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Turkey 1 Bios

Nan Borton
2011



August 28, 2011 – during the rainy part before the windy part of Irene:

A full, long, and weird career as a worker with refugees and war and disaster victims, I never missed a land war in either Asia or Africa (to say nothing of famine or genocide).

My best ever job title: Assistant Chief Pilot of Ariana Afghan Airlines – they were not too strong on “to the” and I was bloody well not about to correct them.

The most breath-taking moment, in India where we lived in a very small place and I asked the night guard where he was going with a plate of our condemned CARE milk powder: Oh, Memsahib, to feed our many healthy cobras.

When I was sure I was going to die: Not in Cambodia, or Vietnam, or Bangladesh, or Iraq, or the Congo, or anywhere it should have been: it was when I was taking a perfectly delightful but extremely large Irish Priest around in a Rickshaw in heavy heavy mud in a port city in Bangladesh, and he suddenly decided to have a malaria relapse. Well, between us, the rickshaw driver and I weighed a third of him, and we tipped over in that mud, him (dear Father Finucan) on top of me, insuring in my mind that I would die in something worse than a butt of malmsey.

When I was sure I was going to kill: I was well in my 30s, and had been working with war victims for over ten years, when I arrived in a relatively remote corner of Vietnam (after most of our troops had left, but the civilians had not) only to hear my colleague excoriated for “bringing a girl into a war zone.”

And so many other things: it has been a fabulous, always rewarding, often hard, sometimes dangerous, but never boring career. And obviously there were very down times, but they do not belong in this kind of a report. I remained on call for 10- more years, going out to assist in disaster planning, response, and preparedness. My last gig was assessing how well the disaster systems in Thailand and Sri Lanka could respond to the highly sophisticated early warning systems the US and EU have installed – you would think the assessment would have come BEFORE the installation, but these are governments. From about 1993, when I became head of the State Dept Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, I focused on Africa; prior to that, it was all Asia from toes down in Ankara in 1962 . In addition to Turkey, I/we lived in Greece, India, Pakistan/Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Vietnam/Cambodia.

On a personal note, like too many of us, I am a breast cancer survivor. Jim and I divorced amiably in 1975, just after the fall of Saigon where we shared our last posting together. He went on to a career in food emergencies with CARE and then the UN; he has lived in Addis Ababa for the last 25 or so years, where I saw him frequently while I was still working. He retired there and is making gorgeous jewellry out of antique bits of Ethiopian metals mostly silver. We were last together in 2007 when we happened on each other in Thailand; I was doing the silly post-tsunammi work mentioned below, and he was being treated (successfully) for throat cancer.

And after a 12-year whirlwind courtship, I remarried in 1995, Bruce Thomas, actually an old friend and photographer I had met in Afghanistan. Shades of Madison County. We moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, on the Bay, when I left full time employment in 1997; in 2006 we down-sized to Belfast, Maine, to escape the miasmic heat of Maryland’s shore and to escape, as well, the 4 acres we have been mowing every 5 days, April to November for the past ten years. We separated in 2010, and Bruce died in June of this year.

In retirement here in mid-coast Maine, I still mow, but it is down to one acre, and I work fairly extensively with pre-release prisoners and addicts in recovery. Also volunteer at the YMCA, where I maintain my own geriatric fitness, and am a certified teacher of a specialty course to help older adults with issues of balance, falling, and fitness. Plus taking full advantage of Maine's glorious seasons and outdoors life, with boating, hiking, snowshoes, and snow blowing.

And the best things I have been called on to do in the last few years? Talking with college students on third world issues. How incredibly splendid they are, and so much more sophisticated than were we! Our future as a nation with an international focus looks extremely bright, indeed, if they are as typical as I believe. And hope.

 

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10/30/16