Thursday, 22 December 2016

2016 a final update

Happy Christmas

 I’ve never tried to do a family and friends Christmas/New Years message before, so here goes nothing. A lot of people we know consider 2016 to have been somewhat of an “Annus Horibilis” and when you look at Brexit, Trump, the limping black comedy that is the Australian Government and the deaths of loved celebrities there is some point to this. But for us 2016 has had far more positives than negatives.

Newly minted Doctor
Newly married

  • Katrina fulfilled her long held wish, completing her PhD thesis and achieving the accolade of Doctor! There is a Doctor in the house!!!!
  • Rufus and Georgie finally got around to tying the knot. Yay well done, at last ! At a celebration that had a bit of something for everyone.
    Something else

even more Something 
With added furniture
With added lion
  • BJ had a good year with changes on the work front and so-on.
  • David got to walk with Lions – yep real honest to goodness LIONS! and
  • We finally own the house in France! Now with furniture and all………………………..
Family portrait

Dinner with friends in Australia

 On the down side, Katrina’s knee has become rapidly worse and will have to be replaced in March, we lost a good friend in Michelle Dean and we become increasingly detached from Australia and our former life there. Our trips back to Australia are bittersweet in that we don’t get to see everyone we want to and each year we come away having seen at least one person for the last time.
The whirlwind tour of 2016 was Oman, Australia, UK, France, Belgium, UAE, Senegal and Ethiopia. There was a contract renewal back in March, which at its end will mean 6 years in Oman. And that will be that. Barring unforseen circumstances David will retire in early 2018, so if you want to come and visit us in Oman you have just over a year.

Oman continues to endear itself to us, with its friendly people, stunning scenery and that you never know what is around the next corner. We are looking forward to seeing more of Oman in 2017.

Friendly Omani's
More of "that" scenery
Some of "that" scenery
For us 2016 was a year of too much travel, a lot of work with some successes along the way. We are looking forward to see what 2017 brings and it already looks promising. So, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, may the future be good for you. and

Bye for now

A Bientot

You never quite know what you will see next!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Home Sweet FRANCE?

Keys and an appropriately named champagne to celebrate.
If you've been following along in other social media, you'll know by now that we bought a house in France.  Sept-Forges, a tiny little village (286 people) in Basse Normandie (that's Lower Normandy to you). From offer to us taking possession took about 10 months. It's not meant to be that way, but there were some issues with French inheritance law. You see, two of the heirs of the seller (Madame Martell) were in state care and required judges to make the call for them. Unfortunately one of the judges sat on the papers, and then sat on them some more, before sitting on them again and finally approving the sale. Sigh!

6 months of garden neglect
So after making an offer in October last year, settlement happened on 18 August and we came to France on 8 September to collect the keys and take possession. Finally the marathon was run, time to start another - getting the house to the state we want it in!

A few days of maintenance later
At Charles De Gaulle Airport we rented a Citroen Jumpy 9 seater. As soon as we got to the house two rows of seats came out and went into the garage. Much better, as we now had what looked like ACRES OF SPACE, possibly even hectares, to put stuff in as, apart from a couple of dodgy built-ins, the house came with no furniture. Our first few nights were spent at a bed and breakfast in nearby Lassay Le Chateau, while we ran around during the day and got stuff, lots of stuff! Until finally we could move in on Monday, although it took until Wednesday for the water to be turned back on. And miracle of miracles, after Orange telling us the internet would take 2 weeks, it ended up being two days!

Fortunately for us, our arrival coincided with a big sale day at the Emmaus charitable mission in nearby Alencon. This meant we got an extendable dining table with 6 chairs, two small dressers, crockery (nice french porcelain), enamel cooking ware, and so on for around 200 euro. We went back again and got an armoire and the worlds heaviest coffee table. I was intrigued by the granite top, which I assumed was "wafer thin" sheets, nope, they must have used blocks!!! At least the coffee demitasses (or wine glasses) won't suffer when anyone walks into it. I'm guessing it'd be a close run thing between budging the coffee table and breaking a leg.

Katrina testing out the worlds heaviest coffee table.
We were both taken by the armoire on our first visit, but knew that even with acres of haulage room it wouldn't fit in the Jumpy, with all the other stuff, hence the second visit. The carved decorations took our fancy, and we know that it's missing bits and pieces and doesn't really fit into the available space, but at 40 euro and a free coffee table (courtesy of my little brother).......................

I mentioned that Emmaus is a charitable organization, apparently the men who live and work there all have "troubles". We dealt with a very jovial young Senegali, who was over the moon to be dealing with Australians and then ecstatic when I told him that I had been to Senegal, and not just Dakar. He started calling me his big brother and was quite excited to see us a second time. I am hoping that by the time a third visit is needed he will have sorted his troubles and moved on.

Madame Martel moved out of the house in March, in expectation of a quick finalization, so from then to October nothing was done to the garden. There were creeper tendrils making a bid for sole occupancy! We soon put a stop to that, but then there was the path, the yards and the fence to deal with. After six days of hard slog I still haven't touched the garden beside the steps from the church, or the main garden plot. There are cubic metres of green waste in the garden lean to, waiting on collection and removal. Although I don't know what that's going to cost us, or when it will happen.

Speaking of which we seem to have landed on our feet with our neighbours. Directly across the street form us are a French couple, Stefan and Manu, and in the next house along at the end of the street is Josepha, a New Caledonian.  Around the corner is Allan an Englishman who pops over regularly while his wife is mostly in the UK.  Steffan, Manu and Josepha are permanent residents and Allan has been in and out for 14 years, owning the house and a small farm just outside the village. They have all been very welcoming and Steffan even forgave me when I laughed that his dog Earnest had "broken out" and gone on the run again. He is a very friendly dog that loves people, cows and rolling in cow pats; of which there are plenty, of course, as Sept-Forges is in the middle of Camembert country.  Sad really.
The church above the house

As an added bonus, there is a "Sauf Riverains" sign at the end of the street. This means that if you don't have actual business here don't enter. So, in the morning and late afternoon, there is little traffic and otherwise blissful silence. Once the church bells stop ringing the hours in the evening there is absolute stillness, even quieter than Venice at night! Lovely - and a great view to wake to.

Proof positive that the kitchen works
So for now we have functional kitchen, living room, bedroom and a fold-out bed/chaisse in the living room. The showers both work, there's gas in the kitchen

Did I mention that the Emmaus furniture was all antique? May be in need of TLC and missing bits, but there's time.

As for now, we're back to Paris Friday afternoon before a flight back to Muscat and reality. Boy, will we be tired!

The view from the bedroom window - Note that the ascending wall was invisible a few days ago.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Oh Senegal

Look out behind!!
This year the IT conference was held in Dakar Senegal, you know the place where the Paris to Dakar rally used to finish. Unfortunately the route from Paris to Dakar has become a little too dangerous, so while the contest is still known as the Dakar, it has nothing to do with Senegal.

Because of the way working weeks work I left Muscat on the Saturday, giving me Sunday to Tuesday in Senegal before the conference began. Col Yahya and Lt Mohammad made similar decisions.

Senegalese Customs Post at The Gambia border
Check out the load

On Sunday Mohammad and I went to the Sandaga markets and the statue of the African Renaissance. Interesting.  Before leaving for Senegal Katrina told me to buy some of the locally wax dyed fabric, so I did.Mohammad decided that his wife would also like some fabric, so shopped as well.  After we'd finished shopping we continued through the market and that's where we got one of the interesting Senegal experiences.  A stall holder invited me in,  I said "No", he invited again and offered his business card, once again I said "No, I've finished shopping".  Welllllllllll that led to the guy following us down the main road of the market calling me (at the top of his voice) racist. I put up with that for a little while before rounding on him and giving him both barrels. After that he settled down and became quite chatty, accompanying us for a few hundred meters and being quite friendly. At the end he told Mohammad "your friend has a big personality". I think that by calling his marketting strategy he became curious and was just happy to chat. BJ, he bargained down for your Senegal cap!
Monday we made a trip up country to the Fathala Safari Park and a night of "glamping"

Statue of the African Renaissance, bigger than Lady Liberty and built under
guidance of North Korea, the view from inside the man's head is spectacular

A Baobab tree, by no means a big one!
Fathala was 250 kms from Dakar and so a chance to see how the majority of Senegalese lived. Intriguing and interesting.  Mohammad had arranged a driver for us, and as much as the driving was relatively easy I would not have chosen to drive
myself. Interesting to see that most Senegalese live  in thatch roofed houses and that money is probably not a real issue in most of their lives. Houses were inside walled enclosures, with thatched roofs providing weather protection. Didn't see any sign of electrical power, but everybody seemed to have a charged mobile phone.

Giraffe in hot pursuit of the safari vehicle


Monkeying around at the watering hole
Anyway, approaching mid afternoon we got to Fathala and ran into Nestor, a South American in Senegal for the same conference and went on the same safari around the wildlife park. Lots of animals, three of the big African big 5 in the park,  We loved it, Giraffe, Buffalo, and so on - see the pictures! The real treat was on Sunday morning when we went for a 40 minute walk with the Lions. Yes Lions, no fence, no safety net -  real to goodness LIONS!!!! Can I say AWESOMENESS
He's behind you
Going back to Dakar from the park was a bit "special". We left the park in plenty of time and made a 5km detour to the border with The Gambia. That was our mistake. First up we got stopped by Police, who insisted that our driver remove all of his window tinting - they may or may not have been trying to get a bribe from him. Then we went through to the border looked around and hit the road again.
Flighty little critters these

All of which meant that when we got to the ferry crossing we were queuing for the second ferry. No problem. Well when the ferry docked the Captain decided it was lunch time. So off he went to eat and everybody just kept on waiting, and waiting. When he eventually came back, he decided it was also time to refuel, which he did - with a lit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Sigh. So we continued waiting and waiting. Eventually all was well and we got going. All up we were waiting to take the 20 minute ferry ride for more than 3 hours.
Local transport

No comment needed
Ahh well, wasn't much of a hardship as there was a small market area at the landing, people selling mangoes, assorted other foodstuffs and locally grown cashews. It was a hive of activity. All the way to and from Dakar, wherever there was a town the road was lined with mango stalls. Stopping to buy some was an experience as the car was instantly swarmed by ladies, a few per window, all trying to attract attention to their mangoes and make that sale.
Mangoes anyone?

The rest of the week was spent in conference, until on the final morning the president of Senegal decided that he and his entourage were going to stay at the hotel, for some sort of regional African Government meeting. Private guards and police everywhere. Conference delegates with bookings kicked out of the hotel - one even to the local French naval base!

My favourite moment of that was while the foyer was shut down a European delegate, on being advised why the foyer was shut down said rather loudly "In my country we have a King, And He rides a bicycle!"

Anyway the conference went well, Col Yahya sat up front and gave his talk, I ended up being drafted in as an emergency facilitator at one of the workshops. Got to see a bunch of people I don't see very often and heard a lot of interesting talks and presentations. At the Gala dinner there was a performance by Senegal's biggest international artist, Yossou N'Dour who had the international hit 7 Seconds Away. It was fun, so much that I even got up and went to the dance floor! Don't panic though, coz I didn't dance. Thanks Senegal.

Friday afternoon was slated to be a tour to "Ille de Goree" a slave trading center. We all had to book to go during the conference. So I made it to the collection point on time, and was chatting with Lou (the American delegate). All of a sudden we were grabbed and told quick get onto this bus. So we did, it was the VIP bus,  Lou was at the front and I was down the back. To cut a long story short as the doors slammed I noticed that Lou had been removed from the bus and replaced by somebody else. That was the last I saw of Lou. Turns out there were many times the number of people than the available bus seats.
Ille de Goree - which apparently means safe harbour, and was a very active slave trade location.
We took off, under Police escort (an ambulance) to the port. Pulled in, everybody out was the call, so we did - oops sorry get back in, so we did. Drove around the port, stopped everybody out, so we did - oops get back in so we did, except that one of the busses had dumped and run. On we went to where we were supposed to board the boat. Then we waited while one bus went and retrieved the dumped contingent.

So finally a good hour and a half late we set off for Goree, which I found quite depressing. We were escorted around the island, by police, guess that meant "you can rip these tourists off but not too badly!"  I ended up buying "rather tasteful" shirts and pants for the boys. They may forgive me one day!

Ille De Goree was a slave trading center and has  a museum dedicated to the slave trade on it. People can be such pricks to each other.
At the Museum of the slave trade, which is in the main slave prison
In the end we got back to the hotel at 830 and all the people I had planned to dine with were long gone, having missed the bus and given up on the tour, I guess they went for dinner at a reasonable hour.

Early the next morning I flew out of Dakar, bound for Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and then Muscat. I landed in Addis at 9pm,  due to board for Muscat at 925. Sadly my flight had been cancelled. So after some argument with the Ethiopian transfer desk I was eventually checked into a hotel with meals. I had a free day in Addis and a 24 hour delay in getting home.  I could complain, but what's the point, another country to explore.

So I did and got to see "Lucy" the 3.4 million year old skeleton, and the last of the descendants of Emperor Haille Selasi's royal lions. And then it was time to go back to Muscat and the start of Ramadan.
I can guess why my flight was cancelled, may have had something to do with the fact that I had a bank of three seats to myself for the flight...........

So now its back to work, with catching up to do.
Emperor Haille Selassie's crown
Peek A Boo

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Does the environment matter

An open letter to Greg Hunt,
Australian Minister for the Environment.

7 May 2016

Dear Greg

This is your cousin David Hunt.  Perhaps you remember me from occasional family gatherings, where I took periodic umbrage with the policies and politics of your father Alan Hunt, who was variously Victorian State Leader of the Upper House, Leader of the opposition in the Upper House, Minister for Education and Minister for Local Government.

One of the things that I respected about your father was that he stuck to his principles. It was through sticking to those principles that Alan introduced the Green Zone legislation in Victoria. An act that has had a lasting impact on Melbourne, providing generations with access to green spaces. Spaces that would have been bulldozed and developed for short term gain and profit, leaving local communities with no recreation space and city kids with no access to greenery. Please think on that the next time you take your kids out into parks and reserves in Mornington.

Although I don’t live in Australia at the moment my children do. So I watch Australian news with interest. When the Abbott government was elected I had high hopes that you had learnt from your father and that you would be a good Minister in a portfolio you cared about and had held for a long time. Your university thesis did after all propose a carbon tax, indicating that before you entered parliament you cared about the environment and recognised that something had to be done to address carbon emissions and migrate to other energy sources.

Sadly, it seems that the Liberal Party has long ago been bought by the coal and petroleum industries, amongst others. (Comment deleted here - see below) Year after year temperature records are broken and 98% of scientists in the field say that carbon is a significant causal factor. Of the remaining 2% of scientists in the field many are funded by the carbon energy sector, do you see any conflict of interest there?

So, as Environment Minister what are your headline achievements? New coal mines, new ports cutting through the Great Barrier Reef to move said coal, Coal Seam Gas extraction, reductions in renewable energy targets and the gutting of Australia’s capacity to develop renewable energy sources. All while the rest of the world is moving away from carbon fuels. Heck even Saudi Arabia is investing in, building and operating domestic solar and wind energy infrastructure. Not to mention that you have approved projects that will cause environmental damage to Australia’s food bowl and water table. If you haven’t done so I suggest that you read up on the environmental record of Adani. Safeguards are all well and good, but should we be digging up Australian farmland to provide coal for a world that is rapidly moving to other energy sources? Should we be fracturing rock to extract gas, knowing that by doing so the land becomes earthquake prone and that inevitably chemicals used in the process will end up in the water courses? Once poisoned……….

Whether you believe in carbon caused climate change or not, the rest of the world is beginning to act. If you don’t Australia will be left behind and what sort of legacy will that be for Australian innovation and future generations of business leaders, not to mention the Australian public?
I notice that your Government is pretty keen to spend money on defence and the military. I am intrigued that nobody seems to have worked out that in any future war Australia’s “big infrastructure” energy network would be a prime and impossible to defend target. In that light I am completely staggered that your Government opposes solar and other renewable energy sources. Homes, factories and Government buildings could be independent of the grid, as part of a distributed power network, making it impossible for acts of terror, sabotage or military strike to disable power supply.
Australia has so many advantages and we should rightfully be world leaders in the adoption of new technologies in solar, tidal and wind power generation. Much of the rest of the world is headed there, yet where is Australia? Yes, your Ministerial website has positive stories, but where is the balance of funding going, and what is the tenor of your decisions?

You have been a federal politician for 15 years and actively involved in politics throughout your adult life. Please Greg, I ask you to reflect on this and ask yourself this one question – What will your legacy be?  Will it be positive like your father? Or will it be one of complicity in causing environmental damage, whilst ignoring a growing catastrophe, and tying Australia to industries the world is moving away from?

Kind Regards

David Hunt

"Your most recent public comments about carbon pollution are mind boggling. That you, as an educated man could say such things when the scientific consensus is in is nothing short of staggering."
I made the above statement in response to some reportage in the press. Greg assures me that he did not make any such statements, that such statements do not reflect his personal beliefs and was not even at the event where those words were attributed to him. As a result of this post I had a long discussion with Greg. I have to say that I could never be a politician and I do not envy him his task, which would be difficult in even the most progressive of Governments. 

Friday, 11 March 2016

When it rains......

Very happy wetland feeders

As you know Oman is a desert country, much of the interior is made up of differing types of desert. There are large swathes of the "classical" sand desert, including massive dunes as well as what we Australians would call gibber plains of desert. For much of the year the temperature is well over 40, in places peaking above 50 and night-time lows are in the high 30's. 

Most of the water in the country comes from aquifers and over the millenia, Omani's have learnt how to access and use those sources. The most prolific and long standing is the Fallaj, which are simply aqueducts running both above and below ground. Wherever there is water and soil, there are green oases and villages. 

What is not so common is rain. Although it seems rain is coming more and more often to Oman. However as there is little practical experience dealing with rain it is cause for celebration when it does arrive. People come out to watch, which is a deadly mix when combined with the barren landscape that does not absorb water. What this means is that with rain comes flash flooding. So every time there is a solid dump of rain people get too close and the inevitable happens, some get caught up and washed away, often to their deaths. Every time there is a serious rain the Police issue warnings and a certain proportion of people ignore them. Oh to be young again.  

Our local flood
Where the water came from

It only takes seconds for a perfectly dry place to be transformed into a raging torrent. There are plenty of youtube videos showing flash flooding in Oman and near escapes.

Last September we got caught in rains in the mountains, we were driving across to the UAE for a weekend away.  It started raining, within minutes there were rivulets running down the mountains. In less than an hour we were trapped between two Wadi's that for 99% of the year are bone dry. We saw whole date palms and dumpsters bobbing by in the spate. So we did what the locals do, stopped, hunkered down and sat out the flood. After about two hours the rain stopped, another hour or so the wadi had abated enough for us to cross and be on our way. Roughly 20 minutes down the road there were isolated pools in the wadi and on our return to Oman two days later you could hardly tell there had been such an amount of water through.

Those rivulets - Sorry about the image quality!
Safe enough to cross? On the way to UAE

This week we had three consecutive days of rain and the latest news article I saw recorded five deaths this time round. The road out front of our house has now been under water for three days, although the flow is now right down and only a few centimeters deep at the most. For a good two days though the water flowing across the road was a solid 30+ cm deep and flowing quite quickly. Many people used discretion and did not cross the water. Many others however made the most of it. 

At the point where the wadi crosses the road there is around 100 meters to the beach, running through vacant land that has some unofficial football pitches and so on. This is normally dry as there is a sand bank before the beach. That sand bank is so substantial that for the last 6 months road workers have been pumping groundwater seepage (2 large industrial pumps running 24*7) from a construction hole into the vacant land, thereby creating a shallow wetland system. Complete with freshwater fish and a thriving community of wading birds. Not any more!

Making the most of the floods

The rain was such and the water outflow such that that sand bank has been all but washed away. Creek channels have been cut through the "wetland" and the outflow area to the sea is both deep and wide, maybe 10 meters, with at least 4 meters of height washed away.  So we weren't too surprised this morning when the roof of a small saloon car was spotted in the outflow. As the Police were in attendance and did not seem too concerned we will happily assume that nobody was hurt. It did make our ride last a bit longer than normal though. 

Renaults don't float
Retrieval begins (Three days ago that was unbroken beach)

When it rains like this Omani's come out in droves to watch the water, dare the edge and generally get a bit wet. All good fun! Young men come out in their droves and test their Jeeps out in the waters - it is mostly the Jeeps that do that. Probably because there tend to be more tricked out Jeeps and they are the weapon of choice for younger Omani's that go offroad regularly. 

Because rain is not all that common roads don't have drainage systems and water follows its millenia old paths through, happily cutting roads, inundating playing fields and generally making it a little tricky for people to get around. Work was pretty quiet, with some staff and many brokers and others choosing to stay away. Katrina's car hasn't really moved since the rain started, because it would have been difficult for her to get anywhere. The Land Rover, on the other hand.......

Anyway with the sand bank washed away the wetlands area is well and truly underwater and the waders are making the most of it, with various herons and spoonbills in attendance, quite happily dealing with any small fish that happen to come by. I expect that by tomorrow the water will be down further again and in time wind and tide will rebuild the sandbank. On our ride this morning we did see another new channel cut to the sea by run-off. 

A new outflow