Sunday, 29 March 2020

Diana's Year 2019

A busy and fulfilling year; with retirement parties, doing the Trans-Siberian rail journey, coping with Brexit politics, attending People’s Vote marches and now the general election. I launched the New Face for Leprosy project in Ethiopia and globally. Being in Wales for the Hay book festival was a cultural highpoint.  I have enjoyed theatre, music and arts. My community gardening project to improve Union Square is developing. 

I retired at the end of June having worked in the NHS for 38 years. I was the leprosy consultant at the Hosp Trop Disease for 25 years. Some of my patients have been under my care for the whole time. I worked as a consultant in Infectious diseases for the first 21 years in the UCLH team and was given a UCLH long service award in May, the celebration reflected of the diversity of the institute with staff from across the globe and doing jobs ranging from surgery to lab testing to nursing. My leaving party in July was organised by my colleagues. People whom I had worked with and mentored gave short talks that covered my work in leishmania, leprosy, Evidence based medicine, Leprosy Review and my battles with WHO over leprosy policy. David Scollard sent a video from the US on our collaboration. About 100 people came, including patients, family and friends. I was given a unique pair of earrings that have HTD logo one side and LSHTM logo on the other. These were commissioned by a Canadian jeweller by my colleagues.  A jazz band run by a friend of mine played whilst we were eating and drinking. It was a warm affirming event.  Handing over the work has been much easier because I have an excellent successor, Steve Walker who has worked with me for years and is the first black consultant at HTD.  He lead the party organisation team.

I started my retirement with a month in Russia with a week on a Political Tours course and then travelling the Trans Siberian railway trip from Vladivostok to Moscow. Political Tours are organized by journalists to see all aspects of a country. Ours was lead by Russian journalist Leonid Ragozin.  We met people across the political spectrum in Yekaterinaburg and Moscow especially political activists (Vladimir Milov), the human rights problem in Russia and the need for an opposition was palpable from these conversations. Putin has increased wealth for average Russian and the country is visibly improving, but he has rewarded his cronies and prevents the opposition functioning.

Three friends (Rita Krishna, Vincent Stops, Ann Munn) joined me in Moscow and we flew to Vladivostock in Far East Russia and crossed Siberia by train, 9, 2230 km over 14 days, 7 trains.  We had stops in Khabarovsk, Ulan Ude, Listvyanka, on Lake Baikal and Novosibirsk and Tomsk and explored different parts of Siberia. I wrote about each stop on my blog.
The Russian trains are well designed for travel, with 4 bed couchettes and plentiful hot water from the carriage hot water heater for making tea and coffee. The train travels smoothly at 50 km/hr, we appreciated the scenery and explored stations and their food on stops. Russian city architecture is varied with many 19 century buildings and museums,  Lenin statues remain in many central squares. The stations are attractive and well maintained.  We saw much forest but also big rivers and the huge, 220 km long Lake Baikal. Siberian culture with smoked fish, birch bark goods and pine nuts are everywhere. Rita organised the trains in London. Rita spoke some Russian, much needed since few people outside Moscow speak English.  It was a great adventure, I loved the vastness of the country, I found the culture fascinating and I enjoyed the fish meals. I would be happy to return and explore different parts.

 My project “New Face for Leprosy has been exciting. When new leprosy patients go on the net they see pictures of people with severe disabilities, not that it is a curable disease. I started a project taking pictures of treated people working and enjoying life and with messages of hope. We photographed in Ethiopia in Sept 2018 and published in The Lancet on World Leprosy day 2019. Saba and I presented the pictures to Ethiopians affected by leprosy in Gondar. One woman said “ We look beautiful”.  We have taken this positive message to meetings, notably the International Leprosy Conference in Manila in September and patients were excited by this new approach.  I have spent two weeks in India with a photographer Tom Bradley. We were hosted by Lepra India and had a fascinating time hearing about the stigma people experience and how they overcome it.  I met a tabla player whom I treated 30 years ago in Dhoolpet, he played his tabla in a reprise. We plan an exhibition in 2020 and I shall do this work elsewhere.

The political events have been time consuming and depressing.  I was on the People’s Vote march in Oct when parliament voted against Brexit. Jeremy’s Corbyn’s failure to take a remain position was disastrous for reconsidering Brexit and allows the message of “Get Brexit Done” to triumph. Boris despite his manifest failures is PM again. The election results are profpundly depressing. I think we are now in for an extreme right wing politics staring with Brexit. Extinction Rebellion is exciting and their message and approach is hopeful in this dark time.

I have seen many good plays this year, highlights include a female Dr Faustus at The Globe, Rosmerholm with a flood covering the stage at the end. Seeing Pinter plays at the new Pinter theatre remind me of his powerful writing. The Don Mullin photos were a powerful documentation of his work in photographing many conflicts. The drawings of Kathe Kolwitz  at the BM documented the pain of loss. Far East prisoners of war used art to survive imprisonment in a Liverpool exhibition, Secret Art of Survival.  I was deeply touched because my mother was a Japanese PoW and I mused  about her survival strategy.  “Sorry we missed you” is a contemporary film by Ken Loach that captures the destruction that low wage jobs in delivery companies wreaks on families.

My retirement plans include more work on the New face project, also writing a book about leprosy based on patient stories. I shall teach on leprosy. I look forward to more time for photography, travel, gardening, time with friends and family and in Brecon.

Enjoy the Solstice and may 2020 be a good year.