The Reader's Digest of 'The Road to the Horizon'

Peter in the Solent

For your convenience, here is a short introduction and a quote for each of the eBook chapters. Each story stands by itself, so it does not matter in which sequence you read them.Click on the title to read the short-story.

Introduction to "The Road to the Horizon"
How I made the decision to change my life, how I got in the world of humanitarian aid, and how I started 'walking the Road to the Horizon'

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 off. 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.

The Children of Ambriz
My first humanitarian mission. Angola. Trying to make a difference, even when sleeping with UNITAD rebel graffiti above your head.

The pilot pushes the plane's nose down and dives towards the landing strip. A hundred meters above ground, he pulls back up, like a Stuka in the second World War: "Iiiiiiiieeeeeeeaaaaaawww". Everyone in the plane looks tensely at the movements on the ground below. Soldiers come out of the bushes. "Did you see anyone shoot", asks the pilot? "No, let's try again!", I answer.

The Real "Out of Africa"
Malawi. The Africa how I had imagined it, as if taken straight out of the movie "Out of Africa"

I got enchanted by the hippos in the lake right in front of a lodge along the road, where I stopped for a quick drink. Time went by too fast, and now the darkness took me by surprise. But it does not bring any feeling of danger with it. On the contrary, it is a veil falling over you, inviting you to participate in the secrets of Africa. The road leads me along villages where men sit on branches of fallen boababs, talking to by-passers, while children play hide and seek behind the skirts of their mamas. Some people stand on the road, waving their arm horizontally, asking for a lift.

Goma, the Scent of Africa
Goma, Africa at its best and Africa at its worse. Dazzling sceneries of the lush green volcanoes, but with valleys filled with hundreds of thousands of refugees. About being able to choose where and how you live, while others do not have that privilege.

I feel caught between 750,000 refugees, mountain gorillas and two active volcanoes.It is a breathtaking evening in Hotel Karibu, Goma Zaire. The door of my ground floor hotel room is open and gives me a glorious view over a garden with tropical flowers and trees. It rained a bit this afternoon, and with the evening sun playing over the waves of Lake Kivu, just a breath away, the scent of Africa rolls into the room. The scent of the tropical flowers, of the volcanic ground, of the trees. The crickets start their monotonous chirping, and the song of the fishermen on the lake echoes onto the shore. From time to time, you can hear a distant ‘bang’. You never know if this is a sound from rioting in town, an attack in the refugee camp or the fishermen on the lake. They found an efficient way of fishing: they throw in grenades and pick up the dead fish.

How Cigarettes Once Saved My Life
Something completely different. Howland, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. How the beauty of remote places always holds an element of danger. Trying to stay afloat, bleeding, in a sea filled with sharks.

Suddenly I realize I still have my soap in one hand and the plastic bottle of shampoo in the other. Here I am floating in a rip current, with my body bleeding, peddling with my feet to stay afloat, but still holding on to my soap and shampoo as if these were the last earthly belongings I wanted to take with me into the next world… I let go of them. They sink. All I can think off is staying afloat. The current is too strong, I can not swim against it. I have to preserve my strength.

The beauty of remote places, and their dangers... This time the danger comes in the form of an ambush in Burundi. Feeling like riding on borrowed luck.

We are sitting on the porch of a shack, in between tens of villagers and a dozen military. The villagers had done the same as we did: taken refuge with the military. All is pitch dark. There is no moon. We hear the remote cracking of machine guns in a distance, but the military are relaxed. They urge us not to make any light, though. No torches, no lights in the car, and when lighting cigarettes, cover it with your hands. Lights not only attract mosquitoes, but also the attention of the rebels. Mats and I are nervous. And angry in a way. Angry at our own stupidity. Our own complacency with security rules. We, of all people, should have known.

Wapi Yo?
An email sent in 1999. The sorrow of loosing a friend.

End of last week, I spoke twice to Saskia over the phone. Each time for over an hour.There were some work related problems we had to straighten out.She was our logistics officer in Bujumbura, but also the focal point for my team. It was late in the evening. Everyone else had already left the office. I had opened the window to let the fresh air flow in, bringing with it the typical tropical evening smell. Smoked a cigarette, with my feet on the table. We started talking about life in Bujumbura, what it meant to be living away from our families, work, what we wanted to do in the future. We reflected what it really meant for us, working for a relief agency and about life in general. We laughed, saying to each other how we enjoyed Africa, how it added to the quality of our lives. Saskia….And now she is no longer with us.

The Ugly Duckling
Daily life in Kampala, Uganda. Camel Trophy racing with an old dented Landrover which barely makes it home every evening.

The guys in the Kampala office always took the piss out of my Landrover. They said the car could only make it from the workshop to home and would then break down. “As your house is up a hill, you do not need the engine to come down anyway”, they joked, “Just release the hand break – correction, that does not work anyway -,so pull the stone from underneath the wheel – and let it run off the hill until you reach the workshop. You let them work on it for a day, and in the evening you can make it up the hill again!” They exaggerated a bit, though… It was not that bad! Most of the time, I could make it home twice without a repair pit stop!

How we had to leave a faithful friend behind in Uganda. A friend who had guarded our kids so well throughout the years.

There was also blood and bullet holes on the compound wall, as the police guard had emptied his machine gun on the burglars. Two of them died on the spot. A third was found dead on the way down the hill, but the fourth got away with a laptop minus its power supply. One old laptop left three dead… We only heard about the story when we got back from holiday.. Namayaa, our house keeper, said the policeman was part of the plot. She explained that he was standing next to the burglars when a neighbor came out of her house to look why the dog was making all that racket. Only when the guard saw her, he started shooting at the burglars. The next day, the police guard did not show up for duty and we never heard from him again. Guess he was looking for a computer power supply.

Abby One and Abby Two
Life in Africa is dominated with both the beauty and the joy of living, but seemingly with death always lurking behind the corner. A story of two drivers I worked with in Uganda.

Amidst this chaos, Abby Two got into trouble. Someone had, through a half open window, unlocked the passenger door, and grabbed her purse and walkie-talkie. She used the radio in the car to notify the security radio room of the incident and of the fact she would go ‘in pursuit’. It was rather difficult to imagine Abby Two, with her volume, to maneuver within the massive traffic whirlpool, but apparently she did it. Her massive presence and thundering voice had helped in getting the bystanders to catch the thief. He had been screaming wildly, she explained afterwards. I thought that it would be in the foresight of a couple of months in prison – the prisons in Uganda were not reputed to be very customer friendly, but Abby Two explained she had to keep the guy under control awaiting the arrival of the police. ‘So just to make sure he could not run away, I sat on him’, she said smiling…

The Man with the Air Conditioner On his Head, Shot at us
It takes decade to build a prospering city, and just a few days to turn it into a devastated, looted ghost town. Entering Brazzaville right after the civil war.

The ferryboat is cramped with Congolese, who fled the fighting a few weeks ago and now try to go back home. We find a spot on the upper deck, looking at Kinshasa on one side of the Congo river, and Brazzaville on the other. We were safe in Kinshasa, but crossing a river, just a few miles wide, will bring us in a totally different world. Kinshasa behind us was buzzing with activity, as it always is. But looking ahead, we don’t see much movement in Brazzaville, apart from the plumes of smoke raising slowly. Mats and I are one of the first foreigners to enter the city after the civil war. God knows what we will find… Missions like these are always interesting, get the adrenaline pumping, but at the same time, we are aware of the dangers. The swollen cadavers floating by on the water, certainly remind us of it.

Once, I Went to Mpulungu
Some trips are just one continuous chain of adventures from the beginning until the end. This one takes us with a Belgian Air Force plane to Zambia, where we get lost in the middle of the night, get stuck in the swamp, loose the axle of our car, have people run away from us as probably it was the first time they saw a car with 'white guys', and end up landing right next to AirForce One.

Mats had taken refuge in the ditch, still throwing up. He was exhausted. It must have been a hilarious sight. Two muzungus, in their big car, stuck in the middle of the swamp, miles away from any sign of civilization. One sitting in the shade of the car, with his legs and clothes full of mud, the other one laying in the ditch, emptying his stomach for the umpth time.

On Earth As It Is In Heaven
Something completely different: The feeling of landing on the world's most remote spot: Peter I island in the Antarctic.

And suddenly, suddenly, after all the hectic activity, the shouting trying to raise our voices above the screaming sounds of the helicopter engines, the frantic to and fro of shifting crates on the boat, suddenly… as the last chopper disappears, there is no sound anymore. Everyone realizes it at the same time. We stop doing whatever we are doing. Bob and Tony with hammers in their hands as they put the plywood for the tent together, Ralph with the craw bar opening the crates. Martin and Tony on their knees, setting up a generator. Suddenly everyone stands up, as if in a prayer. A prayer for the silence which surrounds us. For a moment, only the muffled sounds ‘zwomkrr, zwomkrr’, of our boots in the snow, but then it all stops. There is nothing. nothing. nothing… This is the void… We are standing with a big white mountain behind us, looking over a 250 degrees panorama of the white ice sea.

A World Apart
Sitting in paradise knowing that on the other side of the world, hell is breaking loose. Zanzibar and Kosovo mixed into one.

‘Life should always be like that’, I think. Very far away, in between the sound of the small, steady waves breaking onto the sand in a steady cyclic movement, I hear a faint sound, a high pitch tingling, a lovely sound . Tine squeezes my arm and pulls me out of my dream. ‘Phone ! Your phone is ringing!’. Still half asleep, I dig into our bag with beach towels and pampers for Hannah. It was the office. ‘A massive exodus from Kosovo refugees into Macedonia and Albania… Started yesterday.. Need to fly in… Equipment needed… Sorry to disturb your Easter weekend!’. Half awake, I hear everything but only grasp a bit.

Italians, the Art of Flying and the Laws of Probability
Flying into Kosovo at the end of the war. Stories of flying in the world I work in. Of being lucky, while others are not. About the Laws of Probability that govern our lives.

The problem with small planes is that you can see and hear everything going on in a cockpit. You’re sitting just a few inches away from reality. In a big commercial jetliner, it looks like all goes automatic. You can ‘Sit back, relax and enjoy your flight’. Our reality is a bit different at this moment. I don’t know why, but pilots that go off cursing and act all agitated don’t inspire a lot of confidence in me. I have no fear of flying, but I do not like to be reminded of the fact that flying an airplane is only part science. The rest is luck, skill, art, habit and experience. All very grey things if you ask me. A thin line between ‘to be or not to be’.. Looking at the co-pilot who is all sweating, I am sure that Shakespeare is not the first thing on his mind.

Scene of War
Passing the border between Albania and Kosovo amidst thousands of refugees. Why does the world keep on making the same mistakes over and over again?

A long, slow moving stream starts from far behind us. We can hear it, the random noise. It passes right next to where we stand, and follows bends and curves for as far as we can see. A stream, a steady flow. Not of water, but of people. Tens of thousands. Refugees returning home. Whole families on tractors and donkey pulled carts, with all their belongings stacked as high as they can. Mattresses, cupboards, tables, chairs, cardboard boxes… Mothers holding on to babies, brothers and sisters walking hand in hand. Elderly men with deep grooves in their faces, walking with a stick in their hand, or pushing a wheel barrel. A massive flow of people.

The Pizza Place on the Corner
Happiness is a coke and a pizza. Even though it sounds like the rest of the world around you is witnessing Doom's day.

After driving for an hour over a road filled with potholes from the bombing, with Nato checkpoints every few miles, we can finally see Pristina laying in the valley.. It is getting dark, but splashes of light come from the valley. At first I thought it was fireworks, but soon we realize these are tracer bullets. We can hear the machine gun fire coming from town. From afar, we can see cars racing around, and masses of agitated people shouting and shooting in the air. Dozens of Nato helicopters hover low above the buildings with strong searchlights pointing down. Flares leave traces in the sky before floating down slowly, lighting up parts of town as if it were daylight.

The Adventures of Little Herman in Kosovo
We once hired an Indian generator specialist. Or rather, we thought we hired a generator specialist. Or his brother. Anyway, he was Indian. Who quickly became our own Bollywood mascot..

The driver dropped him in front of his guesthouse and Herman is complaining to the radio room his key does not fit. I hear the radio room advise him to ring the door bell. After that the radio remains silent. Guess that worked…
Still, after half an hour, I get a hunch maybe I’d better check he is OK. I call him via the radio. He confirms, in his funny English:
“No, not to worry, Sahib. I got into the apartment.”
“How?”, I ask.
“Oh, I just kicked in the door… “

In Pace
Waiting for the plane in the airport of Kabul, Afghanistan during the Taliban times...

Golden yellow, golden brown, like a picture on a postcard. Remains of summer, a beautiful early fall evening. The mountain range around Kabul is dry. Not a single tree, just some yellow bushes. ‘Amazing’, says the demining expert. I agree. While sitting on the stairs right at the apron, we have a 180 degree sight of the landing strip, taxi runways and hangers around the airport. With the dry yellow mountains, under the fading yellow sun, with small yellow dust devils whirling up small yellow tubes of sand and dust here and there, in between the wrecks of literally hundreds machines of war. Shot down, missed the runway, blown up, or just dumped and stripped of spare parts. MIL-8 Russian helicopter gunships with big dark ragged edged holes in their light yellow and green camouflaged side. Pieces of old artillery and tipped over radar equipment. Antonov and Ilhutsin cargo planes sticking their tail or wing in the air. Hangers with caved-in roofs, with crashed fuel and supply trucks underneath their vast concrete weight.

TV Censorship - The Pakistani Way.
A story of daily life in Islamabad, Pakistan. Trying to understand how the TV never showed a naked leg.

It was real funny, and really frustrating in some TV shows like 'Silk Stalkings'. You know, those pseudo detective series where all the 'good guys' are longlegged shortskirted young ladies. There was so much 'fleshy' stuff going on, the test screen would be shown every 10 seconds or so. Even during the intro-scene:One of the longlegged-shortskirted-good-guys got out of a car and BLOOP. One of the longlegged-shortskirted-good-guys leaned forward a bit and showed a hint of bra, BLOOP. One of the longlegged-shortskirted-good-guys kissed their boyfriend and BLOOP.

The US Special Forces Have Arrived!
In Islamabad, just after 9/11, we get in the middle of the world's media attention.

My thoughts are running off. I am thinking of the Afghan staff at dinner last night. They were worried about their families left back home in Mazar, Kabul, Faizabad, Jalalabad… Would the Taliban go nuts, and start murdering and plundering? Or empose an ever stricter regime? They wondered how each of them was going to get back home, as we evacuated all international staff from Afghanistan the day after 9/11. We also suspended the UN flights from Islamabad into Afghanistan…
Somewhere, a change of tone in the conversation draws my attention. A lady from one of the agencies starts talking in a low voice. I concentrate again. She is leaning forward and whispers slowly:
- ‘Yes, I know we will have problems. The US special forces, the spooks, have already arrived. I saw them last night’.

Wild Cannabis and 'Oh baby'
Orange bearded guards, wild cannabis and ... making "Love All Night Long" in Islamabad.

Let's make love,all night long !
Until all our strength is gone!
Hold on tight,just let go!
I want to feel you in my soul
Until the sun comes up…
Let's make love !
Oh, baby, baby

How We Conquered the Mountain
Flying into Kabul right after the defeat of the Taliban.

In the end, I went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They all said that only the –newly appointed- minister could give me this kind of approval. But he was not in. So I sat on the steps of his building for hours waiting until he arrived. I knew him from television. Dr Abdullah was a well known figure in the ranks of the Northern Alliance. As his convoy drove into the compound, and he got out of the car, I got a hold of him. He looked me up and down. Perhaps I did not look like someone who could conquer mountains, in my grimy sweatshirt and a torn and ragged WFP safari jacket...

-"M"- Requiem For Baghdad.
Pakistan, Afghanistan, Dubai, Iraq, Belgium.. This story jumps to different places trying to grasp the horrors of war, hatred and 9/11. And the sorrow about a friend, "-M-", lost in the Baghdad bombing.

Richard and I spent a nice evening in one of the open air restaurants in Baghdad. Even though it was close to midnight and pretty cold outside, there were plenty of people still walking around. I loved the people there, the feeling the whole setting gave me. They were friendly, helpful, many of them very well educated. Never a harsh word. As we were walking the streets that night, people smiled at us, often to say ‘Hey habibi, how are you? Where do you come from? What do you do?’. When we would start talking to them, the subject of children and family would always come up. No matter where people come from, the love for their close ones always seems to be the main thing on their mind. We felt safe, almost at home, without the slightest sense of fear or insecurity. We were amongst good people.

The Day I Got Deported From the US
Well, the title says it all...

An armed guard escorts me to a bathroom. Stays outside of the door. I take out my mobile phone, call Gianluca, and explain what happened. I whisper I will not make it to the meeting. I give him a 60 seconds briefing on what my message was going to be in that meeting. The guard bangs on the toilet door saying “It is time, let’s go”.

The Day the Groom Got Deported From the US
The story within the previous story. But more sad.

Omar (to him#6): Can I see my wife, so we can discuss what we should do?
him#6: No, your wife already passed immigration and customs, she can not come back in. And of course, I can not allow you to go out.
Omar: But.. you are sending me back, we are on our honeymoon, and I can not even speak to her?
him#6: I am sorry. If you have any message, please pass it on to the airline supervisor.

Pero. Tears for My Friend
Two days after I left West Timor, senseless violence swept through the village of Atambua. A story of a broken promiss.

I looked forward to meet him during my current Asia tour, which included West and East Timor. Unfortunately, I had to reschedule my visit to Kupang and Atambua by a few days at the last moment, so Pero and I missed eachother by 2 days. He was on R&R when I had meetings in his office in Atambua two weeks ago and I walked passed the radio room he worked in. Last week we exchanged Emails again saying 'there will always be a next time, people like us always meet again, one side of the earth or another'. Unfortunately, Pero, I will not be able to keep my promise. You parted from us way too soon, in a senseless death. We all know the risks we face while working in emergency relief activities, but your departure due to inhumane and totally absurd violence shocked many of us.

One Love
Jumping to the other side of the world: a lovely morning scenery on Union Island, in the Caribbean.

Sydney, who sold us some Tshirts ‘Work less – Sail more, Come to the Tobago Cays’, stayed alongside our boat for over an hour. We talked about Trinidad where he came from originally, and about Africa. He wants to go to Africa and start up a small business there. Tanzania seems to be his favourite place. It is strange imagining Sydney, with his long rasta curls and his colourful knitted hat, doing business in rural Tanzania.

250 Boats Facing the Same Direction
Escaping the rat race of daily life, to go racing across the Atlantic. The start in the Canary Islands.

The start was one of the most memorable pictures I will never forget... Over 200 boats starting a race at the same time. And not only a race, a transatlantic crossing but also starting an adventure, chasing dreams. Even though we will often sail hundreds of miles apart from the other boats, we are still connected to one another, because of our common goal, our common dreams, our common interests, all to do with adventure, water, sailing and being addicted to the horizon.. It was an absolute fabulous sight, hundreds of boats and sails, and thousands of crew working on them.. All heading into the same direction: St.Lucia in the Caribbean.

We Are All Going No-Where
The proof that the art is enjoying 'The Road', rather than reaching the destination. After all, we are all sailing in life from one point to the next. But most of the time, we end up where we are coming from.

For days, we have not seen another ship and on Saturday, we passed a fishing vessel, in the early afternoon. All of sudden she popped up at the horizon. We locked her on the radar and observed she was not moving at all. It was a fishing vessel, which looked like hovering on one spot. We were speeding on our massive green kite, autopilot set to follow the wind, about 155 degrees off wind, a course that brought us heading straight for the fishing vessel. – is it not odd, that for days on end you don’t see any other ship, and when one is spotted, it always seems to be on a collision course? –

Yo Man! - The Mother Watch Rap
Sailing across the Atlantic brings all kinds of inspiration. This is a rap song. With compliments from the crew of 'Persuader One'

Wraps, stews, un-i-dent-i-fi-able chow,
is our spe-ci-a-li-ty.
Digging stuff from freezer,
fridge and stacks of cans.
Fishing fruits from the swing-ing ham-mock.
Cook-ing, cutt-ing, slap-ping and fry-ing.
While ba-lan-cing on
two feet holding on
while the boat rocks
and the stove swivels.
(Yoh man, swivelman!)

Letter to a Mum: Spoiling Innocence
Making fun about the benjamin of our transatlantic crew in a letter to his mum.

We run out of dried mushrooms for our soup. We think Tom had something to do with it, as one night, he was rather ‘happy’, smoking weird shaped rolled cigarettes.We also run out of dried soup, and oregano spices. We think he is in his ‘experimental phase’. He does have a dripping nose all the time though..Tom would like to inform the other teenagers on the ARC-boats that the book with the celestial navigation tables works very well to roll cigarettes.

Have I Lost It Or Just Found It?
Crossing the Atlantic brings out the spiritual stuff in everyone. Well at least, in me it does!

She loves me, this ship. She loves what I do to her. She loves it when I switch off the autopilot and steer her manually.The crew jokes about it 'she likes her little machine -the autopilot-, but she likes Peter's hand job much, much more!'.

How Bad Can Your Luck Get?
Too short to quote. The last day in the life of a flying fish

Home - "Le Plat Pays"
How far do we have to travel to enjoy what we have at home? This is an Email for 'E', describing my home turf, my 'Plat Pays'.

Sometimes the clouds are so heavy the light wind can not carry them anymore, and the moisture sinks down over the land, creating heavy mist, like we had yesterday. The people then say: " 't is voe te snien", literally "you could cut it", so thick the mist could be. It happens you can not even see two meters in front of you. Then the sound would be muffled, echoed, and carries much further than usual. This makes everything confusing. And wet... Especially wet.. The mist would drip off your face and clothes, and off the tree branches. If you are real silent then, you can hear the drops create a weird, short and soft dripdroptiktok, echo-t all around, as if you would be surrounded by thousands of fairytale-d invisible dwarfs tiptoeing around you. It is then, this land of mine whispers its mystic and old stories. Legends about the people who lived there in a dark past.

The Jihadis - A Close Encounter With the Terrorists
A close encounter of the more scary kind... A self-censored story about how I almost gave a presentation to "The Top 10 Most Wanted terrorist organisations".

They all look very serious. They have some heavy looking dudes with bulky stuff under their jackets, behind them. “These must be our guests”, I think to myself, and walk towards them, holding out my hand, to greet them. I hear one of our local staff rushing in behind me, whisper-shouting “Peter!?”. At that moment, one of the bulky-jacket dudes leaps forward, pulls me by the hand I held out, and pushes me firmly onto the side of the corridor. I just stand there, perplex, while the whole official delegation rushes past me. The one huge dude keeps standing in front of me, drilling his dark reflective Ray Ban sunglasses deep into my eyes. Nobody else thinks I am worthy of a look.

From Sand to a City
How we built a humanitarian city with the government of Dubai. A fairytale-like story of real-life Dubai.

Mohammed said: "Give me a few days."Two days later, he called: "Let’s meet. I want to show you something." He drove us around an old military base: many warehouses, small offices. "Would this do?" he asked. I was not enthusiastic. Too spread out, too old, too small.Mohammed said: "Give me two weeks."After two weeks, he called: "Refurbishment of an old facility would cost too much; we will build from scratch. Give me a few weeks."In August 2003, someone in his office sent me an email: "Have money, will build. But bigger than a humanitarian base. Let’s build a humanitarian city!"

What's in a Gesture?
Even though, we are all trying to be culture-sensitive, there are sometimes situations where we, the "Foreigners", the "Falangs", the "Muzungus" come out rather embarrassed...

Me: "Excuse me, anything wrong?
Him: He answers with the (gesture): the fingers folded together, pointing upwards, and slowly moving his hand up and down.
I often go to Italy, and that (gesture) means as much as "what the ^^%%** are you talking about?"

The Dudettes
All too often we, men, forget what it means to be a woman in this men's world. The humanitarian world is no different. It takes a special breed of women to survive in the world of the "Real Dudes". They are called "The Dudettes".

“Who the f**k has put pink paper in the printer?”, I hear one of the guys shouting in the corridor. Loads the cupboard doors bang as he is looking for the normal plain white paper… Loads of cursing..
I duck.. I did not put the pink paper in the printer, but I know who did.. Well, I kinda know.. I also know she got away with the blue paper, too. And with the light-green.

My Life in Four Bags
My home is a set of bags. Four bags to be exact. Packed after one year of sabbatical. The full inventory of my life for the new start of my professional life can be summarized on two sheets of paper.

Once I had a jacket that got repaired so many times, stitched up to the max, cleaned until the linen almost became transparent with small holes from battery acid, and stains from engine oil -or was it that mean ketchup they used to serve in Macedonia?-. That jacket became an icon. Guys in the office used to make jokes about it, but I kept it until I found a suitable replacement. It is not easy to find a jacket with 13 pockets. When I finally found a new one, I dumped the old jacket. My guys secretly retrieved it from my waste basket, framed it, and hung it on the wall in the office…
I guess that jacket went through more countries in three years than any normal person would do in three life times.. And somewhere, it does deserve a spot on the wall, as it stands as a symbol for our life as an aid worker. Worn to the bone. Stitched up and repaired to get going again. A soul stained with memories.

Itanglish: Italian Food in English
The Italian way of cooking is straightforward. The translation of an Italian menu is not...

  • “Croccantini of it gleans” (Croccantini di spigola) Would it be radioactive?
  • “Hypocrites of sea” (Tartufi di mare) – Must be Shakespearean
  • “Carpaccio of it gleans raw” (Carpaccio di spigola crudo) – More radioactivity.
  • Of course “Paccheri con gallinella e pachino” translates into “Paccheri with gallinella and pachino”. Clearly!
  • “Taglioni with porky mushrooms” (Tagliolini fungi porcini) – only for pork lovers.
  • “Half sleeves to the granchione” (Mezze maniche al granchione) – I hope it was a clean shirt!

The New Woman in My Life
A short lived romance with a sad, sad ending...

I have a confession to make. I have a new woman in my life. She has a soft, deep erotic voice. She is from the same part of the world as I am. She is Flemish. Never argues with me. Softly gives me hints on the road of life. She is wise. Drives to work with me every morning, and waits in the car until I decide to go home again. Perfect woman. She is always happy, no matter how my mood is. Is always there when I need her, even if I don’t speak to her for days in a row, and keep her locked up.

Nights on Deserted Islands
A deserted Pacific island. The beech, palmtrees, birds, sunset.. You think you got the picture? Think again!

Around midnight, I give up. I can not sleep. The cod I lay on is too hard. I don’t have any cover, and there is no space anymore in the tent. Half of us sleep under the sky. Seems romantic, sleeping under the open sky on a Pacific island, but the combination of the wind with my wet T-shirt and shorts, make it too cold to have romantic thoughts.

Doing Good to Others
The more unselfishly you help someone else, the more good will come to you. Always!

As we steer into the anchorage, we put the kids below deck, drop the sails, and start the engine. Tine goes to the bow, ready to drop anchor. I steer the boat right in-between the other anchored ships. The rain gushes down. Visibility is only ten meters, sometimes even less. We loose sight of the other boats. Even though we motor slowly, sometimes an anchored boat pops up through the curtain of rain, out of no-where it seems, when it is almost too late to avoid a collision.

Shit no go, we no go!
Everything on the Antarctic is dictated by the laws of nature. Heavy fogged blocked us for days when we tried to get off the island. Landing on the Antarctic was easier than getting off.

It has been three days now. For three days we are huddled with seven people in the last of two tents we still have up. Two of us sleep on the kitchen table, the rest of either in a chair or on pieces of luggage which we stacked in the corner of what once was our kitchen tent. The other tent is full with our personal gear. All the rest of our equipment is crated and lined up near the helicopter landing site.

Ham Radio, Anyone?
Might sound melodramatic, but ham radio changed a big part of my life. Now that's deep! Real deep! Especially when coming to that realization in the middle of no-where. :-)

I am not a happy camper. And that is an understatement. Before we left, I emphasized them to keep a watch for us on our monitor frequency. And now, I call them, and … nothing, nada, ziltch. The sun is already set behind the mountain tops. Even though the sky still has a hint of a dark-blue afterglow, it is already dark. And when I say dark, I mean pitch dark. There is not a single light. The headlights of the trucks in our convoy beam into a void as they negotiate twists and turns of this bombed road. They light up nothing but emptiness. And bomb craters. And little flags marked ‘Mines’

Lost Connection.
Just after 9/11, the world was holding in its breath. How was the US going to retaliate against Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda? This story is written the night we found out.

I step out of the plane and look at my watch. 10 pm. Two hours to shop in the Dubai Tax Free before boarding my connecting flight to Islamabad, Pakistan.
I follow the stream of arriving passengers moving along on the first floor of the airport, overlooking the shopping area. I look at the vast crowd below. A dense mix of every possible nationality, religion and ethnicity in the world, expressed through a myriad of dress codes. From formal western suites, the traditional Arab dishdashahs, women in mini skirts mixed with those fully veiled. Rough Afghani chupans, expensive Indian silk sari’s, Berber djellabas, Australian safari shorts, Sudanese turbans, American baseball caps and Arab hijabs. This crowd seems to represent the world within one space. But the crowd is not strolling along from one shop to another in its usual way. The people are talking in groups, some with raised voices and expressive hand gestures, and others whisper. There is no laughing, nor joy but a nervousness makes the tension in the air so thick one could cut it with a knife. You do not have to be a clairvoyant to feel something is wrong.

This Man...
A truely inspirational story written by my friend "E" while on mission in Khartoum, Sudan.

I turn towards him and look from up to down. He has no legs - cut a little below the waist. Can you imagine my reaction - my heart leaped out of my chest. My eyes bulged and I looked back up at him and then, figured very quickly that he's got a cab equipped with a basic, Sudanese-style mechanical addition so he can drive. And work. Now, I want to chitchat. But don't even dare push him in that direction. He says "I'm disabled but it doesn't stop me from living and having lived my life.."

Murphy's Law In Sudan
No-one really understands how frustrating Murphy's Laws can be, until you get stranded in South Sudan. A story by Enrico.

You start driving and keep wondering whether you are still sane to travel in these weather conditions on a security level-4 road, but you drive on. Two more hours later, you finally reach the convoy meeting point. The convoy should be there by noon. You wait and wait. The convoy is not there. Still, you are hopeful…. Three hours later you are told the convoy has been cancelled. The next one will be on Monday!

How Deep Is the Deep Field?
For us, aid workers, there is this magical term: the “Deep Field”. It stands for those locations where the real relief work is done. The "Grass Roots Stuff". But the “Deep Field” is relative, depending on where one stands. A short story by Enrico.

When I reached Bor, I felt this was the end of the “known world”. This must be the “Real Deep Field”, I thought. The office, located in a compound on the west bank of the White Nile, did not comply with any of the standing security and operational standards. Food, sanitation and basic living conditions were a mere illusion.

The Pit Latrine
When everything else is lacking, the bare necessities are really bare, as we discover in this short story by Enrico.

At this point, the inexperienced, the optimistic and the careless might think that all their troubles are over.. Or at least, 50% over since the return journey is still awaiting. The rest, though, know that the worst fear is yet to come: the encounter with the Hole!

Twenty-Four Hours in AweilThe Pit Latrine
From the deep deep bush, Aweil in Southern Sudan, Cyprien writes this story.

I landed in Aweil, South Sudan on the afternoon of April 20. The landing strip is located in the middle of the village, joining the two sides. When there is no aircraft, the landing strip is a soccer field where kids play football while watching their cows. It is also where trucks from Kisangani and Kampala offload their cargo, filling the strip with cycling villagers and smaller trucks. Before landing the pilot flies over the strip at low altitude to chase away any living creature. Once this warning is given and the "airport" is vacated, the pilot then comes back to land.

The Theory of Relativity
Einstein did not have South Sudan in his mind when inventing the Theory of Relativity, according to this story by Enrico.

A young man came to me with a request for a salary advance at the end of another day in the ‘deep field’ - a day full of nuisances and challenges. The form bore two signatures, which gave me some reassurance the request had gone through some initial screening process. I asked him for his name and what he did for WFP. The answer didn’t come immediately, so I repeated my question. After some seconds of hesitation, he uttered a few words in Dinka, the local language.

The Forces of Nature
Enrico reporting from South Sudan.

Recently, I was invited by the Government of the State in South Sudan I work in. The Governor reminded everybody that a good administration should always follow a bottom-up approach and that consultations should take place in the “bomas”, the small grass root communities, first.

The Perfect Balance
Once again, our resident reporter in South Sudan, Enrico...

Finding the right balance in life is so difficult to achieve that some people choose it as their sole undertaking in life. A common mistake made by many, though, is to think that the perfect balance is an absolute concept. It is not. The perfect balance is a moving target. That goal differs depending on where you live, what you do,.. Working in a remote location in South Sudan, today was one of those days where I felt that target was further away for me than ever.

The Driver's License
Enrico is now the happy owner of a South Sudanese driver's license.

I ask him why he had disappeared for a week without permission. “Nothing special”, he tells me, “A chap wanted to marry my younger sister, but couldn’t afford the dowry of 35 cows we’d negotiated. So, he decided to kidnap my sister. My family and I chased them up. We –euh—‘renegotiated’ the dowry and they’ll soon be married,” he concludes, nodding with a satisfied smile.


Anonymous,  02 March, 2007 17:07  

That looks great and has certainly made my feet itchy to go traveling again!

Peter 07 March, 2007 10:05  

Thanks for your reaction, Kate! This gives me a lot of pleasure and is one of the main reason why I publish these stories! Travel safely and enjoy!


Anonymous,  17 February, 2009 02:38  

Hi Peter

Amazing stories...I am glad you are still up and running. It's 2:36 pm now in Kosovo and couldn't stop reading your stories.

Hasta la vista

Burim 16.02.2009

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