(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.)

Friday, March 31, 2017

Post Holidays and Somalia

Okay, so we’re already into April and I haven’t updated this blog a posting on the holidays. Been busy, you know, with the severe drought and everything. But I’m carving out some time to catch up.

Where was I? Ah, the holidays. After the holidays we were soon back to our routines. The word routine gets a bad rap but in my mind it’s generally something positive. We have accumulated some routines because a) we need to do them and b) because we want to do them. That’s why we do them all the time. Even since I was young I enjoyed having routines. As I get older, I’m likely to be an annoying, rigid old man.
The third week of January the family headed up to the forest in Nairobi to participate in the Women’s March. Admittedly I’m not the activist type. I’ve participated in a couple protests in my life but it’s not really something I do on a regular basis. I’m not sure what that says about me but I don’t think it’s that I lack conviction. It may be more a matter of prioritization of convictions. I tend to be more consumed by things that don’t involve making a sign or standing on a street corner. I have protested in my past but not so much in recent years.
This event was more a walk in the forest with several hundred of our closest friends than a protest. I’m not sure why it took place in an unpopulated area but I’m sure we were instrumental in changing the mindset of hundreds of eucalyptus trees.

In February I made my second trip to Somalia. It was as crazy as the first one but I enjoyed this one a bit more. I went with a colleague, Nicole, who supports us from the regional office. We took the early morning flight on a Monday and were in Mogadishu by about 8:30. After clearing “immigration” we were in the armored vehicle, accompanied by two armed vehicle escorts, and on our way. 

dusty but protected
Unlike last time where we went straight to visit clinics, this time was more civilized. We stopped at the office, had a bite to eat, some coffee, etc. Once we had regrouped, we were off again to visit a couple of our clinics. 
from inside one of the clinics
Given the effort and cost needed to support these trips (especially the security protocols), one needs to make sure that they are effective and strategic. But I do get the sense that staff and local authorities are appreciative of the exchanges and it’s a good opportunity for me to get a better sense of what is going on.

The backdrop this time was the intensifying drought conditions. We’ve been scaling up, raising funds, scaling up even more, generating more funding, etc. The drought was really settling about the same time I was in this new job. It’s not the easiest way to get off the ground in a new position but I’m happy for the opportunity to use my skills in this way. I’ve been doing this work for a long time and, as depressing horrible as the situation is in Somalia, it’s good to be a part of this team and the donors/partners that are all working together to respond. I’ve always preferred to be on the field rather than on the sidelines watching.
the team
hitting the waves
After a little over a day in Mogadishu we were off to Garowe, Puntland. Distances are deceivingly long in Somalia and I was happy to make this trek in an airplane rather than on foot with a herd of camels (though the pastoralist lifestyle does intrigue me).

shelters of the drought displaced
In Garowe we met with the team and were able to fit in a trip further north to Qardho. This is an important area for the drought response. We recently rehabilitated a borehole, supplied it with a sizeable generator, and it is not only providing water to some displaced people who have built shelters nearby, it is used to fill water tankers that are nearly constantly trucking water to desperate villages hundreds of kilometers away. It takes about 40 min. to fill a truck from this borehole which is about 315 meters deep. In some more remote areas we are installing solar pumps to eliminate the need for these poor communities to procure fuel – something we want to expand over the coming months.
wonderful face
We’ve also been doing cash transfers. Donors have caught on that this has proven to be an effective way to assist the most vulnerable. It’s fast (cash to phone), taps into local markets, and people can make their own decisions as to their most urgent needs. We supply phones for those who don’t have them. Amazingly, mobile phone coverage in Somalia is better than many parts of the US.

somewhat of a bag problem
After Garowe we flew back to Nairobi, via Mogadishu. When I first began this position I was concerned that the trips to Somalia would be an unpopular part of my job due to the need for heightened security and the overall fragile situation in the country. In fact it’s turning out to be quite the contrary. It’s a fascinating place and most Somalis I know are optimistic about the future of the country. No one is under the illusion that the road ahead will be easy, particularly in the face of the current drought, but after decades of repeated droughts and civil war most seem to feel that things are headed in the right direction. The new government is in place. Aid is starting to increase. The rains, which are supposed to start now, would be huge right now. We’ll see what happens.
desperately needed water

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