Travel on, Alexander

Needing a break from the continuing tsunami of coronavirus news, I drove the truck (Ford Ranger, with license plate PAAMA) to Brockwell’s for a load of topsoil and, once home, went out back to prepare a patch of the yard for summer wildflowers. Digging and raking and running my hands through the dirt was therapeutic and yet I kept thinking about this pandemic and its impact on life around the world, from China to Italy to Chapel Hill and Durham. Shockingly, all Peace Corps volunteers were recalled this week, and I found myself thinking about Vanuatu, and then I wondered how Alexander Frater was faring. Frater is the travel writer we met on Paama Island, where Erin and I were PCVs, and we’d visited him at his home in London in 1999, and I\‘d seen him again briefly in 2011. Frater wrote about us in Tales from the Torrid Zone, his memoir about Vanuatu and Fiji.

Inside, after dinner, I searched the web, and learned that Frater died on January first of this year. He was two days short of his 83rd birthday, according to the obituary in the Guardian. Steven Fowler wrote this more personal tribute to Alex.

I paused for a moment of silence to honor Alex. Then I searched my blog archives, and found a 2003 post, Immunizations are good, in which I quoted a passage from Chasing the Monsoon about previous epidemics of infectious diseases and their toll: “A flu epidemic followed the measles; another measles epidemic followed that.”

When I was in the yard today, thinking about coronavirus, I wondered about my role in this global fight for life. Staying healthy is primary, I thought.

Now that it’s the end of the night, and I’ve confronted the death of a man I admired, I think writing must also be my response. Alex chronicled his travels and conversations and his observations about the world. He’d inscribed Chasing the Monsoon to us: “For Anton and Erin—Well-met on Paama! With all good wishes—Alexander Frater.”

Seeing that signature has inspired me anew to face this deluge upon us.



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