Monday, December 15, 2008

Not the golden age of aviation

Airlines that are based out of the States are SO FREAKIN' BAD. At least Northwest and Delta, which are the two I've flown into the States in the past few years, are. The seats are small, the in-flight entertainment is awful, the flight attendants are rude, mono-lingual and inattentive.

It is kind of embarrassing when you're on KLM from Kampala and everything is lovely: the food, the free booze, the in seat entertainment system with a zillion things to watch, the flight attendants who speak 5 languages a piece, etc. Then you get on Northwest and its all just... bad. Bad bad bad. All that patriotism I was feeling a few weeks ago? Northwest more or less killed it.

Glad to be back in the States, though.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Down to the wire

Ahhhhhhh, lovely Nairobi. Its a beautiful, BEAUTIFUL day, I'm sitting out on the porch of a Java House indulging in eating (I can eat again! I've put on a stupid amount of weight in a very short period of time) getting buffeted by the breeze and wishing, as I often do, I lived here.

I faced a real crisis yesterday. We've decided, on the basis of my assessment and some serious information spinning on my part with a UN agency, to do an immediate emergency intervention in Matanda, the transit center. It will start next week and go on for five weeks and be brutal and intense and extremely necessary.

When I was on the conference call with HQ pitching it, the country director and I both agreed that an expat would be required, the culture of emergencies is such that a national staff would not be listened to as much. But who would give up their Christmas to work 20 hour days 7 days a week in the middle of nowhere? I could feel the people on the other end of the phone willing me to say "I'll do it" and agree to come back on Thursday, after my Boston conference. I could practically see the words on the tip of the country director's tongue.

It would be an amazing experience. And so good for my career. And the sort of thing I really love, so much more than the dull meeting-filled existence of post-conflict world. But I have committed to my family I'll come back for the holidays. For the first time in quite awhile.

So I stayed quiet. I'm going to make a decision for once that is less about what I want than promises I've made. But MAN it would've been cool.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Death by getting squished


My car flipped today. The driver was going too fast and, most likely, drunk. So when he took a hard corner the car flipped right over. He was thrown from the door and hasn't got a scratch on him. We were out talking to people and came back around the corner to find the smoking wreckage. Took ages to get UNHCR to come and flip it back for us, then figure out how we were going to get back (a tiny sedan), then actually GET back.

My strange lucky but unlucky karma strikes again.

Death by falling jerry can tower

I went up to the transit center for all the very newly arrived refugees today – 7,900+ people in a green fields site that didn’t exist one week ago. I’d never been to a brand new site before, my previous knowledge of influxes has always been into sites that were well established.

Well, wow, chaos.

The organizations there are doing as good a job as they can, really, and things were relatively organized. But just imagine, we’re driving down a road, village village village, jungle jungle jungle, I’m looking off to the left at some kids when the car stops suddenly and I turn to my right and oh-sweet-jesus. A huge, newly cut field is there, hemmed in by low hills on all sides and, in the middle, white tarp huts as far as the eye can see. Out of nowhere.

We pulled in to the middle of it and park next to a two story high pile of yellow plastic jerry cans, the jugs refugees use to hold water. Around that are huge piles of wood, stacks and stacks of rice and beans and, everywhere, women in kangas waiting in lines. Lines as far as the eye can see. Lines everywhere. People are waiting in lines and they aren’t even sure what for. On the outskirts Save the Children has set up some sports fields for children to play and they’re kicking balls, occasionally shanking one into the queues of women.

We get directed to a big tree under which sits the government representatives, who very kindly give us a briefing and give us permission to be in the settlement. Then we go out and start talking to the refugees.

Every time my team and I stopped somewhere we’d be mobbed by people. All desperate to have someone listen to them. We told them over and over we couldn’t so anything for them, but they didn’t really seem to care. They just wanted to share.

“The rebels came and my family and I scattered, I went back and my children were gone, then the rebels came again. I had to run, now I don’t know where they are.”

“We haven’t received food in a week and don’t have a shelter, my children and I are sleeping outside and it keeps raining” (It was raining and blowing a bitter wind at this point)

“My wife and children got taken somewhere else, I don’t know where, they got on a different bus. They have all our things, I have no clothes and no money.”

“We’ve been given one plate for me and my seven children, I don’t know how to feed them all.”

On and on and on. We would dutifully write everything down, say we would be sure to report it and then say “you know we can’t do anything about this?”

They would all say yes, but they just wanted someone to listen to them. Sometimes they would clap for us, just for writing it down.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Death by bucket

There is no dignity in being a patient during a cholera epidemic. The place I’m at right now, where 10,000 Congolese have rocked up in, essentially, the past two weeks, is having (or, possibly, is ending) a cholera epidemic. As most of you know (I think, do normal people have intimate knowledge about cholera?), when you’re sick with this particularly yicky disease you lose all control of bowels and have gross, dehydrating, eventually killing diarrhea.

The standard protocol for dealing with this?

Rows and rows and rows of beds with holes and buckets and rows and rows and rows of naked tushies hanging out of those holes.

It is just… demeaning.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wander in the woods

In an unexpected turn of events, I'm off to Uganda tomorrow. As you've all read here, if not in the news, there's trouble in Congo and, as a result of this trouble, people are moving across the border into Uganda. My organization would like to see if there is anything we can do to assist the refugees, so guess who gets to on a week long road trip talkin to people and seeing what the needs are and generally going wey hey!

Should be fun (and yes, I realise it is sick for me to say that I think seeing people's who whole's lives have been destroyed is fun), I'll keep everyone posted.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The blank stare always wins

Illegal checkpoints have become a bit of a problem here in Juba lately. They are run by a combination of army, police and random guys with sticks and are usually shakedown operations where they'll charge you indeterminate amounts of money for violating a non-existent curfew.

Last night I was chauffeuring, as per usual, and was heading back to my house at about midnight, a perfectly acceptable time to be on the road WELL before the UN-recommended bed time of 1.00 am. I'm cruisin' along the airport road, listening to my music, when I round the corner and see a wall of lights and men with guns and sticks.

Damn.

Not being my first checkpoint, I immediately slowed down, dimmed my lights, turned on the inside dome light, turned off the music and put my hands on the steering wheel with my ID in one hand facing out at them. The come up, smacking the car with their canes and generally trying to be scary.

"Get out, get out." I get out. Proceed with waving the canes in my face. "Why are you out? It's past curfew." "There is no curfew" "Where do you live." "Hai Tomping" "Why are you out so late?" "I am going home." "Why are you violating the curfew, you must pay." "There is no curfew." etc etc etc.

This went on for a good bit, with me just holding my ID out in front of me and saying there is no curfew and him hollering and waving his stick around and getting more agitated that i wasn't going for my wallet.

See, what I knew was that, unlike the poor Sudanese guys standing over on the curb looking miserable, I am a well dressed, respectable, non-drunk white girl with all documentation in order and a blank stare. I might as well have been wearing kevlar for all they could do to me.

I finally was shoved in my car in disgust and they all started banging on my car with their canes as I drove away.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Americana and Stan

I can not even tell you how ill, yet happy, I feel right now.

As I believe you all know, Stan, my friendly stomach something or another, was with me for the past few months, cutting me down to about half a meal a day, stripping me of around 30-35 pounds, and, apparently shrinking my stomach to the size of Posh Spice's.

Knowing all this, once my American friend and I decided we were going to go to one of the many Thanksgiving dinners being provided by different camps around town, I was determined to do it proud. I would gorge myself, no matter what.

Oh. My. God. I sat by the Nile, staring at my plate with the kind of determination usually reserved for hostage rescue missions and ate two pieces of turkey, a mound of stuffing the size of my head, green bean casserole and... wait for it... pumpkin pie.

I immediately, of course, thought I was going to die and spent most of the night writhing around in my bed groaning, but still, TOTALLY ROCKED.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Chronology of Sudan time

I attend a lot of meetings. It doesn’t sound quite a glamorous as I save small children with my bare hands in war-torn villages, but, well, it’s the reality of the job. To put even more of a spin on this, I attend a lot of meetings in Africa. Which means there are certain quirks.

Such as the one I am in right now. It was supposed to start at 8.30 am. I asked the organizers if that was a real 8.30 or a Sudan 8.30 (which is more like 10.30 or 11.00). “Oh no,” she says, “We have SO much to do, it is a very packed agenda, we will start at 8.30 sharp.”

Its 10.00 right now, the organizers haven’t even appeared yet, I’m being ostracized as the only non-Sudanese in the room and making very good progress on getting through the e-mails in my inbox.

10.45 - still not here. Sudan time strikes again. I’m thinking I may take up meditation to try to control my temper. Still being ostracized by the rest of the room.

11.15 – the team comes in. They don’t apologize. I’m told now we won’t be getting out until 6.30 and they’re just lounging around instead of actually starting the meeting.

11.30 – the room is excruciatingly hot, we’re all wilting. Because this was, in theory, an important meeting, I’m wearing my professional clothes (pencil skirt, nice shirt and wedge heels) and actually made an effort with my hair (which is now in a bun on my head) and makeup, which has now slid off my face. I have no idea what the UN person at the front of the room is rambling on about, I just want a Coke Light and a nap.

Did I mention it is Thanksgiving today? I should be eating turkey and stuffing right now.

11.40 – We’ve opened the windows to try and get some air, but it has let in the flies, those Sudanese flies you used to see on famine relief programs in the 80s and 90s. The ones that sit on your nose and eyes. I’m covered.

12.00 – Rights are good. Women have a tough time in Sudan. Repeat over and over and over again. In heavy Sudanese accents.

Still no tea or caffeine today. I’m being punished for something.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lager lout

I'm back in Juba, wildly busy and insanely bitter and depressed about being here, so I'm going to tell an anecdote from London until I get off my little stroppy horse.

I'm sitting in a pub garden with one of my best friends, her boyfriend and all of his mates, who have all just spent the day at the rugby and are hence very... what's the word I want... ebullient. We were sitting out back, telling inappropriate jokes, mocking each other mercilessly and, quite regularly, when someone said a word that made them think of a song lyric, they would all burst into loud, off key and absolutely hysterical singing. There is something about being in a cold but cozy pub garden at 10.30 at night surrounded by four lads in Rugby jerseys laughing and singing Sweet Caroline at the top of their lungs which is just priceless.

It was the first unabashedly happy moment I've had in, probably, eight or nine months.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My tiara is at the cleaners

I just spent the afternoon with a princess. Seriously. Belgium has a monarchy still (who knew?) and in this monarchy there is a King, two Queens (dowager and current) and a passel of princes and princesses. One of them, Princess Astrid, apparently has some connection to "women's issues" and she came to observe our session today.

We were doing a mock press conference, learning how to present the issue of rape and sexual violence to the press in a way that was ethical and that they would report on. So, anyway, the princess, who is very pretty, comes in with her retainers and one of those retainers took a shine to me, goes over and drags the princess over to talk to me.

She walks up and I do the most natural, and TOTALLY WRONG thing in the world - - I stuck my hand out and shook her hand. This is not something we do. We do not encroach our icky, Sudan-infected, freezing cold hand into royalty's personal space. She shook it, but the look on all be-ribboned faces of the people around me was classic, pure "oh my god cloddish American."

We actually had a good chat and she was very engaged and charming. Life just gets weirder and weirder.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Gonna buy me a lovebird

I just think this is funny. Ghent has all these little squares scattered throughout the town, as European towns will tend to do, and these squares fill up with booths on the weekend, as squares in European towns will tend to do. But each square will be just one thing. So today I'm going around, you've got your flower square, oh pretty, you've got your cheese square, yum, you've got your bread square, yum again but then you've also got your, hand to god this is true, exotic bird square and big tanks of tropical fish square.

It is just unbelievably surreal to be standing in a misty, cold, dark cobbled courtyard under the harsh gaze of a statue of some Flemish hero or another surrounded by squawking cockatoos and clearly miserable parrots staring at your from their cages.

The other side of the story

Click here for an amazing article on the displaced in Eastern Congo. It describes really well the insanity of life for people who are multiply displaced and the pathetic job most of us do, as humanitarians, to meet needs in acute emergencies.

When I was a camp manager in Darfur I learned to live with a certain amount of hatred from everyone in my camp and a certain amount of mind numbing guilt over my knowledge that I wasn't meeting their needs. The result of this hatred and guilt was a sort of blase resentment, where the camp residents became the enemy, charlatans seeking only to lie, cheat and steal from the aid complex.

This article is an elegantly written refutement of that mindset.

Plus, there is a great phrase "predatory militias" that just so captures what the armed forces are like in fragmented conflict and I'm a sucker for beautiful wordsmithing.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Save the bank account

Turns out, I don't love consumerism as much as I thought. Shopping gets really boring really quickly.

I did get a bit crazy with the hair, though.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Barbie girl

On a less censorious note, I've re-discovered shopping. Slowly slowly the joy of walking into a store, buying a whole new persona, handing over a piece of plastic that represents money you never see, and walking out convinced that now ye shall be happy because you have pretty brown boots with blue trim is seeping back into me.

Ghent doesn't even have great stores, yet STILL I've managed to spend 70 Euros on underwear and approximately 200 Euros on jeans and shirts. I'm now contemplating cutting my hair short, getting a fringe and dying it blonde. Just because I can. I should not be allowed out of Sudan ever, clearly, I can't handle the freedom.

I'm supposed to be paying LOTS of attention to important things about, you know, saving people, all day long. Instead, I find myself having internal conversations about whether I can pull off leg warmers.




Thursday, November 6, 2008

I'm practicaly a country music song

As I've mentioned about 1,000 times, I haven't lived in the States for a long time and I've got big reservations about the possibility of moving back. BUT, all that said, I'm extremely proud of being American, always have been.

I find it odd, I've heard so many people in the past two days saying they're proud to be an American again or they no longer feel ashamed of their country and on and on and on. This is a view that seems particularly prevalent to those of us who have chosen to live outside the US.

I have to say, I find this odd and a bit insulting. My pride in my country has nothing to do with who is in the White House or Senate or whatever. Those people are all, lets be honest, egomaniacal politicians who's actions and decisions will always be colored by opinion polls and what was said in the Times editorial or what some creepy lobbyist whispers in their ear over canapes.

I'm proud I'm an American because of a whole host of reasons too silly to list here, ranging from opportunities for refugees in Abilene Texas to the genius of a nation that invents Go-Gurt. And none of that has anything to do with McCain, Obama, Bush or Palin.

Who knew I was so patriotic.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

DANGIT. Brrrrrrrrr.

I'm in Belgium. Belgium is cold. And wet. I realise this isn't a rocket science thing to say but MAN I am not used to this. I'm really hungry, so I'm trying to work up the guts to walk outside. Wearing my sandals and socks. Because I am that cool.

When did I become such a loser?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dogs of war

Last year, a dear friend of mine went on holiday in Goma, in eastern Congo, to go see gorillas and relax. She made it sound like a a paradise, beautiful lake, cold beer (I was in beer-less Darfur at the time), fun people, good parties, etc etc etc. My ex was planning a road trip there from Kigali. A friend of a friend counts gorillas there. It certainly never sounded like a set from Apocalypse Now or anything. Everyone I've known who's worked there has liked it and always said the, warranted, horrible reputation of eastern Congo for wretched, abjectly cruel violence, didn't apply there.

Until now. I assume you've all seen the news by now, the advancing rebels, the fleeing people, the crazy soldiers and the ineffectual UN. One of my closest friends from Liberia is in Goma now and I'm harassing him about every twenty minutes for details, making sure he's alive, etc. I won't repeat what he's been telling me because it isn't my story to tell, but it isn't good in the areas around Goma and I wonder if this will finally get people to pay attention to this war that's been going on for so bloody long and been so much more horrifying than most people realize.

Oddly, it is also reversing my desire to be in those situations. This is going to sound really stupid, but I've got no problem with me being in some sort of mortal peril-esque situation, I, of course, being immortal and untouchable reckon I'll get out the other side fine. But I'd forgotten about staff and the absolute, crushing horror of having staff go missing and not knowing if they were targeted because they worked for you, if you can or should intervene and the panic of having people depend on you for their safety.

I mean, I'll still go somewhere cool if I get the chance, of course, but it brought some of those old feelings back.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Well that didn't take long

Suddenly, I am in the (very distant) running for a high level position in Somaliland, somewhere I've always wanted to work. And, suddenly, all those thoughts of going back to the States are being crowded out by thoughts of ROCKIN IT IN SOMALIA BABY.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

2 o'clock is clearly drunk o'clock

Driving back from the Lebanese Restaurant in town today, around 2.30 we pass this guy in a nice pair of khaki trousers, blue shirt tucked in and non-flip flop shoes.... which, for Juba, is practically black tie. It has been raining like a car wash lately, so the roads are deep in water and mud. He gets next to a huge tractor trailer truck stuck in the mire and suddenly does this kind of spinning, grabbing old-western-actor-who-gets-shot fall to the mud. I stopped the driver and got out, thinking he'd had a heart attach or a fit or something equally shocking. Get up close and.... nope, snoring like a racehorse, REEKING of local brew. He was just so drunk he had some sort of spastic pass out. For all I know he's still lying there covered in mud, snoring away.

Monday, October 27, 2008

MPoD - The funk begins

I know it is boring for me to keep talking about the Malarial Pit of Despair but, seriously, I just can't get enough of it. So the latest palaver? We can't bathe.

Remember how I mentioned the wretchedness of the road and the fact that the whole area used to be a swamp that was just loosely filled in with gravel? The upshot of that reality is that whenever anything heavier than my Rav4 tries to drive out, it becomes inextricably stuck in the mire that is our road and they have to slowly and painfully dig themselves out.

We have, now, gone through every water company in town, I think, and they all refuse to come out, having all experienced and/or witnessed this little debacle in action. So none of them will come out to deliver water to us. And, for some unknown reason, our logistics department won't acknowledge this and buy us barrels so that we can just start using handpump water only. Meaning we all, from the baby on up, smell very very bad and are constantly trying to find ways to shower at other people's houses.

For those keeping score, the other house has water delivered three-four times a week.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Return of the native?

I'm considering moving back to the States. Which has come out of the clear blue sky, believe me. For a long time I thought I'd never move back. I thought if I ever left the field it would be to live in London or Cape Town or Geneva or something along those lines. But the inherent difficulties in getting work permits and jobs and setting myself up administratively in a new country seems like just too much for my addled brain and exhausted self these days. I am about as dynamic as a bowl of grits.

So, now, I'm thinking maybe I head back. Which is terrifying. Every day there will be at least one moment, say, when I'm having an argument with a ministry official and they so clearly loathe me and my presence in their country, when all I want it to be away from here and not have to ever have another Africa fight ever again. And every day there will be at least one moment, say, when I'm taking a boda past the cemetery at sunset and I see all the women walking through the path with water cans on their head and the palm trees lit up pink behind them, that I think I never want to leave.

There isn't a right answer, of course. Staying and going will both have their benefits and challenges. But a decision will need to be made at some point. I hope I go against type and history and actually make a sensible one.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Saves on fertilizer

There's a little compound of tukuls I walk past every day on my way to work that I'm quite fond of. There's always a group of rotating relatives and kids sitting out and they always seem to be laughing and having fun and just relaxing.

Today, when I walked past, I looked in to see what hilarity was ensuing and saw, interestingly, that they've done some decorating. Instead of planting flowers, outside of each tukul there is a large-ish bed of carefully planted soda cans, arranged in different formations but with no discernible color scheme.

Swear to god.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Yakking Yik!

God, almost forgot. We were driving with a rental driver because my organization is perennially short of vehicles in the field. The driver, Rashid, was, I have to say, excellent. But terrifying. Really really terrifying, even for me who rarely notices. Careening across ditches, fishtailing through villages sending children and goats scattering, going like a bat out of hell when a granny in a zimmer frame would've been more appropriate.

On the way back we had a couple guys in the back of the pickup, with the luggage. I noticed a commotion at one point but I turned around and they were still alive and there so didn't give it much more thought.

When we stopped to look at a particularly nasty bit of roads, the guys in the back all hop out sharpish and start gesticulating wildly and speaking rather aggressively in Madi or Acholi or something. They're pointing in the bed of the truck. One guy looks sheepish. We get out and there is vomit everywhere. EVERYWHERE. It is all but sloshing around, lapping up against my lovely leather monogrammed bag and sitting happily inside the box of training materials for our water and sanitation program.

Honestly, this has happened to me multiple times in the past few weeks. People who aren't used to anything that moves faster than a bicycle seem to get right ill when being driven around by your average NGO driver.

Confirmation of suffering

I'm back in Nimule after a looooong absence (mostly self-inflicted) and had to head back out on the back breaking, be-pothole'd road to Magwi center. Some of you will recall earlier I wrote a rather depressing post back in April about the returns process, seeing all the bewildered, dripping refugees standing on the side of the road. That village has, well, haunted might be a strong word but it has certainly bothered me. Whenever I go to villages which are a bit wretched I always say in my head "At least it isn't as bad as that hell-hole in Magwi."

So I was actually kind of jazzed to see it again, I was thinking, yeah, maybe it won't be as bad as I thought, maybe it was just the rain and the befuddlement of being in a new place or not eating my Wheaties or something. Maybe it is a nice, prosperous, happy little village now and I'll feel that all is redeemed with the world.

Annnnnnd..... nope. Still wretched.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Some of us need 4x4 lessons

Ughhhhh. Our server or modem or some dang thing exploded so we have no internet in the office. Seriously, I didn't realize how much of a difference it made to my day, being able to just quickly check BBC News or see what crazy thing was on "Overheard in New York" or getting the latest gossip updates from my friends on skype. I feel as though I'm living in a sad, anti-social little bubble.

Anyway, I'm now camped out in a coffee shop and cafe, using their free wireless (yes, there is free wireless in Juba), and just wanted to share a wee vignette from last night.

I was out at a friends camp, which is VERY far , out past the jebel (mountain/hill thing) which stands on the edge of town. At around midnight, someone had the idea that we really needed to go to another place in town, in a convoy of, like, 12 vehicles.

So there's me, by myself in the Purple Rav4, singin' along to Nelly, cruisin down the dusty, winding road in the pitch black, when, all of a sudden, I come up over a rise and below me I see all the other cars stopped, with their headlights on, pointing at one HiLux which missed a bypass and is now mired in mud up to the mid-door range.

The men have all piled out and are wandering around in the watery mud discussing comparative axle strength and calculating the length of bands needed. The girls are all sitting on the bush guards of Landcruisers smoking cigarettes and laughing at the guys. We saw some lights coming up behind us and didn't really think too much about it until all of a sudden, oh holy bejesus, we are SURROUNDED by soldiers all pointing their guns in random directions and hollering. Hollering a lot. They had to get through, we were in the way, why were we out so late, etc etc etc. I looked up and the guy in the back of the technical had his 50 caliber pointed at our friends in the mud, as though he could blow the HiLux out of the way.

We all hopped out of the way quickly, they sped past, still yelling, on the bypass we directed them to and, then, pulled the truck out of the mud.

A heck of a lot of effort for a beer.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Rage and honor

There is a cheer I used to do when I was a middle-school cheerleader, I'm sure you all know it - "Be Aggressive. B-E Aggressive. B-E-A-GG-R-E-SS-I-V-E" Not exactly Shakespeare, but very effective when your defense is waddling around like little girls and the game is on the line.

I used to be a fairly non-aggressive person, always a bit, um, convinced of my own ideas, shall we say, but overall pretty laid back. As I've mentioned before, this has changed in my time in Africa and I've become much less patient, much more blunt and generally less pleasant to be around. Which has always been a problem but not SUCH a huge one that it required, like, cognitive therapy or anything. Often, being a young white girl in a land of older African dudes, it can even be a benefit.

Today, though, not so much. I got called out by a partner for being too aggressive, they said I behaved badly towards some community organizers we were visiting, that I was too blunt, and amends needed to be made.

Now, obviously, being the girl I am, the minute I get back to Juba I'm breaking out the embossed stiff cards (yes, I have embossed cards in Sudan, I can't help it) and writing thank you notes to everyone under the sun as penance.

But the real crux of the problem is that, swear to god, I can't figure out what I did wrong. I honestly don't see where I was too aggressive. I sat and looked at mushroom farms, I smiled politely while people danced, I asked lots of pertinent questions about composting. I mean, composting, seriously! And did enjoy the efforts.

Is is getting older that makes you meaner? Or is it living here? I really don't know.

Monday, October 6, 2008

It is a very masculine color

I'm in Northern Kenya now, for some work, and find it absolutely HYSTERICAL that all the guys who run the bicycle taxis (imagine lady of large rear end proportions perched precariously on the little rack thing at the back) wear bright pink shirts with license-late numbers etched on them.

I find the cold less hysterical, but the pink shirts almost make up for it.

Anyway, just to say I'm back, I'll be posting more, the distractions in my life have been deleted, so hopefully we'll be back to the good ole days soon.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Politics is my life

I watched the first debate, live. For some reason, the boy and I decided to stay up until 4 am, which is when it was on here, and we hauled ourselves out to the bar in his compound where we were served Mimosas (made with champagne which had already gone bad and turned us both violently ill) and bacon egg and cheese sandwiches.

The debate itself, most of you saw I'm sure. It was boring and irrelevant and only reinforced my perception that neither of these guys is a truly great or dynamic leader. Particularly difficult to deal with at 4 am when you are totally exhausted. It was made more surreal by the cornucopia of people who were watching it with us, many Americans but also other nationalities who were either curious, dating an American or just hanging out drunk at the bar when it started.

Most of all, though, I realized how detached I am from it all. Sure, this is my country and my leader but, really, I haven't lived in the States for a very very long time, I own nothing, I visit rarely and my accent is becoming muddled to the point that lots of people place me as an Aussie or a Brit. I don't feel any passion about it, really, no more than I do about the upcoming Canadian elections.

I AM, however, still gonna stay up to watch the Veep debate, that'll just be funny.

The time has cometh

I spent my first night in the malarial pit of despair last night (up until now I managed to stay with a friend but they're now in another site so I had to move). Three things:

1. The generator only works intermittently at best.
2. The air is so thick with mosquitoes it is actually hard to breathe.
3. There are live chickens in the kitchen. And they aren't using kitty litter if you get my drift.

So basically I am now living in a hot, dark, bug (and rat) infested hole that smells of bird droppings and where I could get pecked to death at any moment. Rock ON!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What my sugar daddy will buy me

I’m going to gloat for a second. Because I can. As I write these very words I am sitting on a lounge chair outside my suite, listening to the sounds of the waves and the palm trees in the (not-insubstantial) breeze, sipping at my beer, looking at a huge, full harvest moon rise over the Indian Ocean.

This is the way it was always supposed to be.

Gonna go see what the personal chef has whipped up for me now.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Random personal musings - the Return

I have managed to shelter myself fairly well from the ups and downs of life in general. Never been heartbroken, never had some schism with a former best friend, never stopped speaking to my family, never been fired, etc etc etc. Mine has been a placid, if slightly unusual, existence. And I think my chosen line of work allows that. It is hard to get heartbroken if you live in places where datable men are, to say the least, thin on the ground. It is unlikely you’ll have a schism with any friends if you only see them once every year or two. Ditto on family. And as for getting fired, I change jobs and countries every year, nobody has had time to figure out my incompetence.

That said, I’m wondering how exactly one deals with these things in the field. As I understand it from Bridget Jones books and Meg Ryan movies, when one gets their heartbroken they are supposed to curl up in their jammies, take a sick day, eat a pint of ice cream, watch some ridiculous romcoms on TNT and have all their girlfriends come ‘round for a good whinging session about how much men stink or some equally clich├ęd topic then go out, have a wildly inappropriate affair with a movie star or the local rogue and then fall madly in love with the cute but shy next door neighbor who was there all along and live happily ever after.

But what does one do when one lives with one’s colleagues, so can’t exactly pull a sicky, there isn’t any power during the day to make the TV work and, anyway, no TV to watch the silly movies on, no ice cream, if your girlfriends do come ‘round, conversation will inevitably be more about malaria net distribution and the ridiculous indicators we are being made to report on for maternal mortality than the foibles of men, there are no local rogues to have an affair with that wouldn’t necessitate a course of penicillin after and, worst of all, the next door neighbors are all retired Dinka generals and unlikely to suddenly reveal themselves as the perfect suitor?

Am I to be denied my pathetic-girl-with-cats moment? Will I never get to experience the pure neurosis of the modern over educated girl who is pushing 30? I feel I’ve missed a milestone or something!

Chedi = Temple.... Temple of REALLY nice wine

Chiang Mai was, overall, a bit of a let down. Lovely, and wonderful and all, but just another city (the 2nd city of Thailand, for those keeping score). It wasn’t until my last night that I actually felt any sort of connection to the place.

A friend and I had gone the Night Market, the “must do dahling” of Chiang Mai. It is, of course, a huge, overwhelming tourist trap, full of badly made Thai fishing pants and hippies buying up authentic Buddahs to put on the wall of their garden flats when they get back home to Croyden, right next to the bong and the poster of Che Guevera. My friend and I had fun, though, buying up silly little things (fairy lights, a wildly hippie skirt and more dvds than you can shake a stick at) and giggling at all the fake ethnic crap you can buy.

This was fun for, ohhhhh, an hour, then we were hungry and tired. Bear in mind, that is the major central attraction of Chiang Mai and an hour about covered it. We scuppered down an alley to get away from the crowds and found some ladies squatting behind HUGE woks perched on camping stoves. “Pad THAAAIIIIII” they screech in that inimitably Thai way and, before we even really nod yes, bits and bobs are being chucked in the wok and skooshed around, we are plonked on the curb, handed some chopsticks and plates of pad thai which are so spicy I got tears in my eyes from just the steam. I acquitted myself well, though, my friend, who is Korean, complimented me on my skilled use of chopsticks and, it must be said, the food was extremely freakin’ good. As in I’m getting a bit teary-eyed thinking about it right now, as I sip my warm beer in the Nairobi airport.

After that, we stumbled out on to the street, in need of alcoholic sustenance. I had been told of this hotel nearby that was supposed to be nice, the Chedi, so we wandered a bit until we found this huge, cement monolith of a hotel. I looked at my friend, my friend looked at me, we almost turned away. But then I realized no, the girl who recommended this is stylish and chic and sophisticated, she wouldn’t recommend some Intercontinental three-star karaoke bar. So we stepped around the cement wall that served as a barrier.

Oh. My. God.

Seriously.

Huge rectangular pools stretching out in all directions in which lemongrass candles floated serenely giving everything this surreal glow and amazing smell. The buildings were low, straight clean lines, all dark wood and huge floor to ceiling windows with shutters and wide, wooden verandas (I love a good veranda). We go up to the bar, every inch the ratty cargo trouser owning field workers we are, and the waiters treat us like royalty. Before we know it, we are ensconced on day beds, low tables with more lovely scented tables at our elbows, cool towels redolent of lime and something else I can’t place are placed gently in our hands and lovely Thai wine (a kind of Rose) given to us with lots of bows and quiet smiles. We sat there under the full moon, looking and the river (what river I couldn’t say if my life depended on it) and chatted about life and families and work and relationships and all the other things you talk to someone you barely know about when there is that sudden, intense sense of friendship and well being.

Most of all, though, we kept on going “godDAMN we’re lucky.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Things that move

Ok, some things that are flummoxing my colleagues who have never left Africa. Some of which are expats and very high up in the organization:

1. Escalators - Can't get on em, can't got off em, totally freaked out.
2. Moving floors in airports - Much the same, only even more panic at the getting-off stage.
3. Elevators - I keep on coming across them standing at the bank of elevators waiting for one to come even though they haven't pushed the button (which we've explained, they just forget). They also don't push the button for the floor once they get in.

I'm honestly NOT saying these things to make fun, I'm not. I'm just always amazed at the things I forget are completely foreign.

The inevitable travel fracas

I'm in Chiang Mai... or so they tell me, I haven't been out of the hotel yet. The hotel is nice. What is even nicer is the massage place attached to the hotel. I got an hour long Thai massage last night for 10 bucks, about an hour after landing, I might add.

The trip was looooong and awful. Our flight had been moved up by 2 hours but nobody had told us so we arrived at the airport as the gates were closing. The poor women we were with who had never been on a plane before were totally freaked out as we sprinted across the tarmac after some serious begging, pleading and screaming on my part. So much begging, I can't even tell you.

When we hit Addis everything was fine. Yay. Ran in to the team from Rwanda as well. Which created a whole 'nuther set of problems in Bangkok as we tried to get through immigration. Because team Rwanda hadn't read the memo sent out to all of us, so they didn't have yellow fever vaccines. Which meant we had to find a way to get them vaccines. In the airport. Which we did. Go through immigration (amazingly, all get through). Get the bags. Race up to the fourth floor to re-check in on to domestic flight. And........

Team Rwanda didn't have tickets. Some issue with the travel agent in Kigali. Or so we thought. Begging and pleading with ticket agents again. Thai ticket agents where English isn't exactly... how shall I say.... 100%. Get them through in time to race on to the Chiang Mai flight.

And on to my massage.

Friday, September 5, 2008

And the revolution...

... will fall flat on its face.

I tried to do all y'all proud today. I tried to stand up for myself and say "No sir! No sir I will NOT move out to the middle of nowhere. No sir I will NOT be treated like a second class citizen in this organization because of my gender and nationality and general demeanor. No sir!"

Didn't quite work and ended up spending my lunch hour packing all my worldly goods. I'm now bound for the swampy pit of despair this evening.

On the plus side, though, I am leaving tomorrow for Thailand for a week, and then, THEN THEN... a week in Zanzibar! Ahhhh. In a villa. With a chef. And a rooftop terrace. And a view of the ocean from my king sized suite's veranda.

It is all (deep breath) going to be (deep breath) ok.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The other shoe drops

Well, it all begins to make more sense. My boss showed up today with his family, fresh from the other African country he's from. Apparently they are all living in the other guest house. We are not an accompanied post, families are not allowed here. If there was an emergency, how would they be evacuated? Why should my organization pay for their housing for free? Will they use our cars to get around (especially ironic since I'M not allowed to use our cars to get around)?

I have fallen through the rabbit hole and am now in bizzaro world.

The little things are the biggest

Living arrangements in the field are always challenging, to say the least. I have lived in disgusting little bug infested hovels, relatively nice high ceiling'd traditional homes, cement hot boxes and many things in between. Few people go to conflict and post-conflict countries expecting luxury and, therefore, we aren't surprised when we don't find it.

The thing that is most frustrating, however, is that in NGOs, we often are forced to live in guest houses. This means a number of things. One, it means you are living and working with your colleagues, which is tough to say the least. No separation of church and state. Two, it means you are often sharing personal space with people from wildly different cultural backgrounds and age ranges. I can assure you, I have had many a disgusted look from older middle age African men when they see me behaving in a manner which, for a 25 year old girl from west is downright prudish but, for a girl from his village would be considered one step in Sodom, one in Gomorrah.

Finally, and most annoyingly, though, is that you have very little control over where you live and when you move.

A decision was made for me, apparently, that I am moving out of my current, perfectly comfortable and convenient office/house combo, and in to a new guest house. I am supposed to move in there tomorrow, apparently, so, today, I was taken out to see it.

Seriously, I'm holding back tears right now even writing about it.

First of all, the road to get there is pretty much a lake, we almost got stuck twice and it hasn't even started raining yet. Apparently the land used to be swamp and was filled in a couple years ago so it is soft, wet and malarial. Second, it is miles away from anything. Seriously, we are in the middle of nowhere surrounded by tukuls. I won't be able to go out, to get to the office or to get people to come pick me up. The house itself is badly made, dirty, dark and dank. My two other colleagues who are exiled with me already claimed rooms, so they are getting the relatively spacious rooms with ensuite bathrooms and hot water. I have the pokey room near the sitting room with a cold bucket bath rooms for a shower.

Now, all of this would be less insulting if my other three colleagues, those who selected the houses, weren't moving in to a beautiful, modern, airy house next to the office, in easy proximity to main roads, power, internet and not at the bottom of essentially a mosquito pit.

I have to say, this is coming dangerously close to being the straw that breaks the camels back. I am now 28 years old. I am not getting paid enough or getting enough job satisfaction to deal with this nonsense!

Watch this space for a revolution.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Very scary jetplanes

I'm supposed to be at a workshop in Thailand as of Sunday. Which puts me in the strange position of standing in the middle of the office, screaming at the footage of protesters in Bangkok on BBC going "Have the dang coup already!" See, I reckon that once they actually have the coup, everything'll be fine but, if they don't, who knows when some crowd in yellow headbands will interrupt my travel.

And this travel is going to be bucket loads of not fun. To start with, it is something along the lines of 28 hours in transit. My flight will go Juba to Kampala, Kampala to Addis, Addis to Bangkok, Bangkok to Chiang Mai. So that sucks. But that isn't the worst part.

The worst part is that we are bringing local partners with us, women who work as volunteers for small, innovative local organizations here on the ground. This all sounds wonderful, right, and it is. Three or four months ago we told them about this trip to Thailand and then began the HUGE job of getting them passports and visas and yellow fever vaccines and notarized letters from their husbands allowing them to travel and luggage locks. All good.

Then last week my program officer is talking to one of them and she's says something about Uganda. The PO looks at her oddly and says "What's in Uganda?" "Thailand" the Sudanese woman says "Isn't it a town in Uganda?"

Oh sweet lord. The woman thought we were going to a conference across the border, not across the world. We started to explain to her the distance we would be traveling on a plane (sample question: "How will I go to the toilet?), the fact that we were going to an Asian country (sample quote: "They're almost white!") etc etc etc. Panic, of course, ensues and lots of frantic communications between husbands and money being set aside for children.

My PO and I were talking about it later, we were wondering if we were wrong to just assume that they knew what Thailand was. There are so many things we take for granted and I do wonder sometimes how much of my conversations with staff goes straight over their head whilst they smile and nod politely at me.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Mea Culpa

Hi all - I haven't abandoned the blog, I promise, just lots of things, personal and professional, that have kept me busy and bitter, neither of which is conducive to posting. Keep checking in every now and again and I'll start posting more again soon, promise.

Monday, August 25, 2008

San Fran it ain't

I am facilitating a workshop on HIV right now in Juba which is completely exhausting and boring and I'll be thrilled (THRILLED) when it is done. In the course of this workshop, I have to talk a lot about men having sex with men, since this is a major risk group for HIV worldwide. It is not, however, as you can imagine, a popular topic with Sudanese who tend to be a a skooooosh on the homophobic side.

There I am, talking about how, in an emergency, you have to work with health staff so they don't discriminate against gay men. This extremely dignified Dinka man, in a lovely suit with tribal markings etched across his forehead, raises his hand and says "But why?" "But why, what?" I ask, clearly confused.

He says, in the most reasonable, matter of fact, trying to be clear to someone who is clearly slightly mentally challenged voice, "Men who have sex with other men are sick and diseased and they must die. I would not waste the precious resources on this person who is cursed anyway."

I look up from my notes so that I can catch looks of horror on everyone's face (most of whom are expatriates, like me, though they are all expats from other African countries) and instead, there is a sea of thoughtful, nodding faces in front of me, all clearly relieved that the obvious and right thing has FINALLY been said.

Not much coming back from that, really.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Kenya cowgirl

I just got back from a mini-break in Nairobi. Literally, on Saturday afternoon I decided I had to get out, called my friend, bought my ticket, was on a flight less than 12 hours later Sunday morning, back Wednesday morning in time for work.

Now, I have always had a soft spot for Nairobi. It was the first place I ever went to in Africa, it was the site of my triumphant return years later, and I just like it. Others loathe it, I know, and with good reason. It is crowded, crime ridden, cold and pricey.

But MAN did I have a good time. I got my hair done, a mani-pedi, shopping, a massage, lying around in bed under the duvet watching DVDs while it was grey and chilly outside, hot showers, wine filled dinners with friends next to a big clay pot fire. Fabulous.

Also, I'm not sure enough people who aren't actually in Kenya are aware, but much of Nairobi is actually quite beautiful. It is extremely lush, with trees everywhere shading all the roads, flowers and flowerbeds as far as the eye can see, lovely old stone British raj cottages tucked away down winding paths. And, as mentioned, COLD. Like, need a puffer jacket cold to my poor, ruined internal thermostat.

I was also there to take care of a friend who was sick, which was less fun. Poor thing has approximately a million diseases, including some nasty malaria. I, of course, being the former queen of malaria, now parasite free for almost 20 months thank you very much, can sympathize HUGELY with this state of being and was happy to do the whole mopping the brow, re-making the bed every two minutes as his fevers broke thing. The things we do to our bodies, I swear.

So, anyway, I'm now back in Juba and a bit conflicted. I like Juba and I like my job and all that, but MAN getting out from under that duvet and in to the car this morning was the hardest thing ever.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Biker babe

Last night at about 8.00 pm, I'm on the back of a motorcycle, sitting side saddle, getting damp in the light rain that was falling in the aftermath of a furious thunderstorm. We're in the big market, which is pitch black except for the light of trash fires burning on the side of the road, kerosine lanterns and bare bulbs lit from small tiger generators. The fires throw up that unique smell of woodsmoke and plastic, so familiar to people used to living in Africa. We bobbed and weaved through the huge mudholes and hordes of people out chatting, visiting, working, cooking and generally just congesting the streets, leading me to be convinced that my boda boda driver was going to kill someone. When we got to the big intersection in the market, where the mosque is, a van drove past full of young girls, all singing hymns, oddly, all the ambient noise in the market had died down in that moment so all I heard was the sound of their voices and the patter of rain on my hoodie.

All this to say I sometimes forget how great the little experiences of my day are. They really are pretty freakin fabulous.

Friday, August 15, 2008

What we leave behind

One of the girls killed in Afghanistan had a blog, much like this one, which was passed on to me by a mutual friend. I've been trying desperately not to read it and obsessively going back to it all day.

I didn't know her, we just knew people in common, but I get a sense of her from the blog. She seemed very funny, very aware of the challenges and ridiculousness of the situation of trying to work in Afghanistan and just... nice.

At the same time, I find it all to be very macabre, this getting to know someone after their death via random little bon mots on a google blog page. I hate to think that the Thirsty Palmetto would be my legacy to the world.

I know, I know, I'm not being very fun or funny right now, and I'm sorry for that. For some reason, it is like a mini-obsession, these women and what happened to them. Particularly for those of us who used to work for the organization. I don't know if it is the "it could've been me" or if it is just that we can imagine so clearly the pain and confusion and just wretchedness of their colleagues right now.

Cheerful cheerful cheerful.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Coming storm

OK, the panic is now mixing with rage. Apparently, the Taliban contacted a local radio station and claimed responsibility for the killings right away. Which means it was definitely planned and targeted, this was deliberate.

These women were coming from the Gardiz Field site, they were living out in the middle of nowhere in, I'm sure, not great conditions and WHAT THE HELL gives these THUGS the right to just up and take their lives and for what? Sure, don't agree with what we're doing, sometimes I don't agree with what we're doing. But to go up to a car, a car of WOMEN no less, and blithely shoot them dead for some agenda they probably don't even understand....

I feel so much rage over this. I don't expect gratitude for doing this work, I don't expect adulation from the population, I don't even expect protection. I do expect that my colleagues and I won't be targeted and shot.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?

Nothing funny or snarky for once

An organization which I used to work for lost three international and one national staff in Afghanistan today. From early reports, it sounds like they were targeted, gunmen came up next to their car, emptied rounds in and killed them all.

The names of the victims haven't been released yet, their families haven't been notified. What this has meant is panicked skypes, e-mails and facebook messages being sent around from friend to friend, all checking in, making sure, trying to find out "am I mourning in specific right now, or in general?" I've covered most of my bases, but there are still a few people we're trying to track down. It is a pretty sickening feeling.

I often say that I am not a fan of the over-securitized nature of aid work today. I think smart, sensible precautions should be taken based on the situation in the site but, as well, we all are taking a certain amount of risk when we take these jobs. And I still believe it. An attack like this hasn't happened in ages, there was no reason for the staff to think they were in any more danger than usual. We have to balance the persistent undercurrent of threat with the reality of delivering services.

That said, my god, the poor country director. The agonies he must be going through right now, not that any of it at ALL is his fault.

It just breaks my heart. I'm so sorry for everyone.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Man of the people

Oh, and I forgot, in other news, I had to drag my very sunburnt, very tired, very not intellectually at the top of my game self out to Konyo Konyo Market, the biggest slum of a nasty, sewage infested disease pit you can imagine, to go meet Congressman Donald Payne of New Jersey. He was out here to see some HIV projects and I needed to brief him and be there to answer questions and be, ya know, American.

It was a fine visit, we took him out to where the commerical sex workers and drivers live, next to a football field in rattan shacks. It was quite the visual, seeing him walking across the rivers of raw sewage in his nice leather loafers and beautifully cut suit. To his credit, he never flinched.

At the very end I was shaking his hand and I said "It was a real pleasure to meet you sir" and I suppose my accent came out, he suddenly stopped, did a double take and said "Where are you from?" I told him my deeply southern state and he said "I didn't hear it before, don't lose that accent."

What an odd thing to be noticed for.

Worms and crocs can't stop me now

Alright, I know I said no personal life, but this is just WAY TOO COOL to not share.

A friend of mine was turning 30 here in Juba which is, as you can imagine, a disappointment on many levels, and it was felt that something extremely cool had to be done to improve this situation. What was the natural conclusion? Tubing on the Nile, of course!

For those who don't know, tubing is when you either a) attach inner tubes to the back of a boat and try to hang on or b) get in inner tubes and float down a river whilst drinking beer and, usually in my case, singing lots of off key country music ballads.

We realized that neither of these options met our needs completely because in option a and b, you are at the mercy of the river, which flows EXTREMELY quickly here and also because there are crocs in the river, in theory, and we didn't want to be too far from the boat. So it was decided that we would just tie the tubes off the boat and let the boat and the tubes float down stream.

This brings us to the next problem. Inner tubes. This is Juba, I can't run down to WalMart. So began my epic journey in to the heart of the Malakiya market, going from shack to shack talking with a zillion men about 12X24 versus Cruiser and trying, subtly, to figure out how big the inner tube of a tire really is versus the breadth of my backside. In the end, I got in a bargaining war with Saoud, a nice gentleman from Kordofan, who sat and battled with me for about 35 minutes. We alternated a lot between laughing, yelling, big gesticulations and pretending to walk away (on both our parts, which was odd, since it was his shop, not really sure where he thought he was going). In the end, the price I got was so low my Dinka logisitician said he wouldn't've been able to get that.

On the day, then, around 15 of us got in a a lovely little oversized canoe of a boat with an outboard motor and a canvas roof and set off down the river. Within 20 minutes, I was in the water, getting, probably, a whole host of new parasites, drinking my beer which was firmly ensconced in a Piggly Wiggly coozie. Because I am the sort of girl who has a beer coozie in Southern Sudan.

Seriously, it was such a lovely day. We laughed, we sang songs, we swam, we ate Ethiopian cake, we drank Ugandan Waragi and beer and just generally forgot where we were.

At least I did. And now, I can always say I went tubing down the Nile. Sweet.

Friday, August 8, 2008

When the bombs fall

A friend of mine posted some pictures yesterday of him and his colleagues all in flack jackets and helmets hunkering down during a mortar attack in Baidoa, Somalia, where he works.

My first reaction, TOTAL jealousy. Like, sick to my stomach jealousy.

I'm really of two minds about this these days.

On the one hand, here in post-conflict land (or even in, god forbid, development land like Nairobi or something), I have bars, restaurants, parties every weekend, I can more or less move freely, I do things like boat rides on the Nile and sitting by the pool eating nachos. I have friends and a boyfriend and a life outside work and my compound (kind of).

On the other hand, I'm not getting shot at, there isn't any real danger, the work is all going to meetings with government and writing five year plans, the urgency is totally absent and the camaraderie, while probably more real, is so much less intense.

I would like to say that now that I have turned 28, I realize that being in a war zone isn't fun and all the things you give up aren't worth the small amount of excitement and I now see that all these other things in my life, these things I've put off for so long, add a richness and a depth that was lacking before.

Really, though, I just keep flipping back to my friend's pictures and going "DAMN I wish I was there."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

As many of you know, I have an obsession with celebrity gossip. I'd love to say I'm not proud of it, ya know what, I am. I am PROUD that I know the name of all celebrity spawn and who dated who when and what starlet was caught in a compromising situation in the back of a 7-11 in Tahoe. I am.

So today, I'm reading all my Hollywood blogs and I see the, awful, story about Morgan Freeman being in a car accident in Mississippi. It is all very sad, and I'm serious when i say that, but there was one bit that mystified me, this statement: "The star was driving his 1997 Nissan Maxima when he went off the road."

1997 Nissan Maxima? Seriously? The man was in The Shawshank Redemption! He's in the new Batman! He won as OSCAR for god's sake! He couldn't spring for, like, a 2004 Jetta minimum?

I know, I know, horrible things are going on in Africa, the groups are re-arming in Congo, Bashir is on the warpath in Sudan, oil workers are kidnapped in Nigeria and John McCain is calling Obama the messiah.

But still, admit it, you are ALL a little befuddled right now about why Morgan Freeman's wheels of choice are something a high schooler who sweeps the backrooms at a Pick n' Pay would drive.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Here's a tip

If I am ever interviewing you for a job, and I ask you what your weakness is as a manager, please don't give any of the following answers:

1. I am a perfectionist
2. I take too much work on myself
3. I will work too many overtime hours

You are lying and I will not hire you.

Finally, someone to look up to

For all those who say "why on earth do you live in the heck-holes when you clearly have no soul and are only making yourself hot and miserable" I offer the following story:

I met a woman today who is currently living in Africa. However, in her youth she worked for nine years as an NGO worker in, wait for it, Barbados. Yes, that's right, Barbados. In the first part of her posting, she met a man, another American, they married, purchased a 300 year old planatation home with, I like to think, wide open views of the sea, huge, creaky verandas and a hammock on every corner. For NINE YEARS they had a boat they would sail around the smaller islands on the weekends and sundowners could be enjoyed, not with the roar of the generator, but the sound, again I like to think, of windchimes. And by day, she still fought poverty or injustice or ringworm or whatever the cause du'jour was then!

Why is she not still there, you ask, sitting in her reclining deck chair reading the lasted UNAIDS report on behavior change? Ahh, she made a fatal error, one I would NEVER be so silly as to make. She started worrying about her career. Thinking she would be pigeon-holed as the Barbados woman and never really reach the lofty heights of endless meetings and procurement bureaucracy that she could if she were out in the larger world.

So they left.

See, I would never do that. I say, right now, if I get posted to Barbados, get a husband, a 300 year old plantation home and a hammock with windchimes, you will have to cut my arms off to drag me away, so tightly will I be gripping the pillar outside my turqouise front door.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Immigration nation

Work has become this huge woolly mammoth beast taking over my life, hence the radio silence. Sorry about that. I find myself this afternoon suddenly deeply uninterested in work and deeply interested in planning my possible upcoming vacation to Thailand, instead, which is nice.

Had a bit of a drama, today. I went to go drop off one of my staff at the airport, and American girl, who is heading out to Uganda for some things. I was about halfway back to the office when I get a call from her "Uh, yeah, they say I'm here illegally, I don't have a permit, I'm not registered."

Huh. That can't be a good thing.

I told her I'd get back to the office and discuss with our admin guy, which I did. He got this slightly worried look in his eyes and asked me if she had come through Juba initially. No, she hadn't. Cue long conversation about not being registered and big fines and problems problems problems. I asked, jokingly, "Well, they're not going to arrest her, right?" Admin looks at me all serious and says, "Let's go and we'll see if we can discuss this with them."

Sooooooooo didn't want to deal with the paperwork of an arrested staff.

When we got there, she had more or less talked and flirted our way out of it and we just had to pay some money. Which was fine. But I love the fact that you can go from real and legitimate concern that someone is about to be arrested and spittle flying angry immigration officers to no worries and in flight peanuts all with the bat of a eyelash.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Signing up for Krav Magra ASAP

I swear, I wil NEVER learn. Karma has once again reached up and bit me in the rear, this time for mocking the crazy ex-combatants among us.

On Sunday, I was in the market, getting some supplies to make a dinner for the Area Coordinator out here who is having a rough time and, I thought, needed a pick me up (not that my cooking qualifies as a pick me up in any true sense of the word, but beggars can't be choosers).

I'm just walking away from the square, thrilled at having found a pineapple and singing Sweet Home Alabama in my head (it was a gorgeous day, the kind that makes me burst in to internal song) when I was suddenly tackled from behind. I kept my myself upright, more or less, but I was in a vice grip by the foulest smelling person I have ever smelled.

Now, most other places, I might assume it was a friend, someone I knew trying to startle me, but all my friends in KK are out of town for the moment so there was literally nobody who would do this to me. I elbowed hard back and twisted my body as sharply as I could, all while yelling firmly "Let go of me" and spin around to see the crazy guy from Kinyabi, the one with the cardboard clothes and the very fancy floral scarf around his neck.

As I turned, he grabbed on to my wrists, stopping me from being able to move my hands and started screaming at me. Most of it was incoherent, but, from what I could gather, he was angry that I hadn't given him money when he asked for it on Wednesday. I was firmly telling him to let go of me and trying to pull away, while he was screaming and pulling me in closer to him.

Now, you might ask, wasn't I in a public area when this was happening. Shouldn't some gallant, chivalrous person have come to my rescue, poor, delicate, feminine flower that I am? Yeah. You would think. And you would be wrong. Nobody helped me, just sat, drinking their local brewed alcohol and watched me engage in hand to hand combat on the street.

Eventually, I broke my arms free and I told him "Excuse me, I have to leave, you stay here" and turned and walked away. Part of my didn't want to turn my back to him again. But I refused to walk backward down the street. When a girl has just been grappling with the man made of dirt in full view of all of Kajo Keji, she needs to preserve dignity where she can.

Teach me for mocking the less fortunate!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Maddness of mad people

Every village market square here needs to have a village crazy person as well, apparently. They are always youngish middle-aged men, always tolerated by everyone, always well fed and always, well, really really crazy.

The one in Kinyabi was wearing the filthiest shirt and trousers I have ever (EVER) seen, they didn't bend as he moved, so it was sort of like he was wearing cardboard. He clearly didn't have a barber or anything, so his hair was this sort of spastic, electrocuted jagged 'fro and he had a strange fullish beard that only came in in patches on his face. Best, though, was the (oddly clean) jaunty floral scarf he wore tied around his neck, with a pink plastic cup tied off the end of it. God knows why.

The Jalimo guy was even odder. HE had packed all of his clothing full of trash, stomach, rear end, arms, legs, so that he looked like a department store Santa Clause who was down on his luck, trailing little bits of Glucose Biscuit wrapper and, I swear to god, broken automotive parts out of his shirt and the tear in the crotch of his trousers. He was mostly friendly, asking me to sign his name, though there was one point when he got quite vexed that I didn't write his name correctly in the made-up language he was forever scribbling in his notebook (kind of like Korean-meets-Kilngon).

The Kiri guy was boring, just crazy and drunk, getting up and bowing at regular intervals and once doing a very impressive curtsy. Otherwise he just sat there and drooled. I give him 4 out of 10 for creative insanity in what is, admittedly, a very crowded field.

The most frightening one, though, had to be the Limi guy. We were dancing and singing (well, the ladies were dancing and singing, I was cheering and clapping) and Limi crazy guy comes running up with a hoe. He starts slamming down in the dirt, sharp bit down, right next to my be-flip-flopped feet. All around my toes the earth was being chopped and I'm sitting there thinking "Man, HOW am I gonna get a toe reattached in bloody Kajo Keji?"

This, obviously, begs the question, why all the crazy middle aged dudes? Turns out, they're all soldiers who took too many drugs in the war and their minds cracked. So now they smoke opium and hash all day, get drunk, and shove broken pistons down their trousers.

If that isn't an anti-drugs message, I don't know what is,

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Glorification of poverty, I know, but still....

You know, in another life, I TOTALLY could've been, well, not a villager, but a market stall woman in some small market town in Africa. Seriously. When it is good, it is sooooooo good.

I'm doing focus group discussions in some of the smaller sites right now. Which meant this morning, I was sitting in the central square of Kinyiba, perched on a wooden bench, chatting with a bunch of elders who just rocked my world.

We were under the shade of the huge mango trees, there was a light breeze that cooled the air just enough as long as you weren't in the sun.

There was no ambient noise at all (none, these non-electrified, non-generator'd towns are startling, disturbingly quiet) except the sound of the little old man and little old lady sweeping the huge market square with branches tied together to make a broom.

Small children wearing no pants and tattered shirts would toddle up and jump in to the lap of whatever adult was nearest, usually offering up some slobbery bit of plastic as a gift in exchange.
I am totally aware that it is a constant struggle and very hot when its hot and very cold when it cold and miserably wet during the rains and backbreaking labor to get a cup of water and no indoor plumbing ever.

But MAN, when you're sitting in the shade, buffeted by the breeze and listening to the sounds of silence, it is a little bit like heaven.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

When the lights go out in the city

It is 9.30 and I am sitting in the office in Kajo Keji trying to finish up some work. They have just shut down the generator (who knows why), so I am at a desk, on the porch wearing my headlamp with every bug in a 20 mile radius crashing in to my face since this is the only light source.

I'd go up to the guest house, but I have to negotiate the village paths and the river and I'm just not quite up for it yet.

Sigh.

La la la la la

I have nothing particularly interesting or funny to tell. I'm swimming in reports, stuck in KK where life is bland and distracted by silly and stupid things which I can not control but which stop me from being productive.

All of which makes for bad stories for all y'all.

So, instead, how about some pictures of Kajo Keji, which is very very very pretty?

These are some of the lovely kids who greet me an enthusiastic "Good morning" on my way from the office.












And This, here, is the clearing near the County Health Office in downtown KK. You can really see how it is a thriving, writhing metropolis.












Water containers lined up to be pumped on the main drag in town. This is, somehow, the queue. Don't ask me how.












Last, but not least, the STUNNING vistas of Kajo Keji. Everyone who knows me knows I am a horrible, atrocious photographer, so this doesn't capture 1/10th of it. Believe me when I say, though, it is right pretty.

Monday, July 14, 2008

When the bombs fall

This is an excerpt from a BBC article about an accidental attack on an Afghan wedding party where, essentially, two families were anihlated, earlier this month. I'm not linking the whole article because, well, I think the reporter is in a bit of shock after being the first on the scene post-attack and still seeing the god awfulness of it and he is unrealistic about the US forces. Mistakes do happen and they are tragic but it is war and the Taliban don't seem so concerned about preserving human life.

BUT, anyway, why it grabbed me so much is the description of the man running to try to save the children, all while trying to protect the women, and, in the end, saving neither. I am a huge sop when it comes to selfless, heroic acts and people trying to protect others....

From nowhere a fast jet flew low and dropped a bomb right on top of the pass near a group of children who had impatiently rushed ahead and were resting, waiting for the women to catch up.

Lal Zareen was waiting expectantly for the guests to arrive when he heard the explosion and began to climb up the steep mountain track to the pass.

Shah Zareen was part of the group up on the path - he had narrowly escaped being caught in the first bomb and told the women to stay where they were as he rushed to help the children.

Shah Zareen picked up one of the injured, ran down to the village and on his way was calling his local member of parliament on a mobile phone to say they had been attacked.

But then he heard the second blast - the bomb had been dropped on top of the women and almost all of them had been killed.

Three girls escaped, among them the bride, but as they ran down the hillside a third bomb landed on top of them.

I mean, seriously. As I said, I'm not blaming the forces, they apparently had footage from earlier showing insurgents moving and on and on and on. The larger politics of it aren't really relevant for the moment. What is is this one guy, who's entire family has been killed except his 13 year old son, who ran IN to bombs to try and save his children and his friends children and who failed to protect everything that mattered to him. It really does break my heart.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ego ergo I go

I have all of these "favorite things"/obsessions that I read regularly on the internet. Most are gossip sites (so that I can know the names of all the celebrity children the minute they leave the womb). Some are news sites. And some are just odd. Like this unbelievable obsession I have with a guy called Alex Balk who used to be at gawker.com and now works at radar.com.

Anyway, another obsession used to be this site about feminist things, oddly, since I'm not very feminist-minded usually. Anyway, they had a brouhaha last week, which I won't get in to, but, in a effort to NOT be working on my quarterly reports which are all due, I started reading about it.

It was all so self-serving. Blogs started linking blogs and commenters started attacking other commenters. And I realized, we're all crazy. None of this really matters. Why do I write about the silly things in my life? Because they happen in Sudan? Does that make them any more interesting? And why do I read, for example, a friend of mine's blog about life in a normal, mid-sized American city? Believe me, it isn't that interesting. Yet I check it every day and get quite put out if there isn't something new about, say, shopping at Target and the great sale on tea towels.

I get lots of feedback about this site, most of it positive, which I am really grateful for. And, oddly, more people than actually know me appear to read it, which is... well... terrifying, but none the less gratifying. I guess it is just the old Franny and Zooey loving, ego hating side of me kicking in and realizing I don't WANT to be like those crazed bloggers and commenters I've been reading all evening. So wrapped up in their own impending brilliance (yes, I realize that doesn't strictly make sense, but I think you know what I mean).

I guess the moral of all this is that I've gotten some negative feedback lately, too, that the blog is going too far in to personal things and not enough in to Sudan things. Part of that is because the longer you are in a country, the less you see the things worth talking about. And part of that is because my personal life is more interesting to me right now than my professional life and, therefore, is at the top of my brain.

Either way, I think perhaps I'm not comfortable with that, and I think we will try to get back to more... generalized conversations. Honestly, I don't even know why I'm writing about this change, I should just do it. Dear god. I must be stopped.

Leather-y is THE look for fall

Owww.

I went to the pool today. It was SUCH a pretty day and I was tuckered out after writing a very long proposal yesterday and I was all, like, "I'm gonna treat myself. No work this Sunday! Pool only!"

And it was a really good time. The US government lets us use their pool from 2 pm to around 6 pm on approved Sundays, which is the best perk in all of Juba. So I'm sitting there, lounging by the water in my tankini, eating a burger, chatting with friends, napping, generally leading the decadent life I so richly feel I deserve.

All sounds good, right? Wait. Ask me how LONG I did this. Four freakin hours. And was I wearing sunscreen? Oh no I was not.

I am currently an interesting shade of fuschia and a source of great amusement to all and sundry.

And, lets be honest, rightfully so. Goober.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Flogging would be unsubtle I guess

MAN things are falling apart up in the North. For those who aren't aware, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has said they are going to present evidence to issue an indictment against President Bashir for war crimes. It is pretty bold move against a sitting head of state, usually they wait until he's been deposed or something.

Also around this time, a group of UN peackeepers (UNAMID) were attacked near Shangil Tobayi in north Darfur, and, I believe, 6 were killed. Nobody has claimed responsibility for it and there is some pretty intense speculation that the government themselves orchestrated the attack as a warning to the UN in response to the ICC thing.

There also are threats that the government is preparing to kick out a number of high-profile NGOs for various and sundry charges which, since I used to work for one of the NGOs I can pretty safely say, are nonsense.

Due to all this, the security posture in the north has rapidly changed. Darfur is now a Level IV security situation, which is not good, and I really really wish my friends out there would all leave. Interestingly, though, Khartoum has also been raised to a Level III. Now, Khartoum, until now, was a family duty station, a calm city where you would go to get fresh scones from Ozone and mutter about the little tow headed children running around playing tag in the courtyard. It was not at all considered dangerous.

However, now, the US embassy is pulling out all dependents, I think the UN will be as well, and people are talking about restricted movement and the leaving of non-essential staff.

All this can't be blamed on the ICC alone, obviously there are underlying factors that were already there. But a lot of it WAS set off by the decision to present evidence at the ICC.

I am now sitting here thinking Really? Really are we doing this? I get that, however flawed it is, this is the justice available to us in the international community. But if this does escalate things then the aid groups and the UN will have to leave, exposing the people to even more suffering and, to be honest, there is VERY little chance of them ever actually getting Bashir to try him so it will have been an empty gesture.

I'm not sure, my gut tells me that this is a bad plan, that it is just the ICC trying to prove that they are relevant and useful and it will harm many more people than it will give satisfaction to. Or, maybe, I'm just playing right in to Bashir's hands, letting him get away without public retribution just so that we can continue our work.

Either way, it is a very very depressing time.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Always screwin up

You know when you make a personal decision on behavior which you know is wrong, you can't really defend and then it creates HUGE amounts of trouble for yourself and those around you?

I hate that.

I was recently given driving privileges and, due to a series of unfortunate decisions on my part, such as being an idiot, the car stayed out of the compound twice over night. Which was my fault. Entirely. So now everyone is, very rightly, angry with me and my driving privileges will no doubt be taken away as well as, possibly, other consequences.

In my defense, I'm just trying to have a normal life. However, there really isn't a defense and I deserve whatever I get.

I HATE that.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Use your words....

I was leaving my friend's place last night when I heard a gunshot. This isn't too unusual, as you know from my rambling on, so I didn't think much of it, I just turned up the BBC and tried desperately to understand what the economist on "Business Hour" was talking about.

Well, about three or four minutes later, just as I'm turning through the huge lake that has formed on the road in Hai Malakal, I get a call. It's my friend, the one I just left. Conversation went something like:

"Are you ok?"
"Yeah, why."
"Someone was just shot in a car, I thought it was you."
"Nope, I'm good."
"Do you want to come back, are you ok?"
"Hell no I'm not coming back, people get shot where you are. I'm going home."
"Well... good point... drive fast."

Which I did, obviously, and, obviously, I'm fine. Turns out an SPLA soldier asked for a ride home and, when the guy in the car said no, the soldier shot him. Which is, always, the perfect answer to a problem, right?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Snared in a web of my own making

It is amazing to me, how the gossip can circulate in the aid world. And I know, I am, without a doubt, the worst offender of this, getting on to Skype and Facebook and sending out priority 1 "OMG did you hear, Yvette in Laos is totally sleeping with Gerald in Tanzania and Raoul in Kabul is furious" types of messages to people in 10 different countries within seconds of receiving any whisper of a rumor.

I have friends who will immediately drop whatever they are doing to tell me some piece of news in an effort to catch me out, to tell me something first. I think that has happened, maybe, twice.

This obsession with the romantic lives of colleagues whom we haven't seen in years, people we barely know and friends of friends is unhealthy and a bit mean-spirited, yes, but it is also understandable. What the heck else will we talk about? We have no lives. Unless I want to have conversations only about LRA movements and Global Fund indicator development, I am pretty much forced to talk about Yvette and her wanton ways.

I am, at the moment, finding myself, very lightly, caught in this web of rumor and giggles and slyly worded e-mails. Which, you wold think, would make me vow never to gossip ever again, now that I am on the sharp end of innuendo and conjecture. Instead, I find myself intrigued, it is like a sociology experiment, trying to figure out what the connections are that lead to the information traveling around the world at such a shocking rate of speed.

Plus, I'd be a hypocrite if I denied people their tittering.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Beer beer beer and more beer

Oh my. 4th of July weekend. Wow.

Yeah.

Juba knows how to celebrate the 4th, let me tell you. I'm going to sleeping for a week.

On Friday there was a large party at a bar in town which, conservatively, everyone on the planet was at. It was loud and raucous and sweaty and there was lots of jumping up on the bar and dancing (not by me, obviously, but by others).

Surreally, there were also two small children running around. They are the son and daughter of a French man and his Sudanese wife and they come to all the social events in town. They are, maybe, like 8 and 5 and there they were, running around, dodging between the gyrating couples on the dance floor and suddenly popping up under your arm at the bar to ask for a water. Everyone kinda keeps an eye out for them and, as far as I can tell, they have a fabulous time.

I again, found myself swept in to the maelstrom that is my ex-mercenary gentlemen and never had to pay for a drink the whole night. Which is a dangerous dangerous thing. Which explains, I suppose, the 2.30 am moment when I found myself linked armed, standing next to the fetid wadi outside the bar, singing The Gambler with a terrifying SPLA secret police officer who was trying to seduce my, very unimpressed, friend.

Good times, good times.

Saturday was relatively uneventful, I left a party at very early o'clock in a rare bid for maturity.

But Sunday, sunday was a complicated mess of social events and beer. Beer by the Nile, watching men in canoes drift around in to rocks and arguing politics (which I have become very bad at, by the way, I need to learn more about this election). Beer in the USAID compound in a house that was air conditioned, had real floors, real carpets, real furniture, real flatscreen tvs and, oddly, real wall sconces and wainscoting. Beer at the River Camp with more political argument. Beer on the veranda of a UN house while I got my tail kicked at Gin Rummy.

Finally, and best, though, beer at the side of the pool which we sneaked in to at midnight, swimming around in the dark drinking Tusker and taking ridiculous pictures as revenge for the US Embassy not letting us in today.

When I say good times, I really do mean it. Good good times.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Yawn... oppression... yawn

I know, I know, not another one. But I am kind of captivated by Zimbabwe at the moment. Apparently, the US Embassy has been putting people in safe houses when they come to the Embassy seeking asylum, but now they are running out of safe houses. This article talks about the woman who's baby's legs were broken in an effort to get her to turn her MDC-supporting husband in.

Now, she and a bunch of others are living in the courtyard of a house, afraid to go anywhere, her husband is underground and both she and her husband have decided he should keep fighting the good fight.

I swear, I get shivers and teary-eyed just thinking about it. Though, to be fair, I am a bit over-emotional these days.

http://www.newsweek.com/id/144521/page/1

Sexual assault is a laugh riot


Can everyone read what this says? It says "Anti-Abortion! But Pro-Date Rape"

This, I might add, is for sale on Amazon.com.

Now, I have always prided myself on being both a girl who's made a career out of fighting gender based violence and a girl who does not think the term "chairperson" needs to be used or that jokes where the punchline involves sexual innuendo are inherently bad. I hate it when humor gets limited by political correctness and trying to not to offend anyone, ever, in the history of the world.

But really, is this funny at ALL?

In Yei, right now, we are having this issue. The commissioner issued a decree that women can not dress "indecently" (whatever that means) and any man who is offended by what a woman is wearing can "take action."

What this means is we now have scores of women getting beaten, having their clothes actually ripped OFF them in public, reportedly one woman was made to sweep the central square in town in her knickers as punishment, all in order to preserve public dignity.

Because there isn't actually a law in place, or anything which defines what indecent is, we can't really fight against any of the cases. So women in Yei are left not knowing what will set off the hordes of drunk men and soldiers and men have carte blanche to assault whatever woman they think it would be fun to see half naked or it would be fun to beat.

So yeah, not so entertained by the shirt.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I got sunshine

And one more thing. There has been talk to me, again, that I am sounding down on the blog.

I can categorically say that, right now, I am NOT down. I got my driver's license, I'm allowed to drive and I have a fun car. I just got one of my projects funded again for another year almost exclusively through flirting and begging (depending on who was on the other end). I'm getting to do a strategic plan, which I've wanted to do for ages and ages. The weather isn't too bad. Social life is looking up. I might be getting a cat to deal with the rat situation. And, to top it all off, I slept for almost 6 hours last night, the longest I've slept in about three or four weeks.

Seriously. This moment, I am the happiest girl in my immediate GPS coordinates. I promise.

Modern day Australia

You want to know something really really odd? China offers prisoners a deal where they can come here to Sudan, work as laborers, and they get time taken off their sentence. Seriously, there all these Chinese guys in blue pajamas and conical straw hats wandering the streets of Juba sawing things and sweeping and such in front of Chinese construction projects.

Now let's think about this for a second. Sudan is stuffed to the GILLS with men and women who are unemployed, who know the materials, who will work for nothing and who don't need to be housed and fed.

And yet China is paying to ship all these guys over, provide some level of accommodation and, one would assume, food they find at least a bit palatable. Which, I would assume, ain't cheap.

Funniest thing, though? There aren't any guards. I mean, seriously, where are they gonna run to?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

B Team Dictator making a strong push for elevation to the majors

God, I'm sorry, ONE more, I just read this and it was FASCINATING.

I'm 100% sure I have no earthly idea where this country is and I certainly had no idea how bad it was.

And I'm the one who is supposed to know these things.

Anyway, very good article about Obiang, the despotic ruler of Equatorial Guinea.

Swear to god, it is a real country.

http://www.slate.com/id/2193870/

I would've been gone

I know I'm posting a lot of news stories right now, but there's a lot of news that catches my fancy these days. This current one:

http://www.newsweek.com/id/144093

has a pretty sad picture attached. It is about a white Zimbabwean farmer who was attacked and brutally beaten, along with his mother and father-in-law, for filing a complaint against seizure of their land and writing a letter to some news outlet about the intimidation of his black MDC supporting farm workers by ZANU-PF thugs. His wife managed to escape with their young children, one of whom had a broken leg from a previous attack on their home but the mother and father-in-law are not well after being beaten for hours and threatened with death.

And he's going to go back.

Nothing will happen to Mugabe. He's happily sitting in Cairo right now attending an AU summit. Sure, other African leaders didn't come to his inauguration, but South Africa won't step in and nobody else will really get involved. And, anyway, what would they do? Occupy?

We are watching the disintegration of once extremely successful nation in slow motion and not able to stop it. And, honestly, I am not blaming anyone, I don't have a solution, short of having someone plant explosives in his cigar.

On a related but different note, I have a friend who is part Zimbabwean and she and I once had a very interesting conversation where she supported the taking of the farms from the whites. She felt that it was the only way to right the wrongs of Rhodesia. Now, I argued that yes, there did need to be land redistribution, but this was insanity and party politics and, anyway, didn't those white Zimbabweans have any rights?

To which she said no. Whites in Africa don't have rights, they are all interlopers and should leave. Even South African whites, who have been in South Africa as long as white Americans have been in America are not truly African and do nothing but keep black Africans down.

I was totally shocked, but I wonder how prevalent a sentiment that is on the continent. And I can't decide who's racist, me for thinking she's wrong or her for painting all whites with the same brush. Probably both.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Easy rider

And I forgot, I got my Sudanese driver's license today! So tonight, for the first time, I got behind the wheel of a big silver Toyota HiLux pickup, i put my Trace Adkins CD in the CD player, rolled down my windows, and cruised the streets of Juba, skidding through dust and mud and ditches the size of fjords, with my arm hangin out the window blasting the song Honkeytonk Badonkadonk.

I am SOOO the coolest person in the known universe right now.

Bring on the chintz

I have become slightly obsessed with the idea of chairs. Chairs and benches.

When I lived in Liberia, in the beginning, I lived in a pretty crap house. And it had all the local-made furniture that other Liberians would have in their homes. A couple WILDLY uncomfortable straight back chairs, a big table, a couple stools and a big bamboo bench thing outside under the tree. It was one of the things that drove me insane about that house, actually, there was nowhere comfortable to sit ever. Which sounds like a stupid thing to say, but think about it. Nowhere comfy to sit EVER. You are ALWAYS in a state of mild discomfort.

So now, driving around the back roads of South Sudan and hangin out in people's homes when I go to do monitoring and stuff I notice, again, South Sudanese don't have chairs. Usually, there will be a couple communal little chairs for a whole block which get trotted out for guests, but they are usually the rigid back wooden ones which are worse than standing, or they may be plastic ones, but only if you're lucky.

Everyone else sits on a couple low stools, on the ground or perched on the edge of the low wall that goes around their tukuls.

And of course, lest we forget, it isn't like they've got big ol' comfy beds in there. Lots of them are sleeping on the dirt on a mat to top it off.

Honestly, I have no idea why I am so enthralled with this idea, but it goes through my head all the time. Is it possible that generations and generations of Africans (and Thai and Burmese and Swedes, for all I know) have gone through their whole lives without ever having a comfortable moment of repose?

God how I love being not from here some times.