Friday, November 28, 2008

Settling in.

Wed morning November 26, 2008

The last 2 days have been intense. We have orientation and get to know each other. And we learn basic Kiswahili. One of the exercises sends us out into the community to communicate with the locals in basic Swahili. I’m partnered up with this guy called Andy. We’re supposed to find out the name of the river that runs by the house and where the river goes. There’s a hut with a dirt floor about 10x5 ft. A woman and her toddler live there. That’s it. That’s all they have. No running water, nothing else except a few pots and space. Really tiny. And this is the good area – what they call semi rural. A lot of hand waving and broken words from the phrase book ensues. We finally get through to her and she takes us to the river, which is called Karanga (in English, this means peanuts). The river goes to this valley called mbengi.

We’re introduced to our volunteer placements. My placement is at WEECE. We don’t really get to choose our placements, it’s based on our educational/work backgrounds, despite our interests. Originally I thought I was going to work with HIV/AIDS patients or education. But I’m not. The NGO group I was assigned to works with women’s education and empowerment but it also funds many other activities such as supporting HIV patients by giving them a purpose and financing educational initiatives in computer skills for girls 14-25. It is really rural here, for the most part, but almost everyone has a cell phone. It seems that tech development has progressed so far along here that they really want my computer skills pretty badly. I don’t really mind, but I find it really weird that I have come all this way and I am getting plopped in front of a computer when everyone else is going to teach kids English in rural schools. I feel weirdly out of place. It is a different vibe.

Most of the people in this house are psychology majors, working in counseling or teachers. Some are gap year students in environmental studies. One nurse, one environmental econ student. Right now I’m the only asian and the only engineer. There was one other engineer – mechanical, who was here but had left 2 weeks ago, Leah. She came back to visit during my 2nd day. Leah had just climbed Mt. Kili. I’m really impressed because she actually made it to the top and Ann Curry’s team (from the Today show) didn’t even make it to the summit with a support team of about 100 people. I hear that the some people from previous group of volunteers that had recently left the house got smashed and drunk every night. Excellent. I can’t blame them. It’s emotionally difficult for a lot of people.

Most volunteers are teaching English or just spending time working with orphans. In my opinion, the ones who are teaching English as a second language at the secondary level in a vocational school have probably the hardest placement of all. There is a strong language barrier. None of us know Kiswahili. And we’re given a crash course in it for 6 days. But 6 days can only get you so far. And it is hard. The language is strongly influenced by Arabic. Some of it also has asian sounding tones.

As for WEECE, the first day – they actually give me a schedule for my time. I’m impressed. For a local NGO, they’re way more organized that I’d imagined. My job is split into 3 parts.

1) Work with 6 girls in secondary skills and teach them basic skills in computers, Microsoft Office basically. It’s fun. I’ve done the same in Hong Kong before. Its challenging with a language barrier but they seem to know English fairly well and it makes my job really a lot easier. I notice that they can be a bit shy, and some don’t want to ask if they don’t understand. But it works out. There is one that things she knows everything and can’t focus to finish tasks to completion. This is going to be challenge. They treat their equipment with a great deal of care here. Its not like us spoiled Americans.

Also – I’m pulled aside occasionally to work on improving staff computing skills, work on staff documents for various projects, including a clinic that is being sponsored by WEECE and Terres sans Frontiers & Canadian embassy? in extremely rural area in Kilimanjaro.

2) Visit local businesses supported by WEECE microfinance and try to understand their means of operation, the problems, issues and possibly how to improve it. I will write more about this, but there will be about 10-15 field visits. Really excited about this. The loans are all given to local women and include those who are HIV/AIDS patients who need a sense of purpose in life, and weece supports them in this manner.

3) Fund Acquisition: Research, and possibly implement means for acquiring more funds to support WEECE initiatives, either by grant writing or figuring out a way to increase donations. I’m pretty sure I can rework their website on #3 to help secure more funding, but I’ll do this when I go back home because I know I can work on that anywhere in the world, no problem

The next day the program director at our home base approaches me and asks me to build her a VB database program to manage information about spending and volunteers that come into and out of the house. In most 3rd world countries, Microsoft rules. It’s ok, I’m not a fan but hey work with what you got, right? For her, right now everything’s on a bunch of looseleaf spreadsheets and with more than 30 people in the house on various occasions, it can be really difficult for her to manage. Oh sure, I’m happy to get my mind off the stress. Please! I am beginning to realize that I distract myself from people problems by trying to focus on concrete problems. Sure more stuff to build, I’m actually really cool with that. I tell her I’ll start this weekend. No problem.

Moshi certainly is more technically advanced than the Carribean - BVIs in 1994. And they think that learning tech skills are a way out of poverty. I agree and disagree with this; it is a Catch 22. For some yes, for others no. It’s really impossible to do much with computers when you don’t have any power? Power comes and goes here. At anytime. The further away from town, the more unstable the power source is. There is developing business in town. If they are planning for the future – tech skills, definitely needed as the infrastructure grows. At the same time, it is really somewhat confusing to see the split in wealth – there are people who have mansions here and right next door are dirt huts where people are living on like 1000 Tsh a day*. Why did this happen and why? There aren’t any answers. But everyone is exceptionally happy here. The kids – I have never seen such happy kids. They scream and smile and yell and are seriously very happy. There is a lot of undeveloped land and the fruits and vegetables here smell wonderful. Who

Most of the roads here are dirt, except the main highway. In town, there are a lot of small shops, food stands, stores. They’re not commercialized to death, but at the same time you know they are going to be within the next 10-20 years. That’s where everything is heading. I did not believe my eyes when I saw it. There is a MIT here (Moshi Institute of Technology). Lots of shops setup for business and computer education. Lots of small vendors. Some of the coffeeshops and the Ex-Im banks approach 1st world quality – minus the pit bathrooms. Moshi is declared, cleanest town in the area, possibly country? But there are a lot of local practices there that I have issue with. They burn their trash here. And you smell it, a lot. I really wonder how much of this is contributing to Kili melting and global warming. Then there are the giant petrol tanks here. Everything runs on diesel. And a ton of pollution. The buses and cars here are really bad with pollution.

We have a health education session where we meet with a local health worker who answers questions about malaria, HIV, and other types of diseases. Most of us on anti-malarial drugs are on malarone. Some on others. But even though there is malaria here, it is less than the coastal areas. The locals here get malaria before they are age 5. After that, they have immunity and most people are too poor to be on anti malarias anyhow. Even the wealthy ones aren’t on anti malarials. And the risk in this area isn’t that much anyhow because right now it’s pretty dry. It’s only bad when its raining. That’s when the mosquitoes come out. I am really irritated. We are like, stupid Americans on a stupid drug that we probably don’t even need. But I’m being cynical. We’re getting bitten on a regular basis here but they’re not mosquitoes. They come and go within 24 hrs. There are ton of bugs here, even with insecticide in the surrounding yard. Some people have side effects from their drugs and mood changes, especially mefloquine.

After our afternoon lesson in Kiswahili, we have some free time. Our house is down a dirt road and it is a bit of a hike to get to the main road where there is food and a few huts where you can buy basic goods. I convince Sarah to come with me. We make it to the end of the road and look around for drinks because we are so thirsty.

Across the main road, there is a prison. And next to it there is a small bar. We walk into the bar and buy drinks. There are two guards behind us and I practice my Swahili with them. They are not convinced I’m American. I have to tell them I’m American and Chinese. I say I’m both. Ninatoka mamerikani ni mchina. Sarah and I get up to leave but then there is a lot of yelling at us and with our rudimentary Swahili we really have no idea. Deer in headlights. They tell us that the fanta chupas we’re drinking are supposed to stay. Oh. Yeah stuff is actually recycled – glass bottles go back to the coca cola factory. But you know, it’s not really that great – there are TONS of bottle caps just littered on the dirt roads and main roads all over town. So much for recycling and being environmentally safe. Erg. It’s a bit of a, um…... I can’t even describe it.

* 1300 Tsh (Tanzanian Shillings) ~= 1 USD.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hello from Moshi

November 24, 2008

It is Monday morning 6am as I write this. I’ve been here in a village several km from Moshi now for 2 days.


The flight from Boston to Amsterdam was pretty awful. I was ready to puke when we landed; the turbulence was really bad. It was compounded by the snowstorm that peaked about an hour after arrival. On a more positive note, I did see something exciting at the newsstand before I left. I thought I was hallucinating but the cover of GQ magazine was definitely moving like those movable pictures from Harry Potter. Upon closer inspection, I discovered it was the first commercialization of E-Ink! How exciting. I’ve heard about it for years, but never saw it out on the street so I had assumed they were still years away from it being practical. It’s a bit thick – the cover feels like a flexible CD. The actual display is super thin, but I was somewhat disappointed by the thickness of the circuit board inside. It was really hard not to buy a copy and take it apart. I have to stay and pack light. Hopefully the board will also flex like the display soon? Okay I will shut up and stop being a technophile now.

Its been a really long time since I’ve been at Schipol Airport but honestly, I am somewhat disappointed by it. Virtually everything is in English. It is so Anglicized and Americanized. The guy who sells coffee to you speaks perfect English. You have to hunt to find the real Dutch, even on the signs it’s a bit obscured. It really feels a bit like walking into an Ikea. Okay I guess for American travelers and there a shitload of them. Even the KLM flight on the way down is chalk full of them and a bunch of annoying pushy French people. A lot of white people on the plane to Kilimanjaro. Not so many black people. Almost no asian people. Some middle easterners.

KiliAirport02 By the time we get to Kilimanjaro, it is pitch dark. And you can see nothing. KLM lets you disembark from the plane straight onto the ground like the good old days. It’s the only major aircraft that’s sitting on the runway. It is hot and humid. We get our luggage and the driver collects us into a van. It is really dark outside. The major road between Arusha and Moshi is this 2 lane road that’s not lit at all. It’s kind of like the main road to Gerlach, NV. No, nix that. This 2 lane road is the equivalent of 101 or I 95 in the usa. Stars everywhere outside at night. We drive past a row of trees and it smells incredible. Everyone’s asking what kind of tree, and we find out that its called a “Christmas tree”. There are a lot of these in town.

We’re taken to a really nice house. I mean, the house here is really nice. It’s off a dirt road, but completely westernized. It reminds me a bit of, south east asian architecture. There are actually 2 houses in this compound. We stay in the back. Cell service works here. And it’s really strong, with iPhone Edge access. Unlike what AT&T told me the internet is getting pushed here. I’m impressed. I don’t even get a cell signal in Gerlach, NV.

The first night is always really hard after any trip that takes you more than 8 time zones away. It usually takes me about 1-2 weeks to adjust when going to south east asia. Here we are 10 hrs ahead of Pacific Coast time in California. Even though I was on the east coast for a week cutting 3 hrs off doesn’t really make a dent. I feel wasted. But I can’t sleep. There are a ton of really loud animals here that come alive in the middle of the night. The dogs are out of control. They’re mostly wild dogs and are bone thin, scrawny with fleas. We learn later that the dogs are always at odds with the bush babies that come out at night.

The elder women here in Tanzania are called Mamas, whether they have kids or now. Our house Mama is called Mama Lilian. She gives us the scoop on how to behave here. And I’m about to fall asleep as she drones on about the rules and what we should expect. Half way through, oh the irony -- We’re told not to use drugs here. Or we’ll be booted from the premises immediately. And just as she says that, there’s a waft of sweet smelling pot that floats by. It’s smells sweet. Not like American stuff that’s rolling around and a bit bitter. We all really try hard to keep a straight face.

About half the house is full when we arrive. They are mostly younger volunteers between 18-25. Some students, other young people on a gap year. A lot of them are teaching at nursery schools or working with young kids in elementary schools. In Tanzania, it is required by law for all children to go to school through 7th grade. It is paid by the government, but the parents have to pay for the uniforms and some other small fee (I think). Sorry I don’t know if my facts are all straight because I was too tired to pay attention. There are a lot of information sessions the first couple of days. Thankfully there are only 5 new people to get to know. There are about 8 volunteers that are already here from the previous session; many of them are here for the maximum duration of 12 weeks.

We’re given a tour around Moshi town. We almost run over a tiny dog. It is SO loud. These tiny scrappy dogs. On our way to town some bus cuts ahead of us. The back of it is covered with Chinese characters. Apparently a lot of buses and older cars from Asia and Europe are just imported here and driven as is. People drive scary fast here and lots of people hang off the edge of daladalas and trucks.

The driver takes us away from the town because the kids want to visit an art market. They are set up in little stalls. The art is pretty good. We even see a bob marley flag. People certainly know how to do business here. We are told it is low tourist season, so expect more hassling and haggling. One of the volunteers here mentions that its really hard to say no to locals that hassle you repeatedly. After a while you just cave in and buy something.

Downtown there are lots of little stores. Most of the smaller vendors are on dirt floors. Higher end stores have concrete on the base. I figured correctly not to bring a lot with me; you can get a lot of goods here. In the supermarkets, a lot of the goods on the shelves are imported from the Europe, UAE, Doha, Japan, China, etc. What else do you expect? Not much US imported goods comparatively. There’s basically M&Ms and Coca cola.

I’m so exhausted by the end of the first full day here I even miss dinner. I sleep from 3pm until 6am the next morning. By the end of the first day ankles are super swollen. I am really terrified. I’m not sure it’s from a blood clot or from the airplane or whatever. My dad had the same thing happen before his quad bypass.

I have two roommates here. They are really nice. One is in her late 30s, Chandra, and was formerly a teacher. The other, Louisa is a former nurse and in her 60s. Everyone is pretty poa (cool). I’m actually really happy that I’m not sharing a room with anyone who is a pain. Chandra is from the bay area just like me. I dig her, we are both here with iPhones. She is crazy she even brought a laptop and all the rest of the electronic junk.

I actually make it dinner the 2nd day we are here. The jet lag is especially awful because I am already sleep dep’d from D.C. and Boston. Towards the end of the 3rd day my ankles begin to reduce their swelling, thankfully. And I’m ok to get up and walk around. I am getting kicked off the computer now.

Till next time, Kwa Herini.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I am a Digital girl.

I have 3 hrs before my flight leaves to Amsterdam and I'm still trying to fit everything into my pack. One thing for sure is that I am completely ditching my travel guides. I am ill prepared; I wish I knew exactly what pages I could tear out of the 3 lonely planet books I have but I don't. I haven't read it all. The books together weigh more than 5 lbs. I have too much stuff, even at the bare minimum, my bag is really heavy. I've unpacked and unloaded several times.

So, I'm going to try this: Lonely planet now offers online chapters in PDF. I'm bringing my books in triplicate: Two USB keys loaded with copies of the PDF and then a copy on the iphone via a program that runs locally on disk called "Files". File reading on the iphone sucks the battery dry really fast but I'm compensating with a Solio solar charger for the iPhone. I know, it's an iPhone; somebody will probably steal it. I'm going to risk taking it anyhow. My entire life is on that thing but it has saved my ass more than once while traveling internationally. Especially because I am so foreign language challenged. The good thing about subsaharan africa is that there is still no data push available. Only cell and text service. So there is no way to rack up charges on data there. Text messages are pricey, running at 0.50 cents per message. I will likely get a local mobile *if* it is any cheaper.

This is all I'm bringing, for 3 months. (see picture).

Ok I have to run to the airport now.

Next stop, Moshi, Tanzania

Monday, November 17, 2008

Washington, D.C. and other messy junk

Everything upon arrival in D.C. has been somewhat of a mess.

I didn't get any sleep on my red eye, I broke out all over my face, my posters got lost and I was issued a booth violation the day after I setup in the convention hall. And it took forever to get anywhere because of some G20 conference being held at the white house, and the entire street next to my hotel is blockaded off because of some head of state. Forget about sleep. Sirens are going off constantly in the middle of the night. So no buses are running down the street and only a cab. I am getting ripped off by 5 dollar cab rides to and from the convention center because it is raining, hard. Honestly, I am ready to break in half. I can't take the stress anymore. I really want to quit. And to top it off, I get bitten by lots of mosquitoes. Yes, in D.C. which is rainy and humid the day I arrive. At last count, 10 big bites and I have _not_ even left for a malaria zone yet. Sleep dep to the point of being sh*t faced. I feel miserable. I want to punch somebody.

After about a day, it sort of calms down. I have to remember that I am here in one piece, and lucky to be attending neuroscience. This is a massive conference. I've never seen that many people jammed into one room. Seriously, there are more than 30,000 people here. It takes about 25 minutes to clear the hall when the day ends. It's like herding cats, but they're extremely chatty brain/cog/neuro/psychiatry/psychology people. I've never heard such noisy scientists before. These guys like to yak. yak yak yak. yik yik yik.

Monday morning, I head to embassy row. I need a visa for Mozambique and have been too lame to get one. So, I'm going to take advantage of the fact that I'm here in D.C. and do it. When I finally get to the Mozambique embassy, I get buzzed into this small office downstairs. A really nice lady that I can barely understand takes my passport and paper application. She then reminds me that I have to give her a copy of my flight itinerary, which I don't have on me. Luckily I pull out my iPhone and email it to her; back tomorrow to pick it up. There is no place more UN than DC; even before you get to embassy row in dupont circle the embassies start showing up, each stately with their own flag. But it's not all embassies... there's weird stuff in between. I see Chile Embassy, Australian Embassy.... Association of Computing Machinery (wha?) .....University club(huh?) I could have taken the subway or bus'd it, but the sites are worth seeing, even though it is a good 25 min walk.

After the convention closes for the day, there is an afterparty at Madame Tussauds (the place with the wax figures). Its really disorienting inside. The people are so realistic you think its a real person in your peripheral vision a lot. And then you check yourself and think "nope, wax". Surreal. Every major president is inside. George Bush Jr. is taller than we guessed. And looks even more stupid in wax. Clinton is shorter than expected and Bush Sr. and Reagan are both shockingly tall. They made Hillary look pretty. The best one I'd say was of Julia Roberts. Damn did that one look real. The posture and dress just made it happen.

I need to feed my addiction. So after a while I split with the gang and I leave Madame Tussauds to walk south and east. South, there is a place called the Sculpture garden facing the national archives. And in front of it, starting fortuitously in mid november is an outdoor ice rink! I get to lose my outdoor skating virginity. In DC of all places. Yeah I know, I've been skating for years but never did it outdoors. Just never happened.

But. I forgot my skates. The guy at the counter convinces me to give the rentals a try. So I rent a pair and put them on. Suddenly, I'm skidding everywhere. I'm actually shocked that I don't fall? They're too big, and with no support. So then I trade them in for a smaller pair but oddly the left one is still too big. Curious. So I swap the left for one size smaller. I'm wearing a size 4 and on the left and a 5 on the right. It makes for an interesting dynamic because the blade length is also different. I had to think for a while, but I think the lefties tend to get stretched a lot because public sessions tend to go in one direction only, counter clockwise, and people put more pressure on the left foot. It was tiring, and I gave up after 20 minutes. Kind of useless to keep trying to do something with crappy equipment. I will be back tomorrow with my own pair.

On my way to my hotel, I pop into the gift store to take a peek at the election memorabilia. Practically everyone here is proud of Obama. All Obama/Biden stuff is full price. All McCain/Palin stuff is 75% off. Compared to DC in 2007 it finally feels..... right? I mean seriously, just walking around DC, with the demographics the way it is, it just didn't feel right with a white man in the white house. 3 blocks north of the convention center is where Howard University starts. I went by to see what it was like. It's also where the projects sort of are. I got stared at a lot. The local supermarket made me feel really weird. Oh, and the checkout stand is weird. They actually have checkout stands where there are no magazines, by parent request. Guess the little ones are out of control? I wonder what it would have been like for my dad when he was at Howard in grad school as a minority scholar in the 1960s. One asian dude in a sea of black. He doesn't really talk about it much. But I could imagine.

I'm back at the rink the next day and it is COLD. No, not 100% cold but 2000% colder than the day before. It bites. The wind is really painfully cold on the ears. The rink guard tells me that it snowed during the day and the ice is a mess. It is hard to breathe with the wind chill. Standing around for about 3 minutes without moving gives me cramps and chills. Even worse walking around. I am now officially a Californian wuss. No more east coast thick winter skin. I am so cold I have trouble breathing. Some woman is also visiting from So Cal and says I have no excuse. We talk and discover that we are actually here in town for the same reasons, same convention. Apparently I am not the only one that has a childish obsession with this sport, frequently referred to as a child's sport. I feel a bit better and not so guilty.

Next stop, Boston.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Don't listen to the US State Department.....

.....because they're not always right.

So a few weeks ago, I was scouring the US State department's web page for travel advisories. I come across this and I have to laugh:

April 30, 2008

This Travel Alert updates U.S. citizens about security issues in China and advises American citizens traveling or residing there to be alert to their surroundings and exercise caution at all times. This Travel Alert expires on October 31, 2008.

Any large-scale public event such as the upcoming Olympic Games may present an attractive target for terrorists. There is a heightened risk that extremist groups will conduct terrorist acts within China in the near future. In light of these security concerns, U.S. citizens traveling in China are advised to use caution and to be alert to their surroundings at all times, including at hotels, in restaurants, on public transportation and where there are demonstrations and other large-scale public gatherings. Consistent with our standard advice, American citizens are urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations.

In May I was in Hong Kong, right when the olympic flame was being run through the area. May 1st and 2nd, to be exact. May 1st is a holiday in Hong Kong. Now that I think of it, the hotel I stayed at was where they kept the flame, unbeknownst to most of us. But we figured it probably was there because it was the 8th floor and there were about 5 or 6 guards hanging around the lobby near the elevators constantly, all with ear pieces and wearing signal jamming devices. I could not place a cell phone call out of there for hours. At first I thought these guys were on every floor because we knew the flame was coming through, but then we checked on the 10th and the 7th floors and it was really only the 8th floor. Yeah Asians and the number 8. In my bad Chinese, I translate 8 8 8, as basically get "f**king rich".

The night of May 1st, we were forced to move to another hotel, simply because "there weren't any more rooms." Ahhh... yeah. Somehow I don't believe that the New World Hotel in Hong Kong could possibly run out of rooms on just that particular day; there are more than 800 rooms in this hotel. It was likely that they didn't want anyone on the floor when the flame was there. We give hell to the staff at the check in desk and get nothing out of them. The look at us blankly and we know they are lying. But we can do nothing. So we move next door to the Intercontinental - ridiculously expensive but the only place that "apparently" had room.

I digress. Back to the point - basically on the morning of the 2nd when the olympic flame was run through the Kowloon peninsula and through the island of Hong Kong, the atmosphere was certainly far removed from that of San Francisco or Paris. Security was tight and well run.

If anything, it was massively crowded. So crowded you could feel the breath of the person standing next to you. And definitely a tremendous amount of pride and energy in the crowd. As far as I could see there weren't' any demonstrations. There were a LOT of happy people. There was plenty of security, and the subway was shutdown, in every mall and hotel that connected itself to it. The peninsula has an overbuilt maze of malls and hotels with subways integrated into many slots. It's so twisted and confusing, it's super easy to get lost. And lost I did get, many many times. Everything looks the same, the same bling bling over and over again. Heavy air conditioning inside, tropically warm outside. Going inside and out repeatedly gave me a massive headache.

Early on the 2nd, I was reading two newspapers at breakfast. One was the South China Morning Post and the other, the Asian Wall Street Journal. The WSJ didn't make much of an event for the torch. Impartial, factual, mostly about world politics and the economy. The cover of the South China reported on the crowds and the national pride. The inside section had a complete page about detaining Mia Farrow at the airport. She was given a stern warning not to try anything crazy but not held or penalized in any other way. She was quoted as saying that she was here to peacefully attending a human rights meeting within Hong Kong. I guess if you're an "american traveler", you're more at risk in San Francisco - where the demonstrations were rampant or in Paris. The funny part is that I was on my way back into San Francisco via San Diego the day the flame was run through SF. And I was detained at airport security for a good half hour. Um.

If you look at the British travel advisory site, there is no warning. So it seems that this US warning was really politically motivated. Mind you, up until 1997 Hong Kong, now Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region) was British territory. They seem to know their stuff. But of course, I am biased because a) I'm asian and can hang back while the white americans get hassled at the market b) I don't get mistaken as an american unless I open my stupid non-cantonese speaking mouth c) I've been to Hong Kong too many times to know better.

In fact, this article from an old Conde Nast rag lying around - shows clearly different views between the US and Britsh. It is not my imagination at work. (see picture)

On the left in mostly Red is the US State Dept warning to "Avoid ALL Travel to the country" On the right in mostly orange is the British Foreign & Commonwealth office, instructing travelers to avoid all travel to *certain parts* of the country.

October 2006 Conde Nast Traveler: Stop Press : Reality Check

Direct your browser to the U.S. state Department's web site in search of advice on venturing abroad and what you'll find there may persuade you to stay home. At press time, Travel Warnings are in effect for 30 countries, many of which (Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan) one might not be inclined to visit anyway. But a maddeningly comprehensive Public Announcement entitled "Worldwide Caution" seems to have been composed to put Americans off travel in general, warning of "the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against Americans…overseas." The text cites the danger zones as including but not limited to Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and reports that extremists may subject Americans to assassinations, kidnappings, and bombings on public transportation, at sporting events, and in offices, clubs, restaurants, hotels, and places of worship. The media's tendency to grant prominent coverage to incidents of violence overseas, most notably those involving Americans, enhances the impression that, post–9/11, the world beyond our borders is perilous and hostile.............

Which sources should travelers trust? Travel agents who specialize in the Middle East and Southeast Asia note that Americans are rarely warned against visiting countries considered allies, and unruly states are rarely removed from the don't-go list. "We strive not to make warnings political," says a U.S. State Department spokesperson. "We just want to get the best information to Americans."

Ah... um.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Trip planning and cramming

Right now, my trip plans are still in the air after my volunteer placement, and am still hammering it all out. I have been stuffing my brain with info on more than 15 sub saharan countries in Africa. There's too much information and I'm feeling bug eyed. But it is good.

I am an obsessive planner. I like to know exactly where I'm going, when and for how long when I travel. Partly this is also because every type of travel I've self organized has had a purpose. I'm OK with getting on a plane with as little as 24 -48 hr notice anywhere in a 1st or 2nd world country. No problem. No need to plan that. You'll be taken care of transitwise no matter what. But going somewhere with infrastructure problems, I have rethink a lot of what's reasonable and what is not.

Having no explicit purpose is really difficult. So I've read a lot. Read too much. Panicked because there is so much information, so many countries and I want to read more, and then decide if I want to visit that. And then trying to plan a route to get there. Agonizing. I hear people say " just go and then decide". To a certain degree I can't. I want to know if my route is going to be safe to travel and within reasonable time - not just cost, but time. How long to get from point A to B and how fast. Budgeting enough time to deal with variability. And running out of money.

All because - I have no backup. I'm not traveling with anyone so I'm the IT game.

So lots of planning.

And a Backup plan.

And then a backup backup plan.


At least the first month will be fairly straightforward. The volunteers are placed in a house together so we're basically all on the same page when we arrive. Earlier today our CCS organizer held a conference call to sort out any last minute details with other volunteers.

For one person, its their first time leaving the country. And I can hear the stress over the phone. I'm glad I am past that. I've been on planes alone since I was 12 and to strange places where I don't know the language at all. But if there is anything I am concerned about its' the mosquitoes. Mozzie, mozzie, mozzie, oy oy oy. Yes you can be smart and protect yourself, but if this is anything like what I remember of Hong Kong when I was 10 years old, I'm in for it. My legs were so swollen I couldn't walk from the number of mozzie bites back then. I hated Hong Kong with a vengence. Why couldn't they just shut the windows to prevent the damn mozzies from coming in?

So, in short, flying out of Boston to Moshi via Amsterdam on the 21st Nov, and arriving on the 22nd. I'll be in Moshi until December 20th.

But first, Washington D.C. on November 14

Weather in Kilimanjaro

The weather in Moshi right now looks warm/hot during the day and cool at night, with scattered showers in between. Lovely tropical weather. Lots of Mosquitoes.....

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Big Sur

I'm trying out email posting to my blog in case Internet access is so bad overseas I can only post by email.

Here is a picture from Big Sur which I road tripped about two weekends ago, Oct 18? I think. Anyhow no picture can do justice to the real thing; it's simply amazing the northern California coastline. Also, I discovered that Big Sur is not is single spot on the coast like a city---it's an entire stretch of rugged, wild and awesomely beautiful coastline that runs south of Monterey for about 90 miles. It is a curvy wind-y drive but an alter universe to get lost in. Amazingly romantic. Stunning. Powerful. Majestic. Makes me proud to be a Californian.

To drive to the first part of Big Sur, it takes about 2 hrs from the mid peninsula. I took 101 south and then cut through some farmland to highway 1 down the coast. Highway 1 takes effort to drive; lots of turns and twists. In 2003, about 5 years ago when i first started driving, i tried to drive to point reyes and it was scary experience. came *this* close to driving into the cliff wall several times.

Driving Big Sur is so hard when you're the driver, because every 2-3 miles the scenery is so beautiful you just want to pull over and get out of the car. Pictures don't do this place justice. You just have to be there to see it. Similar to the bay area, there are lot so microclimates down the coast, so you might get cloudy overcast fog for about 20 minutes and then pockets of brilliant sunshine.