
Congrats.

Anonymous,  03 February, 2007 18:28  

You are living a dream life. The stories are exquisite. I haven't finished reading all of them but I like the story of Africa 'The Real out of Africa’. Someday, I plan to write my entire story too. For the mean time, I have to improve my English and get more stories.;-)

Have fun . Take care.

Val 18 February, 2007 10:03  

Hello Peter,

Incredible story the one in "US Deportation",can't belived...
The home of DEMOCRACY!!

A ***** story!
73's and regards from Transylvania de Val,yo6ddf

Anonymous,  18 February, 2007 21:04  

Peter:

Am very much enjoying your blog - keep it coming!

Thanks

Anonymous,  05 March, 2007 01:16  

Hi Peter, Great blog!
Kindred spirit met anew
Pleasure to tread the planet same time as you..

Hey that rhymed!

Anonymous,  24 April, 2007 23:28  

I saw your blog. It is very nice, shocking, amazing, astonishing, touching.

Michael Marus 15 January, 2008 23:58  

Beautiful writing, story, and person! Thank you for reminding me what life is. I had forgotten!

I'll continue reading...

-Michael

jke 22 February, 2008 17:14  

Stopped reading when I came across the "amateur radio" part. LOL!

I mean, what would someone obviously do on a pacific island, right?

Nice blog!

73s de 5Z4..

Peter Casier 23 February, 2008 09:05  

JKE,

hahaha.. I wondered about that also, sometimes, when I was on those very remote places and was sitting in front of a radio: "what am I doing here? I am on a paradise that few people will ever have an opportunity to be on. And I am not enjoying it enough!".

That is a lesson for me for the next expedition to the Pacific, Antarctic: I want to do radio, but I also (and more) want to enjoy the "setting" I am in.

Maybe I am getting old! hahaha...

Thanks for your comment!

(and thanks for all the others above who left the kind comments!!)

Peter

jke 24 February, 2008 00:04  

Well it just became obvious to me when I saw the amateur radio relation - contests et al on a remote island.
I also relate to this so much because when I grew up in Kenya and the inet hadnt yet got a grip on me, I was also very much into the ham spirit and back then my dearest wish was to be working as a technician for radio installations. Always tried to check out frequency allocations in Kenya, e.g. local VHF setups or HF by UNHCR & Co + my first two jobs were the installation of a VHF network for my school + GTZ in Nairobi.

The other day I went back to the GTZ office in Nairobi and found my antenna from 1996 still setup (but unfortunately not in use anymore).

So, yes, if i wasnt into water & sanitation, I'd prolly apply for a job with you or maybe you'll need a 32 years old apprentice, I am here :-)

Seriously, these dev aid jobs may be a bit frustrating sometimes, but you get to LIVE much more this way so I can only applaude you on this and appreciate it.

Anonymous,  25 June, 2008 14:43  

Dear Peter,

Would some of your old friends in Kosovo (especially Lulzim) possibly be interested in working for the EC financed project "Insolvency Capacity Building in Kosovo", which our company is applying for? I would be grateful, if you could forward my message to them. Thanks!

Susanne

Susanne Brustkern
Project Manager
ICON-Institute Public Sector GmbH
susanne.brustkern@icon-institute.de
Tel: +49 221 93743-300
Cologne
Germany

Peter Casier 26 June, 2008 07:55  

I have forwarded your message to them, Susanne!

P.

Nick,  04 November, 2008 05:11  

Stumbled across your blog today and liked your post about the Dubai
building project...then I read your bio.

I too am at a crossroads like you were at 30...I'm newly 31 and feel
much the same as you did at 30.

Thanks for helping me to consider possibilities beyond the regular.

Best,
Nick

Peter 06 December, 2008 17:43  

U r welcome, Nick. Glad you found some inspiration in the stories!

P.

Anonymous,  17 February, 2009 21:40  

seriously only once is "god" mentioned on your site and you claim to be doing such good wanting to get into countries and having picture taken of yourself smiling a huge smile as if some accomplishment was achieved. What are you really about? Who are you helping? Give me the life stories of saving life that you are all about...give me the satisfaction in knowing that you spent so much time writing about yourself that my google for "naples military tuesday night hang out" because I was looking for people to drink with brought me to your website. "For the Bible tells me so..."

Anonymous,  17 February, 2009 21:43  

after blog owner approval, hey please email me back, your website is so perfect that it is so easy to post a comment on but really I am a true believer in anyone I just don't like that God is not mentioned anywhere on your site, I am supisious about you, kristinewillis@ymail.com

Peter 17 February, 2009 21:50  

"I just don't like that God is not mentioned anywhere on your site"

Well, there is a first time for everything, it seems. And it is indeed the first time anyone came up with a statement like that...

The answer is: I am an atheist.

Good luck on your search for "naples military tuesday night hang out" ;-)))

P.

Anonymous,  29 May, 2009 18:17  

Your story Peter has inspired me and many people in so many ways, keep on writing... Also, thank you once again for helping me; you did not have to give me the time or day… but you did…. God does not have to be mentioned on your blog, please excuse them; if they only knew that you have the heart of gold…. It was a pleasure meeting you, and hopefully one day you can come down to Texas ;-)

God. (it makes it two times now)

Peter 29 May, 2009 22:28  

You are welcome, S.! ;-)

Mitesh Dabhi 12 June, 2009 20:29  

I'm currently at the cross-roads of life myself aged 27. Been of out of work for 6 months and the thought of going back to the corporate life 9am to 5pm just dosen't interest me. I'm seriously thinking of aid-work but the truth is I don't have any well many qualifications. What should I do? I'm seriously thinking of volunteering for the UN and seeing what happens? Is this the correct steps to take

Regards,

Mitesh

Peter 12 June, 2009 21:04  

Mitesh,

All the tips I have on "becoming an aidworker", are summarized in this post, including how to volunteer.

I can not tell you which step to take, but at least in the post, there are plenty of options of how to look for a job in the humanitarian sector.

I wish you the best of luck!

Peter

martha 25 June, 2009 18:58  

Hi Peter,
I like your stories. I translated one of them into bahasa Indonesia. Hope you don't mind? :)

I posted the translation on my blog:
http://soundofmusic.web.id/2009/06/25/the-road-to-the-horizon-introduction/

Keep up the good work.

-MARTHA-

Peter 25 June, 2009 19:09  

@Martha

--Of course, I do not mind, Martha!!! Thanks for translating and publishing the story!

I am glad you like the stories... Come back soon!

Peter

Chuckatron 21 September, 2009 09:53  

Yes! So well put and you are living the dream that so many people have, but are too afraid to pursue. You put the feelings into words so well. I'm embarking down a similar path as well.

Was just thinking to myself: "If you could consider health and happiness to be wealth, the list of richest countries in the world would be a whole lot different". Google sent me to your 'top 10 happiest countries' page when I asked for that list.

Anonymous,  19 October, 2009 03:28  

Peter,

Congratulations on your great website. Your humanitarian work is to be saluted. God Bless!

But we DX'ers miss you on the originating end of the DX pile ups.

Time for a Dxpedition once again my friend?!?

We hope!

Best 73 de N1LQ-David

Peter 20 October, 2009 08:24  

N1LQ de ON6TT:

Hi David,

It has been a while since I hit the waves, hasn't it?

One day, with the right opportunity, I will be right back! ;-)

73

Peter

Gisella 05 November, 2009 22:18  

Peter... what to say? Your life is amazing!
Not just because of your travels or because of your job.

It's because of your mind :-)

The beginning of everything makes me think about something I'm living right now - I'm at your second paragraph, more or less, ahahah!!

So, yours is a long story. Mine is much more shorter by now, a little different of course...

What to say? You've been strong at the beginning, as well as later. And I know it's everything but easy.

I hope to be able to do the same, the right way, when it will be the right time!

Good luck!!
Gisella

Peter 05 November, 2009 23:46  

Thanks Gisella...

Wishing you the best of luck on the road you seem to be taking... It has been a beautiful road for me this far!

;-)

Peter

Anonymous,  27 December, 2009 14:03  

Hey Peter!
Sounds like you are having a great time and doing wonderful things! wow this is a late comment but have just stumbled across it while looking up jobs for the UN!
thanks for the read

ARMANDO BOLAÑOS GONZALEZ 14 February, 2010 20:02  

your life is very interesting, very close to what I like, I worked at Save the Children Mexico, in rural communities, and now formed a team of educologos, I'm an architect, but I have worked extensively with alternative constructions, research, art education and so on., we wanted to go to Haiti, but the support conditions in Mexico to work are almost nil we have no support and backing of a insttucion to work at the site, I have 52 years but my friends around 30 and are frustrated I would like to find something like what you found.

Peter 14 February, 2010 20:40  

@armando,

yes without a supporting organisation, it is difficult to start... You would have to start from scratch.. Probably this post would get you going in the right direction: http://www.theroadtothehorizon.org/2006/04/rumble-so-you-want-to-be-aidworker-hey.html

rgds,

Peter

Chris 31 August, 2010 23:41  

Very inspiring story. I am from the UK and only in college myself and have not started a career as of yet... but I feel the likelihood of me doing something similar to this in the future is almost inevitable! I am very lucky and lead a perfectly comfortable life however like you I feel there is something missing... that spark... that excitement... of feeling totally fulfilled and happy. Some of the work you have done I would like to do similar in the future, money matters - it unfortunately has to, but it is not the currency of life!

About to read some of your actual blog posts!

Thanks,

Chris

chris.hallett@hotmail.co.uk

Anonymous,  03 October, 2010 01:37  

Hi Peter,

Now; 2:33 AM, 15 minutes ago I was thinking about you, and Matts. It took me 10 minutes to find your web and mats :-)
Hope to see you again one of this days. And congats for your freedom, this think that we are all looking for.

Eduardo
EA3NY

Peter 03 October, 2010 04:27  

Hey Eduardo,

Long time no hear! ;-)

73-Peter

Aditya Saxena,  13 July, 2011 17:13  

Hi Peter,

Came across your blogs, which i read with great interest. Particularly inspirational is your journey, as some of us have had the opportunity to witness. I know now where to direct the young minds who come to me looking for a no non-sense account of what it means to be an aid worker.

I wish you the best and look forward to more of such tales...:)

Regards,

Aditya

Peter 13 July, 2011 17:33  

@Aditya:

Long time no hear...! So welcome here ;-)

Peter

Anonymous,  15 June, 2013 08:21  

Hi Peter,

HW U mate? Long time no hear :)

73 Sparky

Amalgamated Thoughts 01 October, 2013 10:46  

I have always known there is something different about you. But now reading this story, I am blown away. I am kin spirit and would be too glad if I get to accumulate half your experience. In all, I believe you have "lived your life", the way you want and not the way it was dictated to you. You inspire me.

Bunmi Ajilore

Peter 01 October, 2013 11:36  

Thanks Bunmi...! It is an honor and privilege to be able to inspire people..!

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