Summer has arrived early in San Francisco and I’m loving every minute. While it’s not exactly Ugandan tropical, my evening walk along the waterfront tonight was full of smiling people, parks of picnickers, pathways lined with those soaking up the last of the light, and as the sun slipped down behind the Golden Gate, some mad people were even swimming…
And on this beautiful evening I have some incredible news to share with you – our dormitory is finished. Mark House was officially opened on the school’s Visiting Day and is now the handsome home to dozens of gorgeous red-sock wearing boys. While the girls proudly moved into their very own Kiwi House in 2009, now, in 2013, the boys have Mark House.
The dormitory was named in honour of an incredible man named Mark Blomfield. I first met Mark in 2011 when he turned up to one the typically chaotic dinners my mother hosts for hundreds on the deck of our house in the Bay of Islands. He was captivated by the story of KAASO and immediately offered to sponsor two of the children through secondary school. But he didn’t stop there. When I sent out my fundraising appeal in July, voicing the ambitious hope of raising $10,000, I was sitting in an airport frantically typing as my flight was called to San Francisco. Before I’d even managed to board my flight, Mark had pledged £1000. He was a passionate supporter of this dormitory and a constant source of encouragement for me to keep going with the fundraising, believing every step of the way that we would get there. To help get us over the line, Mark offered to match every donation dollar for dollar, an overwhelming act of kindness and compassion. Tragically, last November, Mark died of a heart attack. It was a devastating loss and while I had only known him a year, he made a huge impression in that short time. He was someone who cared deeply and, with quiet determination, made sure this dream would come to life. This dormitory is dedicated to his wife Jan and to Mark’s memory. I know he would have been proud.
I currently find myself in a sun-drenched hotel room in Paris where my view consists of old brick buildings and spired domes, piercing the skyline. The windows are open and summer really feels as if it has arrived in Paris. Bliss.
The past three months have been a whirlwind of travel, faces, places and ever-changing horizons. I left my Bondi home in March and flew to Paris where I started work immediately. I launched myself into Parisian life – with a warm coat, a woollen beret and plenty of wine and cheese to ease the transition from Sydney summer to a rather icy winter. I spring-boarded between Venice, Monaco, Naples, Newport, Verona and Paris in the build-up to the events that I was to be working on: the America’s Cup World Series in Naples, the Louis Vuitton Classic – a classic car rally from Monaco through France and Switzerland to Italy, and finally the America’s Cup World Series in Venice which saw super modern boats sailing against one of the world’s most ancient backdrops. It was like sailing in a painting.
I have met so many amazing people these past months, have paddled canals on gondolas, driven through snow-covered mountain passes while skiers fly by, watched yachts racing in the shadow of Mount Vesuvio, wound my way along the shores of Lake Garda at sunset, walked to work each day past the Louvre with the Eiffel Tower twinkling in the background, and island-hopped through the waters of Venice. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to see if it’s all real but I have been lucky enough to share it with a cast of wonderful characters along the way who help to keep things real amidst the madness.
So now another page is turning. I am soon to be moving to San Francisco which is to become my home for the next 18 months. I am looking forward to setting up a life there, to wandering the winding streets, exploring bookshops, finding my local cafe and discovering another corner of the world in a city I love so much.
And, as I am always one for contrasts, I have just booked flights from the next regatta in Newport back to my African home – yes, I’m going back to Uganda. It’s only for two and a half weeks this time but every second I can have in the village is better than none. I am so incredibly excited to be reunited with Dominic and Rose and all the amazing people at KAASO and what makes it all the more special is that I will be with Cherie and Kirsty. The three of us haven’t been together since Kirsty flew out of Zanzibar in August 2009 so it will be a reunion to rival no other. I can’t wait to see the progress that has been made at the school and to be surrounded by the love and warmth of my Ugandan family once more.