March 29, 2007

My family is nuts

So, as you may remember, my immediate family has been in all sorts of different places this year. There was a point in time where:

-I was living in the Democratic Republic of Congo
-My Dad was living in Madagscar
-My Mom was doing the back and forth between Madagascar and France
-My Brother was based in London but worked in the Middle East for a consulting gig
-My Sister was studying in Canada

It was nuts because I never knew where my brother was; I would call three numbers in Madagascar and two in France before I could locate my mom, and I had to send an email to the whole family to let them know when I would in the field and out of email reach.


(I won't even cover the rest of my cousins who are in South Africa, America, France, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Bostwana...)

I was going to happily announce that my parents and I are back in the United States, but my brother just announced that he will be conducting a study in India for 6 months! And my sister is likely to go to South America for volunteering in clinics after she graduates.

Nuts I tell you!

March 28, 2007

Shocking news! More fighting in Kinshasa!

OK this is not so shocking news (given that there's always fighting in the capital of the DRC and that this news is a few days old); however, this particularly bout of fighting was particularly violent and deadly.

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) -- Up to 600 people were killed in the Congolese capital last week in fighting between the army and a former rebel leader's forces which "seriously wounded" the democratic process, European Union ambassadors said on Tuesday.

The fighting erupted on Thursday after troops loyal to former presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba refused an order to disarm. Machine gun fire and mortars rocked the riverside capital for two days before Bemba's forces were routed.


It was the first fighting in Kinshasa since landmark presidential elections last year -- heavily financed by the international community and aimed at restoring peace to the mineral-rich central African state after a 1998-2003 war. […]

President Joseph Kabila's victory was overwhelmingly accepted as legitimate by national and international elections observers monitoring Congo's first democratic polls in more than four decades.

"This is not necessarily the death (of the democratic process), but the process is seriously wounded," said British Ambassador Andy Sparkes, one of around a dozen European envoys who spoke to journalists.

I feel extremely frustrated by this turn of event and feel like throwing my arms up in resignation – it seems like Congo will never have stability and peace. But mostly, I am worried for my old colleagues – the American ones that regaled me with tales of hiding in each other’s houses, having their children stuck under their desks at school for 48 hours, and needing to rescue their cats before they starved to death. But in am extremely worried for my Congolese colleagues who, though the live in the suburbs away from the city center, are often more vulnerable than American because they do not have stockpiles of food and not guards to defend them.

To catch up on blogs from people stuck in the midst of these events, visit these very interesting accounts at Congogirl, and Light in the Heart of Darkness,

March 27, 2007

I finally got a job!

I can't tell you how excited I am about having a new job - though from the tone of my posts of the last 8 months, it's easy to see why this is a good thing. I can't stop being in a good mood. I smile lots. My mouth hurts and I scare people who don't usually see me this bubbly. This is what I wrote to colleagues at my part-time work:

Dear All,

I will be leaving the XXX for a full-time job in YYY at the end of this week. Though this new position fits my interests and qualifications in the health field, I will sad to leave the agency.

I really enjoyed my time here and appreciate having had the opportunity to work with you. I will remember the mission of the agency, the partners in the field, the excitement over new potential projects and, of course, the Friday Happy Hours. I leave with a newfound understanding of how investments in local businesses can contribute to the field of development.

A very special thanks to all those who provided me with guidance and granted me informational meetings while I was undertaking my job search.

Please do keep in touch, I can be reached at my personal email address
don' or on my cell phone at (555) 555-1234.

Thanks again for everything.

Best Regards,

007 in Africa

March 23, 2007

Some musing on the Bus system in DC

My morning commute really influences the way my day unfolds. Today for example, I waited twice as long for the bus. When it came, there were 3 buses going in the same direction, in a row. Then, when I got on, I heard a person berating another passenger who was trying to board the bus and find a seat. She wasn’t having any of it and defended herself in a no-nonsense kind of way (I wouldn’t have had the guts so I was mentally cheering herself on).

It got me thinking about how driving a bus is really demanding work. It’s so much more than just driving and stopping in the right places.

A bus driver has to
-help handicapped persons board the bus and get settled;
-make sure mothers and elderly people get priority seating in the front;
-ride the bus with a crowd-full of people hovering around the front door;
-mediate physical and verbal disputes (I have seen this happen often);
-deal with strange people talking to/at them while they are concentrating on driving;
-avoid pedestrians and people running in their direction, desperate not to miss the bus;
-keep cool when a passenger is ranting about the voices in his/her head.

There are so many common courtesies that passengers don’t respect. I think a good media campaign on politeness wouldn’t hurt.

My pet peeves
-People who refuse to move back and crowd the front of the bus. As a result, the bus gets really packed in the front while people in the back just chill out;
-People who get annoyed at you for going around them to reach the empty back of the bus;
-People who are so big they take up two seats (OK that’s not really being rude but it still annoys me);
-People who board the bus in a combative mood and feel the need to start of fight with somebody;
-People who shout into their phones, convinced that everybody else in the bus is fascinated by their drama;
-Bus drivers who are annoyed when you say “good morning!” to them and thank them as you are getting off;
-Guys with attitude who splay their knees open and don’t give you any space next to them to sit.

I know the DC transit systems has been poor in the past (and present), but they really need to spruce up the way they work. I easily spend $100 a month to ride the bus and the metro and therefore feel entitled to make the following recommendations:

My suggestions
-Have more express buses that stop every three stops instead of at every single stop;
-If your bus is 2/3 or fuller, don’t pick up any more passengers. This would presumably help alleviated the clumping phenomenon (see entry);
-Stop your bus and check whether passengers have moved ALL the way to the back of the bus. They will learn soon enough not to crowd the front;
-Create a media campaign on how to behave on the bus. Diffuse these messages on TV, in the newspapers, in metro train, in buses and in elementary schools;
– Post all bus rules on bus walls;
-Implement a Zero Tolerance of trouble-makers policy. This would include no tolerance of passengers who repeatedly and with all seriousness ask you to suck their d*** (this has really happened); passengers who start fight with others, passengers who are too loud and disruptive; and passengers who try to bring in their shopping carts, oversized handbags and foldable table.

I’m just sayin’.

March 15, 2007

The Last Temptation of 007

This incident happened more than 2 weeks ago. But I can only talk about it now because, well become it was pretty traumatizing and I finally sought therapy.

As some of you may know (oh ye heathens, you who don't!) , this is lent season. And I have given up desserts. My mom says that it's not really in the spirit of lent to talk about and complain excessively about what you are sacrificing. But I don't care.

(Incidentally, as in other years, she refuses to tell us what she has given up. Which makes me highly suspicious that she hasn't really given anything up at all).

Two weeks ago, three of my colleagues had birthdays and the sweet ladies in the office brought these cakes. I introduce you to: luscious and sweet Chocolate, tart and crunchy Apple, decadent and sinful Black Forest, doubly conflicted Raspberry Chocolate and Offbeat and Slightly Caffeinated Mocha.

When one of the ladies was placing all the cakes on doilies, she exclamed "And I even brought one for those people that have given up chocolate for lent!"

What about the people who have given up dessert?? Have you brought a cake for people who have given up desert??
It was utter torture I tell 'ya. I'd like to see Mel Gibson make a movie of this.

I wish I was a little bit taller

I wish I was little bit taller,
I wish I was a baller,
I wish I had a girl who looked good I would call her
I wish I had a rabbit in a hat with a batand a '64 Impala

Does anybody remember that song? Good times.

But I do wish I was a little bit taller. Let me explain the situation. I have a nice place with two roomates. We get along fabulously, more owing to the fact that none of us really overlap when we're in the house than anything else.

The girl is an architect and tends to come home after I have gone to bed. The guy works in connecting architects and builders and spends a lot of time at his girlfriend's house. A lot. So we basically don't see him much. Which is fine by me.

Anyways, our apartment has 9 foot ceilings which kind of makes you feel like you live in a mansion, until you look around and you realize that you are in fact not in mansion and your roommate have terrible taste in furniture and you are eating out of plastic bowls. But that is neither here nor there.

Our living room is perpetually dark because one of the flood lights is mysteriously out. So our living is not very inviting, more reminiscent of Linda Blair's room in the Exorcist than anything else. Needless to say, the living room does not get used very much.

One day, two new flood lights - in their carboard box - appear on the kitchen table. I am assuming that my male roomate felt guilty about not contributing much to the house, and decided to buy flood lights. But I really don't know as I haven't seen him in days.

Well I decided to bring a little light to our living room by changing the flood lights. Except that I kind of forgot that the ceiling was 9 foot tall, and I'm about oh....5'2'' on a good day. So imagine this: me on a small step ladder, desperately, desperately! trying to reach that light bulb.

No go.

So I take matters into my own hands, and add a phone book. I perch myself precariously on the whole contraption...and still no go. So then I raid my architect roommate's library and add Frank Lloyd Wright, Cubist and Cubism, Typologies, Above Washington, the Quilts of Gee's Bend and the phone book on top. I perch myself on THAT contraption...

And then there was light.

Now if I could only figure out how the flood lights showed up on our kitchen table.

Junk Food, defined


It is the lent season and I have sworn off desserts. Not for truly religious reasons mind you, but because I think that a little less sugar intake can only be good for me…in the long run. For some weird reason, it seems that the office has become a huge food factory filled with Birthday cakes, donuts, and cookies these past two weeks. Just to tempt me a little better. I can’t believe employees tolerate this flooding of junk food enticing them to eat, eat, and eat some more. Well, maybe I understand it, a little.

But this got me thinking about Junk Food. What is junk food exactly? Reading
article, gave me some good leads.

When I think of junk food, I instantly think Ranch-flavored Doritos, Oreos cookies, Twinkies, MacDonalds, sodas and peeps. I think most people would agree that these are foods that are high in fat, or have a lot of sugar and salt.

But then again, a nice cube of feta cheese
is incredible salty, and yet it’s not junk food is it? Nope, definitely not junk food.

So let’s add that a junk food is something that
doesn’t have enough fiber, or of low nutritional value.

Well foie gras definitely doesn’t have enough fiber; it’s fatty and its nutritional value is dubious. But no one would describe it as junk.

So perhaps junk food is defined by all those adjectives, plus things that are made with cheap ingredients, artificial flavors/food coloring, and mass-produced.

But then I would argue that all these words apply to a nice Black Forest Cake from Giant. In my mind, that is not junk food either.

I can think of perhaps one last word that would define junk food in its entirety:
-Perception (or, as the article calls it “snobbery”)

Sigh. Right about now, I am perceiving those cookies in the kitchen to be pretty healthy.

"What ingredients are in Peeps?
Mostly sugar, corn syrup, and gelatin, same as most other marshmallow candies. They do have trace amounts of flavoring, coloring, wax, unpronounceable preservatives and such."

March 12, 2007

A genuine smile

I have been kind of out of action for a little while now as I have been volunteered to help out for a conference. This conference gathers about 30 Africans and 20 American staff to talk about how the company can be more competitive in the African business market.

Though this is a relatively small conference as far as conferences go, it is incredibly logisitically challenging. Joseph Lukaya wants to stop in Kenya from Tanzania before going to the US. Mrs. Bolemba lost her dad and needs to be flown back home today. Mamadou Wane needs a translator to go to the doctor’s because he caught a nasty cold when walking in 30 degrees weather dressed like a Senegalese…

With a masters background and years on the field, I am instantly asked to…print, photocopy, staple and hole punch 60 presentations in record time. Let me illustrate with a timeline of a typical day:

3am Sunday: powerpoint presentation is sent to my email for the Monday 8:30am session
7am Monday: I come in to print, copy, staple and hole-punch 60 presentations
8:12am: I send an unwilling colleague over to the hotel to bring the stack of presentations
8:30am: workshop begins and participants receive their presentation
9:30am: another powerpoint presentation is sent to my mail for the 10:00am session
....Repeat until 5:30 pm

Of course, every email is followed by two or three frenzied phone calls from my supervisor during his smoking break (and he’s also currently wearing The Patch ®) to make sure that (1) I’ve gotten the email, (2) I’ve printed the presentation, (3) I intend to photocopy, staple and print the presentation, (4) I’ve identified a person to bring it over.

Then he gets his assistant to call me and ask me the very same questions. Of course, I manage to print the d*&^ presentations every time and they slide in the conference room just before the presentation is due.

My supervisor calls me on the phone again and says “It’s another miracle! You’ve saved us again!”.

To which, if I had the guts, I should really respond “Well, you know, it isn’t really a miracle if I manage it every time. I would call it a pain in the ass instead”.

In addition to making these frenzied trips to and from the photocopy machine, I also have to translate documents, help staff figure out how to use powerpoint (really, you shouldn’t be upper management if you don’t know how to use powerpoint) and order huge amounts of supplies.

I get to buy the Africa and Local phone cards downstairs from a nice Chinese couple in a knick-knack store. I literally buy hundreds of phone cards every week. The benefit margin on those cards alone far exceeds what is purchased in the store in a week. And so, when I come down to the store, I get the biggest, widest smiles I’ve seen since…well since Congo. And I like it because I know, it’s a genuine smile.

So what if I can almost see dollars bills in the white of their teeth?