Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Home Sweet Marcus' Apartment

I'm home. By home I mean I'm back in Berkeley and since I don't have a place to live I'm crashing on Marcus' couch. I wasn't that happy to get home since I thought my phone had broken (it hadn't, it's back on now, same number as before) and it was way colder than I'd experienced in a looooong time, but I met comedian David Cross on the subway, so it was all good. I saw him waiting to leave the BART train I was on, and I said, "Are you David Cross, or do you just look a lot like him?"

To which he shrugged his shoulders and said, "eh, both."

I said, "Sweet. Have a good day."

He said, "You too," and got off the train.

And that was my conversation with comedian David Cross.

As a final note, on my last full day in Nairobi I went to the Giraffe center where I had giraffes eat out of my hand (and kiss me by eating from my teeth), I went on safari at Nairobi National Park and saw giraffes, ostriches, baboons, a warthog, and all kinds of antelopes, and I ate at Carnivore, the Brazilian-BBQ style restaurant that is apparently (but in my opinion undeservedly) voted one of the 50 best restaurants in the world.

I'll post pics and final thoughts in a few days.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Final Oranges and Bananas

It's Saturday and I'm in Nairobi, flying out late Monday. Thursday the fuel-tanker line at the border was easily over a mile long so I again shot some video from the back of a boda. (Every drop of petroleum that Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi use gets driven right by my front door all the way from Mombasa, more details on that when I edit the video back home, set it to Bloc Party's "The Price of Gas," and post it on my website.) Friday I finished up in Busia and took my FO's out to dinner, where the team-member that's a part-time preacher amused us with his appreciation for chapatis after downing an entire plateload by saying, "It's Jesus first, then chapatis." I also got them happily discussing who's going to be the next President of Kenya. I think they all support ODM-K (the main opposition to Kibaki's ruling party, formed in opposition to the government-backed constitutional referendum that failed in '05. Voting for it was "banana," voting against was "orange," hence the name "Orange Democratic Movement-Kenya"), but it's a wide coalition that doesn't have a clear nominee, so the Luhya guys made fun of the Luo front-runner, saying people just want him to win so that if Obama wins in the US (yes, please), he'll build a giant bridge from the US to Kenya (Obama's dad was a Luo from the district neighboring Busia).

I got up crazy early this morning to take a taxi to Kisumu. I decided to fly to Nairobi, and I thought the flight was leaving at 7:45. Apparently that's the check-in time, and it only takes an hour and a half in a taxi, so I got there before the airport even unlocked the front door. Then when they let me in and I tried to pay for the ticket I'd reserved, they said they don't take credit cards. I didn't have enough cash, so I was about to take a cab to town for an ATM, but then two of the Busia MSF doctors walked in the front door, and a few minutes later my co-worker Anne got off the plane as I was getting on, so it worked out fine. The flight was 30 minutes long. That means nothing to you guys, but once you've taken the hellish 8 hour bus ride seven times, it means a lot.

Lastly, I just watched the movie "Blood Diamond" about the civil war in Sierra Leone. Really good. Horrible dialogue at times by DiCaprio and Jennifer Connely, but a moving story nonetheless.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

This Will Eventually Show Up Twice

Supposedly you can post to your blog via e-mail, but that method has been really slow/not working of late, so if this shows up twice, it's because I'm impatient and also posted it directly.

I had a great last weekend in Busia. I may have broken a window at the office with the frisbee Friday afternoon, but they're being replaced soon, so it's cool. To celebrate my and Eva's last weekend in Busia we went to New Check Inn, the local night club. The bass was so powerful my hair was standing on end and I thought my chest was going to cave in, but it was a lot of fun. Saturday I went to Roselyn's (the office mom/cleaning lady) and wowed her with my mad ugali-making skills (that's comparable to being complimented on being able to use chopsticks after living in Korea for two years) and she showed me how to make chapatis. Sunday I went to her church service to hear her lead the music. Before she got up to go to the front and take the mic, she said, "Garret, this time I hope you will at least stand up and shake your booty," which was about the funniest thing I had ever heard. Ok, she might've actually said "body" instead of "booty" but my brain much preferred to hear "booty." We all had dinner over at the MSF house where I was able to make up for six months without cheese or pork, and I also finished reading Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, CS Lewis' Mere Christianity, and the website that Nick Kristof calls "snarky," whydoesgodhateamputees.com.

I took a boda joy-ride around town today and filmed some video on the way. I'm excited about getting back to Berkeley, but I'm totally going to miss this place. My CDT plans are still on for May in my mind, but I'm not 100% sure what will happen in reality.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Rafting the Nile

Good news everyone, the quarter-inch long piece of sea urchin that's been stuck in my foot since Christmas came out. Also, I went white-water rafting on the Nile near Jinja, Uganda. I'd never been rafting before since I refused to go during sissy family reunion opportunities. I'd been jealous of a few river-rat acquaintances that spent summers guiding on the Colorado, but after finally going, all I have to say is "eh." Don't get me wrong, I had a ton of fun, but Lonely Planet calls this "one of the most spectacular white-water rafting destinations in the world," we did several class five rapids, and we flipped a bunch of times, but it was never even remotely scary. I'm not saying that I'm a total bad-ass and nothing scares me, because I get scared all the time crossing steep icy slopes above long drop-offs, being exposed during lightning storms, or getting extremely wet and cold in snowstorms, but I'm a pretty poor swimmer and yet this was cake. Maybe I should do it again and tie weights around my ankles so that I stay under water longer, or maybe one of my river-rat friends will tell me "the Nile is weak compared to the Colorado; Lonely Planet is full of it" but until then, I'm going to go through life thinking that maybe kayaking is rad because you could just ride down a rapid, paddle back up its eddy, slide back in and run it over again all day long, but I can do without rafting.

Two more weeks left. I've got to do a major update of the World Bank report this week, I plan on chilling in Busia next weekend, and I'll be in Nairobi the weekend after that going to Nairobi National Park and getting ready to head out.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Rwanda

I just got back from a trip to Rwanda last night. I wasn't feeling too hot on Friday, so I left Saturday morning and took a matatu to Kampala. Sunday morning I took a bus to Kigali and had dinner with an Isreali lawyer that I met at my hotel, a Chinese toy packing designer, and a Rwandan staff member from the Genocide Memorial who had translated a session of the traditional gacaca court for the Israeli. Monday I visited the church in Nyamata where 10,000 people were killed and the Genocide Memorial in Kigali. Tuesday I took a bus all the way back to Busia. $80 in visa fees alone plus some long bus rides, but I'm glad I was able to go. I'll mostly just let the pictures of Rwanda speak for themselves.

The work of cleaning the church is not yet finished.

Looking out the window of the museum.

Kigali.

The Good and the Bad, Stuff I Read, Plus a Blue Scrotum

Here's the cool part about having a garden.

The maggots are the bad part.

Drive-through fast food whether you want it or not.


I know no one cares about the blue-balled monkeys as much as I do, but I just wanted to show you proof. This guy was actually pretty un-spectacular compared to others.

Thoughts on what I've read lately:
The End of Poverty by Jeff Sachs. Much to my surprise, I very much enjoyed this book. The foreword by Bono is worthless drivel (worse than the cheesiest How to Dismantle... lyric) and the first four chapters are pedantic and worthless for anyone that already knows that sub-Saharan Africa is poor, thus it took me months to get through the first third, but after that, I really enjoyed it. Sachs doesn't seem nearly as responsible for the Russian economy meltdown as people like to think and (according to him) didn't advocate for "shock therapy" but debt relief, which he makes a good case for. He lays out a sensible plan to end extreme poverty by 2025 (just like the UN's Millennium Development Goals). And despite my thinking that this was going to be a "pile on the money" approach, everything Sachs advocates can be done with less than 0.7% of GDP from developed countries. Sachs articulates well that 1) we've already promised the world we'd give this much numerous times, but the US doesn't even give 0.2% of GDP (direct aid only amounts to $0.06 per person per year to every sub-Saharan African), and 2) rolling back Bush's tax cuts for those that make over $200,000 a year would more than cover the gap, as would a small cut in the military budget. Sachs also has an excellent rebuke for those that would blame Africa's problems on culture or corruption or who think the free market will solve everything. I think most people, myself included have been guilty of thinking the first few of these at times, but Sachs says poverty causes corruption and poor governance not the other way around, and any sort of cultural blame is just poorly masked racism. And for my crazy libertarian friends out there that have been sucked into believing the free-market can save the world just because the models from Intro Econ classes elegantly say it can, there's a nice little theoretical model of poverty traps--even if Hayek or Friedman became the ruler of the universe, since extremely poor people don't have enough to save or invest anything, the capital they do have depreciates and things will just get worse off.

So at least until I read Easterly's The White Man's Burden, I'm convinced. (For non-econs out there, Sachs at Columbia and Easterly at NYU could be said to be the loudest voices in two camps of the development economists, Sachs arguing for a big UN aid program, in the words of Karl Popper, "utopian social planning", and Easterly, small well evaluated individual programs, using Popper, "piecemeal democratic reform.") Sachs doesn't seem to be agitating for a ridiculous amount of money. We've promised it, and I think we should do it. So either you have to believe that all of Sachs' stats are wrong, or that giving the money would actually make things significantly worse off. We'll see what Easterly has to say.

Philip Roth: Goodbye Columbus. Very good, but I had problems with the major plot device, because the dude seems way out of character in a mean sort of way (seriously dude, why make your girlfriend get a diaphragm if she's only going to be able to wear it once before she heads back to college?) But maybe I just don't get the social/cultural implications behind contraception in the 50's. Anyway.

Ernest Hemingway: The Green Hills of Africa. I don't like Hemingway or the modernist style that much (sorry Aaron), and I don't personally like hunting, especially when it's rare game from a far-off country that "belongs" to you even less than the deer or elk on National Forest land, so that didn't bode very well for this book, but it was good. Just nice writing about life and hiking around in, you guessed it, the green hills of Africa.