(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.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Curious Endeavor

In a few weeks our offices in Kigali and Bujumbura will be receiving some guests. That's not really news since we are frequented with visitors, auditors, technical advisers, etc. on a very regular basis. The interesting thing is that these visitors are going to be arriving by kayak.

Several weeks ago our external relations person from NY notified me that a kayak trip in Africa was being planned which is intended to be some sort of an adventure film with a highlight on humanitarian work. We have been asked to participate (unfortunately not in the kayaking) in providing some logistical support and interesting testimonials in exchange for some possible good exposure in the film. The trip is being sponsored by a well-known outdoor clothing company (which I will not reveal at this time). The voyage is intended to pass through a handful of countries in this region including a segment on the Rusizi River which ends on the northern tip of Lake Tanganyika just outside of Bujumbura.

Without dedicating a tremendous amount of time to this project (since it's outside the realm of what we're specifically funded to do), it is important to work with people like this to not only raise awareness for the work that our organization is doing, but also to continue to remind people in the Western world that their comfortable lifestyles are not the norm for the majority of the people on this planet. Maybe a third helpful aspect to this adventure is that the world should be more exposed to the amazing beauty of this continent. The only footage that most of the world sees of Africa consists of AIDS victims, war, starving children, etc. While that stuff certainly exists, it is NOT reflective of what this continent is about as a whole. In my travels to nine African countries, I have been astounded by the breathtaking scenery and warm people in every single country. I do wish that more of the world could experience that side of this continent. Ok, end of Africa promo.

One thing that was a bit funny when working with my Administration Manager on some of the logistics was that she didn't know what a kayak was. I tried to explain that it was sort of like a small boat similar to the indigenous ones here but with a few very different characteristics. I failed in my explanation so I drew a picture on the whiteboard in my office. My lack of artistic skill leads me to believe that she still has no idea what these little "boats" are all about. If they do end up storing their kayaks on our office compound, it's quite likely they'll be an object of curiosity. Just the description of people wanting to float hundreds of kilometers in small boats on somewhat dangerous waters (crocodiles and bad guys - in the last few weeks 22 dead bodies were found on the Rusizi not far from here, at least one decapitated) with no intention fishing is a curious endeavor in and of itself. We're hosting them here for a couple days so they'll likely have some good stories to share if they make it here in one piece.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fast Times in Rwanda

I'm currently in Rwanda. It's a new country for me and it's good to finally be here given the amount of time I've spent discussing the place with colleagues and reading about it in briefings. Now it's all Rwanda, all day. Our program in the country is at a crossroads and there's a lot to do to sort out what we're going to do.

Kigali from the vehicle (didn't have time to take any decent photos - maybe next time)
I arrived in Kigali on Monday after the half-hour flight from Bujumbura. The early morning drive from the airport to the hotel consisted of moderate traffic and signage that reflected the national language transition from French to English. The densely populated hills that make up Kigali reveal another transition – the older cheap housing being phased out to make way for the new, modern construction. There's no question that Rwanda is changing and it's happening at a rate faster than anywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa.

The West generally knows little about Rwanda. People have some awareness about a tragic genocide and possibly a bit about AIDS and poverty. Some, with a bit more knowledge about the country, generally fill the air with accusations regarding the authoritarian nature of the government. It's unfortunate. There's an amazing transformation in the works and regardless of what many say about the past or the present, it seems that insufficient recognition is being given to the progress that has been made in the past 15 years in an often delicate environment.

My small room in Ngoma; fold-fest
My entire week has been spent in meetings with government officials, international organization representatives and staff. By Wednesday at noon we'd fit in 15 meetings. I realized that there are few countries in the world where cultural norms and infrastructure would have allowed for such an aggressive timeline. I also fit in a trip to our field sites in the eastern part of the country which afforded some nice views of the countryside and the affirmation that the cleanliness and organization is not restricted to Kigali.

So my head is completely full. It's an awful lot to fit into a very short period of time. It's now time to process it all and catch up on things in Bujumbura.