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?


May 11, 2007

12 things you didn't know about Micronesia

I frequently come across very interesting tidbits of information at work. I don't know about you, but I don't know much about small Island nations (other than Hawai is a nice place to go for spring break). Here are 12 bits of information you should know about the country of Micronesia (if you count that fact that you didn't know there was a country called Micronesia, make that 13).

Sources: the State Department, and Wikipedia

(1) Micronesia is often used to refer to several areas in the Pacific. Here, I am talking about the island nation called the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).

(2) It is located North of Australia, Northeast of Papua New Guinea.

(3) FSM is made up of 607 islands extending 1,800 miles. These islands are divided amongst are major island groups: Pohnpei, Chuuk (pronounce Choo-k), Yap and Kosrae (pronounce kosh-rye). People from these islands are the Pohnpiean, the Chuukese, the Yappese, and the Krosraeans.

(4) You may have heard of these islands through the television show Lost or by reading Oliver Sacks. Wikipedia says:

The fictional American television series Lost has been linked to the island by some fans of the show. A numeric sequence that has prominence in Lost , known simply as 'The Numbers' (4 8 15 16 23 42), happens to correspond to a geographic latitude and longitude (4.815° N 162.342° E) that is not far from Kosrae.


The atoll of Pingelap, located several hundred miles to the east of Pohnpei, but part of Pohnpei State, is notable for the prevalence of the extreme form of color blindness known as maskun. Maskun is relatively rare but often shows up in communities with small gene-pools. Pingelap was featured in the book, The Island of the Colorblind, by neurologist Oliver Sacks.

(5) There are about 108,000 people on the islands.
(6) More than one-half of workers are government employees (imagine if you will, 150,000,000 American people working in the government. Scary).

(7) The country obtained its independence UN trusteeship in November 3, 1986.
(8) The GDP per capita is $2,018 (compare that to $43,444 for the United States, $2,007 for Senegal and $ 850 for the Democratic Republic of Congo).

(9) FSM does not have a lot of diverse industries. Income comes from fishing, agriculture, and tourism. Income also comes from the Compact of Free Association, a contract of sorts in which the United States gives FSM money until 2023, for the right to monitor its international waters.

(10) The currency is the U.S. dollar, and the common language is English.

(11) Under the Amended Compact of Free Association, Americans can live and work freely in the FSM without the need for a visa.

(12) The ancestors of the Micronesians first settled the islands over four thousand years ago. The Portuguese, looking for the Spice Islands of Indonesia for settled FSM. Then it was sold to the Germans in 1899 and conquered by Japan in 1914. It was seized by the United States during World War II and later fell under the United Nations in 1947. It received it’s independence in 1986.
Fascinating! Doesn't it just make you want to go there?

May 10, 2007

Use thick markers, man!

True, my troubles ain't what they were in the Congo. But I still have very real troubles.

From Harvard Street relays my problems exactly when he says :
I put the cans out at the end of the driveway last night around 10pm. At 6pm today, they were gone.

That has happened to me and my housmates twice... for both the recycling bins and the trash cans! It was soooo irritating and rather frightening to think that the rats would be having a field day with the trash we stored, out of desperation, in our garage for three weeks.

All I can say is Use thick markers, man! I put our address is blocky letters and, so help me God, if I find my trash that says 1443 at 1445's apartment, I am going to kick some serious ass!

May 09, 2007

Fruit Seller

There's this guy that parks himself and his fruit crates right in the front of our (huge) office building. It strikes me as ironic that he sells things in the same manner as a typical Congolese or Senegalese vendor would--though the fruits are different (apples, chocolate covered strawberries, trail mix versus bananas, mangos and mangosteens)--the crates and the quiet demeanor are the same.

While my Congolese and Senegalese colleagues would flock to vendors for the sake of finding cheap foods, I imagine my American colleagues are looking for some healthy fairs.

This guy must make a killing: the line is always 7 or 8 people long. It's refreshing to see that people are excited about the fresh-fruits-and-nuts-guy instead of rushing to the cheetos-cheetah and snapple-lady.

May 04, 2007

Bomb Threat Procedures

So I'm reading a cute little brochure for the building in which I work (the dry cleaners, the snickers seller and all that) and notice this rather innocuous-looking item on the back:

Bomb Threat Procedures

If a bomb threat is received, notify Security (xxx-xxx-xxxx) immediately.
Note: Use call trace – to activate this feature, dial “*”, then the numbers x and x immediately after hanging up on the caller.
The employee is to note the time of the call, the line it was received on, and call Security with this information.
Additionally, the person receiving the call should try to gather as much information from the caller as possible. This information should include the following:

When is the bomb going to explode?
Where is the bomb?
What does it look like?
What kind of bomb is it?
What will cause it to explode?
Did you place the bomb?
Why? Where are you calling from?
What is your address?
What is your name?
Did the caller have an accent?
Did the voice sound familiar?
Where there any background noises?
Was the caller male or female, and what would you estimate as his/her approximate age?
Where there any other distinctive traits about the caller?
Any and all information that can be provided will be helpful.

Yikes! If someone calls you with a bomb threat, are you really going to stick around the office to ask all those questions?