Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Former Yugoslavia 1992-1997

By the spring of 1992, the conflicts that had fractured Yugoslavia created what became Europe's largest population of refugees since World War II. Over four million people were uprooted by the conflict, nearly three-quarters of whom were from Bosnia. A large number of these refugees sought safety along the Croatian coast. However, the war followed them. From the mountain range only a couple miles inland, artillery targeted coastal towns. Refugees were crowded into collective centers and other shelters with little prospect of relief from the shooting and the shelling. Under these conditions tensions within the multi-ethnic refugee population became a serious concern—as each group blamed the other for their situation.

I sent Jim Nuttall to Croatia to establish a presence for Save the Children. His task was to determine how we could best assist the many families affected by the war. At the time, there was little public awareness of the conflict's brutality and the need to support relief assistance. With little available in Save's own budget for mounting a major relief operation, it was important not only to determine critical needs but also to find essential donor support.

From a base in Split, Jim developed relationships with NGOs, UN organizations and local government. By meeting with refugees, a dual problem was observed: tensions and wartime trauma among adult refugees living in crowded conditions and the psychological impact that these conditions created for the children. Through individual discussions and community meetings, an idea for addressing both sets of issues began to develop—creating playgroups and community kindergartens. Addressing the well-being of their children appeared to be one of the few issues that each mother—Croat, Bosniac or Serb—felt transcended their differences and mutual distrust.

With initial support from the UN, Jim and his staff began working with the refugees to find and prepare spaces for playgroups. A prime consideration was that children should not have to cross open areas that might be subject to gunfire. As refugees already occupyed the available rooms in each collective center, ways needed to be found to open up space within each center for safe playrooms. Areas previously overlooked such as storage spaces were cleaned out and rehabilitated. With community effort, spaces that had been filled with junk were soon transformed into bright and cheerful nurseries. Volunteers were trained in child care and early childhood education. And in a relatively short time, a new programming idea for emergency education began to take shape. 

One of the Community Preschools 
Developed by Save the Children

The emergency education model that we pioneered in the Former Yugoslavia, not only offered young children three hours of supportive, supervised group activities daily but also provided their caregivers with the same amount of time each day to deal with life's necessities without having to be worried about their children's well-being. The daily routine created by the playgroups and preschools brought a degree of normalcy to the lives of refugees. The need for finding ways to maintain these children's groups brought refugees, previously at odds with one another, together—something that none would have believed possible before the project got underway.

Over the years, this project garnered growing support from both donors and from local government. Through our work, we demonstrated how centers of stability within refugee communities could be created by focusing on meeting basic needs for children. In time, the emergency preschool model would come to be implemented not only in Croatia but throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina. Before the end of 1996, nearly 500 sites had been created and more than 18,000 children had participated in the program.  

While many of the original playgroups eventually dissolved as refugees returned home following the Dayton Accords, within Bosnia-Herzegovina community support for these groups ensured that a large number continued to operate after the war. Over the years, by involving the Ministry of Education in this approach, appreciation within the government grew concerning the value of supporting low-cost community preschools and playgroups, particularly in rural areas.  

Jim and his team did pioneering work on what was initially considered an emergency solution for providing education under conflict conditions. Much of the work they did, however, has evolved into what today is considered more mainstream development activities in child protection by creating safe play areas. My involvement in supporting and encouraging the staff behind this program was very rewarding.

Save the Children Staff in Split, Croatia

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Scenes from Kenya 1986

On the trail in Masai Mara

Visiting a Masai Village

Elephants in Amboseli Park

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Uncle Khoo Eng Kim

Courting Days

When I first began seeing Jee, her parents were strongly opposed to the idea of their youngest daughter going out with someone who was not Chinese and not even from Malaysia. Theirs was an understandable position taken to protect their daughter. Back then (early 1970s), the reputation earned by Australian soldiers stationed at the RAAF base in Butterworth ensured that families in Penang looked down on girls who dated foreigners. For some time we had to see each other surreptitiously.

Jee lived in Bukit Mertajam but I couldn't meet her there. So, on the weekends when I came, Jee would tell her parents that she was going over to Penang Island shopping with her girlfriends. We then would meet in Penang where we could join our friends going to the beach and visiting local sites.

After several months of meeting like this, we faced a dilemma. We didn't want to keep our love secret but Jee felt it was too difficult to raise the subject with her family. We needed an intermediary.

Jee had told me about her "uncle" Eng Kim whose daughter had married a Englishman. As I thought he might be sympathetic to our situation, I decided to approach him. At the time, Khoo Eng Kim was a hospital administrator in Kuala Lipis which was close to where I was living in Bentong.

Although Kuala Lipis was only 60 miles from Bentong, the trip took nearly two hours on my Honda. Timber lorries slowed all traffic on the hills as the road twisted and climbed its way past one rubber plantation and then another. In those days, the road ended at Kuala Lipis. Beyond the town was just the jungle. Kuala Lipis, with its combination of British and Chinese architecture, was one of those quiet colonial hill towns that had once enjoyed a period of fame and importance but was now well past its days of glory.

When I arrived at the Kuala Lipis District Hospital, I asked for Mr Khoo and was quickly directed to an office. Somewhat nervously, I knocked at his door. Lifting up his head, he smiled and motioned for me to come in and take the chair next to his desk. What I noticed about him right away was his calm, pleasant manner. Although he didn't know me, he was happy to take time from his work to talk with me. He seemed neither surprised nor concerned when I explained who I was and why I had come to see him. In fact, there was a twinkle in his eyes when he began asking me questions to determine how serious I was about Jee. During our conversation he asked me my thoughts on many things from work to religion to relationships and especially how I saw my future with Jee. After an hour or so, much to my relief, he shook my hand and said he would be happy to speak to Jee's parents about me.

About a month later, I received an invitation from Jee to come meet her family. Three months later, in September 1972, we were married.

Over the years, we didn't hear much news about uncle Eng Kim. Then in 1980 he surprised everyone by renouncing the world to become a monk. We had all known of his devotion to Buddhism and his desire to take up the saffron robes. But none of us expected that at age 60 he would leave his wife, his children and his home to enter a monastery. Although he had provided for his wife so that she could live comfortably, his decision made many wonder whether he was truly aware of what he was doing.

As a monk, uncle Eng Kim became Bhante Suvanno. Over the years, his reputation in Buddhist circles throughout Southeast Asia grew. He was cherished for his knowledge of Buddhism and his ability to present Buddhist teachings in a way that all could understand. Preaching to audiences in both Hokkien and in English, recordings of his lectures became very popular. People were attracted to him not only because of his message but because in his life as a monk he truly embodied the simplicity that he preached. Always approachable, he listened carefully to the many problems that the faithful brought to him and in return he offered them words of wisdom, comfort and hope.

We always tried to visit Bhante Suvanno whenever we came to Penang. But he was often traveling, bringing his Dhamma teachings to others. We felt fortunate when we were able to see him. In August 2000, we were brought to a Penang Hill temple where he was preaching. While there were many who had come just to be near and to hear what he had to say, we were able to sit in front and speak with him for some time. We last saw him six years later when he was at the Bukit Mertajam Meditation Center. Once again the room was filled with those who had become devoted to his message. And once again we enjoyed reminiscing with him about family, friends and daily concerns. On each occasion when we met, he was full of life and merriment with that same twinkle in his eye that I had seen so many years ago in Kuala Lipis. While he took his responsibilities very seriously, he always conveyed a sense of fun and joy when anyone was with him.

Bhante Suvanno, our uncle Eng Kim, passed away on Sunday March 11, 2007. He was 86.

Bhante Suvanno. August 2000
Bhante Suvanno with Jee. August 2006

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas in Hawaii 2004

As Jee and I had not gone anywhere for vacation during 2004, we decided to spend Christmas in Hawaii. We planned to visit my cousins in Kauai and then spend a few days by ourselves on Maui. Although I would have preferred flying to Honolulu from LaGuardia or JFK,  Jee was able to get a really good price on tickets from Newark. So on December 23rd we left early for the drive from Connecticut to New Jersey. 

With no traffic on I-95, we made great time right until we got to the Bruckner Expressway in the Bronx. On that day, traffic on the Bruckner was anything but express. I wasn't worried however as I had allowed several hours to get to the airport. Forty-five minutes later however, we had only moved a couple hundred yards. Frustration at the traffic gradually turned into panic as I stared to realize that we would never make our flight if we couldn't find a way past this highway parking lot. In desperation, I called our son David and asked his help. Through the wonders of technology—cell phones and internet mapping—he  began directing us off the Bruckner and through a maze of streets completely across the Bronx. It wasn't until I could see the George Washington Bridge, however, that I started to feel some relief. 

At long last we finally saw the exit signs for Newark airport. By the time we parked the car and took the shuttle to the American terminal we had less than half an hour before our flight. So despite the long line of passengers, we pushed to the front and quickly got the attention of an agent. We thought we were home free but then learned it was too late to check our bags! With all flights booked solid, our plans to spend Christmas in Hawaii again began to fade. The American agent was good, however, and found a cancellation for the last two tickets going to Honolulu the next morning. We snapped up the seats even though we weren't sure about getting a connection to Kauai. But everything worked out. When we arrived in Lihue on Christmas Eve, my cousins were there to give us a traditional welcome with fragrant leis, hugs and kisses. Tired but happy we looked forward to a relaxing week in tropical sunshine.

The next morning we found our presents under a Christmas tree brought in from California. Outside, instead of pines and snow drifts were palms and beach sand. How wonderful! With our young nieces playing with their toys and showing off their new clothes, we spent the morning catching up on what everyone had been doing over the years since we were last together. 

And then that afternoon we started to hear about an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia. The first TV news sounded serious but had few details. I called the head of our Emergency Response department to see whether we would be organizing any assistance. I was told they were still gathering information and would let me know. Little did I realize how this event on the other side of the world was about to change my life. That, however, is the story for another day.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Scenes from North Korea July 2006

Guide at the Pohyon Temple Complex

International Friendship Exhibition Museum

Kim Jong Il Shrine

Dawn on the Taedong River

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sri Lanka Tea Gardens October 2007

In the highlands of Sri Lanka, the climate is moist and cool—perfect for growing tea. 

We had traveled to the highlands to attend a ceremony at a nursing school where AmeriCares, the NGO I worked for, had supported some much needed renovations.  The nursing students as well as their teachers were so thankful for the new equipment, furnishings and training materials that we had provided. As their honored guests we each were given multiple garlands of fragrant flowers.  The Minister of Health himself came up from Colombo to thank us and join in the festivities. 

Although the ceremony at the nursing school was brief, it took the better part of one day to travel to the school and another to return to Colombo. The slow drive through the winding mountain roads gave us the chance to admire the many tea gardens along the way.

We stayed overnight at the Grand Ella Motel in Nawara Eliya. Despite its unpromising name, this government managed hotel was a quaint reminder of the colonial days. With comfortable chairs on the veranda, ceiling fans overhead, and a staff eager to please their guests, it was easy to feel like a British planter in the days before independence. Sitting in the hotel garden we could enjoy our tea while looking out over the Ella Gap. Here at an elevation of over 3,000 feet, we looked through the mountain pass down to the faraway coastal plains barely visible through the mist and haze.

There were a number of tea factories in the area including Kinellan. While we did not tour this factory, we did buy tea inexpensively at the factory store.

Wherever you drive in Sri Lanka's highlands, tea is planted in neat sections up and down the hillsides. Although the tea bushes are densely planted, the pluckers quickly work their way past each bush to take two leaves and a bud. In season, sections of tea are plucked every 10 days. It takes four years for a new tea bush to develop leaves worth picking. With care, however, a tea bush will continue producing for over 100 years.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Beijing August 2005

One of the side benefits of traveling to North Korea is that you need to spend several days in Beijing while arranging for your visa and flight to Pyongyang. In August 2005, together with my colleagues Amy and Michael, I was able to enjoy some of the sights around China's  "Northern Capital." As the Forbidden City was just a short walk from our hotel, that was the first place we visited. 

Nearly as famous as the Forbidden City is the Temple of Heaven complex. The area for these temples is actually larger than the Forbidden City but its use was ceremonial. Pictured is the Imperial Vault of Heaven at the center of the temple area. During Beijing's imperial past, this is where the ancestral tablets of the Emperor were kept.

A long, broad paved avenue leads from the Imperial Vault to this impressive gate. As you pass through these arches you enter the grounds surrounding the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests which can be seen in the distance. For five centuries, the Emperor came here annually in grand ceremony to pray for fertility throughout the Middle Kingdom.

And no trip to Beijing would be complete without a visit to the Great Wall. When Romans ruled the Mediterranean, large sections of the Great Wall had already been constructed. A million solders guarded its length. Now, on a typical summer weekend such as this, the Emperor's guards have been replaced by thousands of foreigners and, seemingly, much of the population of Beijing. The structure built over the centuries to separate China from the rest of the world is now accepted as a heritage for all mankind. 

As you walk further along the Great Wall the crowds thin out in part due to the distance but also because the climb can be steep. Even a day's hike along the Great Wall takes you only a few thousand yards—a baby step compared to its 4,000 mile length. The scale of this construction, which extends across peaks and valleys as far as the eye can see, overwhelms everyday sensibility and is grasped only by imagination.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Penang Sunset August 2006

Sunsets in Malaysia are spectacular!

When I first arrived in Malaysia as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 1970, I was awe-struck by the colors of the sunsets. Growing up in New England, I was accustomed to the lingering twilight of summer with the colors of day gradually dissipating until the world turned gray and dark. However, in Malaysia, just north of the equator, sunset never lasted long. From the end of day until the dark of night was a matter of minutes rather than hours. Yet here the sunlight fought to remain in the sky with shades of pink and cobalt shifting into mauve before giving way to nightfall. 

High on Penang Hill in August 2006 I was surrounded by another wonderful Malaysian sunset. Until you can visit Penang yourself to be bathed in the light of an ochre sunset, I hope you will enjoy these images. (Click the pictures to enlarge.)

Looking out from the garden of the Penang Hill Hotel, you can see the condos that line the shore along Gurney Drive and, in the distance, the lights of Province Wellesley flickering from across Penang harbor.

On the opposite shore far beyond the Penang Hill radio tower, Kedah Peak (Gunung Jerai) rises through the mist. For centuries, this mountain has remained a landmark for sailors traveling through the Straits of Malacca. 

As the sun finally dips below the horizon, clouds capture the red and ochre tones of the rapidly vanishing light that burnishes Georgetown, the harbor and the opposite shore. Just a couple minutes later and the light is gone from the sky. This is the image as captured by my camera without any added color from Photoshop. Such sunsets are wonderful to see and inspiring to experience. 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ankor Wat December 2005

A business trip to Cambodia at the end of 2005 enabled me to spend a Saturday exploring Ankor Wat. This was a trip long delayed. Back in 1971 when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia, a group of us had taken the train to Bangkok following our first year of service. After seeing Bangkok's monuments and glittering night life, there was a discussion on what to see next. I was for crossing the border into Cambodia to see Angkor Wat but was outvoted by those wanting to see the Shangri-La of the north, Chiang Mai. "We'll visit Angkor Wat next year," they said. But by 1972 the conflict in Cambodia had taken Angkor Wat off the list of tourist destinations. It was to be many years before anyone would again think of Cambodia as a fun place to visit.

The Angkor Wat complex is surrounded by a large moat bridged by a pedestrian causeway. When I first saw the towers marking the core of the temple the huge scale of the complex became apparent. Completed about 800 years ago, this Hindu monument recreates a vision of heaven on earth. Abandoned for centuries, the temples of Angkor Wat were reclaimed by the surrounding jungle until discovered and described by astonished French explorers in the mid-19th century.

Rendering the entrance to Angkor Wat as a sepia-toned image somehow captures the aura of mystery and  ancient beauty one senses while approaching the central temple.

Galleries are found along the outside walls of the temple. As you walk along the outer wall every inch is covered by bias-relief carvings illuminating Hindu beliefs.

Before my visit, I had thought I would be seeing just Angkor Wat, a temple that has become the symbol of Cambodia to the world. But the area north of the town Siem Reap is an immense archeological park--some 400 square kilometers--where the number and variety of Kymer temples is beyond counting.  There are more temples than you could explore in a day or even see in a month.

While I saw many temples throughout my day at Angkor Wat, many had become more jungle than building. This temple was somewhat unique not only for being freed from the surrounding forest but also for its modest scale and wonderful color.

Detail from Angkor Wat Aspera (temple nymph). 

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

California Vacation February 2008

San Francisco in February is brisk and misty. We walked all over the city to stay warm while we saw the sights. No matter how often we visit, however, we always find a new vista. From the top of Coit Tower we had this dramatic view of San Francisco's unmatched skyline.

At the Palace of the Legion of Honor the line to get in the museum snaked around the building. So we just wandered over the grounds and admired the outdoor sculpture.

From San Francisco we traveled to San Diego to visit some friends working at San Diego State University. They took us to nearby La Jolla where seals and their pups had taken over the beach. At this time of year, they're able to have the beach all to themselves.

In February, New York's Central Park is slippery with snow and slush. Balboa Park in San Diego, however, is still a garden in bloom. Orchids, palms and other exotic plants fill the Botanical Building.

Between the Botanical Building and the Museum of San Diego History is this lovely Lily Pond. On the day we were there, a film crew was setting up in a grassy area nearby to record an interview. We didn't stay, however, to see who the local celebrity would be.

On our way back to northern California we spent several days exploring the Central Coast around Paso Robles. The area is often overlooked in the rush of traffic traveling between LA and San Francisco. But for those who take the time to slow down and look, there is a landscape that inspires. During the Great Depression, while William Randolph Hearst ruled his world from a mountaintop castle, children in the nearby village of San Simeon learned their ABCs in this one room school house.

Some 20 miles south of San Simeon is the community of Moro Bay. This town has one of the safest anchorages in California with Moro Rock standing as sentinel to protect the harbor entrance.

While less well known than Napa and Sonoma, the Central Coast has become one of California's premier wine growing areas. Over 100 wineries can be found in the greater Paso Robles area. One of the best wineries for Pinot Noir is located in nearby Templeton—Wild Horse Vineyards. It was cold and cloudy the day we arrived but the winery staff's hospitality made our visit enjoyable. The conversation among the guests was friendly and the wine was wonderful. Just outside the tasting room I took this photo of the stormy sky.

We ended our California sojourn in the Sacramento River valley. While most states talk about renewable energy, in California the hillside windmills capture electricity for the future.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

PCV Reunion in Vermont August 2007

A long time ago in a country far away, a group of new college graduates found themselves learning Malay and finding out how they could adapt to a strange and wonderful culture. In 1970, we first gathered from around the country to a "staging" in San Jose, California to find out about the country where we would spend the next two years as Peace Corps Volunteers. Malaysia was a place few of us were familiar with. In a  short time, however, we would all come to love Malaysia as a second home.

Our flight from San Francisco to Tokyo was aboard a PanAm 747. The first 747s had only recently been introduced six months earlier. None of us had ever seen one let alone flown on one. Our jet dwarfed everything else on the runway. Taking our seats in its expansive interior added to the thrill, and trepidation, we felt leaving the USA for two years of Peace Corps service.

In the early 1970s there were about 400 PCVs scattered across Malaysia. Some of us were sent to isolated kampongs while others lived in major cities such as Kuala Lumpur (affectionately known as KL) and Ipoh. But no matter where you were, you were never far from other PCVs. Phones were not always available and, of course, there was no email. So we wrote to each other or, more commonly, just dropped by unannounced. On weekends, when PCVs got together, we could always find something to do—bike over to Kajang for satay, take a bus to visit Batu Caves, or just find a quiet beach for swimming. After a year in Malaysia, a few of us went on vacation to Thailand: Dick and Roberta, Susan, and me. On that trip we got to know each other very well.

When we finished our Peace Corps service, we thought we would stay in touch but somehow over the years as we went to grad school, got jobs, married and raised kids, moved from state to state or even country to country, we lost track of each other. Within the last decade, however, thanks to the wonders of the internet, we've been successful in finding many Malaysia PCV Group 29 alumni. Susan has been the key organizer in pulling our group back together for mini-reunions. 

In the summer of 2007, Susan began planning a weekend in Vermont for those of us in the Northeast. Dick and Roberta still live in Vermont. Though divorced, they remain neighbors on the same country road. Dick farms and preaches. Roberta teaches. Also invited were Mel and Kathy who live in Pennsylvania. As it turned out, on that weekend, Mel and Kathy were unable to join us and Dick was away in Massachusetts awaiting the birth of another grandchild. Roberta stayed back, however, to be our hostess and show us a little bit of Vermont.

I had not seen Roberta since she and Dick left Malaysia in 1972. Roberta's voice and her captivating enthusiasm had not changed. It was a joy seeing her again after so many years. Although my wife Jee had heard about Roberta and had talked to her on the phone, they had never met. However, when they got together they found they had much in common from teaching to a love of cooking and handicrafts.

Roberta thinks that when she retires from teaching she may rejoin the Peace Corps. While Malaysia is no longer a Peace Corps country, there are many other places Roberta thinks she would enjoy serving as a volunteer. For Susan, who since leaving Malaysia has had a career in research biology, the idea of international living has never gone away. As her husband is from India, she regularly visits family in South Asia and travels to such picturesque destinations as China, Cambodia and Brazil. As for myself, I nearly didn't leave Malaysia. I extended my Peace Corps service in Malaysia an additional year to court Jee.  As Jee is from Penang, an island that remains one of Malaysia's most enjoyable destinations, it was hard to go. But in 1973 we returned to America so I could enter graduate school. My first job after that was back in Southeast Asia, initially in the Philippines and then in Indonesia. Later, Jee and I lived in Cameroon and Somalia. In all, we spent 10 years working overseas before we finally returned to New England to settle.

For each of us at this mini-reunion, our experience in Malaysia has become a touchstone that we use to compare all our lives since that magical time.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Scenes from New Mexico April 2007

Taos Door

Santa Fe's Trading Post

The Landscape near Acoma Pueblo

Burro Alley Santa Fe

Coyote Cafe Santa Fe

Santa Fe & Taos April 2007

We felt we had hardly explored the Albuquerque area before we had to move on to our next destinations: Taos and Santa Fe. From Albuquerque, we followed the Turquoise Trail north. The road wove its way through a host of small mountain communities, each with its own charm. In Chimayo, we visited the famous Sanctuary where pilgrims have come for nearly 200 years seeking miraculous cures and forgiveness of sins. The church itself is a weathered building of ancient boards and adobe walls with bell towers flanking the entry. A mass was in progress when we arrived. We stayed and listened to the sermon for a while before mid-day hunger led us to a nearby restaurant famous for its flavorful tamales. We were not disappointed. Dona Leona's tamales were worth a special trip to Chimayo on their own. Yet El Santuario and Leona's were not the only attractions in Chimayo. This village is also the home of Ortega's weaving shop. The Ortega family has been weaving in Chimayo since the early 1700s. Their distinctive garments are famous not just in New Mexico but around the world. While there were many beautiful items in the shop, particularly the rugs with detailed patterns and high prices, I could not resist getting my wife a warm wool vest, especially since it fit her so well.

Santa Fe awaited us at the end of the Turquoise Trail. We stayed at the Pueblo Bonito, a small B&B just a short walk from Santa Fe's Plaza. Each room at Pueblo Bonito was named after one of the state's many pueblos. Our room was Acoma, which was fitting as it was the only pueblo we visited during our trip. Decorated with native pottery and drums, our room kept us in a New Mexico frame of mind.

In Santa Fe, history is ever-present but it flavors rather than dominates the day. On the north side of the Plaza, under the awning of the Palace of the Governors, native Americans sell jewelry, pottery and other arts that represent centuries of tradition. While admiring their handicrafts you can learn much as each artisan describes what they have made and the meanings of the designs. It's hard to look over their work and not purchase at least a modest souvenir.

Not only is Santa Fe rich in history, it also has a wealth of museums. On our first day in Santa Fe we spent some time visiting the Georgia O'Keeffe museum. While the exhibition space in the museum is relatively small, the works on display by this renowned artist were breathtaking. Her paintings of flowers and landscapes used brilliant coloring and simplicity of form to create an emotional impact. Also on exhibition were some abstract paintings and sculpture by Sherrie Levine who drew inspiration from O'Keeffe. We loved O'Keeffe's works but were often puzzled by Levine's.

We took a walking tour of Santa Fe and learned more about its history and architecture. Our tour ended at the chapel with the miraculous staircase--truly a wonder of craftsmanship. Constructed in the early 1800s by an itinerant carpenter who took no payment for his work, the wooden stairway is built without a central support yet makes two complete 360-degree turns as it spirals from the chapel floor to the choir loft. Often studied but never duplicated, the faithful of Santa Fe consider the stairway a gift from God. 

After two days of shopping, museums and wonderful New Mexican food, we left Santa Fe and drove north to Taos. Known both as an artist colony and skier's paradise, Taos seemed a quiet place after the many galleries, shops and historical buildings that held our interest in Santa Fe. North of town, we took the road to the Taos Ski Valley. Winding ever higher, the road traced its way alongside a stream until eventually we arrived at the ski village. The village stood at 10,000 feet but the surrounding peaks were half a mile higher. In April, little snow remained on the slopes; the chair lifts were idle, swaying slightly in the breeze. We didn't stay very long but tried to imagine how the trails must look at the height of the season when skiers track through fresh powder.

From the heights of the Taos Ski Valley we drove to the Rio Grande gorge. Route 64 crosses over the Rio Grande northwest of town. We parked just before the bridge and walked to the middle of the span. Far below, the river shimmered from a chasm now in shadow as the late afternoon sun dropped lower in the sky. From the bridge to the river is more than 600 feet. I'm told that during the summer you can bungee jump into the gorge. Those who do must be braver or more foolhardy than me. Just looking over the bridge and bracing against the wind whistling down the gorge was sufficiently thrilling for both of us.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Albuquerque April 2007

This was our first visit to New Mexico. While we had talked many times about traveling to New Mexico, in the spring of 2007 we decided to act on an open invitation to visit from a high school classmate. Peter had moved to New Mexico nearly 20 years ago. He and his wife built a beautiful home in the shadow of Sandia Peak. "When we came, there were few other homes in the area," Peter noted. Now the area where Peter and his wife live is considered one of Albuquerque's best.

While spending two days in the Albuquerque area visiting with Peter and his wife we also caught up with a couple former colleagues. John came out to Albuquerque over 10 years ago as the regional head for an international charity. He later developed and came to lead a local non-profit for addressing children's needs. David, who also worked for the same charity, came to Albuquerque to take over the regional position that John had held earlier.

All three of our friends encouraged us to stay in New Mexico. Each in their own way told us how they loved living in the area not only for its beautiful landscape and picture perfect four-season climate but especially for its vibrant culture and international outlook. A few days around Albuquerque helped us understand their enthusiasm. Whether wandering through the colorful streets of Old Town Albuquerque or touring Acoma Pueblo, the oldest inhabited community in the United States, it quickly became apparent why New Mexico is the "Land of Enchantment."