Monday, April 22, 2013

Under the Bridge

I posted this on facebook a couple weeks ago, but I forgot to post it here. Here it is now: I have a lot of things I want write about New York still. I learned a lot and I want to get it down before I forget it all. DDR, the Arms Trade Treaty, the New Humanitarianism,the Model UN, Disaster Management in Bangladesh, Ecosystem-Based Adaptation and Development. All these exciting ideas that I have scraped the surface of in the last three months, that are swirling around in my mind and begging to be written down before they evanesce into the back ground of the ongoing adventure that is my life. And I will do that. I need to. But right now, what I really want to talk about is New York itself. One night last week, I was standing at the subway contemplating my imminent departure and watching a rat eat a Starbucks cup. A man on the other side of the platform was playing a heartbreaking song on the violin. The odd person would put money in his violin case and he would nod and keep playing. In that moment, for some reason, I realized how much I love New York City. Experiences flashed through my mind. Running to make it to my kickboxing class at 7 am, eating one dollar pizza, walking those two freezing blocks from the subway station to my house, that little culvert by DC2 that smells like pee, the view of the east river from the 25th floor of DC1, the fireworks on New Years Eve, studying at Starbucks at 3am with Caroline, discussing Islam with Hadi in a restaurant in Chinatown, drinking coffee with Christine in the Russian Tea Room, arriving at Grand Central Station, walking home from Avenue U when I fell asleep on the subway, taking the bus to Boston with John, running in Central Park with Jerreh, dancing with Aaron, sneaking into receptions at the UN with Merel and Lise, standing on top of the Empire State Building with Nandor and Giulia. Drinking Jack Daniels on second avenue with Seb and Nandor, seeing forty people show up to dinner at the Stag’s Head Pub to say goodbye, walking through a water fountain. My heart swelled up with the intensity of all the experiences I have had there. There’s a raw energy in that city that I picked up with enthusiasm and absorbed into myself, desperately trying to experience everything. It was exhausting, but thrilling. Its not that I love my other cities less. Mombasa,Vancouver, Toronto. But more that my heart expanded to include another city. Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have felt this way. Sometimes I feel like I’m always leaving. Each part of my heart that belongs to a city has to stay there when I leave. I have to tear myself away from it like a Daemon in His Dark Materials. It’s still connected but no longer part of me. Fragments of my heart live all over the world, ready for me to claim them when I return. Maybe I’ll never be whole again, but I have so many places to go back to, and great memories from the places to which I’ll never return. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make for that feeling of bittersweetness that the time of my life just doesn’t quite capture. For Anthony Kiedis, Los Angeles was a companion. Maybe she did love him. I think New York is too proud and in a way too damaged to show love to its inhabitants. You can drive yourself crazy trying to keep up with it, impress it. Catch its attention. But as hard as you try, you can never count on it loving you back. I think that’s why you find bitter people there and there who have been chewed up and spit out by the city that never sleeps. Or maybe it’s me that starts the arguments. Maybe New York has already started to change me. Of course arguing doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There was one day during the Model UN conference where one of the staff said something backhandedly offensive, and without getting into any details in this very public arena, I will say that I stood up and told him in no uncertain terms that I was offended by what he’d said and this is why. Several of the chairs told me after that they had wanted to stand up and hug me on the spot. Having put myself through living there (albeit for only three months), I must say I leave New York now with a feeling of empowerment. I really think I took on the challenge of living there and excelled at it. I think being a UN/NY intern is something I am good at, and that is a good feeling. Sometimes I worry that my true potential to do good in the world is hindered by my stubborn attempt to do things I’m not actually good at. So it’s always nice when I discover a talent I didn’t know I had. I should clarify that I’m not talking about arguing, although I did a decent amount of that. I’m actually talking about my work, and more importantly for the sake of this note, my social life. I have never been an exceptionally social person, but in New York, I was the one getting text on Friday night from everyone asking where we were going and what was going on that weekend. People at work don’t believe me when I tell them I’ve never been a social mobilizer. But I found myself in that position there and I loved it. I loved organizing and attending events, connecting and making friends with so many different people. And even though the time was short in the big scheme of our lives, all of us were looking for connections and emotional feedback, so many of the bonds felt very powerful. It’s funny how you can know almost nothing about someone but feel so close to the mat the same time. Now it goes without saying that it was the people that really made my experience in New York. Most of the experiences mentioned above have names associated with them. And lets be honest, the buildings are impressive, but without the people… well it would probably still be impressive. But if I try to think of what some of my best memories were …. Well I hinted at some of them already. They all involve people. Lovely, wonderful, interesting, amazing people. In the last two weeks, I’ve tried to cram in as much visiting and sightseeing as possible. During the week of the Model UN, I worked 14 hour days, but I still made an effort to see my UN friends every night. This culminated in one lovely shipwreck of a night and I would like to thank Nandor for his assistance in my time of need, and for the new umbrella. I also made some wonderful friends at the Model UN. On the weekend before I left, I tried to see as many sights as possible. On Saturday, I went with Guilia and Sherlita, two of the staff from the Model UN, from Italy and Bangladesh respectively, and we went on an adventure to the Staten Island Ferry and saw the Statue of Liberty. We also saw a really excellent street show where these three guys from the Bronx did a whole comedy routine that was a build up to a feat of acrobatics that turned out to be a little disappointing. But man did they milk the crowd for money. What a racket. They got bystanders to come into the circle to be part of the act, then allowed their loved ones to pay for their release. They made a lot of jokes about stealing money, like “hey where are you from?” “New York.” "No, you look rich, I mean like what apartment?” It was a gorgeous day and the ferry was lovely. After that we met Nandor in town and went up the Empire State Building. The line was long, and the little ride you have do go on first – a virtual helicopter tour of New York – was pretty cheesy, but the view was amazing. I have some pictures, but of course they will never have a hope of doing it justice. What I learned that day was that, like so many things in the world, New York looks the most impressive from far away. That night we went dancing at the Jane Hotel, a great place close to the water on the west side. I wish we had gotten their earlier, and I would like to try to return there one day. On Sunday, Nandor and I visited Lower Manhattan. We went to Ground Zero, which has a very impressive monument to the Twin Towers and a great view of the new World Trade Center building, the “Freedom Tower”. Then we walked around and checked out the Financial District, the New York Stock Exchange, a couple interesting statues. I climbed up a statue of George Washington. It was a bit wet and cold, but still thoroughly enjoyable. Then we met up with Guilia and went for a drink with John and some of his Canadian classmates who are interning with the federal government. On Tuesday night, I had a going away dinner. I made a reservation at the Stag’s Head Pub for about 15 to 20 people. About 40 showed up. I can’t express how heart warming it was to see so many people come out to say goodbye to me. I think about the older generation of interns – Sonia, Michelangelo, Caroline, Eugenia, Christine (I don’t mention Hadi or Aaron because they’re still there), and how everyone was so sad to see them go and I felt like maybe all the new people now feel the same way about me. How amazing that I am potentially as loved as they were. Following my goodbye dinner, we went out for drinks. Then we had lunch the next day and went out again on Thursday night. By the end of it, everyone had said goodbye to me about twenty times. I was a complete basket case by the time I got on the plane. I’m so glad I actually made it to Holland. And now I’m moving on again. Two weeks in Holland and then on to Kenya/More new places, more experiences, more people, more goodbyes. The sadness of leaving is definitely worth the fun of being there. Mr Kiedis never wanted to feel like he did that day. Me, I’m looking forward to a lifetime of it.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pillars, Papers and Practicality

Thank you again for taking the time to read my blog. I realize that much of my last couple entries have been devoted to inane babble about New York (New York is pretty awesome), so I appreciate you bearing with me. For this one, I want to try something a little more focused. I realize that the vast majority of my friends are educated, intelligent and experienced in a variety of fields, and I would like to take advantage of that as well, and run a couple ideas past you guys. I will also edit this time. I have recently realized that I never regret editing, and I should really incorporate it into my life more. Not just in writing. One of the things I’ve been trying to do while I’m here in New York is find some contacts that I can use to do research for my Major Research Paper (which is like a Thesis, but I don’t have to defend it). I want to do something that will be useful for people working in “The Field”. (The Field is an abstract location where you interact directly with the beneficiaries of projects and programmes you are working on, rather than just reading the progress reports or looking at the pictures in a glossy booklet you stole from the UNDP office. For the record, I don’t steal.) Now, as a research parameter, “useful in the field” is clearly very broad (What is useful? What is “The Field”?), so let me try to narrow it down a bit more. I am interested in how international organizations manage human-caused disasters (intentional, civil, or political disasters; read wars, organized crime, terrorism, riots), especially in fragile or developing contexts. By studying the successes and failures of international efforts, and by applying concepts of disaster and emergency management, I want to be able to make recommendations for the management of future situations. When I explain this idea, many people’s first reaction is “Oh, that’s not what we do here.” Most people don’t think of conflicts, etc, as “disasters” (they think disasters are natural: earthquakes, famines, floods) and therefore managing them is not thought of as “disaster management”. I’ve had this discussion a bunch of times. Here is an, I hope, elucidatory quote from a book on social vulnerability and structural violence called "At Risk": "Disasters, especially those that seem principally to be caused by natural hazards, are not the greatest threat to humanity. Despite the lethal reputation of earthquakes, epidemics and famine, a much greater proportion of the world’s population find their lives shortened by events that often go unnoticed: violent conflict, illnesses, and hunger – events that pass for normal existence in many parts of the world, especially (but not only) in less developed countries (LDCs). Occasionally earthquakes have killed hundreds of thousands, and very occasionally floods, famines or epidemics have taken millions of lives at a time. But to focus on these (in the understandably humanitarian way that outsiders do in response to such tragedies) is to ignore the millions who are not killed in such events, but who nevertheless face grave risks. Many more lives are lost in violent conflict and to the preventable outcome of disease and hunger. Such is the daily and unexceptional tragedy of those whose deaths are through ‘natural’ causes, but who, under different economic and political circumstances, should have lived longer and enjoyed a better quality of life." So when an estimated five million people die in Congo as a result of poverty, rape, and hunger, as well as violence directly resulting from the ongoing conflict, that is a disaster. 5 million deaths, I would argue, is a bigger disaster than pretty much anything since World War II, including a large number of epidemics, tsunamis and hurricanes. Before that, the last comparable disaster was probably the bubonic plague. Don’t quote me on that please. 2 million people have died in the Sudanese Civil War that resulted in the recent creation of South Sudan. 500 000 plus have died in Somalia since that Black Hawk went down. Those are only deaths, too. Tens of millions have been displaced, lost their families, their livelihoods, been injured, raped, etc. And clearly, my focus here is central Africa, but this says nothing of ongoing civil/political disasters in Syria, Palestine, Mali… I don’t think anyone can argue that these are not disasters. So now that we agree on that (and thank you for still being here, those who agreed from the start), I think we can also agree that what the UN does, and the African Union, NATO, the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, etc, etc, in conflict areas is absolutely disaster management. And indeed, it even fits the model of comprehensive emergency management (CEM). CEM, FYI, is a combination of Mitigation, Prevention, Preparedness, Response and Recovery (look at that Paul I learned from you!). For emergency management to be successful, these five things should ideally occur at the same time. What that looks like practically is that while a community recovers from a disaster, they should be simultaneously mitigating, preventing and getting ready for the next one. To use a local (for me) example, instead of just building another Twin Towers, New York is building an uber hella bomb proof Liberty Tower, amping up the police and fire personnel in the city, and making everyone go through crazy customs on their way through the airport, all of which are designed not just to help the city recover from 9/11, but also to prevent and prepare for another attack, and reduce the potential for harm if another attack occurs (mitigation). (I should disclaim here that there is a huge series of debates among emergency managers about the idea of “homeland security”, the least of which is that mitigation and preparedness should not focus on the disaster that just happened but on the one that is most likely to happen next – so the Liberty Tower should really be stopping global warming and curing Ebola instead of resisting bombs. This was just a simplified example, so please don’t get carried away with the comments anyone). Back to my point: conflict management = emergency management. So what I have been exploring here in the big apple is how the UN manages complex humanitarian emergencies that involve human-caused disasters. I have met with a few very interesting people, and am planning to meet more, and I am gaining an idea of what is done, what can be done, and what “should” be done by the international community when it comes to managing human-caused disasters. It is very complex and incredibly broad. Everything from capacity building in conflict or fragile contexts to disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, to military intervention is arguably part of the comprehensive emergency management of human-caused disasters. Even addressing injustice and inequality is part of it, because without injustice, wars wouldn’t start in the first place. In fact, some would say that addressing injustice is the MOST important. I would say, just as in CEM theory, all these things need to happen at the same time, as they are all pillars of an effective emergency management strategy. So here’s the problem: What should I study? I can’t say “the international community should do everything”. That would be either an incredibly short or an impossibly long research project. If I narrow my focus to the effectiveness of one certain intervention (say, for example, I study how effective reintegration of child soldiers by DPKO has been in western Congo) is that actually going to make a noticeable contribution? How much would this one little piece of knowledge strengthen the portico that is disaster management? Would it even do much for one pillar? In reality, my little contribution would probably just be a grain of sand mixed into the concrete that made the pillar. Of course, some research can be incredibly significant. If my hypothetical paper is a grain of sand, then I might argue that some research projects are more like rocks that got mixed into the concrete, so they bear a bit more of the weight of the pillar. Some bigger rocks, some smaller. That experiment with the dogs that salivated when the bell rang – that was definitely a huge rock in a psychology pillar. I mean, so huge and obvious that it probably disfigured the pillar. Same with that experiment with the people that got designated as prison inmates and the guards and they internalized their roles. I’m obviously not arrogant enough to think that my research could be a disfiguringly huge rock in an emergency management pillar, but it would be nice if it was noticeable. Or useful, I suppose. Structural. Like maybe a golf-ball-sized rock that is part of the foot at bottom of the pillar; you don’t see when you walk by it but it helps hold the thing up. Ok, that pillar thing got out of hand. Suffice to say that I am struggling with focusing my research ideas because I want my paper to be practical. Any insights or advice?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What Happened to January?

So it’s been more than a month, and I suppose it is about time I write another blog. I have to make time for it apparently because I am so busy. Right now, I’m trying to fit it in between going for brunch/a snowy walk around Central Park with one of my co-interns John who in addition to interning at UNDP is also a spokesperson for UNICEF and Ono, who if I remember right is the country director of Save the Children in Pakistan, and meeting a group of Swahili students and native speakers at an African themed coffee shoppe in Manhattan called Bourbon Coffee. I am still loving life in New York. I feel like I always have a hundred things to do, and there is just not enough time in the day to do it all. When I have (much needed) downtime, I worry that I could be using the time to go see the Empire State building or visiting other interns or networking. Sometimes it can be tiring, but mostly its fun. This coming weekend, I have the option of going to Boston for a conference, going on a ski trip with some of the interns, or volunteering with Hurricane Sandy relief. So many great choices. Everyday at work I have been trying to go for lunch with people and go to interesting meetings or seminars in different parts of the UN. In order to finish my work, I often stay late, provided I don’t have some commitment after work. On Monday, I’m doing a kickboxing class (I desperately need to start exercising again – 99 cent pizza is killing me). Tuesday is my intermediate French Class and Wednesday is Debate Club. Thursday is one dollar drafts at McFadden’s pub. I usually spend at least nine hours a day at the UN, then hang out after. It’s a good night when I get home before midnight and then my alarm goes off at 6:30 for work. I almost never have a chance to cook, hence the 99 cent pizza, but I have been pretty good about eating breakfast and I usually have a stash of vegetables to eat in the fridge at work for when I don’t have time to go to the cafeteria. Everyone here is very career oriented. It is strange sometimes how much weight is placed on your academic background and your qualifications. And everyone is constantly networking. Interestingly, that does not make things unfriendly. We all want to have a good time, but we also all want to get the most out of their short time here. It’s not a competition; we support each other. When you meet a new intern, everyone goes down through the same list of questions: What’s your name? What country are you from? What department are you interning at? How long are you here for/have you been here for? What is your degree in/what school do you/did you go to? What do you want to do for your career? If you know someone that would be a good contact for that person, you let them know, and they do the same for you. Then the conversation usually finishes with something like “do you know about the trip to the Museum of Modern Art this Friday?” I’m now a member of the UN Interns Social Committee and an admin on both the UN Interns NYC facebook group and the UN Interns Discussion Group, so I’m often the one telling people where the next event is. Who knew I was so social. In addition to networking, partying and going to lunch, I have been doing a lot of work with the Development Account. We have some very interesting projects that we are reviewing right now that work with governments in developing countries to help them gain the capacity to handle potentially detrimental issues they face like poverty, lack of housing and infrastructure, statistics, macroeconomic policy, etc. Actually, Ian Lewis, you would absolutely kill this job. I’m looking for a replacement in April, so if you want to come work at the UN, for free, let me know and I can put in a good word. It’s really fun. If anyone else is interested, also let me know. I’d love to help someone I know get this opportunity. Anyway, we still have review group meetings almost every day and I take notes and help prepare funding proposals. I have learned a lot about proposal writing, which I think will be quite helpful in the future. There is really an art to project writing, as one woman said in a recent meeting. She was telling my supervisor that the Development Account really ought to do some training courses on project writing so that they don’t have to get tons of e-mails back from the DA complaining about how they have “excessive budgetary reliance on outside expertise” or “an illogically formulated problem tree”. They talk a lot about “log frames” in the review group meetings, which I have come to understand very well. I believe it is short for logical framework, and is essentially the logical way that the objective, expected accomplishments, indicators of achievement and activities work together to make a cohesive project. It is all very academic in way, and I spend the large part of my work day sitting at a computer and drinking coffee. But it is very invaluable for someone interested in the kind of career that I am. Now those of you who know what my degree is might well ask how this all relates to Emergency Management. I have definitely asked myself that question. I would say that, and I will need to answer it in an essay if I want to get credit for this work experience. So I would argue that directly, it doesn’t. Indirectly, good governance is the only way that developing countries can be expected to take responsibility for disaster mitigation, prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. For example, the new governments in South Sudan and Somalia need help with disarmament and reintegration of combatants, and conversion of the government from one that relies military authority to one that is able to provide justice, healthcare and education. These kinds of programs are not only capacity building but also emergency management. Along the same lines, one of the biggest factors in the impact of a disaster (whether its an earthquake, a war or global warming) is the structural vulnerabilities of people affected. Capacity building projects help reduce this vulnerability, and therefore the effects of disasters, by giving governments, civil society and other stakeholders the tools they need to reach the people in the most vulnerable positions and increase their resiliency. So there. Rant over. Before I go, let me think if there have been any other noteworthy stories lately. I went to the Museum of Natural History and saw the dinosaur bones. And I think the place where Ross and Rachael hooked up on their first date. Shut up I know it’s fiction. Shanthi, an intern from India/Dubai and I ended up getting lost from everyone so we went for dinner just the two of us and had a nice time. She is very interesting, and she loved my Africa stories. We also had a couple of excellent party-type outings in the last few weeks, including one amazing night where McFadden’s went crazy and people were dancing on the bar and stuff. Christine, my Swedish co-intern is an incredible dancer. Seriously, Christine, you have a talent! It was also the night that I hung out with some New York City Fire Fighters, for those who have seen my facebook wall post. They were all quite nice looking. One was talking to me and Kara and Christine and said that all our English was really good. Considering I was from Canada and Kara is Australian and Christine is Swedish. Christine was like, “you know that comment only applies to me, right? Because they speak English in Canada and Australia.” He didn’t know that. It was quite hilarious for us. Last weekend I went out with John and Yuki and a couple of John’s friends, Annie from Australia and Jasmijn from Holland, and some of Yuki’s New York friends, including the first guy I’ve met who is actually from New York. We went to some really fun places they knew in the lower east side and had a really good time there as well. Last night Yuki and John and Annie and their new roommate Jeremy all hung out and had a few drinks and chatted. It was all us lofty UN types and then Jeremy who is a high fashion photographer. So he was an interesting wrench in our self-congratulatory idealism. He said that he used to want to be a war photographer, but then he realized that humanitarian photography is just as voyeuristic as fashion photography, and at least they don’t pretend otherwise in the fashion world. The ethics of humanitarianism are very interesting to me, so we had a good conversation. Shade, I talked to him about you. I’m sure you can imagine how that conversation made me think of you. Well, I think that’s all the major bullet points. Time to move on to another one of my many pending tasks. Hope you are all having a wonderful winter. Georgia

Thursday, January 17, 2013

New York's Eve, etc

Hey all! So I’ve decided to resurrect my blog for my internship at the UN. I will be working here in New York for three months, while gaining credits towards my Masters in Disaster and Emergency Management from Old York University. A few people have been asking for news and it seems like this is the best way to get a new to everyone without spending too much time. And besides, even if no one reads it, it’s good for memories. A blog is like a diary that doesn’t take up space in your secret window bench. Wait. What are you talking about, I don’t have one of those. So, I realize that my blog is called Georgia’s African Blog, and I know I’m not in Africa, but I figure I can spin it. I mean, the UN is a step for me on the way to (hopefully) important work in developing countries, and I love Africa, so I hope to end up there again for work. Therefore, I argue, this internship is part of what I might call my Africa career trajectory, and is consequently acceptable as subject matter for my African blog. Ok, so about New York. Let me start with my first day. I got off the plane super early in the morning and had to find my way to 79th Street in Brooklyn. That’s right, I now live in Brooklyn. It’s a 3 bedroom apartment with currently 6 people living in it. (Not currently, one guy moved out a few days ago.) In any case, they might as well make a TV show about it. It’s me, Nikki, who was my contact before I arrived. She’s very friendly and organized, and she does fundraising for non-profit organizations. Oscar, who’s from Peru and does product design. He’s always got some idea for an invention of something, like most recently it was re-moldable sand paper. You can reshape it so it fits into corners and stuff. John works for a huge bank downtown and has a sweet office – although not anymore I guess because he's the one that moved out. I think he's in DC now. I bet he’ll have an even better office. Anastasia is Russian and recently arrived in Canada. I rarely see her cause she works crazy hours at a restaurant. Nikki’s sister also stays with us. And me, that makes 6. We all get along pretty well, so it’s going to be a bit sad when Oscar and Anastasia leave, but we might get another roommate… Anyway, so I got off the plane and hopped on the bus. I overpaid for the fare, because the transit cards are a little confusing. I mean not when you know how they work, but I only finally really get it now and its been over two weeks. So, I’m on the bus, first ten minutes in New York, and this guy sits down next to me. He’s black and wearing a gaudy top hat and, I’m not joking, a floor length fur coat. And he had a cane. Like, this guy was an actual pimp. It was amazing. Its not that crazy now cause you see people like that a lot, depending on what area you’re in. I’ve been having a lot of experiences like that. New York feels kind of like a fantasy land. Probably because I’ve seen and read about it so much, but never been here. I get on the subway and its like that train goes to Queens and this one goes to the Bronx. And then I get off and I’m on Madison Avenue, or Broadway. And I’m like I can’t believe these places are real. It might as well be Hogwarts or Middle Earth. The other day I walked by the Trump World Tower and I didn’t even notice at first and I did a huge double-take. And then I look like a big idiot because I’m standing there in the middle of a furiously power-walking crowd gawping up at some huge building and getting in everyone’s way. It’s always something. The huge ad screens in Times Square, the massive vaulted ceiling in Grand Central Station, the Empire State Building. I haven’t seen the Statue of Liberty yet, or been on the ferry to Staten Island, but it’ll happen. Manhattan is like ten times bigger than downtown Vancouver. And that’s just Manhattan. On New Year’s Eve, I went into town and tried to get into Times Square, which was impossible. Actually. The police had blocked off the streets. NYPD everywhere. I felt like I was on CSI. Not really, but I did see this one guy get chased down and tackled by like 5 cops for trying to jump the barricade. He really wanted to see that ball drop. The truly annoying thing was that I could see the ball from where I got off the subway at 9pm, but it was a pretty bad view so I left to try and find a better spot. I never saw it again. But I had a pretty awesome time wandering around New York and gaping at fricking everything. I took some sweet pictures, which I still have to upload. I am going to do that tonight I promise. And then I’m going to take some pics of the UN and upload those too. It’s sweet. Anyway, then I went down to Central Park at midnight and watched the fireworks. They were awesome. I stared at the buildings for a bit longer and then joined the teeming masses on the subway, went home and chilled out with my new roommate and we drank an inordinate amount of tequila and got to know each other. While finding my way around has been occasionally frustrating, I have found people here to be quite friendly. As long as they’re not in a hurry. They generally have no problem giving me directions or helping me figure out the metrocards, etc. The Nuyorkians I’ve met so far have also been full of advice about where I should visit while I’m in town. I’m super busy with work, so I don’t have tons of time to explore, but I’m going to take as much of their advice as I can. Last Sunday I went and explored downtown Brooklyn. I went to Macy’s and then I went shopping for food at Trader Joe’s. Such a great place. I’ve been there on the west coast and it’s awesome. It’s a very reasonably priced and very healthy and organic grocery store. Adam and Max know. I wanted to get Mokki but I had a huge ride home on the subway and I knew it would melt. Remember Mokki guys? My first day at the UN was pretty cool too, but a little crazy. I was racing around to find the place and ended up being super early, and then no one was there to let me in so I had to wait for ages. And then I had to wait for ages to get a pass for the security doors. And then I pretty much got to work right away. We had this dig project due at the beginning of the next week so I got to help with it a bunch. It was this 200 page budget document where they submit all the projects that need to be funded by the Development Account to the General Assembly. So I edited a bunch of really important looking proposals and put it all into this document format called a “fascicle”. It was pretty officey but very interesting. Since we finished the fascicle, I’ve been sitting in on these “review group” sessions, where they assess project proposals and argue about allocation of funding and wording of “expected accomplishments” and “indicators of achievement”. There is a b*ttload of acronyms to know. ESCAP, ECA, DESA, NRP, APRM, UNCTAD, and the list goes on. Anyone read Shake Hands with the Devil? Remember how many acronyms there were in that? That’s what it reminds me of. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what is expected of me. When I edit a proposal I never really fully understand what the project will be like, so I don’t know if my comments are valid. I do try to discuss it with my bosses and they are very helpful and understanding, but I don’t want to discuss every little thing with them; then it would probably take longer than if they just did it themselves. And I want them to feel like they can rely on me. Maybe that’s crazy. What can I really contribute in two months. I work about 8 hours a day, usually 930 to 630 with an hour lunch. I’ve developed a routine. Up at 7, shower, make coffee/blow-dry hair, clothes and makeup, take the subway to Grand Central Station, Manhattan – about 1 hour from my place in Brooklyn – walk four blocks to UN plaza, work, go for lunch at the cafeteria or, lately, make something here to save money, work more, hang out after, get 99 cent pizza (oh my god you guys, 99 cent pizza here is actually 99 cents). Thankfully, there’s a social events facebook page for interns here, so I’m getting to know a lot of the other newbies. Usually we hang out after work. And by hang out I mean do serious things On Tuesdays I have French class and Wednesdays debate. Yesterday’s debate was on the Palestine vote. Very interesting. We also do fun stuff. Wednesday is $1 beer night at McFaddens Pub and Thursdays is $3 “well drinks” which is what they call highballs here, at this underground bar by Chinatown. Usually I don’t get home til at least midnight. And then I have to get up and work. Its exhausting actually. And I have school work I’m supposed to be doing for my masters too. Well, its 8:30 and I’m still at work so I think I’m going to get going. I’m planning to go see a movie with my roommate tonight and I have work in the morning. I still have about 40 pages to read about a project in strengthening capacities of countries with special needs on designing and implementing economic and social development policies to accelerate progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals for the review group tomorrow. So there. Hope everyone’s having a wonderful January. I have lots more to say so I will write again soon. Georgia PS. I have a new e-mail: It’s for a limited time, but I wish I could keep it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


WARNING: the following is definitely more of a book than a simple blog entry. Please refrain from embarking on it if you are not well endowed with time and probably a light snack.

Oh my goodness finally! I’ve been trying to write this blog for so long and I keep getting thwarted. The internet in Uganda is very patchy and I couldn’t find a good connection the whole time we were there. I was planning to write as soon as we arrived, cause we made a split second decision to go and I knew many people wouldn’t know where we had gotten to. Then every time I tried to write or upload pictures, the internet would go out or the power would shut off before I could finish. It was very frustrating and a couple of times I spent quite a bit of money and got almost nothing done.
Now I’ve made it to Tanzania, so things are a little better. But so much has happened that I’m a little daunted by the idea of recounting it all. But I really want to, as much for myself as for all those who are following my blog. I don’t keep a journal, so I’m planning to print all these notes out one day and keep them as a memorandum.
Like I said, Bobo and I decided kind of last minute that we would go for a trip. We had been doing a lot of work for Nuru and Bobo was getting annoyed that I started every morning with “What are we doing for Nuru today?” For myself, I had been getting frustrated with the way things always seemed to take longer than I wanted. I only have so much time and when things didn’t get done, I started to feel frustrated. With the generally slow pace of life in Mombasa (they call it “African Time”, but I think it applies to pretty much every tropical region in the world), this was pretty much inevitable. I also started to think about some of the other things I had been planning for this summer. I had been tentatively hoping to visit Uganda and I found out finally that my professor would be in Dar es Salaam on the 18th of July to work on some research. Bobo was the one who suggested we go for a trip, and I was hesitant at first cause there is just so much that I wanted to do for Nuru, and I knew that it wouldn’t happen if we were not there. But on the other hand, I came here to have a holiday too. What’s the fun of working all year so I can come to Africa and work some more and then go back to school? So, the night before our friend Ali was planning to drive to Kampala, we made the decision to hitch a ride with him. We left our chairman in charge and packed up our things, leaving at five in the morning on Saturday the third. We planned to make a round trip through Uganda and into Tanzania via the western side of Lake Victoria. That way we could visit my friends that I worked with in Uganda in 2008 and reach Dar in time to spend some time with my professor. Then we could be back in Mombasa by August to work on a few last things before my departure on the twelfth. So far, things have gone according to plan. I’ve felt pressed for money and time, though, and I still feel acutely that I’m not able to do everything I would like. It’s funny when you’re travelling, cause every time you stay somewhere it feels like so long. If you stay for a weekend in one place, it feels like a lifetime, and the people you meet feel like lifelong friends. But time also seems to go by way to quickly. I can’t believe there’s only like a week left of July!! I was talking with my professor today about how I would like to get a job here so that I could stay here for longer, like maybe a year. He said I should be careful cause once I have job I won’t necessarily have time to do all the things I want. I guess the trick is to get a job I care about and not one that is just a means to an end. He suggested I become a professor and do research over here, the way he does. That way I can spend my time learning about the culture here and immersing myself in it, and I’ll get paid for it too. I guess that’s the idea that drew me here to learn about what he does in TZ. I’ll let you all know how I feel about that life choice after a little more time in Dar.
But I’m definitely rambling. These are just some things that have been on my mind today. But I wanted to tell you guys about some of the great things that we did in Uganda. We had a lot of fun there. So let me get on that.
The trip with Ali was interesting. The highway to Kampala only has two lanes – one for each direction – and there are tons of slow moving trucks carrying petroleum, logs, multiple containers from the port, etc. Most of the cars weave in and out of the trucks and the oncoming traffic. Ali has a lot of experience, but its still quite a hair raising trip. We drove through the night, from five o’clock am on Saturday to 8 am on Sunday when we arrived at the border. Ali left the window open the whole time so he would stay awake, and I froze in the back seat. But I didn’t want to ask him to close it cause Ali staying awake on that highway was more important than me sleeping. When we got to the border, Bobo and I got a room at a guest house so we could have a nap while Ali dealt with the customs officials. I’m not sure if Ali had a nap too or if things just took forever, but we didn’t get across the border until about 3pm. I mean, Bobo and I were across the border by then, but we had to wait and drink Nile Specials for quite a while while we waited. Laurie was waiting to meet us in Kampala, and she was a bit annoyed that we didn’t get there until like six. We called her when we got to our meeting place and she was about ten minutes away. Bobo said “if she knew how much we had waited today, she wouldn’t make us wait” and I said “we were like seven hours late to meet her so I think she’s more than entitled to ten minute of lateness”.
We stayed that night in Laurie’s friend Tom’s family’s village house outside Kampala. It was a beautiful big house with a manicured garden, three bedrooms, a huge kitchen and a generator. There was even a whole separate house for the caretaker and his family. Tom and his sister Maria were cool and we had a great time all hanging out together, except I think they thought Laurie and I were a bit crazy when we went running and cartwheeling all over the lawn and climbing the trees in the yard. Maybe we are a bit crazy.
The next day we went to Nkozi, a village two hours south of Kampala, which is home to the Uganda Martyrs University and the Edirisa Gardens. Edirisa is the organization that I worked for for three months in 2008, and for which Laurie continues to work. I had never been to the Edirisa Gardens before so I got to see it for the first time. They run a small bar and kitchen there, and they have a studio where they record interviews, radio shows and music and put it all together on high-tech computers. Laurie has a desk there where she does most of her research and article-writing for Studio Edirisa. They’re on facebook if you want to check them out. Laurie has a small one-room apartment there with an extra single bed that Bobo and I shared for a few days. She also has a small stove and she cooked for us a lot. Thanks again for that, Laurie!
The weekend after arriving in Nkozi, we planned a trip to the Ssese Islands in Lake Victoria. We hitched a ride on the back of a pickup truck down to Bucedde (Buccade? Bucacedde?) Anyway, we took a ferry from there to Kalangala Island (I remember that name cause Bobo had a great time saying Kalangala over and over, and then when we triend to get him to say Kabalagala, he kept saying Kablagala. That probably doesn’t make sense, but just trust me, it was funny). Bobo was terrified of the boat ride over cause we swayed a little, and there were no qualified lifeguards on board. Then we missed the last Matatu so we had to take a crazy hour long ride across the island on the back of motorbikes on the dirt road in the dark. Poor Laurie bruised up her butt sitting behind me cause she hit the bar at th back of the sea every time we went over a bump.
We stayed at this campground called Hornbill which had a great little beach and a bunch of little wooden huts that you could rent for the night. The place was run by these crazy Germans who smoked and drank a lot. The man especially. He showed us some old newspapers detailing his arrest and imprisonment on charges of drug possession, and his wife told us he’d been in and out of jail in South Africa as well for the 20 years that they lived there. Apparently she has a jail bag which she keeps ready for him with all the things he’ll need with him if he gets arrested. He kept telling Bobo and I “No sex on the bar” and suggested that we were in some kind of exploitative sugar-mama and beach boy sort of relationship. He also waxed eloquent about Laurie’s chest. They were very friendly people, but quite eccentric. Maybe that’s what happens if you live on a tiny island in the middle of Africa for too long.
We also went swimming in the lake there, which was gorgeous. It’s like swimming in a clear, salt-free ocean. Even Bobo came in. I guess we should all get tested for whatever that parasite is that lives in Lake Victoria. Remind me to do that when I get home. Bobo and I played some soccer on the beach and I lost, so I had to buy him a Brazil jersey. He loves Brazil. When I got too tired and when to lie in the sun, Bobo started playing with some local kids and taught them a few skills.
On the second day, we were looking for some local food in the village and we followed this crowd down to the water where they had discovered the body of a boy who had gone missing two days before. The story was that the canoe the two of them had been bringing charcoal in from the mainland had capsized. One boy made it back and the other one never showed up. Until two days later, anyway. We didn’t go close enough to see him in the water, but many people did. People who knew him I guess, or maybe just people with morbid curiosity. Like people who stand around watching a house burn down. They brought him wrapped up on the ferry the next morning. The same one we took.
After the Ssese Islands, we packed up and went down to Kabale where I used to stay. It was really awesome to see all my friends there again. I took Bobo out to Lake Bunyonyi where we swam and sun bathed and stayed in my old mud hut. We canoed around in a dugout canoe, and I showed Bobo how to paddle it. He had a great time, and I think some of his fear of water went away. Its hard to be scared at Lake Bunyonyi cause it’s so beautiful there. In fact I forgot how much I liked it there, and I really wish I had had more time. I would really like to go back and stay for longer another time.
On our last night in Kabale, we all went out to the old club, Match and Mix, where we used to go in 2008, and to a new club in town called Pine. Laurie and Comfort had even come down from Nkozi and we all danced together like we used to. It was really fun.
The next morning, Bobo and I left early for Tanzania. The journey was a bit crazy. Travelling itself has been a bit stressful overall during the last month, for me because I hate getting overcharged and given the wrong information, which I often am as a white person, and for Bobo cause he’s not used to journeys being so unplanned. Getting into a town you don’t know and trying to figure out where to go from there and the best way to get where you want to be when you don’t know the language or the prices or anything is not something Bobo had ever done, and it was definitely straining. But we got to see and do a lot of awesome stuff because of it, so I’m not focusing on that. Plus Bobo got a chance to see what it’s like to be a foreigner. If he ever comes to visit me in Canada maybe he’ll be a little more prepared.
And troubles or no troubles, we made it to Dar es Salaam and met up with my professor Vinay Kamat, a Medical Anthropologist who does research on Malaria and other illnesses in the rural areas around Dar. That brings me to where I started. I certainly have some adventures in Dar to recount, but I think those will have to wait for another blog. This one is plenty long, as I am quite sure you’ll agree.
As always, thanks for reading and I hope you are all enjoying your summers.
Till next time

Thursday, June 24, 2010


About two weeks ago, Bobo's coach passed away in the hospital from Meningitis. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to visit him. Bobo saw him a few days before, on the day he was admitted, but he didn't get a chance to say goodbye, so we went to Mazeras, a village about 45 minutes away, to attend his burial. The Christian custom here is to hold a Matanga, or funeral service, in town where everyone gathers and drinks tea and listens to music together while consoling the family of the deceased with their presence. I'm afraid to say there have been many Matanga in Tudor lately. Every night we see a new one somewhere. The family usually collects money during the Matanga, which they use to transport the deceased to their ancestral homeland where they are buried in the village cemetery. The burial is called Mazishi. I have attended several Matangas, but this was my first burial. I did attend one in Uganda in 2008, but I was not as involved and I had never met the girl who had passed away on that occasion. This was a different experience altogether, cause I knew Coach Mover (not as well as Bobo, of course, but I knew him) and because I was closer and more involved than i have ever been.
There were a huge number of people there. Bobo says three thousand. I think it was more like three hundred. Mostly from Tudor. They filled up the tiny dirt streets of the village in a procession to the church. The women were dressed in Kangas of many bright colours and patterns. Coach's family all wore the same bright pink and green. The men were more subdued, mostly in jeans or dress pants and tshirts. they carried the casket. Prayers and speeches took place in a small methodist church built in 1893. There wasn't enough room for everyone so many of us stood outside. I went with Bobo and some of coach's former teammates to drink Mnazi (palm wine) and reminisce. Two hours later, The procession found us on its way to the cemetery. We joined them. I listened to the songs they were all singing together - beautiful songs in which I could distiguish the odd word: "Mungu" (god), "Kwa heri" (good bye), etc. It was quite powerful.
When we arrived in the cemetery, the men had laid coach's body next to a fresh grave. The casket was open and people were walking by to see him one last time. I got funneled into the line before I really understood what was going on. I've never seen a dead body before. It was like a doll. A figure like a real person with no life in them. He looked pained. his eyes were shut tight and his mouth was filled with something white. i asked Bobo later if he had gone by, but he said he could never do that, he wouldn't have been able to handle it. I'm sure I would feel the same if it was someone I loved, who had had so much influence in my life.
We all stood around while they lowered him into the ground with a couple of ropes. Then they lowered a sheet of wetal over top. There were two shovels and one hoe and all the young men from the Tudor United soccer team took turns shoveling the dirt into the grave. The priest kept starting songs and everyone would join in. I wished I could join in. I was trying to take a short video on my camera and I lifted it over the heads of two women in front of me. One of them started crying hard and leaned on to her friend for support. I brought my camera down, realizing suddenly that I was being inappropriate. Until this point I had been watching everything with a kind of anthropological interest, but now i realized how serious this was. This man, who had clearly affected the lives of so many people in Tudor, was gone, and in a small way, things would never be the same again. The songs and the crying filled my ears and I felt overwhelmed with sadness.
After they had shoveled all the dirt so there was a mound of earth, they pulled out all the roots and grass and flattened the top with the handles of the shovels. Coach's mother was supported to the mound with a great big wreath, which she placed in the middle. Groups of family members were called forward to place smaller wreaths and flowers. The boys from the team were each given a red rose, which they stuck into the dirt around the edges. Coach's mother kept staring at me, and I hugged Bobo, hoping to tell her that I was there to support him. He told me that to someone from the village, a person like me is like an angel.
As he was leaving. a boy who worked in the cemetery stopped and spoke to me loudly, interrupting the song. He pointed to the next plot and said "Tomorrow, this will be my grave. Everyday we bury someone else here. I want to die." And he walked away. i didn't know what to say, but I think it must be pretty hard on a young person to work somewhere like that.
We all trickled back to the field where we ate pilau and chatted. People were fairly upbeat. Bobo and his friends snuck off to drink some more Mnazi while I ate with my friend Elizabeth who runs a small retaurant in Tudor. We headed back to the highway as it started to rain.
The whole experience was fairly affecting to me, and I debriefed with Bobo on the Matatu back to Mombasa. We talked about depression, which I had to explain to Bobo. I told him it seemed to me that Africans have an aptitude for not letting inevitablities keep them from finding ways to be happy. I was surprised at how everyone could take the ceremony so seriously, and then go back to chatting and laughing so quickly. I can't, but then I'm starting to think I have almost no control over my emotions at all. But maybe its not about control. Maybe it's just that they don't live in the past the way we do. I can ask them to explain how they do it, but... what's that line in Out Of Africa?... "it's like a deaf person asking for an explanation of a symphony."

Tonight we are visiting the Matanga of one of our Nuru soccer players' mother who passed away about ten days ago. Sigh.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Miss Laurel Jane May Visits Mombasa

June 18
Long overdue. Sorry about that those of you who have been waiting for me to write a blog. I know it’s been like a month. I can’t believe it. And believe me there has been no shortage of things to write about. It’s just that there’s usually something I’m more excited about doing than writing a blog. Like going our with my friends or working on Nuru stuff. I’ve been busy, and I have also been trying to work out a good way to access the internet from home. I have one of those little modems that plugs into the USB port, but the internet is slow and patchy, so it’s been frustrating trying to get my blog and the Nuru site updated.
My final excusefor not writing for so long is that my friend Laurie from Uganda/Australia was visiting for the last ten days or so. She dropped by Mombasa on her way back from a tour of Europe and intended to stay for a couple of nights, I guess she enjoyed herself, cause we finally had to push her on to the bus back to Uganda more than a week later. Just kidding Laurie. We loved having you here. Even though we were all crammed into one room and Bobo kept moving the fan off of you in the middle of the night.
I have to say we went a little crazy with Laurie here. We went out dancing a lot and enjoyed more than our share of Miraa and local brandy. For those who are new to my blog, Miraa is a highly stimulating plant grown by the Meru tribe. It comes in bunches of extremely bitter twigs which you have to chew. It makes you talk a lot, verbal diarrhea I believe it’s called, and you end up saying things like “Your name’s Ralph? Where I come from, that means vomit.” Right Laurie?
We also spent a bunch of time on the beach, evidence of which is available in my facebook photos. We went to the South Coast on the last day before Laurie’s departure. The South Coast has a whole bunch of really beautiful beaches, and it’s where all the big resorts and the majority of the white people can be found. Not us though. We stay in a one-room flat with no running water and a shared bathroom. And we love it! Or I do anyway. Anyway, this beach at the South Coast was really nice and they had a little bar with palm frond roofs and live music. Of course it started to rain as soon as we got there. We still went swimming though, cause the water was warmer than the air. It was definitely cold when we got out though. Bobo laughed at me for being cold cause I’ve said before that Kenyans don’t know what cold is. I maintain that they don’t. Incidentally, one of the interesting things about Laurie was that even though we share a lot of culture (which I’ll admit was refreshing conversation-wise – I was starting to miss having someone to regale with Friends and Calvin and Hobbes references) she has never really been anywhere cold. Uganda is cold for her. Now, I fully admit that Uganda is not warm compared to Kenya or Tanzania or Sudan (rain forest, misty hills and all that), but I defy anyone from Canada or even most of the northern US to call Uganda cold. In any case, we dried off and spent the rest of the evening drinking beer, listening to a local band, dancing, strolling on the beach and later watching the Australia soccer game. It was thoroughly enjoyable and honestly one of the things I was hoping to do more of while I was here. I know I’m here for Nuru and hopefully to visit my professor in Tanzania, but who says I can’t have a bit of a holiday too?
Laurie is working as a journalist for a small East African online journal run by Edirisa in Uganda. I helped her edit a couple of pieces and it really made me think about some of the things I’ve been wanting to write about in my blog. Things like the reactions to the world cup here in Kenya, Mr Joe Biden and his wife Jane’s visit to Kenya about a week ago, the upcoming referendum, etc. these are all things that I have come to know quite a bit about, and I’ve talked to lots of people and I have opinions. So I’m going to try to bring a few more of those things into my blog in the near future. Now that I have my laptop up and running, I think I’ll be better able to do that. After all, a blog is supposed to be a place to talk about things that are on your mind, and not just a record of things that happen to you on your holiday. And every day I think of something I could write about in a blog. So I promise it won’t be another month before I write again! I hope some of you will be interested in reading what I have to say. I’ll do my best to make it interesting!
Till then, enjoy your summers!