Wednesday, 31 March 2010

West Sumatra Earthquake (Indonesia) - six months on

It's hard to believe that the huge earthquake which struck West Sumatra last year, happened six months ago yesterday, the 30th of March. Since then we had the massive Haiti earthquake and an equally destructive one in Chile, and as a consequence, the West Sumatra quake has almost been forgotten.

My colleague Helena Rae wrote this story from Padang and it shows how far the Red Cross has come in helping the people of West Sumatra build back their lives. Thanks Helena for your story.

A completed transitional shelter built with support from the Red Cross. Sungai Karambia, Pesisir Selatan District, West Sumatra. Photo: Muhammad Fadli/IFRC

As neighbours put the finishing touches to her temporary shelter, Jusni and her seven children look on, smiling. “It’s still under construction but I’m really excited to have this new house”, she says proudly. Jusni lives in the village of Nagari Ketaping in Padang Pariaman district, West Sumatra. Her village was close to the epicentre of the devastating earthquake that struck the region on 30 September 2009, leaving 1,117 people dead and over 114,000 homes severely damaged.

Jusni, whose home was severely damaged by the earthquake, works with other members of her community to erect her transitional shelter. The shelter will provide a temporary home for Jusni and her family of seven children. Nagari Ketaping village, Padang Pariaman district, West Sumatra. Photo: Helena Rea/IFRC

The earthquake left large cracks in the walls of her home and gaping holes where large areas of the ceiling caved in. With nowhere else to stay, the living room of her damaged home became the only habitable space for Jusni and her large family. It’s a dire situation, especially for her granddaughter who is just learning how to walk. Even now, the mild aftershocks which continue to affect the region cause the family to run outside the house to sleep in the open yard.

Shelter – a critical need

Jusni is one of 2,500 people to have received a cash grant under the Indonesian Red Cross transitional shelter programme which is providing funding for 13,500 shelters to be built across the worst affected areas of West Sumatra. Her new home is a simple 18 square meter wooden house with cement pole foundation and sago palm roof. All of the materials are available locally and the earthquake resistant design is based on a model developed in cooperation with the local university – costing only 340 Swiss francs (318 US dollars or 237 euro).

“Shelter is a critical need after an earthquake. Getting people back into a home of their own makes a big psychological difference when recovering from such a disaster,” explains Jan Willem Wegdam, the IFRC’s Recovery Coordinator for West Sumatra Operation. Eligibility for the shelter programme depends on whether a house is severely damaged and not fit to live in. Priority is given to the elderly, the sick, families with young children and pregnant mothers, many of whom have been living in tents since the earthquake struck.

From tent to shelter – a community approach
The programme is community driven with affected families actively involved from the outset. Beneficiaries receive cash grants in instalments and procure the building materials themselves. Members of the community are encouraged to help each other in the building process and Red Cross volunteers are on hand to provide technical guidance.

One of Jusni’s neighbours, Jabarin, shares a similar story. The only room that survived in his house was the kitchen. He has been forced to live in a tent for the past six months with his wife and five children. “Living in the tent was difficult”, he says, “it was very humid in the rainy season and my asthma became very serious”. With the support from the men and women of the village it took Jabarin a few days to complete his shelter which was built on the foundation of the former living room of his old home. In the design he also used many salvaged materials like doors, windows and roof sheeting.

Jabarin stands outside his newly constructed temporary shelter built from windows salvaged from his old home and locally available materials bought with a cash grant from the Red Cross. For the past six months he has lived in a tent next to his severly damaged home. Nagari Ketaping village, Padang Pariaman district, West Sumatra. Photo: Helena Rea/IFRC

As the shelter programme continues; in May the local government is planning to start a cash stimulus program that aims to meet the permanent housing needs of earthquake survivors.

The Red Cross has also been working to improve or reconstruct water and sanitation systems in schools and communities as part of a wider community health and psychosocial support programme. So far, approximately 6 million Swiss francs (5.6 million US dollars or 4 million euro) has been spent on recovery efforts.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Gurney's at it again

Former champion Steve Gurney congratulates his girlfriend Clare Brockett of Christchurch on day one of the Speight's Coast to Coast on February 12, 2010 in Greymouth, New Zealand.

Gooney as I first knew him, is an amazing tri athlete and adventurer. He was quite an up and coming mountaineer in the late 80's, and I remember his in his first Coast to Coast race with a cycling helmet with two eyes on 10 inch long springs.

Then I remember when he dumfounded Robin Judkins the Coast to Coast organiser, by finding a loophole in the regulations and used a pod on his racing cycle to smash the Coast to Coast record.

We were on stage together in Aucland in 1990 with his race-winning cycle and pod, and recommended to a large audience we start a new national triathlon body, called F.A.R.T, the Federated Association of Recreational Triathletes

Now Steve Gurney is after another world record, Burt Munroe style, as he and four other Kiwi kite-buggy enthusiasts head to Las Vegas to try to break a land-speed record. If Gurney can keep his hands out of the cassinoes there, I would bet my last dollar he will come home with a world record, a la Bert Munroe. Like Burt, Steve is a mad inventor.

Now Gurney is joining four Kiwi kite-buggy enthusiasts who head to Las Vegas to try to break a land-speed record, Burt Munro-style. (See photo above)

Steve Gurney has teamed up with Peter Lynn, who invented the kite-buggy 20 years ago, and Craig Hansen, Matt Bedford and Gavin Mulvey.

They will fly to the United States this weekend to compete in the North American Buggy Expo (NABX) and attempt a world speed record.
The world kite-buggy record is 127kmh.

Gurney said team members had adopted a "Burt Munro attitude" – made famous in the film about the Southland motorcyclist, The World's Fastest Indian – with a "backyard invention" they designed and built.
Steve Gurney in Dancing with the Stars

"Our thinking is Burt Munro-style. We're taking on the Dutch and the US. They know a lot about wind and have a lot more resources," he said.

"We're just inventing as we go."

Last September, Hansen and Gurney , along with Australians Geoff Wilson and Garth Freeman, became the first group to attempt a crossing of the Sahara Desert by kite-buggy and the first to travel by kite-buggy for more than 1000 kilometres.

During the crossing, Gurney was thrown from his buggy face-first into a rock. He suffered concussion, an injured shoulder, a burst eardrum and severe swelling to an eye socket and face.

Gurney said his shoulder "still isn't right" but he would leave for Las Vegas on Sunday regardless.

There would be no rocks at the Ivanpar Lake Bed near Las Vegas, where the NABX would be held. "The terrain is a bit like the salt flats, but instead of salt it's a dried-up mud lake – hard with a sandpaper surface," Gurney said.

Hansen said the team had a good chance of breaking the record.

"If our homework's correct, our machine is technically superior and nobody will be able to go as fast as us," he said.

Gurney said this trip would be a "continuation" of the adventure started in the Sahara, but this time the team would aim for speed, not endurance.

"In the Sahara we used buggies built tough like quadbikes. They would only get up to 60kmh before they started to wobble," he said. "The speed-buggy has a much longer wheelbase, is wider and only about two centimetres off the ground."

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Former Nepal Prime Minister dies in Kathmandu

The former Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has died in Kathmandu, his aides and state TV say.
Mr Koirala, 86, served four terms as PM with the Nepali Congress Party and led protests that brought down King Gyanendra's authoritarian rule.
Thousands of supporters had gathered outside his daughter's house where he was taken after being in hospital for several days.

In 1975 while working for the International Red Cross in Nepal I met his eldest brother Matrika Prasad Koirala (photo left) at the family home in Biratnagar. Matrika, or MP as he was known to many, talked to me under the shade of a Banyan tree in his garden about his family and his two famous brothers. I recall him telling me his two brothers were in exile in India at that time. Matrika Prasad himself served as prime minister in 1951–52 and 1953–55 and Bisheshwar Prasad Koirala from 1959 until King Mahendra overthrew the government in December 1960. Bisheshwar Prasad and Girija Prasad were subsequently imprisoned. After his release in 1967, Girija Prasad went into exile with other leaders of the Nepali Congress Party (NCP) and did not return to Nepal until 1979.

Matrika Prasad became Vice President of the Nepal Red Cross in 1973, and when I spent some days in Biratnagar in 1975, he was a very active leader of the district Red Cross, doing a lot for the poorer people of that area. He use to come to Kathmandu regularly and I enjoyed meeting him. Often he told me of his youth in Biratnagar, where he was a union leader and championed for the rights of oppressed workers. He also told me of his great respect for Mahatma Gandhi, a man he and his brothers modelled their early life on.

However, dark days for Nepal started from 2000, during Girija Prasad Koirala's third term when the Nepali Congress government became embroiled in corruption and the Maoist insurgency, started in 1996, began gathering momentum.It was also this time that the then King Birendra and nine more members of the royal family were killed in a shocking massacre in the royal palace, a turning point for Nepal's monarchy. Koirala was forced to resign in 2001 when the army, called in to combat the Maoists, refused to heed his command.Though his protege Sher Bahadur Deuba became the new prime minister, a leadership tussle between the two led to a vertical split in the largest party in Nepal that eventually contributed to its humiliating defeat to the Maoists in the 2008 elections.In 2005, Koirala was chosen as their undisputed leader by the political parties after the then king Gyanendra followed in his father Mahendra's footsteps and tried to seize power with a military-backed coup.Consistently rejecting offers by the king to join the royal cabinet, Koirala led a coalition of parties in a peaceful protest against it whose biggest achievement was reaching an understanding with the Maoist guerrillas.The united protest led to the fall of the royal regime in 2006 when Koirala became prime minister again and held the first historic constituent assembly election in 2008 to pave the way for a new constitution.However, the leadership during crisis became tarnished during peace and Koirala's Nepali Congress fared badly in the election with most of his family members, including his daughter Sujata, losing.He also earned the wrath of the victorious Maoists by delaying handing over power to them, which led to the latter opposing his bid to become Nepal's first president.The Maoist government also saw a covert opposition by Koirala's party to the pledge to merge the Maoist army with the state army and eventually led to the collapse of the shortlived Maoist government in 2009.During his last days in politics, Koirala also faced revolt from his own partymen, who had been urging him to relinquish his grip on the party.The rise of his daughter to the post of foreign minister and deputy prime minister also came under attack.

I think a summary is best left to one of the world's greatest statesmen, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who expressed condolences. and said "Koirala spent his entire political life championing the cause of the people..."

Mr Koirala's body will lie in state at the national stadium on Sunday, with his funeral later in the day at the Pashupatinath Hindu temple in Kathmandu, his aide Gokarna Poudel said, according to AFP news agency.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Old comrade, Ebrahim Faghihi

After crossing the equator last night, we stopped in Medan the capital of North Sumatra to refuel. Just on dark we took off over the bright lights of Medan and as we arced across the jungles, the habitat of the Sumatran Tiger, a crimson and orange light streaked the horizon. Such beauty comes rarely and I pondered on how lucky I am to be seeing so much of Indonesia.
Last Friday I was in West Sumatra with Chairman of the PMI, Jusuf Kalla following up on our housing programme. This week it’s West Sumatra and Aceh.

Arriving in Banda Aceh about 8 pm in the dark, I was warmly greeted by Ebrahim Faghihi my old comrade from war torn Afghanistan in 95-96. Ebrahim is from Iran and a lover of poetry, art, nature and architecture. He runs our Tsunami operation in Aceh.

Ebrahim Faghihi (l) with Fauziah Ibrahim front person for Al Jezeera TV. Photo: Bob McKerrow

When you have been in the humanitarian business for as long as I have, there are lasting friendships -forged under the hail of rockets and mortars – that I treasure.
So when Ebrahim embraced me tonight, thoughts of so many moments we shared flashed through my inner mind. The times in Kabul when we were pinned to the floor for hours as battles raged outside our house, in Herat negotiating with uneducated and difficult Taliban commanders, are just a few.

I must have at least a score of old comrades who I have sheltered in bunkers with, carried wounded people or bodies or parried with threatening soldiers at check points, pleading for our lives.
This morning we go up before dawn in Banda Aceh and went for a leisurely morning walk for an hour or so with my old comrade Ebrahim and I saw a magnificent cluster of trees, and remnants of a once magnificent garden I had never seen this before.

Ebrahim, who has a love of history, quietly told me these were gardens belonging to Iskandar Muda, the greatest Sultan of Aceh. Ebrahim, in an eloquent manner, went on to tell me about this great man, which I list below, and provide a map to give context.

Iskandar Muda (1583 -1636) was the twelfth Sultan of Aceh, under whom the sultanate achieved its greatest territorial extent, and was the strongest power and wealthiest state in the western Indonesian archipelago and the Strait of Malacca. "Iskandar Muda" literally means "young Alexander," and his conquests were often compared to those of Alexander the Great. In addition to his notable conquests, during his tenure Aceh became known as an international centre of Islamic learning and trade.

Left, is a letter from Iskandar Muda of Acheh to King James I of England, dated 1024 Hijra (1615). This magnificent letter is nearly a metre high, and three quarters of it is devoted to spelling out the glory of the Acehnese Sultan. It is now held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford

I will spend another two days with Ebrahim as we finalise our exit strategy from the Tsunami operation which is drawing to a close after five and a quarter years. Time with old comrades is precious.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Shaun Quincey rows the Tasman Sea

TIRED AND HUNGRY: Trans-Tasman rower Shaun Quincey has made it to shore in the Far North of New Zealand. Quincey is pictured with his partner.(Photo: NZ Herald)

When I was Director of the New Zealand Outward Bound School, each morning at the assembly I would read quotes from people who had showed the world how to make positive changes, or people who discovered how to push themselves beyond their own self-imposed limitations. One of the favourites quotes was from Colin Quincey, a quote he wrote on the wall of his cabin, en route to be coming the first man to row the Tasman Sea.

During the past weeks I have been following the exploits of his son, Shaun who today became the second New Zealander to successfully row across the Tasman Sea. On arrival he said "there were many times he doubted he'd make it. "
Thirty-three years after his father became the first man to row across the Tasman, Shaun Quincey, 25, equaled his father's achievement, swimming the final kilometer to shore.

Shaun’s boat, ‘Tasman Trespasser ll’, ready to go. Images courtesy of Shaun Quincy.

The Auckland rower completed his 2200km solo journey making it to shore at 90 Mile Beach about 12.35pm, Sunday, 14 March, 2010.
He was down to his last set of oars and was buffeted by high waves as he came into shore.
His voyage was filled with highs and lows, rolling his boat at least twice, breaking two sets of oars and coming close to running out of fresh water.
"Between the capsize and hitting the whale and everything, there were plenty of times when I thought I'm not going to get here" Quincey said.
Quincey was surrounded by family, friends and media as he arrived on shore after setting off in his 7.3m boat Tasman Trespasser from New South Wales on January 20.
"It's going to take me a few days to come to terms with the fact I've been at sea for 54 days."

Father and son talking about a Tasman crossing.

"There's no better country to aim for I don't think than New Zealand, although we had some trouble aiming here a few times."
"I think we ended up rowing 4000km," he said.
Soon after greeting family, Quincey munched on a bacon and egg sandwich and poured a bottle of champagne over himself.
"That is the best sandwich I’ve tasted in my life," Quincey said.
"It's absolutely great, it's one of the best feeling I've ever had in my life," he said.
"It's been a two year journey to get here so I've got a lot of people to say thank you to."
When asked whether any future sons might carry on the tradition, Quincey replied that he wouldn't allow his son to try it.

Trans-Tasman rower Shaun Quincey still has a liking for cold porridge after he ate it for four days on the trot while battling to make a landing in New Zealand on Sunday.As he grew used to being back on steady, dry land in Auckland on Monday, he told NZPA he gave up hot food for the last four days at sea to devote as much time as he could to battling northerly currents which were threatening to sweep him past the top of the North Island.

"I had cold porridge every meal for the last four days because I wanted to get in so badly.

"I thought I was going to miss the North Island and it was just working as fast as I could and eat as fast as I could just to keep rowing," he told NZPA.

He says four days of cold porridge had not put him off eating it.

"I don't mind cold porridge. It is not too bad."

In an exclusive interview with Campbell Live, Shaun Quincey shares his experiences of being alone, in huge seas, at times running dangerously low on supplies, and exposed to the elements for almost two months.

Watching his video diary for the first time with John Campbell, Quincey says it brings back “a real mix of emotions”.

“There were some times there that were the lowest in my life – I didn’t know how I was going to keep going.

"Some of the best times in my life too. It just describes the Tasman – such a mixture of everything. One hour I’d be excited and happy about achieving a goal, and the next hour I’d be almost in tears and not knowing how I was going to keep going."

He says the lows came from the weather reports.

“I knew that bad weather meant I was going to get thrown around for 24 hours a day, I was going to go backwards and there was nothing I could do about it. Good meant I was going to make 100, 200 miles a day.

"The whole trip was two steps forward and one and half steps back. Some days you’d row for 20 miles and you’d wake up and you’d gone backwards 21."

He describes the feeling of going backward as "horrific".

"The hardest thing I’ve done is waking up, looking at the co-ordinates and going, ‘right, here we go, I’m rowing all day and I’m gonna get to where I was when I finished yesterday’.”

Of being in a boat on his own, being punished by the elements with no one to talk to, Quincey says he was hardest on himself.

“There is no one to blame, you can’t say, ‘hey Mike, that was your fault – why are we back here?’ You’re out there, it’s your fault – well, not your fault – but it’s just going to happen and you have to keep going.”

He says he would usually try to be asleep by 11pm and awake and ideally rowing by 7.30am.

“Going into the cabin didn’t mean going to sleep. Going into the cabin meant getting things dry, navigating, preparing food, getting all the salt off - I had to use wet wipes to get all the salt off me so that I didn’t get salt sores.

"Then medicating yourself, anti-biotic creams, protein bars, and going through the communication pattern.

"Waking up I would just get out of bed, get my wet weather gear on, do my makeup routine – my sun block and zinc and things – and try and be on deck by 8 o’clock, pump everything out.

"I really got sick of having wet feet, you’d wake up every morning with wet feet.

"I’d row in two hour blocks – get up, row, have breakfast, and so on.

"Rowing wasn’t too bad – I didn’t mind the rowing. The monotony of rowing was horrific – every day is the same thing."

Quincey says it made a huge difference when his “friends” – whales, dolphins, and birds – turned up.

“The Tasman is a boring place, mate,” he tells John Campbell.

“Storms almost had a perk because you knew things were gonna get a little bit wild.

"I rowed into the sperm whale, and I’ll remember that for the rest of my life. Whales, dolphins – surfing down a 40ft wave with dolphins next to me is something I’ll hold very close for the rest of my life."

Quincey says under no circumstances would he do the crossing again.

“No, you couldn’t pay me enough,” he says.

When offered $1 million Quincey tells John Campbell, “no, wouldn’t do it again”.

“After I’d capsized a few times, there was so much I was looking forward to at home – I had a great partner at home, Lisa is half the reason I got across the Tasman."

He says thinking about how his father had made the same crossing helped get him through it.

“Thinking, ‘dad did it, I can do it. I have to be able to do it,’ and I had to – it was not ‘can you’ or ‘will you’, it was ‘I have to’,” he says.

There were days when Quincey says he seriously did not think he could complete the crossing.

“Day three, the thoughts going through my head were ‘let’s set this boat on fire… I’m off’.

"Your emotions bounce around – you’re so happy to be there one minute, you’re like ‘I’m invincible, I’m gonna make it no matter what’. The next minute is, ‘I’ll put a hole in this boat, I’ll sink it, I’m out’.”

He says he has learnt a lot about himself in the time he has spent alone during the crossing.

“I won’t give up on stuff now. You can achieve whatever you want, as long as you don’t give up. If you’ve got the tenacity, if you’ve got the perseverance, you’re gonna get there.

"Getting up every day and thinking, ‘you’re not gonna beat me… I’m gonna get there’."

But for now, Quincey is happiest at home.

"It was a huge fight, and I won. I’m happy to be home – it’s the best place to be in the world I think, New Zealand, and it’s great."

Left seriously out of pocket following the trip, Quincey has been left with – among other costs incurred – a $6000 satellite phone bill.

His father Colin completed the journey in the reverse direction in 63 days in 1977. See photo below.

Colin Quincy 33 years ago in his boat Trespasser: “I will always remember the first day I surfed my boat down a 20-foot wave”

Of all the endurance and adventure feats I identify with and admire most, is kayak or row boat journeys across vast oceans, In 1988 I joined Paul Caffyn in an attempt to be the first kayakers to paddle the Tasman Sea. Paul had planned the trip for over two years and I had trained hard for six months including solo crossings of the Cook Strait, night long training trips on Lake Horowhenua, and up and down the lower north island coastline, navigating by stars and moon.

After two hours into the trip from our starting point in Tasmania, we had to return to shore for adjustments to the front cockpit I was sitting in. The rudder cables were cutting into my knees. Once on shore we were served a summons by the Tasmanian Police and forbidden to make another attempt on the Tasman Sea from Australia. That was a bitter disappointment but gave me an understanding of immense sea voyages.

Today I discovered this interview with Colin Quincey on ExplorersWeb conducted in January 2010:

It was 1977 with no GPS or iPod; he navigated with a sextant, sang songs and did maths while rowing across the Tasman Sea for 63 days. Colin Quincy remains the only person to cross the Tasman solo and survive. ExWeb’s Correne Coetzer caught up with Colin in Australia while helping his son, Shaun with his last preparations to follow in his father’s footsteps. ExplorersWeb: How do you feel about your son’s row? Colin: I’m excited about it and I hope he beats the record.

ExplorersWeb: You were the first to row the Tasman back in 1977 and had nobody’s experience you could learn from. How did you prepare yourself for the row?

Colin: I trained by towing tires behind a dingy in Auckland harbour combined with a lot of careful research and planning plus 10,000 nautical miles of sailing around the world.

ExplorersWeb: How were things different then from now? Colin: The biggest difference would have to be the use of GPS and also satellite communication. I didn’t talk to anyone and all my navigation was by the stars using a sextant.

ExplorersWeb: You had no communication / satellite phone / music players / audio books with you. How did you keep yourself going?

Colin: I rowed for 63 Days and to entertain myself (apart from smoking) I would navigate constantly, sing songs, read books and do mathematical problems.

ExplorersWeb: What bad experiences did you have during your row? Colin: Blisters, boils, salt sores. I pulled a muscle in my back which stopped me from rowing for 10 days.

ExplorersWeb: What safety measures did you have? Colin: I carried an emergency radio beacon and I was constantly tied to my boat.

ExplorersWeb: What great moments do you remember? Colin: I will always remember the first day I surfed my boat down a 20-foot wave.

ExplorersWeb: What advice can you give to young rowers?

Colin: Plan, Plan, Plan and then give it your best shot!

ExplorersWeb: Would you like to do it again today with your life experience and all the tech?

Colin: There is no point in doing it again for me, I would have preferred to have the tech gear but I wouldn’t do it again as I have no desire to do it twice. In 1977 Colin Quincey made history by completing the first ever single-handed row across the Tasman. He rowed the 2200 km in 63 days. He left Hokianga Harbour in Northland, New Zealand and landed at Noosa in Queensland, Australia on 10 April 1977. Colin remains the only person to cross the Tasman solo and survive. His son, 25-year old Shaun is about to follow in his father’s footsteps by rowing the reverse direction. Colin’s boat was named Tasman Trespasser and Shaun thought it fitting to name his boat and expedition “Tasman Trespasser II”. Colin Quincey defines the old school adventurer. At age 17, Colin left his hometown of Yorkshire, England to participate in the tall ships race around the world, serving on the George Voch, a German square rigger, eventually sailing into Hawaii, which was to be his home for some time as an apprentice to the sea. After sailing the oceans of the world, New Zealand became his home and the desire for adventure began brewing. While Colin was working on the New Zealand spirit of adventure he was triggered by some of the young cadets lack of interest in trying new things and pushing their own limits. The cotton wool wrapping up the young people of the world needed to be removed and Colin Quincey was going to be the one to show them how to do it. The Tasman Trespasser campaign was born and Colin was to row the Tasman 6 months later, making history and putting New Zealand on the map of adventure again. Colin’s life between then and now hasn’t slowed one bit. After serving 25 years with the Royal New Zealand Navy, Colin has worked with disadvantaged children in Tonga, Thailand and Cambodia. Colin Quincey was born on 8 May 1945 and lives in Darwin, Australia. His hobbies are reading and cricket. Apart from being and ocean rower, Colin served in the New Zealand Navy for 25 years and was an English Teacher.
Now that hia son Shaun has just completed his journey, I look forward to reading his story. Here is a bit I picked up on the news this morning, Monday 15 March.

Colin Quincey's boat was in the Maritime Museum in Auckland and Quincey said it would be nice to see his boat displayed alongside.

"I will probably end up selling it but will see what happens in the next few weeks. It is too early to make decisions on it."

He said he woke on Monday to early morning media interviews from around the world but it was taking time to realise he did not have to get up and row every day.

"Getting up and facing the day was hard. I was in my cabin and some mornings I would wake up warm and dry and cosy and it was okay. It was: 'I don't want to get up and I don't want to get out of here'," he says.

"The actual routine of putting your arms out and rowing was not a problem. The physical exertion did not plague me.

"It was just getting out of bed, getting slammed, having to get dressed, getting thrown across the boat, trying to make your meal when you are completely soaked and you are going to spill your food all over yourself and you are not going to get half of it in your mouth.

"That is what was annoying, having to do stuff which would normally take five minutes would take four hours. That was annoying and it just ate away at you every single day," he says.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Hard Men, Another New Zealand War Hero

News trickled out today about a New Zealander serving in the British Army who is being hailed as a hero after he saved two colleagues' lives when a hand grenade was thrown in front of them.
Rifleman James McKie (pictured above) was under fire from three directions when the hand grenade hit his platoon commander and landed at his feet.
He picked up the grenade and hurled it back at the enemy moments before it exploded.
"My first thought was I hope this doesn't hurt too much," he told British media.
The grenade exploded mid-air a split second later, sending fragments into Rifleman McKie's face and arm, and injuring his commander's leg. The third soldier escaped unharmed.
His actions helped to save the lives of his commander and one other soldier who were engaging the enemy in a fire fight, from a compound roof, in the Sangin area of Helmand Province.
"There was no way you could throw yourself off and not get injured, so I made a decision to pick up the grenade and throw it off the roof," Rifleman McKie said.
"My platoon has taken a lot of casualties. I really didn't want to see anyone else get hurt."
The 29-year-old has been serving in Afghanistan for five months.
He recently joined the British Army, having previously served in the New Zealand Army.
Commanding officer Captain Graeme Kerr said he owed his life to Rifleman McKie's brave actions.
"Bearing in mind you only have three seconds when it lands by your feet and half a second to make a decision and another three seconds to throw it, that's pretty heroic in my book," he said.
Standard procedure was to jump away from the grenade, Captain Kerr said.
"He's one of those very brave people that has a complete disregard for his own life and a high regard for other people's."
Captain Kerr, from Recce Platoon, 3rd Battalion The Rifles, was recovering in hospital in Britain.
Rifleman McKie continued to fight on the front line and is now in line for a bravery award.
When interviewed again McKie said he's "embarrassed" by being described as a hero after saving his commanding officer from a hand grenade attack in Afghanistan.

His father, Andrew McKie, said he was incredibly proud of his son's "brilliant and courageous act".
"He was probably seconds away from dying."
"I'm just glad he came out of it. My heart's with the people in his unit who have been killed over the last week who weren't so lucky."
Rifleman McKie had continued to fight on the front line after he was injured.
Rifleman McKie grew up around army camps, where his father had served as Warrant Officer Class 1 until he retired in 1991.
He was stationed in Waiouru and Palmerston North before "he'd done his dash in the New Zealand Army".
"He wanted a bit of adventure I think, and he'd read all about the British Army, what they were doing," Mr McKie said.
"It took him a year to get into the British Army, he sort of slept on a couch in London doing all the paperwork and everything."

James McKie carries on the proud tradition of New Zealand 'H ard Men' or war heroes which they don't like to be called.

Corporal Willie Apiata was awarded the Victoria Cross in 2007 for carrying an injured Kiwi soldier out of the firing line during an attack in Afghanistan three years earlier. New Zealand Prime Minister at the time, Helen Clark paid tribute to Cpl Apiata's bravery.
"Cpl. Apiata carried a severely wounded comrade over 70 yards across broken, rocky and fire-swept ground, fully exposed to the glare of battle, heavy opposing fire and into the face of return fire from the main New Zealand troops' position," she said.

But the most highly decorated New Zealander was Charles Upham who earned the Victoria Cross twice during World War II.He was only the third person to receive the Victoria Cross twice and has been described as the most highly decorated Commonwealth soldier of that war.

Hard men
Te Ara (New Zealand Encyclopedia) describes the New Zealand soldier of WWII as Hard Men. While there was much that was familiar in the image of the New Zealander at war – the egalitarian spirit of the officer who led from the front ‘as one of the boys’, the emphasis on the quiet unemotional nature of mateship – there were subtle changes. New Zealand men were no longer regarded as notably tall, but as strong and wiry. And there was a growing acceptance that they not only fought hard, but also played hard. New Zealand writer Dan Davin wrote, ‘you couldn’t have the wild dash of the Galatas counterattack or, after it, the grim steadiness of that ferocious withdrawal over Crete’s spine without this same discharge of vigour in the drunken backstreets of Cairo where pimps prospered and gutters stank of piss.’ The war also saw a full acceptance by both Māori and Pakeha of their joint identity as New Zealanders. This time Waikato Māori enlisted, and while the Māori Battalion was a separate unit, both peoples joined in a mutual pride in its reputation.

Thanks to Stuff website for information on James McKie.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

2012 ? Is the world really coming to an end ?

Hayley's Comet photographed in 1910. Photo: New York Times

My late father who was born a 100 years ago, told me that when his Mother was pregnant with him, there was an incredible fear about the world coming to an end, and it was likely to be triggered by the appearance of Hayley’s Comet due in mid 1910.
Sure enough, it almost happened when my Grandmother was in her home in the Port of Lyttelton in New Zealand, she heard a huge bang and was convinced that the world was ending , as she collapsed on the floor, in the advanced stages of pregnancy.

The big noise was a parcel thrown by the postman (mailman) onto a wooden floored veranda of their house. So the world did not end in 1910, but is it going to end in 2012 ? I don't think so ?

I saw the apocalyptic tale in the movie, 2012, directed by Roland Emmerich, on the flight from New Zealand to Jakarta last Friday, and whilst stunned and shocked by this possible scenario, I prefer to believe my Indonesian friend Danny Hilman Natawidjaja, an internationally reknowned seismologist. Danny and I appeared late last years on Al Jezeera Tsunami special where he explained that the world can expect more Megacrush earthquakes as it is a very active time in terms of the movement of the earth's plates. Since that pronouncement in early December, we have seen devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. Danny also predicted the likelihood of an earthquake of over 8.5 on the Richter scale, a megacrush accompanied by a tsunami off the coast of Sumatra. This would possibly be an earthquake similar to that generated by the Boxing Day Day Tsunami in 2004. ( L to R) Fauziah Ibrahim, Aljazeera presenter, Danny Hilman Natawidjaja, Seismologist and Tsunami expert and myself in Banda Aceh in mid December 2009.

Danny who has been studying the Mentawai fault zone off the coast of Sumatra for 12 years together with fellow researcher Prof Kerry Sieh from the Nanyang Technology University (NTU), Singapore, believe that the pressure built-up could cause a 8.8-magnitude earthquake Indonesia`s Sumatra island within 30 years, triggering a tsunami and making last September 30`s 2009 deadly temblor look tiny by comparison. Sieh said.Likening the pressures under the affected fault to a coiled spring, he said the recent quake "had really very little effect in terms of relieving the spring" which will unleash pent-up energy possibly within the next 30 years.

We have to acknowledge that earthquakes have been happening forbillions of years, and every year there are over one million earthquakes worldwide, and all of those one million earthquakes move the Earth on its axis?
The devastating earthquake in Chile that killed almost 700 people probably also shifted the Earth’s axis, say NASA scientists, permanently making days shorter by 1.26 microseconds. But since a microsecond is one-millionth of a second, you may not have noticed.
Richard Gross, a geophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says he has done the calculations. Gross says the earthquake, which measured 8.8 on the Richter scale, moved large amounts of rock, altered the distribution of mass on the planet, and moved the Earth’s axis by about 2.7 milliarcseconds (about 8 centimeters or 3 inches). The change in axis directly impacts Earth’s rotation, and the rate of the planet’s rotation determines the length of a day.
So let's be fair. We have given the scientists their chance to explain so I would like to give Dan Boyd a chance to explain a fairly united Christian perspective on it
Is it possible that the Chile earthquake coupled with the Haiti earthquake, are precursors of the coming 2012 Mayan calamity? A growing number of internet searches suggest that the thought is catching on.
Without a doubt, these two earthquakes have shocked and horrified the world like nothing else in recent history. The degree of damage and the astronomical loss of life is staggering. Many of us, including this author, know people who are living and serving in those countries. These catastrophies have hit very close to home.
But do these tragedies necessarily prove that something of a grander scale is coming in 2012? Are they a pre-cursor? Of course, only history will tell. But there are some things we can be sure of.
1. There is no proof that any calamity is going to happen in 2012.
2. The Bible is still true, no matter what happens in our hemisphere this year, or in 2012.
3. People who look to the "super natural" or the "occult" will always be fooled and deceived.
4. We should look to the infallible, inerrant, perfect Word of God (The Bible) for answers when tragedies of this nature occur.
5. Earthquakes have occurred from the beginning of time, and shall continue until Revelation 16:18 when THE BIG ONE hits, according to the Bible.
6. Instead of allowing our hearts to fill with fear and trepidation when "Acts of God" come our way, we should turn our hearts to the Lord Jesus, and give Him His rightful place in our life as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

I have just tucked my two boys in bed and said goodnight. I will sleep well tonight knowing that 2012 was just a movie, an entertaining one at that, and our world should continue for many centuries to come. But we all need to be better prepared for earthquakes and tsunami as my friend Danny Hilman says, " they are on the increase and we can expect more Megacrush ones."

Monday, 1 March 2010

Remembrance in OItipua, South Canterbury

Underneath the lamplight in Otipua. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.

I am in Otipua, South Canterbury. Last night as the sun set over my daughter's property, just behind the Otipua war memorial, I took a photo of the memorial underneath a lamplight. I thought of my Dad, James William Godfrey McKerrow, who fought in North Africa and Italy in WW II, and the eleven young men from the Otipua district who died in Europe fighting for their Motherland, Great Britain. One was a Major who won a DSO and a Captain, who won the Military Cross. Obviously brave men who bore names from Scotland, Wales, England and Ireland. The names of those from Otipua who died during the First World War. May their names live on. Photo: Bob McKerrow

As I took the photo on the going down of the sun, I thought of all those Kiwis who fought in all the wars, and the song that Dad used to sing, and which he had a tattered copy of in five languages; Lili Marlene, came to mind.

Underneath the lantern, by the barrack gate,

Darling I remember the way you used to wait.

'Twas there that you whispered tenderly,

That you loved me,

You'd always be,My Lili of the lamplight,

My own Lili Marlene.

Time would come for roll call, Time for us to part,

Darling I'd caress you and press you to my heart,

And there 'neath that far off lantern light,I'd hold you tight,

We'd kiss good-night, My Lili of the lamplight,

My own Lili Marlene.

Orders came for sailing somewhere over there,

All confined to barracks was more than I could bear;

I knew you were waiting in the street,I heard your feet,

But could not meet,My Lili of the lamplight,

My own Lili Marlene.

Resting in a billet, just behind the line,

Even tho'we're parted, your lips are close to mine.

You wait where that lantern softly gleams.Your sweet face seems to haunt my dreams.

My Lili of the lamplight, My own Lili Marlene.

The memorial for those soldiers from Otipua who lost their lives for New Zealand in the Great War 1914-18 on the corner of Beaconsfield Flat Road and Beaconsfield Road, Otipua. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The Words of Remembrance at the beginning of this posting were written by Pericles well over two thousand years ago, long before the first ANZAC Day, but only a stone’s throw from Gallipoli:

Each has won a glorious grave - not that sepulchre of earth wherein they lie, but the living tomb of everlasting remembrance wherein their glory is enshrined. For the whole earth is the sepulchre of heroes. Monuments may rise and tablets be set up to them in their own land, but on far-off shores there is an abiding memorial that no pen or chisel has traced; it is graven not on stone or brass, but on the living hearts of humanity.
Take these men for your example. Like them, remember that prosperity can be only for the free, that freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.

Engraved forever at ANZAC Cove are these words from Kemal Ataturk, the Commander of the Turkish 19th Division during the Gallipoli Campaign and the first President of the Turkish Republic from 1924-1938:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives. You are now living in the soil of a friendly country therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

At the going down of the sun...
I crouched in a shallow trench on that hell of exposed beaches... steeply rising foothills bare of cover... a landscape pockmarked with war’s inevitable litter... piles of stores... equipment... ammunition... and the weird contortions of death sculptured in Australian flesh... I saw the going down of the sun on that first ANZAC Day... the chaotic maelstrom of Australia’s and New Zealand's blooding.
I fought in the frozen mud of the Somme... in a blazing destroyer exploding on the North Sea... I fought on the perimeter at Tobruk... crashed in the flaming wreckage of a fighter in New Guinea... lived with the damned in the place cursed with the name Changi.
I was your mate... the kid across the street... the med. student at graduation... the mechanic in the corner garage... the baker who brought you bread... the gardener who cut your lawn... the clerk who sent your phone bill.
I was an Army private... a Naval commander... an Air Force bombardier. no man knows me... no name marks my tomb, for I am every Australian or NZ serviceman... I am the Unknown Soldier.
I died for a cause I held just in the service of my land... that you and yours may say in freedom...