Thursday, November 3, 2011

On the road again
2 October, Minneapolis
A perfect day to run a marathon ... or to support someone who is.  My oldest niece Michelle and her running mate Becky have been training steadily and completed the 26.2 mile course from downtown Minneapolis to the state capitol in St. Paul in just under four and a half hours, much as they expected and beating their time in 2010.  Michelle’s husband Jon, her sister Dyana who came in from San Francisco and I hit a few points along the route to cheer them on, along with a few other friends and relatives.  One of Becky’s friends had made a signature sign that helped them find us (see below), one side said Michelle and the other, Becky. After the racers had had a chance to cool off and shower, we went for a sandwich at a local pub.  We had done a “carbo load” the night before at a local Italian family-style eatery.
Michelle and Becky awaiting their carbs
Hang a sign aloft and the runners will find you; that’s my oldest nephew David
Racing along scenic Summit Avenue in St. Paul
My very first road race, the St. Paul St. Patrick’s Day race in 1976, was a five-miler along Summit Avenue.  The temp was below freezing and inexperienced me was way over-dressed.  But I finished in 10 minute miles exactly.  While I loved watching Twin Cities, a small part of me yearned to be on the course.  It’s been 20 years since my last marathon, Grandma’s in June 1991; my third and my best time, 4 hours and 21 minutes.
4 October
What a week!  So much to do before I leave on Sunday -- my lists have lists.  Lots of friends asking what they can do to help ... and the only answer is ‘clone me.’  Most of what I need to do requires that I do it -- putting the phones on suspension while I’m gone, getting a ‘vacation waiver’ from my health insurer so I can get three months of my cholesterol meds to take along, discontinuing my car insurance, alerting the credit card companies to my travels, seeing the Travel Clinic doc and updating my vaccinations.  Tomorrow Sue and Nancy will help me pack up breakables that I really care about to ensure they aren’t damaged.  There isn’t much and a couple of hours should be enough.  Then it’ll be off to REI and Walgreen’s to stock up on mosquito repellent and a water filter/cleaner, assorted over-the-counter items.
6 October
My friend Susan and I had dinner tonight at Zelo, a favorite of both of us and located on Nicollet Mall, so a walk for both of us.  We had dinner there about a month ago and for the first time ever, had horrible service.  Neither of us could believe our waiter’s behavior; he tossed the check folder on our table as he walked back to the kitchen!  We agree it was worth a formal complaint.  Although neither of us is a big eater nor drinker, so we tend to salads and starters, we are both good tippers.  We did tip this creep, mainly because the bus person was so attentive.
I got busy and didn’t register my complaint online where I’d made the reservation.  In the meantime time, Susan finally reached the manager, who was quite unhappy about our experience ... and set her a $75 gift card for a return visit.  That’s what we used last night.  We had no sooner sat down when Kim, the manager Susan had talked to, came over, introduced herself and apologized.  We both expressed our own surprise at the service during the previous visit and how much we love this restaurant.  I had even referred two tourists that I helped during the day.  Our waiter was a classic example of why I love Zelo, not just attentive but full of personality without being over the top.  Before we finished, another of the restaurant managers also stopped by.  We felt like celebrities.  As icing on the cake, Susan gained a gift certificate for the online fund-raising auction that Mixed Blood Theatre will hold (she’s on the board).  All in all, a good night.
7 October
The craziness continues as I gather all that I’ll need to take with me, pack away things that Chris won’t need, fill out and fax forms, and wait on hold after ponderously making my way through one more automated menu that doesn’t quite seem to identify my need.  Have I told you lately how much I hate all this automation?  When I cancelled my Netflix, the company wanted to know why ... and not one single item on their lengthy checklists dealt with a move away from where Netflix was available.  Yesterday the pharmacy tech at Walgreen’s contacted Humana about a vacation waiver so I can get coverage for all of the Rx for anti-malarials, not just part of what I’ll need.  He worked his way to a human being, answered numerous questions and was told he needed another person,  eventually got that connection and as he was identifying his Walgreen’s was disconnected.  Back to square one.  I had to admire not only his patience but his easy manner about the whole thing.  Finally he got the waiver, so today I can get the Rx.
When I drove to the Y at 7 am for my water exercise class, I turned on Minnesota Public Radio and the first item I heard was the announcement of three women receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.  Awesome!  I was especially pleased that two are African women.  So much of the good stuff that goes on in transitional and conflict-ridden countries is accomplished in anonymity by women of all ages, races, religions.  I’ve experienced it starting in Poland in the early post-communist days on through the Balkans and East Africa today.  So often women are laboring to improve the world their children will inherit while all too many men are enjoying local brew.  
I’ve often thought it ironic that Nobel should offer a peace prize since he made his fortune from dynamite.  My great-grandfather, I’m told, was managing director of his factory in my mother’s hometown in Scotland (the factory is closed).
Today’s chores -- get ready for afternoon open house in case anyone attends (I’ve had numerous emails of regrets), pack and last minute pick ups.
Later ... A friend that I haven’t seen in years, Judi, came over this afternoon, along with a handful of others (Anne, Jan Judy, Deb, Doug, Marilyn).  They each represent a different part of my past, from the neighborhood where I lived while married through assorted jobs in the Twin Cities to Peace Corps.  Judi was at my going away to PC party at which she got so excited that she decided to volunteer.  A year later she was in Lithuania, and I hadn’t felt so responsible for another person since my son was born!  Today was such a great treat, spending a couple of hours just chatting and enjoying their company,introducing friends to other friends they haven’t met before, reminiscing and telling tales.
And even later ... My sister Barbara is the queen of new restaurants in Minneapolis.  She’s always on the lookout for new places to try, whether they’re just opened or she’s just identified them.  And I am rarely disappointed when I try one with her.  Tonight was no exception.  She, her daughter Tomery and I went to The Bachelor Farmer, which opened about a month ago near where Barbara lives in the warehouse district.  She walked; I took a bus and walked the last few blocks.  Tomery drove so I got a ride home!
The food was outstanding, exceeded by the service. Definitely worth another visit.
10 October, Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam
Ah, the joys of international travel these days.  Are there any?  Well, getting safely eventually to your destination.  That may be all.
Arrived here while it was still very dark outside and have about four hours before my flight to Nairobi, Kenya.  I’m in a part of this airport that I haven’t been in since my days of flying to Nairobi and on to Kampala, Uganda.  Have to learn where to find a good cup of coffee and some granola and yoghurt as well as where there are US outlets for my laptop.  
Getting to the airport in Minneapolis was a breeze with Janet’s help ... she even agreed to hang around so I could call her if my bags were over-weight.  Then I discovered that I had left my iPhone on the sofa in my condo -- I took it out of my carryon because I was sure Janet would call me on that phone when she arrived at the condo.  And she didn’t.  We were going to call Christopher, my youngest nephew and condo-and-cat sitter, but discovered Janet had forgotten her cell phone.  What a pair!  Thankfully I’m one of those people who are waaaay early for flights, I don’t live all that far from the airport and it was Sunday so traffic was light.  A quick return home, a long loud buzz on the buzzer to alert Chris and down he came with the phone ... and off we went to the airport again.  The bags were well within the weight restrictions, so I rolled up my raincoat and added it.  One less thing to carry.
Saw friend Fern who volunteers at Travelers Aid on Sundays.  She was all alone; a colleague who was to share duties with her hadn’t shown up.  So we didn’t visit for long.  
The flight wasn’t totally full but still not many empty seats.  We were all finally seated when the pilot announced a slight delay due to a technical problem, one of those messages you’d much rather hear on the ground before takeoff.  Something needed to be reset.  We taxied to another area, got the thingamjig reset and off we went.
Didn’t get much sleep though I did close my eyes and try.  My seat mate muttered to herself in Russian when she was awake and fidgeted continuously when she wasn’t.  Three women behind us who were traveling together watched the same movie, Bridesmaids, alternating between raucous laughter, giggles and loud commentary.  My saving grace was the young woman in front of me who didn’t jam her seat back into my knees or bounce against it routinely.  
I made it to AMS: the sun is now rising somewhere out there behind the gloomy sky and gray clouds, and I’ve had a lovely cafe latte, yoghurt and granola, and croissant for breakfast.  Now to take a walk ... I have another 8+ hour flight ahead of me.
12 October, Nairobi, Kenya
Things I’ve forgotten about East Africa:
  • How chilly it can get when it rains and at night
  • What a traffic jam really can mean
  • A line, what’s a line?
By the time we departed AMS, the sun was making a valiant effort to shine and I was flagging fast.  It was about 4 am by my body’s clock.  Thankfully I shared my two-seat row with a Dutch woman who mostly read and watched movies pretty motionlessly while I closed my eyes and dozed a little.  So when I got to Nairobi in the evening, I was less exhausted than 24 hours of travel might assume.  But the airport was as noisy and hot as I recalled from the past.  I did not need the zip-up sweatshirt I had worn on the plane.
Contrary to my bullet point above, the two very long get-a-visa lines were pretty orderly except for one man who just walked up to the front of the other line.  Others in that line were bewildered and a few seemed to be commenting but he still stepped up to the clerk as soon as she was available.  Surprisingly both lines moved pretty efficiently and it only took me about half an hour.  My suitcases were already on the carousel when I got there, and a driver from the hotel was waiting for “Mary Vallance” (I’m not sure why they used my first and middle names, but at least I recognized the name ... I was starting to flag again.)
Outside I was glad for the sweatshirt.  It had rained and was quite chilly, made worse by the ever-present high humidity.
My hotel room is huge, more like a mini-studio apartment with a tiny galley kitchen, sofa seating area and big flat screen TV that I can watch from there or the bed.  Only hitch is that this duffus forgot that Kenya had been a British colony and the electrical plug adapters need to be for British outlets.  I have three ... in my travel bag in Minneapolis.  Luckily I did bring my one ‘universal’ adapter and it works.  I just have to remember to switch on the outlet when I charge things; each outlet has its own off/on switch.  You also need to turn on electricity for the room by placing the room card key in a little gizmo by the entry, something I’ve encountered in lots of hotels.  Strangely the television can remain on even when the card key isn’t in the gizmo.
Yesterday I talked to Jan, our regional director, who prepared my letter of invitation and emailed it to me.  No wi fi in this hotel; I have to use the business center.  Jan alerted me to a coffee shop not far away that has free wi fi; off to that place today for sure.  
By the time we sorted everything, it was after 11 am when I arrived at the South Sudan Embassy; it closes for visa applications at 12:30 pm, and I needed to deposit my fee in their bank account and bring back the receipt.  If only I’d known I could go to the bank first, I wouldn’t have been running through a shopping mall just before noon.  My cab got me to the mall, location of the bank, and waited for me.  The bank line again was pretty orderly because stanchions, like they use at airports, defined lines.  The man behind me was from Portland, Oregon, and there for the same purpose as I.  The young Kenyan ahead of me heard me say I was from Minneapolis, where he said members of his family now live.  They’d gotten green cards last year.  He said they told him it was very cold in Minnesota, and I verified that.  He let me go ahead of him in line and gave me his business card; he’s an artisan with a stall in an artisan shopping mall.  I’ll visit him on one of my journeys here, but probably not this one.  My suitcases are already too full.
Despite my cabbie’s best efforts, traffic was against us and I was five minutes late returning to the visa office.  Six or eight men were crowded around the window waiting ... hoping ... the clerk would return.  This was the kind of line I remembered from my Uganda days.  That is, no line.  Just a crush of bodies in front of one reticent clerk.  
David, a logistics person who works with us here, was waiting for me.  He’d missed me by five minutes at the hotel and visa office; unfortunately I didn’t know he was to meet me.  He suggested I make a plea to the clerk, thinking a mzungu woman might have more sway.  But alas, no. My plea fell short; I was told to return at 9:30 today when she opens.  But she said I would get the visa in time for the Friday morning flight.  David will meet me here at 9 and off we’ll go to remind her of her “promise.”  Then I’ll have him help with some errands, like finding the coffee shop and changing some more money.  
My faithful cab driver took me to meet Jan at her home office, and I spent the afternoon getting a briefing from her along with a pile of things to read.  That’ll keep me busy today and tomorrow.  Jan leaves for Rumbek today.  By the time we finished, I was flagging so decided to bite the bullet and take a taxi back right away rather than wait in a coffee shop for an hour.  That was when I remembered just how bad a traffic jam can be here.  For my Minneapolis readers who have driven the interstates into or out of the city at rush hour, you aint’ seen nuthin’ traffic wise.  Picture two or three times that many cars on a roadway half that wide with no defining lane dividers; round abouts, not clover leafs (leaves?), for direction changes; and rare traffic lights.  Frequently we sat so long in one place that the cabbie turned off the motor.  He used the time on his mobile while I read from my Kindle until it got too dark.  We encountered two road blockages on major side streets -- each was cut off by a huge pile of red clay dirt and neither was marked anywhere for a detour.  My cabbie along with a handful of other cars who’d taken the ‘short cuts’ had to turn around both times and take an alternate route.
Well, it’s 4 am so I’m going to try to get back to sleep.  More later.
Evening ... Headed out at 9 for the South Sudan Embassy to drop off my application for a visa and plead for a speedier processing than the 48 hours in their instructions.  Ran into a young man that I had met yesterday.  We were both at the entrance shortly after 9, and the guard refused to let us wait; he sent us down to the building entrance to wait until 9:30.  Back up we went at the appointed hour only to find half a dozen folks in front of us.  The clerk actually apologized for sending us away yesterday ... “regulations.”  I handed her my papers and requested a copy of the bank deposit receipt.  She said she’d see about how quickly the visa could be processed.  Pick up time is set hours in the afternoon.  David called at 4:30 to say he had my passport with visa and would bring it to the hotel.  Hurray!
I’ve spent much of the day reading documents that Janet downloaded for me yesterday.  Much as I’d prefer paper copies, I read them on my laptop and my eyes are ready for bed.  I’ve alternated between BBC and CNN for background noise ... and what should I find on CNN?  Promotions all day for a Jim Clancy feature, “Eye of Macedonia,” that is on now.  One of the earlier spots included an interview with the CEO/co-founder of fx3x, the digital media company that helped us start that industry under the USAID project I managed; the company continues to do well.  I got a chance to see some of the public art that the government has paid for recently, much to the chagrin, dismay, anger of many Macedonians and to all of those whom I know.  Milcho Manchevski, Macedonia’s most famous film maker, was interviewed.  I saw his Oscar-nominated “Before the Rain” on videotape while living there, but I didn’t know that he had directed TV’s “The Wire.”  He has a new film coming out, “Mothers,” that I hope I can see when it’s released.
13 October
We’ve had drizzly rain every morning when I go to breakfast, ditto today.  So off I’ll go in a sweater as it’s chilly.  I’m taking a box of candy to the South Sudan visa clerk as a ‘thank you’ for her speed.  Then off to a forex (kantor in Poland, currency exchange often in the US) to change a little money, then a supermarket to spend it on a few things I still need.
Got an email from Ed this morning and Janet is doing well after her pacemaker was installed.  She had to stay overnight in the hospital, pronounced her stir fry dinner passable and expressed her delight at two former U of MN economists winning the Nobel.  That announcement wasn’t on CNN or BBC yesterday but perhaps it was made on Tuesday when I didn’t turn on the TV at all.
To all my friends and relatives with Blackberries ... time to get an iPhone?!  News of Blackberry’s problems outside the US have been almost as ubiquitous as the thwarted alleged Iran plot.  And now it appears the problems have spread to the US.
Bought 20 postcards and sent them today to my ‘kids’ list’ and a few others.  The cost of both was comparable to the US.  Will be interesting to see how long they take to arrive.
A few observations as I drive around ... my favorite private bus company, Citi Hoppa, followed by Compliant MOA.  Bus shelters are labeled “Modern Bus Shelter” and one is so modern it includes a shoe shine stand.  These are co-sponsored by the city council and a promotion company so include advertising like we find in Minneapolis.
Went to a shopping center to change money, get something for lunch and tomorrow’s breakfast and look around ... and what did I find?  An authorized Apple reseller with folks as nice, friendly, helpful as I’ve found in London, Warsaw and Minnesota.  I told Brian that I couldn’t get Google to load at the coffee shop with wi fi even though my AirPort showed a strong connection.  He said sometimes they are not as strong as the indicator says and tested with his portable wi fi (the kind that’s on a thingie like a memory stick and goes into a USB port).  He was right -- it not only loaded Google but also downloaded 50+ messages into my mail.  I was so worried that something had happened to my laptop when I connected at the coffee shop.
14 October, Rumbek, South Sudan
Well, here I am at last.  And it’s pouring rain outside, a real gully, washer so I can imagine what the heavily pot-holed red clay roads look like.
It was raining when I left the hotel this morning too.  My cabbie Francis was right on time, 6 am, and off we went to Wilson Airport, a smaller regional airport.  Our regional director Jan had forewarned me that ALS, the airline to South Sudan, was at the end of the road and indeed it was.  For a moment I thought we were driving to South Sudan.
After my bags were weighed (37 kilos for all), I paid $68 ($4 per kilo for the 17 kilo overage), then waited.  A van drove our small group of about 12 passengers back down the road half way, then dropped us at customs and immigration, then the ubiquitous security check, followed by more waiting.  I snapped a few pix ...
Refueling in Loki
We stopped once where half our group departed, but we all had to deplane so the aircraft could be re-fueled.  Back on board, we (two Aussies, two Slovaks, a Kenyan and me) were asked to sit up front for better balance with the baggage.  Reminded me of a colleague from my marketing days at The St. Paul.  He’d never flown in a little puddle jumper and was aghast when, during check in, they asked his weight.  I told him that’s the one time I am scrupulously honest in my response.
At about 12:30, we finally landed on a packed red-clay runway in Rumbek where it was 29C (almost 85F) and at least 99% humidity ... and I was still wearing the sweater and my raincoat from the wet, chilly takeoff from Nairobi.  Two staff members were waiting for me and after I got checked into the hotel and started to unpack, I had lunch with Jan, then went to the office to meet the staff.  
Sign outside our compound offices
The offices are five rooms in a strip, and mine has an embarrassingly big executive desk.  But it also has air conditioning which, though I don’t like a/c, will be good to take the edge off the heat, and a gecko that we could hear every so often (hope he doesn’t sell insurance).  I met all the staff who were around.  So many names and faces to remember.  Now I’m ready to crash, so g’night for now.
15 October
Slept pretty well last night although I need to figure out a better way to tuck in the mosquito net.  I debated even using it but am glad I did.   Heard a few little buggers when I awoke at night.  Also saw and killed a huge spider.  Probably shouldn’t have done that ... they eat mosquitos, don’t they? ... but it was near my closet.
Room 8 -- my first home in Rumbek
The food at the hotel is good.  The chef is from Nepal and does some lovely vegetarian entrees, often Indian in origin, and I know I’ll enjoy them.  I was mainly a vegetarian in my previous East African assignments, except for the occasional goat stew, which I like.  
There’s a pool here, well used by a group of Russian men who may be soldiers.  At least one was wearing fatigues at supper last night, which is how I knew they were Russian and not from another Eastern European country (flag on his shoulder was Russian).  So it looks like I can continue my swimming exercise although I think it’ll be evenings, not mornings, since the pool opens at 8 am.  But we’ll see how that goes.  There’s also a small gym that I need to check out.  Jan said she uses the treadmill regularly, something I did in Uganda.
Male readers, skip this paragraph lest I embarrass you.  Ladies, guess what I forgot to pack?  Bras.  I have only two, the one I was wearing as I traveled here and the spare I packed in my carryon.  So I’ll be doing what I call a “Susan,” named for my Peace Corps Bestest Friend who used to be a travel agent and knows how to pack efficiently ... like two or three sets of undergarments and socks/stockings that get washed out each night.  
Later ... Spent most of the day with Jan doing on-boarding -- orientation -- and lots more to go.  (I’m trying to remember that Janet prefers being called Jan.)  Later in the day the three members of my Senior Management Team (Juliet, Lucy and Alfred) came over.  Jan had thought she asked them to take me around town; they thought we were having the SMT meeting that wasn’t held yesterday because Juliet didn’t come back from the field in time.  So I grabbed my notes and we set some agendas for further action/discussion next week.  They are all expats too, from Kenya.
Tried a few laps in the pool.  I can tell it’s been a while since I did that.  The pool appears to be chlorinated although it’s not as clear as the Y or pool in Sandomierz.  I may do side strokes, back strokes and others that don’t require putting my face in the water.  Since tomorrow’s Sunday, I may swim before breakfast.  I checked out the gym which has not only a treadmill but a stationary bicycle, an elliptical runner and a small universal set up.  So some choices.
16 October
Just finished a short swim.  Tried for 8 am but the pool was being cleaned, and they were still at it an hour later.  Jan says they do a thorough cleaning every day at 8.  So I went to breakfast and decided to try
17 October
Well, that last addition got far, didn’t it?  I did finally get in a swim late in the afternoon, after a heavy rainfall and a tour of the town with Juliet, one of my senior managers.  Juliet told me that the driver was going very slowly not just because of the potholes but because if he splashes water on someone, the fine is very high -- at least one head of cattle!  And if he does splash, he doesn’t stop; he goes directly to the police station for fear of being attacked personally.  Shades of Uganda.  
I don’t know how to describe Rumbek for those of you who haven’t experienced Africa.  I’d call it “Nebbi on steroids” if that made sense of you.  Basically the shopping district sits along the two upper arms of a Y with each arm a one way street that’s two lanes and two ditches wide and maybe going a half a mile before the arms come together.  The streets are lined on both sides with, at best, concrete block three-sided stalls with tin roofs ... and at worst, items for sale on a cloth or piece of plastic on the ground in front of a stall.  Even in a “grocery store” the assortment of items is small and from a wide range of what’s needed locally.  The store where I actually bought a jar of Extra Crunchy Jif is where I bought Doom mosquito spray, two of the approximately 25 different products the shopkeeper had to sell.  Others sell clothing (didn’t see a place to try on), auto parts, plumbing fixtures, cell phones, cell phones and more cell phones as well as airtime for those cell phones since all are pay-as-you-go.  The ditches were full of muddy water and a few shops, like the one where I shopped, had handmade bamboo or cane “bridges” across the water.
Most people live in bandas, those round or square mud-brick, thatched-roof huts you see in documentaries on Africa.  Generally they are in compounds demarcated by the grassless ground around them; it’s impolite to cut through a compound.  Occasionally compounds are surrounded by fences, some built of cane or bamboo, some just a ring of the dead hulls of palm trees (the big heavy wooden parts at the bottom of a palm frond). Downed, stripped-of-their-bark non-palm trees make ideal meeting places for children and young adults and we passed several gatherings.
Bandas near our office
Needless to say, there are people who live in concrete block houses behind concrete block fences topped by razor wire.  But other than this hotel, which meets those criteria minus the razor wire, I don’t see many of those.  When I walk to the office, I take the short cut Jan showed me, passing between several compounds.  If I pass close to someone, I always say, “Hi,” and children especially will call out “hello” or “good morning” cheerfully and repeatedly.
Today as I wended my way down the zig-zaggy path back to the office after lunch, I came to a fork and made a turn, the wrong turn.  A group of women and children in a nearby compound called out, and I turned around because something felt like they were speaking to me although I had no idea what they were saying.  When I looked, they motioned the direction of the right path.  They had seen me pass by earlier and knew where I was to go even if I didn’t.  On the way home, as I passed the final compound before the road, a woman called out, “Good evening.”  I responded in kind, and she asked, “What is your name?”  I told her “Suzi” and asked hers, to which she responded, “Deborah.”  So now I know the short cut begins at Deborah’s compound.
Well, it’s pouring rain, and I’m starving and without Internet.  At least we have electricity; the hotel has a generator.  I’m stuck for a while.
19 October
I just saw a cat ... the small domestic kind.  It ran across the path in front of me as I was puzzling over a small coconut palm that was leaning at a 45 degree angle onto the cables from the “duplex” next door and the one where I live.  (The hotel rooms are in a series of 10 buildings, each with two en suite bedrooms.)  Then the cat ran off.  I’ve only seen two dogs since I’ve been here, although goats and cows are everywhere.  They’re all free-range.
Yesterday our daily deluge came early, around 4 pm, just as I decided I’d go into town to get airtime for my mobile and a few other things.  William drove slowly and carefully.  As we passed the police station, he told me the police had their hands full today.  He pointed to a gigantic equipment moving flatbed truck that was sitting across the street in the huge, and very wet, town square.  Apparently the driver, a military man, had run over and killed an old man.  (I later learned that he was a spiritual leader and related to the head of our security service.)  The driver was taken to the jail, but the old man’s family soon rallied and gathered.  They were intent on removing the driver from the jail and killing him.  The only evidence of a possible problem were the lines of helmeted police officers with shields and riot sticks but no guns who were walking through the business district.  Everyone else was doing “business as usual,” shopping and talking, trying to navigate the slippery red clay streets and to avoid the many ponds and streams that had formed.  I’ve been told this is called Lakes State because it is so flat that every time it rains the state becomes like a series of lakes.
Errands completed, we headed back toward the hotel ... when we heard a loud noise.  No, not at all like a gun shot.  William said immediately that we’d blown a tire ... and he was right.  He got out to check the damage and quickly called a colleague who was driving a group back from the field.  When the second driver arrived, I was dispatched with him and had a chance to talk to the sponsorship assistants who had been paying the monthly stipend ($10 in local money) to our participants.
Today the deluge has seen fit to pass by despite this afternoon’s gathering of dark clouds.  Hurray, that will make the walk to the office less hazardous and dirty.  I had one of our cleaners wash my sneakers and a pair of sandals this morning.  The soles of both were caked with red clay that I was tracking into the office, etc.  She literally washed them, so I’m waiting for them to dry so I can wear them again.  But they are clean!
22 October
Work has been so hectic that I haven’t had a chance to write. Two HQ staff have arrived to help me because several key staff have resigned or their projects are done. Aboubakar from Finance is originally from Benin and David from the Controller’s Office grew up in White Bear Lake MN.  His dad retired from none other than The St. Paul Companies, and our tenures overlapped though he was mainly in Woodbury.  Small, small world!
Just as I was walking to the pool tonight, it started to rain.  But it was just a sprinkle so I kept going and for the first time all week, I finally got in a swim.  The water was incredibly warm, and I miss my flotation belt.  But I’m slowly increasing the number of exercises I can do without it (other than swim laps which I still hate).  The water felt so good.  After a shower, I met the WfWI group for happy hour.  David had brought rum and he and AB made rum and cokes.  Jan had a bottle of cabernet that she opened, and I had a couple of glasses of that.  It was a great way to unwind.
23 October 
Today’s the day I was supposed to be born.  Mom’s birthday was 23 July and Dad’s 23 August, so they wanted their first child to be born on 23 October.  I was due on the 24th and I arrived on the 25th.  At Friday’s staff meeting, I promised donuts to the staff on my birthday.  We have a women’s group that has learned some bakery skills and makes donuts for sale.  I asked James to order 100, the donuts are small and our staff is big.
We had a group meeting this morning as Jan continues to do a ‘brain dump’ of all she needs to pass along to each of us.  Then off to lunch in the garden -- today’s weather has been kind of moderate, comparatively speaking.  Probably only 80 and a lovely breeze ... until I returned to my room, sat to do some emails while lunch settled and prepared to go swim.  A storm started ... another deluge complete with thunder.  No swim today.
Later ... While the deluge has passed somewhat, it’s still raining hard.  Have had luck with Skype calls this weekend -- talked to Jean in SF and my sister in Minneapolis, both using SkypeOut credit and Bob in Reno Skype-to-Skype.
25 October
Happy birthday to me.  The staff inhaled the 100 donuts I bought.   At dinner, Aboubakar sang “happy birthday” in French, and David had supplied some Belgian dark chocolate that made a perfect end to the day.  Got lots of happy birthday messages via email from family, friends and new colleagues at WfWI.  I learned that Karen, my boss, is also a Scorpio as is Jan.  What a trio we will make, eh?
I think my sister sent my birthday greeting before going to bed in MN as it was in my inbox when I awoke this morning, my very first.  Thank you, Barbara.  And thanks to all of you for remembering me.  The e-cards and emails warmed up the celebration.
27 October
We eat breakfast outdoors in the garden, and Aboubakar commented that we’d told him the weather was unbearably hot.  Since his arrival, it’s actually been bearable ... even coolish in the mornings. Yesterday just before we left work, the fiercest wind blew up ... for a moment I thought a tornado had landed in the office courtyard.  Dirt, dust, leaves and such were flying and the trees and plants were swaying severely.  Didn’t last long, maybe 20 minutes.  
Garden where we eat most meals
This week has settled into a dull roar.  Still lots to do but with the landlord no longer harassing us, I can actually get things done.  He had landed in my office an hour after I arrived, full of rumors and accusations, none of them true.  And he continued in that vein all week, telling us we had to leave the offices.  Now mind you, my predecessor signed a lease that didn’t allow either party to terminate the lease.  He finally stopped after we went to the local authority in charge of NGOs.
Went to my first “coordinating” meeting today held by the local authority in charge of NGOs (yes, the same one).  Met the leaders of a host of international NGOs from the World Food Programme and UN High Commission on Refugees to Red Cross and more.  They meet monthly for two hours, and it was nice to see the director started within 15 minutes of the official time and ended on time.  The Belgian chocolate is calling ...
30 October
Aboubakar, David and I took a Sunday drive into Rumbek after breakfast.  Ab had never seen the town, and since he’s willing to drive the small pickup, we decided that was a good time.  Not as busy and a lot dryer than when I made the trip a few weeks ago.  We stopped and took some pix.  I’ll post those and include a link.
Ab  and David stop for a photo op
I was able to swim before dinner.  The pool was empty as was the gym, but I figured I wouldn’t be doing anything strenuous and would be okay.  I did about 12 laps, then some treading water and exercises.  I’ve been staying 20-25 minutes.  I may have to take my bedside clock with me as I try to stay longer.  I just wish lap swimming weren’t so boring.
Got in a short Skype call to my brother and his wife before the Internet cut out.  They will leave next Sunday for the sunny and dry CA desert for the winter.  I usually manage to get in a week of relaxing with them but not sure if that’s in the cards this winter.  Dan said Tahoe got a foot of snow on its upper peaks.  Looks like a good ski season.
The early snow reminds me of the year I left for Peace Corps.  On Halloween night, we had more than 30 inches of snow fall in Minneapolis ... and my 18-year-old son had a kegger in the garage of our sold-and-waiting-to-close townhouse, landing himself in jail for the night.  He and his enterprising friends charged a dollar for a beer, so he was charged with selling liquor to minors.  The culmination of all those admonitions that started with my parents -- “If you land in jail, don’t bother to call because you’re spending the night.”  The St. Louis Park jail is pretty benign compared to most, but it was a good lesson for him to learn.  I bailed him out the net morning.
31 October
Didn’t I write that the rainy season was over?  Not!  A fierce wind blew up at about 4 pm followed shortly after by another gulley washer.  It poured solidly for almost two hours, rested at very light sprinkle when we left the office at 6:30, then started again when we went to dinner.  It’s still raining so I’ll finish this and tuck into bed.  

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