(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Mostly Kid Photos

Over the past several weeks it’s been mostly settling in to our new-ish routines. We haven’t traveled outside of Nairobi except for work. Kenya has much to offer and we’ll be partaking soon enough. For the time being it’s been good to focus a bit on the new job and explore our new city first.
visit from my beloved finance controller (Kenyan) from Burundi
In February, the girls’ school organized a “circus” where the kids were the performers. It was quite cute and it’s still strange to me to see my daughters performing. They seem quite comfortable in front of large crowds and I suppose that is part of the educational experience. At their age, I certainly wasn’t in fashion shows, performing acrobatics or even doing competitive running. 
the "circus"

Carnival is also a fairly big thing in many parts of Europe. At the girls’ school, which is French, they had an event where children were supposed to wear costumes, possibly like some schools in the US might do on Halloween. Only here they go a step further and have the kids parade around the playing field a few times. I’m not sure why. It’s sort of fun for the children to walk around, showing off their costumes and gives the parents opportunities to take photos. Doing all these events at this school for the first time, most of which are quite different, not only from our own experiences in elementary school but also a bit different from their experiences at the Belgian school in Bujumbura.
In March, we celebrated our tenth anniversary. Crazy. Given all that’s happened, it’s amazing what we have been able to cram into ten years. In some ways it seems longer – but not in a bad way. Ten years ago we were in Tanzania. Our Zanzibar beach wedding took place on at sunrise in the presence of our friends, Tim and Ingrid (who are now in Egypt). We were moving to the northern part of the country (I had already been there a couple of months) to work at the Burundian refugee camps. We would move into a tiny little house in a remote part of the world. It certainly was the acid test for a new marriage but it turned out to be a pretty intense but wonderful period in our lives.
elephant sa
her father in her eyes

Later in March we visited the elephant sanctuary. We’d been there before with Kiran when she was younger but she didn't have any memory of it. We had been visiting Nairobi for Priya’s prenatal checkup when she was pregnant with Kinaya. That would mean that she was probably a little over one and a half at the time. Time flies.

first lost tooth (pulled it out herself)

windy on our roof
The first quarter of 2017 is behind us. Off to Somalia next week. Heading to the Kenyan coast after that. Serbia in June. Then back to Somalia. Summer plans to Europe and the US are underway. Hang on to your hats.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Post Holidays and Somalia

Okay, so we’re already into April and I haven’t updated this blog a posting on the holidays. Been busy, you know, with the severe drought and everything. But I’m carving out some time to catch up.

Where was I? Ah, the holidays. After the holidays we were soon back to our routines. The word routine gets a bad rap but in my mind it’s generally something positive. We have accumulated some routines because a) we need to do them and b) because we want to do them. That’s why we do them all the time. Even since I was young I enjoyed having routines. As I get older, I’m likely to be an annoying, rigid old man.
The third week of January the family headed up to the forest in Nairobi to participate in the Women’s March. Admittedly I’m not the activist type. I’ve participated in a couple protests in my life but it’s not really something I do on a regular basis. I’m not sure what that says about me but I don’t think it’s that I lack conviction. It may be more a matter of prioritization of convictions. I tend to be more consumed by things that don’t involve making a sign or standing on a street corner. I have protested in my past but not so much in recent years.
This event was more a walk in the forest with several hundred of our closest friends than a protest. I’m not sure why it took place in an unpopulated area but I’m sure we were instrumental in changing the mindset of hundreds of eucalyptus trees.

In February I made my second trip to Somalia. It was as crazy as the first one but I enjoyed this one a bit more. I went with a colleague, Nicole, who supports us from the regional office. We took the early morning flight on a Monday and were in Mogadishu by about 8:30. After clearing “immigration” we were in the armored vehicle, accompanied by two armed vehicle escorts, and on our way. 

dusty but protected
Unlike last time where we went straight to visit clinics, this time was more civilized. We stopped at the office, had a bite to eat, some coffee, etc. Once we had regrouped, we were off again to visit a couple of our clinics. 
from inside one of the clinics
Given the effort and cost needed to support these trips (especially the security protocols), one needs to make sure that they are effective and strategic. But I do get the sense that staff and local authorities are appreciative of the exchanges and it’s a good opportunity for me to get a better sense of what is going on.

The backdrop this time was the intensifying drought conditions. We’ve been scaling up, raising funds, scaling up even more, generating more funding, etc. The drought was really settling about the same time I was in this new job. It’s not the easiest way to get off the ground in a new position but I’m happy for the opportunity to use my skills in this way. I’ve been doing this work for a long time and, as depressing horrible as the situation is in Somalia, it’s good to be a part of this team and the donors/partners that are all working together to respond. I’ve always preferred to be on the field rather than on the sidelines watching.
the team
hitting the waves
After a little over a day in Mogadishu we were off to Garowe, Puntland. Distances are deceivingly long in Somalia and I was happy to make this trek in an airplane rather than on foot with a herd of camels (though the pastoralist lifestyle does intrigue me).

shelters of the drought displaced
In Garowe we met with the team and were able to fit in a trip further north to Qardho. This is an important area for the drought response. We recently rehabilitated a borehole, supplied it with a sizeable generator, and it is not only providing water to some displaced people who have built shelters nearby, it is used to fill water tankers that are nearly constantly trucking water to desperate villages hundreds of kilometers away. It takes about 40 min. to fill a truck from this borehole which is about 315 meters deep. In some more remote areas we are installing solar pumps to eliminate the need for these poor communities to procure fuel – something we want to expand over the coming months.
wonderful face
We’ve also been doing cash transfers. Donors have caught on that this has proven to be an effective way to assist the most vulnerable. It’s fast (cash to phone), taps into local markets, and people can make their own decisions as to their most urgent needs. We supply phones for those who don’t have them. Amazingly, mobile phone coverage in Somalia is better than many parts of the US.

somewhat of a bag problem
After Garowe we flew back to Nairobi, via Mogadishu. When I first began this position I was concerned that the trips to Somalia would be an unpopular part of my job due to the need for heightened security and the overall fragile situation in the country. In fact it’s turning out to be quite the contrary. It’s a fascinating place and most Somalis I know are optimistic about the future of the country. No one is under the illusion that the road ahead will be easy, particularly in the face of the current drought, but after decades of repeated droughts and civil war most seem to feel that things are headed in the right direction. The new government is in place. Aid is starting to increase. The rains, which are supposed to start now, would be huge right now. We’ll see what happens.
desperately needed water

Monday, February 27, 2017

Christmas 2016

I suppose that there is good justification for the lack of blog postings. My job is now heavily focused on a severe drought that has the potential of becoming a full on famine. It’s all hands on deck as
we scale up our programming. Consequently I’m not finding a lot of leisure time. I do what I can to be full on dad and husband when I’m with the family. Otherwise, I have a lot going on.

I need, however, to go back to Christmas break. In my desire to have a relatively complete documentation of the key events, that’s one that I cannot omit.

Kinaya catching snowflakes
The trip began with a couple weeks in Indiana. That has been our pattern the past several years. The time with family there is generally low-key and a nice way to make a break from the intensity the months of October-December. 
example of parent teaching a kid something he doesn't know how to do
We spend a fair amount of time balancing time at the house with family and getting the children out and about such that they don’t go stir crazy. There is also the last minute Christmas shopping (or in my case the first and last minute). 
the don
We took the girls ice skating for the first time. I’m a pathetic skater so it was all I could do to stay on my feet while propping up each of the kids. This is probably how it begins – children now starting to learn to do things that I won’t be able to do as well. Up to a certain age, you can do pretty much anything better than your children. I can see the day coming, though, when they start to surpass me in things. First it will be French. Then it will be math. Science. I’ve been telling Priya that they’ll never be able to beat me in a foot race. She begs to differ.
Christmas Eve
The Christmas holiday was quite nice. The girls are older and they are understanding and enjoying the holiday traditions. It’s a bit of a strange life they lead compared to the way I was raised. We didn’t really have our own traditions in Bujumbura and for the most part we didn’t ever really get around to putting up decorations. We normally leave around the second week of December and then we are “on the road” basically until we return in early January. So their holiday traditions are limited to whatever happens at their grandparents'. 

They’re also faced with a blend of European and American traditions. At school they met Saint Nicolas who is not quite the same as Santa Claus. And who these men are and what they do has been a bit chaotically meshed together and frankly doesn’t add up very well. We’ll need to get our stories straight soon or just abandon the whole thing. But the traditions are fun for kids (at least they were for me) and we feel an obligation to maintain them in some form or another.
serious lamb shank
We were also able to sneak in a trip to St. Louis to see friends that we knew in Burundi. It's the second time we've visited them and, added to the fun, was the presence of other friends of ours from those days who happened to be en route from Denver to Chicago. So we all met up - weird of course being all together in the US.

The day after Christmas we made our way to Idaho. The weather cooperated and for the most part we didn’t have too many challenges either by plane or by vehicle. Other than smacking into a deer in rural Indiana (and needing to swap out rental cars) we were quite fortunate with our winter travels. 
We started in Idaho with a quick stay in Boise before heading to the ski town of McCall. Most of my family was there for fun in the snow. It was a very nice time with good snow and we were able to get the two girls up on skis – Kinaya for the first time. The weather was nice and happily it was a pleasant experience that I suspect they’ll want to do again next year. Hopefully. 
sister's new place - pretty cool, me thinks
Before heading up there I wasn't sure where we were going to stay. I was just told that we didn't need to get a hotel. Lo and behold, my sister and brother-in-law had closed on a big cabin in the mountains and had set it up just in time for the holidays. Pretty amazing place, we were there for the next couple of days while we enjoyed the deep, wonderful snow.

my little girl's second year on the slopes

We then headed south to Boise for my family's Christmas party. Once my siblings started having families of their own, Christmas Day became more of a thing for the new families to celebrate and the larger family began gathering several days later. When Priya and I were married, this worked out well for us since that gave us an opportunity to spend half the holidays (including Christmas Day) with them and half the holidays with my family in Idaho - not missing the big gathering of the latter.

This year we had it at my sister's place in Boise. The condominium complex has a shared space that we reserved. Worked out well as our numbers have grown over the years. The downside of the family growth is that there are only two children. Ours. Everyone has grown up and the nieces and nephews have yet to produce any offspring. So it's a bit tough for them (and us) not to have any other kids to play with. I'm sensing right now that as the nieces and nephews are taking their time having their own families, our girls will move from children to tweens and will by then probably not want anything to do with the next phase of rugrats. 

After the night in Boise, we headed south to my parent's place. It's always been a haven of peace for me. Always nice to hang out with my parents. It's super quiet. It's easy. Everything is relatively close. It's what a "bedroom community" is supposed to be I guess. Plus the house is big and we can spread out. As the last stop on the busy holiday season travels, it's the calm before the storm.

Soon we would be saying our farewells and heading to Boise for the flight home. Have to say, it was an excellent trip. You always can find a thing or two that could have been done differently but by and large it was what we could have hoped for. Sad to bid farewell to family but my guess is that we will be planning for the next vacation not long after arriving in Nairobi. Okay by me.