Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Birthday shout-out

It's Rowan's birthday! Happy birthday Rowan!!!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A super day

There was breakfast at the patisserie and some shopping - thankfully the early morning rain had scared away a lot of the harassing men that usually latch onto us at the market!

There was some culture at the Artist's Village - after a Chinese company finished building the stadium in Dakar, artists lobbied the government to give them the barracks to use as workshops and display areas. There's a big gallery that was unlike any gallery I'd been to before - see if you can spot why...

And also see if you can spot what else is in this picture

I saw a painting that I was particularly drawn to, which I thought was a pretty good deal. But I left without it. If I'm still thinking about it in a week then perhaps I'll figure out a way to acquire it.

Finally there was dinner was a friend, at the western most point of Africa, Point Almadies.

A super duper day!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Disappointment in Cote d'Ivoire

I'd never really spent much time thinking about Cote d'Ivoire before I got deployed to Liberia. All I really knew about it was that there'd been conflict for many years. I had no idea how developed it had become, how it had been a massive exporter of coffee and one of the most (if not the most) developed countries in the region. The view from my hotel window in Abidjan didn't really tell me much about how cosmopolitan the city once was.

As I mentioned previously, it was a small UNHAS plane that took us to Man in the north west.

I didn't know what to expect of Man, but it was a nice little town, with a bustling market place, and the hotel must have been quite the luxury option in years gone by, with a spectacular view.

And by the time I left, the pool was full and about to undergo some serious chlorination.

So it was quite the contrast when I spent a day with a WASH (water and sanitation and hygiene) team, in Guiglo and Doueke - a good hour and a half drive from Man. The roads were impressive, it was no problem going 100km/hr, something I'd never been able to do in other places I've worked. We visited a few of the sites, starting with the Mission Catholique, where there are about 4,000 people. We then headed to the Carrefour camp for internally displaced people - no-one could tell me how many people were staying there, but it was pretty cramped.

I was inpressed with some of the latrines that had been installed, and we picked up a 'calligrapheur' who was going to do similar artwork on latrines at a nearby school.

To round off the day, we stopped in at the new camp that's under construction by UNHCR and Caritas. It's massive, 24 hectares, and with a huge wooden fence the whole way round. The concern of the displaced people who are to be moved to the new camp are the surrounding forests.

They call the forest "the slaughterhouse;" anyone who goes in, doesn't come out. So understandably, they don't want to move here, and this is when it became particularly obvious that protection is a major gap in the humanitarian response.

Earlier, I'd been walking down a street off the main road with my colleagues, as they needed to check on a couple of wells. I noticed the burnt out structures, but people had simply set up small stalls in front of them to carry on their businesses. The colleauges I was with didn't speak much English so I couldn't communicate very well with anyone. We walked past a muddy empty lot, it just had a few stakes sticking out of it. My colleagues were trying to explain what it was, but I couldn't understand. Finally I came to realise that it was a mass grave. I was a bit shocked at how they seemed blase about it, but I guess if you don't accept it then you can't move on. It was a sobering moment for me.

What struck me most about what has happened in Cote d'Ivoire is how disappointed the Ivorians are with what happened. My colleagues told me about how much potential there is, how educated people are, and how it will take years to recover from the conflict. Reconciliation is not going to be an easy or quick process - how can people really be expected to forgive their neighbours for murdering their family members? There is so much history to overcome, more than just the post-election conflict, but deeper issues surrounding ethnicity, religion, politics, land...the list goes on and on. And yet the continuing theme was not one of anger, or hatred, (of course these are present) but mainly of disappointment.

I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit, but unfortunately I won't be able to incorporate any of what I saw and learned into my work. I'm being moved to our regional office in Nairobi on Monday, to take over (perhaps establish is a more appropriate term) the information management for the drought/food insecurity regional crisis. It's a shame to leave Dakar and the friends I've made here, but I think the work will be much more challenging in covering Kenya/Ethiopia/Somaliland/and probably some other countries as well. I've not been keeping up with the situation there, so there's a lot of reading to do this weekend. But I won't soon forget what I saw in Cote d'Ivoire.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

In Abidjan

Well, it certainly was an interesting week in Cote d'Ivoire. I've put up some of the photos but there are a few more that will have to wait until I get back to Dakar tomorrow and charge my camera batteries. I'll try to write something about the field visits I did in Man as well.

The big news is that I'm being moved to Nairobi, to the regional office to look after the information management needs of the regional drought/food insecurity. It's going to be a huge job, as there are quite a number of countries affected, and of course some of those are also in protracted conflict situations. So I'm very much looking forward to the challenge, but dreading having to pack up my bag again!!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Written on Thursday


I always had this idea of aid work as being a mad rush to an airport after a disaster strikes, but in my experience, there have always delays in actually being recruited, then getting flights and visas organised etc etc, so it’s not like I’ve ever shown up on Day 2. But the past couple of days, I’ve had a taste of what that’s like.
I found out on Wednesday that there was a meeting in Cote d’Ivoire on Monday that I should really participate in. I had expected that it would be later in the week. Of course I should have applied for a visa for Cote d’Ivoire as soon as I got to Senegal, but I hadn’t, so it was a mad rush to get an application in on Wednesday and hope that it would be approved in time for the flight the next day. I showed up for work on Thursday with a bag half packed at home, the rest of my clothes drying outside, not knowing whether I’d be getting on the flight to Abidjan in the afternoon. I found out at about 11am that it would take until 2pm to find out whether my visa had been processed. The flight was at 4pm. The day was getting on, and so I rushed home to finish packing and rushed back to the office. There was still time to wait, but suddenly there were forms to complete, and the discovery that the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flight had not been organised for me – I should know that I’m supposed to do that...
Many frantic unanswered calls and emails still left me unsure as to whether I’d have anywhere to stay in Abidjan (if I got there), or a seat on the UNHAS flight to Man the following morning. Finally, at 2:15pm, one of my colleagues rushed in to the office with my passport in hand. I packed up my computer and was in the car 5 minutes later, hoping that I could get to the airport by 3pm. The adrenaline continued to flow as I rushed to the check-in desk and there was a massive line. But then I figured, if all of these people are waiting to check-in, I’ll be fine. I spotted my sort-of-boss, whose BlackBerry was beeping – there wasn’t a seat left for me on the UNHAS flight.
We ran into our other colleague at the boarding gate, she also didn’t have a seat on the UNHAS flight, so we’d be spending the weekend in Abidjan, and getting the flight on Monday morning together. Barring the fact that this would mean missing half of the meeting I wanting to participate in, I wasn’t too fussed, as my colleague had worked in Abidjan (and Man) before and was excited to show me around. It only took 2.5 hours to get to Abidjan, which has a pretty damn swanky airport and the fastest immigration process I’ve ever experienced – no forms to fill out at all! What did take a long time was for my lone little bag to come around the conveyer belt, and even longer to present my baggage receipt to get through to the baggage x-ray queue, to get outside.
When we pulled up at the hotel we spotted a woman I’d worked with in Liberia, who’d come in for the meeting, and was settled in on the patio with a cold beer. It took about 5 minutes to dump my stuff, walk back down the 3 flights of stairs and have an icy cold Flag in my hands.
As I knew I didn’t have to get up too early to catch the UNHAS flight, I was a bit surprised when my phone woke me up at 8am. “There are plenty of seats available, get yourselves to the UN base airport as quickly as you can.” “What time is the flight?” I asked, desperately trying to sound awake. “45 minutes, but I’m sure we can hold it for a little longer than that.”
I sprung into action-Carly mode, banged on my colleagues door and told her that we had to go. Since she’s going to be based in Man, she had a lot more luggage than me, and since we had expected to stay for the weekend, she had also pulled lots of stuff out of the suitcases. I rushed back to my room and stuffed the few things I’d taken out of my bag back in. Two minutes later, I was done and went downstairs and managed to communicate that I needed my bill, her bill, and a man to help her with her luggage. I also managed to organise a taxi. En Fran├žais. And the minutes ticked by, and I waited, lamenting that in all this time that I’d been waiting I could have had time for a shower. 40 minutes after I received the phone call, we were finally on our way.
We were stopped at a checkpoint into the military base where the UNHAS flies from; only military or UN vehicles are allowed to enter. We groaned, as my colleague had quite a bit of luggage, that we didn’t fancy dragging through the dirt around a military base. But then, a text message arrived, the boss had organised a WFP car to pick us up, and 2 seconds later, there it was. As we drove through the military base we passed what appeared to be an inspection parade. This was particularly amusing as half of the ‘soldiers’ weren’t wearing uniforms, and some of those in uniform weren’t wearing shoes.
And on we drove, finally pulling up outside a pretty shabby building. Our other two colleagues were standing around. “Is everyone else on the plane?” I asked. “The plane isn’t here yet.” And so we waited, and waited and watched the luggage get loaded into a van and driven away. And then another van pulled up and in we piled. I was a bit shocked at the plane we pulled up to. At this time I thought that barring the fact that it had propellers on the side, and not the top, it could have passed for a helicopter, but looking at the photo, I realise it was slightly bigger than that. The boss turned to me and said, “they cancelled the flight yesterday because of bad weather, but the pilot said he’s going to try today and see how far we get.” This was not comforting. But in we climbed, into the smallest plane I’ve ever been in, and off we took, flying over the coast line and over the palm trees and into the clouds. Yes, it was a bit bumpy but nowhere near as bad as I’d expected. The co-pilot had given us earplugs (quite possibly the best earplugs of all time) and I managed to drift off, only occasionally awakened by a slight bump here and there (more often a result of my chin hitting my chest rather than turbulence).
An hour and a half later, we descended through the clouds and I was amazed at how lush and green and hilly Man appeared to be. We walked across the tarmac to the little waiting hut, passing the blue helmets facing outwards, guns across their chests. A Senegalese friend who’d been in Liberia was waiting to get on the return flight, so it was lovely to see him again, albeit briefly.
The drive into Man was easy, the roads are wonderful. My colleague who had worked here before was pointing out the signs of progress since the fighting stopped; the timber mill was operating, the street stalls were open, the pharmacy that was once called “X Pharmacy” was now called “X Pharmacy New Version.” There were generally just lots more people out and about, though we only passed one or two cars on the road into town.
And so now, I’m in the office, which has no internet (we have to come to WFP to use their connection). There’s a cow mooing somewhere behind the fence. The hotel we’re staying in has a deep pool – there’s no water in it. Then again, we were told that the rooms have only just had water connected because the hotel was finally able to pay the water bill with all the humanitarian workers staying there. Who knows, maybe in a couple of months, those still here might have a pool to play in.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Where the wild things are

I've been having a certain feeling of late. It's hard to put a finger on it exactly, but it's sort of a cross between "where am I?" and "I can't believe this is my life." Exhibit A:

This is where I spent most of my long weekend, a nice little resort in Saint Louis, under a nice shady umbrella, with gin and tonics at my beck and call. It didn't take long for that feeling to wash over me, as it doesn't seem like that long ago that I was traipsing around refugee camps in Liberia, or wandering the grounds of a stately home in England. So to suddenly be sitting beside a pool, at a resort, was frankly a little bit weird.

Then again, so was the seven hour bus journey to get there:

I didn't count how many other people were in the bus, but I'd put it around 30. It was hot and sweaty and a bit smelly of course. What could've been a 3.5 hour trip (apparently) was a long, drawn out process, but on the upside, a great way of seeing the Senegalese country side. I was a bit surprised at how dry it is here, miles and miles of sandy/dirty plains, with a few baobab trees dotted among smaller bushes.

Saint Louis is a quiet little town, which was converged upon by hundreds of foreigners (and well-to-do Senegalese) on the weekend for the International Jazz Festival. I can't imagine there's much to do there normally, we spent an afternoon wandering around, marveling at the colourful buildings

and trying to avoid the touristy shops.

There were lots of interesting doors and doorways,

and you all know by now how much I adore blue doors!

The resort we stayed in was a good 10 minute drive out of town, over a bridge, and past an extremely smelly fish market, and past a big rubbish pile that was being taken care of by a mob of bearded goats. But the life along the way was so vibrant and active.

And then there was the music. We saw a few groups on the main stage, one of which had a soprano sax who was pretty damn amazing. And dotted around the town, in little restaurants and cafes, little trios or quartets would be playing - a pretty great time and place to be having a glass of wine! Later on in the evenings, or better put, the early hours of the mornings, people would spill out onto the road between 3 of the popular bars - it was a bit of a wild crowd, a bit of a meat market, and more than a bit like Schoolies Week, or Spring Break.

But before we knew it, it was time to come back to Dakar, and thankfully the return trip only took about 4 hours in a sept plus (a station wagon that has an extra bench seat put in the boot, so it can carry seven passengers plus the driver) with just three of us. Much more comfortable than the group who got the same bus back - we passed them on the road an hour and a half into our journey, they'd apparently left 2 hours before us!

So yes, a weekend in which I more than once had to pinch myself to believe that I was really there, in the north of Senegal, at a Jazz Festival. Life is surprising, and I don't think I'd want it any other way.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Long weekend

I'm heading off this afternoon to a place up the coast called Saint Louis, home of the Saint Louis International Jazz Festival, which just happens to be this weekend! So I'm sure there'll be plenty of photos and stories to tell next week.

Bon weekend everyone!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Supper by the sea

Saturday feels like a long time ago, but it was quite a day. After a bit of a sleep in I wandered down to the corniche and did some shopping. I then rushed home to meet my new french teacher for the first time to figure out a schedule etc. Before I knew it, it was time to head to Magic Land...

well, we didn't go into Magic Land, which is one of those slightly run down fairgrounds that would be the perfect setting for a spooky Scooby Doo episode. I was with my colleague V, another colleague's wife B and we met up with the lovely HR intern A, at this nice little place next to Magic Land. There were endless things happening to keep our attention:

The smells of barbecuing meat wafted up temptingly to our table (which was particularly frustrating as our dibi [grilled lamb] took ages to arrive)

Then there was the wrestling. My office welcome pack had already informed me that wrestling is the national sport of Senegal. What started off as just a couple of guys practicing,

into probably 20 men and boys wrestling all over the sand.

We sat for a few hours, enjoying the sea breeze and our late lunch/early dinner (lunner?) but eventually it was time to go. As we were negotiating for a cab, I noticed this at the roundabout:

You can't really see, but on each side there are scales, I'm guessing the Justice department is nearby...

Saturday night was spent at a party on the other side of town. The house was gorgeous and right on the beach...and that's the difference between UN and NGO salaries!! It wasn't a particularly late night out, but I very much enjoyed doing a whole lot of nothing on Sunday.

Special congratulatory shout-out

My dear friends Oli and Sara (and Maya the dog) welcome their little boy into the world yesterday.

Congratulations you guys!!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Waggadabbadooo

A few years ago I went on holiday to Cambodia. Out the front of the marvellous Angkor Wat we were accosted by children try to sell all sorts of things. Each of them had their own little trick to entice you to buy. There was one kid selling postcards and his method was naming capital cities. We started with the easy ones, America, England, Japan, Australia. We then moved on to slightly less well known capitals and he easily got them all. I finally stumped on him on the capital of Burkina Faso. The look on his face when I told him it was Ouagadougou was priceless.

Some time later, I was watching the remake of "St Trinians," in which the unruly schoolgirls take part in an interschool quiz (hilariously hosted by Stephen Fry) and one of the questions is, what is the capital of Burkina Faso. Amazingly, the ditsy blond posh totty knows the answer and exclaims, "Oooowagadoogo!" (See 09:22)

I was never entirely sure how to pronounce Ouagadougou, but I shared my apartment with two lovely men from Burkina Faso this week so I asked them. I'm happy to share with you, that the correct pronounciation is "Wagadugu". Simple really.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Birthday shout-out

Happy birthday Ems!!

It's hard to believe that it was 3 years ago that we got photobombed at the Dead Sea in Jordan!