Friday, 29 August 2008

Polar Bears, Musk Oxen and Huskies

A polar bear and her cub playing in the water

I had two years in the Arctic in 1985 and 86 as a member of the Steger International Polar Expedition. What an amazing chapter in my life. Face to face with polar bears, attacked by Musk Oxen and gliding over the Arctic Ocean with dogs and sledges. Nights in Igloos and homes of Inuit (Eskimo) and surviving at minus 70 oC.

With Will Steger and team, I did some remarkable journeys such as down the Mackenzie River Delta and across the Arctic Ocean to Point Barrow Alaska in 1985 and the following year as a warm up to our unsupported trip to the North Pole, spent 3 months on Baffin Island training in the middle of an Arctic winter, and the late winter on Ward Hunt island.

A camera-shy polar bear. He seemed wary of me when I took this photo in 1986

Mum playing with her two cubs

Musk Oxen near Eureka on Ellesmere Island

Driving the first team of dogs with Brent Boddy with the next team, en route to the North Pole 1986

Bob trying to contact base during training before heading to the North Pole

Walruses on Baffin Island in 1986

Caribou in Arctic Canada, near Demarcation Point.

A young Inuit girl playing traditional string games. Baffin Island.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Mountaineer, Olympic Gold Medalist, aviator and friend

Chris Timms on the East Ridge of Aoraki Mt.Cook, Christmas Day, 1971
photo: Bob McKerrow


I got to thinking about my old climbing partner Chris Timms as the news of Super Saturday started coming through from Beijing last weekend. Chris joined with Rex Sellers at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and won the gold medal in the Tornado class, with a race to spare.

Chris Timms Tornado Class at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

The combination came together again for Pusan in 1988 in Seoul, and they didn't rate themselves very highly at all, however again that jib and Sellers legendary ability to read the sea again carried the day for the two New Zealanders and they won a silver medal.

I first heard of Chris Timms in about 1966, when he hit the headlines in New Zealand newspapers, radio and TV when he fell and was seriously injured after falling 900 feet onto an ice edge, while climbing Mt. Elie de Beaumont at the head of the Tasman Glacier. A friend was killed in the same fall. The height of the fall was reported to be 900 feet, and that is debatable, and somehow it got an extra zero added in the telling, and ended up in the Guinness's Book of Records as the longest fall on a mountain where the climber survived.
Chris spent three months in traction but was soon out climbing again. He also started to sail.
On Christmas eve 1970, I was working for the Mt. Cook National Park on mountain rescue team. We knocked off about 3 pm that afternoon and were celebrating in the Park workshop. About 7.30 pm a scruffy climber walked in and said,
"I have a ski plane booked to fly into the Grand Plateau in a few minutes. My partner hasn’t turned up so I need someone to climb with."

Most of us were glowing with the effects of large quantities of beer and relishing the thought of a relaxing Christmas day the following day. I looked at Chris Timms, with his curly blond locks falling down over his shoulders, and an impish smile, and I was instantly attracted to this odd character, and I said "yes". That was the beginning of a long friendship.

My pack was always packed, ready for rescues so I grabbed it, stuffed a few cans of beer into it, and 30 minutes later we were on the Grand Plateau with Mt Tasman and Cook towering above us. It was 9.00 pm in the evening. We had the last two remaining cans of beer and grabbed 3 hours sleep. We woke shortly after midnight to a starry sky. We wolfed down some breakfast and hit the hard snow at 1 am. Chris Timms was hell bent on doing the East Ridge of Mount Cook. As I stood on the steep knife edge ridge, my feet were not steady. The effects of the beer were still there. I could think of no place better in New Zealand to quickly sober up. ( This is where I took the picture of Chris posted at the top of this article) I looked at the Caroline Face of Mt.Cook and searched for my friends Mike Browne and Keith Woodford who I knew were attempting the face today.
Near the top of the ridge where it comes out just below the middle peak, we struck gale force winds and blizzard conditions. The snow and ice stabbed like a driven nail into our faces. For survival, the only options were to dig a snow hole on the summit ridge, and wait until the weather abated, or drop down into the Hooker Valley to Empress Hut. Originally we had planned to zip over the middle and high peaks and back down the Linda Glacier to Plateau Hut.The descent was the most treacherous in my whole climbing career as neither of us had been on this side of the mountain, and we fell a number of times descending what we found out later, was part of the Hooker face. Visibility was almost zero and we fell, staggered, stumbled our way to safety.

I can remember both of us falling onto the bunks in Empress Hut and both rocking with laughter. " Shit Bob, that was close," said Chris. We had clearly diced with death and survived. Chris Timms and and I were to survive many other close shaves in the years ahead, but eventually in 2004, his luck ran out. We walked out down the Hooker Glacier and out to the Hermitage the next day. Chris was such fun to be with as he sang, joked and enjoyed everything around him. While descending the previous day, Chris had ripped the seat out of his long johns and his bum was showing in places, much to the amusement of tourists as we hit the track near the Hermitage. Chris never cared about what people thought and laughed with them. He had an admirable quality of being able to laugh at himself.

Our friendship continued and when I lived in Wellington in 1973, he took me sailing a few times and we did a some trips together.He also took me for drinks and dinner at the Port Nicholson Yacht Club a few times.

From memory, he moved to Wellington in about 1970 to finish his university studies and began sailing Shearwater catamarans with Laurie Hope. After a couple of years they won the national title. But the Shearwater catamarans were a relatively minor class, so Timms then turned to Tornados, not only sailing them, but even building one in his flat in Wellington.
After Hope gave away competitive sailing, Timms teamed with Simon Grain and they won the national title in 1974, 1975 and 1976, as well as doing some sailing at big events overseas. The goal was the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Timms and Grain earned nomination, but were not chosen — two of only three people nominated but not sent to the Olympics that year.
Grain shifted to Australia and Timms then teamed with Peter Douglas. They finished fourth in the world championships at Long Beach in 1977. Timms and Hope reunited, targeting the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, but were beaten for selection by the pairing of Rex Sellers and Gerald Sly.
When Hope quit, Timms found yet another helmsman, Brian Peet. Timms-Peet placed third at the 1981 pre-Olympic regatta at Los Angeles, won the 1981 Canadian nationals and were sixth in the 1982 pre-Olympics.
In the 1984 Olympic trials Timms and Peet were edged out by Sellers and Rex Sly. But Sellers and Sly had a falling out, and Sellers invited Timms, a long-time rival, to join him in sailing the Tornados at the 1984 Summer Olympics.
It turned out to be a magic partnership.

The magic partnership. Rex Sellers, left, and Chris Timms after winning the Gold Medal in Los Angeles.

They were diverse personalities — Timms outspoken and ebullient, Sellers more understated — but they worked well on the water. In California, they had a 3-2-1-2-1-2 sequence and were able to bypass the final race and still win by a wide margin. Four years later they made a gallant effort to retain their Olympic title, finishing with the silver at Pusan.
They were preparing for a tilt at their third Olympics when their partnership broke up and instead Sellers sailed at Barcelona with Brian Jones.
Timms'Olympic career was over. He was a resin chemist in Auckland. In 1992 a massive fire in his resin factory destroyed his three boats, ending any lingering hopes he had of having a tilt at Olympic selection that year. His business, Adhesive Technologies, has continued to thrive, making him wealthy.
In 1984, Timms, Sellers and Russell Coutts shared the New Zealand Yachtsman of the Year title.

Chris' contribution to this effort was his refusal to accept that they could not improve - it was just a matter of finding the way through. He had the ability to pull all the elements apart and put them back together again in a new combination and if that worked great - if not you tried another way and another and another until you got to the place where you wanted to be. This led to some very original thinking - an area where Chris had few peers.

Another view of Chris Timms on the East Ridge of Aoraki Mt.Cook, Christmas Day, 1971
photo: Bob McKerrow

This process of analysis was accompanied by Chris's infection enthusiasm and laughter which made the whole process fun - even if he was tearing his hair out at the time in frustration. At the end he would always marvel that he had achieved what had been done and then spoke of their achievements in a very modest manner and implying that anyone could have done it.

Chris always had a very objective view on sailing matters and was often very outspoken about the way he saw the sport heading. He was from the wrong side of the tracks and this did not endear him and his views to the sailing establishment. The fact that these opinions could be uttered by one who had achieved so much in sailing only compounded the issue.

On one of her visits to NZ HRH Princess Anne, Princess Royal, presented Chris with an Olympic award in Auckland. During the presentation Chris's charming exuberance engaged the Princess for much longer than the event organiser had planned. Always with an eye for ladies, I am confident that Princess Anne also enjoyed Chris's interesting company, and most probably remembers it all well. He was such an engaging character, full of fun with a quick wit.

Chris founded Adhesive Technologies who began manufacturing and distributing resins and marine composite products including WEST System, before moving to their own brand.

On March 19 2004, Chris and Kerry Campbell took off from Ardmore airport (south of Auckland) to practice aerobatic manoeuvres in preparation for an airshow scheduled for the following weekend. Observers report seeing them looping and rolling, and then suddenly spinning straight down into the shallow waters of the Firth of Thames, south east of Auckland. Neither survived.
Chris spent years of his life on jettys, sailing away, and berthing next to them. So it is fitting a jetty in Auckland is a memorial to him. He would see that as practical and appropriate. He would love to hear the laughter of people, their pulses and their warmth on his jetty. Chris liked functional things.

The Chris Timms Memorial Jetty, is named for the larger-than-life Olympic gold medal winning yachtsman, mountaineer and flyer killed in a plane crash last year. The Chris Timms Memorial Jetty can be accessed from the playing fields below the Trusts Stadium. The jetty named after Chris is one of two new jetties which have recently been opened on Council reserves on Henderson Creek; the Heritage Jetty in Tui Glen Reserve, and the Chris Timms Memorial Jetty in Henderson Creek Esplanade Reserve, Henderson, West Auckland.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Two remarkable New Zealanders.

Ed Cotter and Colin Monteath

I had dinner 2 weeks ago with Ed Cotter before leaving New Zealand. At 81, I would describe him as one of New Zealand's most remarkable men. Why ? Because of his long and active involvement in New Zealand and overseas mountaineering, adventure tourism, and the fact that he has inspired so many young New Zealanders to head to the outdoors. His own son, Guy is one of the world's leading mountaineers and has climbed Everest five times.

Ed Cotter climbed with Sir Ed Hillary in the Himalayas in 1951 and later pioneered adventure tourism in the 1950s in Fiordland. Ed told me how earlier this year he trekked up to Mt. Everest Base Camp. He was 81 years old. While trekking around base camp, some physiologists from Otago Univeristy studying how people acclimatisd to altitude aked Ed if the could they could test him. They later told him he acclimatised better than most young people.

In 1951 a New Zealand Alpine Club party of Edmund Hillary, George Lowe, Ed Cotter and Earle Riddiford climbed in the Garwhal Himalaya. Ed showed how strong and well acclimatised when he and Earl Riidiford cimbed Mukesh Parbat, a first ascent for Ed Cotter.

His climbing career saw some important first ascents in New Zealand the most famous being Maximilian Ridge of Elie de Beaumont with Ed Hillary, George Lowe and Earle Riddiford.

In 1990 when I was head of DoC at Franz Josef, in charge of the Westland National Park, I employed Ed Cotter to run the Glacier Guiding business for five months between concessions lapsing. I got close to Ed who was then 64. We did a climb of Mt. McFettrick together with Mike Browne and Chris Jillet.

Thirty years after Ed Cotter climbed the Maximilian Ridge of Elie de Beaumont with Ed Hillary, George Lowe and Earle Riddiford, I took him back to climb a peak called Mt. McFettrick. From here, Ed looks across at the Maximilian Ridge of Elie de Beaumont, the long ridge on the left.
A member of the Canterbury Mountaineering Club for over 60 years, Ed has climbed extensively throughout the Southern Alps of the South Island.

Guy Cotter, the son of Ed Cotter. This world leading mountain guide has climbed Mt. Everest five times and has the same quiet and modest peronality of his Father.

A few years back he played a prominent part in a documentary called Aspiring which is an evocative documentary about art, mountains and creativity which builds to a surprising end.

Hollyford Track Guided Walks started life back in the 1940's when Davey Gunn opened up the track for guided walks. The walk was further developed by one of Davey Gunn's assistants, Ed Cotter.

In 1959 the Hollyford Valley was incorporated into the Fiordland National Park and in the mid sixties Ed Cotter introduced boating to the walk itinerary.

Es Cotter played a key role at the funeral for Sir Ed Hillary when New Zealand's mountaineers farewelled him with the same alpine guard of honour they used for his hero's welcome home from Mt Everest in 1953 and for his wedding to Louise Rose later that year. Ed Cotter was at these three events and after Ed's death was sought after for interviews about Sir Ed.

Climbing with Ed Cotter on Mt. McFettrick, head of the Tartare Valley, Westland National Park.

In 1998 when Ed Cotter turned up for my daughters 21st birthday party in Hokitika, one of my daughters offered him her room for the night. Ed Cotter, a humble man, never wanting to bother anyone, unrolled his sleeping bag on a woodpile in our woodshed, and went to sleep. I enjoyed bringing him a cup of tea in the morning and sitting on the woodpile with him.
In his late 70s he was still crossing the main divide on 3 and 4 day pass-hoping trips. Today, he still goes out on lomg trips in the Southern Alps. Ed Cotter looks after his friends and one in particular he visits regularly in England, is George Lowe who played such a key support role on the 1953 Everest expedition, by carry loads for the final camp. George suffers from Alzheimer's disease and Ed lends as much support as possible for an old friend. My five daughters who live in various parts of NZ, love it when Ed pops in for a cup of tea, or to stay a night with them.

Colin Monteath

I first met Colin Monteath in Pioneer Hut in 1969. A few years later we were working in the professional mountain rescue team at Mt. Cook. Slowly I got to know this remarkable man with a flair for writing, photography and layout. In the late 1960s when living in Sydney he produced a rock climbing weekly called "Thrutch" and then he developed into a top class photographer.

Based in Christchurch New Zealand, Colin Monteath is a freelance photographer, writer and mountaineer who is widely travelled in the polar and high mountain regions of the world. In 1984 he started Hedgehog House photographic library and publishing company with the principal aim of " increasing the awareness of the need to look after the polar and mountain regions."

Colin Monteath in the Kelley Range, Arthurs Pass 1993. Photo: Bob McKerrow

With nearly 100 wide-ranging assignments to Antarctica spanning 26 seasons since 1973 Colin has seen more of the Seventh Continent than almost any other New Zealander. For ten seasons ( 1973-83) he operated out of New Zealand's Scott Base as the Field Operations Officer helping to co-ordinate the logistic support for New Zealand's science programme. At that time he was also in charge of New Zealand's huskies and the training of the dog handlers. With survival and rescue team training under his control, Colin helped co-ordinate the recovery operation following the 1979 DC-10 crash near Mt Erebus. Colin acted as a guide for HRH Prince Edward during his Antarctic tour in 1982. On one of this three international science expeditions to the summit of the active volcano Erebus Colin made the first descent into the inner crater. He has also been involved in numerous new routes and first ascents on Antarctic peaks and was the first New Zealander to reach the highest peak in Antarctica, Vinson Massif.

Colin Monteath (right) and Bob McKerrow taken in early August 2008

Since 1983 Colin has worked as an expedition leader, lecturer and guide for various polar cruise and adventure companies including, in recent years, Quark Expeditions, Aurora Expeditions and Adventure Network International. In 1991 Colin was on board a Soviet nuclear powered icebreaker which made the first-ever surface vessel traverse of the Arctic Ocean via the North Pole as well as a transit of the NE Passage in Siberia. In 1993 he joined an international team which skied and dog sledged across the Greenland icecap.

Colin has been an active mountaineer for 30 years. He has climbed New Zealand's highest peak 13 times by most of its routes including the notorious Caroline face and the first winter ascent of the East Ridge. In 1974 Colin was a member of the Commonwealth Andean Expedition which made 19 new routes in Peru's Cordillera Vilcanota.

Ed Cotter and Colin Monteath in when 1990 Chris Bonnington was invited to New Zealand as a 'Living Treasure'and a group of us took him climbing at the head of the Fox Glacier. (L to R) Colin Monteath, Mike Browne, Dave Bamford, Chris Bonnington, John Nankervis and Ed Cotter.

Himalayan Expeditions have played a vital role in Colin's life - Australian Annapurna III Expedition ( Nepal 1980) , New Zealand Garhwal Expedition (Shivling - India 1982), Australian Everest Expedition (North Face - Tibet 1984), New Zealand Pamirs Expedition (Pik Kommunizma USSR/Central Asia, 1986), Australian Karakorum Expedition (first ascent Chongtar - Xingjiang China 1994) and New Zealand Tibet Expedition (Gurla Mandhata , 1998). In Irian Jaya Colin worked as a guide for Adventure Consultants during a climb of Carstensz Pyramid.

As well as working throughout New Zealand, Colin has undertaken numerous photographic and magazine assignments over the years to places such as Patagonia, Greenland, Antarctica, Kenya, Siberia, Bhutan , Pakistan, Central Asia, Pakistan, India , China , Nepal and New Guinea. His pictures and stories are in demand worldwide and have appeared in such magazines as GEO (Germany), national Geographic (USA), Australian Geographic (Australia), Terre Sauvage (France ), The Geographical Magazine (UK), Conde Nast (UK, Spain etc.), Rock and Ice (USA), Action Asia (Hong Kong ), Time (USA) and Mother Nature (Japan).

Colin is regularly involved in book projects, contributing images and chapters of text to guide books, trekking books and pictorial books on the polar and mountain regions - e.g. Lonely Planet guide Antarctica. He was the principal photographer for the highly-acclaimed Reader's Digest book Antarctica - Great Stories from the Frozen Continent (Australia, 1985), co-author of Smithsonian Institution Press's Wild Ice (USA, 1990) , author New Zealand - Land of Wind ( White Star, Italy, 1996), author and photographer Antarctica - Beyond the Southern Ocean (NZ 1996) and author and publisher Hall and Ball - Kiwi Mountaineers (NZ 1997).

Before I left Christchurch in early August I had dinner with Colin, Betty and daughter Denali. Evenings at Colin and Betty's are always memorable as they meet so many people such as Wally Herbert, Chris Bonnington, the Dalai Lama, Will Steger, Lydia Bradey and a host of other climbers and explorers.

I count myself fortunate in being able to call Ed Cotter and Colin Monteath friends.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Prime Minister's Guide dies

GUIDING HAND: Braun-Elwert was the mountain guide for Prime Minister Helen Clark - he took this photo of her in 2003.

I just got home from work tonight to read that my old friend Gottlieb Otto Braun-Elwert died today. It was a sad day for New Zealand mountaineering. Goat-leg as we affectionately called him, was a stalwart of the sport in NZ. He brought a stiff, Germanic approach that was appreciated by some and spurned by others who believed he took away "Freedom of the Hills." Either way, he made a difference by introducing a set of rules that enhanced the professionalism and safety of our challenging sport. His star rose when he became guide to the Prime Minister of New Zealand.
I paste two articles from John Hartveld and Nancy Cawley.
I pray that God will bless his dear wife Anne and his children.


WELL KNOWN CLIMBER: The man who died was Gottlieb Braun-Elwert, he apparently had a medical condition.
Prime Minister Helen Clark has been involved in a dramatic, but failed rescue attempt, after a member of her climbing party, Gottlieb Otto Braun-Elwert, died.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister has confirmed Clark was involved in an incident while on holiday near Lake Tekapo.

Police confirmed that an emergency call was received late this afternoon after her guide and friend Gottlieb Otto Braun-Elwert (aged 59) suffered what is believed to be a heart attack, and subsequently died.

Braun-Elwert was a professional mountain guide with his own recreation business.

Due to atrocious weather conditions a helicopter which was dispatched from Christchurch was unable to reach the location.

Members of the party carried out CPR for a considerable period of time until advised by Ambulance staff that they should desist.

Search and Rescue volunteers along with a police Search and Rescue Squad member are believed to have reached the hut and will begin evacuating the party members shortly.

The spokeswoman said Clark was safe and well but next of kin had yet to be informed of the dead person.

In a piece published in The Press in january 2000 Gottlieb Braun-Elwert told Nancy Cawley that climbing is like life in general.
Braun-Elwert was a physicist at the University of Munich before he came to New Zealand but he has since discovered friends in high places.
Three years ago, he became mountain guide for the Leader of the Opposition, Helen Clark, and her husband, Peter Davis. The couple recently returned to climb in the Mount Cook region but this time as Prime Minister and First Husband.

Braun-Elwert describes the couple as easy company. Parliament is, however, a very different place to the mountains, and Helen Clark has always found the need for an initial period of adjustment to the high country.

"It takes her about 24 hours to tune out of her special work environment, and then she's like everybody else," he says.

Braun-Elwert has been impressed with the Prime Minister's determination. On each trip she has been a little fitter, a little more assured in her climbing. He says she goes to the gym two or three times a week, working hard and systematically on cardio- vascular and upper-arm exercises.

"'The first year she struggled on a very moderate mountain in the Two Thumb Range.

"Last year, I took her on the Hochstetter Dome (a 2822-metre snow peak at the head of the Tasman Glacier), and this year I took her on a couple of very nice trips on the Fox neve. She climbed Kilimanjaro last year. I wouldn't be surprised if, one day, she comes and wants to climb Cook. But I don't like pushing people. She is very realistic, and she will decide."

In 1976, German-born Gottlieb Braun-Elwert was invited to New Zealand as an academic _ he held a master's degree in physics from the University of Munich and had written a thesis on nuclear physics. But he was also a qualified alpine guide, and took the opportunity, while in the country, to climb Mount Cook.

Two years later, he returned to New Zealand to teach at Linwood High School, but dreamt of a job in the mountains. These dreams led to the establishment, with his New Zealand-born wife, Anne, of an alpine recreation company, Alpine Recreation Ltd at Lake Tekapo, two decades of high-grade climbing and skiing and an involvement in national and international guiding.

In 1993, he was named Macpac Mountaineer of the Year, for his climb of Fitzroy in Patagonia, with a guide on his staff, Erica Beuzenberg.

Braun-Elwert has climbed Mount Cook 22 times. In 1997, he hit the headlines when he took his daughter Elke, then 14, to the 3764-metre summit, making her the youngest person to have climbed Mount Cook. This year, Gottlieb's second daughter, Carla, also aged 14, repeated her sister's feat _ taking her record by four days.

Braun-Elwert calls New Zealand's highest peak "a very committing mountain".

"It's a big mountain, and every time I climb it, I am still impressed ... " He thinks that, too often, people fly into Plateau Hut, and so are not sufficiently acclimatised and ready for the challenge ahead. Walking in has its complications, too. Since Aorangi was first approached, the standard access route between the Tasman Glacier and the Grand Plateau has been the rocky Haast Ridge; now the ridge is badly weathered and crumbling.

But, at 50, Braun-Elwert is not taking the easy option. "With the girls, I flew in to the Grand Plateau and walked out. But I have walked in many times. It gets tougher every year, with the glaciers shrinking and the moraines getting ugly. I usually go up the Freshfield Glacier on skis _ with good snow-cover, you just zigzag up quite fast."

Much of the Tekapo guide's motivation for living and working in an alpine environment, and helping others to enjoy to enjoy it, is a belief in the wide- ranging benefits of the mountain experience. This can mean enjoying the scenery at valley level, or ski- touring on a lonely neve, but, for himself, as a passionate alpinist, reaching the summit is always important.

"Climbing a mountain is like life in general. When you make a decision, you must put up with the outcome _ good or bad. I would say that, if you are able to pull off a climb on a mountain, you will see personal difficulties from a distant perspective. Fewer and fewer pursuits in life are as creative, as personally challenging, and as satisfying as being in the mountains."

The more structured our lives, our jobs, our relationships become, the more we need the freedom of choice that mountains offer, Braun- Elwert suggests. "The great thing with mountaineering is that there are no traffic cops, no traffic lights. Is it a law that you must have a helmet when you go climbing? No, nothing is law. You make your own rules."

For some people, Braun-Elwert stretched the no- rules idea when he applied and was granted permission to build a private hut in the Mount Cook National Park in 1985. The Caroline Hut, sited on the eastern slopes of Ball Pass, is a staging post for the approximately 170 clients his company guides annually on the two-to-three-day crossing of the pass.

"Right from the start, it was argued, very sensibly, that the first hut in the park _ the old Ball Hut, built in 1891, was a private one, owned by the Mount Cook Tourist Company. Our hut has an emergency shelter which is always open to the public, and all our toilet waste is flown out."

He has been a constant battler. As soon as Alpine Recreation was up and running, Braun-Elwert began lobbying for the abolition of Alpine Guides Ltd's monopoly in the Mount Cook National Park, and concessions for independent mountain guides. It took six years of fighting the bureaucracy, helped by "The Three Bs" _ Russell Brice, Nick Banks, and Gary Ball, of Mountain Guides, Twizel, he says.

"The then Minister of Lands, Jonathan Elworthy, was not in favour of independent guiding. But Jim Sutton got behind us. He won the Waitaki Electorate in 1984, so Elworthy was out, Sutton was in, and we got our concession."

Braun-Elwert was also instrumental in the affiliation of the New Zealand Mountain Guides' Association with the Union of International Mountain Guides, a crucial development for New Zealand guides wanting to work overseas.

Gottlieb Braun-Elwert continues to give his free time to the mountain industry. For the last five years, his company has sponsored groups of sixth formers from Mackenzie College, Fairlie, on a Ball Pass trip in summer, and a ski tour in winter. The pupils' sole cost is for a second guide.

But, always, his best trips are those with the family. "Both this year and last year, we all spent a fortnight in Canada, climbing and ski touring in the Selkirk Mountains and the Rockies ... when children become teenagers, they begin to distance themselves from their parents, but my climbs with my daughters on Cook have created a real bond."

Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Descent of Men

K2 - A magnificent mountain and the second highest in the world.

Today I got an email from a very competent British climber John E.S Lawrence who I climbed with in Peru 1968. He said:

"He knoweth ... thank God we got our stuff done during the good times...
greetings bro
John Lawrence "

Read the article he sent

The Descent of Men
Published: August 9, 2008
Clinton, N.Y.

WILCO VAN ROOIJEN, a Dutch mountain climber, managed to survive the debacle this week that took the lives of 11 others in Pakistan on K2, the world’s second-highest peak. Describing the chaotic events that ensued when a pinnacle of ice collapsed and swept away fixed ropes that climbers from several expeditions high on the mountain had counted on to aid their descent from the summit, Mr. van Rooijen lamented: "Everybody was fighting for himself, and I still do not understand why everybody were leaving each other."
Himalayan mountaineering is an inherently dangerous pastime, and climbers are always at risk from the unexpected. But mountaineering has become more dangerous in recent decades as the traditional expeditionary culture of the early- and mid-20th century, which had emphasized mutual responsibility and common endeavor, gave way to an ethos stressing individualism and self-preservation.
The contrast between the two eras is vividly illustrated by the experience of an earlier expedition that ran into peril on K2. Fifty-five years ago this month, Dr. Charles S. Houston, America’s premier Himalayan mountaineer, led a team of seven Americans and one British climber attempting a first ascent on K2. They made steady progress up the mountain, and by Aug. 1 all eight climbers had reached a campsite at 25,300 feet. From there, given good weather, they expected to reach the 28,251 foot summit in two days.

Dutch climbers Wilco Van Rooijen, right, and Las Van De Gevel, left, who were rescued from K-2's base camp, are seen at a hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2008.

Instead, they were pinned down by a blizzard in their high camp for the next week. And one member of the team, Art Gilkey, who was on his first Himalayan venture, was struck down by a case of thrombophlebitis, a clotting in the veins, in his left leg. It left him unable to walk and in danger of death if a blood clot were to reach his lungs. Houston and the others knew that there was little chance that they could carry an incapacitated man 9,000 feet down treacherous slopes to the safety of base camp. But they did not for a minute consider leaving their teammate behind.
On Aug. 10, they started down the mountain. Gilkey was sedated with morphine, wrapped in a sleeping bag, and alternately towed and lowered by his comrades. The climbers descended in roped pairs and, when they could, held their partners on "belay" — that is, one climber would keep a tight, protective hold on the rope as the other made his way down the slope. Encumbered as they were, and with the storm raging, it took them six hours to descend a few hundred feet from their camp.
At around 3 p.m., the eight men were arrayed across the slope to the west of one of their previous campsites, Camp VII, their destination for the day. Gilkey in his sleeping bag was belayed from above by Pete Schoening, a climber from Seattle. The other climbers, roped in pairs, stood nearby.
Suddenly, one of them lost his footing, and as he fell he pulled his partner off his feet. They became entangled in the ropes of the other climbers, until practically the whole party was slipping downwards toward a precipice. Schoening remained on his feet, but his rope was entangled with the others. If he had fallen, it would have been the end for them all as they would have tumbled thousands of feet to their deaths on the Godwin-Austen Glacier below. If there had been no surviving witnesses, the 1953 American K2 expedition could have entered mountaineering lore as one of those enduring puzzles to be endlessly debated in the climbing journals, like the disappearance of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine on Everest in 1924.
But at that moment of impending doom, Schoening saved them all. In his effort to belay Gilkey down a rock cliff, Schoening had jammed his ice ax into the snow behind a small boulder, wrapping the rope once around the ax and then around his waist. When he saw the others fall, he instantly put all his weight onto the ax. The nylon rope stretched and tightened on him — but it held, and Schoening held.
Several of the climbers, including Dr. Houston, were injured. They could go no farther that day. They would have to work their way over to Camp VII and set up the two tents they were carrying to get shelter for the night if they were to survive, and they could not do it with Gilkey in tow. For the moment, they left him anchored to the slope with ropes and ice axs, about 150 feet west of the campsite. Another climber, Bob Craig, explained to Gilkey, who was sedated but conscious, that they were leaving him for a short time but would return. "Yes, I’ll be fine," Gilkey told Mr. Craig, "I’m O.K."
They got their tents up. In the distance, they heard through the howling wind what sounded like a shout from Gilkey. Then there was silence. In a few minutes, three of the climbers returned to check on their injured teammate. To their horror, they saw that the gulley was now empty. Gilkey was 27 years old when he disappeared; he had completed his doctoral thesis in geology at Columbia University on the day he departed for K2. In the years that followed, the others would wonder whether he had been swept away by an avalanche, or caused his own death, somehow releasing the ropes that held him in place in an act of self-sacrifice that allowed the rest of them to live.
It took the survivors five more days to fight their way off the mountain. Finally on Aug. 15, they reached base camp. They built a 10-foot high cairn as a memorial for Gilkey on a rocky point near the confluence of the Savoia and Godwin-Austen Glaciers. It stands there to this day.
The K2 expedition became legend among mountaineers, its members honored for the gallantry of their conduct under extreme conditions. As Nicholas Clinch, a rising American climber, would write a few years later, the "finest moment in the history of American mountaineering was the Homeric retreat of Dr. Houston’s party of K2 in 1953."
Houston himself summed up the highest ideals of expeditionary culture when he wrote of his K2 comrades: "We entered the mountains as strangers, but we left as brothers." Today in contrast, as was evident last week on K2, climbers enter the mountains as strangers and tend to leave the same way.
Maurice Isserman, a professor of history at Hamilton College, is the co-author of the forthcoming "Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering From the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes."

Friday, 8 August 2008

On the edge of death

Early morning in Nedjo, a small town in the lush green coffee plantations of western Ethiopia, in the mid-1950s. Alemi Dinsa, a young mother, is making breakfast for her family of eight. Breakfast most days is a piece of injera, the traditional Ethiopian bread, and a cup of strong, dark coffee; there will be no lunch, and dinner might be more injera and a bit of stew.

'Alemi moves about the earthen floor of her mud-walled tukul, rousing sleeping children, boiling water, straining the aromatic beans and talking to God. She begins every day this way, and her son Bekele listens closely, even though her prayer is always the same.

"God, give my children the wisdom to think good thoughts," Alemi says.
"Give them the ability to do good and the courage to help people in need. God, give them the patience to learn from today so they are better people tomorrow."

Bekele (photo above) is now my boss in Geneva, and I am so proud to have a leader of his calibre. I have written a lot over the past year about leadership, and the leadership vacuum we have in the humanitarian world. I know that Bekele Geleta will give not only the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement outstanding leadership, but hopefully the whole world.

I would like to post this remarkable story on Bekele Geleta written by Louisa Taylor from The Ottawa Citizen.

To get an idea of the burden weighing on Bekele Geleta, consider the heartbreaking inventory of human disaster around the world right now, all the people struggling to survive and regroup and rebuild after earthquakes, cyclones, famine, cholera and on. It's his job to get help to them, all at once.
Bekele is the new secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the international symbol of rescue and relief, the world's largest humanitarian organization.

Bekele was born in Western Ethiopia

He doesn't just oversee the teams that put tents and tarps and food parcels into the hands of desperate people; he must persuade diverse -- often competing -- groups to work efficiently together, he must get them the tools they need when they need them, and he must convince global power brokers to pay attention and pay up.
The Geneva secretariat has 500 employees and works with thousands of staff and millions of volunteers in the federation's 186 national Red Cross Societies, each of which has its own culture, interests and agenda. Getting the federation's members pulling in the same direction requires strength and finesse. It demands diplomacy and decisiveness, a manner that is equally at ease in the corridors of European palaces or dusty, crowded emergency camps and the ability to withstand punishing travel.
Many in the Red Cross world believe Bekele is particularly suited to the task. A gentleman with a courtly manner and a twinkle in his eye, Bekele is nevertheless shrewd and driven. As one former colleague says, "it might not sound like it, but I mean this as a compliment: Bekele is both a very honest person to deal with and a wily old fox."

Above: Bekele Geleta, when he was General Manager, Canadian Red Cross
International Operations in early 2008, handing over a symbolic key to Mr. Siasat Baeha,Head of Village of Hilihati, Lahewa, Indonesia.
Photo Courtesy of Canadian Red Cross.

He also has something that sets him apart from the other suits in the room, something mostly unspoken but just as significant as the fact he is a high-ranking Canadian of African origins in a field dominated by Europeans and Americans. In Red Cross language, the people it serves are "vulnerable," and Bekele Geleta has been vulnerable. Growing up, his family frequently made do with just one meal a day. He survived five years in an Ethiopian prison and he made something out of nothing as a middle-aged refugee in Ottawa.
He can sit down with a hungry child or an earthquake survivor and say, I know what it's like to lose everything, I know what's it's like to keep going and I will help you. And he can negotiate with leaders from the developing world and donors from rich countries and honestly say to each, I know your world, I know what you need and I will help you.
"I have started life over three times," says Bekele, but he may be underestimating -- it's more like four or five.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) meets with Bekele Geleta, Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC).
Location: United Nations, New York

Act I
Early morning in Nedjo, a small town in the lush green coffee plantations of western Ethiopia, in the mid-1950s. Alemi Dinsa, a young mother, is making breakfast for her family of eight. Breakfast most days is a piece of injera, the traditional Ethiopian bread, and a cup of strong, dark coffee; there will be no lunch, and dinner might be more injera and a bit of stew.

Alemi moves about the earthen floor of her mud-walled tukul, rousting sleeping children, boiling water, straining the aromatic beans and talking to God. She begins every day this way, and her son Bekele listens closely, even though her prayer is always the same.
"God, give my children the wisdom to think good thoughts," Alemi says.
"Give them the ability to do good and the courage to help people in need. God, give them the patience to learn from today so they are better people tomorrow."

Alemi prays in the only language she knows, the language of her ethnic group, Oromo. The Oromo have long been a persecuted minority in Ethiopia, and by the time Bekele is born in 1944, speaking Oromo is banned in schools, businesses and public meetings.
Alemi is praying to God, but Bekele feels she is also talking to him, and her words stay with him. Years later, he will marvel that it is almost a humanitarian's prayer, but now, he teases his mother. "Is that all you can ever say?" It is enough, she says.

Ethiopian coffee ceremony

Alemi and her husband, Geleta, have six children. Bekele -- in Ethiopia, your first name is the name you are most commonly known by, and your father's first name is your surname -- is the second son. A tailor with an entrepreneurial spirit, Geleta tries a variety of businesses and persists in spite of failures, which Bekele absorbs as a lesson to dare and to risk and to never give up. His parents, themselves illiterate, stress the importance of education, and it will pay off: their children will find success in business, education and medicine.
Bekele thrives in school, a smart, popular student and skilled debater who makes to university in Addis Ababa, a huge accomplishment for a poor rural family. Soon after graduating with a degree in political science and economics, he takes a job with the Ethiopian Roads Authority.
"In a developing country, you don't plan your life, you get appointments," he says. "I didn't apply for this position, I was told to go and work there."
It is the beginning of a swift ascent. The company sponsors him for graduate study, and he goes to England to earn a master's in transportation economics from the University of Leeds.
By 1978, Bekele's life seems set. He is married and has a two-year-old son, Jiffar; his wife, Tsehay Mulugeta, is expecting again. His charisma and talent as a manager have landed him the top job at the Franco-Ethiopian Railway, in spite of his youth -- he's only 34 -- and his Oromo heritage.
As the general manager, Bekele oversees 3,000 employees. He lives in a company house and drives a company car. He thinks about getting the trains to run on time, he wonders when he might get government sponsorship to pursue a doctorate abroad, he feels that life is on track.

Act II
October 1978, inside the main police station in Addis Ababa. Bekele is hanging upside down, his feet being beaten bloody by interrogators. They insist he belongs to the Oromo Liberation Front; he insists he doesn't. He is a civil servant, not a politician or an activist.
It doesn't matter. Bekele has been caught in another purge of Oromo by the Derg, the socialist dictatorship led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, in an effort to eliminate the OLF. Many of his friends and relatives have been arrested.
"At that time there were roundups in the country, lots of killings left and right," says Bekele. "Anybody who was reported to be politically anti-government was rounded up and sent to prison."
The beatings continue. His feet blister and wounds open. On it goes for a month.
Finally he is brought before a special investigator, who declares a sentence of five years in jail, no trial. Bekele is transferred to the Central Prison in Addis Ababa, known informally as Karcheli prison. The inmate population numbers in the thousands, with as many as 1,500 political prisoners alone. Pickpockets, activists, academics, businessmen, murderers, civil servants -- all are penned together behind the imposing walls and iron bars of the prison building in the city's downtown, "right behind the offices of the Organization of African Unity," says Bekele.
When he first arrives, he's put into a cell with 200 inmates and two hole-in-the-floor toilets. There are no chairs, no tables, no beds except for some mattresses on the floor.
Prison food is meagre -- "terrible, terrible stuff," says Bekele -- not enough to survive a long imprisonment. Every day, Tsehay cooks a meal and leaves it at the prison gate. That daily gift sustains Bekele physically and emotionally, "a huge contribution" to his survival. Only later does he learn that Tsehay has sometimes gone hungry in order to feed him.
Tsehay and the two boys -- Hinsermu was born shortly after Bekele went into prison -- are forced out of the company house and eventually move in with relatives. At first they survive with the help of family, but as it becomes clear that all her pleas for Bekele's release are being ignored, Tsehay begins selling textiles to support the family.
Bekele and other political prisoners decide they need something to keep them engaged during what could be a long, bleak imprisonment. The prison warden -- "a generous man," Bekele says -- authorizes a prisoner-development committee, and the inmates elect Bekele chairman. The Derg has sent so many graduates to jail, the committee is able to offer lessons in every field, from mathematics and sciences to languages and history.
"Almost overnight we organized classes from literacy up to postsecondary education," says Bekele. "We formed half a dozen sports clubs and built a prison stadium. On weekends, the warden allowed us to come out and watch soccer games. We played some national clubs and we even beat, twice, the national champions."
They build a large library and stock it with books donated by the British and the Americans. The school is recognized by the Ministry of Education, and inmates are allowed to sit for the university admissions exam. "We were the top school on the entrance exam for several years in a row," says Bekele.

For all that, there are still beatings, solitary confinement and worse. Every day, a van arrives and a handful of prisoners are called by name. Those called in the morning are getting out; those called in the afternoon will not be seen again.
"People would say goodbye, shake hands. They knew they were being executed," says Bekele. "That was very bitter. That was the first two years. After that it stopped."
An Oromo prisoner, a schoolmate from Nedjo called Fekadu Eba, is transferred temporarily to Karcheli. He spends some time in the same cell as Bekele and watches his old friend organize the inmates.
"Bekele is very diplomatic, very tactful, and he was able through his committee to talk to the administration about some of the conditions, issues of mistreatments and abuse," says Fekadu, who was in Karcheli for a year before being transferred to another prison. "Bekele was extremely popular among the inmates. Some of them when they were released went directly to university and now they are doctors and leaders.
"Being in such a hard place, a place of cruelty and torture and killing, and thinking of positive developments for your colleagues, it's a gift, really," says Fekadu. "People loved him for that."
Bekele is living his mother's prayer, doing good things for others, but it's for himself, too. Being active and staying positive keep him sane.
Gradually, life gets a little easier. Some prisoners, including Bekele, are allowed to make supervised trips home every two or three months for a couple of hours, under police guard. While many Oromo -- including Fekadu -- will serve 10 years or more behind bars, Bekele is released when his five years are up.
Bekele has no house, no job, no money and no plan. Sympathetic ministers in the Mengistu government quietly offer him jobs, but he declines.
He needs time to find out who he has become, but there is one thing he knows: prison may have taken five years of his life -- it will not take the rest of it.
"Prison prepares you mentally, physically, to accept hard realities and it teaches you the need to work to get over it, the need to be positive," says Bekele.
"It also teaches you that the way people are organized determines how successful a group can be."

The height of the Ethiopian famine, 1984. Years of drought and battles between insurgents and the Derg have led to a scarcity so dire that millions of Ethiopians are leaving their homes in search of food.
British rocker Bob Geldof has seen the heartbreaking reports and will soon launch his landmark Live Aid appeal for help, but for now thousands are dying largely unnoticed by the outside world.
Things are particularly bad in the northern region of Wollo. Relief camps spring up overnight in the areas where the starving converge, and local and international aid agencies struggle to help.
At one such camp, Bati, Bekele stands quietly, surveying the scene. He has just been hired by the Ethiopian Red Cross Society to help expand their relief operations. It is his third day on the job, his first visit to the field.
Everywhere he looks, people are on the edge of death.
Scores of starving men, women and children from distant villages have collected on an open plain, collapsing on the hard earth after walking for days. Gaunt mothers cradle motionless infants. Silent men sit holding empty bowls.
Red Cross volunteers are setting up food tents, but more than 130 people are dying each day. Those who make it to the next day know if they survive this crisis, they still face the task of rebuilding. Their farms are barren, their villages largely empty.
Bekele, too, is rebuilding. He is 40 years old, barely a year out of jail and struggling to find his place.
A friend set him up with a contract with an Irish aid agency, working on an urban development project in the capital. It was interesting work and it kept his family afloat, but he chafed at its limitations.
Before prison, Bekele led a company with 3,000 employees; in prison, he organized thousands. With the aid agency, he was just part of a small team on a small project.
Then the Red Cross approached him, drawn by his reputation as an effective manager. In spite of his complete ignorance of relief work, he thought, why not?
Now, standing amid the hungry thousands in Bati camp, Bekele swallows his shock and begins to assess the needs. He tours the scene, talks to Red Cross staff, makes notes. As he works, a couple approach and ask if he has three pieces of cloth to spare.
"What for?" he asks.
"To wrap our kids who just died."
Bekele decides then and there to turn things around. He begins to organize improvements to the food and shelter. Within a month, the death rate has dropped drastically, more camps have been established and Bekele is consumed by the logistics of disaster relief -- planning, delegating and networking to boost Red Cross aid to famine victims.
He has no doubt this is what he wants to do. It is Alemi's prayer in action again.
"From that time forward, I became a Red Crosser," says Bekele. "I strongly committed to spend my life making a difference in people's lives."

Act IV
It's 1994, and Bekele wears a white apron behind a cash register in an Ottawa gas bar. The former secretary general of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society is now a 49-year-old unpaid trainee at the Quickie mart on Richmond Road, no longer a humanitarian but an anonymous purveyor of cigarettes, gas and lottery tickets.
It has been a long, complicated road from Bati camp to the Quickie mart. At first, things went well in the Red Cross. He thrived as head of the Ethiopian society, hiring more people (including a few fellow veterans of Karcheli), improving training, expanding distribution networks and increasing ties with sister Red Cross societies abroad to bring in more aid.
Four years into his Red Cross career, it was suddenly over.
"One day it was announced on the radio that I had been appointed vice-minister of transport and communications," says Bekele. "It's the biggest ministry in the country. You can't say no."

Bekele made the most of the position, refining his diplomatic skills on trips abroad and broadening his management experience. Then Mengistu fled in 1991, and a new coalition government came in with participation by the Oromo Liberation Front.
Bekele was appointed ambassador to Japan. Even though he believed the new regime was an improvement over Mengistu's dictatorship, he was wary. So he accepted the posting, with a caveat that his service hinged on the regime's continued movement toward democracy. He was assured by the foreign minister that it was their goal, too, and in 1991, he and his family departed for Tokyo.

An Ethiopian village

By then, Bekele and Tsehay had four sons. Jiffar, 15, was sent to a boarding school in the Philippines, but the rest -- Hinsermu, 12, Atkilt, 7, and two-year-old Baakal -- settled into a comfortable villa in Tokyo. Bekele wined and dined with dignitaries and tooled about the city in their chauffeur-driven Mercedes.
Within six months, everything fell apart back home. A snap election was a violent, undemocratic mess, the OLF pulled out of the coalition. Bekele recognized a turning point: if he continued to serve a government most Oromo didn't support, he would be a pariah in his community; if he returned to Ethiopia, he would have to either jump into the political fray or stay on the sidelines. He wanted neither.
"I said, 'Look, I spent five years of my life in prison, I'd rather move on'," says Bekele.
He and Tsehay decided to leave Ethiopia -- family, friends, work -- and start over. They chose Canada for its reputation for democracy and racial tolerance; they chose Ottawa because it's the capital. It was a daring gamble, for they had nothing beyond modest savings and the names of a few old contacts from Bekele's Red Cross days. They were now refugees.

After his arrival in Ottawa as a refugee in 1992.

They rented a modest apartment on Riverside Drive while Bekele looked for a job. He signed on with a recruiting agency and went to scores of interviews, but no offers materialized. Their savings dried up and they went on welfare. It ate at Bekele that he was receiving money he hadn't earned. He looks back on this time as one of the most difficult of his life, but he was determined to work and considered every possible option, from immigration officer to parking attendant.
"Bekele's story is not unique to Bekele. It reflects the story of so many of our immigrants," says Bekele's longtime friend Abebe Engdasaw, fellow Ethiopian and a diversity specialist at Ottawa Public Health.

An Ethiopian Coptic preist shows an ancient bible

"When you come as an immigrant in that age bracket and with that level of higher education, there are so many conflicting things on your mind. Can I start from scratch? But you're already at midlife, you can't possibly reach the same level you had before. Can I break through all the barriers into the Canadian system to work at the level where I've been? Then you're into some stiff competition."
Bekele describes middle-aged immigrants like himself as misfits, potential assets that Canadian employers can't figure out what to do with. "It's not their fault," he says. "It's hard for both sides."
Bekele continued to network with old friends such as Abebe, who was on the board of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society that hired Bekele in 1984, and George Weber, the outgoing head of the Canadian Red Cross. Weber did his best to open doors for his friend, even though he was on his way to take up an important post in Geneva: secretary general of the IFRC.
"George got me invited to parties and send-offs and introduced me to people in high places," says Bekele. "He told people, 'Look, this guy is going to be somebody someday, so take good care of him'."
Abebe often tells Bekele's story to new immigrants, because he's proud that his friend didn't wait for something to happen. Thinking he might open his own corner store, Bekele asked a friend if he could learn the ropes at his business. Which is how he ends up manning the cash at the Quickie mart.
For four months, he spends his days stocking shelves, making change and figuring out if his family could survive on convenience-store profits. Finally, more than two years after arriving in Canada, he gets a contract with CARE Canada -- in a Kenyan refugee camp. He jumps, even though it means leaving the family behind. The following year, in 1996, Weber encourages him to apply for an opening at the IFRC, and he gets it.
Twelve years after his first visit to a relief camp, Bekele is back with the Red Cross, this time as director of its Africa department, a high-pressure job that requires balancing the needs of the African societies with the demands of the richer members.
"Bekele was able to help the African societies really assert what it means to be an equal member of the federation," says Peter Walker, who was director of disaster policy for the IFRC when Bekele was leading the Africa department.
"He also had to help the American and European societies to understand that while they had most of the money, that didn't mean they called all the shots, and he had to do it without pissing them off so much that they would go off in a huff and take all their money."
Bekele's background proves invaluable.
"Africans know he was in prison for what he believes in, they know he was a refugee and they know he has put stuff back into Africa. A hell of a lot of street cred comes from that," says Walker, now a professor of nutrition and human security at Tufts University and director of the Feinstein International Famine Center.
After a few years, Bekele goes to New York as deputy head of the federation's delegation to the United Nations, making speeches in the General Assembly and expanding his already formidable Rolodex. Then it is on to Bangkok to be the IFRC's regional director for Southeast Asia -- just in time to work on the Red Cross's early response to the 2004 tsunami.
In 2007, Bekele joins the Canadian Red Cross as its general manager of international operations, a position that enables him to stay involved with tsunami recovery efforts while being based in Ottawa.
Bekele and Tsehay buy a spacious house in Hunt Club, pleased to be in the same city as Jiffar and Hinsermu, while Atkilt and Baakal are nearby in Toronto. He settles in to a comfortable routine -- rising at 5 a.m., reading historical non-fiction for 15 minutes (one of his recent reads was Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope) and then turning on the BlackBerry to begin the work day. Then he gets word that the secretary general's job is open, and a new act begins.

Act V
July 1, 2008, a third-floor office at Red Cross headquarters, overlooking Lake Geneva. It is Bekele's first official day as secretary general. It is also Canada Day, and his own 64th birthday. The latter is the least important to him, although as a recent citizen, he treasures Canada Day and looks forward to retiring in Ottawa when his term at the Red Cross is up.
That is four years away. Now he is settling in, greeting staff -- many of whom are old friends -- reading reports, coming to grips with a budget in the neighbourhood of $20 billion U.S. and refining his mandate.
"Bekele is expected to ensure smooth continuity with the past, but he is also expected to increase the speed of moving ahead, to reach more vulnerable people," says Encho Gospodinov, director of policy and communications at the IFRC.
"He is expected to ensure stronger investment in the field of risk reduction, not just moving trucks and tents, which we will continue doing, but he is expected to make a local communities more resilient so these communities can protect themselves, by training our local Red Cross chapters in each village and in each city to expect the worst Mother Nature can do and to act immediately."
There's a lot on his plate at home, too -- his eldest son, Jiffar, is to be married in early August. Guests will be coming from around the world to celebrate. As he begins to make his own family, Jiffar reflects on what his father taught him, his own version of Alemi's prayer.
"Growing up, he used to tell us that his father lived a better life than his grandfather, and he managed to do better than his father," says Jiffar. "He used to tell us that we should do better than him. Not materially, not at all -- he meant personal growth, understanding and learning, everything that has to do with life, essentially.
"Those are hard shoes to fill."

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Back to work

Indonesia- New Zealand 50 years of diplomatic relations

I arrived back in Jakarta on Monday night after a three week holiday in New Zealand, and the following morning as part of celebrations to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Indonesia and New Zealand, attended a conference and workshop on Disaster Risk Management which lasted two days.

Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, (left) director of the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency for Aceh and Nias (BRR), and myself at the conference.

It was a pleasure to meet Fran Wilde from the Wellington Regional Council and Rick Barker the Minister of Civil Defence along with many highly experienced Indonesian and New Zealand experts in disaster risk reduction. I was pleasntly suprised how advanced New Zealand is in Earthquake engineering design.

It was a unique opportunity to reflect on the work done by the Indonesian Government in restoring the lives of tsunami victims during the past 3 years and eight months. I was delighted that Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, who has given outstanding leadership as head the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency for the Tsunami in Aceh and Nias, was able to speak first hand about the achievements and challenges.

Here is a brief report from the Jakarta Post.

A workshop on disaster management opened in Jakarta on Tuesday, with cohosts Indonesia and New Zealand seeking greater cooperation to help mitigate the effects of natural disasters.
Both countries share many geographical similarities that make them prone to the same kind of natural disasters, including earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
"We are looking into potential cooperation between Indonesia and New Zealand in disaster risk management policies, education, training, research, programs for disaster risk education and projects," Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said at the inauguration of the workshop, titled "Promoting Initiatives on Disaster Risk Management".
"We need to improve the resilience of communities in the face of major natural hazard events."

The two-day workshop, which was jointly opened by Hassan and visiting New Zealand Minister of Civil Defence Rick Barker, was organized by the two countries as part of celebrations to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between ndonesia and New Zealand was one of the first countries to send relief aid and teams to Aceh when a devastating tsunami struck the province in December 2004. It also sent relief during the 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake.
Hassan said the outcome of the workshop would also be used to prepare the establishment of a force to deal ith disasters at the regional level.
Barker said New Zealand had developed high standards in dealing with various disasters and would be happy to share its expertise with Indonesia.
"There is no country in this world that can deal with disaster alone. We all need help across the border," he said.

Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, director of the Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency for Aceh and Nias (BRR),said disaster risk management was an important factor to map out, in the aftermath of the disaster and during he recovery period.
"Disaster risk management also manages incoming donations transparently and responsibly," Kuntoro said.
He added BRR learned five important lessons from disaster risk management based on experiences in Aceh and Nias.
"The first is to ensure the high-integrity use of donations. The second is coordination at all levels. The third is he implementation of disaster risk reduction principles. The fourth is the implementation of caring for social
impacts of the implemented development program.
"And the most important one is to share those experiences with the world," Kuntoro said.
He also emphasized two crucial aspects.
"Everything must be transparent and accountable," he said.
Kuntoro said Indonesia could adopt recovery-related technology from New Zealand, while also sharing its experiences in dealing with large scale disasters, such as in Aceh. Indonesia and New Zealand both sit on the zone called the Pacific Ring of Fire, which is prone to disasters
such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and floods. They have the necessary expertise here," he said.
To date, Kuntoro said, BRR had built 112,346 houses, 787 health facilities, 1,045 educational facilities, 2,542kilometers of road, 11 airports and airstrips, 18 ports and more than 1,500 places of worship.
Relations between Indonesia and New Zealand have grown rapidly in recent years, with bilateral trade doubling over four years.
In 2007, bilateral trade was valued at $865.70 million -- an increase of more than 100 percent on the 2004 figure of $410.82 million. In the first quarter of this year, it reached $302.01 million, a 73.36 percent increase from the $174.20 million recorded in the same period in 2006.