Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pit Stop in Ethiopia

I have a four hour layover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The first leg of my trip was painfulwe flew south to Kigali, Rwanda, only to turn around and fly back to Addis Ababa. My flight left at 1:40am and the seats were extremely cramped, especially because the man next to me clearly does not share my American aversion to touching strangers/invasion of personal space. I slept for a couple of hours, but was rudely awoken when we landed in Kigali, and again for a forced breakfast at 4am. Ugh. I do not do well with being repeatedly woken up during night hours, and its a miracle I haven't lost anything at the airport yet. (Knock on wood!)

Not the perfect picture I had planned as my iPhone died, but it'll do ;)

Anyways, now I'm just surviving my lay over on two hours of sleep, afraid to doze off in case I miss my flight or have my shit stolen. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, the airport here is fascinating. The terminal is lined with lounge chairs, which is really a godsend for all the passengers who spend fitful nights and early mornings waiting for their connections. 

Upon my arrival this morning, I walked past Africans sleeping wrapped in traditional fabric fished out of their suitcases. Asians with winter coats spread over their legs for warmth. (It IS cold in here.) Indian women sheltering their children with colorful saris. Muslim men sleeping completely ensconced in their floor length prayer attire (head included). Scraggly European backpackers, curled up around their bags, covered in many layers (extra room in the suitcase).

I found my own lounge chair between a young Chinese couple and the man wrapped in his prayer attirefinally shaken awake by his friend to emerge from a beige cocoon. The couple left, as did the man, and slowly others took up seats beside me. I just noticed we've formed a row of European/American girls... three of us traveling alone, and another group of three French girls on my left. We're all wearing skinny jeans and scarves, sneakers or flip flops... variations of black, grey, and denim. A young male American backpacker just took up residence across from us with his iPad. In fact, we've all got our laptops, cellphones, and/or iPads out to pass the hours.

Oh, globalization. We all fit somewhere in the equation ;)

P.S. I had the most perfect picture for this post: A "Welcome to Ethiopia" sign next to lounge chairs with a Middle Eastern family sleeping, the mother in a full-on burka. And then my iPhone died :(

Saturday, April 27, 2013

African Face Off: East vs. West Africa, Part I

Greetings from Uganda!

I have a raging headache and some lingering nausea from a rough car ride, but I still feel like debriefing in a moment of downtime. I'm on my way home late tonight, so I've gotta hit pen to paper while the thoughts are fresh!

But first of alla few people have reached out to me about my blog which a) absolutely warms my heart and b) I promise I will respond as soon as I return to reliable internet next week!!!

Back to my impressions. Firstly, I am honestly shocked at the degree of variation between my familiar West African (and Francophone) terrain, and Uganda. I did not expect for things to be so different! Obviously Uganda doesn't represent all of East Africa, but let me still give my obviously subjective comparison between East and West ;) 

There are also several disclaimers I could make right now about this subjectivity, the fact I've been in Uganda for under a week, etc. etc. etc. Lets just say it all goes without saying! Also, my scoring system is completely arbitrary :)

1) The food in Uganda is not my cup of tea. The cuisine obviously varies across West Africa, but its generally spicy and flavorful, and for the most part I love it! In contrast, the food here is completely bland and unappetizing. Sauces are watery and overly salty. Bread is hard and dense.  Meat is tough and overcooked. I have had a hard time finding anything to order on the menu. 

West Africa: +2 points
East Africa: +.5 points for baller local coffee

Not the best picture quality, but I loved this coffee café in Kampala! 
My hotel room smells like a coffee house from all the coffee I stocked up on. 
Uganda is the second coffee producer in Africa, and the 10th in the world.

2) The culture is vaaaaastly different. From my interactions, Ugandans seem generally reserved and mild-mannered. My frist cab driver here told me that I would "like Ugandans because they are  quite gentle," and afraid of West Africans themselves! People have been extremely polite and helpful, but... not so open. West Africans are so much more intense and direct, aggressively friendly and welcoming. Its my favorite aspect of West African culture, even though it can be negative and overwhelming in certain contexts. There's just something about waiting at an airport gate with Senegalese passengers who strike up conversation amongst strangers, share food with their neighbors as they wait, crack jokes with the gate attendant, play with and attend to each others children. As I've alluded to in the past, my immersion in this dynamic culture has had a huge impact on my evolution over these past few years.

So I'm kind of on the fence with this category. I really appreciate and admire the "gentleness," hospitality, and kindness of the Ugandans I have met. But I do miss the fire of the people in Senegal, and West Africa in general. Maybe if I'd started in East Africa I'd feel differently.

But honestly, I've kind of been underwhelmed by Kampala as a city. It just lacks that permeating fire or vibrancy I have felt living in Dakar and traveling in other W. African countries. 

West Africa: +4 points for sharing food with strangers and that fire
Uganda/E. Africa: +1 point for politeness :)

Another shitastic picture, but this local dance performance brought some fire to the trip!

3) Nonetheless, the landscape here in Kampala has been a refreshing change, with rolling green hills as far as the eye can see, red clay earth, and brick houses. And I did really enjoy the craft market today... and got quite a bit of loot to share with you all soon ;)

Uganda/E. Africa: +1 point for the landscape and lack of dust (.... though Dakar has the beaaaaach which might be +100 points in my book ;)

Current Score
West Africa: 6 points
East Africa: 1.5 points

Coming up: Contrasting business environments.....
......and my ensuing depression

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in East Africa is much higher than West Africa, and
much more visible in various info campaigns (tv commercials as well)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Laws are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made.

The meaning of that title comes into play at the end of this post, just to clarify.

Well, I had all those "imaginary travel" posts planned, and here I am in Uganda! Real travel trumps imagined travel ;)

Last week was an emotional whirlwind, and a very draining whirlwind at that. Then my flight to Uganda left at 8am on Saturday, so I arrived at the airport at 6am after three hours of restless sleep. (Evidence of my fatigue: I teared up when the airport lady told me, arbitrarily, that my carry-on was too heavy. She also threatened to call security when I asked to see their new regulation in writing!)

We flew 8 hours to Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, and then I took a connecting flight to Entebbe, Uganda. (I left my carry-on at security for ten minutes...! So tired.). The airport in Ethiopia was really modern and interesting, mostly for the people passing through: Europeans, Africans, Lebanese, Indians, Chinese, South East Asians... There were international flights going all over the world, and apparently Ethiopia is quite the gateway between Africa and the Middle East, and Africa and Asia. Fascinating! On my way back I plan to stock up on coffee, which according to airport TV, is sold to Starbucks ;) Also, Amharic, the native Ethiopian language is beautiful (especially written) and the airline magazine makes me want to visit Ethiopia some day, especially to see these coptic Christian monasteries only accessible by leather rope up a cliff. I mean, seriously:

I arrived in Entebbe at 1am, cleared customs by 1:45am... and low and behold, there was no one waiting for me, even though I double checked before leaving! Thankfully a driver on hand called my hotel and offered to drive me the hour to Kampala, the capital and the site of my conference. By night, the tree-lined streets driving to Kampala reminded me of home {outside Boston}. I forgot they drive on the left hand side of the street here! You can't help but worry a car coming in the opposite direction might swerve into your lane at any moment, as if there are no rules to the road.

Greenery seen through my rather gaudy hotel window. So, so green!

All said and done, I was in bed by 4am (1am Senegal time) and slept until 2:30pm today. The hotel is gaudy but spacious and well-equipped. I haven't explored much as I feel exhausted and weak (just ordered room service... hallelujiah), but the green hills out my window are refreshing. I also love the English people speak here; its very gentle and proper, and sounds a bit antiquated to my American ears. The driver was describing local food and he kept saying "potatoes mingled with vegetables" and other such phrases. The menu at the hotel describes dishes as "masked with sauce," "laced with mustard," "grilled to preferred doneness," and "gratinated" (didn't know that was a verb?!). Love it!

So far, so good, here in Uganda! Will keep you all updated as I discover more! My room service beckons!

My "well decorated and arranged" room service. Average but convenient!
Update: Its Monday morning and I predict today will be one of the worst days of my life. I was up until 4am, a mixture of jet lag and catching up on work... and then I find out we're expected to be ready to leave at 7am. I was so worried about sleeping through my alarm, and then stressed out that I wasn't going to get enough sleep... that I just didn't fall asleep. At all. I haven't pulled an all nighter since college!

And guess what I'm doing today? Assisting in a meat technical visit. Last time I did that it looked like this:

I made it small so its not as revolting.
That quote up top... I heard it on the West Wing and though, yup, I can attest to that as somehow my life involves seeing how sausages are made. Times like these I'm not sure how I got here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

An Imaginary World Tour

I'll be honest, inspiration has been hard to come by these past couple of weeks. Per usual, work on the homefront has presented me with several opportunities for growth in stress management. Put differently, the business environment in Senegal is hellish. We are at a pivotal crossroads with various negotiations and it is taking every ounce of inner strength to maintain my sanity.

Trust me, if I could share some anecdotes on business antics here in Senegal, I would. 
There's a reason Senegal is ranked 154 out of 183 on the World Bank ease of doing business survey. 
But hey, its all fodder for the memoir ;)

And of course the happenings in my beloved hometown make my heart hurt. Its shocking and nearly impossible to process from a distance. I'm thankful my family is safe, and in awe of the kindness and community spurring from such tragic events. I'm so proud to call Boston home.

As a respite from reality, I've been imagining a few virtual vacations... letting my mind wander to calm and far away places.

First stop, Uganda... East African Natural Getaway

I'm actually going to Uganda (Kampala, to be exact) on Saturday.... for work. I won't be alone and I have a feeling the week will be high-stress with little opportunity to enjoy discovering a new country. So let me imagine the Uganda trip I wish I was taking ;)

1. I would be more than happy to peace out by Lake Bunyonyi

2. Up close and personal with gorillas in Bwindi, Uganda [this is a real dream]

3. A lovely resort in Bwindi

4. Sunset over Lake Bunyonyi

1. White water rafting in Hutchinson Falls

2. City streets and local produce in Kampala, the capital

3. Love me some local woven baskets ;)

All links can be found here.

Read more about Uganda on Lonely Planet

My next stop on this imagined world tour will be Brazil, to visit one of my best friends living there for the next nine months. Stay tuned! ;)

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Awkward Beginnings

Oh man, a week without posting! And work is about to get even busier than it already is. But I have exciting changes in store for this blog, so hopefully that will motivate me to write in my minimal free time :) Also, I'm leaving for Uganda on Saturday so I should have lots to share on that front.

In light of my recent birthday (which was quite nice ;), I've been thinking about ways I have changed over the years, both minor and significant differences. Basically, how I've morphed into an adult. (Except have I really??)

First I started formulating a little list of random tidbits:
  1. I used to be the DEEPEST sleeper. Like, scream in my ear and I wouldn't budge. Half-way through college this shifted for some unknown reason and light footsteps jolted me awake. And yet a thunderstorm has yet to ever wake me up.
  2. I used to hate coffee. Now I'm addicted.... but I think that's kind of standard.
  3. I've recently developed a slight fear of heights. Two years ago I did a zip-lining obstacle course and I had a mini-panic attack mid-air, despite being harnessed in and surrounded by friends. I think I'd still do it again though. I also have dreams where I'm overlooking the edge of a precipice and I am filled with the most intense and overwhelming fear and dread.
And then I couldn't think of any other quip changes, so my mind wandered to a deeper, more personal change that's evolved quite organically, sometimes I forget it was ever a change to be made.

Basically, in high school I was known amongst my friends as the "awkward" girl. I was embarrassed really easily, told dramatic stories of said embarrassing moments, overanalyzed e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g., and developed strangely obsessive crushes that far too many people seemed to find out about. I was an odd mix of reserved (to those who didn't know me) and a crazy open book who could easily divulge a plethora of personal information to anyone willing to listen (as long as they didn't intimidate me). Picture the shy, quasi-studious, nice girl who never had the guts to approach to her crush, but talked the ear off her nerdy lab partner about her parents' divorce, her unattainable love interest, her college application saga, etc. In those cases, I lacked any sort of filter whatsoever.

Honestly, not many photos from high school do an adequate job exhibiting 
my awkward side, but let me just say that I lost 15 pounds in one week 
leading up to this event (sophomore semi)... due to anxiety. 
We also weren't trying to coordinate dresses! 
I guess black and white flowers were the rage in 2003. 
And my eyes are closed.

Oh goodness, it pains me to recall this time in my life. * Cringe *

What's funny is that sometimes when I reunite with high school friends, I can tell they still see me in this light because we haven't spent regular time together as I've become more self-confident and acquired a slightly more adept filter (I like to think!). At times I legitimately forget that old version of Kim even existed and feel a tinge offended when an old friend teases me for being awkward or over-sharing stories about my oh-so-dramatic life. Oops, I forgot had a livejournal where I wrote paragraphs upon paragraphs about non-existent love sagas, the agony of calculus, and torturous parents. * Cringe * Cringe *

In the mean time, I haven't changed completely. I'm still game for some over-analyzation now and again ;) And, um, I still have a blog. I just can't quit the satisfaction of sharing in a public space.

Where am I going with this?

Of course, leaving home and attending college played an important role in pushing me to grow the eff up. As did finally interacting with the opposite sex and breaking down the barrier of immense anxiety I felt in the presence of any boys I liked. I really began to come out of my shell in the first couple of years of college.

But my experience studying abroad in Senegal was without a doubt the single most formative experience in forming my outlook and approach to life... the general who of who I am!


And the extent of that tale is for another time ;) but here's a preview:

That's me eating with my hand from a communal bowl for the first time.
Not gonna lie, posting some of these pictures really, really pains me. 
Oh, the cornrows! Oh, the chubby cheeks! But I really loved my host family :)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Cue the quarter-life crisis?

Tis Friday night and tomorrow is my birthday :)

I'll admit it, I am one of those people that loves birthdays... I blame it on growing up an only child. (I have three half brothers now... the oldest is ten years old!) I've just always been enamored with the attention and the opportunity to unabashedly revel in birthday love from friends and family. A tad bit self-absorbed? Maybe.

One year in high school my best friend Emily decorated my locker with balloons and made me a pin to wear telling the whole high school world it was my birthday. As a result, my history class (which happened to include an inordinate amount of attractive upperclassmen) sang me happy birthday.  I was slightly embarrassed... but loving it deep down :) Fast forward four years later and as college roommates, she surprised me with a wine and cheese party in our dorm room, complete with a custom shirt requiring 20 birthday kisses (which I was to gather over the course of our night out ;). I also donned a tiara. Twas glorious.

Turning twenty was an unforgettable birthday... and surprise!
Birthdays have had a way of winding down with adulthood, especially living abroad. This year, my closest friends in Senegal are on spring break (as we all were last year, although a friend from home was visiting). My family is far, far away so we must rely on Skype to share the birthday love. Its just not the same, sigh.

My first birthday abroad was in Paris, in 2009, when I turned 21. Newsflashthe drinking age is 16 in France, and my birthday was on a cold, rainy Monday night. Add to that the fact that I got on the metro going the wrong direction, got yelled at by a very pushy Parisian for bumping into her, and was one hour late to my birthday dinner, where a group of strangers had to entertain themselves while waiting for me. We dined on Senegalese food and the conversation was strained between the combination of East coast preps, Frenchy snobs, and Southern sorority types (sorry to stereotype!). I will say that the night ended well all due to the guests from Louisiana who were determined to get me dRuNk on my 21st birthdayMonday night, European drinking age, or not!

My beloved student Abiba, in 2011. She warmed my heart every day that school year.

You know, abroad or not, people have made me feel extremely special on my birthday, time and time again... and for that I'm so grateful.

Now that we've taken a little walk down memory lane ;) I'm turning twenty-five (in 15 mintues!). I've been calling myself (almost) 25 for a couple of months now, mostly because I'm by far the youngest in my work and friend circles over here and 25 sounds farrrr more maturrrreeee than 24. I certainly don't have it all figured it out (at all), but things are going in the right direction at least. All in all, I feel good about this. I'm not panicking at my old age, I'm not itching to grow up. 

It feels just. right. And look, its after midnight! ;)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Some Reflection, Some Practical Advice

"Please don’t let your dream or purpose lie dormant in your heart... because of any uncertainty – all entrepreneurship will involve uncertainty. The key is to just begin, and then keep going. To cross the start line and then start tripping, then start falling, and after each tumble you get up and continue onward."
Jess Lively, from a blog post I read today that really hit home. 

I tend to do this in most aspects of my life... wait, wait, wait, stress, stress, stress until I think things are just right, until I'm completely ready. But I'm never fully ready when I allow myself to live in this pattern. (This applies to phone calls, meetings, presentations, big decisions, ambitions, etc, etc.) The anxiety persists until the very moment I push myself (or get pushed) off the ledge and just get. going. And no matter the outcome, I always look back and think, good lord, why all the fuss?! This is a lesson I'm learning time and time again in a new job that consistently pushes me out of my comfort zone.

The view from my bedroom, back in 2011.

Reading this quote I thought about my blog... how I don't even want to comment or promote it because I hate how it looksa silly roadblock. I thought about my apartment (or lack thereof). My bedroom at Megan's is totally bland and lifeless because what I really want is my own place to design from scratch. Rather than make the most of what I have, I'm just waiting and longing. Sometimes I can't help but marvel that my life choices and circumstances appear and are in many ways daring and unconventional. I don't really feel daring or unconventional, truth be told. How did I end up here?!

I can't think of a good segue, so I'll just carry on. I compiled this list of things to think about when renting in Dakar, for some day, when the time is right. Because as I wait, the mind concocts plans ;)

  1. Look out for fluorescent lighting, especially in the living room and bedrooms. It is pretty much inevitable in the kitchen, but speaking from experience.... fluorescent lighting in your bedroom or work space is torture. It really had a horrible effect on my mood last year; an Ikea floor lamp and candles were my saving grace.
  2. Sufficient and functioning electrical outlets. Have these checked out before hand because a lot of the time they don't work.
  3. Mosquito screens.
  4. Proper paint (not the chalky kind that shows water stains and any scuff).
  5. Functioning and higher quality plumbing... a big part of the reason I want a new(er) apartment. Senegalese plumbing is pitiful.
  6. Air flow. Some Senegalese apartments have very strange layouts and bedrooms can literally turn into saunas in the hot season (ie. my room in my last apartment... I physically could not sleep with the door closed which was unfortunate with a boyfriend and a roommate).
  7. The thickness/quality of the doors. The door on my bedroom last year might as well have been made of tissue paper (or plywood). I could hear people whisper/a pin drop in the living room outside my bedroom and as a very light sleeper, it drove me crazy. (Sorry, roommate! It wasn't your fault!)
  8. This isn't specific to Senegal, but the volume of the neighborhood/nearby streets. We didn't take this into account when we chose our apartment and soon realized a pothole outside our living room/my bedroom windows + the many trucks that went down our street = lots of noise right outside our apartment, often early in the morning.
  9. Avoid first floor apartments. First floor + old sewage systems = cockroaches. Its inevitable. Even the nicest, cleanest, most sanitary first-floor apartments have cockroaches in Dakar. Beware.
  10. The rooftop terrace. Westerners are seduced by roofs here; I admit, I fell for it too. Our apartment's rooftop had a view of the ocean and we imagined it would be like an outdoor living room. Well, consider this. Unless you are willing to invest in an umbrella/awning/tent (not so cheap, but worth it)... you will never spend time up there. It is just. too. hot. Also, our neighbors roof was one level higher and so they were always looking down on our terrace and it was kind of awkward (especially when you were retrieving dry laundry wrapped in a towel!).

First thought: "OMG, it will be perfect for bbqs and tanning and reading and working out!"
Don't be fooled. I went weeks without stepping foot up here.
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