(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, February 27, 2012

Back to the Big City

It's early morning on Monday. I recently arrived in NY for meetings. In my semi-annual pilgrimage to the city I enjoyed the accompaniment of my wife and daughter up to Amsterdam. I headed west to the US and then carried on to Geneva to stay with sister/aunt Liz. I will briefly join them in Switzerland on my way back through Europe. We did the same thing a year ago and it worked out quite well. I even managed to find time to ski. This year it may not happen but I would look forward to a fondue in the alps, something I miss from my many years there.

Tripartite Meetings
Last week I participated in meetings in Bujumbura regarding the long-standing issue of the Burundian refugees still residing in Tanzania. For a long time they were my preoccupation given that supporting them was the focus of my work. Now that I work on the Burundi side of the border, the situation is the same but I focus on a different part of the problem - the potential receiving end. It's a very long and complicated issue but for those who are unfamiliar (or didn't read my many blogs from several years ago), this particular group of refugees has been in Tanzania for nearly three decades due to the civil war her in Burundi. The host government has had enough and wants them to leave. The refugees don't want to go in spite of all kinds of threats, cutting off services, incentives, etc.  There is a bit of a stand-off. The UN has been trying to manage the needs of all parties, including on the Burundi side to re-integrate them (it actually should be 'integrate" since most of them are under 30 and have never lived outside the camp) if they do in fact return.
I don't have time to go into it now but the conversations were very interesting, particularly the ones in the hallway. I knew a lot of the Tanzania delegation from my time there. The Minister I hadn't met before. We had a nice conversation but he does seem quite tough and ready to turn the screws on the refugees before the end of the year. I sat through the discussions of the accord between the two governments and the UN. No big surprises but it does look like it's shaping up to be an interesting year - particularly if the Tanzanian government resorts to forcibly closing the camp. Since we're doing both logistical support and protection activities, we'll have our hands full.
Back to the Present
After the long, 27-hour journey with a 7-hour time difference and two or three different airport stops, I should say that being in NY is less stressful than it used to be. I know the city better. I am (more) accustomed to the incredible cost of everything (remember, I live in Burundi). I never take a map with me and I don’t have a phone that can be my map. I also have the habit of avoiding the subway if possible, opting to walk – sometimes very long distances. It not only helps me to learn the city but it’s good exercise. 
It’s actually a city that’s fairly easy to navigate. The street signs (something Burundi doesn’t have) are generally logical and you have landmarks like prominent buildings and rivers to help you out. I’m even starting to see subtle differences between neighborhoods that I didn’t notice before. It’s all a blurry, noisy mess when you first start coming here.
I met with my friend Liya on Saturday and she took me to the Meatpacking District, Chelsea and so forth. Good to see her and hang out a bit. We walked the Highline Park, the elevated rail that has fairly recently been transformed into an above-ground park. Very cool idea and something that should have been done a long time ago.
Sunday morning I went to church (Reedemer Presp.) as has been my custom the last four times I’ve been here. Didn’t get to see Tim Keller but it was still good. Then it was quickly back to the hotel for a skype call with my wife and baby, massive grocery shopping for the return to Burundi and then to check emails and prepare for my week. I’m in NY until Friday except for a day in Washington DC for meetings. I'm quite sure that the above topic of the Burundian refugees will come up a few times among the many others including the future of our Rwanda program, our work with the Congolese refugees as well as our other work in Burundi, and so forth. Sigh. Need to take a much-need run to start off my week - along the East River, over to Central Park and back to the hotel. Let the week begin.

Monday, February 13, 2012


"I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live."
-Francoise Sagan, playwright and novelist (1935-2004)

As I type I’m watching the Africa Cup of Nations final. Zambia and Côte d’Ivoire are in extra time. Good game. Priya is sitting beside me enjoying the match and scratching a mysterious constellation of bug bites. It happens from time to time here.
weird spider I about ran into on a hike this weekend
When I was growing up my friend Russ (and I think he reads this blog from time to time) used to be a member of a bug club. As I remember it, he had a wooden box with rows of various types of bugs mounted on pins. While I was fascinated by this hobby, I would never have had the discipline or the organizational skills to hunt, capture, pin and label them. My tendency would have been to pull off their wings or some sort of obnoxious practice of no educational value.
When Priya and I lived in Kibondo (NW Tanzania), there was a sink near the staff mess that seemed to regularly receive its share of bugs, trapped by the slick sides of the bowl. I have never in my life seen such varied and interesting bugs of various sizes. That would have been time to be member of a bug club.
Bugs come with the territory when living in the tropics, quite literally. Soon after returning to Burundi from the holidays, we were informed of an infestation of, in the words of the US Embassy, an “acid bug infestation”. The bug seems to have various names: Acid Bug, Nairobi Eye, Paederus dermatitis, Creechie Bug or African Rove Beetle. Strangely enough, it doesn’t bite (unlike my encounters with tse tse flies). The danger is that it produces a toxic substance that produces blisters or welts the size of an American nickel.
 I’ve seen them from time to time since we arrived in the country but nothing like what we did the past few weeks. Fortunately Priya had the brilliant idea of shutting off our security lights (those on the house rather than those on the compound wall) and sure enough, they pretty much disappeared. We’re good for now – until the next infestation.
The match is now down to goal kicks. Time to sign off.