(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 31, 2016

Reality and TV

The other evening we were watching Homeland. We don't watch much TV but there area few shows we've downloaded and it's a nice break once in a while. But Homeland is a bit stressful to watch, particularly since I have all the killing and drama I need in this neck of the world. But it’s so well done and we’re too far in. Need to keep going. Anyway, at one point a guy is sneaking his way into a dark, occupied house. His gun is at the ready. It’s tense. All of the sudden there’s gunfire. I look at Priya since for a second since I wasn’t sure where it was coming from. We quickly realized it was coming from outside rather than from the show. 

It was yet another reminder of why I generally steer clear of violent shows. The bloodshed just doesn’t have any appeal for me. Nearly every day in Bujumbura a body is found tortured and killed. Often more than one. Hard to say how long this is going to go on but there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Negotiations aren’t happening and there is no question that we’re in for a long, bumpy road.

Our work goes on. In fact we’re looking to expand our rapid response capabilities. We have experts here to help us put it into place. In addition to the political crisis, the country faces terrible landslides and flooding. It is the hungriest country in the world and malnutrition is going through the roof. We’re looking to hone in on some of these humanitarian developments and fill some needed gaps. 

don't try this at home
Flooding has been bad in parts of Bujumbura. One morning I was driving through the flooded area in the photo below. It was a bit worse than in the picture at the time and it was probably not the smartest thing to do. Water was above my wheel wells and I kept waiting for the engine to give out as I crept across (about 100m or so). After I got about 2/3 of the way through, I was thinking my chance were pretty good. On the other side of the median a large bus was powering through in the other direction. He was creating a rather large wake and sure enough, the wave hit me and completely submerged my Land Cruiser in the chocolate milk-colored water (fortunately my windows were closed). Still the motor kept running and I came out the other side. As I have said in other precarious situations on this continent, long live Toyota.

flooding on my way home from work
Funding for the country is in short supply. In addition to the fact that the world has never seen more crises than we are experiencing today, many of them are impacting the West much more directly and generating far higher numbers. As such, less funding is available for our crisis. In addition, government donors who have been supporting the country have suspended the funding – cutting a 50% hole in the budget. The 250 thousand people that have fled the country due to the crisis are having a further impact in that they are not here buying things nor paying taxes. It’s going to get uglier. 

We’re trying to keep funding coming in, however. I’m headed to Washington DC and NY in a couple of weeks for meetings. It’s important to keep this situation on people’s radar. I’ve been in regular contact with different embassies and UN agencies. It seems like a drop in the bucket at times but it really is possible to alleviate some of the suffering – suffering that is inflicted on people to no fault of their own.  

A couple of the actors from Homeland have been good supporters of our organization and the work we're doing with refugees. If I have a chance to meet them I intend to let them know how stressful their show is, particularly for those of us who live in a pretty intense environment. Too good to bail on it though. 

“It has been said that a pretty face is a passport. But it's not; it's a visa, and it runs out fast.”
 -Julie Burchill, writer and journalist (b. 1959)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Trip to US

A quick rant
I'm on an airplane as I type. The drink cart just came by and I ordered drinks for my 4-year-old seat mate and me. While attending to some important matter regarding the location of a particular colored crayon, the drinks were set before us full of ice. Americans have an obsession with ice in drinks (this was an American airline). I’m not sure where it comes from. I know of no country on earth that loads drinks with more ice, whatever the time of year, however hot the country. While I like a cold drink, why should one assume I need ice? I do like a cold drink cold but given that most cold drinks are stored in refrigeration (including fountain drinks), it seems like the server should at least ask the question. People would be surprised how cold they are served without those little taste-diluting chunks of frozen water. People know enough not to put ice in beer or white wine (thankfully) so why should other drinks be any different? Foreigners are always caught off guard coming to the US, beginning of course on US airlines, when servers dump tons of ice in drinks without informing them or asking them if they would like it. Used to drive my ex crazy. I suppose it would drive me crazy too except now I have the habit of declining it if given the chance. End rant.

So yes, speaking of ice, we have been to America. The trip is now over, or mostly over, but it was another good one. And we certainly needed a break. 

The departure
The drama began as it often does, before we even left the Bujumbura airport. We've experienced all sorts of excitement at this stage of travel in the past and we sort of brace ourselves each time. One time there was (surprise) no airplane and we had to go home. Another was a seriously delayed flight that kept us (including two small children) penned up in the waiting area being devoured for hours by mosquitoes. Missing or incorrect reservations. Etc. This time is was an impeccably timed tempest that happened to hit as we were checking in. Given that the airport is partially open-air, the horizontal flow of the rain directed it inside. It kept getting worse. Computers were getting soaked as well as staff and passengers. Eventually we were directed into back rooms to wait it out. I was one of the first to come out and took a quick shot of the empty terminal with one or two inches of water on the floor.

We eventually checked in and after a delay, caught our flight to Nairobi. The drama continued, however, because we would end up missing our connection from there to Amsterdam. This has almost become normal. It amounts to a chaotic transition from airport to hotel for about two or three hours and then back for an early morning flight. It would be a pain even in an efficient airport but in Nairobi it's hellish. 

unfazed by the airport drama and providing free entertainment
St. Paul
Eventually we carried on and made it to Minnesota. It’s become sort of a tradition to stop and stay a couple nights with our friend Kathy. It was not as cold as it normally is this time of year and in fact they didn’t even have any snow. Nonetheless, it was still a warm-up for the colder weather to come.While we were there we fit in some fun at a children's science museum and some wonderful time just hanging out.

From there we headed south to Louisville. Priya’s family was there to meet us. At some point that was a tradition in my own family but it has since faded. Occasionally we have someone pick us up and/or meet us but nowadays, particularly since we’re renting our own car, we just show up and start our visit on our own.

We quickly settled into Priya’s parent’s place. It’s a very comforting and relaxing place to hang out. We would spend the next couple of weeks doing a bit of shopping, entertaining the girls, eating and just enjoying the time with family. The weather was particularly mild and that enabled us to spend a bit more time outside than we normally do. 
Charlestown Christmas lights - just before dropping my camera
One bonus was seeing our friend Stefan and his family. I met them in India several years ago and it was nice to see them again. Though they live in India, he’s in the US attending some sort of school.
We usually stay through Christmas and then soon after make our way out West. This time was no different. It was sad to leave but other obligations awaited us.
a new-ish pedestrian bridge across the Ohio River

angel decorating

We arrived in Idaho on the 27th. The plan was for a brief stay in Boise, head to our storage, grab winter/ski gear and then head up to McCall the following day. It is sort of Idaho’s second ski resort behind Sun Valley. Both are great destinations though quite different. I relish opportunities to hang out at either.

sledding in McCall
Day one was particularly cold and we spent time sledding, adjusting to the temperature and testing out our gear. In the afternoon I went up on the mountain to downhill ski with my sister Cheryl and brother-in-law Pat. By day two we were on the mountain as a family. It was Kiran’s first day skiing and she did quite well. The day didn’t start off well, however. She had a complete meltdown, adamant that she did not want to ski. We almost wavered but we were banking on the assumption that it was more the fear of the unknown. We were glad we stayed the course. Cheryl and Pat did a brilliant job with her and I think we broke the ice, so to speak and she’ll hopefully be amenable to going again. Priya was even able to get in a few short runs.

Kiran's first day on skis - going up is almost as much fun as going down
After McCall we headed to Boise for our family party. It was great as usual. We even hosted a larger gathering of extended family and friends. Good to see people I hadn’t seen for a while. After all the festivities in Boise we drove south to stay with my parents for a few days. Like Priya’s parents, it was particularly relaxing and good to get some down time before heading back to Burundi. 
auntie and uncle
the big dinner

the top of Brundage

Uncle Curtis - a bit scratchy

all smiles as CJ takes over chauffeuring duties
Homeward bound
All the while we’d been tracking the situation back home. We knew that if the situation deteriorated there was a chance that Priya and the girls would possibly return to southern Indiana and I would go to Bujumbura by myself. As of this morning, there was nothing to lead us to change our plans of returning. So we are on our way. As I mentioned before, no one knows how this is going to pan out but we are well prepared. It’s not the Bujumbura we once knew but it’s still quite a wonderful place.
As I look out the airplane window our eastward flight makes the sun set rapidly. There is a pink glow illuminating the cirrus clouds and there is snow on the ground as far as the eye can see. Before too long we’ll be back in the tropics. Which reminds me that my ginger ale is still cold – in spite of the lack of ice.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The End of a Tough Year

It’s been a while. I will refrain from talking about how busy I’ve been. But I’ve been busy. 

I’m in the US. Vacation is coming to an end. So much has happened since my last posting I’ll briefly try to recap and then mention my vacation later. 

After my trip to NY, a lot of things began to happen. I started getting some resignations due to the insecurity in Burundi, primarily from expatriate staff. I knew it was coming since most organizations have made their positions unaccompanied. Given that most of my international staff have families, it was a matter of time. 
Father Christmas visiting Kinaya's daycare in December
 Some left rather quickly, some are still phasing out. In the end we’ll end up with fewer expats and those that are there will likely not have families, or certainly not children. Though I don’t think it’s necessarily unsafe, it can be unpleasant at times. The sound of gunfire and grenade blasts are difficult to explain to children and it’s not an ideal situation. The situation for Burundians is generally far worse since it’s affecting them directly, often in their neighborhoods. 

a very cool computer facility we're running in the camps
Also facing me were a few key visits. Such things are a challenge on one’s schedule even if they do not come at the end of the year and in the run up to the holidays. In this case it ended up being a bit crazy. But by sleeping less and taking advantage of little opportunities here and there to sneak in some extra work, I made it to the airport in mid-December relatively unscathed. 

We are currently on a flight heading back to Burundi. The country still remains in disarray. The violence seems to ebb and flow. Much of the expat population has left. It’s hard to know where this is headed. Negotiations aren’t getting off the ground and even if they do, it seems that there will be an impasse. The government doesn’t seem interested in compromise nor does the opposition. In the meantime, the economic and humanitarian situation continues to decline. As usual, the general population is taking the biggest hit. 
the adventure awaits - not long before we left for the US
For now we need to focus on the dire humanitarian situation. What we’re doing is a drop in the ocean of what needs to be done but nonetheless, it is making a difference. The country needs to know that the international community is not turning its back on them during this trying time. One thing I keep telling my staff (and often myself) is that this crisis will end at some point. We need to make sure that the population is supported not only to get through this but to become more self-sufficient once it’s over. Soon, we hope.