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.