December 26, 2007


Greetings, earthlings...Er, sorry, I got my messages mixed up. What I meant to say is Happy Day After Christmas, or rather Happy Boxing Day.

I can't believe how many things are still open on Christmas and Boxing Day (Kinko's,, the guards at the gate of a posh neighborhood in Georgetown, the street cleaners on my street)...And then I remember that, not everyone enjoys the job benefits I do, and not everyone celebrates Christmas (for example my Jewish cousins, and my Buddhist neighbor). I am ever so grateful of these few days off.

Enjoy whatever you are celebrating (Christmas, the lack of colleagues at work, the empty streets, the unencumbered shopping) this year!

December 17, 2007

A Game of Life!

A friend, who is an avid mountaineer, says that there are three essential things when climbing a mountain: 1) To be warm, 2) To be satiated, 3) To be rested.


If one element should be absent, a climber can still survive the climb.  But it two elements are missing, there is real danger to his/her life.  For example, one can tired, so long as he/she is warm and full.  But one cannot reasonably be expected to climb a mountain on an empty stomach and dog-tired.


This same principle can be applied to life in general I suppose, provided one has: 1) Good health, 2) A stable job, 3) An active personal life.


Right now, I feel like I have good health.  My job is stable but not very fulfilling.  My personal life is blah.


So the score is


Health              %  100

Job                   %  50

Personal           %     0


Hum, better not try to climb that mountain!

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December 14, 2007

Holy Beans!

Lately, I've been trying to recapture that lunchtime feeling from Congo, when I would nuzzle up to the office cook, to see her red beans rolling in tomato sauce and bouillon-cubed water. That steam, those bursting skins, that salty tomato sauce! Just heaven, even in a hot climate…

We would then have to loosen our belts, and deal with that heavy, satiated felling for the rest of the afternoon.

So I bought red beans yesterday, out of nostalgia, and forgot to soak them over night. No worries I thought, I can just boil them for a few minutes, let them sit out for a while, and cook them for 30 mins. Not so. The beans were almost as hard as they were when they were dry.

So I decided to take a break and have them for dinner the next day. The next evening, I took them out of the fridge and cooked them for another hour. Still not soft enough to be edible! So I left them for the next day. On and on, until I had cooked them for what seemed like 4 hours! And they still aren't quite soft enough to eat.

I now have a newfound respect for Maman Cécile, the Congolese office cook.

December 11, 2007

A slice of a (crime ridden) neighborhood

At about 10:30 pm, last night, I heard 4 loud cracks that reverberated in the icy parking lot across from my house. Savvy enough to recognize the sound by now, I ran to my third floor window to figure out who had fired the gun. Instead of a person, I saw a large, dark blue SUV, driving erratically down the street. It hit a car parked on the side of the street (effectively reducing it to 2/3 of its original size), and that car hit the car in front of it, creating a domino effect.

I squinted to see the back of the SUV but couldn't see the license plate number.

Soon after that, a series of neighbors came out of their houses to talk to the policemen that arrived 5 minutes after the altercation. While we were talking to them, a series of 4 shots were fired again, this time one street away, and the cops were on their way again.

While the neighbors took pictures for accident reports and assessed the damage to their cars (there was a 4-car pile-up), we got to talking a little bit. Here are some excerpts of the conversations:

Woman who's still in college (panicked):

"I can't believe my landlord wanted to increase rent for this crap-hole. I told myself I would leave 6 months later, and I'm still planning on doing that. It's too unsafe. Did you go to the meeting at the community center? You should go, they explain all about what's going on with the gangs. It feels a lot better to understand the dynamics. Still though, I'm gonna leave, anytime now".

Man whose car was considerably damaged, to cop (laughing):

"Ya, I wish I could claim that dent from the accident, but the truth is that I damaged it earlier on with my foot".

Man whose car suffered the least damage, after moving it from under the third one (in his pajamas, with a winter coat):

"I'm going back to sleep".

Woman who has lived on the street for 20 years, engaging the surprised onlookers (animatedly):

"It's not the environment…I raised my three kids on this very street, and let me tell you, the eighties were terrible…all these drug-related problems…Two of my kids went to college, the older one here (pointing to her Virginia T-shirt), and the third one is a senior in high school…I tell you, back in the day when my kids were napping on the top floor, I would look out the window, and see the drug dealers stash their drugs…then I would call the cops on them with the location and the description of the drug-dealers…they were always surprised when they were caught…Lavinia had to remove her shrubs from her front yard 'cause they'd always stash to their drugs there…I tell you, it's not the environment…And you know, I should know, I'm white. It's all gang-related now".

Woman who has lived on the street for 30 years, when examining the damage to her totaled car (matter-of-factly):

"Well, at least I didn't fill up the tank".

Adopt a Family for Christmas

I don't know about you but, given that my family (parents, sis and bro) are all grown up, we've decided, for three Christmases straight now, to give each other little-bitty presents that are worth no more than $10-15. They are always thoughtful presents and appreciated, but any present more than $15 is a little pointless given that we are well-off and can generally buy our own items throughout the year.

But the financial freedom is not available to everyone. In fact, plenty of homeless families will not have a Christmas/Kwanza/Hanukkah this year. Community of Hope, a homeless shelter in Washington D.C. (more like a set of apartment complexes for families transitioning into other more permanent housing like their cousin's, or subsidized housing), is looking to get gifts for about 200 families. Here's how people can help:

Community of Hope Adopt a Family Program

You can help Community of Hope make Christmas special for a needy family. It is our desire to make sure every homeless child and parent in our housing program for homeless families, along with numerous other needy families we serve through our medical clinic, receive Christmas gifts for the holiday.

Your $50 contribution to Community of Hope enables us to purchase a gift card for one family member. For $100 we can purchase two cards or for $250 five cards. Your contribution is tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
HERE to read more.

or CLICK THE GIFT CARD ABOVE to make your contribution!

If you can't afford it, don't sweat it! I certainly can, now that my family has let up a little on the gift for Christmas.

December 10, 2007

One Issue Voter

I fear I have become a one-issue voter. My issue? Health insurance.

Surely there's got to be a better way to do health insurance, from a country that is so technologically-sophisticated, and customer-service orientated.

This always happens:

1-I go to the dentist/gynecologist/doctor once a year.

2-I work with the medical office to ensure that my paperwork is accurate and up-to-date.

3-I pay the entire bill. My insurance promises to reimburse the allowable fees. That still leaves with having to pay $538.20 that day, of which $300 will be covered by my health insurance and $248.20 (I sometimes really wonder why I am paying $150 per month and yet still have to shell out $250 out of my own pocket).

4-I go home feeling healthy, yet disgruntled at having had to wait 1 hour to see the dentist/gyncologist/doctor, when I arrived perfectly on time.

5-Three months later, I still haven't been reimbursed the $300.

6-I call the insurance company. They tell me that my dentist/gynecologist/doctor hasn't submitted the claim.

7-I call my dentist/gynecologist/doctor. The office tells me that they did. In fact, they sent the claim months ago. The office is annoyed, but sends the paperwork again.

8-I wait another month until reimbursement.

Can you imagine if you had 3 kids, which means three times as many appointments, and just a 1/3 of the time to follow-up with all of these? What if you were a cashier at Giant on your feet all day, then had to rush to school to pick up the kids at 4 pm, then spent all your evening cooking, checking homework, giving baths, and doing laundry. It's impossible!

No wonder people are reluctant to go to the doctor's.

Whichever candidate proposes to streamline and simplify the process, gets my vote in November 2008.

December 06, 2007

Simple bully math

My parents have a little dog + My parents are traveling = I have to take care of the dog

The dog is little + it is cold and snowing outside = I dress the dog in a green coat

The dog looks ridiculous + we go to the dog park = The big dogs instinctively attack my pooch

(note: the picture is not of my dog, but you have to admit that this one's cute!)

December 01, 2007

Black Rose

The Black Rose website states:

About Black Rose
Black Rose is a not-for-profit organization which provides a forum for the many different expressions of power in love and play. This can include dominance & submission, bondage & discipline, fetishism, cross-dressing, to name a few.

Black Rose is a support, education, and social group for adults who share these interests in the context of caring relationships. Black Rose is a pan sexual group, open to those of any sexual orientation. It is our goal to provide a comfortable, safe, and discreet environment where one can meet others of like mind. We are not a swingers group or a sex club. We do not make referrals. We are not a chapter based organization. We welcome the interested, the inquisitive, and the discerning to join us as we explain, explore, and enjoy.

You must be at least 19 years old to attend any of our functions or to receive our literature or newsletter.

Every person who attends a Black Rose event, in exchange for admittance, agrees that he or she, and his or her representatives and assigns, will not hold Black Rose or any coordinator liable directly or vicariously for injuries or other damages that result directly or indirectly from attending the event.

Hum, I guess that's why I felt like a prey in my little conservative little suit at the hotel, on Friday...

November 30, 2007

The suspence is killing me

I am in a hotel in Capitol Hill waiting to meet with a group of public health people and the hotel is overtaken by people in leather clothing, dark dyed hair and halter tops. I thought some kind of biker convention was going on but apparently it's an "alternative" conference for the Black Rose. I can't check the website from here but the suspence is killing me...

City to Boost Anti-Gang Efforts After Spike in Violence

Hum... This might explain why we haven't been very successful at getting roommates.

By Allison Klein

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 30, 2007

At least five violent ganglike "crews" of young people are warring in the Columbia Heights and lower Georgia Avenue areas of Northwest Washington, where 11 people have been shot in recent weeks, city officials said yesterday.

Since early October, people in the neighborhoods have reported more than 100 gunshots, said D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D- Ward 1), who represents the area and has been pleading for more police attention. Officers have made two arrests in the cases involving the 11 victims.

It's absolutely incredible more people aren't wounded and shot," Graham said yesterday. "This situation is red-hot."

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) joined Graham yesterday at Georgia Avenue and Harvard Street in Columbia Heights to announce plans to target hostile crews.

The police department is streamlining its gang intelligence unit, giving $1.2 million to community partnerships for gang intervention and spending $1.8 million to expand the ShotSpotter system, Lanier said.

"These crews are a very, very strong driving force behind the crime," Lanier said. "We have to get right to the heart of that."

ShotSpotter, a collection of gunshot recognition sensors, finds gunfire within seconds and alerts police to where the bullets were fired. D.C. police began using the technology last year in the 7th Police District, the southern half of the city east of the Anacostia River.


Halloween night was one of the most violent in Columbia Heights. Nine people were shot, including in a drive-by at 14th and Harvard streets NW that left four people wounded (note from 007inAfrica: this is one block from my house). A police car was half a block away and raced to the scene after an officer heard shots.


Columbia Heights community activist Thomas Kwesi Danda Smith said he has been frustrated by the police department's response to the violence.

"Police are reluctant to give us adequate coverage," Smith said. "We've been begging for foot patrols, for them to actually get to know residents, get to know business owners. They don't seem to have any ownership in the community or really care."

November 29, 2007

Apartment troubles

I love my apartment. I truly, truly do. I share it with an architect (female), and a guy who works with a construction company who is never home. Unfortunately, said guy is planning a move outside of the city and closer to his girlfriend.

We each have separate full-baths, so we never fight about whose nasty hair is clogging the sink. We live three blocks from the metro, Giant, dry-cleaners, and have at least 5 bus routes to services our area. It's located a mere 20 minutes by bikes from the White House.

We have a cool-assed dining/living space with tons of light, bohemian furniture, and a nice TV corner. We have the cutest bricked-in yard, a roof space with 2 barbecues, and lots of cooking utensils. To top it off, we have a washer and dryer, and a dishwasher.

So why is it that we've advertised for our house four times and are completely unsuccessful at getting a renter? Could it be that the rent is expensive for the area? It's not exactly Disneyworld around my neighborhood (see previous posts on shootings), but still, it's seems like it's a total renter's market out there and people are incredibly spoiled.

Meanwhile, we are going to have to go one month without renter soon and will have to split the cost of the room in two. I can't afford that!

I'm starting to think that I'm not cool enough, or I smell. Sigh, I'm going to start to buy strong bath salts.

November 26, 2007

Omigod it works!

Omigod, the blogging-from-your-email thing works! It's quick too!

I'm happy to report that the stupid fly is walking daaaangerously close to the sticky fly trap. D'oh, it avoided it again. Perhaps it is smarter than it looks? Perhaps it is extremely cautious to steer clear of its pathetic friends trapped in goo?

Trying this new thing...

So, I seem to have firewalls bigger than the Great Wall of China at work, and consequently have not been able to access my blog for the last 6 months. I am trying, instead, the blogging feature that allows one to blog from the email. We'll see if it works.

Let's see, it's been months, and what do I have to say? I have a fat fly dancing around in my halogen lamp and I periodically hope to see it land on the fly strip that hangs from it. My mouth is still burning from the reheated turkey soup (courtesy of Thanksgiving of course) from two days ago.

Wow, well, it all makes for a fascinating blog entry.

October 12, 2007

The Green Revolution

2005 First place winner - University of Colorado, Denver and Boulder

You may have heard that Al Gore won the Nobel Prize for Peace. I was very surprised given that he’s such a polarizing individual. Though I haven’t seen the movie An Inconvenient Truth, I am totally onboard with his message of global warming.

I feel like people react defensively about the subject because they are scared to change their habits. Call me a dork, but I imagine that this green revolution that is taking place, will be a lot of fun. I’m a little biased because I have lived in several foreign countries, where being green was a requirement.

Take Canada, for example, where large households pride themselves on having just one small trash bag to throw out by the end of the day (the rest of the garbage goes into recycling or composting). When I lived in my tiny apartment in Japan, we have 4 or 5 trash containers to sort a variety of things from plastic, to glass, to food waste, etc.

But that’s not the fun part. I think the green revolution will challenge people, their habits, and their environment. In Washington D.C. for example, the Solar Decathlon will quick off a full week of wonders. If you love home-design TV shows, wait 'till you get a load of this.

According to the website:

The Solar Decathlon is a competition in which 20 teams of college and university students compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The Solar Decathlon is also an event to which the public is invited to observe the powerful combination of solar energy, energy efficiency, and the best in home design.

The event takes place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., October 12 - 20. The team houses are open for touring everyday, except Wednesday, October 17, when they will close for competition purposes. An overall winner is announced on Friday, October 19 at 2 p.m. See the
schedule for more information.

Teams of college students design a solar house, knowing from the outset that it must be powered entirely by the sun. In a quest to stretch every last watt of electricity that's generated by the solar panels on their roofs, the students absorb the lesson that
energy is a precious commodity. They strive to innovate, using high-tech materials and design elements in ingenious ways. Along the way, the students learn how to raise funds and communicate about team activities. They collect supplies and talk to contractors. They build their solar houses, learning as they go.

And you should see these houses! They’re modern, have gardens growing on the walls, large windows and sunroofs, collect water in garden cisterns, and make imaginative and efficient use of space. Some teams are so organized that they actually market their houses to potential buyers.

It’s futuristic! It’s entertaining! It’s science fiction!

September 24, 2007

This was my idea first!

I haven't been blogging regularly and it's true that it's just not the same to be in Washington, D.C. with nothing exciting to write about.

It is my duty to report on a new gadget though. I am not really a gadget-kind of person but this time, this is something I can wholeheartedly support. But only because I thought of it three years ago!

The $100 computer!

Can socially responsible design change the world? Fuseproject's product design of the new One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO computer can. Honored by "Popular Science" magazine's "Best of What's New" Grand Award, the XO computer marries fuseproject's high-concept design with cutting-edge technological solutions for a very low price.

The goal of the project is both simple and worthy: to give every child a laptop computer, especially in developing countries, where the machines will be sold in bulk for about $130 each. The revolutionary child-size laptop was created by the nonprofit OLPC, which was formed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology by Nicholas Negroponte. It brings learning, information and communication to children where education is needed most: in developing countries.

The result is a cheap and energy efficient computer. The machine's reduction in energy use by 90 percent is ideal for a device that could be charged by hand cranked power in rural villages. The OLPC is designed as a compact, durable and expressive product. Every design aspect of the machine serves a dual purpose to achieve a sense of economy and efficiency. When closed, the entire unit is sealed, protecting it from dust and dirt.

It's not the price tag I like, or the fact that "every child" will have one (that's laughable). But I think the following features are essential for business workers in the developing world:

-a computer that uses a different source of energy than electricity;

-a computer that's durable and can bear the wear and tear of humidity, dirt, and dryness;

-a computer that has very basic functions (word, excel, and picture loading capacities).

Voila! There's no need for super technically sophisticated machine. Rather, the machine has to be adapted to the particularities of developing country settings.

August 29, 2007

A Hodge-Podge of cultures

08. 24.2007 continued

You would think that, after Senegal, the Congo, Australia and Madagascar, I was an adventurous person. But actually, I'm not adventurous at all. I'm just impulsive and make rash decisions. So in the evening of the 24th, instead of roaming the streets of Waikiki in search of a cool dinner place, I stay on the premises of the hotel.

I enter a Japanese restaurant, because it is moderately priced and I ache for proper Japanese food (I live in Nagoya for a year, teaching as my students would say "Engurishu"). Sure, you can get nice bastardized Japanese food in Washington D.C., but it's sometimes hard to find the real thing. The awning is oh-so Japanese, and the waitresses greet me with an "irashaimase!" in their best high-pitched Hello-Kitty voices. It's a great sign already. They sit me at the sushi bar, overlooking raw pieces of fish and thick, curled and suckered octopus. I know a lot of people eat in restaurants alone, but I find it really awkward. I am not sure where to look and whether I should occupy myself by reading a book. Ultimately, I feel very rude to be reading while eating, and just focus on enjoying my sushi. And "oishi" it is! This is the real thing: Japanese staff and sushi chef, who cater to the sophisticated palates of Japanese tourists.

Perhaps feeling sorry for me, a single lady looking uncomfortable yet enjoying her meal, one of the sushi chefs engages me in conversation. He lived in California for 19 years (but speaks English like he only was there for one) where he owned a restaurant. Now, in order to relax, he is in Hawaii, working in this resort restaurant. He has been here for 6 years but professes that he will never be able to own a place, as one bedrooms sometimes go for $1,000,000 in this part of town. For dessert, I head to the cookies place, and sample the best macadamia nut, chocolate-dipped cookie in the shape of a pineapple, I've ever tasted.

On the way back to my room, I see Hawaiian dancers sway their hips and move their hands in wave-like patterns. They wear neon-colored sparkly dresses and assorted bras well-matched to their long long hair, and the men are dressed in Hawaiian shirts. Though the dance has become a cliché, it is really an experience to see it in person, accompanied by a live music arrangement. The bottom parts of their bodies mark the music's beat, the faces are fixed in a seductive smile, and the arms mimic the ocean, the pulling of a neat, the sunshine, and schools of fish. It is so enchanting that I don't see time pass. I now understand why sailors flocked to the Hawaii after long and lonely journeys (Ok Ok, other than food and fresh water)!

August 27, 2007

First Impressions of Hawaii: Waikiki


Work seemed to have sucked all the life out of me lately. A positive thing though, is that my bosses have sent me to Hawaii for a “work” conference. Snicker. "Work", "Hawaii", in the same sentence. That’s kind of funny. No but seriously, I am here for work.

The taxi trip from the airport to the resort was blessedly refreshing after nearly 18 hours of plane travel and airport waits. My taxi driver is a pleasant old guy, with a white, linen shirt and old 1940s-newspaper-boy cap to match the shirt. He has almond shaped eyes that reveal pupils that stare at opposite directions. He is a hodge-podge of ethnicities, perhaps half native Hawaiian, with a hint of Pilipino and Japanese— the essence of Hawaii. He senses my need for peace and quiet, and drives in total silence, except for the Beyonce blaring on the radio (“to the left, to the left; everything in a box to the left”).

I quickly arrive to the resort, set my bags down and fall asleep by 8 pm. The Hilton Hawaiian Village has graciously given me a decent rate, that falls within my per-diem allowance. This is a monstrous complex of hotel rooms, expensive stores, smiling hosts with their ubiquitous flowered shirts and beach drinks. I swear, I almost got lost there.

The trouble with jet lag is that you are up and about by 3 am, starving from last night’s lack of dinner. I wait for 5:30 am, get dressed, and go to the cheapest restaurant in the resort for breakfast. I end up spending $8.32 for a ham and cheese pastry and a cup of Earl Grey tea. This is absolutely outrageous!

Around 6:30 am, I go for a quick run to explore the streets of Waikiki. The sands near the resort have been neatly combed so that the beach looks perfect and pristine. Two people are combing the beach and the swallow waves with metal detectors to find the various gold, and diamond rings wealthy tourists have lost the day before. The day has barely started, and to beach and streets are cool and nearly empty.

The streets are packed with high end stores like Fenti, Louis Vuitton, LeSport Sac, and Bulgari. Interspersed are street cleaners, beach bums sleeping on the sand with their plastic bags and flowered shorts, old Hawaii men parading billboards from water sports, and hotel staff in head-to-toe Hawaiian cloth uniforms. All streets are lined with hibiscus flowers, ponds with potted water lilies, and orchids. Everything is man-made and everything is for sale. The majority of signs are in English and Japanese. A few jet-lagged tourists and joggers are walking in the streets as well, in ill-fitting and neon beachwear.

I stop at the local convenience store, ABC store, that is located every two or three blocks (I swear, in one hour, I saw six or seven different ABC stores). I buy 2 fuji apples, 2 onigiri squares, 2 bananas, 3 instant noodles, for the same price of my breakfast. I'm starting to realize that ABC is much more reasonable option that eating at the resort.

Don't erase my blog!

I just signed on to my blog, when I encountered this message:

Blogger's spam-prevention robots have detected that your blog has characteristics of a spam blog. (What's a spam blog?) Since you're an actual person reading this, your blog is probably not a spam blog. Automated spam detection is inherently fuzzy, and we sincerely apologize for this false positive.

We received your unlock request on August 27, 2007. On behalf of the robots, we apologize for locking your non-spam blog. Please be patient while we take a look at your blog and verify that it is not spam.

Find out more about how Blogger is fighting spam blogs.


The message also notified me that if I didn't respond within two days, my blog would be erased! Yikes! That's completely crazy, what if I was on vacation and unable to use the internet for a few days?

Wow, loosing my blog would really, REALLY piss me off.

August 17, 2007

Another one of those emails...

So I just received another one of those scamming emails:

Greeting to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.Thanks for your reply and i am very glad you are ready to recieve my donation and also use it as directed by me and also i thank you very much for your prayers. i want my contributions to be used for the development of churches in your country.I had to deposit the funds in a private overseas credit commission in Europe because my late Husband's brothers are moslems and since i converted to be a christian.They have been very angry with me and they try their best to seize all my late husband's property and assests,i will forward the transfer security code numbers and the contact details of the overseas credit commission which will include the name of the Director but you will have to assure me that you will go to Europe to claim my donation and let me know if you can go to Europe to recieve my donation or not.i want to be sure that i am dealing with the Right person which is you because i dont want anybody to take advantage of my illness. I want to forward to you my photo with my doctor in the hosiptal two days ago.I await your reply
God bless
Mary Collins Jones

This one is particularly good because it exploits:
-the religion angle,
-the I'm-converting-to-Christianity-from-Islam angle,
-the sweet Mary Collins Jones angle,
-the illness angle,
-the taking-property-of-a-women angle.

Again, my main concern with this email, is the grammar and the flow. If this scammer took a little bit longer to draft this email, it would have been so much more convincing. I'll give him/her an C- minus for effort though.

One Man's Amazing Journey

I know I haven't been blogging for forever, but my job's been sucking me dry. I've been preparing various briefing books for a U.S. Government official travelling to Africa, working 60 to 80 hour weeks for the past 3 weeks. Definitely not what I have in mind when I decided to leave the Congo, and come back to the United States.

I just finished my work and the stress is slowly melting off my shoulders. I just came upon this photo-story of a man from Cameroon and his exhausting journey to come to Europe, in search of a better life:

I have to say, it puts everything in perspective.

July 27, 2007

Timeline of a vacation

(or "How not to plan a trip")

I've been back for a few days after a short trip to Europe, which a friend kindly organized. But I must admit that I'm still feeling pretty comatose from the whole affair. Case in point, here are the instructions on how to plan a completely exhausting trip:

Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Go to work, as per usual. Leave by 5:30pm to catch the metro and then the bus to Dulles International Airport. The trip takes about 1:15 minutes. Wait for 3 hours for the plane to take off. Stay up for 24 hours while traveling. Do not sleep on plane.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Arrive in Geneva. Rent a car, and travel for a couple hours to Montreux. Attend the Van Morrison show at the Jazz festival. Drink a lot of water, smile, and pretend not to mind the slowly dissolving part of your brain that demands sleep. Go to bed by 1 am.

Thursday, July 19, 2007
Drive to Turin, Italy for 4 hours--make sure to transit through France and stop in Argentière for a nice view of the Mont Blanc. Try to take pictures of the formidable mountain from a moving car, and half asleep. Look for restaurants as suggested by the "Slow foods" guide for hours. Give up: Turin is a labyrinth. Gorge yourself on heavy Italian food (delicious) suggested by the hotel staff instead. Go to bed by 11 pm.

Friday, July 20, 2007
Wake up with extreme difficulty and jam toothpicks between your eyelids to keep your eyes from closing. Spend hours in the hot Museum of Film and drag your feet until you've seen every exhibit on the 4 floors. Drive an hour to Pinerolo, arrive in the hotel, shower and change in 20 minutes and join friends for dinner. Smile at the wedding party while desperately trying to stay awake. Excuse yourself to go to bed by eleven pm.

Saturday, July 21, 2007
Spend the morning trying to get "said" friend's suit pressed. Try to stay calm, composed, and awake. Realize you have just 2 hours until the wedding and that you want to cram the sight of a medieval forteress located one hour away from the church. Spending 20 minutes there, grab a 2-minute lunch. Attend a nice wedding, smile and congratulate all-around. Have a 12-course meal, gratiously served by the wedding party. Go home at midnight.

Sunday, July 22, 2007
Wake up at 5 am. Shower, and pack. Drive 5 hours back to Geneva. Return car. Depart in plane. Arrive in Gatwick airport in London. Decide to spend a couple hours eating sickingly sweet chutney and brie sandwich in a loud park in London--while dragging your suitcases around. Arrive in Heathrow airport--at this point, you've probably spent 9 hours in the U.K. Wait for your plane to depart. Whatever you do, do not attempt to sleep. Try, if you can, to get a cold from the recycled air of the cabin. Arrive in Washington, DC and get to bed by 2 am.

Monday, July 23, 2007
Arrive bright and early, and certainly fresh-looking at your office staff meeting at 9 am. Spend the rest of the work-week fighting your cold, as evidenced by very itchy throat, teary nose and reddened nose.

Voila! It's simple really. And it only costs US$ 2,000.

July 09, 2007

Best Euphemism Ever

I have to laugh at American euphemisms. I mean, what's with all this political correctness?

In Senegal, if things are too expensive, the shopkeeper is called a "voleur" (thief) and in Congo, when someone is showing signs of contagious sickness, people say that person is "très malade" (very sick). In the United States, you would hear of the competitive advantage of quality over price and a person with a potential infectious, suspected case of Tuberculosis instead.

But by far, the best euphemism I have come across is one for really hot days. As you know (or may still question if you are very science-phobic), global warming is a reality today. Again, even the words "global warming" are euphemistic. Africa would perhaps call it "la grillade de la planète" (grilling of the planet).

Our office building is desperately trying to save money on electricity during summer months, which is excruciatingly difficult given that:

1-there are 18 floors and hundreds of offices in the building;
2-most people work with unlimited budgets and don't bat an eyelash about leaving every single light and computer equipment on during the weekend;
3-office buildings in the U.S. are very badly designed. There are no openable windows, trees shadings or air shaft and thus A/C becomes a necessity at 70 degree weather;
4-the A/C is set for those people (men) who wear heavy suits in all types of weather. The receptionists in open cubicles use their heaters when the A/C is blasting (and it's 98 degrees outside) . I swear I have not kidding.

Anyways, our office has instituted special days when people have to be extra vigilant about using the electricity. These days tend to be hot, humid days, when the A/C is on full blast. The days have been dubbed Gold days. Gold day???? That's like calling bloody wounds "ruby openings" or forest fires "Cheery outbursts"!



PEPCO has declared today, July 9, 2007, a "Gold" day, meaning the humidity and temperature will have a significant impact on energy consumption. Building occupants can do their part between the hours of 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm to reduce the energy demand by closing blinds, shutting down non-essential equipment, lights and fans and ensuring that the energy functions of their computers, printers and monitors are operational.

Lowering consumption on "Gold" days and practicing conservation on a daily basis will help reduce energy usage and cost. Thank you for doing your part to conserve energy.
Building Management Branch

July 08, 2007

Killer Sunstroke!

I have the unfortunate experience of having one parent of France origin (mom) and one of South African origin (dad). Any reasonable person would assume my mom to be the lighter skinned one, but oh no. You see the French, though they will not admit it, have some Northern African influence in their gene and tend to develop a nice, olivey skin when exposed to the sun.

My father on the other hand, was born and raised in South Africa. His parents are both English and have traveled extensively (his mom for one was born in India, his dad was in the army and moved around I suppose). Which means that -when his hair is not gray- he is red-headed with tons of freckles. His skin looks tan, but upon closer look, his freckles have only blended with each other, making it look like a solid, orangy color.

I studied genetics in undergrad and I understand that assortment of the genes for skin color is incredibly complex. So, by some genetic freakiness, I have developed skin that is much whiter and more sensitive than my mom and even my dad's.

This is quite unfortunate for a family that enjoys being on the beach. My parents caught on quickly that, as a baby, it was safer and wiser to place me in the shade, with a hat, long sleeves, a thick layer of sunscreen and plenty of water to drink. Yes, I was that freaky kid that couldn't make sand castles with others and went in the water with full clothing.

I went to the beach as a baby with my cousins once, and to this day, my uncle says I owe him hundreds of dollars in sun cream.

I can't remember how many times I was so sunburnt that it hurt to lie on the sheets. A good dermatologist will tell you that if you have been strongly burnt more than 3 times, you are very likely to develop skin cancer. Try being severly burnt at least 40 times.

I remember taking antibiotics once and going shopping in the strong French sun. The sun was weirdly intense and every ray that fell on my face and arms felt like little needles digging under my skin. When home, I developed a painful headache, and my hands swelled up with hundreds of itchy pimples. The next day, I went to see a pharmacist who flinched when she saw me and quickly reached behind her counter. She came up with two products: 1) Biafine cream which is given to burn victims and chemotherapy patients to cool their skin, and 2) SPF 100 that she routinely gives to albino people. I swear this is completely true.

To this day, I still have people that say to me "I don't believe you can be so white. All you need is to expose yourself progressively to the sun". Not many things annoy me in life, but I CAN'T STAND IT when people say that. Trust me buddy, I've tried it for the last 25 years and it just ain't working for me.

Needless to say that at 29, I know exactly when I have had too much sun. My body temperature hits a certainly level and I know it's time to go home, despite my darting in and out of the shade all day and drinking like a camel. It's just time, that's it.

Yesterday, enthralled by the Folklife Festival organized by the Smithsonian on the Washington D.C. Mall, I spend 4 hours in 92 degree, humid weather. When I hit my peak of sun, I decided to go home but was swayed by the various cultures represented in the festival. I stayed one hour too late and:

1-Instantly developed a throbbing headache behind my eyes and in the back of my head
2-I noticed that I barely sweat in the whole 5 hours there
3-Felt weak and had a hard time holding onto my bike while taking the bus home (some dude made fun of me for not biking home--asswipe!)
4-I couldn't get enough air into my lungs and sighed a lot
5-Took a cold bath and went to bed
6-In bed, the headache worsened and I constantly changed position for comfort
7-I tried to drink but water was making me nauseous (this is a telltale sign of sunstroke for me)
8-Threw up violently three times
9-Finally slept like a log for 10 hours

I feel so much better today! And this morning, I still can't believe how stupid I am for overstaying my welcome in the sun. After 29 years, you would think that I would have learned my lesson. But no, I obviously haven't.

OK time to get ready to go to the last day of Festival!

Pfew, the Show went well

So the photo expo I had two weeks ago went very well. In my estimate, close to 80 or 90 people showed up to support me, with the obligatory unknown, old people in tow (who came for the company and for a free meal of wine and cheese--I swear, they were at the cheese table just munching as fast as they could).

Thank you so much to all who came to visit!

A few people came to congratulate me on the pictures, one came to ask me about the Congo as she was going to move there incessantly, and an old friend from high school came to reconnect with me after 10-years!

The only minor mishap was that a picture had fallen to the ground before the show and the frame had fractures. The glass cover was thankfully intact so I came with some superglue, only to find that a large paperclip kept it together nicely. The music was 80% NOT Congolese but blended nicely in the background and no one faulted me for this.

The evening was very relaxing (something I did not expect) but it's blessedly over.

For a montage of the 20 pictures I exposed, see below! They are still on display until the September 10, 2007.

July 07, 2007

Montage 5: Sisters Vote, Old Russian Truck, Rickety Ol' Bridge, Our Hostess

Montage 4: a Patient, l'Agronome a Vendre, Mountain Potatoes and Cassava Leaves

Montage 3: 2 Faces, Mellow Yellow, Green on Green, Palm Tree Grubs

Montage 2: the Show, the Midwife, 2 Antelopes on a Bicycle, a Posse and a Possum

Montage 1: The Screen, Lady in Red, Two Boys and a Fish, the Ferry

June 25, 2007












Hi Mousa,

Your kind email in my inbox this morning was quite a surprise. Perhaps it was the FULL CAPITALS used to convey a sense of urgency but instead made me feel like I was being screamed at, that bothered me? Or was it instead the confusion over the deceased person's gender: is the person a "Mr. Morris" or a female as implied in the "late American and her husband?"

So let me get this straight. Mr./Mrs. Morris died in 2000, depositing a lot of money in my bank account, and you are contacting me seven (7) years later? Bastard! I thank Mr./Mrs. Morris for the large sum of money bestowed upon me, but really he/she shouldn't have. No, I mean it, he/she really shouldn't have, seeing as I don't know him/her.

Also, I am a little confused with your request. On the one hand, you need my personal, intimate information to release this money from the bank to me, right? But you also want me to lend you the money to establish a medium-sized industry in my country (which happens to be the United States incidentally)? And what if I don't want to help you, Mousa, to build a medium-sized industry here? Do I still get the money? Do all bank managers say "hey, can I personally borrow that money you are depositing in my bank? I need to repaint my kitchen?". No! It's my money, you don't get any of it!

And please, if you are going to be writing such an important letter, do spell-check. The word "discovered" is spelled as such, not discorvered". Same goes for the word " diplomaticaly". Check it the dishionarie. That's not how you spell it.

Please excuse the ironic tone of this email, I'm just trying to make you better at your job.

Best Regards,
007 in Africa

Ah, scammers. A little lazy. A little amateurish. But thank God for them. OK, back to work, I need to send my name, social secuirty number, maiden name of my mother to Mousa before the day is over.

June 18, 2007


I witnessed a really weird scene in the metro on Friday morning. A 40-something woman -weary from the day’s work- sat on an empty seat with a book, behind a quiet looking 50-year old. As she settled into the cushion, he turned around with his cell in his hand, positioning it just so. Caught in the moment, and realizing that he was about to snap a picture, she stood up straight, and gave him her little, polite picture smile. Snap!

Then he turned back around to fiddle with the cardboard box that just held his new phone. She turned to me, gave me a slightly quizzical, bemused eyebrow-raise, and continued to read her book.

I mean it’s not Guiness-Book-of-World-Records weird, but it was a little disconcerting to watch. Isn’t picture-taking a somewhat intimate action between two people who know each other? And yet, it was refreshing that the moment wasn’t more complicated than that.

June 07, 2007

Gangs of New York

Well, not exactly New York but the new Columbia Heights. On my way to the metro, I see a tree, completely obscured by electric pink , white, green and multi-colored stuffed animals tied around its trunk. A candle is slowly burning in the cool of the morning and sitting on a picture of a smiling kid with thick braids.

In have my haha moment, when I read this:

Columbia Heights Shootings Cause Alarm
By Elissa Silverman and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, June 4, 2007; B04

A 13-year-old youth was fatally shot and a man was wounded Saturday night in Columbia Heights, less than a day after a teenage girl was shot and wounded on the same block, authorities said last night.

Terry Cutchin was standing on the street when shots were fired from a passing vehicle, hitting him and a 23-year-old man nearby, police said. Police said they were searching for a dark sport-utility vehicle in connection with the attack, which took place about 10 p.m. in the 1400 block of Girard Street NW.

The youth, who lived in the 1300 block of Columbia Road NW, was pronounced dead a short time later. Police said the injured man was driven in a car to Washington Hospital Center, where he was treated for a gunshot wound to the right arm. His name was not released because he is a witness.

The violence, coming on the heels of another shooting, provoked alarm among authorities and residents.

"Here you have two shootings two nights in a row," said D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), noting that a 16-year-old girl was shot in the ankle on the same block shortly after midnight Saturday morning.

The two shootings were part of a particularly violent weekend in the city. Two people were shot and killed in separate incidents in Northeast Washington on Saturday, according to police. Early yesterday, police fatally shot a man in Northeast Washington after he allegedly pointed a gun at an officer.


Columbia Heights, a rapidly gentrifying part of the District, has been the scene of several bursts of gun violence that have wounded and killed teenagers in recent months.

Police have a surveillance camera mounted in the 1400 block of Girard Street, and they said they would review images looking for leads.

Terry Cutchin was a straight-A student at Lincoln Middle School and lived with his grandmother, Geraldine Cutchin, said Nancy Jenkins, his aunt.

He had returned home from a visit with his mother Saturday afternoon and was excited to download music on an iPod he had just gotten, Jenkins said.

He left his grandmother's apartment about 8:30 p.m. and met several friends who planned to hang out at one of their homes, she said.

Later that night, Terry's grandmother heard gunfire and left her apartment to search for her grandson. All of the youths except Terry were accounted for .

Jenkins questioned why there wasn't a more visible police presence on the block. "Someone just got shot there the day before," she said.


"There shouldn't have been that kind of desperate need to pull that car away."

Graham said he returned to the block yesterday afternoon and did not see any police.

A police cruiser was parked on the block later in the evening.

In an interview, Lanier said police have been well positioned across the city. "I feel the officers are in the right places at the right times," because they respond quickly when violence occurs, she said.

Neighbors said violence has gotten worse in Columbia Heights over the past year. In late April, 18-year-old Edwin Ventura of the 1400 block of Harvard Street NW was fatally shot while with friends on Sherman Avenue NW, a few blocks from his home.

"I've been living around here since I was in diapers," said Chinata Nesbit, 21, who lived in an apartment across the hall from Terry. "It's never been this bad."

I guess I'll take the long way home from now on.

June 06, 2007

XDR-TB: And the plot thickens

So I guess I should have been more cautious in my previous post on XDR-TB (Extremely Drug Resistant TB). I was initially very angry at Mr. Speaker who alledgedly knew about his TB, but chose to travel to several countries in Europe, Canada and the U.S. anyways.

He defended himself today and swears no medical officials told him he was a risk to anyone. In addition, he made everyone including his doctors well-aware that he was planning to travel for his honeymoon.

You can hear his testimony here.

Where did the public health system fail? And the plot thickens.

June 04, 2007

Getting ready for an Exhibit

I have been searching the internet for tips on how to prepare for an art exhibit. There is surprisingly little information out there. These are the steps I think are essential to preparing a photography expo:

(1) Find venue in which to expose pictures (status: done)
(2) Take pictures (status: done)
(3) Think of a theme and a title for the expo (status: done)
(4) Buy 20 simple frames with matting (status: I bought 15, I am planning on buying five more this week)
(5) Create press announcement that can be circulated to interested parties (status: done, and submitted to the Alliance Francaise)
(6) Create informational pamphlet, print and place in venue (status: pamphlet created)
(7) Invite friends and family. Don't mess up the time and the location (status: done through
(8) Choose 20 pictures and correct color if too dark (status: I only chose 12 pictures)
(9) Write captions and a blurb about the context and author of the expo. Print on cardboard paper (status: 1/2 of the captions are done)
(10) Translate captions into French, and print also (status: not even started, yikes!)
(11) Set realistic prices for pictures (status: kind of done)
(12) Create a small binder with pictures-buying sign-up sheet. This will allow interested parties to order pictures when you are not around (status: not done)
(13) Choose enhancing materials such as Kuba cloths and masks (status: kind of done but I need to mount the cloths on firm structures such as wooden beams)
(14) Print out all pictures and frame (status: not done)
(15) Hang on nails (status: not done)
(16) Attend the opening, try not to bite nails, and try not to pretend you are not the author of the expo (status: uncertain)

Yikes! I'm getting so nervous! There's so much left to do!

Questions to readers
Question 1: Can you think of anything else I need to do to prepare?
Question 2: If you were at an art show and wanted to buy a picture from a no-name photographer, what would you be willing to pay for a framed picture? for an unframed picture?

May 31, 2007

Summertime and the Crazies are Out

Ok it’s time to talk shit about my neighborhood again. A few weeks ago, Carl the Pilot was in town and drops me off from late night dinner. I suddenly hear what sounds like a cracker or a burst-tire echo in the night. It sounds incredibly close and I am concerned enough to flex my arm and leg muscles, and fumble for my keys (strange how the fight or flight reflex gets turned on within 2 seconds). Carl rolls down his window and yells “GET BACK IN THE HOUSE RIGHT NOW!”. My whole body feels flushed with icy blood (in other workds “my blood runs cold”) and I clumsily manage to open the inside gate, rush in and open the front door to my house, as another shot is being fired.

Carl had just witnessed the owner of a gun fire excitedly towards a departing white car. Now, I should add that I hear gun shots about once every three days in my street, but that I was never caught outside of my apartment when it happened.

Yesterday around 12:00 p.m., I hear screeching in the street, followed by a sudden dull crushing sound. Peering from behind my curtains, I see a car crashed into a parking fence with a cop car behind it. A skiddish policeman gets out from his car, grabs a flashlight, and walks along the long perimeter of the fence, throwing arcs of light beyond the parking lot and around the oversized dumpsters. I can only conclude that the police car was chasing the person in the car, the car tried to outrun the police but hit the fence instead. The driver fled the vehicle and ran into the night.

These incidents and many more, have been increasing at an alarming rate. The police (whom we call every time there’s an incident) have been blaming the nice weather for the increased activity in the streets and gentrification for the loss of drug-dealing territories.

Alls I can say is “Man, I am paying way too much for my room in Columbia Heights” and “please, please, please, go back to bed people and let me sleep”.

I feel really bad for the kids who live on my street.

Extensively Resistant Tuberculosis Incident

In May 2007, a man with tuberculosis that is extensively resistant to normal antibiotics (also called XDR), met with the Center for the Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was strictly forbidden to fly.

If know much about TB, here a few basics you need to know (from Wikipedia of course):

(1) Tuberculosis is a common and deadly infectious disease that is caused by mycobacteria, primarily Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

(2) Tuberculosis most commonly affects the lungs (as pulmonary TB) but can also affect the central nervous system, the lymphatic system, the circulatory system, the genitourinary system, bones, joints and even the skin.

(3) Symptoms include a productive, prolonged cough of more than three weeks duration, chest pain and coughing up blood. Systemic symptoms include fever, chills, night sweats, appetite loss, weight loss and paling, and those afflicted are often easily fatigued.

(4) TB is spread by aerosol droplets expelled by people with the active disease of the lungs when they cough, sneeze, speak, kiss, spit or use the unsterilized eating utensils of the infected person.

(5) Treatment for TB uses antibiotics to kill the bacteria. The two antibiotics most commonly used are rifampicin and isoniazid. However, these treatments are more difficult than the short courses of antibiotics used to cure most bacterial infections as long periods of treatment (around 6 to 12 months) are needed to entirely eliminate mycobacteria from the body.

(5) I had to take Isoniazid for a period of 1 year because, when tested, it was found that I had the antibodies for TB (which means that I likely was exposed to the disease). I think it was because I received the BCG vaccine in France, a vaccine that is thought to boost your immune system against TB. It was hard to take a pill everyday for a year, and I gained a lot of weight while taking the drug.

(7) Drug resistant tuberculosis is transmitted in the same way as regular TB. Primary resistance occurs in persons who are infected with a resistant strain of TB. A patient with fully-susceptible TB develops secondary resistance (acquired resistance) during TB therapy because of inadequate treatment, not taking the prescribed regimen appropriately, or using low quality medication.

(8) Drug-resistant TB is a public health issue in many developing countries, as treatment is longer and requires more expensive drugs. Multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) is defined as resistance to the two most effective first line TB drugs: rifampicin and isoniazid. Extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) is also resistant to three or more of the six classes of second-line drugs.

(9) TB prevention and control takes two parallel approaches. In the first, people with TB and their contacts are identified and then treated. Identification of infections often involves testing high-risk groups for TB. In the second approach, children are vaccinated to protect them from TB. Unfortunately, no vaccine is available that provides reliable protection for adults.

With these facts in mind, consider the following incident: the man decided to go against CDC recommendations and went on a honeymoon with his new wife...From Atlanta, to Paris...From Paris, to Athens, to Rome, to Prague, to Montreal, to New York, back to Altanta! This man epoxed thousands and thousands of people through his travels and international flights.

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Published on: 05/31/07

I think this guy should be put in jail--he knowingly put people at risk, exposing them to a disease that is extremely difficult to treat, spreading this extremely drug resistant disease. Shameful!

May 30, 2007


Last weekend, my parents and I drove for two days to Montreal to see my sister graduate from University. It was, as you can imagine, a touching event, with the obligatory misplaced speech, Scottish bagpipers, and really good-looking young adults going on the stage to be lightly tapped on the head with a feathered hat.

My brother and I remembered how full of hope we were on that day, confident of our knowledge and our eventual role in life. It was, you may say, the climax of our lives. Little did we know that we in fact knew very little, and that the rest of our lives would become a complex set of equations and priorities. We were happily in the dark.

Which brings me to the restaurant my sister invited us to, the night before:

Restaurant ONoir (a play on the expression "in the dark" in French)
1631 Sainte-Catherine Street West

A seriously sensorial experience, ONoir succeeds in seducing both your taste buds and your imagination. Meals are served in total darkness (cell phones, matches, luminous watches or any other light-emitting apparatuses are strictly forbidden) to heighten your senses and understand, for the duration of your meal, at least, what it is to be blind, like the staff who serves you.

The concept is the brainchild of Jorge Spielmann, a blind pastor from Zurich, who would blindfold dinner guests to give them a taste of his own dining experience. ONoir donates 5% of its profits to local organizations that serve blind or visually impaired people of all ages. Sundays feature the talents of Les Ombres (that’s “shadows” in English), a group composed of a mystery singer and blind musicians.


What an appropriate choice!

May 25, 2007

Photography Exhibit

So, I will be having a photography exhibit in just about a month at the French Alliance in Washington DC. So far, I bought frames and sent the Evite.

Not much considering I still have to:
1-Develop the pictures
2-Write a press release
3-Design and print simple pamphlets
4-Choose Kuba cloth to hang from the walls
5-Print captions, translate into french and laminate
The text of my Evite is as follows:

Host: 007 in Africa
Location: French Alliance in Washington DC2142 Wyoming Avenue NW, Washington, DC
When: Monday, June 25, 6:30pm
Phone: (XXX) XXX-XX-XX

Dear Friends,
You are invited to join me at the opening of my photography exhibit Colors of the Congo, at the French Alliance located in Dupont Circle.
I will be exhibiting 15 photos from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where I was working last year. The photos portray people and surroundings of rural regions of the country.
If you are not interested in the Congo and are not a francophile, please do at least come for the wine and cheese and convivial atmosphere...
Don't expect something too fancy, my pictures will be hung in the stairwell!
The event is free and about 12 minutes walk from the North exit of the Dupont Circle metro stop. Thank you for passing this around, all are welcome.

Yikes! I'm getting nervous already!

May 21, 2007

Don't Look at Your Belly Button

When I’m tempted to be hypochondriac about my health, body, life and soul, my mother says “Il ne fait pas toujours se regarder le nombril” which literally means “one should not always look at one's belly button”. Loosely, I think it means that it’s a little selfish and useless to over-analyze everything about yourself.

That may be true, but this weekend was the 4-year anniversary of my first post on this blog. For this occasion, I think that it’s a forgiveable offense to do a mental rewind of my life since that date. Allow me, if you will, to look at my belly button.

May 2004—Graduation from a Masters
In May, I graduate, fresh-faced, and remarkably unbeaten down from graduate school. It is such as exciting, scary time—I feel like a bird that has been let loose from a cage with all the world waiting to be discovered.

At this point, I have lived in France, the USA and Canada. I have taught in Japan and often visit cousins in France and South Africa. Hardly "developing" countries experiences. And yet, I ache to live in a developing country and be a witness to poverty and suffering. I am very eager to do my part in alleviating poor health in those that can’t fend for themselves.

August 2004 to March 2005 - First Real Employment
This is not my first job but certainly the first one that means something to me. I turn down a good paying job located in Rockville, and decide instead to work as a fellow (aka an “intern”) in an American NGO. I am paid pennies but am offered a position overseas. I can’t believe the NGO is crazy enough to send me abroad to represent it!

My “relatively” stable family life, suddenly dissolves. My sister goes to study in Canada, my parents go live in Madagascar with frequent back and forths to France, and my brother takes very responsible job in London with trips to the Middle East for consulting.

I am assigned to Senegal, a country that dramatically challenges my understanding of “developing countries”. The Senegalese are proud businessmen, gently Muslims, great musicians and wear their national clothes like princes. What a great country to start with! There are, of course, people who live in abject poverty and the most marking aspect of Senegalese society is the utter misery in which some children live. They are often sent by their despairing parents to be taught in Muslim school under tutelage of a “teacher”, who transforms the fleet of students into beggars and sources of revenue.

My social life is colorful and varied. My job, on the other hand, is not very interesting and I haven’t really made a difference in people’s lives.

March 2005 – August 2006
My company offers me a job in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country about which I know next to nothing. I barely look at a map before I enthusiastically accept the position. Immediately, I am thrown into the thick of things. In an environment where staff morale is very low, logistically difficulties seem impossible to overcome, and the management is unable to respond to staff concerns, the environment quickly becomes oppressive.

There is an overwhelming amount of work to do, we are understaffed. There are frequent electricity outages and security issues. Trips to the field are trying as schedules changes at the last minute depending on whether the vehicles still work, the main plane has crashed, or email contact with field partners can be made. And yet, my field visits and interaction with Congolese from rural areas are incredibly fullfilling and filled with magic and wonder.

I struggle and fight to get things done, especially when I think of my hard-working field partners, and don’t hesitate to work weekend and evenings. There are things to do in the evening (restaurants, pool, hanging out at other people’s houses) but no way to get out of the capital. I made very few excursions and the stress builds up like a slow-pressure cooker.

I am often incapable of surmounting logistical obstacles and am often distressed about not being able to do more. Though I never credit him, my boyfriend in the United States is an immense source of comfort and support. I decide to go back to the US and my heart breaks at the betrayal of leaving a country that needs so much help.

August 2006-October 2006 - Readjustment
The readjustment is not what I expected it to be. Sure, the shear number of cereal boxes at Giant is impressive, but that not the troubling part. The part that troubles me is that I am just so happy to be back. To be able to walk alone in the street and have unguarded time for myself. I am superficially avid to buy tons of fashionable clothes while experiencing a lot of guilt over every purchase.

October 2006 – April 2006 – Period of Mediocracy
I get a job in an african development agency. I work part-time for meager hourly wages (that amounts to less than what I was paid as a receptionist…4 years ago). The hours allow me to aggressively pursue my job search. The environment is pleasant but the lack of challenge in my job actually weighs on me.

April 2006 – Present – Back to Square One
After what feels like months and months of searching, I finally get a good job in Washington DC. Meanwhile, my parents come home permanently from Madagascar. My sister graduates and comes back to DC for the summer. My brother takes a hiatus from his very demanding job in a consulting firm and goes to India for 6 months to work in development.

Now that things have finally settled down, I find that things aren't exactly working out with my boyfriend. I also wish I had more of a direction in life. I feel in suspended animation, but have no idea what I am waiting for.

That's All Folks!

May 18, 2007

Angélique Kidjo

I went to see Angélique Kidjo yesterday and it was electric.

Kidjo was born in Ouidah, Benin but relocated to Paris in 1982 following continuing political conflicts in her country. She's a Beninese (from Benin) singer, songwriter whose style is a strange mix of rock/pop and piercing African voices, instruments and beats.

Angélique is so electric, that she manage to get people up and dancing everytime (this is feat in a crowd full of self-important Washington DC suits). By the end of her concert, 1/5 of the audience was on the stage, booty-shaking along with her. She was moving in and out of the thick crowd, creating a strange symbiosis of people, lead by her powerful, but bodiless voice.

It was bitter sweet for me as well, as it coincided with the break-up of a person I admire and appreciate greatly. In a recent email to a friend, I wrote:

It's such a cop-out when people say "my boyfriend and I broke-up " because, at the end of the day, it's a lot more than a school crush. It's a break-up with a good friend, a carer, a lover, and a future father. It's also a leap of faith to leave someone who loves you and whom you love. Who's to say that someone else will love you again? And find your bad habits charming?

May 14, 2007

I'm LOST, 2 years late

Since my last post, I have managed to become completely addicted to the TV show Lost. It strikes me as ironic that, while I was visiting the deep, lush, impenetrable jungles of the Congo, foxy Matthew Fox and the shell-shock crew of the crashed passenger plane were also inexplicably drawn to the Jungles of the mysterious Island.

And yes, I realize that, much like a surviving Cast-Away coming home, I am quite late in catching up with the latest TV shows. But I am immeasurably glad not to have been exposed to the grueling sounds of the thing in the forest, the wild boars, the miraculous medical recoveries and intense distrust of fellow passengers of the TV show.

Just because I would have been just too freaked out to do my field work. There are crazy things in the Congo too, and you just don't want to ask too many questions. For example, it is not advisable to ask about the tough, gamey, brown chunks of meat mysteriously showing up on your breakfast plate. It's 8:00am, you have a long day ahead--and I'm sure my fellow Lost passengers will agree--you need the protein.

So I don't know much about the Island yet (though there have been 3 seasons, I have only watched 3 episodes) but it strikes me as remarkably similar to the Island of Dr. Moreau, a horrifying book about a scientist who breeds half-human-half-animal creatures on a deserted Island. The creatures are tortured and forced to act human, but they are invariably drawn to let their instincts take over and become wild, violent and incontrollable. Much to the dismay of the humans left on the Island.

Or is it like those Sci-Fi books I read voraciously: humans becoming helpless, clueless pawns in a fascinating social behavior study in a controlled environment? Who knows?