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"I often wonder what would have happened to me if I hadn't made that decision. I suppose I would have sunk. I suppose I would have found some kind of hole and tried to hide or pass. After all, we make ourselves according to the ideas we have of our possibilities. I would have hidden in my hole and been crippled by my sentimentality, doing what I was doing, and doing it well, but always looking for the wailing wall. And I would never have seen the world as the rich place that it is. You wouldn't have seen me here in Africa, doing what I do."

- V.S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River
Dec. 30th, 2009 @ 10:40 am A teeny tiny pet peeve
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Why does it grate on me so much when people talk about how they 'fell in love' with Africa?

I just read this on someone's blog, and recently read it in an introduction to a book that I haven't had the heart to pick up and actually read.  

The latter is a history of the conflict in eastern DR Congo.  I want to read it, but first I have to get over my dislike of another white guy writing Africa's history, and then I have to get over his "love of Africa" or of Congo leading to his marrying an African woman.  I'm not saying it's not true or real, or didn't provide important impetus for his academic investigations or the production of a valuable book.  I'm just saying I don't know, because I haven't been able to bring myself to read it yet.

Sep. 18th, 2009 @ 04:37 pm Conversation skills
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Current Location: Kinshasa, DR Congo
There is a line in V.S. Naipaul's A Bend in the River that I can't quote because I don't have the book in front of me, but his main character is in Kisangani and meets up with a couple that has been there a long time.  He says something to the effect of, these expats have been here so long that they have forgotten to be curious about others.

They haven't forgotten how to be curious, they just forgot to be curious.

Sometimes I sense this around other expats in Kinshasa, and is this sometimes my problem as well?  For example, I went to someone's farewell party last weekend, and a relatively newly arrived friend of mine said, "Everyone here thinks they're way cooler than they are."  I was doing my best to make conversation with people I don't know very well, and sometimes it worked and sometimes it fell flat, even though we were all smiling.
Sep. 7th, 2009 @ 11:49 am Moving to Liberia
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I'm getting ready to move to Suacoco, (small college town 3 hours from Monrovia) for a year to volunteer for IFESH. I was wondering if anyone had advice of mail forwarding and package shipping. I've heard about Shipito.com and other "mail collection" services. Do those work? Does anyone recommend them?
May. 22nd, 2009 @ 04:47 pm What Am I Doing Here
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Current Location: Seirra Leone
Current Mood: contemplative
If I only saw Lakka Beach in Sierra Leone, I would think this place is paradise. This idyllic fishing village just west of Freetown is magical.

Tony Blair came to visit a few weeks ago to praise Sierra Leone for its economic development in the tourism industry. He opted for one of the UN helicopters (that sometimes fall out of the sky) landing on the sandy more affluent beaches of the west side, rather than take the hour long ferry ride across to the poorer east side of Freetown. He visited Lumely beach, the more popular of the beaches because of its easy access off the highway. It is full of trash, beggars, and tourists. It is easy to get a slanted picture of this country is all you see if tubby Europeans lolling around in the sun drinking star beer.

We opted for the more adventurous trek up the bumpy muddy road past the enormous houses in Aberdeen to Lakka, where we were the only “tourists” there. I’m told the place is livelier on the weekends when all the NGOs take a break from inland, but we came on an overcast Wednesday to visit a one legged boy born in Makeni .

John is 16 years old and living on the beaches of Lakka selling small hand-woven baskets to the tourist for $6.00 a pop. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure if you were to buy one of his baskets at Pottery Barn they would be at least $30.00.

Today he sold one.

John wanted to talk to me because he heard that we are raising funds for junior secondary and senior secondary school scholarships. In Sierra Leone, the government will pay for primary school, but if you want an education past the 5th grade, you have to pay.

After hearing John’s plea for a better life, I asked him to write it down for me so that I can tell others. I think I’ll let him tell you the rest of the story:

My age is 16 years old.
I was born in Makeni

My main purpose writing you this letter is just to tell you my problem. I was going to school in Makeni, but the war makes me leave school for some time now. But I’m looking for people who will help me. I came to Freetown to look for person that will help me. I stop going to school for three years now. My school level is JSS 3
[8th grade]. The war killed my family and cut my leg too, and I was staying with my uncle but I leave him because he was very bad to me and I come to Freetown to live in the street for over two years now with no help and no food. Sometime I get hungry and my freind feeds me, but no one else is caring. To go to school for three years is Le 1,800,000 and you have to buy uniform, books, pens, pencils, and a

1,800,000 Leones is around $567 US dollars. I used to make that in a week and complain I was poor.

I would like to say that John’s story is shocking. But it isn’t. Since word has gotten out that I’m raising money for children to go to school, every day people come up to me to tell me they want to qualify for a scholarship. Every mother, father, uncle, schoolteacher, grandparent, shop owner, everyone I run into knows me as the girl who can send a child to school.

I want to send them all.

Apr. 1st, 2009 @ 10:32 pm Vintage Lonely Planet
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where can you see lions?
(crossposted from my LJ)
I've discovered that going through old Lonely Planet travel guides can be fun. Yes, I'm a total nerd. Today, the second edition of Lonely Planet's Africa guide ("Africa On The Cheap" by Geoff Crowther) from 1980 arrived. Some interesting points of note..

Most of the maps are hand-drawn. Several countries (Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, one or two others) have only two pages of detail, as they can't find anyone who's been there... though in the third edition (which finally gets the name "Africa On A Shoestring") Crowther talks about getting a tourist visa to visit Equatorial Guinea, and discovering that it's Tourist Visa #001.

All of the country chapters are fairly brief on detail. Occasionally you'll see editorial comments that would never make it into a modern LP book- in the section on getting visas for other countries in The Gambia, Crowther notes that "the Secretary at the Sierra Leone High Commission is a real bolshie bastard".

Crowther says Lagos, Nigeria is a hellhole, but that "if you are crazy, do not miss this place". Roads in Nigeria are "very good and most are sealed" and "journeys are relatively short". How much has changed.. There are details about taking trains around the country (try that now!), and even information about sleeper cars and first/second class seating.

In the third edition, things have changed a bit- Nigeria has hit its 1980s economic bust and has finished its mass expulsion of Ghanaians and other foreigners. All of its land borders are sealed, and the only way in or out of the country is by air. And that's not a very happy way to enter the country either- Crowther warns that you absolutely do not want to be the last person off of an arriving international flight, otherwise you're going to have to hand out bribes right and left.

I still haven't found the first edition for sale yet, but I'm looking.... Anyone have any interesting/amusing bits they've found in African travel guides to share?
Mar. 19th, 2009 @ 08:30 pm Michela Wrong's "It's Our Turn To Eat"
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where can you see lions?
Has anyone else read Michela Wrong's "It's Our Turn To Eat" yet? I just started reading it the other day.. I remember reading about Githongo's resignation and the Anglo Leasing scandal when it happened. I've also heard some criticisms of the book, but I'm more familiar with West African politics than I am with the other side of the continent.. does anyone have any thoughts on it? I'd love to hear some other views.
Feb. 28th, 2009 @ 08:09 pm Getting to know you
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Current Music: M.I.A. Paper Airplanes
I met a friend of vasco_pyjama 's today, an online link-up based on the fact that we're both in Kinshasa.  She's arrived only last month and plans to stay only about 6 months.  I'm here for work, but not long term.  We had an interesting conversation about the politics of being "new" in town, or, in my case, not new, but chronically temporary.

In her husband's office there are around 12 expats, many with families, and she has kids, so she said she was surprised not to be taken under the wings of the other mothers.  I'm here by myself and tend to meet people out at night, rather than through playgroup, but the idea is the same - we are somewhat at the mercy of others' willingness to invite us in, to be social and to have opportunities to meet other people.

I've been lucky and met a lot of new people the past three weeks, and hopefully will meet some more tonight. 

But it's been by the virtue of willing to be shameless about accepting and following up on invitations.  People may mention in passing that "we should get together" or "you should join us tomorrow."  But they're not going to call.

I tend to think they're perfectly happy to see us when we show up, but the ball is in our court to follow through.  They are already well installed in their lives and don't think of us first.  She was telling me that she was a bit disappointed not to be invited to the weekly kids/moms dance class, and tonight I was a little disappointed not to get a call confirming my plan to attend [acquaintance]'s drinks party tonight.  So I figured the onus was on me to call my new friend and see what the plan was.  When I call, people are typically happy to hear from me and happy to include me, but it's not easy.

In the end, though, what counts?  That I'm getting out and going to the drinks party, and hopefully will meet more new people and solidify other connections.

Nov. 17th, 2008 @ 11:13 am Advice
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In the Spring of 2009, I’m moving to Sierra Leone to work with a local NGO in Makeni. I will primarily be working on fundraising and the development of programs; however, the E.D. asked if I would be willing to teach a few classes in basic computer skills.

Does anyone know of good reference for building adult education in Africa? Or teaching basic computer skills. There are plenty of resources and books to teach yourself, but I need a little guidance setting up a syllabus and structuring the class.

Does anyone know if there is a version of MS Office in Krio?

This is also my first time in country, so if anyone has advice on Sierra Leone or just general tips, I would love those as well.
Oct. 13th, 2008 @ 05:28 pm Thinking about volunteering through VSO
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Turban Varga
Has anyone here volunteered in southern or eastern Africa through VSO? If so, I'd love it if you could tell me what you think (or thought) of your experience with VSO. Please leave me a comment and I'll send you my email address.

Sep. 21st, 2008 @ 03:37 pm drawing connections
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Multiple times a day I’ll start this blog entry in my head. It’s startling to think that I’ve been doing so for a month.

In Dubai I wanted to write about my transition from the Judy of the logic-devoid, sensory-assualting jungles of Kenya, Sudan, and Ethiopia to the Judy of sweltering sands and capitalist construction capital of the world. The transition into the uber-developed Emirate was easy; Sudan felt light years away. I wasn't at all astonished by the fluidity with which I transformed from bush-woman to high-heel wearing, 300$-a-night-hotel sleeping tourist. I forgot all of the mosquitoes, mudboots, and yellow-cabbage instantly. Seventy-two hours later, in Manhattan, with 72 hours before my flight home to Florida, I saw friends, took cabs, bought expensive toys. Only four days later, bathing in Siesta Key's sunshine, did I feel a bit stunned and moved by it all.

I suppose it's contrived to acknowledge that. White bloggers always seem to reflect and comment on their departures and the symbolism of picking up and peacing out: always able to do what the people around us can not. I've been processing that, but like most other bad-bloggers, have been of course too busy to make meaningful entries, overwhelmed by this pace and that offer and those assignments, to take time and concentrate on writing out all of these nonsensical blabberings.

But then, small things start happen.read more (and see photos!)...Collapse )