Archive for December, 2009

Poolside, where many resorted to drinking the water.

Hotel Des Mille Collines a.k.a. "Hotel Rwanda"

We also drove about 30 km south of Kigali and visited two church genocide memorials.  These were catholic churches where thousands of Tutsis sought refuge but were still massacred (in the churches themselves).  The government chose to leave the clothes and personal belongings at these memorial sites, as well as the human remains.  It was incomprehensible.  Please note that the following pictures may be difficult to see.

5,000+ were massacred here

Church pews with clothes and personal belongings.


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Asia Bound

We’re leaving Africa today.  We fly from Kigali (Rwanda) to Nairobi (Kenya), then to Dubai (United Arab Emirates), then to Dhaka (Bangladesh).  We have a long 24 hours of airports, layovers and connections ahead of us.  I will miss Africa.


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I vant to suck your blood!

The feeling of being eaten alive seems to be the light way of describing last night.  At some point you just have to give in to the mosquitoes…

You wake up raw, from scratching at the red welts that now cover your entire body, and yet it is like an addiction that you just can’t quit – to keep scratching where it itches.  Then you realize that one of them got in!  Somehow, some way, one of those little suckers got into our mosquito net.  You lie there for a moment wondering when she will strike next (the mosquitoes who feed on blood are only female by the way).  Then your mind runs away with the situation and you begin to think that there are insects, with and without wings, all over you.  Biting.  Crawling.  Sucking.  Every little itch, or wind that causes any feeling on your skin is now a mental vision of a bug on you.  You slap frantically in the dark, even at your own body, as you are certain that you are being eaten again, and you have a secret hope of a lucky smashing in the process.  Finally you hear her high pitch buzzing near your ears and it confirms your theory of invasion.  The light flashes on, awakening your spouse who will now join in for the fun, but alas, the assault is much worse than you had even imagined.  There are a few dozen (if not more!) blood-sucking insects hanging out on the INSIDE of our mosquito net!  They are plum full of our blood already, but happily taking the opportunity to gorge further in gluttony.  Code red!  Code red!  We’ve been attacked!  Baton down the hatches.

We quickly gather our headlamps and stand at full attention with palms facing each other in a clapping position – the position of death for these measly little pests.  Suddenly, at two in the morning, intermittent clapping can be heard in the corner suite of the Krabella Guesthouse in Watamu Kenya.  It is the sound of mosquitoes slowly dying…one by one.  Filling our hands with blood; it is OUR blood; the blood that they have been feeding on for the past four hours!  You’d think they would be satisfied by now, but the fresh swelling welts on my body said no.  We are quick to find the leak.  Well, many leaks.  Gaping holes really.  The bed we are sleeping in was not designed to have a mosquito net over it, and the mattress is not large enough to fit the space, so we have large open areas, often from under the bed, where these vampires can sneak through.  We concoct a make-shift fort with our extra sheet and cover ourselves head to toe with more 3M DEET repellent.  But sleep does not come easy anymore.  They still find their way in, and the buzz that hits our ears is like a nightmare that you can’t wake up from.  A nightmare would require sleep, of which is not coming soon, so I desperately give-in by opening up my book to read instead.  I am reading the novel, Poisonwood Bible, about a family growing up in the Congo.  It has turned out to be the best read I’ve ever read on a trip, for a variety of reasons.  Ironically, I am reading a chapter where the author describes a similar invasion of mosquitoes, and then I realize the comic in it.  Africa.

We have devotedly wrapped ourselves under our mosquito nets each night for the past month-and-a-half and faithfully downed our malaria pills – daily for the first 2 weeks of Malarone we were able to afford, and then weekly since we switched to Larium – with a bit of grumbling from my husband who vowed never to take malaria prophylaxis again…but then he decided to marry a public health-er (insert smile), and has willfully given in.  Mostly because, he loves me; and then also because he talked to an infectious disease physician who backed me up (he has lived in Africa for 10+ years and still takes malaria pills when he goes to malaria regions).

Watamu Kenya is a breath-taking oasis on the Indian Ocean, with pristine white sand beaches that burn your eyes like a fresh snow in the bright sunlight.  I have to wear sunglasses just to walk the beach!  The town itself is a sweet little fishing village that is being invaded by Italians. The negative is that it is like many other places in the world that hold a gorgeous piece of real estate, where the rich westerners come to buy it up and move out the locals, but I can’t complain about the food here – they can put together a killer gnocchi.  Further, the Kenyan coast is known for being a malaria region, and carries a strain that is resistant to some prophylaxis.  “Oh, you’re going to the coast?  Make sure to take your pills.” is what we’ve been told.  The last time I visited the Kenyan coast (Mombasa – about an hour from here), my friend Melanie contracted Malaria there, and she took the same pills I did each week!  So if we are lucky enough to be spared of the consequences of these blood sucking vampire insects in east Africa, we will be more than thankful.  We will let you know in a few weeks, after the incubation period.  Sawa sawa.

After our counter-attack against the mosquitoes

Watamu sunset

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Christmas in Kigali

Sharing a few pics of our Christmas here in Kigali.  It was wonderful.  We attended a Christmas Eve candlelight service at a local church, watched movies late into the night, woke up and celebrated our first Christmas morning together as our new family, and then spent Christmas day with the Urquhart family.  Sadly, my dear husband suffered a 102 degree fever by bedtime on Christmas night, but made it to morning fever free.  We are thankful that he is almost to full health just a few days later.  We are thinking he missed out on the Malaria this time (phew) but it was probably some other strange little virus (Africa tends to have those).

Christmas '09 - Casey with a high fever but still smiling.

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A Very Merry Christmas

To all our friends and family:

We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a fabulous New Year.

We are grateful for your love, encouragement, and support as we travel the world, and really appreciate the ways in which you keep us connected to home.  As we woke up this Christmas morning in Rwanda under our mosquito net, we talked about how fortunate we are to have you all in our lives.

Thanks for staying connected with us.

Love to you,

Casey and Cara

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I am a Medium

Busting seams in a Medium

I am a medium.  Not a large.  Not a small.  A medium.  This has come home to me on this trip with a vengeance.  Funny this must seem to you (and peculiar), I know.

Let me explain for a moment.  Like many men who are “just under” six feet tall, I have a slight – even nuanced – vertical insecurity.  Additionally, being a somewhat scrawny kid growing up, I have a thickness insecurity as well.  So I learned to compensate for this self-inflicted insecurity by buying shirts size “Large.”  For the most part these shirts fit just fine, if by fine you mean baggy, but as time went on things were complicated even more so in that men’s size “large” morphed somewhat (according to our national tendencies towards being overweight) into a space between large and extra large.  Or I’ve gotten smaller, which any college friend would flatly deny.

So you can understand my mindset when I walked into REI (an outdoor clothing and equipment store for those of you who don’t get out much) and bought this great shirt – size large.  I didn’t even try it on.  It’s large.  I’m a large.  Bam.  Let’s go.  I don’t dilly dally when I go shopping for clothes.  If I see it and like it (and can justify spending the money for it), I get it.  I can be cool and calculated in that way sometimes.  Plus this shirt was SPF 40, super lightweight, ventilated, and looked dressy.  Perfect.

Fast forward a few weeks into the RTW.  It’s warm enough to pull out the shirt and so I do.  It goes on with ease.

Had a stiff wind blown into that guest house in Istanbul the shirt, with me still in it, would have lofted so hugely that it would have turned into a balloon and floated me out the window.  I looked like a toothpick in a marshmallow.  The word “frumpy” came to mind.  “Ridiculous” came out of my mouth.  “Hmmm… yeah,” was Cara’s reply.  I had a shirt that was several sizes too big.  And the tag said “Large.”  I stood there a victim of my own vanity.

I brought other shirts on this trip that while not as balloonish are still too big for me.  They’re the outdoorsy kind, not cotton but a polyester/polypropylene blend, and what I have discovered is a) I have been depending this whole time on my cotton shirts shrinking and thus sort of fitting, b) been into the oversized look that as my wife wistfully put, “Was your other life” and c) haven’t bothered to try shirts on before purchasing.  So here I was stuck with oversized shirts that made me look boyish and emaciated.  Neither is a good look for a late thirtysomething.  Then, in that moment on an Istanbul evening, a hard lesson finally drove home: I am a medium.

While it was hard at first I have now fully come to embrace my mediumness.  Shirts I’ve bought on the trip since Istanbul have been in the medium category, with me swinging maybe a little too far the other direction.  Cara has belied her attempts at helping me correct my overcorrection by inquiring, “Do you want to look for shirts today?  That one looks a little uncomfortable” in a way only a wife can.  But I’m reveling in my mediumness.  And if I go a little close to smallness, so be it.  It’s nice to feel my shirts tugging at me when I sit forward or stretch my arms out to shake someone’s hand.  Sure, I can feel sometimes like an ostentatious bodybuilder who’s undersized his shirts to show off his muscularity but my wife keeps me honest by glancing sideways at my modest arms protruding (shall I say bulging?) from my sleeves, giving me a telling smile when I flex to impress her, after which she tucks her arm under mine and looks forward.  She doesn’t have to say a word.  We both know what she’s thinking.  This man’s guns are amazing.  Or something like that.

So now as we go forward on this trip I am shopping for medium shirts, or at least shirts that fit medium.  I have to be careful and remember lesson “c” mentioned above, as I wore a shirt in Rwanda that said “Extra Large” and it was a medium at best.  And I’ve had some setbacks.  I bought some shorts at a used clothes market in Kigali to replace my clothes that Ethiopian Airlines lost and they were extra large.  It was the best I could find.  Unfortunately for my new-found mediumness my knees swing back and forth in my short’s legs like church bells when I walk (think Westminster Chime).  But I’m well on the road to mediumness and nothing’s going to stop me now.

I’m looking forward to the vast world mediumness opens up for me now.  Sale racks will have more options.  Greg Urquhart’s wardrobe is now partially mine.  Clothes will actually fit.  My wife will increasingly say “oh la la” as I walk by.  And in that, the world is mine.

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Kigali, Rwanda: 23 Dec

I’m only blogging about this topic because I know there are some who read this blog who are awaiting news of what happened to my lost luggage.  I am doing this for you, faithful reader, for I am done dealing with the frustration of all of this.  Consider this my last blog entry on the matter.  Unless, of course, something else transpires that is entertaining – but I wouldn’t count on it.

Suffice to say from the tone of the paragraph above, my baggage is still nowhere to be found.  Of all the lessons we’ve learned through this experience, one stands out.  When it comes to Ethiopian Airlines remember two simple words: carry on.  Because if you don’t, and you happen to check in your bags and they get “misplaced” (which is frightening how many do), you will be confronted with the other two simple words: blinding ineffectiveness.  Harsh I know if it weren’t for the fact that they couldn’t even follow through on the plans they made to get a bag from one airport to another – via a direct flight.  I mean, I gave them over three weeks to get the bag they claim is mine to their main hub airport (Addis Ababa) and even that was too much for them to accomplish.  I have numerous emails from management level staff making direct orders to have the bag sent to Addis, I have confirmation printouts from their system that the bag was sent to Addis, and I sat in the Addis Airport Ethiopian Airlines Baggage Office numerous times over two days and checked the lost luggage holding area myself, four times.  Poof.  No bag and no knowledge of where the bag actually is.  At first I asked myself how this was possible.  Now I just shrug in mild bemusement: this is Africa.

I don’t fault the well-intentioned Ethiopian Airlines baggage staff.  Virtually all have been helpful and when possible, accommodating.  We’ve even had staff people personally meet us at the airport (Kigali) and personally escort us to our departure gate to ensure we made our flight (Addis).  And I even was in the center of a blistering email exchange between baggage claim staff in Kampala and Kigali, with Kigali accusing Kampala baggage agents of repeatedly “losing” bags that contain valuable items, i.e. theft.  We’ve eaten our lunch in their offices, used their phone, and once they called us when Cara left her glasses on a desk.  So I don’t get why, and how, their systems are so dysfunctional that over ten staff members – many with decision-making authority – can’t coordinate the transport of one bag on one aircraft to one hub and have three weeks to do it.  This illuminates a simple yet glaring deficiency within this company: it all boils down to leadership.

This topic of leadership, or management when speaking of business, has come up a lot in my thinking since I’ve been in Africa.  From the books I’ve read, articles I’ve been given, and the conversations with many I’ve had, the issue of capable and competent leadership is the pivot point for Africa.  Either way this continent goes – a positive trajectory or a descent into chaos – the determining factor is leadership.  Period.  We’ve already proven that money is not the issue.  The World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other Western funding organizations over the last 35 years have put over $2.4 trillion dollars into making positive changes in the developing world.  How much value have we seen with that investment?  An example: in 2002 Angola, an oil rich country, received $421 million in foreign aid.  In a country of 13 million people, that translates into $32.34 per person.  The impact this money had on a positive level was negligible.  But it sure bought a lot of guns to keep bad people in power.  Money can only catalyze.  Leadership determines what is being catalyzed.  Ethiopian Airlines recently spent a ton of money modernizing their air fleet but they can’t adequately track a bag, let alone transport it from one airport to the next.  That’s not a systems problem, that’s a leadership problem.

But there’s no point crying over spilled milk, or shutting the barn door after the horses have left, or some other truism I can’t think of right now.  What is done is done (or gone is gone).  What is left are lessons.  And as my mom and I discussed recently, “stuff” is really not that important – or shouldn’t be.  In the end it is other, more transcendent things that hold the most value.  Knowing you can laugh at such things as luggage being lost is one of them.

Mountains of lost luggage - Addis Ababa

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