musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Saturday, June 13, 2009


More often than not, it's the people you meet, not the place you are, that make life interesting. Here I am, sitting in the heart of a place in Western Iraq that was the site of daily headline-grabbing violence in 2006-2007... and all I want to write about is Dirk.

As I sit here, listening to Ari Hest, wondering why I don't have prolific singer-songwriter skills, Dirk reminds me that we all have different abilities, passions, and stories. His just happen to be a little more "different" than the average bear. A native South African, he made his way to Iraq mostly because the money is good [insert shocked face here], but found that the trainings he is coordinating are fascinating. He is on the cutting edge of training a bureaucracy in terrible need of fundamental governing skills. But that's not what makes him... well... Dirk.

"I am an avid bird watcher," he says to me over dry mashed potatoes, unseasoned chicken and chickpeas. "In fact, I've just written a book on bird watching."

Wait, you wrote a book on birds or on bird watching?

"Bird watching in fact, with a little bit Iraq thrown in with my personal history of a water quality analyst in South Africa."


"Really it was a natural progression, I was out in the bush and had to measure the amount of birds that showed up at each site. Of the 961 species in South Africa, I know 606 (he told me later that Iraq had some 390 species, only 41 of which he had seen). Some blokes know over 700, those are the real watchers in the Club. But on Big Bird Day, I always kick their..."

Ok, now I'm intrigued. I never thought I would be interested in birds. I'm still not actually; just intrigued by this tall, lanky 60-year-old former biology professor with the side of his head trimmed shorter than the top, a nose that rivals any German, and an accent that leads me to believe that English is mostly likely not his first language.

"The book got published, I'm just waiting for the publisher to finish whatever it is they're doing before it goes to press. My first book was actually the first scuba diving manual written in Afrikaans."

So wait, did you translate another one from English?

"Negative. I wrote a completely separate book, published by the University of Pretoria. Do you want to see pictures from the month-long trip I just finished through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia and Namibia?"