(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.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fire in the Sky

I’m sitting in a Chinese restaurant in Kigali as I type. I have a nice view looking over the city. Dark clouds are brewing on the horizon and there is an increasing rumble of thunder as a storm approaches.

One thing that I didn’t anticipate when I moved here was the amount, and quality, of thunderstorms. It can get pretty crazy at times. It also can get deadly. On Saturday a storm hit a community in the south of Burundi a little over two hours from the capital. Students sought shelter in a classroom as the storm beat down upon them. Generally in Burundi towns are built on the tops of hills making them more susceptible to lightning strikes. Suddenly the school building was hit. Seven students were killed instantly and fifty-one others were wounded. The storm also destroyed roughly 500 houses in the area due to the subsequent mud slides.

The tragedy follows a series of fatal lightning strikes in recent days. Last week lightning killed four people and wounded nine others as they sheltered inside a small church in eastern Burundi. The following day two people guarding a herd of cows were also struck by lightning, while houses and crops were damaged by the heavy rains.

In addition to being tragic, it’s also a bit odd since normally the dry season has begun by now. Most people I’ve spoken to are puzzled by the late and violent storms.

Though nothing nearly as tragic, but still on the topic of lightning, I had an interesting exchange with a nice young lady last week. The other night we had a massive thunderstorm. One of the biggest I’ve experienced since we’ve been in Burundi. Crazy rain. Thunder. Lightning right on top of us. Kept going on and on. On my drive to work I could see the muddy remnants of flooding downtown, showing how deep the flooding had been during the night.

Before I left for work I noticed that the internet wasn’t working. I was afraid it was in some way connected to one of the lightning strikes that seemed to be on or very near the house. I checked the router but it seemed to be working, lights flashing and so forth, but no connection. Priya called our ISP to see if we could get some assistance. After telling us several times they were coming, and after much time has passed, someone finally came. I happened to be at the house since I’d come home early to go for a quick run.

I was happy to see that it was a young lady – good to see women elbowing their way into a field that is generally dominated by men. The woman, the size of an NBA forward, accompanied me to our little technology area and she started checking cables and looking for flashing lights, similar to what I had done that morning. She grabbed the box next to the router, the router-looking thing that is connected to the antennae, and said that the lights weren’t flashing. I said that I noticed it too but that I actually couldn’t remember if it ever had a flashing light. She confirmed that it did. Though the problem was likely discovered, that’s where her brilliance began to fade.

“I guess it was fried by a lightning strike during the crazy storm last night,” I said to her in French.

“No,” she said, “this was caused by electricity.”

Intrigued by her lack of understanding that lightning is one of the most violent and visible forms of electricity, supposedly inspiring a young Ben Franklin, I paused for a second. “Hmm,” I said. “So what do you think lightning is?”

She stared at me for a second and then said, “These devices are normally blown by electrical surges coming from the wall,” she insisted.

“Well, my guess is that since this was hooked up to a heavy duty surge protector, it wasn’t from the power coming through the wall. Moreover the router, a more delicate piece of technology, is in fine shape. I would say that it is likely that the surge came from the other end - like from a lightning strike directly to the antennae, down the cable and to the machine.”

“Hmm,” she said. “Maybe. Anyway, it needs to be replaced.”

“How long is this going to take?” I asked. 

“It’s 5pm. Won’t be until tomorrow.”

“But you showed up ten minutes ago. If your work is unable to continue after 5pm why did you show up at ten to five??”

“I don’t understand,” she said, maintaining the blank look that she had from the time she arrived.

The exchange led me to believe that she was fairly new to the job or she’d been partying the night before or possibly both. Either way it was a losing battle. Unfortunately for her, my internet expectations have changed in the past few years. Now, rather than coming home in great anticipation as to whether or not the internet is functioning in the evening, I simply expect it to work. And I get all bent out of shape when it doesn’t. I suppose that’s progress. 

So maybe I should focus on the positives. We had a technician arrive at our house the same day that we contacted them (even though it was seven hours later). We had a woman arrive rather than a man demonstrating progress in towards gender imbalance (even though she seemed to have the intellect of a postage stamp). And the lightning didn’t result in any loss of life. There you go. I guess I was a good day after all.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Return

It’s been a while. Lots going on. Lots of travel since I last wrote. Airplanes. Automobiles. Trains. Trams. Buses. Chairlifts. Needless to say, we have been transported over the past month. Nice to limit myself to an automobile for a couple weeks.

Kid alert. 
I apologize in advance if you're not really into photos of kids. The text-only version of this is not available so you'll just have to deal with it. Besides, it's Christmas so lighten up.  If the adults in my family were cuter then this blog may have turned out differently.
hanging out in the Hague
So I’ll back up a bit. The Hague. We spent a night there while we were en route to the US. Good for all of us to get out of the airplane/airports for a few hours. We stayed with our friends there, Anne and Ian. We’ve had a chance to see them a few times since they left Burundi a couple years ago. Good to stay connected with them and have the kids play together.

Kiran and Dad
I skipped the part about us getting stuck in Nairobi and needing to spend the night but I figure people are tired of hearing about our travel mishaps. I’ll just say that it wasn’t pleasant and it’s even worse when this happens with kids. 
don't have much of this where we come from
From Amsterdam we headed west to Minneapolis. Though we were missing our bags (yet another mishap that I won’t discuss), we arrived intact and we had a quick stopover to see our friend Kathy and get reacquainted to sub-freezing temperatures.
Kinaya and Grandma
We then headed south to Louisville and were met by Priya’s family. We would spend the next week and a half with them hanging out, gearing up for Christmas and, of course, doing a bit of work on the side. It’s always a good, relaxing time. I suppose it’s a bit less relaxing with kids as well as Christmas shopping but generally it’s not too intense and we can sort of change gears from our lives in Burundi.
impressive indoor playground in Columbus
We’ve been increasingly been having the discussion as to whether or not we need to travel to the US less frequently. It’s clear that it’s becoming more expensive and cumbersome but it’s a tough call. While the girls are at these tender, young ages, it’s good to have family involved in their lives. It was precious to see them interacting with each member of the families and it’s hard to put a price tag on that. It’s also good for them to be acquainted with the US and all the differences that it entails. So we’ll see. Priya’s brother got engaged while we were there (congrats!) so we will certainly be returning in about 5 months for the wedding. 
Grandpa helping in the playground
the whole gang
  After an enjoyable time, the day after Christmas we saddled up the horses and headed west. Other than arriving at midnight (planned) the trip was relatively easy and we had our bags.
We began the Idaho leg of the trip by relaxing for a couple of days in Boise. Since we have a house now, we stopped by our storage and collected some gear for the cold (and my skis). The idea of keeping our things at our rented house seems to work well and takes some of the pressure off of my siblings to store and keep track of our crap. Living overseas is complicated for a number of reasons and knowing what is where is one of the most annoying. We’re getting better at it though. 

the sibs
From Boise we headed north to McCall. We would be there for three nights and that’s where my family would celebrate its Christmas. It was cold but not unbearably so. We took advantage of the snow to do some skiing and sledding. The time passed quickly, however, and soon we were heading south to stay with my parents for a couple nights. 
making cake pops - first time I'd heard of these things

as we usually do, we got a little carried away
This is also a nice time to relax. Though it was New Year’s Eve, we had zero intention of bringing in the new year awake. We did the American thing – watching football, eating and hanging out. On the 2nd we were back up to Boise to make the last minute preparations for our return to Africa. 
with Cheryl and Pat on Brundage

Curtis and Kiran flying down the hill
It turned out to be more last-minute than we anticipated. Priya and I both misremembered out flight and, while simply checking the weather and its impact on travel for what I thought was the following day, I was more than surprised to see that our plane was taking off in less than five hours. So we began scrambling to get ready, buying a suitcase, last-minute purchases, throwing things into bags, getting the kids ready, etc. Needless to say we pulled it off but it certainly wasn’t the way we intended to depart. 

Up to Amsterdam the travel went well. We were very fortunate to bypass (fly over the top of) a nasty storm in the eastern US. We again stopped in Holland to hang out and give us all a rest. It’s a bit more costly to do this but so far I think we’re in agreement that with the children the age that they are, it’s worth it. Moreover, this time rather than seeing friends we made our way to the zoo. Turned out to be lots of fun and well worth it.

at the zoo
Now, mid-January, we are back in Bujumbura. Routines have begun again. 2014 looks similar to 2013 so far with a few exceptions. Either way, there is a lot very diverse stuff going on. Hard to keep track of it all sometimes. Oh well. Robert Heinlein once said, "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
my girls exploring Amsterdam