Friday, December 04, 2009

How to get to work...

I now have a 'commute' in order to get from my house to the office each morning. It has become more complicated recently so I thought I would detail it in case you are ever trying to find my house:

1) Let the guard open the gate.
2) Wait for guard to remove puppy from beneath tires and keep him from running out open gate. (dumb dog)
3) Proceed with caution to avoid hitting other vehicles and/or school children who linger outside gate.
4) Turn left and proceed until the dirt track becomes a dirt football pitch.
5) Drive diagonally along the football pitch until it dead ends on a dirt road.
6) Wait for any SPLA vehicles driving out to their base as they contain men with a lot of guns.
7) Angle vehicle onto dirt road to avoid jarring bump.
8) Avoid mattatoos, people out brushing their teeth, water trucks, septic trucks, and school children.
9) Upon arriving at the large tire go right and proceed up over giant mound of dirt.
10) Drive on the right side of the newly tarmacked road, past the ministries.
11) Bear left and drive on the wrong side of the newly tarmacked road until you reach an unmarked dirt road. Turn left.
12) Drive past the USAID compound.
13) Look for a nondescript pharmacy that looks like all other small, roadside stores. Turn right on unmarked dirt road.
14) Pass the store that sells yogurt and cinammon rolls.
15) Proceed through mind-joggling ruts, bumps and puddles.
16) Bear right after the largest puddle and proceed up bumpy, unmarked dirt road.
17) Reaching the unmarked red gates turn left.

You've made it! (can everyone see now why I might need coffee before attempting to drive to work!)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Why Sudan Matters...

blatantly pilfered from John Ashworth...

Why Sudan Matters Jon TeminSudan team leader,
U.S. Institute of PeacePosted: November 24, 2009 06:04 PM

Foreign policy realists sometimes ask how much seemingly marginal states such as Sudan really matter. The answer is that Sudan matters for many reasons, none more important than the millions dead and displaced due to decades of unnecessary internal violence. Sudan matters now more than ever because two seminal events are quickly approaching -- elections in 2010 and a referendum on the unity of thecountry in 2011 -- and the international community is increasinglyconcerned that they will lead to new and renewed violence and displacement. With the recent release of its long-awaited Sudan policy, Sudan matters to the Obama Administration and its efforts to transform the president's popularity abroad into tangible achievements.

But Sudan also matters because what is happening right now in Sudan,and what will happen in the next two years, has important implications for Africa and efforts to address state fragility globally for at least three reasons.

First, Sudan may test the inviolability of Africa's borders. Many ofAfrica's current borders were drawn almost blindly by European ruler sat a conference in Berlin in 1885. They tend to be arbitrary and often awkward, splitting kin groups across different countries while placing adversarial groups within the same borders. But with few exceptions(the carving of Eritrea out of Ethiopia being the most notable), Africa's borders have remained static. Until now, African leaders and citizens have accepted the geographic hand they were dealt. But in 2011, southern Sudanese are scheduled to vote in a referendum on whether to remain part of Sudan or secede. The referendum is the culmination of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between Sudan's north and south that ended decades of civil war which cost roughly two million lives. Every indication is that southerners will vote for secession - the president of the Government of Southern Sudan recently predicted that remaining in a united Sudan would render southerners "second-class citizens." Secession would mean the division of Africa's physically largest country, with the south comprising approximately a quarter of Sudan's land. This could be deeply traumatic for Sudan, but may not affect Sudan alone. If Africa's largest country can be divided through referendum, what does this imply for an unwieldy, arguably ungovernable country like the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Or Nigeria, which, not unlike Sudan, is deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines? How many of Africa's borders may be up for debate? Southern Sudan's right to self-determination should be unassailable, but the precedent set by secession would be felt well beyond Sudan -- something surely on the minds of leaders and disgruntled populations elsewhere.

Second, Sudan presents a stern test of the "African solutions to African problems" mantra. There are few durable African solutions to boast of, especially with Zimbabwe and Kenya backsliding. Particularly concerning Sudan's Darfur crisis, Africa is on the hook: the Darfur peacekeeping mission is a joint enterprise between the African Union and United Nations, includes troops only from Africa, and, until their recent departures, was led by a diplomat from Congo-Brazzaville and a general from Nigeria. The lead mediator for Darfur is from Burkina Faso. The African Union Panel on Darfur, which investigated issues of peace, justice and reconciliation, recently released its findings and was led by former South Africa President Thabo Mbeki. African Union gatherings have debated Darfur and passed resolutions -- including one condemning the International Criminal Court's indictment of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir. Despite this depth of African engagement, there are few results to show. The scale of the killing has diminished, but millions remain displaced. UNAMID is intensely unpopular among many of the displaced and remains significantly short of its mandated capacity of 26,000 troops. There is no political solution in sight, with factionalized rebel groups struggling to unite and the most influential rebel leader, Abdel Wahid al-Nur, refusing to engage in negotiations. An African solution to this problem does not seem imminent. This is by no means solely Africa's fault, as the United States, China and others bring substantially greater leverage to the situation than any African state. But it does raise the question: if so much African engagement does not bring progress, can there be African solutions to Africa's most intractable problems?

Third, following in the footsteps of Afghanistan's highly flawed election, Sudan offers another test of whether elections in volatile environments are a good idea. The CPA called for nationwide elections mid-way through the six-year "interim period." Those elections have endured several delays, and are now scheduled for April 2010, with the CPA expiring in 2011. Preparations are underway, with voter registration commencing, in haphazard fashion, at the beginning of November. But substantial flaws in the process are already emerging:the Carter Center recently noted concerns including "slow implementation of electoral preparations...unresolved operational decisions related to voter registration activities...delays in the finalization of national, regional, and state geographic constituencies; and continued harassment of political party and civil society activity across Sudan." There are also real risks of elections triggering new or renewed violence, especially in the volatile areas of the country on both sides of the north-south border. Many Sudanese, especially in the south, profess little interest in the elections. They are skeptical of the election process and those organizing it, and, in the south, are instead counting the days until the 2011 referendum on unity or secession. During the CPA negotiations neither the northerners nor southerners were especially keen to see elections be part of the deal; it was the international community, led by the United States, which insisted that elections come first,ostensibly to legitimize the referendum. But that insistence may bebackfiring, with the international community pouring substantial funds into a process that could ultimately be perceived as illegitimate and may result in the confirmation of an unhappy and unstable status quo. If that is the outcome, little will have changed, except that precious time, effort and funds will have been devoted to elections rather than to meeting mounting humanitarian needs and preparing for the referendum and what comes after it. Should this be the result, valid questions will again be asked about elections in fragile states and whether they should be a priority. It is unlikely to be the last time such questions arise.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Oprah Winfrey shows solidarity with the people of Southern Sudan...

Sure...they say they 'don't know the reason why' but I'm sure she's not wanting to draw attention away from the full implementation of the CPA through the January 2011 referendum. Bless you, Oprah, bless you.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Azerbaijan...the definitive guide...

Azerbaijan - not a ‘stan’ but could be if it wanted to…

I have never set out to produce the definitive guide of anything. It’s an impossible task if you were visiting holiday paradises like Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan. But, I was not. I was visiting Azerbaijan and I had it on good authority that you could see everything that is to be seen in a week and, upon flying in over the Absheron peninsula, it seemed plausible to me. Now, you would not be wrong if you referred to my version of travel tales as ‘skewed’. Coming from Sudan, it is difficult to arrive anywhere else in the world without a sense of euphoric celebration over things like tarmacked roads, running water and electricity. So, when I declared that Azerbaijan was ‘just like heaven.’ My friend couldn't help but agree while dryly pointing out and swerving to avoid (or hit?) a pedestrian and another car simultaneously, ‘but it’s not. It’s Azerbaijan.’

Absheron Peninsula – where pollution goes to die…

When you visit – and oh, you’re going to want to visit - starting with the Absheron peninsula is a spectacularly good idea. Mostly because as soon as you discover the rest of the country you will be able to identify the peninsula for the boring, polluted, monochrome desert wasteland that it is. And, having seen a few desert wastelands in my time, I don’t use the term ‘wasteland’ lightly. Not far outside Baku, there are miles and miles of charred, industrial stew left as a testament to the damage the Soviets can do when they really put their minds to it. It’s like being in a day-after movie if the day before was the nuclear holocaust. The not-to-miss highlight being ‘Shamrock Lake’ a depressing mile-long, chemical-spewed puddle the same colour as Chicago’s rivers on Saint Paddy’s day.

It is impossible to come to Azerbaijan without discussing oil. There are behemoth oil platforms and pumps just about everywhere. With the oil table higher than the water table in places people, literally, have them in their backyards. The oil platforms jutting out of the Caspian ruin the view but no one seems to notice given that it’s making the elite very, very rich and because it gives them more free time to focus on their national pastime: driving very, very badly.

Once you leave behind the cataclysmic, environmental disaster zone, drive on until you reach a nondescript dirt track leading over a railroad track, an oil pipeline, through a herd of sheep and up a mountain where you’ll reach the mud volcanoes which burble along nicely only intruded on by foreigners who come to take pictures of, well, the mud. They’re mesmerizing for about five and half minutes but then you’ll want to head toward the Qobustan maximum security prison. Outside of which you will find “a roman ruin”.

I put that in quotes to express my incredulity. The handwriting that marks how far east the Romans made it looks suspiciously like the handwriting used to identify petroglyphs on the rocks above. No one can convince me otherwise. A word on petroglyphs. You might not know what they are. You might not care. (They’re cave drawings – essentially) but if you’re into museums you have not lived until you’ve seen the petroglyph museum. These pictures do it little justice.

Dagestan…not as far away as you might think

The beauty of Azerbaijan is that it’s conveniently located so close to the rest of the Caucus’ and, while mostly peaceful, it does give a sense of what all the trouble in the region is all about. Ethnic groups are piled one on top of the other and we all know how well that usually turns out. Visiting Qubo gives you a good sense of this where there is a small Jewish community plonked down smack dab in the middle of this – albeit secular – Muslim country.

Krasnaya Slobada, the Jewish enclave, promised a headless Lenin. Having no small interest in disfigured post-Soviet relics I was disappointed to find that, while still sitting on the mayor’s lawn, it has been disfigured beyond recognition – probably to keep the tourists at bay. Qubo also boasts an exceptionally good lunch and the road to Khiniliq.

(You know, Khiniliq…prounounced exactly as it’s spelled) and Dagestan. I understand that there are ‘hill-people’ in Khiniliq and Russians in Dagestan. I didn’t see either because some people in the car – who shall remain nameless – were afraid of plunging to their deaths and being arrested by the FSB…in that order. I’ll say no more. You know who you are.

‘Gotta see a guy…about a carpet’

Driving back to Baku you realise it is built on several hills – one of which is dominated by a television tower which, in a nod toward that brilliant Turkmeni tradition, is lit up neon colours at night (but disappointingly goes off at 1am). Baku has the faint whiff of Barcelona to it what with the hills, and harbour, and all. On my first day I was introduced to Samir, who sells carpets out of a small shop at the foot of the old city. Samir speaks English as I speak Russian – unhindered by grammatical conjugations and tense. Later in the trip he would declare:

“Cheki is known as the cultural capital of Azerbaijan, until today.”
“Maybe you mean, ‘it remains the cultural capital to this day,” we corrected him. “Not, ‘it was the cultural capital until today – when the Americans showed up – thus ruining the culture for all time’ which is what it sounds like.”

Oh, we had a good laugh over that one but I’m still not sure he didn't say what he meant the first time. Interestingly, less than 10% of Azerbaijani carpets are exported. This is unfortunate because the oil will eventually be siphoned off and the country will probably begin a decline into subsistence-living out of which tourism and silk exports could pull it. However, this would take some interest and investment on the part of the Azerbaijani elite and detract from siphoning off all the oil, driving badly, and letting their children dart out into traffic. Samir is a great carpet salesman – he sold me three, two of which are made of silk and one of goat’s wool – but he’s and even better tour guide. Having seen everything in his country probably a hundred times and attention span of a five year old we wasted no time on trivialities.

“We could go see this museum with some art but I do not think it is interesting. It is boring. Do you want to see the museum?”
“Uh, no?”
“Good, we will go see something interesting.”
Samir’s uncle is the Director of the Xan Tseri – or Khan’s Palace – in Sheki and so we went to visit for a couple of days. Getting to Sheki is the best part of the trip. The town sits in the foothills of the Caucus Mountains and the drive is gorgeous.

Villages sit off the beaten trail where people still live, as they probably have, for hundreds if not thousands of years. Apples, nuts and pickled just-about-everything for sale along the road seem to be the height of commercialism in most places. The palace itself is a masterpiece – built without glue or nails – its interior covered with intricate murals.

The pit of antiquities

I should know how old the Xan Tseri is just as I should know how old the Caravantserai (now a hotel but previously…well, a hotel…but one where you could also keep your camels) pictured below is.

But I don’t. They’re very, very old. Like ‘moments after AD’ old. I only know this because we went to visit Kish – a village just outside of Cheki to see the Albanian church. The Albanians built the place in around 78 AD and they are not at all related to the Albanians as we now know them. These Albanians were Christians, blonde-haired, blue-eyed and lived in the Caucus’. They were also spectacularly tall. A couple of the skeletons they’ve unearthed in the crypts show them to have been easily over 7 feet tall. We were treated like celebrities at the Albanian church because Mustafa, Samir’s son, once fell down, three meters, through a hole in the floor into the crypt below unhurt. The hole is covered now with plexi-glass and you can see the antiquities upon which he landed.

“But wasn’t the skeleton damaged?” we asked Samir.
He shrugged, “just a little”.

There is a laisse-fair attitude toward antiquities throughout the entire country. We followed Samir’s manic-white-lada driving nephew into the countryside to find a ‘labryinth’ where they had unearthed some more really old relics but the place was locked up. No worries! One villager pawned us off on another who showed us where they had been dug out of his backyard. Lifting a blue tarp were ancient pottery shards and the remains of a horse skeleton.

“Got any carpets?” Samir asked, probably bored.

No carpets. Just primeval pottery baking under the blue tarp in the Azerbaijani sun.

The end

There are other things that I’m forgetting about and, for those of you using this as your definitive guide to Azerbaijan, I apologise. Would I visit again? Most definitely. Probably in the spring when it’s warmer and you can go hiking in the hills. (I hear June’s a good month for that.) It’s also only a short drive to Georgia, and Iran, and a very short swim to Russia. Come prepared to drink a lot of tea and eat sweets that rot your teeth just by looking at them. Avoid anything deemed by the locals to be ‘good for your health.’ If you have to eat Pitti remember to smash the giant chunks of jiggly-beef-fat with your spoon and mix it with the chick peas before eating it. That’s all I’m going to say definitively.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A bridge too far...

It was one thing when UN IT blocked YouTube. I could understand that. Then, they cranked it up a notch and killed Facebook. That stung a little bit. Then, they blocked my sister's blog which, I'll give you could be perceived as undermining the UN at times. But now they've gone too far. They've banned my blog. Yes, like I say anything that could be taken as vaguely critical of the UN! It's shocking and it cannot be stomached. Time to march on OCHA IT unit. I'm bringing the torches. I believe that UNDP'ers are bringing the pitchforks. Angry villagers should not be too hard to come by around here. We should have a good sized mob in no time.

Oh, you might be wondering how I'm on my blog at the moment...I snuck out to an NGO's compound. God bless the little NGOs.

Friday, October 09, 2009

My surreal phone conversation from last night...

Let me describe the scene to you... It's 11.30. I've just gotten home from one dinner and then a second dinner. I'm slightly tired and would like to go to bed. Our house has no electricity so it's pitch black. The phone rings...

Other person: We understand that the President is dead.

Me: That is an unfounded rumour. The President is not dead. I sent an email earlier to that effect.

Other person: People are saying that he is dead.

Me: Presidential Affairs has contacted us and they assured us that he is alive and well.

Other person: He hasn't been on television.

Me: There were pictures of him on TV very much alive just this morning and people saw his motorcade driving around Juba last night.

Other person: This morning was a long time ago. He should be on TV tonight.

Me: He's not dead. I'm going to go now. When I am informed that he is dead you will be the first person I call.

Subsequent to hanging up the phone I realised that I actually can't be assured that the President isn't dead. I didn't actually know. However, it just seemed the right thing to say at the time.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Acronym Heaven...

A big gold star to whomever comes closest in detailing what the following stands for:

BSF OC @ MoFEP re:2.

P.S. No ODIs can play.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Apparently hell has frozen over...

Two things have happened this week that I thought would never happen. The first is the UN is out to ruin my life by BLOCKING FACEBOOK! Yes, the only way that I can survive being on this compound and attending all the meetings is by being allowed to make sarcastic and snide up-to-the-moment update comments about them. No more.

Then, just when I can no longer access facebook the LAST PEOPLE ON EARTH join it. You know them, the people who said they would never join. Well, they've joined. It's official 'everyone' is now on facebook. But I can't access it.

Oh, the inhumanity!!

Friday, August 28, 2009

A little Solzhenitsyn this morning...

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of hearts, there remains… an unuprooted small corner of evil.

—Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I had a long argument with myself on the drive home today about humanitarian aid, and the international community, and a place called Ezo. Ezo is out on the border of Western Sudan, Congo and Central African Republic. It has the misfortune of being where the Lord’s Resistance Army, of Uganda civil war fame, have chosen to move in and wreak havoc. The long argument I was having was about the contents of an email I received which read:

I’ve just received the following from the ECS Development Officer in Ezo Diocese. The situation there is horrendous can you organise help?

I am hereby submitting this emergency need for help to people in Ezo. Just in the last month there have been about 13 attacks on people in Ezo. People around Ezo have been sqeezed to Ezo town but last week on August 12 & 13 Ezo town was seriously attacked at night by a very big groups of LRA. In which three people died on spot including one of our Lay Readers. Those who have been abducted, their number cannot be established because so many people are still missing. This attacks occured within Ezo town where there are already 17,000 thousand internal displaced persons and refugees from Congo have been settled.

Making it more worse the only hospital in Ezo town was targeted by the LRA and all the medicines and medical equipments were all taken and the remain one they could not carry were all burnt down. Three of the medical personnels were also taken.
During this attacks many people lost their properties more especially food items as it was the most targeted items by the LRA. The situation on the ground is terrible and need immediate attention.

The church itself have lost 2 of its Arch Deanries, four Deanries and 12 parishes. Four of our pastors and lay readers have been killed so far. As the church we are unable to react to people needs so we need help more especially medicine and food items so that we can be in possition to react to people's needs.

Ezo has been cut off from Tambura districts which is 54 miles from Ezo and Yambio which is 100 miles from Ezo. All the movement on the way has to be by the help of military. Now that most of those who can afford to travel have run to those two districts through the help of military escote. But those who can not afford to travel more especially the old one are still in Ezo waiting only for when they will be killed because the LRA attacks has just become a routine act.

So as a church we can not run way leaving people behind in such situation. So we need your help and all those who can be in positiuon to respond on this serious situation.


Diocesan Development Officer
ECS Diocese of Ezo.

Through the bumpy, watery ditches out to the Juba neighbourhood of Muniki where I live, following a painfully slow and overloaded minibus I had this debate. Past the trucks of SPLA soldiers headed to their barracks; past the huts of the squatters; past the motorcycle taxis stuck in the mud of the rainy season. The argument went a little something like this:

‘What sort of person can go home and make beans and rice and cut tomatoes and onions and sit down at the table when you know these things?’

‘How is my not eating going to stop something over which I have no control?’

‘Does it make you a hero or a horrible person that you can turn off your computer and sit down to dinner when there are people who will, only a couple hundred miles away, be kidnapped and killed throughout the night?’

‘Whether I eat dinner or not it doesn’t really matter. They’re going to die either way.’

‘Is it really enough that you are ‘here’ and ‘doing something’. It might be enough to get you to sleep but is it enough? Really?’

‘What are the options? Not being here? How is that better? What does that help – except that you don’t have to watch. It makes drinking your latte easier but it doesn’t change anything.’
‘And, how, exactly is your ‘being here’ changing things?’

That is a question I cannot answer. I should have learned by now to avoid having arguments with myself.

I think that there are all sorts of things that we tell ourselves – that I tell myself - to make myself feel better when confronted with the chasm between human need and our ability to address those needs. Everything that we say is right and true even if they’re not fully reconcilable. That there is value in being ‘here’; that you ‘have to be the change you want to see in the world’; that one person can make a difference; that doing something is, quite often, better than doing nothing. But it is also true that you cannot actually ever save the world – some days you can’t save anyone; that this is someone else’s war; that you are never going to be able to do enough.

And into this chasm you can slip in these arguments with yourself about whether ‘protection through presence’ is actually a valid argument. The argument that being around and watching might make ‘less horrible’ things happen because you’re watching. . Frankly, doing the watching sucks because you don’t feel much like a hero, or helpful, or even that you useful at all. All you are doing is watching people slide into an abyss and, as Neitchze said, ‘when you stare long into the abyss, the abyss also stares into you.’ All that you feel is small and helpless standing on the brink of the abyss with the power of tens of millions of dollars, the influence of the most powerful military powers on earth, and the sway of the entire international community behind you. You stand there knowing there is nothing that you can do for the people of Ezo tonight.


Whether you eat dinner or not. Whether you sleep or not. Whether you write a blog. There is nothing you can do.


Friday, August 14, 2009

New dangers everyday...

A lot of things can happen to you in Southern Sudan which you can avoid in most other places of the world. You could pick up any number of diseases - including ones that should be eradicated. You could get bit by a snake, scorpion or spider. You can get dropped off in some remote site and not get picked up for six months. But now, apparently, there's a new one to add to the list.

A security advisory has just been circulated - importance: high - subject line: Leopard around UNMIS Camp.

A leopard. Riiight. I can deal with a hijacking, hostages, road accidents, armed robberies, even aerial bombings but I have no training whatsoever to do in a leopard attack. This would all be less disconcerting if it weren't the very place where I go for a run a few times a week and I don't think I can outrun a leopard. But, let's return to the UN advisory because, surely, they must give some helpful advice...

And here it is: "Be extra vigilant and careful. Report to security immediately on spotting the leopard."

Huh. Well. That's, ummmm, not really helpful. So, I decided to take my security into my own hands and googled, 'what to do if being chased by a leopard.' After about a minute searching I came across actual advice...most of it slightly disconcerting so I will interject my thoughts and comments as we go along:

Leopards usually shy away from humans, and are normally not dangerous if you leave them alone. They are only likely to become aggressive when threatened or provoked. If wounded, cornered or suddenly disturbed, they can become exceedingly dangerous. [KH: great...avoid cornering, got it.].

In certain parts of Africa healthy Leopards have preyed on humans, usually killing women and children. [KH: That doesn't bode so well]. Such behaviour is, however, atypical of Leopards in the southern African subregion. Old and sick Leopards, unable to catch wild prey, may, however, very exceptionally attack humans.

Apparently one can pass close by a hiding Leopard and as long as your eyes don't meet, it will allow one to pass. But the moment it is aware that one has noticed it, it will flee, or if cornered, may attack. [KH: Let me get this straight...we're supposed to be watching for the leopard but, god forbid, you should see it - and it you - at the same time?!] !Xõ trackers maintain that you must never look a Leopard in the eyes when confronted by it, since you will infuriate it. By pretending to ignore it, it will most likely choose to avoid contact. [KH: Sounds like some people I know.]

If you see a Leopard and you are not walking towards it, continue walking and do not look at it or stand still. If it realises that it has been seen, it may feel threatened and attack. When you encounter a Leopard at close range, and if it warns you by roaring, retreat slowly, moving sideways away rather than directly backwards, and don't stare at it. [KH: Yeah, right. Like I'm going to remember that after I've made eye contact.] Try not to frighten the Leopard, and don't throw anything at it. Don't feed it as this is likely to make it bolder and possibly even aggressive.

Once committed to a full attack, only a fatal bullet will stop a charging Leopard. [KH: When did we start talking about 'commitment' to an attack? I'm only committed to getting the heck out of there.] It charges very fast and low on the ground. It embraces its victim, with claws extended, and full use is made of the powerful dew claws. The victim is mauled with teeth and all four clawed feet, and the killing bite is directed at the back of the head or neck or the throat, the victim being throttled or has the jugular vein severed. [KH: Gulp. Nice. Spare no details, guys, please!]

There have been cases where people successfully defended themselves against Leopards with knives and even used stones to hit them on the head. [KH: I can't even hit small flightless birds with stones. I'm not going to take out a charging leopard.] In some cases unarmed people have been able to choke the Leopard to death or make the Leopard retreat by punching it on the nose. [KH: Well, at least it's better advice than, 'be vigilant'] There are probably few people capable of such feats, but since one does not always carry firearms in many of the areas where Leopards are found, one might well keep in mind that in the extremely unlikely event of being attacked by a Leopard, it is possible to defend oneself.

There now, I feel better. You learn something new every day, don't you? Shout out to 'cybertracker' for the advice:

Monday, August 03, 2009

And more amusing emails...

I seem to be on a run of receiving amusing emails. Or, I'm losing it due to the sheer volume of emails I'm receiving. Either way, I just received an email which stated:

From: ngoforumSC2009 On Behalf Of [someone who shall remain nameless]
Sent: 03 August 2009 14:16
To: [other nameless individuals]
Subject: [SC NGO Forum] RE: EC

This was a meeting that we agreed to organize with the EC, and I have just sent a confirmation email. Obviously the original timing would have been best to organize at the same time as an existing SC meeting, however it seems that I had the dates a little confused and that this doesn’t actually correspond with an existing SC meeting – my apologies. If Jesus is still able to meet then perhaps it would be best to meet at his convenience. [emphasis mine] I think that the plan for the meeting with the EC was to just make an introduction of the SC and understand more about what the EC priorities etc are within Sudan and how the NGO community can best engage.
I always think it's best to meet Jesus at his convenience. Words to live by. But then I promptly received another email in response which is pasted below:


I have just talked to Jesus and he’s happy to come next week.

Some of us have a BSF meeting this evening so it would have clashed.


And MORE words to live by. I mean down through the ages there have been debates as to the second coming and the news comes to me by email just during the course of my day!

Of course, all of this should be less amusing given that our European Commission's rep's name is, obviously, hispanic and his name is: Jesus Orus-Baguena but that doesn't stop me from having a good chuckle.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


To quote from an email I just received:

Dear All,

Kindly refer to the attached detail budget breakdown Micro plan as per each State. However, EPI,MoH/GoSS has completed transfer of July, 20,2009, for routine EPI acceleration - GAVI funding. is for you to implement July acceleration.
NB; three whom we did not transfer it's fund are those whom we did not received their liqudation reports e.g E.EQ, W.EQ. and Jonglei.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Top 10 annoying things about economists...

10. Economists actually believe that the world is a rational place and human beings are rational as well.

9. No matter what one economists says there will be a hundred others to tell you how wrong and stupid you are for believing the first economist.

8. Economics isn't a science but economists pretend it is. "Economics isn't like physics or chemistry, where you're measuring fairly well-defined, discrete things. Economics is every person on the planet eating, buying crap they don’t need, and laying crazy bets because they’re sure this is the Red Sox’s year."

7. Economists don't actually know any more than you do about the economy. They just have a few degrees and the accompanying condescending attitude.

6. Economists love theories and theoretical ideas which either won't work, or would be detrimental, if implemented. But when the ideas are turned into actual practice or policy that proves detrimental then the economist just shrug and blame it on 'other unforseen factors'.

5. Economists actually enjoy annoying people.

4. Economists actually believe they are smarter than all other people (with the exception of the certain economist that they idolise).

3. Economists actually believe that economic principles and analysis can be applied to everything.

2. Economic jargon is just plain boring.

1. With rare exceptions to the rule, economists are troubled when required to speak about anything other than economics.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Haven't laughed this hard in a long time. Recent warden message from the 'ole USG:

"The Department of State continues to warn against all travel to Sudan, particularly in the Darfur area, where violence between government forces, rebel factions, and various armed militias continues."

You don't say! Seriously? Someone should do something about that...

"American citizens who choose to travel to Sudan despite the existing Travel Warning, and those currently in Sudan, should review their security posture and take appropriate precautions."

Excuse me going to have to take a few moments to review my 'security posture'.

Regular wild kingdom over here...


Friday, June 19, 2009


I don't know how many of you have had the opportunity to go to court in Sudan so for those of you who haven't I'm going to paint you a little picture so that you know what you are getting yourself into the next time a Sudanese court date or Sudanese jury duty appears on your calendar.

Oh, whoops, except there's no jury. The court is about a stone's throw from my office, as it turns out and amazingly clean and tidy. Inside the cement compound there are dozens of shifty looking men all standing in clusters around the the dirt courtyard. Our Dinka lawyer (who's about 7'8") swept across the yard and ushered me directly into the court room. It was sparcely decorated but, surprisingly, clean. The judge, a dour Northerner who spoke only in Arabic, sat at a large desk. Facing her was another desk at which the defendant (former employee who embezzled a rather large sum of money from us)and I stood. Our lawyer stood at one end and a police officer sat at the other. On the table was a Bible and a Koran. I got to choose on which I'd like to swear

So, there we were. The judge looked at me and our conversation went a little something like this:

Judge: Statement
Me: Everything. You want me to tell the entire story again? (Lawyer translates).
Judge: No. Name.
Me: Kelsey
Judge: Second name.
Me: Hoppe
Judge: Third name.
Me: Ummmm...Elizabeth?
Judge: No! Father's name.
Lawyer interjects with some argument
Judge: No! Mother's name.

This went on for quite some time until we ascertained my Mother's maiden name is what they were after, how old I was, was I married, where did I live, what religion, etc. All of this was dutifully noted by the judge.

I then gave my statement. The former employee then gave his statement. The judge told him to pay us the money back. He said he would. My lawyer told him that he's going to jail if he hasn't by July 2nd. Another court date was set for the 2nd. And that, was that. It was a remarkably ordered - but not altogether productive. I'm beginning to doubt that we're ever going to see the money but are going to keep seeing the inside of that court room.

Of course, if there is any poetic justice in the world it is this: after we fired the guy he promptly got a job at the World Bank...who never checked his references.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The problem with bleeding hearts...

If this blog has taught us nothing else I believe it is that relief and development is an amusing way to fill one's day, problematic to its crunchy-hard-currency-filled core, and so chock full of contradictions that describing it is like trying to nail jello.

And aid workers, as a group, get painted with the 'saint' brush a little more often than necessary when most of us are paid quite well and find our job difficult but also engaging, important and fulfilling. It's really not very sacrificial when you get right down to it.

This makes it difficult to come up against real need. Real need outside the bounds of the $10 million projects that donors pony up the cash for without blinking. Here in Juba there are a couple of women working with the government to work with some street kids - 45 street kids to be exact - who they have managed to get into school by day and a shifty government building at night. However, they can't feed them. And, by next week, they need $5,400 or the kids will take off to the streets again because they aren't getting fed. Can't say I'd blame them. I don't stay where I'm not fed. They need $27,000 to feed them for the next six months. That's $5 a kid for six months.

Herein lies the ridiculous dilemma, while I could easily get a million or two for a water project somewhere in Jonglei I have no idea how to come up with $33,000 so that these kids can keep eating for six months. And with all the NGOs and donors and UN in this town it really shouldn't be that difficult to get 45 of us 'mercenary' aid workers to give up 10 Sudanese Pounds a day for the next six month but - read previous article on cooks - I expect it will be like getting water from stones. I suspect that, when the rubber meets the road most of us think that we're doing our good by just existing here and shifting other peoples money around. It reminds me of the Indigo Girls song, Money Made You Mean:

So money made you mean and that's not how it's supposed to be.
You're ready to challenge and defend,
yeah, but for all the wrong reasons.

How much do we really need?
a question, if you have to ask
just means what it means-
the question that says everything.

Right and left it's all the same conspiracy
just cause you ask, doesn't make a difference to me.

You could keep it all or give it away
but where did it come from in the first place?
Robbing Peter to pay me, and I'll just be
giving it back to Peter to feel free.

Now you have to fix everything that's broke
cause it'll never leave you alone.
Reinvent the wheel, be the butt of a joke,
take the long road to charity.

Right or left it's all the same conspiracy
robbing Peter to pay Paul
or robbing Peter to pay me.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul
or robbing Peter to pay me.

Yeah it's just too hard, oh well, jump in.
Forget about the sharks and swim,
cause now you're one, now you're one.
You can't deny it anymore.

Right or left it's all the same conspiracy
robbing Peter to pay Paul
or robbing Peter to pay me.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul
or robbing Peter to pay me.

You can't deny it anymore.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

A day without cooks...

I don't like to think of humanitarian aid workers as a bunch of soft, spoiled, whinging whiners but, more often than not, I think that just might be what we are. Yesterday was a public holiday and therefore, in accordance with - oh THE LAW - we gave all our national staff the day off. Including the cooks. This doesn't seem to me to be all that big of a deal. We're a bunch of grown ups. Surely we can hunt-and-gather our own food for a day...surely we won't waste away to nothing and be found by the cooks when they return (THE FOLLOWING DAY!) as a heap of corpses in front of the refrigerator our cold dead fingers having to be pried from the door that we were unable to open. Apparently, I was wrong. And I was told so in no uncertain terms in our senior managers meeting for at least half an hour. HALF AN HOUR discussion about whether we should pay the cooks overtime to come in on a public holiday. Seriously, the higher I am in senior management the sillier the discussions become.

Monday, April 13, 2009

And more puppy pictures...

These are the many poses of the puppy sleeping. He has been named: Jasper...pronounced by all the Brits as: Jaspa. And, these are the last of the photos. I swear I'm not becoming one of 'those' people.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Monday, March 30, 2009

To feel the sand between one's teeth...

To feel the sand between ones teeth..

Our near weekly dust storms here in the field are something of a curse and a blessing. A blessing because they blot out the sun for a precious day of not dripping in sweat. A curse because you literally feel the gritty, salty taste of dirt between your teeth the whole day through. Must everything be a double-edged sword?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The forgotten art of walking...

After sitting in my little tukul almost all day on Saturday I had enough. I needed to get out and so I went for a walk. And once I started walking I was overcome by the strangest urge to just keep on walking. I mean, just keep going. Now, I’m the person who coined the phrase, ‘if God had intended us to walk he wouldn’t have given us cars’ so I’m not normally a fan of ‘footing’, as they call it here. I think of walking as a means to an end, just like driving - only the latter is more expedient. You walk, or run, or hike, or trek, or drive in order to 1) get where you’re going, or 2) exercise, or, 3) see some beautiful mountain/hike as the case may be. That’s it. I have never gotten some high or endorphine rush from either walking or running. That’s why I found it so unusual that on Saturday I just felt like walking. It might have something to do with being in the middle of nowhere and I was on a dirt track that goes somewhere. It wasn’t to get anywhere, it wasn’t particularly beautiful, and (given my deficit of caloric intake recently) it was certainly not about exercise. But I had this compulsion to follow it as far as it went. I’m sure some psychologist could explain it as a desire to escape from the work on my desk that I had no desire to complete. And I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have about fourteen different security scenarios passing immediately through my head – most of which ended with me passed out from dehydration while my bones were being picked clean by vultures. Hence, after about half an hour I did decided to turn around but I have to admit there was something wonderful about putting your feet on a straight dirt path and walking.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The monkey vs. me...

For those of you who have read this blog for quite some time you will know both about my love of epic battles and about the presence of some rather agressive monkeys (which I maintain are not figures of my imagination) on our Juba compound.

This morning our new HR staff comes in. Mind you, she's been in Juba for one day, having flown in from New Zealand yesterday and says: "Well, I have to say that a monkey playing with a puppy is not something I have ever seen before."

This, of course, raises the curiosity so I went with her and a guard to investigate. There was, actually a monkey in the yard rolling around a poor little puppy (estimated age 4 weeks...pictured above). We got the guard to throw rocks at the monkey long enough to take the puppy away. Needless to say, it was in a state of shock, covered in ticks and fleas so that it's coat is patchy. We got a box (having learned the bucket lesson from the cats) and put it in where it promptly went to sleep.

A few hours later I got on of our staff to take me to a local vet because we clearly need some parasite dip and deworming meds. While we were out the monkey came looking for either me or the puppy. It tipped the milk out all over my desk that I had mixed, it smudged up the proposal I had just printed before it was discovered by other staff and chased out. I suspect that it will be back.

Oh, but I'll be ready. I've decided the aggressive, puppy-abusing monkey needs to be taught a lesson. That lesson will include: 1) why coming into the Tearfund office is a no-no; 2) why messing with Tearfund staff is a no-no; 3) why the puppy is lost and gone forever to it. My teaching method is going to be mace that was thoughtfully supplied to me by the Ava County Sheriff's Dept when they switched over to tazing those that needed to apprehend.

I think the things that I have going for me are: 1) I'm bigger than the monkey; 2) I'm smarter than the monkey (NO COMMENTS!!!); 3) I am not giving the puppy back. The monkey, on the other hand, has going for it: 1) I'm slightly frightened by agrressive mammals with sharp teeth and claws; 2) it's probably sneakier than me and doesn't have to be tied to a desk writing proposals and reports. Will let you know how it goes.

P.S. I've already been told by friends that in this epic battle they're betting on the monkey.

P.P.S. None of the staff are being allowed to name the puppy. I say that you don't get to name animals until you're pretty sure that they're not going to die or you are going to keep them. Otherwise it's just a bad scene when they wake up dead tomorrow or you have to give them away.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


You know your week (series of weeks?) is not going well when the highlight of your day becomes flavoured water. That has been the highlight of my day for the past two weeks. It’s getting hot in Sudan now. Really hot. Up in the 110-20’s hot. And so by about 1.30 you can hardly stand to be outside, much less string together a cohesive sentence or finish an email. Mostly, you feel like putting your head down on the desk and going to sleep in a pool of your own sweat and waiting until the sun sets before you regain consciousness. Of course, you can’t do this because, well, you are a responsible professional that has work to doing and people are outside carrying water over two hours for their families so you’re pretty much just a big whiner. Needless to say the need to stay hydrated in this environment is challenging but important. I have addressed this by making drinking water my hobby. Everyone needs a hobby. It goes a little something like this. We’re supposed to drink between 5-7 litres a day. If I down two before lunch then I reward myself in the afternoon by putting a little kool aid in third and fourth litres after lunch. I like to have those downed by 5pm and then it’s just one more around dinner and one during the night because you’re constantly waking up in pools of your own sweat desperately thirsty. It’s funny how when there’s so little to look forward to that kool aid can cause so much excitement but I suppose it’s good in a way to have my environment force me to appreciate some of the smaller things in life.

I would also like to give a shout-out to my Kool-Aid pusher who got me hooked on the stuff in the first place. Her name is Carmen and she now works for an NGO in DC but (re) introduced me to the stuff while in Darfur. She swears by the stuff and from time to time, I get a little package through our Nairobi office filled with the tiny little packets of joy and I would be lying if I didn’t say that it fills me with as much joy as Christmas morning.

On only a vaguely related note, when I start my NGO that’s going to be the name. Kool Aid.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It's the little things...

Sometimes the only thing that can make one of your favourite watering holes better is a fountain in the form of a gorilla that spits water surrounded by a dog (or is that a goat?), and alligator. Makes me happy every time I see it.

It's the little things...

Sometimes the only thing that can make one of your favourite watering holes better is a fountain in the form of a gorilla that spits water surrounded by a dog (or is that a goat?), and alligator. Makes me happy every time I see it.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Kittens...not just delicious...

Kittens...not just delicious...also giant pains in the ass...You see, it all started about two weeks ago...

“Do you think I should take this bucket?” I shouted to Sarah who happened to be in the toilet at the time.

“Why?” she shouted back.

“Cause we have to put the kittens in something,” I carried on the conversation from the other side of the bathroom door.

“Get a box,” she sagely advised.

We were going to collect some kitties. Not your average evening activity in Juba so let me explain. There is a google group called Jubalicious on which people post adverts, announcements, etc. And, those loyal readers, will recall that several of our field sites have mentioned that they would like to have some cats to keep the rodent and snake population at bay. So, when a Jubalicious post announcing that six cute kittens were up for grabs I immediately replied that we would take two. Motot wanted them…if you’re still trying to figure out why go to previous posts on snakes in Motot.

The first few days spent with our little kitties was enjoyable. Cause they're cute. Or, as my mother says, "God made them cute at this stage or they would drive us over the edge." (I suspect they're like children in that regard). But then the cuteness wears off as they tear around smelling like cats and generally destroying things. I have to confess that I wasn't sad to see them stuffed into a cardboard box, taped up with duct tape and shipped to the field.

But, wouldn't you know it. They weren't even there a full 24 hours and then we had to evacuate the place. So, now they're back. And they're living in my room in Juba. I am, fortunately, not there. However, I suspect that my room is never going to smell the same...

Why people starve...

In the past week I have gotten a short course on food security for a number of reasons and I found it so interesting I thought I would share.

First of all, what is food security? Well, it’s basically having enough food in order to live a productive life. Most of the developed world is what we would call ‘food secure’ however, there are pockets in every society that are still ‘food insecure’ because food security is not only about the availability of food (of which there is plenty in the developed world) but about access to that food. So, if your average inner city kid in Washington, DC could be surrounded by food but still be food insecure because she can’t access it. Her family lacks the money, or the money is spent on other things. The difference between the inner city kid and the developing world is that in the developed world there is (hopefully) a complex web of civil society / governmental safety nets to keep her from starving. Her parents might get food stamps, or a local church might run a soup kitchen, or her school might give free lunches. In the developing world that safety net usually doesn’t exist to the same degree and so when times get tough people starve.

Awhile back (think Ethiopian famine) aid workers were busy running nutrition programmes and feeding programmes. The reasoning being that if people are starving it’s because they don’t have enough food. Give them food and, voila, you have taken care of the problem. This is partly true – people who are about to die of starvation do need food – but it also created a number of half-truths that we now believe about
Africa such as: 1) Famines / food crisis’ are primarily about a lack of food; 2) Africa doesn’t have enough food; 3) Giving food aid / and or agricultural inputs is the best way to solve famines / food crisis.

These statements have enough truth in them to be plausible but are not entirely true. Africa can easily produce enough food to feed itself. Sudan, in and of itself, could probably produce enough food to feed all of East Africa. It’s resources are that rich. The area that I am in currently is not wanting for food. But people are still starving…why is that?

Here we have something called the ‘hunger gap’. People farm small plots of land to feed their families and this is how they survive from year to year and have since time immemorial. If they have enough food to get from one harvest to the next then they are ‘food secure’. If they don’t and spend several months of the year scrounging, borrowing, or hungry this period is called ‘the hunger gap’ and these people are ‘food insecure’. So, how can help people eliminate this hunger gap?

First we try to figure out what’s lacking and come up with a combination of things. Farming has been done here for thousands of years the same way – with a stick (as a hoe) in a small plot of land. How to change that? Well, people have cows so if we can get some ox ploughs in people can farm a larger area of land thereby producing enough to see their family through to the next harvest. Where can we get ox ploughs? Uganda or Kenya. How to get there here? Truck them in. Oops! Problem number 1 – there are no roads. The place where I am right now is only accessible by plane. You can literally not drive and during the rainy season you cannot drive anywhere. Ok, so we back up. Build roads. Now that we have those we send a truck full of ox ploughs
in and we hold a training on how to use them. Except no one comes to the training. Why? Because the training takes a month – to retrain a bull that’s not used to pulling a plough and to train the farmers in why it’s better cultivate more acreage when they have done it differently for thousands of years. Additionally, they aren’t in the field during that month their family isn’t going to have food. So, we need to get some food in to provide for the families of those in the ox plough training. Ok. Done. We get roads, ox ploughs, and food for those in the training. They plant and harvest more than they have ever done before. Enough to see their families through the hunger gap. The next year comes. Those same farmers are back to using a stick. Why? The blades of the ox ploughs gets dull, the screws fall out, and general wear and tear makes the thing fall apart. Ooops! We didn’t think of how the farmers would be able to maintain the ox plough.


Let’s get another group together and train them how to be blacksmiths. Repeat above by getting in blacksmith tools, and food for their families during training, and then maybe we’ve got a sustainable system going. Except, of course, when the blacksmith’s tools break but let’s hope that they’re making enough that they will create a demand for tools in the places you can now reach by road. Except, of course, you’ve created a culture in which when people need something an aid agency provides it for free so your blacksmiths don’t want to spend their money saved from fixing ox ploughs to fix their tools. Why should they spend their money when everyone else is getting something for nothing?

Now we can say we’ve got a ‘food security’ programme going, right? Great! All things being equal we should not have people – except the very poor – starving. Right? Nope. Your great food security programme doesn’t seem to have impacted the number of malnourished children you’re seeing in your nutrition programme one iota. Why? Oh, right because the farmers you targeted to ensure that they make it through the hunger gap aren’t the same families that have children in the nutrition programme. Ok, go back to the beginning of your food security programme and retarget to include these families. Great!

No problem now. Right? Not so fast! This year you have any one of the multitude of pestilences-of-Biblical-proportions that befall Sudan. The environment is so harsh that there’s not enough rain, so the crops wither in the fields, or there’s too much rain and there’s flooding, or there’s infestations of weevils, and beetles, or locusts. There’s no irrigation systems or pesticides or fertilizers. And even if there were you’ve got to battle through the ‘we’ve-done-this-for-thousands-of-years’ culture to get them used.(Incidentally, you can hate chemical pesticides and fertilizers all you want, but guess what? They’re the reason why you have grown up having a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg around year round.)

So, you’re back at square one. Except you have a lot of people who are weakened by not having enough to eat so they don’t have the energy to go out there and plough their field with either a stick or an ox plough. Which means that next year they won’t have enough to eat either.

As I said before, it’s complicated. But now, if you’ve got a year or two of flooding or drought and you’re looking at a food crisis. And get a food crisis of big enough proportions / duration and you’ve got a famine.

‘Wait a second!’ I can hear some bright spark out there saying. ‘If we know this surely can’t we invest enough in food security programmes – however complicated they may be – so that fewer people are living on the brink?’ You’re a smart one. And, yes, we could…except for the little problem that I like to call: ‘Everyone loves a crisis’.

Think about this…if you had $5 and you had to give it away to one of the following would you be more likely to give it to an aid worker who is standing in the midst of a lot of starving people saying that your $5 can keep people from dying, or to an aid worker who is standing in a green field with some well fed people who is saying that you should give your $5 to them because these people might starve in the future.

You, and most of the international community, would give it to the first. Nobody wants to be responsible for people dying right now as opposed to taking the responsibility for people who might, or might not, die in a few years time. There’s enough crisis’ right now to deal spend our $5 on! We’ll deal with those well fed people starving when it happens.

So, is humanitarian aid an imperfect system? Yes. Is the entire way that we deal with poverty and food security a bit broken? Absolutely. The problem is this. At the moment there is no alternative. We cannot, in good conscience, abandon the system because people would starve, and suffer, and die and we don’t like to see those images on our TV screens when we’re eating dinner. ‘Someone should do something about
that,’ we would say. So the something we do, while imperfect, falls under the label of ‘food aid’ and ‘food security’ and we try to learn from our mistakes and tweak the way we work as we go along. But until there is a paradigm shift this is the best we’ve got.

P.S. Anyone quotes Jeffrey Sachs in the comments gets a slap in the face.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why we have toilets…

I know that you probably feel that I am fascinated by either 1) food or 2) latrines. And you would be right. I spend a vast quantity of any given day on one of these two issues and not just personally – but also professionally. When half of your job is finding out why people are starving or ill these two things are bound to come up.

So, it should come as no surprise today as I was headed off to our pit latrine and about to walk into a cholera outbreak meeting that I was thinking about toilets. I was thinking mostly about why we have them. I don’t know if you think about this on anything resembling a regular basis but I know that I usually don’t. At home, I don’t know how to turn off the water in my house, much less where it comes from. I don’t know which wires carry electricity to my house in which volts and where it comes from. You get the idea. And neither do I care much as long as it works. In the field, you know about all these things – intimately – and probably a little too much. You know because not knowing means that you could have faecal matter in your drinking water and that, my friends, is how you get cholera.

Anyway, it struck me that the fundamental reason we have toilets is not so that our houses don’t stink, or because it’s a polite way to do ones business - we, fundamentally, have toilets so that we don’t die of cholera. If we didn’t have ways of taking our waste and moving it as far from us and others as possible the odds are that we would still be dealing with cholera and the bubonic plague and then the only thing that would separate us from the middle ages would be reality television. And is that really the accomplishment we want to boast of after several thousand years of human development? Nope…I would go with toilets any day.

Field Diets...

In Darfur we had something called ‘Darfur Diet’ and we joked about how it would be great to bill Darfur as a kind of ‘fat camp’ where people could come and lose tons of weight by…well, mostly by going hungry. The same is true in Southern Sudan but only more so. The humanitarian nutritional indicators are abysmal. I would tell you what they are but the half of you who would know what they mean don’t care and the half of you that care wouldn’t have a clue what they mean. They’re bad, take my word for it. People still starve to death. And not people, like that giant mass, out there, somewhere people, like our neighbours. Our health team saw twins today that are living about a stone’s throw from where I’m sitting. It’s likely they’ll starve to death within the week. They won’t starve to death because of a lack of food (just like having money doesn’t solve poverty) rather they'll starve for a whole host of horrid other complex reasons that have to do with culture, and health, and acceptance, and poverty. Like most things in life the outcomes are not the result of a singular act but whole string of knots that can’t be unraveled in a week’s time by a bunch of foreigners to in time to keep death at bay.

So, in this context, it’s pretty difficult to complain about food without feeling like a whiny spoiled brat. (But will I let that stop me? No!) We have enough food in all of our compounds every day to stay alive. Not enough diversity to remain healthy but enough to keep living which is just one of the things that separates us from those on the other side of our fence.

I thought I would map for you what I’ve been eating over the past few days:


Breakfast: Two pieces of white toast / coffee

Lunch: Coke / lentils

Dinner: Mashed potatoes


Breakfast: ½ a white bread roll / coffee

Lunch: Bowl of fruit’n’fibre cereal

Dinner: 2 eggs and a white bread roll


Breakfast: ½ a white bread roll / coffee

Lunch: Bowl of fruit’n’fibre cereal

Dinner: Goat pieces and ½ a white bread roll


Breakfast: Bowl of fruit’n’fibre cereal / coffee

Lunch: Rice & beans; bowl of fruit’n’fibre cereal; skittles

Dinner: Goat

I was trying to think about my feelings about the food but mostly...I just feel hungry.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Dustland Fairytale...

Apologies for the long absence. I was on a whirlwind trip around the United States. It wasn't until I was sitting back in a hut in the middle of Sudan that I stopped and realised that I was - exactly 5 weeks later - back in the same hut I had been 5 weeks earlier. But the previous week I had been in DC, and the week before that Missouri, and the week before that San Diego, and before that Boston and before that Vermont.

So, needless to say, I was glad to be back on old terra firma even if it was the middle of nowhere with our Area Coordinator sitting on the airstrip watching the sun set and being watched by the local Nuer children. A dust storm was sweeping across the savannah to the west and ash from the fires around drifted down on us like snow. It was nice to be back and dealing with concrete problems in life and not whether Obama's rhetoric would translate into some substantive policy or whether LL Bean is going to be bankrupted by bad Christmas sales. In those five weeks I found I just couldn't muster the energy to pretend that I cared. Give me a looming famine any day. There's something I can do about that.

Back to the Dustland Fairytale...

"I saw the devil wrapping up his hands
He's getting ready for the show down
I saw the ending when they turned the page
I threw my money and I ran away
Straight to the valley of the great divide

Out where the dreams all hide
Out were the wind don't blow
Out here the good girls die
And the sky won't snow
Out here the bird don't sing
Out here the field don't grow
Out here the bell don't ring
Out here the bell don't ring
Out here the good girls die

Now Cinderella don't you go to sleep
It's such a bitter form of refuge
Ahh don't you know the kingdoms under siege
And everybody needs you"