Posts Tagged ‘international development’


Jon: This weekend

October 3, 2011

This last weekend was AMAZING!!!! We went to Dana Nature Reserve, Wadi Rum where I got to ride camels, ride in a jeep, flip down sand hills, eat with the Bedouin, attend a fake Bedouin wedding, climb a cliff, then climb it again at 5am to get to the very top and watch the sunrise. Then we went to Petra where I rode donkeys, saw the sand building that is famous from Indiana Jones, and saw many other buildings.

On a more serious note the more and more I experience here, surprisingly the more and more of an international isolationist I become. After all, imperialism is so rarely done with the thought of “I am going to exploit these people” but with the “I must help these poor less developed people.” So although intentions may be good, whether it be through infrastructure support, economic development, education, or intercultural awareness we are putting our beliefs, actions and values above theirs. Even if we try and say it is an equal exchange, the Arabs have been conditioned for how many years that our way is better so even if they use their own way our ideas will be influencing them. And as far as social cons such as poor, hungry, social inequality (except in extreme cases) to try and eliminate them or even alleviate them for Arabs is robbing their cultures of obstacles that although are hard, sad, and difficult would help make their culture great. Where would the US be if another country had stepped in and had given us our labor laws before we came up with the idea of labor laws ourselves? Would we formulate future laws, policies, or social constructs in the same way? Would we have the appreciated, dedication and respect that we have for them now?

I’m not saying we need to completely isolate ourselves. I know and agree there is room and reason to engage in the world however a much more critical dialogue needs to happen on these issues I believe before we take actions.


Hilary: It’s been a while

September 26, 2011

It has been a while!!  I have been busy and been traveling!  Since the new program started I have read many articles about Ecuador, globalization, westernization, the Andean cosmovision, education, the new constitution, and so much more.  I wrote a group paper, and spent great time with amazing people.

As a big group of gringos we travel to communities who are working to sustain their indigenous cultures, cultivate their land, offer everything and more to their youth, and contribute to the world or larger community market.  First we visited a rose plantation, which is communally owned and is on its way to being organic.  (It takes a long time to de-contaminate the soil!)  The roses are beautiful, but for me it was a little sad because, well as one of the workers put it.. “we send the best and most beautiful roses to the United States and keep the others for ourselves.”  This community is struggling right now to sustain their communal plantation and sometimes the full time workers do not receive a salary for the month.  But all the same this community needs the work and income to sustain their lives.  I would love to see us use our amazing technology of the world to know about these kinds of cooperatives and what companies work with them to sell flowers in the United States. With a system of transparency that shows where products come from, how, and in what conditions we could really transform the way international business is run!

The next community we visited was called Cariaku.  This community has made amazing strides in terms of investing in their own communal interests and sharing their lives outer communities in Ecuador.  They sell the milk of their cows to outer communities, but the food they cultivate they keep for themselves.  Cariaku has a very unique community structure, which includes and assembly at the top and many representatives that link the local government to other communities in the surrounding area, the province, and the nation.  They also have eco-tourism, this involves the youth in the community to care for the nature, welcome tourists and get involved in sustaining the local culture. 

I have had some great weekends in Quito exploring the city; riding the teleferico, running in the parks, spending time with friends, practicing, writing a huge paper, dancing in clubs, finding live music, and seeing shows of amazing Andean dance!  This past weekend I had a wonderful surprise and was visited by an amazing person who I met on the coast.  I can’t wait for my next opportunity to be able to travel, share stories, spend time, and stop thinking about graduation!!

My classes the past few weeks have been ok.  I am not learning as much as I would like to in class, and most of the other students talk in English… meh.  I am at one of those low points in the study abroad curve where things aren’t exactly as I would like, but with each weekend and time with people outside of the city my experience gets better.  


Doug: “A state of war”

September 21, 2011

This is how one governmental leader described the series of events over the last week here in Kenya on the news last night. Though a formal conflict has not broken out in the country, the seemingly endless death toll that has emerged in the last seven days has been heart wrenching. But even more frustrating than the series of events themselves is how preventable each accident could have been with better regulation by the Kenyan government. Many of the Kenyans that I’ve talked to, rather than showing sympathy, have expressed more of a weary resignation, saying things like, “Us Kenyans, we never learn…”

Tomorrow is the official mass burial for the 100+ victims of the Sinai gas pipeline disaster. This horrific accident occurred last Monday, at around 9AM, and even made it onto international news stations. Essentially a gas pipeline running underneath the residential slum of Sinai (near Nairobi) burst, after which residents rushed to get containers to collect the free fuel. Tragically, something (people think possibly a cigarette) turned the scene into a blazing fire pretty quickly. The images were almost post-apocalyptic looking, with houses near the gas leak incinerated in seconds. As more bodies were found, Kenyans demanded justice (relatives of victims are now suing both the Kenyan Pipeline Company and the Kenyan government). But one question kept emerging: Did Sinai need to happen? Articles resurfaced from as early as February 2009, in which residents in the slum were told of the dangers of where their homes were located, but refused to move. Also the pipe that burst was over 30 years old, way over the life expectancy for pipelines. One of the major differences I have noticed after living for a month here in Kenya is the lack of effective governmental regulation in so many different sectors in life. In America, despite how much we complain about partisan politics, we place a huge amount of faith in our government to get things done. And oftentimes they deliver. If there is a huge pothole on the highway, usually it is repaved over within a week or two. If there is a water main burst, someone is there to repair it within the day.

But in Kenya (which is considered one of the more relatively advanced African countries) oftentimes those people never show up. Like in the case of Sinai, why was the pipeline not replaced after 30 years? Moreover, how could the Kenyan government not know that this pipeline was due to burst soon? Or if they did know, why did they not move residents away? After all, isn’t one of the sole roles of a government to protect its people?

But the tragedy did not stop at Sinai. Earlier this week another thirteen people lost their lives as a bus lost control trying to pass another car in Mwingi. This is just another addition to the long list of causalities resulting from one of Kenya’s most pressing problems at the moment:  failure to control road safety. Earlier, I wrote a blog post about how crazy matatus (essentially small vans used for transportation) are to ride in. At the time, I thought it was kinda scary but fun, an exciting new experience in Kenya. But now I am realizing how dangerous transportation in Kenya truly is—claiming so many unnecessary lives every year. Many roads are falling apart, while some (those built by the Chinese) are brand new. Seatbelts? Who needs ‘em. Speed limits? Hardly ever even seen a sign for them. Traffic lights and stop signs? Why even bother to obey something if you know you won’t get a ticket for failing to? This is the mentality that the government of Kenya is struggling (failing) to control.

Then, to make matters worse, a few days ago, four more people died in Kiambu after consuming the illicit Chang’aa brew, a cheap, illegal, alcoholic beverage (oftentimes containing ethanol) that has been blinding those who consume it and even killing others. Kibaki (the President of Kenya) ordered an official crackdown on the brewing of the drink last week, but what does that actually mean? The communities affected by this brew are usually those living in poverty, since the drink is so cheap, and they are fed up. These poor areas, the slums, are often the ones who pay the penalty for governmental oversight. Huge crowds (mainly women) stormed suspected pubs, smashing bottles, outraged that some of their husbands suffered the consequences of this unregulated drink.

As an American student who has just started learning about Kenya in the past year, I’m trying to understand why Kenya continues to have these problems after 60 years of independence, and what led to them; but it’s not easy. I’m starting to understand how immensely complicated this field of development is, and how many different factors play into a country’s attempts to alleviate poverty.  But amidst all this sorrow there is still great hope. I went last week with several friends to donate blood at Kenyatta Hospital—the main hospital where many of the burn victims from the Sinai fire were receiving treatment. The number of Kenyans who had showed up to donate blood was inspiring. And though that experience (though perfectly safe) probably banned me from giving blood in the US ever again, it was uplifting to see the support Kenyans had for other Kenyans.

And so life in Kenya pushes onward. Only time will tell what the next 3 months will bring, but undoubtedly it will continue to open my eyes to this country that is, for now, my home.


Mia: the word of the day is “frustration”

September 18, 2011

We got out of class very early today, so I decided to come home and change into warmer clothes (it was very cold today) before going out to get tortillas to make quesadillas for my family. The paper was on the table when I got home, so I sat down and started reading it. When I turned the page, I saw an article that really pissed me off, and I’ve actually been pissed off for several hours now. Looks like the quesadillas are going to have to wait. 

This article described the sadness of one of the firefighters at the Sinai fire, and goes on to quote him saying that it’s the worst thing he’s seen in all his days of firefighting. This is understandable—over 100 hundred people have died so far, mostly because they were either in their houses, which are right next the river in the slum, or they were trying to get oil out of the river to sell later. Some of the pictures I’ve seen of the bodies have been horrifying—people literally burned to a crisp, with entire bones showing through the blackened flesh. It’s enough to make you want to buy every single person living in that slum a house to themselves so that this never happens again.

As I was considering what I could do to do just that (not the house part), that only thing that came to mind was that I can’t. This seems to be one of the many things in this country that I want to help with, but can’t change, which let me tell you, is maddening. I spent the next several hours trying to find some kind of NGO online that helps people in poverty pay for their medical bills. Google tells me there isn’t one, as does the State Department. This would seem to be encouraging, because it opens the door for me to start one, but then the problem arrises as to how exactly I would go about that…

The idea I have for this NGO is an organization that gives small loans to people in Nairobi to pay for their medical bills or the medical bills of their deceased family members. It’s a huge problem here, and getting loans is next to impossible for medical bills. This organization would start off with a small amount of money, loan it out, and when the money is returned, reuse it with other loans. This seems like a good idea in theory, but the work it would involve, and the paperwork that would be needed, is mind-boggling. Especially for one senior in college, in America, in ROTC. Simply put, it’s not possible for me right now. 

So that’s unfortunate. But maybe, I thought, I could keep the idea in the back of my head, and do some research while I’m serving out my time in the Air Force so that I’ll be well-prepared to attempt this venture later. Thankfully, something like this has already been successfully put into action in the form of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, which loans money to the poor, and is almost completely owned by its owners. Seeing such a successful example of what I might want to do, I thought, maybe an internship with them would be a good idea? Judging by how long it’s taking the current commissionees to go active duty (in layman’s terms, it’s going to be 9-12 months before I have a job after I graduate), I would have time. 

Looking at their site, I discovered that an internship is actually fairly easy to get, and not too expensive. The idea actually seemed to be feasible. And then I looked back at the last few months of my life, and realized that if I actually go through with this, I will have studied/researched in Russia, Kenya, and Bangladesh within a year of each other. This brings me to more frustration.

To most people, it probably seems like I’m just bouncing from country to country with no direction, and to an extent, that may be true. I’ve tried to find connections between Russia and Kenya, and believe me, there are no connections. Russia is developing, and Kenya is developing as well, so the streets and buildings may look the same, and they both enjoy tea, but the similiarities end there. The only connection that I can find is myself (and how JFK funneled money into Kenya to stop the spread of Communism during the Cold War, but that’s another term paper…). I went to Russia to polish up my Russian, and I’m in Kenya to study development and try to bring back enough expertise and experience to educate other people, specifically people in the military. However, it’s beginning to seem to me that I may have tried to do too much, something that probably sounds familiar to most of my friends.

So, frustration. Frustration that despite taking 10 semesters of Russian, I can’t score well enough on the military’s language test to get foreign language pay, frustration that I don’t have enough time and resources to start the NGO that I want to, and frustration that on paper, it really looks like I’m throwing darts at a globe to decide where I’m going next. But most of all, frustration with myself that I’m trying to do all these unconnected things at the same time. And that I got REALLY off track with that quesadilla-making.

These problems aren’t things that can be solved overnight, so I can only keep chipping away at them, and hope that eventually all the work will pay off. Oh, the troubles of a middle-class white girl… Well, I’m going to go get that tortilla, and make some Russian and Swahili flashcards.


Mia: Updates from Nairobi

September 15, 2011

Updates: I’ve been going to Kibera, I got braids, I gave blood at the hospital yesterday, and I’m going camping tomorrow. 

I started going to Kibera with Jeremy to help with the girls’ play, which was this Saturday. At first I was incredibly pissed off that people lived like that in the slums, and that no one was doing anything about it. But after being with the girls for a while, I realized that yes, it sucks that they live in a place like that, but they’re making the best of it, and they’re doing a great job of it. It’s incredibly inspiring to see a group of young girls reap the rewards of all their hard work (the entire event was to benefit them).

That same day, in the morning, I visited the giraffe center and got to kiss some giraffes. They let you put giraffe food in your mouth so the the giraffe takes it from you! 

After the play, some of the other students and I went to an Egyptian restaurant and enjoyed some Tuskers while watching the Wisconsin football game online…until we lost the feed. Then we relied on updates from Grace’s boyfriend, and Roy gave me updates on the OSU game. We stayed out for a while, and Chris and I had an unfortunate almost run-in with some men with AKs, but the night ended with all of us happily in our beds.

Also, I managed to find time to get braids last Friday. I sashayed into Kenyatta market and plopped myself down in front of several women that were all too happy to braid a mzungu’s hair. At one point there were five ladies working on my head, it was quite the experience! 

On a darker note, the hospital put out a need for blood a couple days ago after some oil got into a river inside a slum and exploded. Over 100 people were killed, and many more were injured. A lot of the MSID students went to give blood and food to the hospital, and there were tons of people lined up there when we arrived. The hospital staff said the response had been great, and that they’d reached their goal for blood. 

Tomorrow I’ll be going camping with Simon’s (one of our coordinators) family, in Ngong Hills. It should be a great time! We will be matatuing out there (a kind of crazy bus), and then piki-pikiing (a motorcycle) to the camp site. Apparently we’re going on a guided hiking tour, so I’m ver excited for that. 

Also, I’ve finally decided what to do with the reception that I paid for, but don’t need anymore. I’m going to be holding a fundraiser to benefit the Longonot Initiative, a NGO co-founded by Kyle, the ROTC guy that went on this program last year. So far the plan is to have it on Dec 18th, and sell tickets for 20 dollars. We’re working on a contract with the hotel, and finding entertainment. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by like-minded people that are very happy to work with me on it.

It can be overwhelming to look around here and see everything that’s going wrong, but it’s impossible to ‘fix’ all of it, and it may not look like it, but people ARE trying to make things better. It’s just difficult to see sometimes. My host mom says that all the kids that come here get overwhelmed and try to do everything at once, and I think she’s right. We’re not expected to come in and make everything better—we’re expected to learn, and hopefully to contribute something in return. Hopefully, that’s what we’ll all be doing by the end of this. 

That’s all for now, I’m off to write some papers for class.


Doug: Back to school!

September 12, 2011

Well I guess it’s time to start the real “study” part of “study abroad” (couldn’t avoid it forever I guess). Last week we started our first week of real classes after returning from a 5-day-long orientation at Lake Nakuru National Park. Highlights from orientation week included:

  • Trying to learn 21 new names. So far it has been just the 5 of us who came early for the August-Intensive Swahili Pre-Session. Now there are 26 of us total—making it a lot more difficult to go places. A group of 26 wazungu is a pretty big target for pick pockets. One girl already had her bag stolen from underneath a table.)
  • I also had my first experience of being successfully robbed. I was heading downtown with two friends to meet up with the large group of newly arrived semester students. We boarded a bus, and not long afterwards three men with large envelopes (a sure sign of pickpockets) got on after us. They moved to sit closer to us as soon as they could, and when our stop arrived, we stood up to get off. Instantly they started crowding us, “accidentally” pushing me back into my seat, and blocking the exit of the bus. My friend Chelsea realized what was going on and shoved the guy blocking the exit out of the stopped bus. We pushed our way out, and booked it to the other side of the street—only to realize that my travel water bottle had been stolen from the outside of my bag.  Luckily nothing valuable, but still a good reminder that we can never be too careful here.
  • After our 3-hour-long bus ride west of Nairobi to Nakuru National Park, we arrived to the compound in the heart of the park, where we would be staying. We spent the next few days in talks about safety, health, host family stays etc. , doing cheesy bonding games (takes me back to beginning of freshman year of college), and doing evening game drives through the park. Lions, zebra, flamingoes, and buffalo. Oh my! (Going from Arusha National Park in Tanzania, to Nakuru, I’ve seen enough animals to satisfy for the time being).
  • Every morning, afternoon, and evening, a large family of baboons would hop the fence into our compound, and just hang out for an hour or so. We would be sitting in a circle outside, doing one of our talks, and a massive baboon would just come strolling by. It definitely kept things interesting. Periodically our director would have to grab a big stick and chase them away.

Since I haven’t talked about what I’m actually studying here, I’ll briefly tell you guys. The program (University of Minnesota Studies in International Development) is focused on development (surprise!) and there are 4 main academic components:

1)      International Development—here we study developmental theories, what has worked, what hasn’t (and why it hasn’t) and the biggest developmental issues facing Kenya right now. What’s really cool though is that we get to choose a specialization track (Education, Social Services, Microfinance, Environment, or Public Health). I was torn between Education and Social Services, but for now am going with the Social Services track, since I’m thinking of maybe doing Social Work in the future.

2)      Kenya Country Analysis—this is basically overview of Kenyan history, pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial, Kenyan political structures, etc.

3)      Swahili—the never ending attempt to become conversational in Swahili continues (I think I’m getting pretty close)

4)      Internship—this part does not come until late October. At that point we all split off and are sent to different parts of Kenya to work an internship with a developmental NGO for 6 weeks, based on what our development interests are. I finally found out (I was a little impatient) that I will be interning at The Wema Centre (Swahili for ‘goodness’)—a children’s home/ orphanage in the rural coastal town of Bamburi, 20 minutes north of Mombasa. Part of what they do is go into the city of Mombasa and work to get begging street children out of the city and into the orphanage, where many children ages 4-14 live, go to school, and eat meals—(much more to come on this once I get there). Oh, and I also found out I will be living with a Muslim family, with young kids, in a Muslim community, so that should be really interesting (again, more to come later)

Classes here in Kenya are a little different than back home for a few reasons. They almost never start on time, often get out early, and while our professors actually are very intelligent and the classes so far have been very interesting, the academic climate is just much different. Nobody is freaking out about GPA, grades, etc. I love Tufts, but let’s just say I’m not sad to learn for learning’s sake, in a much more chill environment.


Hilary: 24 new people!

September 8, 2011

The semester has started!  And along with it came 24 wonderful amazing new people!  We are now a strong group of 26 women and 3 young men.  That’s a lot of estrogen!!  As I walked into the auditorium this past Tuesday which is usually empty, I was confronted with 24 new people and a collective anxious and proud energy.  As the week went on I kept switching from staying in the background and watching quietly, to interacting and telling jokes and stories in English and Spanish.  This past weekend we all had a retreat in Los Bancos (a small pueblo just outside of Mindo, about 2.5 hours northwest of Quito).  This was a magical place.  The hotel was beautiful and set in a forest reserve.  I can’t begin to describe all of the flora and fauna that I encountered.  If I only leave with one concept when I leave Ecuador, for now I want it to be diversity.  Diversity of nature, animals, insects, plants, land, and finally diversity of peoples.  Over the weekend I learned the names of all of my new compañeros, learned about their lives here and in the states and started some beautiful friendships!

There are 4 different “tracks” in my study abroad program.  The first 3 weeks in CIMAS is a general program to learn about development and politics in Ecuador.  After these 3 weeks we will be split up into our prospective tracks.  These tracks are education, social services, public health, and environmental studies.  I am in the track of education. It is one of the smaller tracks—only 5 of us!  But I am looking forward to the opportunity to work closely with these 5 people!

Now to backtrack a bit… Last weekend the 5 of us from the pre-session took a tour of the northwest coast!  We visited Atacames and Mompiche in the province of Esmereldas and then traveled to Canoa in Manabí.  The ocean is so tranquil and calming!  I had a great time getting to know other travelers from all over South America!  From Colombia, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador and Guatemala.  We had great campfires on the beach with guitars, drums, accordions, flutes, singing, dancing, and great conversation. If anyone is in Canoa, please stop by the Hostal Iguana, wonderful people with buena onda (good spirit).  

This past week we had an amazing lecture by Doc Haliday, an ethnomusicologist who has been living in Quito for the last 6 years. He gave a lecture about embracing a new culture and letting go of inhibitions and habits from the U.S. I was loving it. He was describing the process I went through in India and in Guatemala to accept, grow, change, and learn different ways of interacting with the world and then he challenged us to spread our knowledge and what we learn, how we change so that the eyes of the world’s peoples can be opened as well. I am so fortunate to be able to be on this study abroad program, and in Ecuador no less. I am hoping to take advantage of all of the opportunities I have to grow and learn, and then to share with you and anyone who I bump into along the way!

One of the main things that I am learning about here is rights for the land and nature. Right now Ecuador has one of the most progressive constitutions in history. It has mandates protecting the land and the indigenous peoples and cultures who live with the land. This constitution clearly respects that we need the land to live and that if we take advantage of it we will suffer because it provides life for us. (In a nutshell, that is the point of view..)

Another idea that we have spent a lot of time talking about here is energy, the energy of the earth, of people, and the energy of the universe.  This is based of of Incan beliefs of the balance between north, south, east, and west; and also the balance between the four elements, wood, fire, air, and water.  We need all of these to live and to create an equal balance in our lives.  One of our guides was explaining the “myth” of 2012.  It is not that the world is going to die—it is that our poles are shifting, and that is creating off-balance in the land.  In 2012 they don’t have an exact prediction of how many degrees the poles will shift, but it is expected that they will.  He talked about the last tsunami/earthquake that hit Japan as an example of a repercussion of this shift. After this little talk, he took some volunteers to measure the size of their personal energy.  He used to metal sticks that cross when they encounter an energy field or force.  We were standing on the equator at this point and so he could show us the force between north and west/east.  He picked me and discovered that my “energy field” is actually quite large.  So cool to see it!

I am continuing to love my time in Ecuador and am ready and open to keep learning.  I hope you are all learning something too. Continue on your journeys, stay happy and healthy!


Grace: Korité, theft, & chocopain

September 8, 2011

Okay so let’s see, what have I done since my last post…I’ve finished my pre-session French class, learned some more Wolof, eaten lots more chocopain (the nutella-ish stuff that I love), completed the month of Ramadan (feeling like this is a major accomplishment, not that I fasted or anything…), celebrated said ending of Ramadan, had my cell phone stolen while buying an outfit for the aforementioned celebration, and made lots of new friends, both American and Senegalese.

Alrighty, let’s talk about Ramadan. I got to Senegal the day before it started, so I have gotten the full Ramadan experience. Before coming here, I knew what Ramadan was, but I thought all it really involved was skipping lunch. Turns out, it actually involves more than just not eating during the day.  During Ramadan, people don’t really hang out with friends, or go dancing (all the dance clubs in Dakar have been closed), or see their boyfriends/girlfriends, or wear makeup, or play sports. They pretty much avoid fun.

So on Tuesday evening, my family was frantically searching the night sky for the moon, which has to be there for the end of Ramadan to happen. We couldn’t find it anywhere. Thankfully, the moon-less sky was only in Dakar, and other places in Senegal saw it (don’t really understand this, but whatever). So Ramadan was officially over! This meant that Wednesday was “La Korité”, the end of Ramadan celebration. 

I really didn’t know what to expect with Korité, but I had heard that everybody buys new, traditional-style outfits for it, so last Saturday Anne and I went to the market to find dresses.  This was an experience. And I don’t really mean that in a good way. It was sooo hot, and there were pretty much a billion people there, pushing and shoving, 500 million of whom were trying to sell stuff to me or give me a henna tattoo. We had to squeeze our way into the center of the market where the pre-made, Korité-appropriate clothes were and try to find something that was a decent color and wouldn’t make us look obese. In the end, we were successful, and each found something we liked for about $20. We then managed to squeeze our way out of the market again and took a car-rapide home. And then I got home and discovered that I no longer had a cell phone…

So I don’t think I’ve explained car-rapides yet.  These are small, brightly colored buses that are the traditional means of public transportation in Dakar. Anne and I have been wanting to ride them this whole month, but we didn’t know how they worked and were a little scared, so we’ve just stuck with the boring old taxis. But Saturday was the day, and with the help of Ami, one of my family’s maids, who took us to the market, we got the car-rapide experience. Basically, there’s a guy hanging off the back of the bus and you hop on and tell him where you’re going and pay him (the going rate is like 20 cents).  Then you squeeze onto the rickety bus and try (and usually fail) to find a seat in between all the bodies.  When the bus gets to where you want to get off, the guy on the back hits the side of the bus and the driver stops and lets you off. 

Your typical car-rapide.

So after buying a new outfit, and hearing about Korité for weeks, I was expecting a pretty big shebang.  However, Korité day actually wasn’t that different. We ate lunch, which was new, but I’m assuming that starting today that won’t be that unusual. Oh, and we had this sweet yogurt-y stuff on top of oatmeal for breakfast (instead of chocopain like usual…this was sad).  Other than that, everyone just kinda sat around all afternoon and napped.  Towards the evening everyone changed into nice clothes, but nothing really special happened then either, except that the kids in the neighborhood came around to all the houses asking for money (it’s a little like Halloween, but not).

With my cousins (Aisha, can’t remember the baby’s name but she’s adorable, and Suley) in the courtyard of my house on Korité (note my new outfit)

Oh, and something else exciting that happened this week was that the rest of the study abroad group came! So now there are 18 Americans here, which means lots of new friends, yay! We start classes on Monday. I’ll be taking French, Country Analysis (culture/history of Senegal), Wolof (actually super pumped for this), International Development, and Public Health.  All in French. I’m pretty excited, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a semester before where I’m actually legitimately interested in all my classes.


Grace: Why in the world am I here?

September 4, 2011

Up until now I’ve just been writing about what I’ve been doing, eating, seeing, and feeling in Senegal and not so much of what I’ve been thinking.  So let me first take a little dive into my thoughts for coming here in the first place.  Later I’ll talk about my thoughts now that I’m here.

Warning: this post may not be as entertaining as the others.

So first of all, I have grown up in a family with parents who regularly discuss the issues of poverty and the privilege we have (I was never allowed to substitute “starving” for “hungry), emphasize compassion for the poor in a Christian context (Proverbs 31:8-9: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy”), encourage thinking beyond ethnocentricity (growing up we were not allowed to say that people in other countries drove on the “wrong” side of the road, but the “different” or “other” side), and constantly exposed me to the international community (my parents have a lot of non-American friends).  From an early age I knew that there were billions of people less fortunate than me, that I had an obligation to do something for them, but that they were no less smart, deserving, innovative, or loved by God than me. I knew that my blessings in America were just that: blessings, and that I had done nothing to deserve them.

I also was blessed in high school with the opportunity to travel some, because my parents knew that they could tell stories about poverty until they were hoarse, but my siblings and I (this was before our family completion in 2008) needed to see true poverty for ourselves in order to really understand the extent of it.  Now, ok, I’m a little embarrassed talking about these trips, because they feel a little voluntourism-y to me now. Yes, the primary objective of these trips was for my siblings and my benefit. No, the “work” we did in orphanages in Myanmar didn’t really help the orphanages in any long-term way. But voluntourism or not, these trips changed my life by showing me first hand the harsh realities of poverty and loss. They were also a lot of fun, because let’s face it, traveling is awesome!

In 2008, my parents adopted my two brothers from Ethiopia. The addition of Amani and Habtamu into our family just emphasized all the more how completely undeserving I am to have grown up with such privilege. My brothers have also shown me that I am in NO WAY better, smarter, etc than “people in Africa”.  In a cultural environment (America) where “Africa” is a country and all “Africans” are starving, poor, and helpless, it sickens me to know that thoughts of superiority have crossed my mind more times than I’d like to admit. Oh yes, there are definitely starving, poor, and helpless people in the world. My brother Amani can recount stories of poverty that still blow my mind. And there is no doubt that Habtamu was helpless, as a 5 year old in an orphanage. But my parents didn’t “save” them, any more than a couple saves 5 and 10 year old American orphan. Orphans are orphans, the only difference is government protection and help. But anyways…

Through my (sorta strange) upbringing, international exposure, and brothers, I have developed a passion for the impoverished, and a huge desire to see the end of poverty, suffering, injustice, and preventable deaths. And after a trip to Kenya with a non-profit organization (my dad’s) to evaluate the effectiveness of their projects, I can’t quit thinking about ways to achieve culturally appropriate, sustainable development.

I also have totally fallen in love with Africa. Ugh, I actually can’t stand saying those words because I have heard them so often in a voluntourism-y, derisive context. Like “OMG, I met some African orphans while I was in Africa for a week and they were like soooooo cute and hadn’t even seen a camera before, it was so crazy! And there were some giraffes too when I went on a safari after working at the orphanage, and they were soooo amazing.  Now I’ve totally fallen in love with Africa! I just hope I can raise enough money to make a trip back next year, I just have to do something for those poor little African kids”. AHHHH. I really hope you can all see the millions of bad associations I have with “falling in love with Africa”. 

But I don’t know how else to say how much I love the variety of cultures, languages, peoples, triumphs, problems, landscapes, and faces to be found on this continent. So when it came time to choose a major, I chose International Studies with a concentration in African studies.  And when it came time to choose somewhere to study abroad (I am required to for my major), I chose Senegal.  Specifically, this program because it has a big emphasis on exploring the issues involved in international development. So that’s why I am sitting here in a house in Dakar, with a fan blowing on me (thank goodness), listening to the muffled sounds of Wolof conversation and the calls to prayer from the mosque.

This post definitely doesn’t cover all my reasons for coming to Senegal, nor does it even scratch the surface with explaining the situation we are in with development, the subjugation of Africa, voluntourism as a business, and general apathy.  But now you sorta know what I’m doing here, and can see that I’m (hopefully!) not like most people who visit “Africa”.  I’m not here to save the world, or enlighten the Africans with my Western wisdom. I’m here to learn, to observe, to think, to wrestle with issues, to make friends, and to have fun.


I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I know of books, websites, and people who have a few.


Emily: You make your own rose garden

August 13, 2011

If my life were a garden, it would be full of brilliantly colored flowers, the sweet aromas of my memories, and all my favorite songs and sounds would float through the air.  I gasp sometimes at how awesome life can be – sure I have my low points: times when the garden feels like a maze of dark thoughts which petrify me, but without this the flower petals might become dull in my mind.  Speaking of my mind – it needs to slow down!  I’m like a PC on the fritz…somebody needs to press ctrl-alt-delete and end some of the processes so I can function enough to deliver my messages.

you never know when a peacock may land at your gate…

a manihar man making lakh chuli (special bangles)

one of many bangle shops in a long alley near City Palace

Today I awoke from the loveliest dream, emerging from the depths of a cool turquoise lake into the sparkling sunlight of reality.  I took another bucket shower, (yes, I’ve been sweating up a storm; yes I’ve been disgustingly dirty; no, I don’t mind…I’m on a mission to use as little water as possible) using hot water to warm myself in the early morning.  After breakfast, Mary and I wandered to school. The weather was perfect: cloudy and cool—hardly broke a sweat.  Our lead Hindi teacher (Sheila-ji of France) was absent today, but our native Hindi teacher (Harusch-ji) was a real treat acting as the head instructor, so I was quite pleased.  We cut our Hindi lesson short for a field trip near City Palace, where the old Rajasthani rajas (kings) once lived.  In fact, their descendants still occupy the palace, but their “royalty” is more for decoration than anything else – their main duty being to orchestrate festivals, parades, and the like.  The purpose of our trip was to pick up our passports and registration papers from the Foreigners Registration Office as well as take a visit to see how churi (lakh bangles) are made.  The FRO is located in the former temple of Shiva, the god of destruction – I found it a little ironic/comical that a government office decided to occupy that area.  As a respect to Shiva, the FRO was recognizing this day as a tribute to him, so the office was temporarily shut down and we had to wait outside the gate until the ceremony ended.  Standing around in a circle, we all got to talking and our intermediate level Hindi teacher, Rasheet-ji, brought up a very poignant message…

I’m sure you’ve heard by now of the riots taking place in London. From what I’ve heard (and please correct me if I’m wrong, I’d love for this to be a forum for discussion rather than a monologue) police brutality which resulted in the death of a young man has ignited the fire for revolt in the hearts and minds of the young, the oppressed, the disadvantaged.  All it took was one little spark in this Western world where people felt they lacked opportunity to progress, and the streets were ablaze with violence.  Not necessarily the best way to voice your opinion of injustice, but that’s the way history changes, sometimes it’s the only means for getting a response it seems.

In other places of the world, like in India as Rasheet-ji said, people have lived oppressed lives for centuries, waiting for change, dutiful in their birth-given positions, and hopeful that life would improve with patience and tolerance.  In the last ten years, with the globalization of goods and information increasing at light speed, more social change has occurred here than in the last century altogether.  Meaning those who are able to lift themselves up have been able to seek out better lives.  And they’ve done it with mucho gusto – Indian intellectuals outshine their Western counterparts in mathematics, sciences, and even in the English language (read it for yourself!). My ninth grade host brother, Ayush, looks like a genius compared to me.

Of course, there are still rows of sleeping people lining the streets, poor health conditions and limited opportunities for the poor to become anything else. I’ve been researching NREGA, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act as part of my quest to find out why things are the way they are; the middle class here in Rajasthan seem to think that the poor beggars who line our streets aren’t truly poor – and perhaps they are correct. I’m sure there are people in much worse conditions as you travel further from the cities. You can read the act here or visit the website. But from what I’ve been reading about the it, there are a lot of loopholes that would keep rural workers from being able to get this menial wage for (only allowed 100 days of the minimum wage set in 1948 per family, regardless of family size) and even if they do, it doesn’t seem like enough for them to gain any kind of social leverage without adequate knowledge on HOW to do so. And many people might not even KNOW about the act if they are not literate, and then of course the act doesn’t even apply to inner city residents…only so many people can afford to send their children to school, and the competition for higher education is very high.  You can certainly feel the tension if you look around, and there are definitely acts of “terrorism” committed by people who feel they are oppressed if you do your research.  The world is a shrinking place, and every person wants a chunk of it to themselves (not everyone of course, there are those who don’t think that way)…but is there enough to go around?  I think there is.  Maybe not in the material sense – not everyone can have a hot shower every day of the week, not everyone can live like a movie star, and it’s simply not sustainable.  But everyone can have enough to survive; food to eat, freedom to be spiritual, to be a healthy human.  Easier said than done of course – I’m speaking ideally (yes…I’m a romantic idealist, I realize this) BUT if everyone practiced tolerance, patience, and planted seeds of kindness, then great trees of good would grow from it and the human race would be fruitful.  I realize I’ve gone off on yet another rant…the point that Rasheet-ji brought up outside the FRO was that for the world to live in harmony, human beings need to find a balance.  Everyone is racing towards the finish line like little kids in the egg-and-spoon race; you may get to the finish line first, but if you drop the egg you’ve lost.  Everyone is trying to get to the top, but without finding harmony with others…

To me, finding that harmony with others starts with finding peace and balance in your own life.  Sure, work, school, family, and friends may stress you out – you may fail sometimes, life may bring you down, and you may feel like no one cares about you, but YOU.  What did you expect though?  No one is going to pick you flowers every day. You have to make your own rose garden.  Cherish all the things you do have (which if you’re reading this is probably a lot) and whenever you can, pick a flower from your garden and give it to someone else.  Imagine what a sight to the see the world would be.

Other than that, I also had a friend from Minnesota visit me today, which was quite nice – Rama-ji insisted he stay for lunch and stuffed him full of curry, chapati, dal, rice, and ice cream before he left to catch his train ride to more adventures. After lunch my classmates and I booked our own train tickets to Jodhpur for this weekend.  YAY!  Our first little adventure outside Jaipur!  We’ve have been excitedly looking for adventurous things to do – camel rides?! Champagne dinners in the desert!?  Sleeping in tents on the rooftop of a hotel?!  Whatever happens, I’m sure it’ll be another fulfilling experience. . . I feel bad sometimes, talking about all the fun things I’m getting to do…but you can do it too!  All you have to do is have a dream and fight for it – that’s how India started for me!

%d bloggers like this: