(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, January 31, 2011

I Must Be Missing Something

I generally don't rant in this blog even though I thought I would years ago when I set it up. So, maybe today I'll rant.

Boom in the Night
Last Friday at 1:30 in the morning we were awoken to what sounded like someone pounding on the door. Given that we live in a walled compound, you don't get anyone knocking at your door except guards. Assuming that was the case this time, I got up, wondering what the heck was going on, and made my way sleepily yet nervously to find out.

As I got to the door I found no one there. I looked around and didn't see anyone for a few minutes. Finally I saw one of the guards and, though he was awake and walking around, he didn't give me any indication that he'd been to the door. In fact it turned out to be gunfire. It was apparently close enough to make it sound like a loud pounding on a door on the other side of the house from our bedroom (i.e. close by).

Unfortunately it's not unusual to hear gunfire in Bujumbura or even an occasional hand grenade explosion (though this seemed particularly close). The next night (Friday) we heard an explosion of some kind and I found out on Monday that it was in fact a hand grenade. Such is life in our new town.

Guns and Roses
I occasionally peruse the website of the local paper where I grew up. I'm not sure why I feel compelled to do this but I do feel a strong attachment to my roots and I do love the simplicity of small town America.

An article I spotted on the weekend coming from the nearby state of Utah caught me a bit off guard. It said that the state's lawmakers were devoting time to the discussion of the designation of a state gun. Huh?! I suppose that for some this does not appear to be absurd. Honoring weaponry through the legislative process? Granted, I'm particularly sensitive about this since I live in a country where people don't have the luxury of spending time getting pedicures for poodles and butt implants. The citizens of this country are often in a battle to put food on the table and avoid getting their few possessions robbed of them at gunpoint.

Now I understand the need to recognize symbols regarding history, geography and culture. In fact most people that know me well understand that I'm fascinated by history and feel like peoples' lack of understanding of the past contributes to some of the stupid decisions people make today. I've even been known to hunt back in the day and it generally doesn't bother me if people own guns (except of course the crazy people in rich countries and desperate people in poor countries). But to tap into the state legislative system and use the supposed valuable time of legislators to review in committee, debate in the House, pose for photos, vote, etc. regarding the state's legal honor of a handgun is without a doubt ludicrous. Apparently previous time wastage by the state has resulted in, among other things, the legal establishment of a state cooking pot and a state folk dance. I'm sorry I missed out on the floor debate of the Utah House of Representatives when the merits of the cooking pot were under heated discussion.

In a time when a Congresswoman from another state is recovering from a head wound inflicted by a handgun and several others killed, the timing of such an honoring is at best bad taste. It's not about defending America's values and traditions and opposition is not about demonizing firearms. It's about the misuse of government time/resources and an obvious lack of respect. The state clearly has far more acute issues to deal with and if it doesn't, everyone should move there immediately.

My guess is that people's priorities get warped over time. It's helpful to step outside of your world sometimes to help you see things more clearly. The US often allows itself to become culturally isolated and sometimes very odd things start to seem normal because you don't have enough to compare it to. Security is a big issue in most countries around the world. Obviously here in Burundi it's a big deal. It's always the first agenda item in my coordination meetings with staff here and in my meeting with representatives from other organizations. I receive a handful of security reports every single day – most of which contain gruesome killings. And then there are those things that go boom in the night.

Weapons are everywhere in this country. Some are still here from the war and others are coming into the country every day. Many people live in fear. To imagine a place where government officials are all giggly about honoring a weapon escapes the imagination. If people really believe that guns don't kill, that it's the people that kill, then honoring a gun doesn't make sense. The state of Utah should spend its time honoring its police force or its veterans. Guns don't protect; people do.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Gift from the Other Side

One thing I don't pay much attention to with this blog is continuity. Maybe that's the case with most blogs. It's sort of whatever is on my mind at the time I sit down to draft it. The thoughts may have something to do with previous postings; they may not.

This time I do have something that relates to a previous posting. While in the US over the holidays, on the day we were to leave my parent's house, I was making one last check of the box that contains the mail I received over the past six months. Unfortunately my parents are subjected to my US mailings due to the fact that I have no other American residence. I had gone through most of it but there was still a book in an Amazon box that'd I'd seen earlier and didn't recognize. It was addressed to me but I the title didn't ring a bell. I have at times ordered books for Priya and had them sent to my parent's house. She will occasionally mention that she would really like to get such and such book and I'll jot down the title and order it, usually within that day for fear of forgetting that the conversation ever happened. Then it sits at my parent's house until the next time we arrive. When I get to the US and I see the book I remember that she wanted it at some point but I often  don't remember much more than that. Nonetheless when she recognizes it, it can give the impression that I'm thoughtful.

But for the life of me I couldn't remember ordering this book at all. At the risk of ruining a surprise (and giving away my lack of thoughtfulness), I asked Priya. She did recognize the title but I was a bit relieved (and puzzled) that she couldn't remember why. I was off the hook.

The mystery didn't last long as Priya pulled out the paper that accompanies Amazon orders. Beneath the title, The Shantaram: A Novel, was a note. It said:

"Because sometimes flying as fast as we can is reason enough. Hope our paths cross again. Thanks again. Hendri."

Priya and I looked at each other for a couple of seconds a bit stunned by what we'd read. As my brain went through its paces to put it together it became clear that Hendri must have ordered this from Bujumbura three days before he died. The last trip postings for the kayak team were from when they were staying with us and it was the last place they'd had internet access before heading into the Congo.

It made me sad all over again. As I'd mentioned in that earlier blog, Hendri had said he was going to send something. Silly me for thinking he hadn't had the chance to live up to his word. He had.

It's tragic that we won't have the chance to meet up in Uganda as we'd planned. He left an impression on me the short time that I knew him. He was even able to impress me after his death.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Christmas 2010

Ideally I'd set a goal for myself to update this thing weekly or so. Hasn't happened recently but I'll get back on track. Since the last posting there has obviously been a lot of activity. This isn't a diary so I don't feel the obligation to fill in all the gaps. I will say that the baggage finally arrived in Louisville and that put an end to the travel woes – at least for the time being.
Visiting Kathy in Minneapolis

Visit to glass blowing/art shop in Louisville

Isabelle: Are you talkin' to me?
The time in Indiana with family was just what was needed. With the exception of too much last minute Christmas shopping (gotta change that next year), there was some good relaxation, food and time to catch up with everyone.

The Satow siblings past and present
There was just one little incident involving a frozen pond, a nephew and some guy with poor motor skills. I won't name names but apparently this guy runs up to the pond in a feeble attempt to show the nephew how young he is. The resulting slide was not intended to include any sort of midair launch but that was inadvertently added for some added entertainment value. Anyway, the guy slams into the ice with a graceless thud. Not wanting to show that he had just crushed his ribcage, he gets up and does it again – this time without falling – though the damage was already done. Rumor has it he broke a rib and it would bother him for the next several weeks, long after he returned to Burundi. At least that's what he told me.

The next leg of the snowy adventure began the day after Christmas as we headed to Idaho. There are a couple dozen or so somewhat strange people that participate in our family holiday gathering. It took place in the suburban setting of my sister Lisa's and it never fails to be a good time. The traditional setting has been the semi-remote rustic log home of my other sister Cheryl's family but for the past couple of years we've gone suburban. We'll have to wait a few years before we pick up that tradition again (long story) but being in a city does have its advantages. Regardless of where the festivities happen, the goal is the same. Hang out with family, laugh a lot, eat a lot and open some gifts on the side.

Big snow; small wife in McCall
Much of the mob then headed north to the town of McCall for some winter sports and, of course, more food. My lil' sis and her husband have a condo there which served as the base for playing in the snow. College football served primarily as something to look at on TV while we were eating though there were actually some fun games to watch.

Priya and I were able to get in some downhill skiing though it was a much gentler day on the slopes than is normal for me. Neither of us were in a position to cut up the mountain on black diamond runs and thus cruised along enjoying the views and the fresh air.

View from Bogus (Boise)
Speaking of fresh air, some readers of this blog are located in the tropics and may not have an understanding of what I mean by "fresh". Just as an example, the first morning produced a balmy -19 degrees Celsius (-2 degrees Fahrenheit). We remained in single-digit temperatures the majority of the time we were there. Returning to Boise things warmed up considerably as it neared freezing.

Another killer Pat steak
I was able to sneak in one last ski venture in Boise (Bogus Basin) with Cheryl and my niece Regan. I have to say, the snow was absolutely amazing and the views were spectacular. Hard to capture on my little camera but it really was a great afternoon. Our "guide" Regan somehow drew us into two rib-busting black diamond slopes against her orders but it was nothing that some pain killers during the drive home couldn't handle. Highly worth it.