Saturday, December 15, 2007

Is It Over?

My daughter pointed out that I had been back for a week already (and what a week!). It's amazing to think that so much is happening around the world that you don't see if you aren't looking.

Just because you aren't paying attention to something, doesn't mean it isn't real. I have been trying to summarize my thoughts and package them into a quick and neatly wrapped gift, but I can't do it. Africa is too complex and I'm just not smart enough to articulate the scope of things.

That said, what struck me as I reflect back is an image of how western thinking and modern technology (i.e. Progress!) is slamming at warp speed into a continent and people who have no framework to understand what is happening.

Giant glass buildings being erected with wooden scaffolding.

Goats walking around the streets.

Massive poverty.

Oddities like how Ethiopian Airlines purchased the first Dreamliner for billions when many people don't have basic potable water.

I'm all about progress and technology. But what I can't figure out, is how governments and the world at large can sacrifice basic human decency for those things. How can we as a species be picking greed over humanity?

Are we?

Aren't we?

Saturday, December 8, 2007


Just landed and made my way through customs and immigration fast and easy at JFK.

We landed in Amsterdam at around 6:30 AM Saturday and decided to venture out of the airport given a 6+ hour layover.

The airport is amazing, complete with shops, showers and fast and easy storage lockers. After dumping our bags, and getting some Euros, we trained to Center Station. Feeling a bit like I was on The Amazing Race, we walked towards the museum district.

The city was empty. For an hour. We walked in total darkness (sunrise was after 8) over canals, past shops and amazing statues. As it started to get light, we took some amazing photos - the lights on the canal and subtle light made it a fun challenge.

By 8, shops finally started to open and we had a terrific breakfast of eggs and the best cappucino I have ever had.

David wanted to visit the Van Gogh museum, but because it didn't open until 10, we hit the Rijk (spelling?) which included Rembrant's largest canvas painting. This thing was massive - close to 20 ft high sporting detail and vivid colors that seem impossible for an oil painting. I had more culture in an hour than I've had all year.

In order to fix that, I insisted on walking through the Red Light District. We peeked into a coffee bar for the aroma and window shopped for, umm, this is a family blog for god sakes! I will leave it at this... I saw a video for sale called "Drill Bill." Wonder if Tarantino got as big a kick out of that as I did.

Amsterdam is absolutely gorgeous and friendly - I would love to vacation there at some point. I'm so glad we ventured out of the airport. There seem to be more people biking around than anything - I bet it would be a killer place to live.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Homeward Bound

Sitting here at Nairobi airport, I can't believe the trip I'd over. We have 8 hours to Amsterdam and another 8 to JFK.

What a trip - more thoughts and pics to come over the next few days/weeks.

Boarding in a few, can't wait to finally watch Children of Men on my MP3 player (been saving that for the return trip).

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Special Fool

From Africa 2007

Anyone who is reading this blog that knows me (espcially my wife and girls), knows that I'm a big eater. Big. Really big. There is very little that I don't like to eat. The trip to Africa so far has been good for my taste buds, amazing steaks on the safari and amazing Indian food in Nairobi.

My travel mate, shown in the picture above is a slightly (that's an understatement) more picky eater. The guy won't touch a tomato. We had dinner at this incredible local place our first night in Asebe Teferi, Ethiopia and ate something called Sheklativs (no idea on spelling).

Sheklativs is goat meat served over hot coals in a porcelain thingy with hot chilies and onions. It's served with bread. Let me just say that by the end of the meal, my plate was way happier than David's plate. He'd argue that the meat was a bit tough (it was), but it was so tasty, I just plowed through it. I wanted to reach over and eat the rest of his, but I managed to restrain myself.

That dish, along with just about everything in Ethiopia is also served with super duper hot chili pepper and sauce which I think is called burberry or meatmita. I couldn't understand what they were saying because my tounge was burning off. I dipped my bread into it and took a big bite. Everyone had a good laugh at me as I gulped down half a liter of water and played it cool. Smooth move eh?

The next morning we were treated to an amazing breakfast at a roadside restaurant. The dish, "Special Fool" (so apropos it's silly eh?) is a mixture of lentils, scrambled eggs, garlic and oil and again served with bread was so tasty I was almost fell out of my chair. I think David liked this one a bit better, but again, he didn't finish and I had to sit on my hands as to not appear to be the garbage pail that I am when it comes to food.

I want to thank Marijana for suggesting and dragging us to these fine establishments - the food was really amazing.

Girl's Rule, Boys Get Pushed Out of the Way

From Africa 2007

This girl in Asebe Teferi wanted nothing more than for me to take her picture. She came running up to me and smiled and asked for a photo. I pulled up my camera and went to snap the photo when this boy jumped up and tried to get in the photo. I don't know if he was her brother or cousin or just a friend, but they jostled for a moment and jokingly she pushed him away. They chased me after I took the photo and I showed it to them both and they laughed.

It was such a terrific moment. Their laughter was really nice to hear.

Mamo is the Man

From Africa 2007

One of the best and most wonderful things about visiting the field is the people that you meet. My favorite people to meet and talk with are our national staff. I've met some pretty amazing ones so far, but Mamo is really the man.

Mamo is from Ethiopia, near the area where we have been seeing the projects I've been describing. He is a true professional. We spent the better part of two days with him. He showed us his projects and told us about the people that the IRC is helping. What struck me most was how level headed he was and how grounded he was in his work. He seemed never to get too up, or too down.

I noticed that he commanded the respect of everyone he encountered - from his staff to the local community members, teachers and farmers. It was a pleasure to not only have met him, but to have spent so much time with him.

When we got back to his office, I pointed at Mieso and then Asebe Teferi on the map and said very confidently that the distance was 25 kilometers. He looked at me blankly and paused before saying "how did you know that." I smiled and said I was keeping track as we drove in my head, that I could calculate distances like that. He looked shocked for a moment, and I finally told him that I had seen a road sign. He smiled and we had a laugh. After all, what American even knows how far an kilometer is anyway.

I am really honored to know that I work for an organization that not only values every employee, but goes out of the way to hire and retain national employees like Mamo, Dawit, Teklemariam and Yifru.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

World Aids Day Video

I finally found enough bandwidth to upload this totally amazing video of young men in Kakuma refugee camp performing their rap song for World Aids day. This was a preview performance they gave us while we were there on November 26th.

The lyrics:
Give me an H ......I give you an H
Give me an I ........I give you an I
Give me a V.......... .I give you a V

Give me a / ......... I give you a /

Give me an A.........I give you an A
Give me an I ......... I give you an I
Give me an D.........I give you an D
Give me an S .........I give you an S

Double XL (Stop AIDS, take the Lead)

Make a decision base on facts and not fear.
Social forces, discrimination and poverty affect those who get HIV and what kind of treatment shall I get when I become so sick?
Some people would rather think that only bad people get HIV
(since if they themselves are good then they will not be infected)
this is not true, people and government need to accept that HIV is a problem for everyone and work together, hand in hand to stop the spread of the disease all over the world.
People with HIV have faced discrimination.
Here are some examples on how people have tried to stop this.
In 1997 Zimbabwe's government establish a national Code Of Practice that makes it illegal to discriminate against people living with HIV which Gonna be a big flow on years chart

Double XL (Stop AIDS, take the Lead)

I remember, in some countries, some business owners ask people who are looking
For jobs to take an HIV test.
They also hire older workers who are less likely to have HIV and AIDS.
Activists are trying to tell employers not to use HIV test in deciding whom to hire
The government is also encouraging HIV testing for everyone, people going into army and those going for trainings
Many ways of explaining health and illness make some believe that HIV/AIDS is caused by a virus, others believe it is a punishment for wrong doing, cause by a bad spirit or is a result of jealousy.
Please take a look at all these complications and try to find out what people in our community believe.
Leaders and health worker organize group discussions among ourselves know what is going on here and there before we get into trouble

Double XL (Stop AIDS, take the Lead)

We still facing the challenge of working and living with HIV every day
The virus inside a cells destroys the whole body immune system, no more cells to release antibodies; where are those ARV kind of drugs actually work to stop HIV Zidovudine, AZT, ddi, ddc, Nevirapine, d4t.
Helps avoid pointing fingers at others, African and Caribbean but understand HIV is a problem in every country.
Taking an action to stop the spread is important for the world.
Don't ignore the pandemic, it's not important to know where the virus started, it is important to know where it is going.
Most people with HIV are adults, twenty to forty years of an age we are dying at an age when we are vital members of our communities.

Hirna High School

AIDS education is a big deal in these parts. I saw many road signs and billboards talking about HIV/AIDS. Most of the messages were focused on having only one partner, but there is a condom company doing a lot of outdoor advertising as well.

I spotted this sign on our visit to Hirna High School.

From Africa 2007

While at the school, we peeked into a classroom and to my total shock, there were 91 faces looking back at me. The room was no more than maybe 40 x 40 with one window and a chalkboard. David and I made the comment that parents in the US go nuts when class sizes get above 22 or 23. These 91 9th graders were crammed in and studying English.

I am blown away by how much Ethiopians value education. The communities are pushing for better and more schools, and the Ministry of Education is doing what it can. But it is not enough. This classroom had no books or materials for example.

Imagine trying to learn a new language, crammed together 3 students at a desk with the heat and flies all around. But those conditions do not disuade the students from attending. They seem to know somehow that this education will lead to a better life.

I unfortunately didn't snap a photo of the classroom, but believe me, it was really amazing. I wonder how we would react in these circumstances.

Teach a man (or a kid) to fish...

We're back in Addis after an absolutely stunning and amazing time in Asebe Teferi. I have much, much to write on what we saw - my head's exploded once again. The drive out was close to 5 hours due east from Addis towards Somalia. The landscape is breathtaking at times and at others totally desolate and empty.

From Africa 2007

The photo above is from an alternative basic (AB) school designed to get kids who were not in school at all and who suffered from the worst forms of child labor basic education. These children were forced to work in the fields, carry water or hunt for firewood in lieu of an education. In other areas of Ethiopia, girls are forced to work in gold mines, many of which are unstable and can collapse at any time.

We arrived and were treated to 2 songs (one was the ABC's, the other a song about Child Labor) and were really impressed by the classroom and the entire feel of the place. The school has 160 children from the surrounding communities. Kids attend either a morning or afternoon shift, and each class is about 40 children. Connected to the school is an exerimental gardening project run by the local community. The children also learn to work the garden, and the community benefits further by making money from selling the carrots, tomatos and other veggies.

The recurring and important theme in seeing these programs in Ethiopia is self-efficacy. All the IRC programming is designed around long term solutions. Cliche as it may be, we are teaching them to fish. It's incredible work and when we saw how IRC water programs are connected (this school's water and the garden is supplied via IRC water taps and reservoirs) the big picture finally starts to come into focus (much more on that later).

I have so much more to blog about, but for now, it's shower and dinner time.

Monday, December 3, 2007


From Africa 2007

We made it! I've got temporary internet access at the Ethiopia office and wanted to get a quick blog post off.

We landed early and met with the country director and a bunch of other staffers pretty much stragiht away. My head is already exploding with ideas and reactions to what the marketing department has been up to - both good and bad. I love honest feedback (that's a hint for you to comment in the future).

The best part of the day though was a very cool coffee ceremony. I'm didn't catch all of the significance, but it was so cool. I wondered how much trouble I would get in if I tried to light a fire in the NY Headquarters.

The coffee was S T R O N G and I'm buzzing pretty hard right now.

We're staying at a hotel called Queen of Sheba, I hope my room looks like the Taj Mahal. The rest of this week involves a 5 hour drive due East from Addis to various IRC programs. It promises to be an amazing week. Can't wait to blog all about it.

UPDATE: I added the photo - the hotel has (slow, but free) wi-fi. We had dinner last night at the hotel - much of the food here is italian (pizza, pasta etc), but I had a burger. I'm sitting here watching the last few minutes of the Patriots game, and am shocked that they could lose, and that I'm watching NFL football live from Africa.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Special thanks

Special blog-style shout out to the IRC Kenya country and regional staff! I hope we haven't been a burden, our schedule alone is enough to make your head spin.

Thanks to Kellie and Nenad in particular for spending insane amounts of time with us and helping us really understand what it is that the IRC does here in Kenya.

For my loyal non-IRC readers, Kellie is the Kenya country director and hails from Rochester, NY. She is a former Peace corps worker. Nenad is in IT and supports a completely insane amount of technology. He's Serbian and has been living with his family in Nairobi for 5 years.

The rest of the international staff (Nora, Kurt and Patty) and the amazing array of national staff really gave me the true face of the IRC.

Talking with some of the program staffers (all Kenyans) in the car on the way to the slums was great. We talked about football (Kenya not so great), the upcoming Kenyan election and Obama, who if you remember has Kenyan roots. It is in these moments that I shake my head that I have such a wonderful opportunity to know these people.

To really know the IRC, you have to know the people.


We may have no connectivity at all - I hope not!

Safari Pictures... Finally!

We landed an hour or so ago in Nairobi, and the first thing I wanted to do was share some of these amazing photos with you. It is hard to explain how big the animals are - they seem super-sized compared to what we would normally see in a Zoo. Being the giant dork that I am, I also kept thinking about the movie Madagascar and calling for Marty and Alex to come out to play.

You can see all the photos I was able to upload (I shot more than 450 pictures!) in the slideshow. I want to eventually give some more context to these photos, but the connection here is so slow, I'm getting frustrated. I'm lucky I was able to upload these!


Back to reality

The last bit of safari was this morning at 6:30 am and we very nearly over-slept.

I woke up throwing up bile around 2:30 am, and after popping a handful of tums, fell back asleep an hour later. I'm fine now, something I ate trigged a rare bout of what felt like acid reflux. I knew that I should have passed on that 2nd helping of vegetable curry.

Speaking of eating, I had planned on losing at least 5 lbs while in Africa, but it feels as if all I've done is eat. The food has been great on the safari, the buffet table has 10 or so main entrees to choose from plus salads and dessert. I think I have gained weight since coming.

I twittered (see right column on the blog) about golf. David spotted a putting green and I just knew I had found my chance to play the greatest game on the dark continent. The 6 hole putting green turned into Pebble Beach for 30 minutes earlier today. My 39 (+4) didn't make the cut however. My vivid imagination also led me to video tape myself, a piece of video sure to make my wife shake her head in disbelief.

I can't wait to share the photos from the safari, and some of the video I've shot. We saw another lion kill this morning. These animals are stunningly massive in person. I wonder if lions have ever been accused of doping. The lioness this morning was the Marion Jones of the animal kingdom.

Finally, I must mention the extreme geek out we are having with the portable GPS David has. We have been geotagging his photos like crazy, and you will be able to see them all plotted on a map shortly. The link is on my link list on the right column of the blog.

We are flying back to Nairobi in a few hours, where I will hopefully have a chance to upload some photos. They are incredible.