(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, January 29, 2012

The Big Transition

I was in the gym yesterday taking a break between sets. As sweat dripped from my chin I looked down and there was a cockroach about the size of Kiran’s fist. It was on its back with its spindly little legs thrashing about. To my knowledge they can’t right themselves without a bit of a push. Regardless of how you feel about cockroaches, it’s nonetheless conflicting to see something helpless and struggling.
refugee kids coming from as far as the eye can see
I confess to feeling a bit like that cockroach lately. Soon after returning to Burundi I was feeling overwhelmed and struggling to get caught up with things. Within days of arriving I was off to the field. Similar to the many trips I’ve taken before, the context of this one was a bit different.
inspecting the nasty road
In December I was approached by the UN (UNHCR) regarding a request for us to take on logistical support for the refugee operations. Though we already provide services in the camps, this was something unlike not only what our organization does in the country, it’s different from what we do around the world. While we provide logistical support for our programs (child protection, gender-based violence, etc.), we haven't done anything to this scale.
driving through Gasorwe camp
Initially there was strong hesitation. I discussed the proposal at length with colleagues in NY and was trying to determine how this may play out if we decided to move forward. To make a very long story short, we came to an agreement and we were off and running. Task forces were formed for five identified areas of focus. A flurry of meetings were held. Emails continued back and forth from NY as I tried to make sure that we were thinking of everything. The transition would be intense but, unfortunately, I still needed to go to the US for the holidays. The compromise was that I would continue to track the events by email and occasionally by phone. My hope was that I’d done enough prior to leaving that my physical presence during the following couple of weeks wouldn’t be necessary.
a few of our trucks
Fortunately for me, the team – both the new team and the previous team – did an outstanding job. UNHCR played a key role in pulling off a successful transition as well. It was a monumental task and I don’t have time or energy to record here all of the accomplishments but suffice to say that all was in place by the first week of January to support a convoy of refugees arriving from the Congo heading towards our refugee camp on the other side of the country.  Two weeks later we supported a second convoy, the one that I was able to catch up with on the road as it was nearing its destination.
new arrivals being processed
In all the administrative work needing to be done to support the transition and all of the stress and headaches, the trip to the field was helpful for more than the purpose of meeting staff and visiting facilities. It was also a stark reminder of what we are doing. As I watched the refugees being processed, registered, collecting their camp non-food items and receiving their dinner in the transit center, the human drama behind it all kept going through my mind. These people have just fled their homes, leaving everything behind, many of them have been raped, threatened, lost family members, etc. After working in and around refugee operations for several years, one can get lost in all the decisions being made, necessary paperwork, etc. and forget the real tragedy and emotion that these people have faced and will continue to face. As transitions go, this is one that I hope I never go through. 
the end of life as you knew it

Saturday, January 14, 2012


One thing I'm finding is that my daughter is taking up a lot of space in my two holiday blogs. I suppose that's natural. She has been a big hit with the family and as for me, I've been getting to spend more time with her than I have been able to prior to the holidays.
Grandma with Kiran in basket
From Indiana we had a relatively quick and easy trip to Idaho. Our bags were much fuller thanks to the generous Christmas and some early baby shopping. The shorter internal US flights seem like a breeze compared to the long international ones and we arrived in Boise ready for round two (round three if you count Minnesota) of the vacation.

We began with a couple days in Boise celebrating our post-Christmas family gathering. It's usually a rather large gathering with lots of food and laughs. No exception this year. We did some photos as well which actually came out quite well.

After Boise we headed north to McCall. It's a ski town that wasn't having a lot of skiing due to lack of snow. I did make it up on a wet opening day with Lisa, Brett, Berkley and Tanner. Weather was crappy but it was good to get out for a ski.
Kiran with dad in McCall
 Then we headed south to Kimberly to hang out with sister CJ, Mom and Dad. Good time as well. Always relaxing but, as usual, way too short. We took a quick trip to Balanced Rock, a favorite of my grandfather's and a place we make a pilgrimage from time to time. It was the first time for Priya and Kiran.

Balance Rock
I also was able to sneak away for some quick skiing. The small mountain of Pomerelle was where I learned to ski. The chairlift takes 10 minutes and the runs take me about 2 minutes but it was fun. It was a sunny wonderful morning and it's just fun to get up on the mountain.

After a couple of days in the Magic Valley, we headed back to Marsing to hang out with Cheryl, Pat, Dara and Regan. First time I'd been to their new place. Very nice. Right on the river. Good view. Quiet. Close to some mountain biking. The weather was so nice that we were able to get out for an off-season ride. And yes, I didn't even need a jacket.

Priya and Kiran in Marsing
Finally the Kiran show was over and we had to board the plane for Africa. After sleeping in three different states and eight different residences we made our way back. Once again no flight troubles and this time the bags made it. Always a surprise.

And now it's back to the tasks at hand. Lots to do. Craziness at work. Jet lag and so much travel is messing with us. Need some order and beloved routine.

“Disorder is simply the order you were not looking for.”  
- Henri Bergson