Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hot time in the summer ...

9 July 2012, Washington, DC
Here I am, back in DC for a day at the Women for Women offices before my flights back to Rumbek, South Sudan.  I was awake at about 3 am and of course couldn’t fall back to sleep.  A frequent pre-travel event.  Plus it was hot!  I tried but finally got up at 5, took a shower, did an online checkin for my flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi which I couldn’t do last night for some reason.  I’m meeting a colleague for breakfast at 8, then to the office for a hectic day of appointments before I start my 24 hours of travel to Nairobi.  I fly up to Rumbek on Wednesday morning.

It’s been a busy time in Minneapolis this month.  Still catching up with people I haven’t seen in months as well as preparing for this trip.  The weather gods did a good job of the latter recently.  Temps in Minnesota were in the 90s and above 100 a few days, and here in DC it’s been worse.  Just saw a news item about a jet at Dulles sinking into the overly hot tarmac!

11 July, Wilson Airport, Nairobi, Kenya
Here I am at 6:30 am, checked in and waiting for my 8 am flight to Rumbek.  I’ve made friends with a group of nuns, one of whom is going to Rumbek and flying for the first time and a little nervous according to her colleagues.  Per usual, the airline hasn’t got change for $100, the bill of preference that we all carry, and I had no small bills either.  So I gave Sister Antonia 3000 Ksh to pay for her excess baggage.  Afterwards I realized I could have changed the $100 for her; I have six twenties in my money belt.  Well, she gave me her blessing, which I’m sure I’ll need.  

Had a lovely time in DC with Regina and the boys last weekend.  Liam and Roan have certainly grown up since the last time I saw them.  They’ve become interesting conversationalists, actually working at that.  Their dad let us use the pool at his townhouse complex on Saturday when the temp was well above 100.  So that’s where we all headed as soon as I dropped my bags and we had a quick snack.  Later I took the boys to Chipotle for dinner while Regina met a new date (ok but not a keeper, she said) for a drink.  Sunday we feasted on homemade french toast, which I haven’t had in decades, then went to see the new “Spiderman” at an early matinee.  I highly recommend the movie; we saw the non 3D version.  I liked Andrew Garfield’s interpretation of the character, and he’s cuter than Toby Maguire.  Sunday night I stayed at a hotel across from the Women for Women office, the better to be on time for my early breakfast to catch up with friend David and start my full roster of appointments before I depart for South Sudan.  Loved having a chance to put more faces to names as I met people throughout my visit.  Finalized my scope of work with Karen and pray I can get it all done!  

Since I awoke at 3 am on Monday and wasn’t able to fall back to sleep, I knew it was going to be a long, hard trip.  But it started well.  Taxi ride to Dulles airport was expensive but uneventful. Air France handled the check in, and the agent said I could use the airline lounge, probably because I paid for an upgraded seat.  Hurray.  A quiet, comfortable place for the 90-minute wait and within spitting distance of my gate.  Free wi fi as well as beverages and real food.  Unlike Delta, the Air France lounge had sandwiches along with all the fruit, nuts, snacks.  I opted for some peanuts and cheddar cheese with a Coke Zero and bottle of water since I’d eaten a big sandwich at lunch.

Both of my flights were on KLM airplanes with lots of handsome Dutchmen as flight attendants and passengers.  Probably should’ve tried for a photo op, ala Scotland!  The Dulles-Schiphol flight got off to a great start when I spilled a glass of plain tomato juice.  No wine with dinner for me!  At least I didn’t have someone in the seat next to me, only I got juiced and it was my orangish-red South Sudan dress.  I watched a movie that I’ve been wanting to see, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” and thoroughly enjoyed it until I realized I was ready to sleep and the pilot was announcing our approach to Schiphol.

When we arrived in Amsterdam, I checked my boarding pass for the departure gate only to discover it was the same gate.  Been a  long time that has happened anywhere.  I wandered a bit, found some breakfast, worked on the Internet, printed my Nairobi-Rumbek ticket, bought some books, sat and waited for my next flight, desperately trying to stay awake.  Those of you have know I have a Kindle may be wondering why the return to dead renewable resources.  Well, while in DC, I dropped my Kindle on the floor and suddenly could only read half a page.  Yes, Amazon will replace at no cost but not in time for me to depart with it.  It will wait for me in MN at which time I’ll return the broken one.

I had a nice exit door seat on an aisle for my ‘night flight,’ that’s what my body was calling it.  But I ended up trading with the wife of the man next to me so they could sit together.  She was closer to the door we’d actually exit too and at an exit door but in the middle, which isn’t so bad when you’re by the door; lots more leg room.  At that seat the man next to the window looked uncomfortable as he was quite tall and the slide cover hindered his legs.  So I offered to trade with him. I wanted to sleep and leaning on the window is more comfortable than trying to sleep in a middle seat.  A flight attendant helped me move and store my carry-ons, got me a pillow and blanket and didn’t awaken me to offer me coffee, tea or pop. I must’ve fallen asleep as the plane took off because the next thing I knew we were in the air and I could smell dinner.  I dozed a bit after that but never for long.  I worked my favorite weekend International Herald-Tribune crossword and read.

14 July, Rumbek, South Sudan
Feels like I’m home, which is how I usually feel when I return to someplace I’ve lived for a while.  The warmth of the greeting from WfWI staff, Afex folks and others was heartening -- they were glad to see me, had lots of questions about my travel to the US.

Spent time on Thursday afternoon getting settled in and acclimated, although weather in Washington and Minneapolis were good prep.  Then it was off the running.  My scope of work is chock full, so I’ve been meeting after meeting and in between, either debriefing with Regina, the country director, or trying to make sense of my notes.  Yesterday evening I invited the two nurse-midwives to dinner at the Afex dining hall so I could catch up.  Lucy, who manages the farm where the clinic takes place, joined us.  We want to ensure the prenatal clinic will continue after their UN contracts expire in early autumn.  They’ll meet with the community elders and women to prepare them for the transition to local hospital staff handling the clinic alone.

It’s Saturday but just another work day, and a long one at that.  

15 July, Rumbek
Saw two baby leopards today and realized how tame the deer at Safari Style, the compound with the pool, are.  Two of my “pool friends” brought them over in their arms from a nearby “wildlife preserve.”  The baby leopard were adorable and taken back to the preserve.  A couple of small deer nibbled grass near us most of the afternoon and never moved an inch when we did.  So different from at home.

16 July, Rumbek
A long day of trying to re-write a position paper while interviewing three different employees individually.  Will I ever make sense of my notes?  Since I’m doing a mini operational audit, I have the output of a sizable forest collecting in my tote, the back up documentation I’ll send with my report.  The suitcase that I emptied of supplies for the nurse-midwives will not return as light as I had anticipated.

The chef must’v known I could use some comfort food.  Lunch included meatloaf (and Heinz ketchup) and mashed potatoes, saute’d zucchini in lieu of Mom’s green peas, and tomato/cucumber salad in lieu of her cole slaw.  I don’t usually eat so heartily at lunch but made an exception today.  Not a bad meal, considering it wasn’t Mom’s home cooking (or even my rendition of that).

Had an email from an old friend from my Macedonia days.  Leigh was head of the education pillar at USAID.  Last time I saw her was in Krakow two years ago when she and a friend made a side trip to Krakow en route to a conference in Prague.  She’s in Nairobi and I’m hoping we can manage dinner on Friday night.  I have a biz meeting with our regional HR person midday on Saturday and leave at 6 pm for the airport and home!

18 July, Rumbek
Chilly, overcast, damp morning.  Looks like it rained last night as my “porch” had a new small puddle this morning.

And now it’s bedtime and I haven’t written a thing.  Too busy.  But I saw on television that it was Nelson Mandela’s birthday, and in honor of that, the chef made a delicious square layer cake decorated like the South Africa flag.  Jan, our regional person, arrived today as I was returning from the farm.  I’ve written about the farm before and had such high hopes that we could move it along.  But that doesn’t seem possible now.  Of the staff of 10, I saw four people -- two security guards, one who had been on leave and drove there with me and a fourth.  Not good.  They seem to think “anything goes” the closer to the country office closing we get.

Lunch break for the women at CIFI Farm

Kids at farm gather to say 'good bye'

21 July, Nairobi
Jan, our regional director, and I flew back to Nairobi together yesterday and caught up on our morning of meetings. Thankfully the flight was smooth, even going into Lokichoggio, which often has turbulence due to the nearby mountains.  We’d heard that the flight in to Rumbek had turned around due to bad weather, which was why it was late.  After checking into the hotel, I had dinner with a friend, Leigh, and we caught up on several years of events.  She’s working on a big project in Nairobi for another aid contractor and comes there every month.  Spent the morning today working on my report of the South Sudan assignment, then met with Jan and Job, regional HR, for an hour on HR issues there.  I had the cab driver come at 6 pm to ensure I got to the airport with minimal traffic delays.  Nairobi traffic makes Chicago’s Dan Ryan  look like an open freeway.  At Kenyatta, I had my usual quesadilla for dinner, checked out the Kenya Airways lounge that I was eligible to use and shopped for tee-shirts and such to bring back this time.  Soon we’ll board ...

25 July, Big Sturgeon Lake outside Hibbing, Minnesota
Ah, relaxing up north at the lake.  A fine old Minnesota tradition that I have enjoyed for many years since I have friends with cabins.  Has always seemed silly and redundant to buy a cabin myself with its accompanying issues like leaky roofs, rodents seeking warm housing, double utility and tax bills.  My way means that I can bring along some wine and groceries, help with the kitchen clean up and bed changing ... and have a stress-free time.

My friend Jean from San Francisco grew up in Hibbing and kept her family’s lake place after her parents died.  While she doesn’t get there often, she does welcome guests.  So Janet (of Janet and Ed where I’m in temporary residence again) and I spent a few nights with her.  One day we went in to Hibbing for a bit of shopping and sightseeing.  We visited the world’s largest open pit coal mine and drove by her cousin Bob Dylan’s house.  

 That's one big mine!

Bob Dylan Drive in Hibbing MN
(not the house where he grew up)

28 July, Minneapolis & St. Paul MN
Of course today is the day my diverticulitis decided to act up.  I had a reunion of folks I worked with at my last corporate job pre-Peace Corps.  This was a second reunion of the Friends of The St. Paul, those of us who worked there when it meant something good and important for us and the community.  And tomorrow I’m driving up to Brainerd early with Janet so I can attend my former mother-in-law’s 92nd birthday party and Janet can tend to the bird feeders at their cabin.

I laid low most of the day and managed to enjoy the party.  Wore a purple and white maxi shift with my neon pink Tom’s shoes.  Delighted in telling people I’d just returned from South Sudan.

It’s official that Jerry Haug looks like Dick Cheney.  Didn’t recognize Candy Neumann who’s retired, but Sandi Wilkins looks and sounds just the same and is assisting the CEO of Courage Center. Saw Bev Williams, Bruce Backberg, Jon Roeder, Janet Nelson, Ron Stegeman, Robin Critelli, Dave Block, Sue Albrecht, Mary Pickard, Mickey Mulcahy, the widows of Laury Willox and John Lynch, George Tsui, TJ Ticey and loads of other people who’s names looked familiar ...

I got to thank Tom Swain for inspiring me to join the Peace Corps and for his tenacity in insisting on excellence (that means he was a real nitpicker).  Tom’s retirement was just before my late son Peter started his senior year in high school.  A friend told me that Tom had wanted to join the Peace Corps post-retirement, but his wife wouldn’t go unless they assigned him to London or Paris.  That started me to thinking about living my adolescent dream and the rest, as they say, is herstory. Thanks to Jim Schulte for instigating and organizing the reunion. 

29 July Brainerd MN
My former mother-in-law Ella will be 93 tomorrow, so today we helped her celebrate.  Elyse and Steve brought lots of food and arranged a room at the nursing home.  My nephews John and David, David’s wife Heidi and the kids were there.  Ella’s younger sister Anna Mae came from North Dakota and looked as fit as when I saw her at Easter 2011.  She’s 88 now and still in her home.  Her son Curt, his wife and their grandson were with us and so were another cousin Sue and her husband Dennis; we haven’t seen them since Sue’s mom died quite a few years ago.

Ella, right, and her 'baby' sister AnnaMae celebrate Ella's 93rd birthday

For those who have missed my weather reports, a MN tradition as old as going up north for a heat break ... it has been hotter in Minneapolis than in the southern US ... and in South Sudan.  I don’t recall a time when temps hit the 90Fs and 100F so often, and it’s not even August yet, our hottest month.

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