Cessna’s In Durban

I wrote something for my Website and decided that it was not good enough. I may use what I wrote in another format and somewhere else, but it means that I am rather behind in my news.
There was an interesting experience a few weeks ago. Coming from London the plane left a bit late. Just before the cabin doors closed the person sitting next to me took out a cell phone and proceeded to have a long conversation. We were asked to switch our phones off, she carried on talking. The steward walked passed and said, “Madam please will you put your phone off?” As we taxied she talked. The cabin-crew member came and asked her to switch it off. She said, “of course” but carried on talking! The steward came back and again saying: “if you don’t switch it off we will have to stand until you have”. She finished her conversation, reached into her voluminous bag, and took out four other cell phones, which she proceeded to switch off one after the other. His eyebrows rose into his hairline.

I returned to South Africa via a meeting in Brussels. This was on global health governance and the right to health, organized by Gorik Ooms, an interesting Belgian trained as a lawyer and now an academic after heading MSF in Belgium. The one slight downer for me was that on the Monday night I was violently ill. I would like to think it was the seafood I had but suspect that the alcohol combined with homeopathic sleeping pills may have had something to do with it. It is an uncomfortable feeling to be crouched over a toilet bowl and the number of stars the hotel has makes little difference.

The time in Durban has comprised one full week in the office and two where I made side visits. The first was to attend a Medecins Sans Frontieres meeting in Swaziland. The discussion was around TB and AIDS and particularly the new multi-drug resistant (MDR) and extra-drug resistant (XDR) TBs that are emerging in the region. What was particularly troubling was to learn that having no treatment is better for avoiding drug resistance than having treatment that is not adequate. This makes sense, of course, you have to have some form of treatment for drug resistance to develop and that is what is being seen in Southern Africa. The meeting was organized by Medecins Sans Frontieres and what also became clear to me is that is an uneasy alliance between Government and this organization: they are doing what Government should be doing but doesn’t have the resources to do. Additionally there are issues around the sustainability of such interventions and what will happen when MSF goes. The philosophy underlying MSF activities is to get involved for a medium-term period when there are no options and this is what they have done.

I have done rather more flying that I should and guess that getting on an airplane on the 15th and going to Vancouver will not help my global climate change karma. So some thoughts about Durban. I managed to get one flying lesson here. We flew from Virginia Airport which is a small strip mainly handling light aircraft, in the northern part of the city, and right next to the beach. The aircraft was a Cessna 152. I handled it reasonably well but unfortunately it is the windy season here in Durban and the gusts were too strong for me to land.

It is very different flying from Virginia than it was from Norwich, oddly this airport is far busier; does not have a radar system for them to know where you are; and has a tighter circuit than Norwich. All this means that flying here is actually more challenging than it has been in the UK. I plan to will mix and match my lessons although I suspect that going solo will be easier in the UK than it is here because the runway is so much bigger. In addition there are lights to guide you in in Norwich, Durban does not have this.

One of the interesting things about telling people I am learning to fly is discovering how many others have either done some lessons, have friends who have learnt, or who want to. My optician took 24 lessons and was just about to go solo before he gave up. He said it was because two of the instructors at the flying school had crashes.

My major busyness in Durban has centered round responding to the HEARD mid-term review, which was carried between June and September. This is absolutely critical for ensuring that we obtain funding going into the future and was a 64-page document with 15 recommendations to responded to. I was delighted by the way the HEARD team came together to assist in the response. They were truly remarkable. The first part of the response was drafted by one and another five read and re-read the document to get it exactly right. I finished reading it in the dentist’s waiting room and it has gone off. What a relief. It doesn’t mean that we are out of the woods as far as work and busyness goes; that will carry on into the New Year as we prepare new memoranda, a work plan and think about the long-term strategy. Nonetheless it is an important milestone and a big step forward.

So I got back to Durban. What is it like being back? Well I had forgotten the noise of the traffic on Moore Road (which has been renamed as Che Guevara Road). This is very loud in my bedroom. I had to go to sleep with earplugs. Mind you this is not as bad as the first night I moved in. On that evening there was burst water main about 100 meters from my bedroom and the entire night was spent to the sound of drills and excavators as the city corporation set about fixing it. It was a nightmare.

In the morning there are the birds that start chirping at 4.00 in the trees outside, the sun begins to rise at about 4.30 and when I get up at 5.30 and looked out of my window I could see my jacaranda tree is full bloom. There have been a mixture of rainy and wet, and beautiful sunny days. Spring is wonderful.

I was driving back from town the other day when I really took notice of the evangelical marquee used by an evangelical church in Albert Park in the city. Having just been in other capitals it is striking how evangelical preacher’s tents are springing up like mushrooms on waste ground across the cities of southern Africa.