Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Dead Muzungu Market

Have you ever wondered when you donate to an organization where that stuff actually goes?  Let me tell you.

Actually, before I get into my story, let’s make sure we are all on the same page.  According to Phelan’s Dictionary:

Muzungu [moo-zune-goo]: (noun) Slang: a white person, a term used primarily in east and central African countries to refer to someone with light skin.

Ok, now that we have that key word defined, back to our regularly scheduled broadcast.

When you donate clothes or food or school supplies to an organization which claims to be helping orphans in Africa or homeless victims of a typhoon or some other depressed group in a land far, far away, what do you think actually happens to your donations?  Do you think those exact people actually get it and use it?  Survey says: NO.

Here’s what really happens:  Salvation Armies and Goodwills and other non-profit organizations all over the world collect donations and then send them to communities of their choosing.  Very often those things get sent to Africa.  And while sometimes they are donations, very often someone, somewhere is making a profit.

In most cases if the clothes actually make it to their destination and are given free of charge to community members, those people turn around and sell them.  All over Africa I see little kids wearing t-shirts that say “Sexy Grandma” or mechanics wearing “Race for the Cure” bandannas.  The University of North Carolina must have a huge student group which collects clothing donations and sends them to Africa, because I think that is the most prevalent collegiate attire I see in every country on the continent.  And when I was in Congo last week I finally saw…… a guy on a motor bike wearing a Texas Tech sweatshirt!  I practically caused a traffic accident trying to talk to the TTU sweatshirt guy, but was unable to take a picture because there were half a dozen police officers standing nearby witnessing our conversation.  When I asked Mr. TTU Sweatshirt where he obtained his prized possession he told me he purchased it at the Dead Muzungu Market.

The Dead Muzungu Market is where your donations begin their second life.  The reason it is called the Dead Muzungu Market is because everyone shopping there believes the clothes previously belonged to dead muzungus.  Why else would someone get rid of perfectly good clothes?  Obviously, someone died which is why their clothes ended up all the way in Africa.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, anything you own in Africa (car, refrigerator, phone, etc.) is used until it literately dies and cannot be used any longer.  So the concept of disposing of clothes which can still be worn does not make logical sense to anyone here.  Hence, if the clothes are still intact and can be worn there must be another reason someone got rid of them.  If the clothes didn’t fall apart and die, then their owner must have, thus creating the belief that all these clothes shipped from abroad belonged to now dead muzungus.

Keep this in mind and smile next time you donate your former sorority rush night t-shirt to your church group.  Chances are sometime in the future a taxi driver in Sierra Leone will be wearing it proudly and announcing to friends that he purchased it at the Dead Muzungu Market.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Umuganda Day

Last week when I was in Rwanda I noticed something HIGHLY unusual for Africa.  This:
Do you see it?  No?  Ok, here, look again:
Seriously? You don’t see it?  Ok, let’s try this one more time:
You STILL don’t see what I see?  Maybe I should have said, “Look what you don’t see in Rwanda.”  Here, let me give you a point of comparison.  Take a look at Nairobi, Kenya:
Or, in an effort to be very direct, here is Congo:

Now look back at the Rwanda pictures. Can you see the difference?  There is no trash in Rwanda!  NONE!

I actually didn’t realize the lack of trash in Rwanda initially until a friend was driving me around and all of a sudden I said, “Why is it so clean here?”  According to the guidebooks Windhoek, Namibia is supposed to be the cleanest city in Africa.  Having visited both Windhoek and now Rwanda I must disagree.  Kigali is the cleanest city in Africa, and Rwanda is the cleanest country, hands down.  

Typically in Africa when something breaks there is no attempt to repair it.  Is sits where you leave it until it disappears, which may be never.  If you are finished using something and don’t need it anymore, you do the same thing, toss it out without any attention paid to where it lands.  Thus, Rwanda is a very unique case study in this “all the world’s a trash can” culture across the continent.  I asked my friend about the unusual cleanliness of Rwanda and he said, “We adopted a shift in attitude and belief system and now everyone takes part in it.”

Apparently a few years ago the President of Rwanda decided to create Umuganda Day which takes place from 8am to 11am on the last Saturday of each month.  During these three hours all citizens are expected to participate in volunteer community service in which they clean streets, manicure green areas and repair public facilities.  It took about four years for everyone to really adopt the practice, but it has become so ingrained in the culture that people now make an effort to keep their community tidy on a daily basis.  I think there is a good possibility that the creator of Umunganda Day was a form Disney cast member as all the Rwandan residents have embraced the walk and scoop.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Few Final Pictures from Congo

While there are 54 countries in Africa, a lot of those nations may look very similar to the outside observer.  And for good reason.  Many countries across Africa suffer from some of the same challenges: poverty, food shortages, health problems, etc.  In many ways Congo looked similar to several other areas I’ve been to, but there were a few distinctions, or at least phenomena which were more prevalent here than in other places, that I wanted to share.

Petrol (gas) stations were few and far between.  I think I only counted three the entire time I was in the country.  So aspiring entrepreneurs will travel into town, purchase fuel, and then sell it in plastic water bottles scattered throughout the country.  If you remember during Hurricane Sandy last year New York residents began showing up at gas stations with empty 5-liter water bottles, or plastic gallon milk jugs because all the retail stores ran out of gas cans. But the gas stations refused to sell to anyone without a proper gas can due to safety regulations.  Congo does not appear to have those safety policies in place: (Sorry, you need to turn you head 90 degrees to the right.)
In 1994 after the Rwandan genocide, two million genocidaires crossed the border into Congo in less than a week to avoid being prosecuted for human rights violations.  The UN and international community set up refugee camps to accommodate the massive influx of people.  Those refugee camps still exist!  And they extend for MILES.  The reason those people are still refugees after 20 years is partly due to the fact they don’t want to go to jail for crimes during the genocide, and part of it is because they simply don’t have the money to return to Rwanda or move elsewhere:
During the volcanic eruption in 2002, the water pipes in Goma were destroyed.  They are attempting to lay new pipes, but I’m told digging through hardened lava is quite a chore, so it is slow going.  Similar to the fuel-filled water bottle ventures, here are people filling jerry cans in Lake Kivu and then cycling around town selling them:
As I mentioned, part of the reason for my trip to DRC was to visit the Tourism Program at the University of Goma:
The class I visited:
Do you see the wooden bike on the right hand side?  These things were all over the place in DRC.  It was the main method for transporting goods since no one really owned a vehicle:
And finally, the Nyiragongo Volcano:
Overall, it was an interesting trip to Congo.  I’m glad I went and can’t imagine ever going back.  But if nothing else, it gives me a new appreciation for… EVERYTHING.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Kelly of Kongo

During my visit to Congo I had one day free, so my guide suggested I go to Masisi in the Kivu province.  Granted, the Kivu area is where a lot of rebels hang out, and the day before we left I received an email from the U.S. Embassy reminding American citizens not to visit the area due to the tendency of bandits to kidnap, rape, steal vehicles, and “carry out paramilitary operations in which civilians and foreigners are targeted.”  Emmanuel told me, “No problem, no problem, we are staying in a private house overlooking the UN base there, so you will be fine.”

So, we went to Masisi.  We stayed in the gigantic home of a “very rich businesswoman who has lots of dealings with the president of the country.”  Translation: Corruption. At least that’s what it normally means.  But Emmanuel wanted to take me there because “Masisi is like the Switzerland of Congo.”  It was a little like Switzerland actually.  Lots of sheep and cows.  Actually, I think that’s where the similarity began and ended.  Feel free to judge the “Switzerland of Congo” for yourself:
Here was the house I stayed in on Mrs. Rika’s property.  It was one of about six houses there:
Emmanuel was right about overlooking the UN station:
In fact the UN soldiers held a volleyball game Sunday afternoon:
Here was the living room in my house:
Mrs. Rika’s family, which included her three adult daughters, two adult sons, their spouses, and their children, were all there during my visit.  Apparently they are avid horseback riders.  Having never ridden a horse myself, I was quite apprehensive about the prospect, but after some cajoling from the youngest son, Jordan, I agreed to give it a try.  However, I did not feel comfortable enough to take the reins myself- mostly because the road going down the mountain was incredibly steep and unpaved.  So Jordan told the horse keeper (I’m sure there is a more technical term, but I haven’t been able to come up with it yet) to take me down the mountain and to walk me to town if I could handle it.  The ride down the mountain was fine.  The ride to town was fine.  Then we began to approach town…..

As we approached town there were people everywhere.  They all stopped in their tracks and stared at me.  It was horrible.  I have to be the only person who enters a rural African village and all I could think to myself was, “This is SO embarrassing.”  I now know how the Queen of England feels.  Isn’t it strange to have everyone watching your every move?  Then again, maybe the Queen doesn’t think this behavior is odd at all.  I wasn’t sure whether I should wave or smile.  No one over the age of five was waving or smiling at me.  They were looking at me like I was an alien.  I would love to have known what they all said when I departed.  I honestly just felt like a total jerk.  Here comes this random white woman, riding a horse through the middle of town, with a local guiding the horse for her, she gets to the end of town, and then turns around and rides out.  I just felt like I was imposing on their lifestyle and had no right to do it.  Oh well, too late to take it back now.

In the end I rode a horse.  Not really.  In the end I sat on a horse while someone else made him move, and I managed not to fall off.  And I likely provided dinner table conversation for about a thousand people that night.  On a more positive note, I never met any rebels.  So I would have to say that overall it was a successful trip to Masisi.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dinner of Champions

After four days in Congo I am… HUNGRY!  I tend to be a pretty adventurous eater, but even I have my limits.  For the past several days my meals have consisted of “vegetables.”  Vegetables are boiled cassava leaves.  I’m not sure that we really use cassava much in the U.S., but it is a starchy vegetable, similar to a potato, sometimes called manioc or yucca.   Point being you normally eat the potato looking vegetable, but in really poor countries, like Congo, you have to take advantage of the whole plant.  So, every time I go to eat I am given boiled cassava leaves.  Guess what they taste like.  Yes! Leaves! Or grass!  I have been able to choke down some of it purely out of guilt, but it is disgusting. I can’t take it anymore.

The other thing I’ve been served AT EVERY MEAL is boiled bananas.  This I don’t understand.  Bananas are so good plain.  Why ruin them by boiling them?  In case you were wondering, I highly advise AGAINST boiling your bananas.  It makes them completely tasteless, so, like the cassava leaves, also not enjoyable.

To round out your meal you get a serving of goat meat.  Now, I’ve had goat meat prior to visiting Congo.  And I liked it prior to visiting Congo.  Now I hate it.  See, we don’t realize how spoiled we are in western countries.  We go to the grocery store and can get boneless chicken breasts.  If you are on a diet and only want white meat, you can get your poultry without dark meat.  Since all the meat is cleaned ahead of time and the various parts of the animal are separated according to what people like to purchase, you could go your entire life without ever eating, or seeing, the heart or what we consider to be the other “throw-away” parts.  Here nothing is thrown away.  And when you are being served they just give you whatever part of the goat rises to the top of the stew when they dip the ladle in.  Thus, the goat meat typically has fat, some, SOME, emphasis on SOME meat which we would consider edible, skin, and then connective tissue.  I am convinced I have been served arteries and part of a heart at least once.  Oh, and bones, lots of bones.

Thank goodness I didn’t do a year of Fulbright in Congo.  I would have struggled.  I’m already struggling after four days.  I told my tour guide I couldn’t take it anymore and I wasn’t interested in eating the rest of my trip.  I brought some snacks with me and insisted I would eat those for the remainder of my time in Congo.  Glad I did some pre-planning.  Tonight I will be dining on some banana chips, beef jerky and dried mango.  I can’t wait:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lava, Lava, Everywhere

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I am here in Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo for a few days.  Adjacent to Goma is the Nyiragongo Volcano, which is still very active.  You can actually see smoke coming from the top most days.  If you haven’t visited Pompeii in Italy, Goma would be a close second.  Though, if given the choice, I would recommend a trip to Pompeii first- much better food there.

Twelve years ago, the Nyiragongo Volcano erupted, spewing lava throughout the city of Goma.  Fortunately the lava moved slowly enough that most people were able to get out of its way, but over 500 people did die from asphyxiation.  The town wasn’t so lucky.  The entire town was covered by the lava, as deep as six meters in some places, destroying most buildings and leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless.  The amazing thing is that most everyone remained in Goma afterward, and decided to rebuild.  Essentially all the buildings I’ve seen here are brand new (within the last 12 years at least) but they are built six feet higher than the previous city.  If you ever get the chance to visit Seattle, take the Underground Walking tour- same deal, today’s Seattle is built on top of Seattle from 100 years ago.

It’s illegal to take photos in Goma city, and most of DRC due to security concerns.  Again, glad I am here with a tour guide.  In my hotel today I met another muzungu who had just spent four days in jail- for taking a picture and getting caught.  So far Emmanuel has kept me out of jail and showed me different places where I can get away with taking photos.  But still, in order to take a picture I have to be in a moving vehicle and very sneaky.  It is like a drive by-photo op.  Though, as you will see, I am definitely not paparazzi material.  To give you an idea as to what Goma looks like, here is one neighborhood.  There is exactly one paved road in Goma, the road where all the NGOs are located. 

This is where the local Congolese live:
It’s hard to tell in this picture, but this road is at about a 45 degree incline.  Lots of bumps along the way:
On the left side you see a house which appears to be falling down.  You have to feel bad for this guy.  The house was built after the volcano erupted in 2002.  A few years ago the government decided they wanted to widen the road.  So, they forced the family to move and knocked down the part of the house which was in the way of the road.  But, they didn’t bother to knock down the whole house.  There is barbed wire across the front of the building to make sure no one enters it.  I’m sure that makes it completely safe:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

To Hellholes and Back

A few months ago I read a book titled, To Hellholes and Back.  The author wrote about the most prolific hellholes- according to him.  He selected one continent, one country, one city and one destination which he crowned hellholes and then proceeded to visit them.  These proclaimed hellholes were based solely on his opinion and I didn’t particularly value his alleged expertise.  For instance, he selected Walt Disney World as the destination hellhole.  Can’t say I agree with him on that point.

Another criticism I had was that he selected Congo to represent the continent of Africa.  I thought that was a particularly foolish and uneducated assertion considering there are 53 other African countries that would almost certainly argue that Congo does not adequately represent the entire continent.  Maybe I should send him a copy of my blog post Africa is a continent, not a country.
However, after spending the past three days in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I would have to agree with him that for the most part, yes, Congo is a bit of a hellhole.  I arrived in Goma, DRC on Saturday afternoon to what you would expect to find with most third-world, African countries… chaos and trash.  I am here to teach at the University of Goma, where they have a tourism program, for the next two days.

Since I knew there was a lot of red tape, corruption, and general risk in making this trip, I elected to organize my visit through a tour company.  And I’m thankful I did.  My guide Emmanuel picked me up in Kigali, Rwanda, drove me to the border, and helped me through the Rwandan and DRC immigration processes.  There were two other muzungus (white people in this part of Africa) attempting to enter DRC on their own.  All I know is that with Emmanuel’s help I went through in less than 10 minutes and did not have a curiously invalid visa, incorrect yellow fever card, or was solicited for $50 to make any of these invented problems go away.  As we were departing Emmanuel told me it was stupid for a muzungu to try to come to Congo on his own, “It will be a week and those two will pay a couple hundred dollars and still not be let in.”

I am actually with Emmanuel the entire time I’m in DRC.  He is my driver back and forth between my hotel and the university, and then I am doing some tours as well which he is guiding.  Speaking of hotels, I am staying at a four-star hotel in Goma next to the UN Hospital.  (See Mom, totally safe!) Apparently the stars mean something a lot different here than in the rest of the world.  Maybe at a five-star hotel I would get two out of the four light bulbs working, instead of just one:
Do you that lots of countries around the world have toilet paper shortages?  A friend of mine who works in the British embassy in Venezuela told me she was once mugged walking down the street with a package of 12-rolls of TP.  They ONLY took her toilet paper, not even her purse or her money.  I’m not sure if there is a TP shortage in Congo, but when I asked the front desk for some they didn’t have any:
The light in my room had one bulb, but that didn’t work:
Since there wasn’t a lot of space to move around in the room I tried to open the closet, and pulled the doorknob off:
Of course, I can’t complain because there was a free amenity I found on the top shelf of the closet.  A chocolate candy bar, which had obviously melted and then hardened back together.  Who knows how long that had been there:
Yes, I travel with a headlamp even when I don’t plan to go camping.  I really took this because I figured there could be power cuts, but thankfully I am conditioned to do this, even in four-star hotels, since the only light bulb in the room that worked was in the bathroom.

So, here’s the best part of my hotel:  After spending a long day all around Goma, I took a sponge bath using my Evian water (I feel like a Kardashian!) because there was no water coming from the tap.  Before tucking in to bed I went to use the toilet only to discover…. There was no toilet seat!  I don’t know how I missed that little detail earlier, but at 9pm I wasn’t about to ask the front desk to fix it.
Don’t worry; the lock on the door worked.  And in the event that failed I used the Phelan security method of piling all my luggage up in front of the door.

The morning after my first night in my luxury hotel I asked another muzungu staying there whether he recommended another place.  “Hell no! This place is the Ritz.  This is where all the foreign expats making the big bucks at the NGOs stay when they visit.  Those people would never stay in any of the other so-called hotels in Goma.  Those places are total hellholes.”  Really? You don’t say?

Saturday, April 19, 2014


As I mentioned in my two previous posts, I am here in Kigali, Rwanda during the 20th Anniversary Remembrance Celebration of the Rwandan Genocide.  I attended a remembrance celebration this evening, but out of respect for the many survivors who shared their stories I did not take any photos.

Over the last three days I’ve met countless survivors.  I think the thing that strikes me most about all these encounters is how everyone, regardless of what side they were on, can openly talk about this atrocity.  And not only can they talk about it, they have made a conscious decision to move on with life without holding a grudge. 

Several years ago I dated an Israeli Jew.  One day we were in a restaurant, and he walked away for a few minutes.  When he returned I was talking to a German couple at the next table.  My boyfriend was completely offended by this, offering the explanation, “I hate Germans.”  When I asked him why he said, “the Holocaust” as if it was the most logical reason ever and I was stupid for not realizing that.  I thought it was a rash judgment; after all, it had been 65 years.  Not to mention, it wasn’t those exact Germans who had killed the Jews.  Point being, he held a grudge.

Today I met a young man named Frederick who was six during the genocide.  He had both his arms cut off with a machete.  He was such a happy person, really full of life. You would have never guessed he was missing two limbs. Yesterday I was introduced to Angelique who lost her parents and all four of her siblings.  She was adopted by an aunt after the genocide and ended up writing a book about her experience.  But I think the most remarkable encounter I have had here was a married couple, Jean-Pierre and Patrice.  The two were neighbors growing up.  Patrice was 11 and Jean-Pierre was 15 at the time of the genocide.  Jean-Pierre KILLED Patrice’s family during the genocide.  Years later, after Jean-Pierre served his prison sentence, they met again.  Jean-Pierre asked for forgiveness.  Eventually Patrice forgave him.  They later married.  I never thought forgiveness could be attained at such a level.  I think if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed this was possible.

There is a lot of hatred in the world.  And I think that’s truly unfortunate.  I believe my visit to Rwanda has been the most impactful experience I have ever had.  People always ask me of all the countries I’ve visited which is my favorite.  I have never been able to give an answer to that question.  But I honestly think my mind is made up: Rwanda is my favorite country.  I have never witnessed such a dedication to humanity and peace demonstrated so honestly.

I wish more people would visit Rwanda.  And I wish more countries that are suffering from conflicts would examine Rwanda as a case study of what you can accomplish when you all agree to get along.  If Rwanda can recover and prosper after such horror it really makes me wonder, “Why can’t we ALL just get along?”

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Today I went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial.  If you are unfamiliar with the Rwandan genocide, here is the Cliff Notes version: The Rwanda genocide took place over the course of 100 days in 1994.  There were two major ethnic groups in Rwanda: the Hutu (84% of the population), the Tutsi (15%) and the Twa which accounted for a mere 1%.  Rwanda was initially a German colony, but after World War I Germany was forced to relinquish all its colonies.  As a result, Rwanda was bequeathed to Belgian.  The Belgians put provisions in place to make the Tutsis the major ruling class; due to the fact Tutsis had features which were considered more similar to Europeans, such as their small, narrow noses, tall height, and lighter skin.  Identity cards were issued which stipulated to which ethnic group a person belonged.  This led to the establishment of group identities- prior to this time there was little effort made by Rwandans to differentiate themselves according to ethnic group.

Towards the end of the 1950s, Belgium began preparing to grant Rwanda independence, and with that instituted a democratic election process.  Naturally, due to the fact Hutus constituted the majority of the population, they won the majority of the elected positions.  The Belgians realized there was no turning back and thus reversed their position, now showing preference to the new Hutu ruling class.  After nearly four decades of repression the Hutus began lashing out at their former oppressors, the Tutsis.

Violence against Tutsis occurred sporadically until the early 90s, causing many Tutsis and moderate Hutus (Tutsi sympathizers) to flee to neighboring countries.  In attempts to institute rule of law, repatriate refugees and dismantle rebel armies the Arusha Peace Process occurred, with little success.  Upon returning to Kigali from the Arusha Accords, the Rwandan president’s plane was shot down on April 6, 1994, which set off the genocide.  During the next 100 days nearly a million people, mostly Tutsis, were killed throughout the country.

The most unfortunate thing about the genocide was that no western country was willing to involve themselves in an effort to halt the killings.  Only six months prior the U.S. had suffered the Black Hawk Down situation in Somalia and refused to get involved in another African skirmish.  Here’s the thing: Very few guns were involved in the genocide because almost no one in the country owned a gun.  The vast majority of the killings were either the result of being hacked by a machete or beaten with a club.  Farm tools were the weapon of choice.  Perhaps a few tanks and guns from a peacekeeping force would have made a difference.  Nevertheless, it’s too late now.

As I was saying, I went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial today.  I haven’t been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. but I have been to the Dachau Concentration Camp.  But I’m not comparing.  The Kigali Memorial was well done:
Since it is the 20th Anniversary Remembrance there are a lot of people coming to the memorial this month to pay their respects.
There are fourteen mass graves at the memorial where nearly 250,000 people are buried.  From time to time, as building occurs around Kigali and the nation, more victims are found and brought to rest in peace with others who lost their lives:
By the time the killings ended, barely 300,000 Tutsi survived.  Prior to the 100 days of violence there were about four times that many Tutsi in Rwanda.  That equates to 10,000 people murdered each day, 400 per hour, 7 every minute.  What an unfortunate waste of life.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Good News Guest House

I spent most of yesterday travelling and arrived in Kigali, Rwanda early this morning… at 2:10am.  Unfortunately, due to the middle of the night arrival the person who was supposed to pick me up from my guest house failed to show.  (It was an honest mistake. He thought he was supposed to pick me up the following morning.)

Typically, arriving in the middle of the night in an African country can be a harrowing experience, especially when your ride is nowhere to be found.  This scenario is normally a huge security risk as you don’t know who to trust, and you are a bit of a sitting duck, so everyone tries to help you.  Ultimately you have to depend on someone and there is always a 50/50 chance they will rob you and potentially do worse.  Though I was hesitant and a little apprehensive with everyone at the airport offering to help me it ended up working out fine.  And around 11:30 this morning I checked in to the Good News Guest House.

I am always quite thoughtful and thoroughly investigate everywhere I board when I travel and this time was no different.  In case you are unfamiliar the Good News Ministries is a Catholic lay ministry organization.  The Good News International Organization (GNIO) is affiliated with the ministry, and the Good News Guest House provides funding for GNIO.

GNIO was founded several years ago in an effort to provide assistance for orphans and family members of the 1994 Rwandan genocide victims.  The GNIO founder, Ben, is also the owner of the Guest House.  Why did Ben start GNIO?  Because his entire family was killed in the genocide.
From the front it looks pretty basic:
But check out this gorgeous garden:
And the view of Kigali:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Thank you/Love Letter

As the semester is beginning to wind down at UB, I have begun thinking about how much I am looking forward to returning home.  This is particularly the case when it comes to work.  While reflecting on the conveniences I’ve missed I thought I should take this opportunity to write a half thank you-half love letter to my home institution.  Here it goes:

Dear Texas Tech,
How do I love thee.  Let me count the ways: 

To the Academic Support & Facilities Resources department- Thank you and I am sorry.  I know I tend to be a high maintenance client, but I feel compelled to get just the right classroom for each professor and every class in my department.  But I appreciate your patience with me.  I know more than once I’ve asked you to allow me to enroll 51 students in a classroom with only 50 seats.  “But there will never be 100% perfect attendance- I promise!” Now I understand and desperately wish other institutions were so diligent.  I also now LOVE the “Don’t remove desks from the classroom” rule.  I currently teach 73 students in a classroom which should really only accommodate about 20 (by your standards).  Sometimes I walk in to teach and there are 200 chairs piled up to the ceiling.  Other times the classroom is completely empty- no tables, no chairs, nothing.  I truly bow down before you for the dedicated logistical planning you do for everyone across campus.

To my administrators- Thank you for planning ahead.  I don’t always like meetings, but at least you tell me in a reasonable amount of time when a meeting will be held, the location, the agenda and what I need to do to prepare.  Here I get a phone call on my personal mobile telling me to report to the Dean’s office in five minutes.  When I get there I’m told there is a meeting about faculty candidates.  Then I get reprimanded for not having reviewed the two binders filled with CVs.  KVP: “I’m sorry sir.  I didn’t know there was a meeting or that I was supposed to have prepared ahead of time.” Dean: “You should have known!”  Thank you TTU administrators for realizing I don’t read minds.

To the mailroom- Thank you for delivering the mail.  It is comforting to know that every day at 2pm I can expect the mail.  My mom sent me a Christmas card in November.  I still haven’t received it.  Thank you as well for going the extra mile and hunting me down on campus when there is a package for me and you aren’t sure where to send it.  Not too long ago a package came to my office and I wasn’t there to sign for it.  The secretary sent it back.  KVP: “I don’t understand!  Why didn’t you sign for it?”  Secretary: “It wasn’t addressed to me.”  It took three days and visits to five different offices across Gaborone to get hold of my package.

To the support staff (admin assistants, business managers, etc.)- Thank you for taking some amount of initiative and figuring out how to solve the problem.  Last week I tried to get an exam copied.  I took the exam to the secretary who does the copying.  All the copy machines were running at the time so she refused to accept the exam because she didn’t want to be responsible for it.  She insisted I take the exam with me and return 20 minutes later.  Upon returning 20 minutes later she wouldn’t copy the exam because she had run out of paper.  She told me to go find paper and then bring the paper and the exam back.  I then went to secretary #2 who said she would get me some paper.  I told her I had a meeting and asked if she could deliver the exam and the paper to secretary #1.  She agreed.  An hour later while in the meeting in my office secretary #2 said she had the paper and I could take the paper and the exam up to secretary #1 to be copied.  KVP: “That’s the whole reason I gave you my exam in the first place.  So you could do it! I can’t; I’m in a meeting.”  She agreed to take care of it.  Three hours later I hadn’t heard from her.  I returned to her office and asked whether the exams had been copied.  She had forgotten about it since she had gone to lunch.  I took the ream of paper and the exam to the copy room.  Turns out the copying secretary had left early for the day.  Seven hours of effort and still no copies!

To the IT Department- Thank you as well for taking initiative and solving the problem.  I know I’ve had to use your services about half a dozen times while I was in Africa and you were in Lubbock, but you’ve still been able to help me!  All that distance and you can still help me! At the beginning of the semester I entered my new classroom to discover the computer at the podium wasn’t working.  Contacted IT, they said they knew about it.  They didn’t offer to fix it though.  I went out, purchased my own cables to hook up my laptop to the projector.  Turns out the bulb in the projector didn’t work.  Went to IT, they didn’t have a bulb.  The third week I bought a bulb for the projector, screwed it in, and by that time one of the wires from the projector to the power source had been poached to use in another room.  Reported it to IT, they said they didn’t have time to fix it.  You know that saying, “The buck stops here?”  Yeah, that’s not the slogan for the UB IT department.  I’m pretty sure their slogan is “Pass the buck.”

Yes, Texas Tech, you have been good to me.  I know I haven’t always been forthcoming with my feelings, but sometimes I’m a little shy.  I hope it isn’t too late for me to express my appreciation and love at this juncture.

Yours Truly,

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Human Zoo (Part Two)

Back in November I wrote a blog post about how I felt like I was living in a Human Zoo because I was inside the house (i.e. the cage) and the monkeys were outside looking in at me.  Today I was reminded of that again.

The gate where I exit campus often has a lot of solicitors where people will sell candies or fat cakes or other food items.  Students, faculty and staff members will often stop at these food stalls to purchase snacks in between classes.  Since it was a Friday I left campus early, around 1pm, which is generally lunch time here, so the lines of students waiting to buy their fat cakes and hot dogs were particularly long.  I walked past the many queues and out of campus to find a game-drive vehicle full of tourists who were watching the students and taking pictures.  I thought it odd that people would stop to watch what I consider a normal part of my life.  Of course, that feeling was heightened when an individual in the vehicle pointed at me and said, “Look! A white person!”  He said it with the same amount of enthusiasm as I would tell my companions on an actual game drive, “Look! An elephant!” after a particularly challenging spot.

I looked at the individual who pointed me out quizzically as if to ask, “What are you looking at?”  And he stared back as if to communicate, “What are you doing here?”  I feel as if I better understand what it is like to be an elephant staring at a group of safari goers now.

I frequently receive the finger point and subsequent, “Lekogwa!” (white person) from the Batswana, but I don’t think anything of it.  I tend to think of myself as a local attraction (since the locals stare at me), as opposed to a tourist attraction (because tourists typically don’t pay attention to me).

I continued my walk home pondering the tourists looking through their binoculars at the students buying lunch.

In recent years slum tourism has grown in popularity.  If you are unfamiliar with slum tourism, it is exactly what it sounds like.  People pay money to take tours of slums.  Sometimes customers are paying exorbitant amounts to see what it is like to live in a tin shack with 10 of your relatives with no indoor plumbing, sanitation or belongings.  I’ve spent enough time in slums in Africa that I don’t understand the draw, and to a certain extent I resent it.

Some make the argument that slum tourism is educational and socially enlightening.  I’m not sure how convinced I am.  Spending three hours being shown around a slum by an orphan with AIDs who is probably being paid $1 when you’ve paid $50 for the ticket, and then returning to your 5-star hotel, isn’t my idea of social enlightenment for the masses.

I’m not entirely sure I would equate the game drive passengers watching college students to slum tourism, but it felt eerily similar. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

THM 304: Safari and Camp Management

In general, if you move from one Hospitality and Tourism Management program to another, whether you are a student or a professor, you can expect most of the courses to be the same.  For instance every HTM program in the world offers Marketing, HR, Accounting and Law courses.  There may be some variation depending on what specialties the program chooses to offer, or not offer, but the large bulk of courses are similar.  Of course, depending on the specific objectives of a program, you might see a course which is entirely foreign. 

China recently published a 64-page book entitled, “Guidebook for Civilized Tourism.”  Due to the poor reputation of Chinese tourists, the country produced an instruction manual teaching their citizens how to behave properly while abroad.  Some examples of no-no’s include: don’t pick your nose in public; don’t leave footprints on the toilet seat, and don’t deface ancient wonders of the world with graffiti (this happened recently with one of the pyramids in Egypt).  According to a friend of mine who teaches in China, the guidebook has been incorporated into HTM curricula there.

Here in Botswana we have a few of our own unique courses.  My favorite in THM 304: Safari and Camp Management.  We recently spent an entire class talking about why it is typically ill-advised to have a pool in your safari camp.  This is why:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Take Two and Call Me in the Morning

Yesterday I wrote about how I’ve become very familiar with so many of the diseases we have here in Africa.  Someone wrote a comment on my blog asking me how to treat all of those diseases.  I have found there seems to be one blanket treatment for every possible ailment here:

Whether it is a broken arm, gingivitis, an ear infection or gastrointestinal problems due to drinking the water Hoofpyntablettes are the cure!  No really, I’ve had friends with all of these problems, and that’s exactly what’s been prescribed, every single time. I’ve taken Hoofpyntablettes many times for headaches, and seldom feel much relief.  I’m not sure if it is because the dose is so low or the lack of confidence instilled by the funny name.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I Earned my M.D. in Africa

It seems like everyone has an opinion about titles.  Some people take them very seriously, others not so much.  I know some Ph.D.s who use always use the salutation Dr. on everything.  “I am not Mr., I am Dr. Smith.”  Funny story about Dr. Smith.  He once registered as Dr. Smith at a hotel.  In the middle of the night he received a call from the front desk when another guest in the hotel was in the midst of a heart attack.  He learned his lesson.

From time to time my Dad likes to call my office and ask for Dr. Phelan just because.  Of course, there was another time when someone introduced me as, “This is Kelly.  She is a doctor.  But she’s NOT the kind of doctor who can help people.”

Granted, a Ph.D. and an M.D. are quite different from one another.  But after my time in Africa I feel as if I should be awarded an honorary M.D. I can probably name more diseases than anyone else I know.  During my travels throughout Africa I have become acquainted with the following:

African Trypanosomiasis- a.k.a. African Sleeping Sickness.  This is a parasitic disease spread by the teste fly.  There is no vaccine or medicine, so you have to avoid the teste fly.  It is fatal to both humans and animals.

African Tick-Bite Fever- This is a bacterial infection spread through infected ticks.  Again, no vaccine or medicine to prevent it; just avoid ticks.  Where are ticks?  Typically where you are paying hundreds of dollars to go on game drives to see wild animals.

Cholera- You know how you are supposed to wash your hands every time you use the bathroom?  This is why.  Hand washing is not widely appreciated here the way it is in other parts of the world; hence transmission occurs through ingesting food and water contaminated by feces from an infected person.

Dengue- Caused by mosquito bites.  No vaccine or preventative medication.  Do you see a pattern yet?  Good news is that you only die in severe cases.

Ebola-  Ebola is also referred to as hemorrhagic fever.  In my opinion, anything where you bleed uncontrollably is bad.

Malaria- This disease is spread through mosquito bites and most likely to kill a foreigner in Africa.  Not Africans though.  Most Africans get malaria with some amount of regularity.  They look at malaria the same way we do the flu.  For Africans, as long as you don’t get malaria when you are in a high-risk period of your life (child, pregnant mother) chances are decent you will end up developing a partial protective immunity to it.  But, it can still kill you.

Measles- Fortunately this is practically nonexistent in the U.S.  Of course, with all those celebrities spreading their anti-vaccination beliefs that could change.  I hope Jenny McCarthy plans to travel overseas with her kids NEVER.

Polio- Again, thanks to vaccinations the U.S. is considered polio-free since 1979.  Unfortunately it is making a resurgence in Africa and since it is spread person-to-person through improperly cooked food or human waste there are plenty of opportunities for one to contract it here due to the lack of sanitation standards.

Schistosomiasis- Long story short, NEVER go swimming in freshwater ANYWHERE in Africa.  Basically, if the crocodiles don’t kill you, the water will.

Tuberculosis- Coughing up blood is bad.  Enough said.

Typhoid-  I’m still not 100% sure exactly how you get Typhoid.  I just know the vaccine is only about 50-80% effective and it is rampant in Africa so you are supposed to be careful about what you eat and drink.

Yellow Fever- Seriously, these mosquitoes are a BIG problem.  Yellow fever is probably the worst mosquito-related disease in Africa as many countries won’t let you in the door without a yellow fever vaccination card and 15% of people who contract it develop serious complications including organ failure and death.

So what do you think?  Do I qualify?  Can I start calling myself Dr. Dr. Phelan now?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Now Now

When I was preparing to move to London over 15 years ago I was given a book of British Slang.  It was actually a relatively large book, probably 150+ pages, and ended up serving me well.  Plenty of the words and phrases I never used, but terminology like “dodgy,” “bollocks,” “chat up,” “gutted,” “fanny around,” and my personal favorite, “blast!” were around me daily, so it was nice knowing ahead of time what the locals were talking about. Keep in mind, I lived in London B.H.P. (before Harry Potter) so few of us had been regularly exposed to this kind of language, unlike present-day Potterheads.

Unfortunately, Botswana does not have a slang dictionary for new arrivals.  Instead, you have to learn as you go.  I recently watched someone have the following conversation:

Foreigner: I love fat cakes.
Motswana: Is it?
Foreigner: Is it what?

I have a number of visitors who will be dropping by from overseas in the next few months, so let me give you a crash course in Batswana English:

Is it?- This essentially means the same thing as “Really?” Above noted conversation should have been more along the lines of “I like fat cakes.” “Is it?” “Yes, they are my favorite.”

Howzit?- Translation: “How are you? What’s going on? How ya doin’?”

Shame!- This conveys a sense of compassion or empathy.  If I told someone I had to miss a party because I was sick the response would be, “Oh, shame!” meaning “That’s too bad.”

Big- Much.  In America I would say, “Thank you very much,” In Botswana I “Thank you very big.

Now- If someone uses the word “now” it means whatever they have just promised you MIGHT happen sometime before they die, but it most definitely will NOT happen now.  This could mean ANYTIME in the future, just no time in the NEAR future.

Now, now- This is what you want to hear! “Now, now” means immediately.  Anytime I am on a call with someone and want to clarify they are on their way I always ask, “You are coming now, now?”  If they aren’t coming now, now, then chances are they haven’t gotten out of bed and they were probably sleeping in a neighboring country anyway, so there is little if any chance I will actually see him this century.

This concludes today’s lesson.  Thank you for your attention.  With that being said, visitors, please come to Botswana now, now; I miss you very big and can’t wait to find out, “Howzit?”