(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.)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Trip to Nepal Part 1 - Kathmandu

I started writing this blog entry in Kathmandu and didn’t get very far. Weeks passed and now I'm in London, with a trip to Somalia in between. Life comes at you fast. Who has time to write about it.

Nepal was a busy trip so I'll break it up into two or three entries.
amazing faces...
The trip itself was in danger of not happening. Just days before we were to leave, Mogadishu experienced the largest single attack in its history. We lost a staff and people were very shaken as over 400 people were killed. In the end we decided to go but that I would When I was at the keyboard I was generally going through work emails and keeping tabs with what was going on in Mogadishu after the attack.
I’d never been to Nepal before so when the idea came up to visit my sister-in-law (who works there doing basically the same job I do) the question was simply a matter of when. In fact I’d discussed traveling there many years ago with my brother to do some trekking. It was around the time that began work with Harvard in Tanzania and so the planning stopped. It’s been in the back of my head from time to time since then but the opportunity never really presented itself until now.
adding color to the stupa
It’s a bit tricky to travel with small children sometimes, all the more going to a place like Nepal. It’s not that it’s not kid friendly. It’s probably similar to Nairobi in that regard. The challenge is that one of the main reasons to travel to Nepal is the Himalayas. It’s costly and complicated. There are certainly people that do remote trekking with children but it’s not easy.
We obviously had the advantage of at least staying with someone who lives there which helps tourism immensely. In addition to the great fun of hanging out with Liz, we could also take advantage of her knowledge of Nepal, particularly Kathmandu. In fact it ended up sealing the deal that we wouldn’t go on a trek due to limited time and the numerous other great options. The trekking will be for another time. It needs to happen though.
zipping around town; girls obviously not wearing seatbelts
There isn’t really a straight forward way to get to Kathmandu from Nairobi. We ended up with a lengthy layover in Dubai but not really long enough to leave the airport. As a result we were a bit tired on arrival. Interestingly there’s a 2 ½ hour time difference. I’m told the half-hour thing is due to Nepal’s desire to be different from India. In any case, it’s weird. But manageable.

Our time in Kathmandu was spent in a variety of ways. As I mentioned it’s not a destination for families with small children, for the most part, so the things to do that accommodate children are not that obvious. To be clear, there is no shortage of children in the city. Locals and expat residents do just fine. It’s just that tourism and kids tagging along don’t always go hand in hand. Given that we were hanging out with a “local” (albeit one who is not a parenting “insider”), we ended up having no problem combining the interests of everyone.
We visited historic areas of the city (about 4 separate outings), lots of yummy restaurants, the zoo (more impressive than I might of thought), swimming, some shopping (not much) and hanging out with Liz and friends. Also, we arrived just prior to Diwali (aka Tihar in Nepali) and were able to benefit from the lights and festivities that go along with the holiday.
eating bone marrow stuffed in intestine, among other things
The air in the city is pretty bad and I’ve never seen so many people wearing masks. Even for me I felt it in my eyes and throat. Our air in Nairobi isn’t that clean but it’s far better than this. It definitely would be a downside to living there. Traffic is bad but I don’t think it compares to what we deal with where we live. Nairobi is pretty insane when it comes to traffic.
Otherwise, I think I could get attached to the place. The people seem to be very friendly.
Granted, having a couple of cute girls in tow generally makes people warmer – unless they’re being annoying. Then all bets are off.
The proximity to activities would be fantastic. In addition to trekking, there is endless mountain biking, paragliding, running in the hills, etc. that would suit me. I thought it was going to be a fun place and it turned out that I was right.
high five if you like chicken

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Attack in Mogadishu

Over the past few weeks I’ve made a couple trips to Somalia. I admit that it’s a bit tense when I’m there but the more I go the more I feel like I have a better understanding of the dangers. But there is an unpredictability to the insecurity that not even locals can seem to get a handle on.
Mt. Kenya on the way to Somalia
Case in point is that last week there was a devastating attack in Mogadishu killing over 350 people. The number is still rising as many are still missing. A large truck, laden with explosives, was detonated in one of the busiest intersections of the city. The blast flattened buildings in the perimeter, including collapsing a hotel that left dozens buried in the rubble.
The sad news is that one of my staff was killed in the blast. I had seen him just a few weeks ago during a recent visit. He leaves behind a pregnant wife and two small children. The news was a serious blow to the team and one of hundreds of similar stories. Thousands of people have been impacted by losing family members, friends, colleagues, etc. 

I called the team in Mogadishu the day following the blast. I wasn’t able to fly there for various reasons but I do plan on going as soon as I can. As much as the staff there demonstrate a stiff upper lip when dealing with such things, I am quite sure that it’s been harder than they let on. 

I had been to Mogadishu just a few days prior to the attack. In our security briefing just before our convoy headed out, it was determined that the main tarmac road would be unsafe. It’s the same road that would have taken us through that particular junction and heading out to the camps on the outskirts of the city for those who have been displaced by drought and/or violence. The reasoning given was the increasing amount of IED attacks on the road in the days prior.
Since the attack there have been rumors that there were some who may have been aware that a large attack was imminent. I have no idea but I do know that security had been increased over the past few months and there hadn’t been a large attack since early 2017. This one slipped through the cracks for whatever reason. 

no way to live
But our work continues. My team is resilient and I’m grateful to work with them. They’ve shown tremendous dedication to get back to work as soon as they were able. Navigating the city in the days after the blast was complicated and involved people walking significant distances on foot to get to the office. It reminded me of challenges we faced in Bujumbura in 2015 as violence paralyzed much of the city. It’s at the same time humbling and inspiring. 
Mt. Kilimanjaro on the return from Somalia

Friday, October 13, 2017

Back to Kenya

After the summer break, we went happily back to our routines. The girls seem to be hitting their stride in school. Their teachers seem to be happy with them and their French is good. Kiran is starting to have homework so we enter a new phase in parenting. I’m okay for now but as they progress I have a feeling I’ll need to brush up on a few things to keep up.
BBQ - sort of like dutch oven pizza
Lake Naivasha
I’ve been traveling more than I was earlier in the year (though considerably less than I was in Burundi). In addition to trips to Somalia, we had regional meetings in Naivasha. Having been there recently with the family, I more or less knew what to expect. I also knew that I’d have very little time to get out and enjoy the place due to incessant meetings – morning, noon and night. That’s just how it goes.
impressive cappuccino art - Urban Coffee, Nairobi
A few of us took advantage of our early arrival for a Sunday afternoon boat trip, knowing that we’d have few opportunities thereafter. Unfortunately we didn’t get far before a thunderstorm caused us to turn back. I was bummed but on arrival at the little dock the group agreed to schedule a 7am trip the next day. I was surprised that most who agreed to it actually showed up ready to go. We ended up being slightly late to the first meeting (something I don’t like) but it was well worth it.
We followed the lakeside most of the way. The sky was mostly cloudy and the lighting wasn’t very good for photos. But it was good to be out.
just before the weather turned us around
The boat driver/guide seemed a bit shaky from the start. Fishermen were out early checking their lines and looking to bring in enough for the day to sell to feed their families. As we cruised by in our small boat with its tiny outboard motor, they stared. Part of the staring had to do with the simple fact that we were foreigners. Part of it had to do with the fact that the likely don’t get too much entertainment during their days catching fish. Part of it was likely due to a concern about how our passing among their nets might screw up their livelihood.
he and his friends were keeping an eye on us
Turns out the last concern was justified. One of the things the fishermen do is tie their nets to broken chunks of Styrofoam. As we put-putted along I could see that the boat was often cruising very close to them, sometimes even hitting them. I was thinking that we’re likely to get our propeller caught in their nets. As I often have done in these situations, I think oh well, he must have done this hundreds of times so he must know what he’s doing. Right?
early Monday morning boat ride
Sure enough, within minutes of leaving our little dock, the little motor began to sputter and then stop. Our driver/guide tips the motor up to raise the prop above the surface of the water only to find several meters of fishing net tangled in the blades.
no offense to the buffalo but it wasn't a great wildlife viewing day
I suppose it only happened twice in the space of an hour so I shouldn’t complain about losing valuable animal viewing time to stressful prop untangling time. But I have to say, if this is something you do for a living, almost every day, how is it that you can be so pathetic? To be honest I was more concerned about these helpless fisherman watching this guy rip up their livelihoods before their eyes. Made me wonder if he does this sort of thing on a regular basis. We didn’t hear them say anything but I would think that they were none too happy. I would think their jobs are hard enough as it is with the crappy fish prices and the need to avoid getting munched by hippos.
The rest of the time was more or less spent either in meetings or working in my hotel room, catching up on emails while I was away. Internet was terrible which is possibly fine for hotels catering to tourists who shouldn’t be wasting tons of time online. But for a hotel that sells itself as a go-to conference destination, I think they need to get their you-know-what together. Yes, I sound like a whiner.

On the morning we returned to Nairobi we stopped and did some "team building". My supervisor, Kurt, had the right idea. Time to make grown-ups act like children for a couple of hours. I'd never done any serious ziplining before. I think the longest one I'd ever been on was in the Netherlands and it was maybe 30 or 40 meters long. The place we went to, maybe an hour or so outside of Nairobi, was a bit more serious.
the main building at The Forest
The place is called The Forest. Not a great name in my opinion but it doesn't matter. It otherwise gets two thumbs up from me. It's located on the top of a hill with access to some surrounding hills. They have mountain biking trails, paintball, hiking, kids area, etc. and of course, ziplining.
the crew - representing 5 nationalities
Once we checked in then it was off to a small practice area. There were six of us altogether plus two guides. We put on our harnesses and they had us practice taking off, slowing ourselves down and so forth. It's all pretty basic stuff but I suppose it's good that they do it. You wouldn't want to have someone head out across a ravine and do something stupid. 

it's crazier than it looks
The place is set up sort of like a golf course. You go from the first launch station across a ravine to the next. From there you hike up a bit and then go across another ravine. When you've done all six you end up back where you started.
Kurt coming in
I opted to go first. It's a bit freaky the first time you do it since you get up some decent speed - the average length of line is about 367 meters (a little over 400 yards). Very quickly, though, you start focusing more on looking at the scenery, such as passing over waterfalls, and less on falling to a violent death.
the walk home
In the end we all survived and were very soon packed into our van for the ride home. Unfortunately we got off to a bit of a slow start. As you leave The Forest, you need to drive over a couple of hills. One in particular ended up being a bit daunting for our little van. The vehicle didn't have enough power and after a couple of vain attempts and we all ended up getting out and walking. It wasn't too far and we all had a good laugh. At least we didn't need to push. Once we were at the top we were good to go. Within two hours I was back in Nairobi attending some afternoon meetings. Not a bad way to spend the morning.