Via Basel: A Friendship Born in Bhutan

Basel & Wolfie in Bhutan

In January 2008, many moons ago, I embarked on a most interesting and exotic trip to The Kingdom of Bhutan and northern India. It included a nine-day trek of the Himalayan foothills in Bhutan, where no western tourist had ever visited. It was sponsored by the Sierra Club with local guides helping us out, all sixteen of us. It was magical in many ways but also physically demanding and mentally challenging. Under these unusual circumstances a friendship began as a bond between two fellow explorers but continued on and strengthened as the years went by. More nature trips to other places and continents together, social visits made easier by the proximity of our home bases, Chicago and Milwaukee, cemented it further. Several years ago my friend moved to Orcas Island, in the Pacific Northwest, among the San Juan Islands of Washington state.

Coming out of the pandemic isolation, I made my first trip there in May, basking in his hospitality. He reciprocated with a short visit to Chicago a few weeks ago, staying with me, after connecting with his family in the suburbs. 

Over my lifetime I have been fortunate to meet and befriend extraordinary and special people, and Wolfie is definitely in the top tier. A world traveler, nature and environmental enthusiast, his interests span a broad spectrum from literature to world affairs, and as an immigrant from Europe he has a keen insight into them. As a businessman, he ran his own company and lectured at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in political science/ international relations at the same time. His sense of humor is both wicked and hilarious. Conversing with him is both intellectually stimulating and fun, his book collection broad and eclectic. Nowadays, he focuses on spending quality time with his adult children and teenage grandchildren. 

An annoying trait he carries, however, is being trigger happy taking pictures. Armed with his super smart phone or his camera at all times, he fires in all directions and towards a variety of subjects. In the beginning I found it irritating, but after viewing the results I am glad of it. I will attempt to show a small sample of them from his recent Chicago visit. His pictures of natural scenery are fabulous, too, but these will have to wait for another post.

Cityscapes by Wolfgang Schmidt

Finally, his talents also extend to writing, and this poem in response to my post last year on the 10th Anniversary of Chris’s escape illustrates both his creativity and great empathy. 

I met your dad two years before  

You passed on from this earth  

He spoke of you with love galore  

That preceded your birth  

Your loss hence brought him immense pain  

But made him better still  

Deep’ning his life he shared that gain   

With literary skill  

We owe him lots of gratitude  

To show us one can cope  

Beyond your life’s brief interlude  

Eternal springs one’s hope  

–Wolfgang Schmidt

Back to Bhutan

Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, writing, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, semi-retired, he is exploring new avenues in medicine, education, and social engagement.


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