Sunday, May 29, 2011

Out and about in Dakar

What a day. I spent the morning wandering about my neighbourhood before going for quite a disappointing massage. I was surprised at how quiet the streets were for a Saturday morning.

At least there was a little bit more action around near the swimming pool...

After the massage I wandered down to Sea Plaza, which was about a 15 minute walk, to meet my colleague V. We wandered around the ridiculously expensive shops for a while, and then settled in at a lovely outdoor restaurant for lunch. Not such a shabby view!

From there we jumped in a cab and headed for an absolutely fantastic ice-cream shop, called N'ice Cream...crazy delicious. And it just happened to be on the outskirts of a big market place, so we wandered around there for a while.

I guess this is where all the people go on Saturdays!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dakar, not Dhaka

Six days in Senegal and there really isn't much to tell. I have a nice apartment, which I'm by myself in at the moment, but you never know when that will change. It has a nice balcony which overlooks a relatively bustling street, and every so often I hear the clip-clop of horses hooves and along trots a horse pulling a man on a cart. So far all the carts I've seen have been empty, so I'm not sure what they usually lug around.

I have a short walk to the office in the mornings. Apparently winter is on the way but for me, the temperature of around 26 degrees with a nice breeze is perfect. I'm looking forward to exploring the fabric markets and having some clothes tailored.

But first, I need to line up a French tutor, I'm getting very good at saying "je ne parle pas francais"!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Camps for refugees in Liberia

It's a bit hard to reconcile that it was only just over a week ago that I got in a car for 5.5 hours to a place called Ganta. The roads were bitumen, but potholed like nothing else; it was easier to drive on the dirt shoulder than the actual road. Ganta is the "Kiss" point for travel to Zwedru - the point where a car from Zwedru meets the car from Monrovia and swaps passengers. While we were waiting for the other car to show up, I spotted a guy pushing this down the road:

Nobody ever says beef, it's always "cow meat". The next four hours were even rougher, as the road was mostly dirt. Granted, the Chinese peacekeepers have compacted what must have been 50-70km of it, so the final stretch into Zwedru wasn't so painful...hitting my head twice on the ceiling kind of hurt! We checked into the only "hotel" in town - a pitiful place, of which the name escapes me, which was drowning in mosquitos and not so much in water - I had to use the hand pump to fill up my bucket with water for my bucket shower, which was actually a bit of a novelty as I'd never used a hand pump before! I have the upmost respect for my colleagues who have already been there for 3 months...particularly when I spotted this enormous Rhinoceros beetle!

The next day I set off with the Emergency Food Security and Livelihoods coordinator, and one of his team members to go and visit two of the communities currently hosting refugees from Ivory Coast. A distribution of rice, seeds and tools was going to commence later in the week so they wanted to make sure everyone was clear about the process. After driving for about 1.5 hours, the first village wasn't too far off the main road.

Lots of representatives from the community gathered around to hear our Liberian colleague explain the process and answer their questions. The dialect he was speaking was even more impossible to understand than Liberian English and it took all my concentration to try to keep up.

The next village was a bit of a hike. Literally. After driving down a very narrow dirt road for a good twenty minutes, we discovered the bridge was out.

So out we got and crossed the makeshift pedestrian bridge.

We followed this goat for a few minutes, until it got a bit too skittish and darted off into the bushes. It was probably only a 15 minute walk to the village, and I was happy to stretch my legs. Again, we met with the community, who had designated 5 representatives. They were all young farmers and they will receive some training on agricultural practices to improve their harvest, which they will then pass on to their community. It was quite something to hear about the numbers of refugees they'd taken into their homes, one woman had 29 refugees in her home, but she did admit that she had a large house!

The next day I went with the Program Coordinator to visit the Dougee and Solo Town camps. At this stage, many refugees are still living with host families, and deciding whether or not they want to move into the camps. In Dougee, there are about 1000 refugees.

We wandered around, talking to various people we came across, including a man who'd become a sanitation volunteer. He spreads messages about good hygiene practices, and also rounds up the kids for their special sessions. These kids started their session with a song - in French, so the only words I recognised were "Cote d'Ivoire", but they were having fun clapping along. Our hygiene promoter then used a range of picture cards to teach them about hygiene, including how to use latrines and not defecate in the open.

And these guys were busy at work constructing more frames for latrines.

You can't see it, but this lady had a tiny baby strapped to her back, only three weeks old. He'd been born in the forest as they'd fled to the border. The mother was doing quite well selling some small vegetables, but of course was finding it very difficult to manage with such a young baby.

We drove back down the road to Solo Town camp, which has about 1,200 people at the moment and is likely to become a permanent camp.

The noise of chainsaws followed us wherever we walked, as more and more land is cleared to accommodate more tents.

This is a latrine pit under construction - the locations of which are carefully selected to be a certain distance from the tents, but not too far away that it's dangerous for people to use at night. In other places, latrine and garbage pits have had to be decommissioned as the number of tents grew and became too close to the pits.

I could hear a bit of commotion further into the tree line, and there was a little body of water that children and women were swimming and washing in. Young men were also shoveling up the sand to transport back to this well construction site, to make the bricks.

It was hot, it was dusty and I was covered in red dirt by the time we got home - red dirt that I couldn't seem to get off me for about 2 days. It was a great experience to see some of the sites and communities that we're working in, and to have a clearer picture in my mind as to what the challenges are - not just for the work, but for all the families that will be calling these places home for the next weeks, months and possibly years.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like

I submitted a post to Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like a while ago and I was chuffed to get the notification on twitter yesterday that it had been published.

If you're not about to sit down to dinner (or if you're an EAW yourself then you won't mind!) go and have a read of #57: Talking about poop! :-)

Waiting for Mr Darcy

I've been put up in Eynsham Hall, somewhere in Oxfordshire, for the past few days. It's been fantastic to meet so many of the other roving specialists and eat such wonderfully English comfort food!

And in a place such as this, I can easily imagine Elizabeth and Mr Darcy lounging in the evenings (after a long hard day of kicking zombie butt of course!)

And there are lots of tiny little bunnies, who I can't seem to get a clear photo of as they dart away too quickly!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Laid back

It's been a pretty great weekend, short as it was. By the time Friday rolled around, we were very keen to get out of the office, and even attempted to leave an hour early. The sun was already setting as we waited for the car situation to be sorted out.

And as I was fiddling with my camera to get the sunset, the clouds didn't cooperate and I missed the best part. But I did spot this on one of the cars...

We finally headed for a place downtown called "Tides" which had a big deck that looked out onto the water. It was interesting looking over to the other side of the water - it's a bit hard to see but it's a big slum.

After a couple of drinks there, we headed to my favourite place in Monrovia, the Golden Beach hotel, and I met up with a friend from Lebanon and had a great time catching up. But even with the extra hour sleep in, it was a bit of a struggle at work on Saturday, and a couple of us snuck out an hour early...rebels...

This morning I spent some time with Korto, one of the guards from our office. She'd told me about her family and it was nice to spend some time with them. Her 4 year old daughter Lila was fascinated by me, her little boy started screaming at the sight of me and cried himself to sleep in Dad's arms!

This afternoon we headed for an unknown restaurant overlooking a lagoon, finding out its name was Lagune suddenly made a lot of sense. We waited a good hour for our food (which for me was way too spicy) and had a couple of beers. The cool breeze was a welcome respite from the humidity.

We'd already asked for the bill when two older gentlemen at a nearby table sent us over another round of beers. We politely thanked them and carried on. When the waitress finally brought over the bill, she said the men would like to buy us some more beers. We tried to refuse, but she convinced us that we should accept them, and take them with us. She was quite the schemer!!

Tonight I'm throwing a few things in a bag - I'm heading out to Zwedru in the east for a few days to try and cement the information systems I've developed, and more interestingly, see some of the sites we're working at. I'm really looking forward to getting out there and seeing what's going on, but not looking forward to the 9 hour car journey!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Salaam walikum, kemon achen?

One of my colleagues is from Ethiopia; we greet each other in Arabic.

One of my colleagues is from Bangladesh; the look on his face when I greeted him in Bangla was priceless. He always asks me how I am in Bangla when we speak on the phone, and I wish I could remember more than just a few words.

Now if only I had colleagues from Spain and Japan I could roll out my entire repetoire!

Changes are afoot in Liberia. I'm moving to the regional office in Dakar, Senegal to take on the information management for the emergency responses in Ivory Coast and Ghana. I've also just found out that I'll be heading back to Oxford for a week to attend the annual learning forum for roving staff. But before I get there, I'm heading out to one of our field bases next week for a few days. Can't wait to see the program in action!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Moving in

My friend Nicole just sent me some photos of the first families moving into the reconstructed Nahr el-Bared Camp. While there's still a lot of work to be done, it's great that at least a small number of people have a nice, new place to call 'home'.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Life's a beach

Went to the beach yesterday...

The water was actually pretty rough with a strong undertow so I didn't go out too far, but the temperature was perfect.

I got away lucky with a bit of a scrape of my knee from being dumped by a rough wave, and sunburnt legs - my colleague is being medi-vacced out today after busting his shoulder.