(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, July 26, 2010

Unearthing Hidden Treasure

On Saturday night I was sitting at the computer (I know, it's a bit pathetic). I was doing some work in addition to scanning negatives. For the latter, Priya bought me a small scanner a while back that I am using to bring my pre-digital past into to the digital era. As I was painstakingly preserving my 35 mm. negatives over the years, I often thought that this was an exercise in futility as I would probably never need them. Now, as I unwrap these small bundles of negatives, and one by one pass them across this scanner, I am quite thankful that I kept them.

I was a slow convert to digital photography. The early quality was poor and the cameras were expensive. As the prices dropped and the quality improved, I still resisted. My first step was to request a floppy disk of my photos when I turned the roll of film in for development. After doing that for a period of time, my friend Russ upgraded his digital camera and gave me his old one. That was all it took. After using it for a while, there was no turning back. Even after a kayak mishap a few months later where my new digital partner slipped out of its protective sleeve and sank to the bottom of Monterey Bay, I decided to press on and replace it. The transition took place around 1999 and so all of the photos prior to that are in negative and/or photo form.

The first camera of my youth was an "instamatic" which didn't even use 35 mm. film. I still have most of those negatives which are probably about 15 mm. and they're a bit of a pain to use in the scanner. Fortunately or unfortunately most of the photos from those days are crap so there are not very many to scan. I moved on to a small 35 mm. camera when I was in college and the quality of my photography moved from crap to bad – in spite of a sophomore year photography class where I learned how to develop the photos myself in that nearly dead vestige of the pre-digital era called a darkroom.

As I trudge forward a couple hours at a time scanning my past, I am relieved to notice that my hairstyle has changed little from what it was when I was 4 years old. I'm a little thinner on top and gray is now becoming more dominant but it's basically the same. I grew it long in the early 90's but the ponytail-length hair eventually became a nuisance and one day while on holiday in Amsterdam I chopped it off. Since then it's been the same no-comb coiffure. Generally speaking I have rarely been one to take fashion risks. As a result, I may provoke some yawns when I appear in the photos of my past but I also incite far fewer snickers than some of the other people whose past is also being brought to light by this exercise. Beware you readers from my past who allowed me to photograph you with bad hair, you who thought the greatest thing about digital photography was that it happened after the 1980's. I've yet to decide what I'm going to do with all of these little digital gems.

Monday, July 19, 2010


So we're headed to Burundi. It's sort of a strange thing to get my brain around since I really hadn't thought about it. At least not recently.

The idea of me going to Burundi and being Country Director for BDI/Rwanda came up quite some time ago but it was just a discussion about what may happen depending on how things go. I hadn't even been to the country until last year though we lived within a few kilometres for about a year. The decision was made while I was on vacation in the US so it ended up being an awkward thing where I had to announce to staff while I was away. There was no possibility to wait until I got back because everything was in motion. The current CD was leaving, my position had to be posted, etc. etc.

Though I am happy for the new opportunity and challenge, it is going to be difficult to leave Tanzania and my team here. I will have been living in TZ for 5 ½ years and I've worked with a lot of my current staff for 4 years (those that were with me back in my Kibondo days). You get close to people after a while and, separating wheat from chaff, we've developed a pretty solid team.

Priya's departure is a bit easier since she had already taken her "professional break" prior to knowing about this transition. Given that she is between jobs, it's a good time for her to try something new and work on her French. She's also been in TZ a couple years more than I so I think she's due for a change as well.

On the positive side, I do have a good feeling about the team there and the operation in general. Even the town has a nice feel to it. Yes, there is tension and a lot going on with the new terrorist threats but such things are part of the deal when you do this work. So far I like Bujumbura and the new team has already been very welcoming. As for working in French again, I guess I don't feel one way or the other about it. I was happy with how comfortable I was with the language after using it so seldom for so long (about 11 years since I've worked in French) and I guess at this point it doesn't seem like that big of a deal. 
Some quick facts about Burundi? 
One of the ten poorest countries in the world. 
Lowest GDP per capita in the entire world.
Tiny. 10,745 sq.miles (vs. Idaho which has 83,642 sq. miles)
Lots of people. 836 people per sq. mile (vs. Idaho which has 15 per sq. mile)
More on Burundi in future postings.

 Bujumbura photo I took last year

My handover pushed my ability to function with little sleep and serious jetlag. I arrived in Dar from the US at around 11pm a week ago Thursday and I was home by midnight. My flight to Buj via Nairobi was scheduled for 5:10am, meaning check-in by 4:00am, meaning leave the house by 3:30am, meaning wake up by 3:00am, meaning not a heckuva lot of sleep. After 32 hours of travel from the US and being 10 time zones away from where I started, my little "nap" would be a paltry contribution to alleviate my fatigue. No sleep on the two short flights and I was in meetings in Bujumbura by 9am (Dar time). The day would drag on until nearly midnight that evening due to the farewell/welcome party. Saturday consisted of meetings all day and Sunday I flew back to Dar to be in the office on Monday. Though insomnia has taught me how to function on little to no sleep, I'd be happy if I don't have to do that again.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Good Times in the Mountains

I'm sitting on a hotel terrace overlooking the hills surrounding Bujumbura, Burundi. The downtown traffic hums below me with the frequent sound of honking and beeping. The air is cool and wonderful as I pause for a moment to take in the fact that I'm officially a long way away from the mountains of Idaho.

I know I've been slacking on this blog thing but I've been a busy guy. It's not going to be less busy any time soon so I just need to step up and catch you up on what's going on. More on Buj later.

Lisa and Cheryl mountain biking among the flowers in the Boise foothills

So the surgery has been without issue. The eyes are still working fine, fine enough that Priya and I headed for the mountains to spend three nights backpacking. My target was the White Cloud Mountains near the central part of the state. It's an area I don't know well having only been there once when I was young. It has dozens of small lakes and jagged, snow-capped peaks. Just what I was seeking.

What I was not seeking was quite so much snow. A cold rain welcomed us at the 4th of July Lake trailhead and the start looked a bit foreboding. To make matters worse, two hikers, both seemingly anxious to chat about something as I walked over to them, communicated to me that they'd hiked in nearly a mile and the trail was completely blocked by huge snow drifts. I walked back to the Xterra and reported the news to Priya. Often being more enthusiastic than bright, I conveyed my support of the idea of having a look anyway. After about a one kilometer inspection of the trail and a possible clearer alternative route on the opposite side of the creek, Priya was on board as well. After all, it was less than two kilometers to the lake where we would establish a base camp and spend the next couple of days doing day hikes. How bad can it be?

 Stormy, chilly evening view of Sawtooth Mountains from White Cloud Mountains

Well, let's just say it was a long winter. As Priya and I embarked on our adventure, we had rather smooth sailing until we were not far beyond the part we'd already inspected. But occasional rain, bog from significant snow melt and the increasing size and frequency of snow banks began to impede our progress towards the elusive lake. The monstrous packs on our backs, meant for only a relatively short hike, were becoming increasingly a contributor to our fatigue as we worked our way across steep hillsides, skree and drifts. Eventually it became apparent. There was no way to get to the lake – certainly not without snow shoes and much more time than we had. It was already around 6pm and the temperature was beginning to drop. We agreed that we needed to turn around and find a place to camp. We proceeded to descend until we found a suitable camping spot. About a third the way down we came upon a rare flat piece of land near a stream with a nice view of the elusive snow-crested White Cloud peaks.

We set up camp, made a fire and prepared dinner. It's one of the best parts of backpacking. The night was cold but we were sufficiently prepared and we slept well. I'd bought and packed a large air mattress that contributed "heavily" to our comfort and warmth.

 The road out from 4th of July Lake

The next day we decided to hike back down to the Xterra and change tack. We drove out of the White Clouds and targeted my beloved Sawtooth Mountains to the west. Because it is forbidden to make campfires in the Sawtooth Wilderness area (something we didn't want to do without), we opted for the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA). Yellowbelly Lake (yes, these lakes do have strange names) was a place I'd been as a child but not since. I had vague memories of mosquitoes attacking me and my dad carrying me on his shoulders part of the way because I was likely complaining about the long hike. The other possibility was that I was goofing around too much and this was the only way to keep the family moving forward. If you've ever hiked with a dog, you have an idea as to the path I would take – zigzagging, allowing myself to be easily distracted, filling my pockets with interesting rocks, pulling wings off insects, etc.

A still morning at Yellowbelly Lake

By Idaho standards it was a short drive from 4th of July to Yellowbelly and we soon had our packs on our backs again. The hike was also short by Idaho standards and we were soon setting up camp on the shore of the lake. It was a rather ideal location amongst the pines near the outlet of the lake.

The next two days were spent hiking, relaxing and some fishing. The nights were cold and the days were warm. On Monday we hiked out and we were off to Boise. My one-week eye appointment was waiting for me on Tuesday and then we'd be off to McCall to "car camp" with my family.

Family Camp Trip
The family assembled at Ponderosa State Park. We would spend the next several days camping, eating and filling our days with activities and just hanging out, part of which was at PSP and part of which was further south on Cascade Lake. Among the activities were a group mountain bike ride around Payette Lake, another ride near the failed ski resort of Tamarak, a road bike ride up Warm Lake Road near the town of Cascade, a few jogs and a rather long hike near McCall encompassing Boulder Lake and Louis Lake. Good times.
The smiling ladies taking a break on the hike; this was before they knew how damn long the hike was going to be.

Strolling from Boulder Lake to Louis Lake

 Priya and the pristine Louis Lake

 Another room with a view - Cascade Lake

Osprey nest - very bird friendly park
 If it looks like Danny's going to fall, it's because he does.

 At the end of the Tamarak ride, we're all on our feet.

 The ride around Payette Lake; generally considered not safe to take photos while riding.

Chilly evening around the "fire".

 Rich and Priya's night to prepare dinner - two tons of food on skewers consumed by an overactive family. 
The photo shows less than half of what was eaten altogether.

Watching the fireworks - according to height.