(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.)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Indian Ocean Part One



As usual, things are happening faster than I can post them. To catch up, I should dedicate this brief posting to my week in Zanzibar. It was for work so not a lot of interesting non-work things happened. I also didn’t have a chance to roam about the island due to my limited time and full schedule. Moreover, I needed to get back to Bujumbura for the weekend, pack a bag, pick up the family and head to the Seychelles. From one Indian Ocean island to another, with an out and back to the middle of the Africa in between.
A Zanzibar morning

I met up with several of my colleagues in the Nairobi airport and we occupied about half of the small plane. It’s a relatively short flight from Nairobi but we’d had a 7-hour layover. It made the day rather long altogether.
where we stayed

Getting out of the plane in the dark, humid night took me instantly back to living in Dar es Salaam. The smells and the feel in the air were very familiar to me. It was weird coming back. Not only had I been there several times while living in Tanzania, it was where I was married. I suppose I have a sentimental attachment to the place.
fishing at 6am

There was an air conditioned bus waiting to pick us up. The airport is the same as it always was though there is a new one under construction about a kilometer away. It will be nice but I know that I’ll miss the dingy charm of this airport. 
a dhow and a sunset

The drive to the hotel took about 45 minutes. The island was dark, as I remembered it. Some of the small shops had gas lamps out for their late evening clients. Every once in a while we’d pass a large, lighted building – most of them built since my last trip to the island in 2009.
best photo I've taken from an airplane window

We pulled into the hotel compound. Very nice place and I was happy to finally get there, check in and go to my room. They’d turned on the AC in advance so the room as nice and cool. I fired up my computer to check some emails before going to bed. I didn’t expect much since it was a Sunday night. Unfortunately I was wrong. A few hours earlier, while I was sipping on  a drink in the Nairobi airport, there was a massive landslide south of Bujumbura wiping out several hundred homes, a couple of schools, churches and health clinics. As if abject poverty and election tensions/insecurity were not enough… I would be up until 1am on the phone and on my computer tracking down staff back in Burundi to set up our response to support the victims. A sobering way to start my week.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

To Zanzibar...for work unfortunately



I’m in the Nairobi airport with a long layover. I’m headed to Zanzibar for meetings. Since they’ve built a new terminal, it’s actually quite nice. It used to be one of the more horrible airports on earth. It was hot. There wasn’t room to walk, particularly with people lying about here and there. It was designed for a different era – maybe one before airplanes existed.

I’m in the new lounge with a colleague. The TV is on with the sound off. One show you often see, including on the airplanes sometimes, is the equivalent of the old Candid Camera. Some sort of version of the show is done in many different countries as I have witnessed in my many travels. They have a hidden camera and they film people they have intentionally put in some sort of awkward situation. It can be funny in sort of funny though I get tired of it pretty quickly. The Kenyan version has a slightly different take on it than what I’ve seen elsewhere. In between emails I glanced up at the TV, not hard to do since it’s the size of a wall-mounted door. One scene had two guys in a tree, apparently in a Nairobi park. One had a knife to the neck of the other. As the victim looked panicked and was yelling for help, people were filmed walking on the path below them to see their reactions to what was allegedly happening in the tree. 

contrasting reactions generated by our pet turtle
I looked at my colleague and we shared a look of astonishment. I turned to my right to see a Kenyan waiter who had taken a break in his day to watch for a few minutes. He was cracking up – clearly a different sense of humor. Too bad he didn’t stick around to see the next sketch where they messed with a disabled guy.  

I was chatting the other day with one of my Burundian finance staff. We were talking about business continuity during crisis. While we have no idea if things will spin out of control over the next few weeks and months, the possibility is very real. We have the obligation to make sure that we are prepared for whatever happens.

the flower of a tree in our garden
The purpose of the discussion was to think through each of our critical tasks and make sure that in case of crisis we can accomplish what we need to do. She said that she was a child during the beginning of the war. It was apparently quite nasty. It was not uncommon to see slain bodies by the roadside. All through the war, however, life went on. Businesses continued to operate. Banks, the primary focus of my question, did too. It was not necessarily business as usual. Inflation was terrible. Goods were frequently unavailable since importation (by land) was challenging. But generally people plugged on and the people are resilient. It was a sad yet comforting conversation. I’d like to think that things will stay calm but there are many indicators pointed to unrest. As I often say, I don’t get paid to be an optimist.

More later from Zanzibar.