Wednesday, March 22, 2006

35 hours of travel

I'm at DFW en route from EBB to AMS to MSP to DFW to AUS...33 ½ hours of travel since I left the hotel in Kampala and I still have 1 ½ hours to go before I see Phil and the team in Austin. It’s been way too long away from him and them...101paige

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We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch

Being an undergraduate history major and on my way to Africa, I should have known more about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. But, admittedly and probably like many of my fellow Americans, I was naïve, unaware, and protected from world news in 1994, which pre-dated my introduction to NPR in 2000.

This book is a gripping journalistic account of the 1994 genocide. It makes the genocide real in a way that is personal, uncomfortable, and shocking. Gourevitch explores the historical roots of the ethnic tensions in Rwanda shedding light on the many layers of colonial involvement in developing that tension. Like much of journalistic investigative reporting, the book intermittently gets bogged down in the locations, the characters, the dates. But, considering the magnitude of the events that occurred in Rwanda from the 1960s until the early 1990s, I couldn’t fault Gourevitch for his attention to detail.

12 years later I feel that most people are at least aware that there was a genocide in Rwanda, maybe in great part because of Don Cheadle and Hotel Rwanda. But, 12 years ago, the majority of the world looked the other way as 800,000 Tutsis were killed in the span of 3 months. Gourevitch’s account is a must-read for anyone interested in how such a tragedy could happen. 101paige 101reviews

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Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown by Paul Theroux

Being the first Africa book I read and considering I was reading it as I landed in Africa for the fist time, you can understand why I consider this one of the more influential books in my Africa experience.

Theroux’s overland safari takes us all the way down Eastern Africa “from Cairo to Capetown.” He passes through Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and South Africa. His accounts of the various landscapes, people, and cultures of these countries are intriguing and definitely gave me a good idea of where I was going. However, his cynicism and jaded attitude struck me the most. He overly romanticizes the Peace Corps and excessively berates any other foreign aid workers. After an extended rant about aid workers who naively think they can positively contribute to development in Africa and a concurrent discussion on the negative dependence created within African governments by the outside hand of foreign aid, he arrogantly suggests that his offer to teach university students for 1 week in Malawi is valuable and should be received with open arms. His contradictory and hypocritical approach lends a “holier than thou” tint to his writings. I was happy to see that he recognized his own hypocrisy and admits that his offer to teach was more to assuage his fear of aging (he was celebrating his 60th birthday) than to truly help those in need.

Despite this, I appreciated Theroux’s hard criticism of 3rd world development and its various actors. I will be considering his opinions and developing my own on this topic for quite some time, I am sure. 101paige 101reviews

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inheriting our cities

(...still at Schiphol...)

Addis Ababa is one of the few (the only?) capital cities in Africa not built by the colonizers, whether it be the French, the Belgians, the Germans, the British (the list goes on and on). Yeshi, an Ethiopian woman who I met in Dar es Salaam, was outwardly proud of this and emphasized that Ethiopia was never colonized by anyone.

As Yeshi said, “We did not inherit our city.”

An American I know here commented the other night on Ugandan politics. Her claim: Uganda cannot function with a democracy as we know it in the States because the level of education is too low and poor people are swayed to “sell” their votes in exchange for money or other needed commodities. African governments are notorious for suffering from corruption and nepotism, yet I disagree with the notion that democracy is impossible in Uganda. Yes, Museveni changed the constitution so that he could run again in the Feb 23 elections – he’s been President since 1986 – but a level of democratic government still exists 30 years after independence. I think people forget that the US did not have democracy figured out when we gained our own independence from Britain. Instead they see the end result (200+ years later) and don’t understand why the governments of the developing world cannot reach a similar level of sophistication in 1/10th the time. 30 years after American independence, neither women nor blacks could vote, and people had to pass a literacy exam to vote. Left on our own, we had the luxury (sans meddling by foreign influentials) to figure it out. We made lots of mistakes on the way, but the government we developed was our own. On the contrary, Africa has never been left alone and has been constantly under foreign scrutiny, involvement, and influence. Uganda’s government is a post-colonial, post-dictatorship government. 101africa 101paige

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reflections, first impressions

I’ve got 5 hours to kill in Schiphol, the Amsterdam airport...on my way home from 1 month in Africa (2 weeks in Dar, 2 weeks in Uganda).

Reflections, first impressions, lessons learned:

(1) My name’s hard to pronounce.

For a native English speaker, my name’s about as easy as it gets…Paige. Simple, straightforward, albeit unique. But, for non-native English speakers, my name poses some significant pronunciation problems. I suppose the ‘i’ throws people, so in Uganda I’m Peggy. I’m somewhat used to that (although I’m not terribly fond of the name), since I was also called Peggy when I lived in Chile. But, thankfully, I eventually acquired a nice nickname from all my travels in Latin America…Lucero. Given to me by an orphan in the Dominican Republic. It means “morning star” and my Dominican friends would often call me Lucero de la madrugada. I think it was the blonde hair. Anyway, now in Africa, I’m back to Peggy. Sometimes, they shorten it to Peg, but the worst is when it becomes Pig. Sorry, but that’s just not going to work.

I try to explain that it’s pronounced just like a page in a book, but then they spell my name without the ‘i.’ I dislike the inaccurate spelling even more than I dislike the inaccurate pronunciation, so I guess I’ll choose the lesser of the two evils.

It’ll be easier once Phil’s with me in Uganda because then I’ll always have someone around who pronounces (and writes) my name correctly. Hopefully by virtue of repetition and constantly hearing Phil call me Paige instead of Peggy, Peg, or Pig, people will catch on.

(2) My trip was an interesting combination of the “real Africa rarely visited by muzungus” and the “privileged Africa rarely visited by Africans.”

Muzungu means ‘white person’ and is a fairly universal term across all of Eastern Africa. Driving down the street little kids and adults alike will simply point straight at me and simply say “muzungu.” Sometimes it’s said in an accusatory tone, but more often it’s simply made as an observation.

Both when I visited Kibeha District (3 hour drive from Dar es Salaam) and Ssembabule District (3 hour drive from Kampala), I entered a world rarely visited by white outsiders. This isn’t to say that white people are non-existent here because that would be misleading. There are lots of ex-pats all over Africa working for NGOs, relief agencies, international development organizations, but Kibeha, Tanzania and Ssembabule, Uganda are not tourist attractions and do not fall on the map of most people visiting Eastern Africa for 3-4 weeks. Each is extremely isolated. Ssembabule does not have a single paved road, has no running water, and the town just received electricity this past year. However, the majority of the district remains without electricity. Two significant developments of the industrial, modern age (electricity, running water) have yet to reach this corner of Africa 100 years later. (Interestingly, although industrialization skipped over Ssembabule, the cell phone industry did not. It’s a modern marvel – thanks to satellite – that people who live in the remote bush of Africa and who have never had a telephone can now talk to anyone, anywhere.)

Combine these isolated environments with the high-end lifestyle we led while in Kampala. We stayed at a modest, but comparatively upscale hotel (Hotel Africana) and did the rounds at the classy restaurants each night, of which there are plenty. Kampala is definitely not lacking in tasty ethnic restaurants: Khaza Khazana (Indian), Krua Thai (Thai), Kyoto (Japanese), Arirang (Korean), Feng Feng (Chinese). Plus there’s the Pavement Tandoori, which isn’t quite as high-end, but has equally if not better Indian food than Khaza Khazana. Anyway, back to the point. These restaurants are moderate according to Western standards ($25-30 for 2 people), but when you consider that the average annual income in Uganda is only $325 they immediately become extravagant. I felt uncomfortable and sheepish going to these fancy restaurants night after night, restaurants completely separated from the reality of Africa.

We spent our days moving around town going from one NGO to another, moving within these circles of ex-pats working for the greater good of Uganda yet completely removed from the reality of Uganda. Kampala is an interesting juxtaposition of poverty and development – the streets on which Ugandans live are unpaved, obstacle courses of potholes, gullies, and dust…the streets on which NGOs have their offices are paved, lined with trees, clean, and quiet. The separation is astonishing. I understand the need for quality office space (high-speed internet, working toilet, clean working environment) and will most likely have something very similar. And I understand that these NGOs who are trying to change the status quo in Uganda will do so more successfully if they are able to get things done on a daily basis. Yet, the separation between the people they serve and themselves is distinct.

I’ve never traveled like this before. Typically, I get by on a minimal amount of money a day, often eating food from street vendors and usually living with a family in their home. I suppose that’s the difference between traveling on your own dime and traveling for work. Even so, I still felt uncomfortable knowing that our driver Kizito earns about $100-150/month and each night he dropped us off at a restaurant where we spent $30 for 1 meal. I asked him what he thought of that on our drive to the airport…

“For the muzungus that come here, they need different food than us. For us, we’re accustomed to the local food – we like it. I can get a good meal for 5,000 shillings (approx $3). I like to eat fish and eggplants…that’s what I make for myself when I cook dinner.”

(3) Africa is an NGO world.

Drive around Kampala and everywhere you turn there is another NGO – Save Africa, Save the Children, Save the World. You name the problem and there’s an NGO there to solve it. Entire Kampala streets and neighborhoods are consumed by signposts announcing the numerous offices of the numerous NGOs.

50% of the national Ugandan budget comes from foreign investment. Uganda, like the rest of Africa, relies heavily on the private sector (i.e. NGOs). I’m torn on my opinion of foreign aid and its role in development. On one hand, there is great need in Africa for poverty reduction, education, health promotion, emergency relief and NGOs get stuff done. On the other hand, NGOs remove the responsibility for social, economic development from the government and create a dependence structure between the NGO and the local government. On top of that, the objectives and political motives of the powerful few who control the donor money (USAID, DFID, CIDA, etc) dictate the development goals adopted by the African nations. (A good example of this is the Mexico City Agreement that must be signed by all grantees receiving money from USAID to carry out family planning/reproductive health programming. The Mexico City Agreement bans any grantee from promoting, providing, or educating on abortion.) As a public healther working in international aid/development, I obviously believe in the ability of NGOs to make the world a better place and to give people a chance for a better life. Yet, I struggle with the dependence on foreign aid, and the ambiguous delineation of authority and responsibility among NGOs, foreign donors, and local governments that the current structure of international development creates. 101paige 101africa 101iph

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

poor Americans

Conversation with Kizito on my drive to the EBB airport tonight...

There are no poor people in America.
But, there are!
If there are poor people in America, then why do the American people give so much money to us?
It is not the American people that give you so much money, it is the American government.
But, if there are poor people in America, then why does the American government give so much money to Uganda? Why doesn’t it give the money to its own poor people in its own country? Why does it come to countries like Uganda and why does it spend so much in places like Iraq, if there are poor people in America?

(Kizito makes a good point. The role of the US government in the development of the 3rd world is unbelievable. Because our president opposes abortion, USAID is obligated to.)

Do you like all the NGOs in Uganda?
Me? I like the NGOs. They’ve done a lot of good for a lot of people in Uganda.

When asked about the Uganda government…

People in government have money. The rest of us have no money. There’s so much unemployment here, but if you know someone then you can get a job. There are a lot of people here who have a lot of education, a diploma, but they can’t get a job because they don’t know the right people. But, if you know someone, then you can get a job. The people in government know people and have all the money.

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