(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, June 23, 2017

Diani Beach

"To move freely you must be deeply rooted." 
-Bella Lewitsky, dancer (13 Jan 1916-2004)

I’m on an airplane from Amsterdam to Belgrade as I type this. Transit times are good for writing since I’m cut off from internet. Travel is also generally a reflective time for me, particularly when I’m by myself like I am now – alone in a metal tube with about a 150 other people. After nearly two million miles of travel, I do still enjoy it. I think it will always be a fundamental part of who I am.

It’s different than it used to be, however. Heighten security measures get old fast. The old days of people meeting you at the gate, non-invasive security searches, bringing your own drinks onto the plane, showing up less than an hour before take-off, etc. are long gone. However so is the smoking section. I do remember trying book seats on the front half of the plane since the entire back half of the plane always smelled of smoke (even if there were only 3-5 designated smoking rows depending on the size of the plane). Transatlantic flights were particularly toxic. So I suppose it’s not all bad.

Getting Out
We haven’t ventured out of Nairobi much since we moved here late last year. I suppose there are a number of reasons for this. One is that things have been quite busy since we arrived, setting up the home, figuring things out/getting into new routines. There has also been just general exploration. Nairobi has a lot to offer, particularly compared to where we were. 

Another reason that we probably haven’t ventured out much is that we lost the habit while in Burundi. In Tanzania it seemed like we were always taking off someplace, exploring the many things that the country had to offer. In Burundi a couple of things happened that fundamentally changed our habits. One was children. I know a lot of parents are better at this than I am but I traveling with babies is a bit of a hassle. Embedded in our schedule are a couple of big trips to the US. This sort of sucks the wanderlust out of you and makes you a bit less restless, at least to pack the babies, nappies and other gear to go do something that they will not remember. 

Another event was the insecurity which began in vigor in 2014-2015, around the time the girls weren’t high maintenance babies-toddlers anymore. Expats were being evacuated. My family was for a period as well. My job became a lot more complex. The government became a bit creepier to deal with. Staff were occasionally getting arrested. The international community, for the most part, stopped funding the oppressive regime. Importing goods became more complicated. There were periodic fuel shortages. Etc. At the same time the program in Rwanda was in the process of being phased out and was also demanding a lot of my time. Spending just under 50% of my week away from Bujumbura made me less interested in venturing out and spending even more time away from home.
ah the charm of the arrivals lounge
Diani Beach - May 6-7

Several weeks ago, in the heart of rainy season, we decided to spend a couple of days on the coast. We left on a Friday afternoon. I had meetings until the last minute so I met Priya and the girls at the small-ish airport used primarily for internal/tourist flights in Kenya.
kinda had the beach to ourselves for the weekend
It’s a relatively short flight and we were soon out in the humid warmth of the coast. I was immediately taken back to when we lived in Dar es Salaam. The ground was saturated from the heavy rains and from the airplane you could see considerable flooding. We had considered the challenges of rainy season tourism but the timing worked out well for us and we would hope for at least some sunshine.

It was only a couple of kilometers from the airport to the hotel, most of which was on a muddy, puddly road. The place was quite nice. Not luxurious by any means but it was all that we needed.
Over the course of the next couple of days we would alternate between pool and beach. There was a pretty nice slide that the girls never seemed to tire of, something which caused us to spend more time in the pool. The food was quite nice, particularly for a tourist buffet.
fresh coconuts - he's as good at climbing trees as he is with a knife
There were plenty of monkeys around, mostly the kind that are looking to steal your lunch. But on a couple of occasions we had some rather close views of some beautiful Colobus monkeys. I think they’re quite striking with their long hair.
We also took a couple of tuk-tuks up the road to visit some good friends who were staying in another hotel. In fact they live in our building in Nairobi – coincidence that we went to the same place the same weekend. They had opted for a fancier place and we were quite happy to enjoy it with them for a couple of hours. Strangely, aesthetically their place was far nicer but ours had a nicer beach and, of course, the slide. We had no regrets.
heading back to the airport
Getting ready to land. I’ll soon find out how much Belgrade has changed since I was here about 27 years ago. I’ll blog about that later.
Kinaya sleeping on the flight home

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Drought Continues

Having the hardest time keeping up with this blog. Lots going on. As always, more you have to tell, the less time you have to write about it. 

my leg
I'm sitting in the Nairobi airport watching news about Trump pulling out of the Paris accord. My leg is elevated on a chair due to a slight infection. I had a bit of a fall last weekend as I was teaching Kiran how to ride a bicycle without training wheels. Priya had packed bandages and disinfectant in the case that she wiped out and it turned out to be me. Fortunately I'm comfortable enough in my manhood to handle lots of pick, princess band aids. 

Since the last posting I’ve been back to Somalia, spent a weekend on the Kenyan coast and done numerous other things. I’ll start with the trip to Somalia.

This recent trip I made with my supervisor, Kurt. He’s easy to travel with and overall the trip went pretty well. No question that Mogadishu is a bit complicated regardless of who you are traveling with. I do look forward to the day when the security situation in the city allows for more relaxed trips to the country. 

Though things were not as tense as when I went in December (with the elections) it was nonetheless more restrictive than when I went the last time. The big difference was that we were unable to take the main road heading out towards the area where we support those who have been displaced by the drought. It was unfortunate since they tend to get a boost from these types of visits and I think it would have been interesting for us as well. Alas, it was not meant to be, at least for this time.

At 4-ish on Monday morning the taxi picked up Kurt and proceeded to pick me up and we headed to the airport. We arrived in Mogadishu around the beginning of the workday (though not the work week given that their first day of the week is Sunday). It was a bit time consuming to get through immigration again. I know they’re trying to get their procedures sorted out and we’re also in need to making sure we’re aware of all the changes. Hoping it gets a bit more streamlined soon.
We were soon in the armored vehicle and eventually out of the fortified airport compound. We drove the mile or so to the office, weaving in and out of security barriers and passing through multiple checkpoints. Once in the heavily guarded office compound it’s actually somewhat serene. We went straight up to the guesthouse part of the building, had a bite to eat and discussed our plan for the day. After about 45 minutes, we were back in the vehicle, accompanied by the two armed support vehicles, and we sped off to visit a couple of clinics. I won’t go into details but they were good visits with Kurt asking a lot of good questions about our work. We’ve both done this sort of thing many, many times but he’s done it a lot more than I have.
waiting area of one of the clinics

By late morning we had finished our visits and stopped at the same restaurant on the beach that I’d been to in previous visits. Espresso, grapefruit juice and massive slices of watermelon. I keep saying it, and it’s contrary to what many in the West might think, but Mogadishu was a wonderful and safe city. According to my staff, it likely won’t ever return to the safety that it once had but it has the potential to return to being a great city.
Afternoons are generally not very active in Somalia. People generally work until prayers at 1pm, then have lunch and by the time they’re done the day is mostly gone. The more dedicated return to work but it’s not the norm. The government is trying to crack down on this, particularly with civil servants, but it will take some time to change. If it ever does.
In this case it suited us given that we had plenty to do and the remainder of my day was filled with short meetings with staff and lots of emails.

The next day we had breakfast and basically headed to the airport. Even though the airport is small, the security is as intense as you might imagine. Or more so. The flight to Garowe takes a few hours and soon we were out in the hot, dry desert of Puntland. Our guys were there to pick us up and we were off. It’s about 45 min. from the dirt airstrip to town. There is another airport that is closer but it’s been under repair.
one of the many goat carcasses
The desolation of the drought-impacted area was impressive. Even more impressive was occasionally seeing camels or goats out in the middle of nowhere, emaciated, ribs showing, but hanging on. Over the course of the next couple of days we would end up seeing many dead carcasses near the roadside. The rains were still yet to come at this point and it was getting pretty desperate.
The following day we took a trip to Burtinle, a couple of hours south of Garowe on a pretty bad road. A meeting with a large group of local elders had been arranged and, upon arrival, we immediately found ourselves at the head table.
meeting the elders
While my head of office, Hassan, translated, we listened to speakers one after the other, from the mayor to the council members to other individuals who had something to say. I was quite surprised that most of the comments were quite positive as people were thankful for the work that we had been doing in the area. We have been trucking water to remote communities and various other activities, including supporting a clinic. Of course there were appeals for us to do more. And rightly so. Most in the room were thin and gaunt. Many had lost family members as well as livelihoods (i.e. livestock). It was fantastic to meet with them and put a face to where we work. I told them so and they told me that they were happy to put a face on the person at the other end of the aid they were receiving.
meeting with the Puntland VP
The next day we were off again after breakfast, back to the airport to catch our flight back to Mogadishu and on to Nairobi. The whole trip was less than a week but it feels longer. You fit so much in and you see so much. With the exception of the coming couple of months (Ramadan followed by my vacation), it’s likely that my trips will increase in frequency. There’s a lot going on and it makes more sense for me to spend more time in the country. There’s a commitment by the international community to move more operations from Nairobi to Somalia and we are doing the same. At some point in the future my position will likely be based there. But not yet.