Zanzibar…at last!!

You know when a word has all the significance of the world on it? When just the sound of the word catapults you to images and sounds and smells that are floating in your imagination? Well…Zanzibar…is that word for me.

I was 15 (I think) when I first read the book in which Zanzibar featured. And from that moment on, it became a vague thought in my mind….wouldn’t it be great if one day I could visit this magical place. But neither research nor plans were made because this idea was just too fantastical.

And now, here I am…lying on Zanzibar’s eastern sandy shores, trying to recover from my cold and waiting not so patiently to learn how to relax. Do nothing. Follow the rhythm of the island.

I’m not being very successful. I’ve already read two books, watched at least 8 movies, have swum in the sea countless times and in the infinity pool -less times, had a massage, had a pedicure and am really wondering whether I had made a mistake scheduling three weeks for this vacation/little work holiday.

Obviously, this being only Day 6 of my vacation after 3 months of full-on work, I might need to chill a bit more. Ya think?

Things they don’t tell you about Dadaab, Kenya – Part 2

Your roving reporter has just returned from Dadaab, in northeast Kenya, the site of the largest refugee camp in the world with close to half a million people plotted into five camps. With two security incidents on Saturday (one IED in a Dadaab camp and 2 grenades thrown in a church 2 hours away killing and injuring 7 people), security problems have more or less stopped all humanitarian activities in the Dadaab Refugee Complex except for the livesaving activities of food, water and some health care.

My list continues of the things they don’t tell you about Dadaab.

• A shower feels like a wonderful luxury after the heat and humidity of the day. Our version translates to putting your head under a stream of water pouring from a pipe high in the wall. And the marvelous thing about it is you never have to adjust the water temperature because the one faucet always provides the right amount of water heated during the day in the large water tanks on the property.
• Falling asleep to the sounds of one of my IOM drivers and all round handyman practicing his tenor saxophone on the stoop of our compound to a jazz tune flowing out the windows and the door.
• Tusker beer, the African brew, is actually quite good. Especially in 37 degree heat, sitting under a tree by my favourite water tower at the outdoor restaurant.
• The electricity goes out in Nairobi at least a zillion times more often than it does in Dadaab, a town about the size of gnat compared to the capital of Kenya at 12 million and growing.
• Internet connectivity is just as bad in Dadaab as it is in Nairobi but the IOM tech guy in Dadaab is a genius and has fixes for everything. With my history of technology bumbles, he is my hero and is #1 on my speed dial! (Case in point, I broke my phone at 10:45 pm the night before heading to Dadaab. While there my laptop, my wireless mouse, my internet and my flash drive all developed non-working “issues.”  Thanks to the genius IT guy, I was still able to work).
• Even though life is difficult here for humanitarian workers, especially if you’ve been here day in and day out for two months straight working 6 or 7 days a week, you make the best of it, enjoy the bits you can, laugh through everything else and always keep in mind that beyond the fence, the fully armed guards, the barbed wire and the broken shards of glass there are people who are living their lives in tents, with meagre food rations, just adequate water and a whole lot of uncertainty hoping that one day the drought and the insecurity will end and they will be able to return to their homes and their extended families in Somalia.

Dadaab Update – Part 1

Your roving reporter is now back in Dadaab, in northeast Kenya, the site of the largest refugee camp in the world with close to half a million people plotted into five camps. Only about 100 kms from the border of Somalia, Dadaab has been home to many refugees since it opened 20 years ago. As the conflict and the drought continue, vibrant lives go on as people are born, die and get married in the camps.

Things they don’t tell you about working in Dadaab:

• Even though the whole place is full of thick red sand, there is grass, shrubs, trees with a rich and vibrant bird life. I haven’t seen as many of the colourful birds as I do in Nairobi but the birdsong keeps me company as I work and live here.
• How beautifully stretchy mosquito nets are which makes it easier to expand the holes.
• That if you need to eliminate potential mosquito highways in your net, the best thing to do is to twist the netting really really thin then make a knot.
• That mosquito nets come with frills on the top – so cute! Maybe one day someone will market a full range of coloured nets to match your bedroom décor.
• Sometimes the black houseflies are more annoying than the mosquitos. They’re real “people flies”, wanting to get close to you ALL the time. Reminds me of being in the Australian outback.
• How for some reason, the sheets are always sandy – which is especially great after you’ve moisturized and gives another meaning to exfoliation.
• The most amazing looking critters still get into the room even though you have plugged up every hole.

Coming to you from Dadaab, Kenya
November 2011

Exercise…wah dat?

I had (and still have) the best of intentions.  I brought my yoga DVDs to Nairobi. I even brought the belly dancing DVDs which my brother bought for me to celebrate lurching into high tech heaven with my new BluRay player.

And here in Nairobi, I went out and bought a funky pink and white yoga mat. Never seen such a mat in Canada.  Such style…a truly unique piece.

It’s still in the plastic wrapper neatly tucked away in my closet.

Working 14-16 hour days is just not conducive to exercise.  However, lest you think I am becoming a red-haired Porky Pork …allow me to show you my own exercise treadmill that I use every day.  Given that the whole IOM complex sits on a hill and the Public Information (PI) unit is a stand alone building way, way down the hill – and given that the main building has five floors, I figure I climb the equivalent of 8 flights of stairs at least four to six times a day.

And you would think that at some point in this pseudo exercise workout, that I would stop panting and being completely out of breath by the time I get to the top floor?  Sigh…not yet, but here’s hoping!

The first of eight set of stairs I climb every day.

Nairobi exotic Nairobi

It’s pretty amazing to think I’ve been in Nairobi, Kenya for almost a month now.  Just yesterday, as I was eating at the Carnivore Restaurant, I couldn’t believe that the exotic jungle atmosphere was really Kenya and not/not Disneyland.  After all my experiences in Asia, South Asia and the Middle East, I never thought I would have ended up in Africa.  But what a surprise and wonderful gift.

Nairobi is an amazing city – at least the small part I have seen – which to be fair – is one of the ritziest areas of this sprawling city of 3 million.  What an amazing place. The whole area is hilly and windy with huge trees dripping with gorgeous flowers:  the jacaranda tree has beeyooteeful purple flowers, then there are the red cactus like flowers that droop downwards.  Birds of paradise and gorgeous hibiscus are planted all over the place.

As we get closer to rainy season, more and more flowers are sprouting and the area is turning into a giant lush conservatory of vibrant colours.  Soon to be a conservatory with very muddy floors because of the small rainy season set to arrive around mid Oct-Nov.

Lots of exciting things have happened since I arrived.  I’ve moved from guest room to guest room – I still haven’t unpacked my suitcase.  I’ve lived on the compound in Dadaab, about 1.5 hours north east of Nairobi by plane and site of the largest refugee camp in the world.  What an exciting time and great exercise as I trudged daily in thick sand to and from the living compound to the eating compound to the working compound and back several times.  Seeing the scorpion was a high point…experiencing Eid again with my Muslim friends in this mostly very Christian country…finding fellow coffee drinking compatriots amongst a majority of tea-drinkers…and naturally, as always, looking for and finding great places to eat, coif and pamper myself.  And just today…I know my female friends would agree…I found the most perfect pair of red shoes completely by accident and on sale!!!!

Work has been great, busy as usual with wonderful people to work with and from whom to learn.  I’m doing regional communications and reporting on the drought situation for Horn of Africa countries from the IOM office in Kenya.  The job is wide-ranging – from getting photographers and producing video documentaries on Dadaab projects; producing with a great team, a series of daily, weekly and monthly situation reports, to writing up talking points and background papers for the big boss in Geneva; and putting the finishing touches on strategy papers to help with funding proposals and writing reports to donors on how IOM is doing fantastic work on the ground.  Which we are: helping refugees/migrants – transporting and relocating them to better camps with more services, doing medical assessments and primary care, plotting, demarcating land and setting up tents, and most importantly, liaising with host communities as sensitivities arise due to the drought and scarce resources.

This week I’ll be moving into my first Nairobi apartment – an amazing puff pastry of perfection apt that is completely new – unlived in by no one except moi.  Do you know they have cute little fridges here that lock?  I also have a great combo washer and dryer in the same appliance.  Can’t wait to try that out.  The European style furniture is exactly the simple clean lines I love.  The apt comes complete with wifi and specialized cable channels so I can get BBC and Al-Jazeira.  I know I shall be very comfortable there in the very few hours I don’t spend at work or travelling!  Pictures to come when I have my house-warming party…I’m already starting to plan!!

Here are a few pics.

JJ rolling around in the sand_Dadaab_Aug2011

These are refugees waiting to move from outside a camp to another one where full services are offered such as water and health

The humanitarian early morn convoy to the camps_Dadaab, Kenya


Sudan Pics!

Fishing in the White Nile

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thought I’d post a few of my faves!

Baking bricks

Eating breakfast with my favourite Centre staff

Real camels!

Sand landscape with Referendum Flag blowing in the breeze

Continue reading

Back in Canada

The long 23 hour journey back to Canada is over and my body is recovering. My first visit to Africa is complete. The South Sudan Referendum results are expected within the next few weeks. Depending on the result, a lot of hard work will be forthcoming. Here’s the EU’s preliminary statement Pictures to come as soon as I download them!

Counting to begin tomorrow!

Last day of referendum observing is around the corner. After that..counting the ballots and watching the process of democracy complete its circle.

Took a ferry across the White Nile River today. The ferry will become extinct next month when the new bridge opens between Al Dwaim and the mainland. Turns out the bridge is being built with Chinese labour, and Chinese money on behalf of the Government of Sudan. Just one more example of how the Chinese have quietly infiltrated Africa…for its resources and food supplies. One of these days more will be written about this.


All is going well here in Sudan. Just tired…long hours, lots of driving. But that’s nothing. I heard that some people in Southern Sudan walked over 20 kms overnight arriving at the polling station at 5 am to vote in this referendum. And once there, the long line-ups sometimes prevent them from voting that day. My tiredness is just a small insignificance when compared to the momentous piece of history in the making here in Sudan.