The year in brief: I had a wonderful Himalayan experience walking in Ladakh. I enjoyed hosting friends in Brecon. I worked to improve the image of leprosy “New Face for Leprosy” in Ethiopia. I protested with 700 000 others against Brexit on the people’s march.
In August I walked for 10 days in Ladakh, a dry Himalayan area in India bordering Tibet and Pakistan. There were 16 people (19-66 yrs) on an organized trek. Ladakh has high dry mountains with beautiful rock formations. Leh, the capital is at 3200m and we walked to above 4,000m. We drove up to the Khardung La pass, the worlds highest café and had lemon tea there. The rocks colours range from red to brown, beautiful to photograph. The highest points are decorated with Buddhist prayer flags. We saw beautiful Bhuddist monasteries. The Indus starts up here and the only trees are along the river. We walked, camped and had interesting village homestays and talked to local people. The locals were harvesting and drying their apricots; which I brought home for my neighbours. They are Buddhist and so much less pushy than elsewhere in India and their social structures are kinder to women.
My latest project is called “A new face for leprosy”. When new leprosy patients go on the Internet they see only pictures of patients with no fingers and toes; whereas contemporary leprosy is a treatable infection. I tell new patients that they have a 21 st century curable infection and most will not develop disabilities. The NGO’s working in leprosy need these graphic images to raise money. My patients have overcome the stigma of leprosy and progressed with lives and careers. We aim to capture this positive image of leprosy without stigma. Myself, Saba Lambert one of my team based in Ethiopia and Alex Kumar, one of my DTMH students spent time in Ethiopia in Sept photographing and interviewing patients. We plan an exhibition for World Leprosy Day on Jan 27 2019 when there is media interest in Leprosy. I celebrated the Ethiopia New year in Sept in Addis Ababa with candles, bonfires and fireworks in the central square.
My friend Steve Walker was appointed to the tropical dermatology consultant post at Hospital for Tropical Diseases (HTD), he is the first black consultant at HTD, I was the first woman consultant in 1994. Steve has worked with me on leprosy for many years and will be taking over the NHS leprosy work. I shall retire next June. I shall stay connected with leprosy work, a new project will be writing a book about leprosy based on patients’ stories. This will take me back to the places I have worked in the past. I plan to cross Russia on the trans-Siberian train.
I have explored black culture this year after hearing my hero David Olusoga’s talk at Hay about his book “Black and British” about the under-recognised contribution black people have made to British history. I saw the play the” Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” (at The Arcola) by Lola Shoneyin, about a Nigerian man who takes more wives to mask his infertility whilst they find their own solutions. The audience included appreciative Nigerians enjoying the tale and the music and ready to dance. The novel “Stay with me” captures the devastating effect infertility has on families and the lies that are told to mask it, by Ayobami Adebayo a 30 yr old Nigerian writer.
My friend Iain Reddish died rapidly from bladder cancer in February. We were friends for 25 years, having met canvassing for the Labour party in Islington in 1992. He moved to Amsterdam and I visited him there often, also enjoying reconnecting with my Dutch roots. He was my first stop for political analysis and reflection. He had a humanist funeral In Holland with people speaking briefly about this colourful, warm, thoughtful man who wore amazing clothes. I wrote an obituary, with friends, published in The Guardian on Apr 20th. His ex-partner (Alesha) and a Dutch resident had euthanasia in June and escaped a debilitating neurological illness. He is the second of my friends to die in Holland from euthanasia and in both cases it given them peaceful final days and they said goodbye to family and friends.
Using my mother’s house in Brecon for hosting people has been a pleasure. I love showing people around Brecon, walking in the Beacons and sharing good food beside the River Wye. During the Hay Literary festival I had many guests including Julia and Steph from Paris, We heard Ben Zephaniah give a wonderful account of his life. Neil Young looks after the garden. I shall make the house more mine with my own pictures and furnishings.
Gardening in the community project in Arlington square connects me with my neighbours. The trees there had fine red autumnal colours. I have a new gardening project to nuture and improve, Union Square, the square closest to my home. It is smaller and has visitors with dogs and the beds lack colour. We are now official and the Friends of Union Square and will be gardening there.
I enjoyed celebrating 70 years of the NHS and I took cakes from the Labour party to my local practice and the HTD. I worked for the NHS for 37 years, over half of its life. I fear for the next 35 years. It is in a fragile state. The Owen Sheers poem about the NHS had scenes from Wales including Nevill Hall hospital, Abergavenny, captured the uniqueness of the institution and how important it is to ensure that it lasts another 70 years. The effects of 8 years of austerity are visible with poor social provision and rising homelessness. I despair over Brexit and the many ways it will harm the country. I am frustrated by Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to give a clear opposition voice against Brexit. I was energized by the Anti-Brexit march, 700 000 people marched peaceably and good naturedly through central London.
Cultural Highlights included hearing “The Rape of Lucretia” by Britten at the Arcola theatre, and seeing the play “ The Jungle “ about life in the camp at Calais which I saw with my cousin Jane and nephew Matthew. This highlighted the survivors tales of people living in the camp. I had excellent weekends away with friends, enjoying concerts at Snape Maltings and eating lobster in Suffolk with Rita. Irene Allen and I found the leprosy museum in Bergen with its pictures of 19 century patents very moving. I was walking in Haut Savoie with Les and Vera when France won the World cup ad shared French joy. I explored a volcanic lake in Tanzania with Saba.
Enjoy the Solstice and may 2019 be a good year.