Friday, December 22, 2006

Gentleman, meet Lug.

Not a big deal? Not a big deal?! I was given the impression by some
people that this report for the Bank would not be a big deal. They
were incorrect.

So I woke up with final comments waiting for me from one of my bosses
on the paper I was hoping to submit to the World Bank this morning.
So I start working on it at home. Then the power goes out, so I pack
up real quick and bike to the office and turn on the generator. After
a couple hours, I finish. I save two copies of the paper, and go to
attach it to an e-mail to the Bank. But when I open the file again,
every single table in the paper has been corrupted and is now just a
long list of numbers. I can't recover it, so I start over. Then the
generator runs out of gas. Quick, my laptop has a thirty second
battery life. There's no gas in the cans in the hallway. I'll go buy
some. Shit, I have no money. I'll get some from the safe. Shit, I
don't have the keys to get to the safe. So I sprint home, get money
and keys, and ask a guard from the office to buy me some gas. I
finish the report again, only this time as I go to send it, there's a
new e-mail from the Bank saying they don't have the funding they
promised for our company, so my boss says to hold off on sending them
the report. Ack!

This is how a normal day around the office is, only usually there
aren't hard deadlines, so you can just go with the flow and laugh
about how nothing works. Today was a little different. On the
positive side, I have now finally written a real paper/report on which
I am the sole author. It's certainly not publishable (in fact, it and
all my thoughts and my firstborn belong to the Bank) but it might
eventually lead to something. I also had a totally dorky
epistemological insight while working to incorporate two different
professors' comments on the paper: "Wow, Thomas Kuhn is totally
right." (If you get that joke, thumbs up for being at least as dorky
as me. Also thumbs up to those who caught the Willow allusion to
start. And in all seriousness the profs were a huge help.)

F--- it all, I'm going to Mombasa.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Well, It's Official

It's Thursday the 21st, and I still haven't left town yet. I know
it's crazy that I'm complaining that I'm not getting a month-plus
Christmas vacation, but Cal has made me soft--if there's not enough
time to walk to Oregon or try and snowshoe the entire John Muir Trail,
it shouldn't even count as vacation. I am the only EC that hasn't left
town yet, the office has been completely emptied (the research team
broke up with the NGO we used to partner with, and the NGO moved out,
long story), I just sent off another (hopefully the final) draft of my
report on scholarship programs for the World Bank to the profs in the
States, I've locked all the doors, and now I wait. Hopefully they'll
get back to me in a few hours, say the report is marvelous and ready
to submit, and I can leave tomorrow for ... for wherever I decide to
go from now until the 29th when Marcus comes and we climb Kili.
Writing this report has been pretty tough, so I'll likely just take a
couple buses to Mombasa and go snorkeling at the beach. Not the best
way to adjust to altitude for climbing Kili, but oh well. I also
wouldn't mind going to Rwanda, or visiting Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru,
and Hell's Gate NP, but I think I'll get a chance to do all those
before I leave, so all is well.

Happy holidays and much love, everyone. If anybody wants to spread
holiday cheer by getting the Sufjan Stevens Chrismas EP boxed set and
Chuck Klosterman's new book to Marcus before he leaves on the 27th,
I'd be forever in your debt.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Walking to the Lake

This weekend I expanded my garden--it's now got a 30 meter perimeter chicken-wire fence, I transplanted the lettuce, tomatoes, peas, and cucumbers that survived the murderous onslaught of my fertilizer, and I planted more tomatoes, peppers, corn, carrots, and watermelon. The termites came out of the wood-work (ha! that's the lamest pun ever) on Sunday, but hopefully my scary-to-handle-especially-having-read-most-of-Silent-Spring insecticide will work.

On Sunday I finally did something other than eating a tall stack of french toast and reading books all day (although I did that too). I was worried I wouldn't be in shape for Kili in a few weeks, so I decided I needed some exercise, and I finally walked all the way from my house to Lake Victoria. I discovered a new route in Uganda that's much shorter than any in Kenya, so I walked across the border (about 3 km from my house), then basically headed due south from there straight to the lake at the village of Majanji, about 30km away. I pretty much haven't done anything since the marathon, so I was happy that I could still do my normal 3+ mph pace. The lake was beautiful and I had fun helping kids pick mangoes on the way.

me at the lake

goats along the way

chairs along the way back. I really wish I 'd noticed to get my shadow out of the picture, because the lines they were making in the sun looked really cool.

a couple days ago the team and I ran into some flooding

Also, I finished reading Sam Harris' The End of Faith. He says some interesting things about religious moderates (basically that moderation is a myth; all the crap about stoning people in Leviticus is just as canonical as the Sermon on the Mount, so moderates are really just being poor followers thanks to centuries of reason beating down their witch-burning and Inquisition-prone beliefs (Christianity has a pretty easy retort for some of this)), but the most startling is what Harris says about Islam: basically every offensive thing that liberals think people in red states might say about Islam is actually true (they all love Osama, they treat women poorly, they're hell-bent on conquering the world and killing all the unbelievers, etc.) and since these people with 14th century beliefs now have 21st century weapons, we are in for some serious trouble. I prefer to think differently: most Muslims are moderate, and just as many people died from self-inflicted cirrhosis of the liver, lung cancer, and obesity related illnesses as from terrorism on September 11th in the US, only the liver and lunger cancer stuff happened again the next day, and the next, and the next. Not to mention traffic accidents, heart disease, cancer, and the developing world's AIDS, malaria, TB, and plain old freaking diarrhea.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Carrot With A Penis And Far More Important Things As Well

I spent the weekend working in the garden. Apparently the area I made two weeks ago was just a seedbed and I needed somewhere five or six times that big to transplant all the stuff to. That is, until my premature-fertilization-while-it-was-way-too-hot-and-dry kicked in and killed a ton of stuff. Oh well. I got a bunch more seeds, so if the rains keep going for another month like people think they will, I should be OK. Of course I'm not going to still be here to enjoy the vegetables of my labor, but that's OK.

I finished Martin Meredith's "The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence" on Sunday. Perhaps I should describe what it's about in more detail, but I think we'll be OK if you just go back and read the title again.

I think it accomplishes its goal of being readable (it's 688 pages long and I read it in a week and a half) but I'm not sure what I really think of it. At times I questioned the author's bias. Footnotes or more specific references would have helped that. Other than when describing the French support of the Hutus in Rwanda or the US support of Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (The warrior who knows no defeat because of his endurance and inflexible will and is all powerful, leaving fire in his wake as he goes from conquest to conquest, sometimes translated as simply 'Invincible warrior; cock who leaves no chick intact') in Zaire, it pretty adamantly argues that Africa's problems are due to its own bad leadership. I don't know how I feel about that. For some reason it would make be happier to believe the "Poisonwood BIble" version of events in the DRC: Patrice Lumumba was a brilliant, engaging, democratically elected leader that the CIA assassinated and replaced with the kleptocrat Mobutu because the CIA was paranoid Lumumba was too friendly with the Russians. Meredith's version of events: Lumumba was irrational, psychotic, gripped with a Messianic fervor, and would one day threaten to expel UN troops with Soviet help and the next day ask the UN troops for help kicking out the Belgians, and really, the Belgians killed him, not the CIA. Perhaps I prefer Kingsolver's version of events because it gives me (false) hope that there's actually something I can do (vote Democrat) to solve the problem.

In summary, "When Abdou Diouf of Senegal accepted defeat in an election in March 2000, he was only the fourth African president to do so in four decades."

Oh, and did I mention the book is kind of pessimistic? "In reality, fifty years after the beginning of the independence era, Africa's prospects are bleaker than ever before."

I don't know what to think about that. Yes, this continent has serious problems, but the people here are usually pretty dang happy, and you might go crazy if you were that pessimistic all the time. So I will now say something completely asinine. This carrot looks like it has a penis.

This lizard is cute and tiny.

Have a wonderful day.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Not A Four-Day Weekend

Tuesday is Independence Day (actually Republic Day, which is
different) so I feel like I should have left town and made it a
four-day weekend. I haven't been to Naivasha or Nakuru yet, and
they're between here and Nairobi so it's any easy straight shot on one
bus and I could see flamingos and rhinos, I haven't been to Mt. Elgon,
maybe there's something cool to do in Eldoret, and I haven't even been
to Jinja or Kampala yet either. So I should totally go somewhere.
But I don't want to. Ugggh. I hate this feeling. But maybe I
shouldn't actually be going and seeing touristy stuff, and just
working on my garden while chatting with our guard Hezborn and walking
around in the shambas behind the house and playing Frisbee and
hoop-and-stick with kids in the office parking lot is plenty. I sure
think so.

Anyways, I have a few questions.

Should I go to the World Social Forum in Nairobi in January, or is it
just going to be a bunch of annoying Dutch anarchists and I'd feel
about as out of place as I would at Burning Man? I like to pretend
that I'm a moderately liberal guy, but I actually like free trade, so
if anti-globalization is the key issue, I'm not so sure I'd enjoy
myself. I mean, I happily voted for John Edwards for Veep, but I
mostly hoped he was just kidding when it came to protectionism.

Also, is there an El Nin(y)o going on this winter? The short rainy
season usually stops here in early November, but it's still going
strong and might have another month left. Is this a crazy global
thing (it's almost as if our burning mass quantities of fossil fuels
is releasing gasses that are collecting in the atmosphere and making
the earth warmer and seriously destabilizing millennia-old weather
patterns or something ridiculous like that) and if so, how will this
effect this year's snowpack in Colorado?

My buddy Marcus is flying over right after Christmas and we're
climbing Kili. What else should we do? I was reading about treks in
the Usambara mountains that seem similar to the Cherangani Hills, but
do you all think I'm crazy for not really caring about the big-game
parks like the Masai Mara and the Serengeti? I've never been, so I
don't know, but I'm guessing they're flat (read: boring), crazy
expensive, and really touristy. Fine, tell me I'm dumb, but remember,
this is coming from the kid that, when considering the Peace Corps,
told them the one place I wouldn't go was some gorgeous tropical
island because it wouldn't have enough mountains and I'd get bored
running laps around the place.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Nothing Much

What have I been up to for the past week and half? Mostly eating turkey sandwiches. I finally let Jimmy the parking-lot dog finish it off on Saturday.

After killing a turkey I decided to plant a vegetable garden. Here's Hezborn, one of the guards at our house, standing in front of the garden he helped me plant.

So far ants have only destroyed 1/8 of the rows, and the fence is still keeping the chickens out, so we're doing OK.

Here's my patheticly wussy hands after a couple hours with a hoe, and my feet after months of Chacos. Yes, most of that is clearly just dirt, but it's impressive even when I'm clean.

After struggling through life without a toaster for a week (the old one tried to kill us so we threw it away) I went to Kisumu to get a new one. I also bought fun stuff like real Heinz ketchup (as opposed to the cocktail sauce-esque stuff they normally have here), fake Nutella, soy sauce, and some books. I am totally mad that I didn't look for powdered sugar.

Where did I do all this glorious shopping? Nakumatt City, that's where. It's almost the same as an American Wal-mart, only the parking lot has only 20 spaces, the shelves were full but the items were only stacked 1-deep, and the place sparkled like a Stepford wife's kitchen. And if it weren't for the theft-deterring employee placed every 10 meters inside every store large enough to actually enter (as opposed to just stand out front of and point to stuff inside) the place would've been empty. In the same building was a movie theater, complete with plush stadium seating. I paid my 250 shillings and was literally the only person in the theater for most of the movie (Children of Men--I think it's British, so I got to see it before it came out in the US). If I didn't hate the word "surreal" so much, I'd say it was a very surreal experience to be using a shopping cart and credit card and eating a Mars ice-cream bar.