Diary of an Adventure

An aid official’s New Year’s resolution in South Sudan

Jan Raats, country director of the United Nations Office for Project Services’s South Sudan Operations Center shares what it’s like working in South Sudan.

South Sudan isn’t just the youngest nation on the planet, it also remains plagued by conflict and a lack of infrastructure and basic resources. Aid organizations have been rushing in over the past year to fill the void, only to find harsh working conditions and, often, bleak prospects for success.

The country “remains a complex place to work,” Jan Raats told Devex this week, just days after leaders from Juba and Khartoum reaffirmed their – some would say questionable – committment to a demilitarized zone near the border of South Sudan with Sudan. Raats serves as country director of the United Nations Office for Project Services’s South Sudan Operations Center.

The international community has a lot to learn about South Sudan, Raats acknowledged, especially if it is to push for sustainable development.

The biggest impediments to aid delivery relate to logistics, he suggested – perhaps not surprising since that is UNOPS’s focus.

“There are health risks as well as a population that is still heavily armed in an economic climate where pay to security forces is poor,” he added. “There are internal and external political issues that will continue to be risk factors.”

Here’s an email Raats shared with Devex, republished with his permission:

South Sudan remains a complex place to work. We have the expected post-conflict, limited resource environment that has minimal capacity and is beset by natural, and man-made, disasters. Within this context, and given that the country is one of the most underdeveloped in the world, I expected that upholding our core U.N. value of “do no harm,” would be the easiest aspect in sustainable development within both the humanitarian and nation-building space.

It was during a conversation with a Cabinet minister of the South Sudan government, about the years of war, adjusting to a post-conflict environment, and governing, as well as meeting the never-ending priority list of nation building that I came across a key element of sustainable development. We don’t know the country — particularly when it comes to sustainable infrastructure.

In building a road, an environmental impact assessment may tell us where we cross the migratory route for elephants. Or in setting up a refugee camp, where the winter floodwaters need to be directed so as not to flood the local market. Or where material for construction activities can be excavated in a way that creates a water hafir to mitigate against intertribal conflict. All of which are activities that increase sustainable development and “do no harm.”

A factor I have not integrated into my thinking, and planning, is the huge resource of knowledge many of those in government have, after spending two decades walking across the country during the years of conflict.

In opening a road, to increase food security through market access, enhancing peace building by allowing security forces to rapidly respond to cattle raiding, reducing child mortality by enabling women to easily access clinical services, and positively impacting on the lives of girls by creating safe routes free from violence, are we creating long-term problems by not knowing that this same road is now opening areas for loggers to exploit a previously inaccessible resource? Or that the road will link two communities, rekindling a decades old conflict?

My task for the New Year is to access this pool of knowledge and as such achieve sustainable development that also does no harm.

Source: An aid official’s Newyear’s resolution in South Sudan


Henri-Edmond Cross (Henri-Edmond Delacroix) (French, 1856–1910)

The Artist’s Garden at Saint-Clair

Watercolor on paper

26.6 x 35.8 cm

Henri Edmond Cross was born in Douai and grew up in Lille. His real name was in fact Henri-Edmond Delacroix, a heavy burden for a painter which is why he chose to anglicize it.

His early works, portraits and still lifes, were in the dark colors of realism, but after meeting with Claude Monet in 1883, he painted in the brighter colors of Impressionism. In 1884, Cross co-founded the Société des Artistes Indépendants with Georges Seurat. He went on to become one of the principal exponents of Neo-Impressionism.

In a break with Impressionism, the artists painted in their studios, embracing an intellectual, recomposed, methodical art in search of harmony rather than a strict replica of reality. This art was impregnated with scientific principles as Seurat sought inspiration in Chevreul, Ogden Rood or even Charles Blanc, while Signac wrote his treatise D’Eugène Delacroix au néo-impressionisme. Cross and Signac, insisting also on the importance of music in their paintings full of studied rhythms and sonorous colors.

Cross also observed the different moments in the day. The effect of light on colors, colder in the morning, warmer in the evening. There is the influence of Japanese fashion in a new, more decorative treatment of lines, in the ondulating smoke or the twisted tree trunks.


Matisse sought out Cross’ company : “his self-confidence crushes me and makes me look in my eyes as a poor man without will power, with no follow-through in my ideas and even without means (…). I regret being able to see Cross only very rarely” ; nevertheless, he painted a series of watercolors with him, colored annotations, without any traces of drawing, interpreting large spaces vibrant with light but with no line or perspective.

It was not until he moved to Saint-Clair, a small hamlet on the Côte d’Azur near Saint-Tropez, that he turned to pure landscape painting in oil and watercolor, using a vivid palette of saturated colors. On the Mediterranean coast, Cross relaxed the rigorous optical arrangements of the Neo-Impressionist technique in favor of a style of painting using long, blocky brushmarks in decorative, mosaic-like patterns.

His final years, plagued by rheumatism, were spent in Saint-Clair, where he died in 1910.

Diary of an Adventure

Harbour Town Adventures

Merry and peaceful Christmas to all.

Phosphorous waves at sunset out in the lagoon, from the red-tide that has swept down the coast, creating mayhem for the shellfish industry.

Weather stunning for the mile swim (I didn’t swim) and the Blues Festival at Mitchell’s brewery. Guess I shouldn’t have expected the wine, at a brewery, to be anything other than subnormal, however, it was the only disappointment on a great afternoon. The line-up of bands (eight of them) was varied. The music excellent. The showmanship, complete with spinning guitars, outstanding. A sprinkling of protest songs about the economy, corruption and incompetence, unexpected.

Yellow cotton balls of colour on thin read stems (Biesiegras) caught my attention on the turnoff to Springer Bay. With the summer heat, the fynbos has changed. From the rainy season greens to grey renosterveld, sprinkled with a gazillion blue flowers like Christmas lights. Against the sky, a small farm house dwarfed by the tree protecting it from the afternoon sun. Thrilled with the new French Yellow and Lemon Yellow Intense artists oils from Chavrin.

Christmas week and the studio is busy with visitors. The curious and those merely browsing as part of their holiday recharging. An unexpectedly large number of fellow painters interested in my technique and use of colour, happy to sit and talk about my paintings. Experiences relived through the paintings from different parts of the world.

Caprese salad, with sun drenched tomatoes and basil leaves from the struggling herb pots. Seared salmon with bacon crumble and green beans in nutty butter with cream cheese and Parmesan sauce for Christmas eve dinner. The sleigh festooned in flashing lights, brought Father Christmas and his helpers to Harbour Town to add that touch of magic.

Polly played in the waves at Brenton on Christmas morning. For the first time, the steps back up from the beach too much for her wonky legs. 


Lesser Ury – (German, 1861–1931) 

Rainy Day in London, Thames Port 1926

Lesser Ury was a German impressionist painter and printmaker, associated with the Düsseldorf school of painting, who followed his own style and is perhaps most well known for his skills with pastels – some consider Ury one of the most important pastellists of the 19th Century. Ury is especially noted for his paintings of nocturnal cafe scenes and rainy streets.

In 1871, Lesser Ury, a “forgotten” artist from Berlin’s exciting Secession period, moved from the small village Birnbaum, then in the Poznan Province, to Berlin. From the first moment, Lesser Ury felt a special relationship with the city, which would influence his art to such a degree that he was honoured as “the artistic glorifier of the capital” by the Berlin mayor on his 60th birthday. 

However, before Ury finally made his home in Berlin, he studied painting in Düsseldorf and Brussels, gathered precious artistic experiences in Paris and explored Flanders and Munich, where he was enrolled for a short time at the “Akademie für Bildende Künste”. 

Whereas his Berlin contemporaries Liebermann, Slevogt and Corinth were united by joint artistic intentions, Ury was a loner that followed his own ways in the world of art. Introverted and distrust of people, he became reclusive in his latter years.

Following a heart attack, his health continued to deteriorate and he died in his Berlin studio three weeks before his 70th birthday.

Messing About with Paint

Top of the hill

Oil on Canvas 60cmx90cm

Yellow cotton balls of colour on thin read stems caught my attention on the turnoff to Springer Bay.

With the summer heat, the fynbos has changed. From the rainy season greens to grey renosterveld, sprinkled with a gazillion blue flowers like Christmas lights.

Against the sky, a small farm house dwarfed by the tree protecting it from the afternoon sun.

Thrilled with the new French Yellow and Lemon Yellow Intense artists oils from Chavrin.

Diary of an Adventure

Harbour Town Adventures

Wind buffeting the studio. Canvases dancing against the walls. Storm tossed seas. Polly hiding. Her agitated state compounded by kids letting off fire crackers under the covered walkway outside the studio.

The view to East Head from the western side of the lagoon dominated by the tunnel of the old railway at Featherbed. I pushed the composition lower on the canvas to give space for the East Head against the sky.

Paddles sorted, and with the sun out we headed down to the Yacht Club to try various surf-ski options. The lifting and carrying boats to and from the water didn’t leave much energy to paddle!

Something magical about a simple meal of green beans, corn on the cob and lamb chops on the braai. A DreamWorks moon over the lagoon. Owl chicks screaming for their mother to feed them.

First light, the waters of the lagoon buzzing with sports boats taking fishermen out to sea. Rails of fishing rods, with their multi-coloured line glinting in the sunlight.

Anniversary dinner at Die Gieter, one of the few serious food restaurants in Knysna. Perched high above the lagoon, the restaurant feels like being inside a conservatory. There is an art to simplicity, which when combined with passion and good ingredients, creates superb food. Particularly, French country cooking.

These aren’t small, delicate meals, artfully arranged on a plate, but massive portions full of flavour that demand serious attention. Scallops slow cooked in Chardonnay with cream and saffron. Hot whole Camembert in filo with honey, pecan nuts and honey. Duck fillet and entrecôte with fries were more than enough for four people. However, we left our plates clean! 

We didn’t look at the wine list, as the generous corkage meant that we could enjoy our own Atarazia Pinot Noir, and Colmont bubbly. 

First Light

Oil on canvas 20cmxcm  

Harbour Town Adventures


Emil Nolde – German-Danish (1867-1956)

Moonlit Night 1914

A German-Danish Expressionist painter and printmaker, he was a member of the influential Expressionist group, Die Brücke (The Bridge).  

Best known for brightly colored portraits and peasant scenes (with a Primitivist slant) and for his interest in flowers, this work is a bit different.  

In fact to me, this painting lives up to the name Die Brücke, for it bridges the Impressionist sensibility with the Expressionist lens. This night scene manages to blend Impressionism’s fidelity to the scene with the type of brushwork and coloring favored by Expressionism, and it is the marriage of these elements that gives the piece its power.

In 1942, Nolde wrote

“There is silver blue, sky blue and thunder blue. Every color holds within it a soul, which makes me happy or repels me, and which acts as a stimulus. To a person who has no art in him, colors are colors, tones tones…and that is all. All their consequences for the human spirit, which range between heaven to hell, just go unnoticed.”

Emil Hansen was born in the village of Nolde near the Danish border in August 1867. At the age of seventeen he became the apprentice of a wood carver near Flensburg, while at the same time practicing his skills as a draughtsman. Between 1888 and 1891 he worked as a wood carver and draughtsman in furniture manufactories in Munich, Berlin and Karlsruhe. In the evenings he took classes at the arts and crafts school. Between 1892 and 1897 he taught technical draughtsmanship at the Industry- and Trade Museum in St. Gallen. He travelled to Milan, Vienna and Munich and through his many hiking tours developed a fascination with mountain scenery. Nolde designed postcards with caricatures of personified mountains which became such a commercial success that he cut short his apprenticeship and moved to Munich in 1898 to work as a painter. Although he was not allowed into the Academy he did study privately and went to Paris for one term to enroll at the Akadémie Julian. In 1901 he settled in Copenhagen. Here he met Ada Vilstrup whom he married in 1902. On the occasion of his marriage he changed his name to that of his birthplace, Nolde. He moved to the island of Alsen in 1903, but spent the winter months in Berlin where he rented a studio.

Through an exhibition in Dresden in 1906 the artists of the “Brücke” became aware of his work and invited him to join their association. For two years Nolde took part in the group’s touring exhibition projects and in 1907 he spent several weeks in Dresden. But at the end of the year he left the group – the differences in age and temperament were too substantial for the loner Nolde. In Berlin he painted the nightlife of the metropole and studied the art of indigenous peoples in the Völkerkundemuseum. In 1913/14, fulfilling one of his dreams, he and his wife accompanied a medical expedition to the South Pacific via Russia and China. A great number of watercolours was the product of this journey. In 1927 the Noldes moved to Seebüll where Nolde desinged and buildt a house and studio for himself. From 1931 on he worked on his autobiography.

For Nolde the Third Reich brought defamation. His paintings were confiscated from the museums and his work was a special focus of the exhibition “Entartete Kunst” (“Degenerate Art”). From 1941 on he was prohibited from painting at all. Secretly he paint small scale watercolours which he called “unpainted pictures”. After the war, between his eightyth and eightyfith birthday he gained various honorations and awards. 

Nolde died at Seebüll in 1956 and was buried next to Ada in the garden of the Seebüll estate.

Diary of an Adventure

Thesen Harbour Town Adventures

Translucent sails against the shimmering water. Slow cooked pork belly (the Voignier, Weber grilled type), with green beans and Mum’s crunchy Tai green salad, overlooking another stunning sunset across the lagoon. Ateraxia Pinot a stunning accompaniment. Especially when combined with a taste of Vosges Pink Himalayan crystal salt, caramel chocolate.

Muscles weary from carting the boxes of books into the apartment. Treasures from our travels uncovered, bringing their memories. Mold a bother on clothing used as wrapping on fragile bits.
Kirsten introduced me to Alexi Von Jawlensky, who painted with Kandinsky which inspired the colours of his portraits. While primary colours predominate in much of his work, I used his colour contrasts as a basis for a much gentler portrait of Guy. The turquoise, raw sienna and blue of the waters outside the studio, to capture his carefree spirit.
The eyes, where it all starts. Did chicken out with the background, going a conservative route, rather than the dramatic one I had in mind.
With the wind taking a day off and the sun out to play, we closed the studio and headed to the Peroni beach bar in Craig’s boat. The colours of the waters magical, if a tad too chilly to swim. Wakes from every direction brought a mishmash of craft to the beach. A spot of Pinot and Champagne at J9, seemed to demand that we finish the day at Chatters for one of their fabulous pizza’s.
The cry of birds in distress woke me as day was breaking over the lagoon. Owls out hunting, the cause. Their hooting, menacing in its finality.
Outside the studio, the new light boxes have been installed finalizing the branding, and ensuring that the studio is unmissable. Inviting. Intriguing. Stylish. Impressive.
Studio lights 2
First tour group visiting the studio. Did the photograph pose bit and demonstration painting. As the group consisted of a couple of Japanese media people, it will be interesting to see what coverage the studio gets.
Sold a small painting, which was important as it was also a test run for the card machine.
New paintings from the studio
Oil on Canvas 20cmx20cm
Pilot Boat
Oil on Canvas 20cmx20cm

Maurice Denis (1870-1943)


oil on cardboard 36.5 x 49.7

Even today Maurice Denis’ (1870-1943) place in the history of art remains unspecified. Known as the “Nabi of the beautiful icons”, he is celebrated alongside Vuillard and Bonnard as one of the most important Nabi painters, a founder of the movement and its brilliant theoretician.

“Remember that a painting – before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or an anecdote of some sort – is essentially a flat surface covered with colours, put together in a certain order”

In 1893, he married Marthe Meurier, who was to become his muse and give him seven children. The family later moved to Le Prieuré, a historic mansion in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, which in 1980, became the Musée Maurice Denis as the result of a family gift. Between 1895 and 1898, Denis spent time in Brittany and Italy, and his love of Italian Renaissance art and the classical tradition is evident in his work. He first became known as a member of the group called the Nabis, the “prophets” of modern art.  

At the dawn of the twentieth century, his painting was increasingly marked by his spiritual and religious quests. He created large-scale murals and helped to found the Ateliers d’art sacré. His output as a theoretician and historian of art continued, and his written work was published in 1922 under the title Nouvelles théories sur l’art moderne, sur l’art sacré. 

Maurice Denis died in 1943. The diary he had kept since his teens was published in 1957