A Head in the Clouds

Life, from two miles above sea-level …

Do you live in a peaceful place?

I live in Colombia, for a range of reasons, the most important of which is that my wife is Colombian. The change was big so I did some of my own research to prepare myself for the  change. I still do keep my eyes open for information on my new home country, so was interested to come across a new annual study called The Global Peace Index. According to the State Of The World blogThe Global Peace Index … is an effort to depict peaceful societies in rank order from best to worst. The Index combines the factors identify a peaceful society (the ways in which we know it is peaceful or not), and the drivers that combine to create a peaceful society (the causes of it being peaceable or not), into a single index once-a-year portrait. It combines indicators of internal social peace with indicators about use of force in other countries. It distinguishes between force for intervention and the commitment of soldiers to UN Peacekeeping Operations. In the 2008 index, Iceland ranked 1st, Great Britain ranked 49th, and the USA ranked 97th out of 140 countries listed. Not surprisingly, the last five places were taken by (in order) Israel, Afghanistan,
Sudan, Somalia and Iraq.”

In 2008 Switzerland (where I came from) was ranked  at 12/140. Colombia came in very low, at 130/140. Maybe my wife was right to warn me to be ready for The Change …

The full 2008 report (including reviews on a per country basis) plus a full colour map are available from Vision of Humanity

18 January 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lives cut short

We hear that globally life expectancy is increasing. The global average is apparently 66, compared with 30-40 in the early 20th century (and 20-30 in ancient Rome!). According to an article I just saw from the Scientific American “in the U.S. today, life expectancy is about 77 years ….. Most of the prior advances in life expectancy … reflect dramatic declines in mortality risks in childhood and early adult life. Because the young can be saved only once and because these risks are now so close to zero … future gains in life expectancy will … require adding decades of life to people who have already survived seven decades or more … i.e. … the underlying processes of aging that increase vulnerability to all the common causes of death will have to be modified.”. Tell that to the Africans and they’ll either laugh or cry.

This graph just caught my eye and made me catch my breath. I find it to be a very frightening picture.

It’s a graphic representation of the incredible effect that AIDS is having on the life-span of Africans*. Of course it’s all over the television, particularly the pictures of the children affected when their mother contracts HIV/AIDS and gradually (sometimes rapidly) wastes away. But sometimes just a few lines can make as much impact as an emotional picture. Images like this reinforce the impact of such scourges. From an average expectancy of around 50 years in the late-80s to around 40 years in the early 2000s. In Sierra Leone it is dipping into the mid-30s. Not only does such a decline impact family life (everyday, everywhere family members and friends move from one funeral to another) but countries can see themselves running out of healthy working people. And when that happens the consequences are dire.

I’m in no way going to pontificate over “the evils of sex” not least as there are many, many totally innocent suffers of this plague. But, whatever your opinions, this graph makes scary viewing.

You can read some very detailed insights into global human development in this UNDP report Measuring Human Development and there is a nice graphic and more info here (notice where all the red and darker colours are centred … ).

*Sub-Saharan Africa has just over 10 percent of the world’s population but is home to more than 60 percent of all people living with HIV—25.8 million. In 2005, an estimated 3.2 million people in the region became newly infected, while 2.4 million adults and children died of AIDS (Source)

13 November 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So much for the plans of mice and men

In truth I knew that there was a risk, that I would get distracted, or forget, or not have (or find) the time to send stuff to this place of memories and observations. Since my burst of trial blogs it’s now been almost a year since I added ‘stuff’ here. One of the truthes is that I think I sometimes try too hard. I think I try to associate my words with too many ‘interesting’ (at least to me) things (like photos or links to other sites, etc.) such as this explanation about “mice and men” (and this one too .. ). In the process it takes too much time and falls by the wayside, amongst all those other things that once caught my attention but didn’t keep it. I put it down to an excessive curiosity, which means I am susceptible to things ‘catching my eye’ and leading me up several paths at once. My energy/time resources aren’t able to keep up and certain things have to go. This blog ‘went’. But the time has come to revive myself and these pages. It isn’t just by chance, it’s because I’m about to start a new adventure, in a part of the world I have long wanted to know better, “Black Africa” (or more politically correctly known as Sub-Saharan Africa. In doing so I am temporarily leaving my work as an English teacher in Bogota, but I am leaving with a promise, namely to at lerast npow and then write about what’s happening so that my students can take part in the adventure and write to me in English i.e. as ongoing English skills practice! Oh, and in teh process I am going to try out a new (to me) piece of software that will let me write off-line (I am assuming that I will not have online access to this blog as often as I’d like). It’s called Zoundry Raven and seems as if it will be what I need to keep me contributing, at least for a while. Hmm, maybe I should have called this piece “Of Mice and Ravens” …

13 November 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bogota freezes over (November 2007)

Just to prove the point about the weather up here …

If this was my last home country (Switzerland) this would have been snow, but up here in the Andes mountains things happen differently! – Here’s a video of a BIG hailstorm that hit Bogotá a month ago, in November 2007

more about “Bogota Congelada “Fuerte Granizada” N…“, posted with vodpod

15 December 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Where did the seasons go?

Colombia is a big country with a mix of climates. Bogotá itself sits on Latitude 4° 38′, which means it is not far from the equator. You’d never know that from the climate here, no doubt due to the height above sea level of the city, 2,600m up in the Andes Mountains. The mix of locations means that there are no real seasons up here, just fluctuations in a climate that is cool and typified by afternoon clouds, often bringing rain. The wet(ter) season is in October and November, distinguished by very heavy rain and thunder storms, sometimes accompanied by falls of hail; The Bogotá streets can get to look like rivers, and across Colombia there can be some pretty dramatic – sometimes fatal – floods. When I am feeling a bit chilly under a cloudy Bogotá sky I sometimes wax lyrical about the warm summers in Geneva. Liliam is doubtful about this, probably as the two summers she experienced there were ‘unusual’ (my claim to her!) in that they were cooler than the norm (Switzerland is losing it glaciers which suggests it is getting warmer). But now I have ‘proof’! I just found my little Lufthansa booklet from 20 years ago that I always used to consult before my travels, before on-line weather reports like Weather Underground were the norm. So I’ve copied the details here. It shows I am right about the summers – Geneva is several degrees warmer in the summer and significantly drier, but definitely colder in the winter ! And there are four definite seasons, which I like as it shows the passing of the year in a clearer way than by measuring how many centimetres of rain fell the last week!

Weather in Bogota

Weather in Geneva

14 December 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

England v. UK

I guess I am maybe over-sensitive, but it at a minimum frustrates me, at a maximum annoys me, when people (it must be said most often from the USA) call the UK ‘England’. As all British know, England is a part (a so-called constituent country) of the UN-recognised nation called the United Kingdom (UK)*. It always feels to me that using England as a synonym for the UK is like saying New England is the same as the USA (even if at one time it sorta was). Mind you, I should here confess my own ignorance – I get mixed up at the differences between ‘Great Britain’ and the ‘British Isles’, so I was happy to find the following neat little drawing from Wikipedia; maybe for the first time since secondary school I can see how all the bits (mainland and islands) of my homeland can be grouped together and called various names!

* In case you were wondering the UK is one of the 192 countries officially recognised by the UN, or 193 with Vatican City (who doesn’t want to be a member of the UN), and even 194 if Taiwan were to be included (they qualify as a country, in theory, but for political reasons are not designated as one) (the curious can find out more here). Amazingly my last home country (Switzerland) was only admitted into the UN in 2002!

The British Isles, and its subsets

13 December 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Should I, shouldn’t I …

I’ve been here before, putting down thoughts more-or-less came as they come to me, as an option to “Keep In Touch” from Geneva. It didn’t last, my first go at blogging. I got distracted by other things, and I was busy. Plus, from Geneva it was much easier to “phone home”. Now that I live in Bogotá, Colombia, the UK is around 8500 km away (about 5300 miles)(you can calculate such things here or here). I.e. there is now a lot of water between us all. Phoning – even when using SkypeOut – is significantly more difficult from here, if only due to the limited window of time in which I can call. So, I decided it was time to pick where I left off, clear out the old blog’s contents, and start a fresh virtual slate. So here we go. This’s not not not going to be some sort of diary. If I did that I’d be falling straight into the hands of those who feel blogging should be outlawed; in that respect I find myself agreeing with people like Josh Maher who give some very sane reasons why not to blog. And then there are all those scary warnings on Phil Wolff’s ‘Don’t Blog’ blog about “The Watchers” etc. that would put some people off. But after pulling all the petals of a Colombia-grown sun-flower and downing a calming mug of Colombian-grown coca-leaf tea (entirely legal, I promise you) I decided that the risk would be worth it all and that I would become a Born-Again-Blogger. So, here I am. I hope it’s not going to end up being just chit-chat but that I am able to give some sense of how Life is here in Colombia.

A relaxing - and legal - drink of coca tea Coca tea has nutritional value too!

PS: Hey, just found another reason why this is an auspicious moment to re-start my blogging. ‘Blog’ is short for ‘Weblog’, and it seems that 17 December – a few days a go – was the 10th birthday of the adoption of that term (the idea of ‘blogging’ was apparently 10 years old back in April this year). Seems that back then the idea of blogging was to write about where you’d been on the web for the benefit of others (i.e. what happens now on del.icio.us, Furl, Technorati, etc.) whereas now it’s about where you’ve been (your thoughts) in your head, too!

12 December 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment



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