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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
Aug. 21st, 2008 @ 12:36 am mozambique in general, also maputo in particular
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bible stuff
so, i'm going through some mess in cape town, and may have to relocate to mozambique, or somewhere that is Not CapeTown in the near future.

what are apartment rents like in maputo, and also, how long does it take to get a land line installed/dsl set up?

thanks in advance.
Aug. 5th, 2008 @ 03:49 pm backlog, July 27: Art Days Continued
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We hit bumps in the road. Trying to create ownership of a project is a tremendously challenging endeavour, when the ownership is not innate. Working with Dang was difficult too – translator, intermediary, and 6’9” beneficiary at once does not a simple solution make. But in kind and patient form, he was always eager to participate in finding the solutions and helping us move forward with the program.
dang, he's tall
After negotiating that we would provide new footballs, volleyballs, and netballs, and continuing to stress that this program/project was one for self and community benefit, the kids regrouped. The art projects continued. From our portraits and connect the shapes experiments we moved onto talking about the role of youth/adolescents in community development, how parents can support schools and educational infrastructure, and in which ways the youth participants could best share their findings/images with people in the community.

Introducing new technologies may have sealed the deal as well. While in Uganda someone criticized my work – or rather that of my organization – for focusing on economic development through agrarian policy and practice reform. “How will Africans ever move up the food chain when they’re still ploughing fields instead of entering fields in Excel?” the Manhattan-based photographer-come-philanthropist barked at me via email. He raised a valid and tricky question that still haunts me. It’s obvious that in Sudan there is no way to drop in a computer training facility and see rapid results – most people have never written their name on paper, let alone do they have spreadsheets to tabulate nor emails to send. But I do lean on pro-globalization winds and hope that introducing some bits of the modern world will – if nothing else – inspire these kids to think bigger, brighter thoughts, and aspire to do, see, and live more. Who doesn’t love an ipod or digi-cam? Their pictures were remarkably awesome, for the record.
getting personal
david 72 guach rocking some lupe fiasco on the deck

The kids’ images and messages continued to surprise and impress me. One participant noted the importance of ‘multiculturalism’ that can flourish within schools, depicting me in his image. He told me about the community’s own diversity, between tribes and varied experiences of war.

From my informal research and casual discussions with people here, I’ve uncovered how sensitive the role of returnees in the community is. While refugees in Ethiopia, Kenya, or Uganda, many individuals gained valuable skills and were trained in different areas, such as soap-making, education (as teachers), tailoring, brick-making, etc. Their eyes were opened to new things that the ‘stayees’ have never seen. Tensions exist between those that return to the Sudan that the “stayees, stayed and fought for.” Anyway, an example of this trouble is in the reality that the military mite that stayed and fought the war occupy protective positions (like a guard for a compound) and are unable to offer deference to a person – be it their supervisor or not – who was not in the military, but who may have higher managerial and or technical skills or authority. This of course has come forth through the youth’s art creations and messages, when they tell me that school is for everyone, and that all must be treated equally. We’ve worked together to cultivate and draw forth these messages to generate a final, collective message from the group:

We the adolescents of Pagak Payam would like to share our artwork with
you to spread an important message for our community:

Through education our children and community can see a better future.
Growing peace and the return home of many people provide opportunities for
education and cooperation to create change for all people by working together in
Education improves our community and living standards. Education is
for all people, young and old, boy and girl. Children should go to school
and parents must support their children's education, even from the earliest
ages. Through community education and working collectively we can overcome
harmful practices and move from old traditions, like keeping the girl-child at
home and boys with the cattle, to let the children of our future become educated
participants in our communities and strong society. It is a shared
responsibility, requiring the participation of the community to build, maintain,
support, and improve schools. It depends on all people working

Support children going to school!
Support school development!
Working together as a community is the best step for

We decided that to drive the good message home we would distribute the works of art and have a public function to discuss the matters of serious importance. The artists selected the 10 best, most representative images from the collection of over 100.

final votes
final review

I’m hopeful that this work will continue to move forward after my departure this week and that I can count on my colleagues and partners to carry the vision out: we’ve scanned the pictures, translated the above message, and are creating small flashcard-sized, laminated, color cards to distribute throughout the community.

It’s exciting to see such a project come together. I feel like the social-marketing output from this engagement is far more sincere than those of the art-projects with refugee youth I’ve facilitated in the past. This was certainly the most challenging and thought provoking as well. In really seeking to look at the role of returnees in community development, and acknowledging that by community development, I actually mean regenerating social-capital within a system where the political infrastructure and standard government social services are provided by the international aid community, I’ve come to see a mix of bleak prospects as well as striking possibilities. Of course I believe in the power of youth as the strongest agents of change, but here in South Sudan it feels as though they are the most critical actors to seeing any progressive changes for this place at all. I’m honoured to have had the chance to work on this project and see the capacity and insights that these young people have to offer and I have nothing but hope for the changes they can bring about.
Jul. 18th, 2008 @ 10:19 pm art with returnees in Sudan
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It’s good to be able to answer the question “What can I do or bring that another person (another intern?) can not?” with an action that you really enjoy. It’s also really great to feel experiences transforming your understandings, in real time, on a day-to-day basis.

I find it rather amazing that my experiences with Sudanese youth are coming full circle through markers and cameras, despite the fact that I’m a terrible artist. In January of 2003 the youth program coordinator of Refugee Family Services told me that once I began working with refugees I wouldn’t ever stop. New to Atlanta, finding that my new University lacked both fine arts and communications departments, I was seeking some way to get my feet on the ground. I never though a monster-track advert for judging a children’s art contest would lead me to where I am, but as per her predictions (and after two years volunteering as an art teacher, then a year of research looking at refugees’ art and photography as a tool for community building, followed by teaching art in refugee and IDP camps in Uganda), here I am in Sudan teaching art to returning refugees.

Over the past week and a half, I’ve been holding daily sessions with anywhere from 10 to 25 adolescents. The objective of the engagement has evolved in parallel to their expressiveness and excitement. What began as an activity to get me out of the compound for a bit in the afternoon has grown into a support structure for our social marketing agenda for the early-childhood education work and community mobilization ideology.

read and see more...Collapse )
Jul. 8th, 2008 @ 05:12 pm back to the bush
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After a mere 24 hours back in Sudan, Ethiopia already feels light years away. For about an hour I was excited to be back here, happily waving to funny, excitable kids and ladies and goats as we made our parade back into town after a week away. Said excitement faded quite quickly with the news of my grandfather, the (initially) broken generator, today’s rain, irritating co-workers, spotty internet, failed project implementation in our absence, etc etc etc.

The Ethiopian respite ended in a funny fashion as well. Given our arrival mode and timing of travel – overland from Sudan with a local/domestic flight from the town of Gambella into Addis last Sunday evening (when immigration was essentially shut down) – I had some trouble securing a visa. After four days in country an Ethiopian colleague finally agreed it was important for me to get some legal documentation of my presence and took me to the immigration office in downtown Addis. We entered separately; he referred to this as Ethiopian gender sensitivity, haha! We waited in one long line and spoke to one irritated woman. We waited in a second long line, yielding the same results: scribbled Amharic across the back of my visa application, jammed into my full passport (note, must add pages, ASAP). We were shuffled off to the head of immigration, who shouted that he couldn’t believe our story and how could he know that we had in fact asked immigration for visas upon our arrival to Bole International Airport, but had been shooed away. Then he declared our options were detention or deportation (all of this was in Amharic, for the record). We scuffled quickly to the Africa Area office our INGO and were told that given Ethiopian sensitivity to these matters the best thing would be to send me (and one other – out of 25 of us - in a similar situation) back to Sudan overland – a three day trip - ASAP, in an SC vehicle.

While a little disturbing, this prickly situation proved to be a relatively great chance to see the resplendently beautiful countryside of Ethiopia. Our driver Salomon turned out to be a former tourist guide and avid bird-watcher – who was accordingly stoked to learn and supportive of my secret bird-nerd/ornithologist streak – and thus gave us key insights into the different towns and areas we passed through on our 800 km journey westward.

I really, really liked Ethiopia. Nearly everyone in the country is gorgeous. As a visitor it’s incredibly cheap - definitely the least expensive country I've ever been to. The roads are beautifully paved. Eating with your hands, and accordingly playing with your food, is obligatory. Addis is cool and breezy and the rains aren't accompanied by a trace of humidity.

It was hard to feel the destituteness and despair within that country, the only African nation boasting a colonialism-free history, but more renowned for starving, fly-swarmed children. Maybe the month in Sudan has hardened me; coming back here makes me wonder if there is anywhere in this world backwards and stuck as South Sudan. For the mean time, I hope you enjoy these pictures of my trip.

three assesthe Baro river
looking bluemonkeying around
giddyupFooting to Market
pick your pepper
Jun. 27th, 2008 @ 09:30 pm How do you keep people from selling maxipads?
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When I showed these photos to a friend online he inquired what Sudanese women do when they menstruate otherwise. Learning that many girls and women are monthly relegated to staying at home and waiting to return to the field, work, school, or town because they have no sanitary way of publicly having their period, Scott was a bit shocked. From my education-policy research in Uganda I was aware that many girls wind up dropping out of school when they reach puberty, with lack of hygienic facilities and materials bringing shame that keeps them away from books, and so this was not such a shock for me...

Some donor (collapsed institutional memory means that no one here knows who exactly…) gave SC-US about a million maxi-pads. Being the first female on site in months, I was tasked with disseminating these “comfort towels,” as they are termed by my Kenyan colleagues, to about a 150 women. After multiple quad-bike trips schlepping heaping towers of pads to the Primary Health Care Centre and mobilizing community informants to tell people to come to said PHCC to collect the goods, the good times rolled.
maxipads in the mud

I’m thankful for bringing modest undergarments with me to Sudan. Rounds of demonstrating how to apply winged maxi-pads to panties, how to remove said protective barrier, and how to either drop in a latrine, burn, or bury your used product, were translated into Nuer by my faithful friend Gloria.

and this is how you use a maxipad.


The distribution process was equally laughable as we tried to pack 12 packages into the skinny arms of these ladies before they signed off a photo-release and receipt of goods document.
distribution distribution center lady perfect

I would just like to note that, as a friend pointed out, I never would have imagined doing this. Nor would I have ever thought myself privileged for a) having a signature (90% of these women used a small dot next to their recorded name and have never in their life signed their own name), b) having access to tampons, nor c) finding myself in a position requiring the immediate sale of these humanitarian-aid-given products because the financial value of such would be able to feed me for yet another day. Driving back home after this long morning at the piss-scented PHCC it was heartbreaking to see girls hawking their maxipads at the market. I heard some even made their way to Ethiopia already.

Cheers for non-sustainable development.
love this shot
Jun. 23rd, 2008 @ 09:17 am Ethiopian Holiday
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Hi all - I'm planning for a 10-day holiday in Ethiopia in early August. I've heard great things about Lalibela, Gondar, and hiking in the Simien Mountains. Anyone here have any experiences or suggestions to share? Advice appreciated!
Jun. 10th, 2008 @ 09:18 am adventures in Juba, South Sudan
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It’s funny to watch Animal Planet’s “wild in Africa” from the middle of it all. The television hasn’t been turned off since I arrived at this house. It can be a bit much, honestly. Working hours are 8 am to 7 pm, 6 days a week. We all live and work and eat and play at the same place, day in, day out. This seems standard for international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and those who work for them in Juba. It’s prohibitively expensive to run an office and staff otherwise– a tented camp costs upwards of $200 USD nightly – and both transportation and communication are difficult to come by. There is no legal driving edge (evidently) and 12 to 14 year old drivers accordingly make my favorite mode of travel, by boda-boda, riskier. To call a private-hire, the equivalent of a NY livery-car-service in the bush, is an outrageously over-priced option: a 10 minute drive to a party at the UNMIS compound this weekend would have cost me $20 US each way. There are multiple phone-carriers, yet no two can contact each other. I'm using Jem-Tel for the week (before hitting the field where I'll be relegated to the realm of sat-phone only) - everyone whom I've told has inquired how exactly I was able to even get a sim-card; apparently sim cards come in waves and arrived when the tides were right.

My buddy Alex was here last week before moving to his field site for the summer and I’ve found his commentary quite poignant on the dynamics of this strange, strange place.

Leaving the compound is a bit like being punched in the face. The poverty is hard to take in and the contrasts of the city are chaotic. As the city is quickly being developed, there are a few very nice new buildings. One intends to be a business park, another is a bank. Yet most buildings seems to barely stand, or no longer are. People throw tents on cement foundations of buildings with no other remnants. Between the buildings there are small neighborhoods of huts that seem strangely out of place. They seem to belong in a rural areas with beautiful wild animals and not this sprawling confusion. The urbanization seems to surround the rural living styles and the cattle, rather than push it out. The nicest buildings seem to be those of the aid and development workers, or the businesses that cater to them. Hence, the insane prices on imported goodies and comfortable places to sleep.
Check out his blog when you have a chance.

Parsing the plethora of PDFs on this harddrive I found some relevant guidelines for managing stress and maintaining wellness as a humanitarian worker – thanks Dirk! It’s undeniable how important taking good care of one’s self is with this inherently stressful work, but it’s really challenging to prioritize self-preservation in the face of such emotionally intensive and distressing engagements. Kate and I have been doing daily aerobics and yoga sessions (much to the delight of the compound guards, I’m sure) and Sunday the boys included me in their approach for dealing – D’nile!

nice, right?

I went with a couple of the guys from the alliance to a cool place on the banks of the Nile river, where we drank some cold ones and enjoyed the awesomeness that is my new battery-powered ipod-speaker. It seems like we weren’t the first to discover this locale – a less fortunate visitor before left a more impressive mark with this sunken ship, whereas some locale people make good use of the river resource for bathing and a car-wash (please pardon the voyeurism here).

sunken ship and a fisherman under the mango tree:
fishing next to the titanic on the nile

bathing cars and bodies:

Finally, in keeping with the self-preservation M.O., a sunning lizard:
blue feet

Back to work.
Jan. 18th, 2008 @ 02:38 pm Expat in Sudan (Khartoum)
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Hello there,

I recently joined this community, I moved to Khartoum few months ago after three years spent in Kenya/Somalia.

In the vastness and diversity of Sudan there are places really worth a visit. If somebody is interested in traveling to Sudan can keep an eye on my LJ. I am also writing about life in Khartoum and, hopefully, in other locations as soon as I will start to do field missions.

Jan. 8th, 2008 @ 01:06 pm (no subject)
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Whilst I'm in Ghana again this summer, I want to take a couple of trips.
  1. Accra, GHANA to Abidjan, CÔTE D'IVOIRE to Ouagadougou, BURKINA FASO
  2. Aflao, GHANA to Lomé, TOGO to Cotonou, BENIN to Porto-Novo, BENIN to Lagos, NIGERIA
Any comments about these countries I should know about? I know that people are typically 'you're gonna die in Côte d'Ivoire/Nigeria!' but I'd like to hear from people who have actually been there before. It'd also be nice to hear from anyone who has taken the Abidjan-Ouagadougou railway! Most of my other travel will be on STC buses or tro-tro.

Cross-posted in a myriad of places.
Dec. 3rd, 2007 @ 11:07 pm Stories
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I'm right in the middle of a project -- making an Advent calendar to introduce the students of my school to people who haven't volunteered there. There are sixty kids, three are presented a day, so there are five days left over. On those off-days, there are special topics: volunteering, donating, awareness, pre-vocational work and Christmas.

I want to have different views on these topics, views outside of the people I know. If you think you can type something about those general topics (e.g., awareness about the real Africa, not the media Africa), it would be absolutely wonderful!

The Advent calendar can be found here if you'd also like to peep it.

Thank you everyone!