(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, November 9, 2014

Can't Complain

There are dozens and dozens of guys in Bujumbura that have been tasked with digging a trench throughout various parts of the city. I think it’s for a fiber optic cable but I’m not sure. In any case, these mostly young men are out in the hot sun all day long with picks and shovels, whacking away at asphalt, dirt, rock, etc., their backs shiny from sweat. I have no idea what they are making but I’m not sure that I want to know. What I do know is that every time I see them, or think about them or others like them, I figureI have no right to complain about being tired. So I won’t. Let’s just say I’m less than energized right now.

As I type I’m in Istanbul, Turkey. I arrived last night after flying from New York by way of Paris. I had no sleep on the flights. I’m a bit jet-lagged. And I’m coming off a week and a day of meetings and other things that filled up my days and nights. But I'm not complaining.

fall in Central Park
Anyway, back to the previous trip. I arrived in NY about two weeks ago. I met my sister Cheryl and my niece Dara. My brother-in-law Pat would arrive the next day. My other niece, Regan, was already in town. We hit the ground running, quite literally, as we headed out for a long-ish run along the East River and into Central Park. It was my sister’s first time to the city so there was much exploring to do. That evening we attended a very nice gala fundraiser at the Mandarin adjacent to Central Park. It’s certainly not how I did my first visit to NY in 1990. Back then it was travel on the cheap. 

That Friday I abandoned family and was off to Washington DC for meetings. Woo hoo. Happy Halloween for me. I do this periodically and I’m generally glad I went once I’m done. It’s just another commitment in an already busy trip. I began with a meeting at the White House (one of the adjacent buildings no selfie with the president). The Director of Africa for the national security team and I met, along with someone from our DC office. The topic was insecurity in Burundi and a discussion of East Africa in general. As with all the meetings I had, I was impressed with the basic understanding of the situation from the start. Made it easier to jump into current issues without needing to provide much background. I realize that I don’t work in one of the world’s well-publicized hot spots so it’s not easy to assume people know what’s going on. The point, at least in part, is not to wait until things spin out of control to take an interest. Clean-up is far more expensive than prevention. 
at the fundraiser

The next meeting was with USAID and the last one was at the State Department. All three meetings went generally well and, as I said, I was glad I went. It’s 3 hours by train from NY and, like last time, I chose to return that evening. It makes for a long day but it was nice to get back to NY, particularly since I had family in town.
crossing the Brooklyn Bridge

The next day was chilly and rainy. We put on our running shoes nonetheless and headed out to explore and meet up with my nieces and their friend Fox. He lives down near the financial district so we jogged to his apartment. From there we ran across the Manhattan Bridge and back across the Brooklyn Bridge (with some hanging out here and there in between). We were pretty much getting pelted by a cold rain as we crossed the bridge and were happy to duck into a pizza place once we were done. 

World Trade Center memorial
The next day I was off to church on the west side with Priya’s and my friend Liya. I generally hang out with her a bit while I’m in town. She had a friend running the marathon later that morning so after church we had some brunch and then went to Harlem to cheer her on. As we were leaving, we needed to cross the course – not an easy task with 50k people streaming by. By a bizarre coincidence, at the moment I crossed (turning back to see if Liya had followed), my supervisor from Nairobi (and friend) happened to be running by. I know he’s a runner but didn’t know he was running the marathon this year. He told me later how much it cheered him up. I cracked up since it wasn’t intentional. What are the chances.
the marathon going through Harlem

That evening I got back to mid-town to catch up with the family, watch some Sunday night football and have a drink at the famed Campbell Apartment in Grand Central. I say “famed” but I’d never heard of it before. I looked it up though and it has an interesting history. Very cool place.

Saint John's Cathedral - surprised at how bit it is
By Monday, my meetings began and that was pretty much the last I saw of the family. I had dinner with one of our fantastic donors. I’ve known her for several years and each Christmas she sends cards to all the country directors. Scott Pelley from CBS was supposed to host us as well but he was busy preparing for the elections the next day. I’ve met him before but I don’t know him very well. In any case, it was an amazing dinner in a very small Italian place on the east side.
a drink at Campbell

Tuesday was another full day of meetings followed by a dinner with our regional team. It was yet another great dinner, this time in a Cuban place. By then most of my family had gone with about three days to go.
the ever-impressive Empire State Bldg.

Wednesday was our gala event at the Waldorf. I admit that I look forward to this every year. It traditionally has been a star-studded affair though this year was more modest by comparison, at least as far as celebrity guests. There were a few but nothing like in the past. Though disappointing for my inner “People magazine”, it did seem to show some integrity by replacing celebrities with refugee testimonies. At the last, however, our president was saying something clever about being an Englishman in NY when Sting walked up to the podium. He was supposed to be singing as he approached but he had a bit of a cold. As such he said something nice about the organization and then proceeded to thank the country directors and read the names. We stood up for applause and that was basically the end. Good evening overall.

and Sting is still pretty cool
Thursday was more of the same, including sneaking in a bit of shopping, before heading off on Friday. It was a very good trip and, though I don’t have the right to complain, I will say that the idea of heading off to another round of meetings in Istanbul with not much time to catch my breath was not an attractive thought. At least I’ll get a chance to explore a city I haven’t seen for over twenty years.

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