No one quite smiles in Basel. Not on the tram and not in the café. Each of ten men sits at his separate table on a Sunday, reading the paper quietly. Our access to medicines team doesn’t quite fit. We’re from Spain, India, and the USA, and we’re loud. We laugh at our automated Swiss hotel, where there’s no reception, no staff and no decor; just a code for a key drop to a clean little closet with a bed
But Basel’s cottages are richly ornamented. Public art and flower beds grace the town walks. It’s not a bad setting for a meeting of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines Europe, for which a couple hundred or so friends, med students and others, have gathered this weekend.
Sometime in the past year, a certain peace settled on my soul, and has been spreading since. Everything is simple. I suppose feeling unburdened can be unsettling: things that mattered much once matter little today. That could seem a lack of passion, but I think it is more readiness to find new projects and enjoy ease.
Ok I take it back. The Swiss yodelers smile. They perform in costume as we eat much fondue. We give them a standing ovation. The locals smile for us, too, the next day, when the couple hundred of us march, sing and hang a forty-meter banner for access to meds off one of Basel’s bridges, with the office of the bad-behaving pharmaceutical giant Novartis in the background.
Years ago I made a trade. I took a job lawyering and strategizing to beat drug monopolies and bring down medicine costs. I also wanted to keep playing and writing music. As the job demanded more of us in order to punch through, it came that the only way I’d be able to do both – work and music – is if that was all I did. I traded recreation and all the many little things to make time for work and recording music.
I lived that way, to varying degrees, for several years. My health suffered. But we earned the right to work as we please. We saw the world and changed it, too. I put out a couple records, learning and developing. These are gifts. And not such a bad trade for youth.
We are on a train through Switzerland. We ride the valley floor past loud yellow Colza fields under ice peaks. Geneva is my next stop, for a few days’ work on policy responses to antibiotic resistance hosted by the South Centre. Then I’ll be home.
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