Saturday, February 24, 2007


This is been a very busy week: I moved offices, moved houses, took over a major project, got salmonella poisoning, and lost then found my digital camera. Phew!

Posting will be light in the next two weeks. I am going to Johannesburg, South Africa for a work conference- assuming I get my passport back from the DEFA void, where it was been since November. I'm ready to get out of Angola for a few days- I've been here for almost six months without leaving! I'm also very excited to go to Jo'burg for some shopping! The hotel where I will be staying is across the street from a mall, so I am VERY excited to go there and drop some cash. The American consumer in me has been dying with nothing but food and drink the spend money on in the last six months.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Congratulations, Liberia!

On the Voice of America-Africa's radio newscast this morning, they reported that Condi Rice and the State Department have promised cancellation of US$391 million in loans to Liberia- that's all of Liberia's debt with the government of the United States.

Liberia's total debt is around US$3.5 billion, and its total annual budget is around 1/40 that amount. In order to pay what debtors expect it to (around US$80-$100 million per year). Liberia's entire annual budget would go to its debtors.

The US government share of that represents 30% of the debt, so this is a very positive step.

There's a good fact sheet about Liberia's debt here.
And a SIPA classmate in Liberia runs this very interesting Libera blog.

Awesome Structures in Angola Series: Part 1

I saw this building in one of the markets in Cubal. A lot of stores have hand-painted signs on them, but this one stuck out. It says:


The name of the barbershop is "Barberia de Raiva", which literally translated means "The Rabies Barbershop" but it is also a play on words because in Portuguese (and Spanish, for that matter) when you are really angry, you can say you have rabies. "Que raiva!" Is the owner doing a community service, warning the people of Cubal about the dangers of rabies? After all, the barbershop already performs a community service by renting out a phone for those who don’t have their own. Then again, there's a lot of violence associated with this barbershop. Is the Rabies Kills Barbershop really the place you want to go for a shave or a trim?

In any case, we English speakers are also "WELLCOME" to get our barber services at the Rabies Kills shop.


Posting has been slow lately, mainly because I have seen a sharp increase in the amount of work I have to do. Why? Well, although it’s not yet official, it will be shortly: when headquarters approves it, I will drop the fellowship early and become a regular full-time employee- with full salary and driving privileges! Although I was pretty much guaranteed a job once the fellowship was over, I assumed that I would ride out the year and then have to leave Angola. However, I consider myself lucky both in that I get to switch over earlier (and drop all of the busy-work type work that I’ve had to do at times) and do more interesting work, but also that I get to stay in Angola. To say things were difficult at first would be an understatement, but around November I suddenly realized that I liked Angola and all the confusão. As difficult as life can be here, professionally and personally, there are also lots of rewards that come with being in such a dynamic place.

What will I be doing? There are basically two events that promoted my promotion.

1) As I’ve mentioned before, we are in the process of switching from emergency programming (where we were the direct project implementers) to traditional development with through local partners. As such, we are trying to forge new partnerships, entering into new programming areas and more or less shaking things up. Part of my job will be a “partnership manager” and I will assist our head of programming in deciding which partners to work with, establishing the projects, and doing diplomatic work. This will be great because we will be working in other provinces, like Huambo and Cunene, meaning that I will get out of Benguela and explore more of Angola.

2) My boss had spoken to me about staying on earlier, but in an informal way. However, two ex-pat colleagues are leaving us! (Both received promotions, one in Haiti, the other in the Democratic Republic of Congo.) The colleague that is leaving for Haiti leaves three projects- one basically manages itself thanks to our stellar program officer; another still has another year; and the final one has until the end of April. I will be managing these projects until they close. The big one is the one that ends in April- a HIV/AIDS prevention project that has a very large budget, which the local partner has not managed well! It will take a lot of diplomatic maneuvering, even in the last two months of the project. The second project is an institutional-strengthening project with a great and cooperative partner. In addition, I’ll be supervising the HIV-AIDS in the workplace policy staff, and other odds and ends.

Did I mention I’ll FINALLY GET TO DRIVE?!? It will be so nice to decide to go to ShopRite when I want to! To decide to go to the bigger, better market in Catumbela! To go to the amazing beach in Caotinho! First I’ll have to learn how to drive stick.

I’m also moving apartments! I’m leaving the big, heavily populated complex for a much smaller complex with a bigger apartment and coworker neighbors. I’m taking over the place from the coworker going to Haiti—and she’s leaving a bunch of stuff, which is nice. Even better is that the apartment have a water tank, so I won’t have to worry about city water shortages anymore. Considering that I haven’t have water in 8 days, I’m very happy about this.

So that’s why I’ve neglected writing lately

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

This explains it all...

This article helps explain the fashion I've seen in the developing world. (Warning: link will expire after one week.) Being able to choose what clothes you wear is a luxury in most developing countries. Ever wonder what happened to that box of clothes you left at the donation drop-off? Chances are it wasn't sent to a Goodwill but sold for CA$H. These donated clothes are usually rounded up and vaccuum-packed into big bales and sold overseas. In Honduras this used clothing was called ropa americana, or American clothes.

In Honduras, the rumor was that American only wore their once and then threw them away because they were so rich they could buy more clothes. Considering the quality of used clothing (totally wearable and decent) and the fact that due to financial constraints most Honduras wore their clothes until they fell off their bodies, I can see how they came to this conclusion.

In Angola, it is much the same, except that the used clothes here are a bit more expensive. (Either that or they charge me the white-person price.) Sports-related clothing are the most in-demand, thanks to hip-hop and Western musician styles. I was even pleased to see an old school Houston Astros t-shirt on a teen the other day. I'm not sports-savvy enough to know which team won what Super Bowl, but I'll pay more attention from now on.

How Things Work Around Here: Government Emergency Response Edition

As those of us in Angola know- but not many people outside know- there has been a series of torrential rains in Luanda and the surrounding areas, causing horrible flooding. Luanda is a sprawling city, with people arriving daily and just setting up tents wherever they can. Shanty towns sprout easily, and were washed away even more easily with all the rains. Around 100 people were killed, with several more missing. As if that weren’t enough, it’s cholera season yet again, and nothing says cholera like flooding and standing water.

So many NGOs are trying to figure out how to respond to the emergency. We don’t have any programs in Luanda, really, so as an organization the most we could do was give financial support. A colleague of mine who happened to be in Luanda during the rains attended the joint NGO/Government meeting where they tried to coordinate the programming response. Now, I wasn’t there so I don’t know for sure what happened, but I wasn’t surprised to hear what my colleague said happened.

Apparently, the head government official sat quiet through the presentations, looking angrier as time went on. Finally, at the end, he stood up and started to rage at all the NGO representatives, saying, “You call that a response?! You should be more organized? What kind of NGOs are you?”

Then a Portuguese woman, who wasn’t having any of that, stood up as well and said, “It’s the government’s responsibility to coordinate this response, not the NGOs’!” My colleague said the room went completely silent, and the government official just walked out. I’m sure the woman’s represented the overwhelming desire most NGO employees who deal with the government have to tell the government just how messed up it is. But then again, most people just smile and keep quiet because if you do say something, then you have no government help whatsoever.