Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A marvelous bird is the pelican...


Hello All.

Once again what has been a fairly diverting weekend by the standards of camp life may not seem so in the telling, but here goes…

My first big event was the arrival in the mail on Friday of my long awaited “Birds of the Horn of Africa”. It seems odd, but at least as regards avifauna, Djibouti (or at least the Horn of Africa) is a pretty diverse place. There are at least 70 unique bird species, and a huge number of Palearctic species, which transit the region from Europe to winter over in Africa. In a few minutes of reading I was able to put names to many of the species I’ve run into so far. These included Great White Pelican, House Crow (gruff but knowledgeable birds that walk with a cane and are experts in differential diagnosis), Osprey, Speckled Pigeon, and some variety of swift that I need a better look at, and my favorite, the Shining Sunbird (Cinnyris habessinicus). There are at least a dozen more I haven’t gotten a good enough look at yet to venture a guess, and I rather suspect that when the temperatures drop into the merely scorching range, more species may be visible. I think, save for the heat, the abysmal roads, the remoteness, and the occasional land mine left over from old border conflicts, Djibouti could be the next big eco-tourism destination. Seriously though, the geology, marine life and the birding are first class. And we’ve already established that there’s plenty of good food out here.

A propos of the last, we had a chance to explore the cuisine at Djibouti’s true 5 star resort, the Djibouti Palace Kempinski. You can check it out, and even make your reservation at http://www.kempinski-djibouti.com/en/home/index.htm. The property sits oceanfront on the western side of the peninsula, and is notable from the outside for its well manicured lawn (Lawn!) and palm tree lined driveway as well as the tight security at the entrance points. This is characteristic of a couple of the resort type hotels around here, and must reflect the dangerous neighbors that the wee country of Djibouti keeps. Anyway, past the gate guards and other measures, you find yourself in an immaculately groomed, marble and tile, Middle East-meets-Africa motif luxury hotel that compares well with some of the nicer places I’ve stayed in the US. There is a cocktail lounge bar complete with piano jazz combo, a casino, a couple of nice pools and a spa.

The occasion for our visit was the Hail and Farewell for our arriving and departing wardroom officers. This was held in the hotel’s restaurant, which features a large seafood buffet, highlighting French inflected Red Sea fare. The food was lovely, the setting refreshing and the speechifying well done and graciously received. I caught the bus home early, as there was some possibility I would have to take an aero-medevac patient to Germany. This turned out not to be needed, and I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or disappointed. I’ll have to take a “personal sanity” break and stay overnight at the Kempinski some time soon. The thought of a bathtub sounds very tempting.

Incidentally the Kempinski is a hotel chain that had its origins in pre-war Germany. The NY Times reports the following “As part of the Nazi regime's Aryanization program in the 1930's and '40's, the Kempinski family was pressured into selling what was then a chain of restaurants and wine dealerships to a non-Jewish competitor whose finance director was a member of the Nazi party. The Kempinski family scattered, some of its members escaping while others were arrested and sent to their deaths in concentration camps. Later, some relatives received compensation, but others remain embittered that the hotel, which opened in 1952 on the site of their restaurant on the chic Kurfurstendamm, continues to carry their name." And so it goes.

The next day we had a smaller get together at the American Embassy's pool, for the officers and enlisted of the EMF. The Ambassador has a nice place, once you get past the security gates and barriers, on the ocean looking eastward from the Plage des Tritons. On the grounds are the Ambassador's residence, the pool and barbecue facilities, some administrative buildings and a small clinic overseen by a charming and delightful Kenyan nurse. The grounds are full of large trees, and roosting in one (besides the inescapable crows - house crows) was a solitary Abdim's stork. These are normally a gregarious species, but apparently the noisy Americans splashing in the pool below were more than enough company as he remained alone the whole time. Anyway, great fun was had by all, and I once again took the early ride home as I was the "duty Doc" and didn't like to be away too long. Beyond a solitary benign chest pain case though, I wasn't needed the rest of the night.

Since then, not so much. Met a couple of other groups of interesting and friendly French officers - one a pair of Mirage pilots over a superbly prepared omelette at the local wine n├ęgociant and the second the French veterinarian and epidemiologist who came to Camp Lemonnier to visit and discuss our common interests. Off tomorrow to Peltier hospital to help out our Djiboutian colleagues, and perhaps a beach/snorkeling trip this coming weekend if the winds in the gulf permit.

Hope you all are well. I learned of another Djibouti article in Esquire while chatting with some folks last night. I read it over today, and while the author's biases are obvious, at least some of the information he gives about the Camp, the CJTF and the mission is a good synopsis of what it is we think we're doing here. You can find it at http://www.esquire.com/features/africacommand0707


Take care all. Write if you get a moment.

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