Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Finally Home

Home again.

I was able to get on an earlier flight coming from London back to the US, so I got home around noon instead of the orginal 5pm, which was really excellent.

I spent the rest of the day going grocery shopping, doing laundry and generally getting back in touch with life.

Today, I've got a definite fun-over. I've taken the day off of work to get my body readjusted to the cold, cold weather (30 degrees - yowch!) and back to thinking about school (boo!). Word has come back that our work contract has been extended to April 15th, which is nice. I'm not sure how much beyond that I want to work, as I now know what I'm going to be doing this summer and would like some time off to rest. But, that could just be the jet lag talking, too. It IS nice to have money.

At any rate, I'm working on getting my photos published online, and organizing some tours for my cousin who is in town looking at colleges.

But right now, I'm tired and I wish I was back at the pool :(

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Rundown

In the past 48 hours, I have done the following:
  • Slept in for the first time in like, um, forever. It was awesome.
  • Walked in and around the Makoro market in central Accra and saw things like "Crust Whitening" toothpaste and billboards that say "Please do not urine right here ->"
  • Found out my best friend, pending final approval, is moving to Rome in January. Cheap vacation here I come! Congrats Megs!
  • Hired a car for twice what it was worth to take me shopping. Once at said shopping area, didn't have enough money on me for what I wanted and was forced to take said taxi BACK to the hotel and repay the exorbantly high price (ok ok it was eight dollars, but still. I should've paid FOUR).
  • Bought kente cloth for myself and my boss.
  • Went to a colleague's house and ate authentic Malian food out out of a large bowl with five people I didn't know. Note to all lefthanders out there - we are dirty, dirty people. The trick is to ball it up in your hand and THEN pop it into your mouth, not to throw it at your face and hope some of it lands in your mouth like I did (which is a great way to hit your neighbor in the head and make a terrific mess). D'oh!
  • Attended a free concert at Alliance Francais of the totally awesome Malian musician Habib Koite and his band Bamadan. This guy is amazing and hot. I shook it with tons of African women in their vibrant bou-bous till the break of dawn. It. was. awesome!
  • Hired a car to take me to Cape Coast, the Elmina Castle and Kakum National forest. Crossed seven of the scariest, ricketiest, swingie-est, ropie-ist canopy bridges EVER and explored the first town that ever saw Europeans (to disasterous effects). Unfortunately, the Dutch and then the British used this town to export over 15 million Africans to the America's for over two hundred years. I walked among the dungeons in the coastal slave castle and just wept. It was so heartbreaking (and hot).

Since yesterday, I've discovered the one major downside of business travel: you don't get out into the countryside to meet with real locals, and if you do, you've got to do it by yourself. You're not on vacation. Chances are the others who are with you have work to do (as in my case), so you have to suck it up and go it alone. While I'm glad I did all this stuff in the last two days, I am really missing my friends, my handsome man-friend and my family. True, it's fun to experience things, but it's more enjoyable to share it with others.

Huh, I guess that's why I started this blog.

One last mini-seminar tomorrow and then we're back on the plane. I feel like I've been gone for ages, when in fact it's only been two weeks.

Africa over and out-


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Who Loves Business Travel? I do.

Boy do I ever. Aside from paying higher prices for stuff at shittier exchange rates, you get:
1) a nice pool, with poolside service, poolside meals and poolside charging-it-to-my-room.
2) airconditioning. as much (or as little) as you want. This is especially helpful after a LOOONG taxi drive in the back of a Fiat with no hubcaps.
3) other foreign guests. they're hilarious. it only takes you a second though, to realize that they think you're hilarious, too. (sidebar: one guy came up to me and said, "You're American, right?" to which I paused, looked closely at him and said "You're Indian, right?" tee hee (he was!).
ahem, continuing on
4) single rooms all to myself for six nights, at a cost roughly the equivalent of an entire months rent. And I'm not paying for it.
5) Um, cable? I know it's ridiculous to travel all the way around the world to watch cable, but WOW. I love cable.
6) Not cleaning up after myself. Admittedly, this is a tough habit to break. I caught myself folding my pajamas this morning and promptly made myself throw them on the floor. I refolded them later.
7) flushing toilets, running water, the whole nine yards.
8) ordering internet in my room. having a laptop to hook it up to!

Friday, March 17, 2006

The African Runs

I thought it might happen, but I wasn't really expecting it to. I'm not surprised, but I thought it would miraculously bypass me.

Instead, it's passing through me.

I've got the African runs.

It's not so bad, really. Each attack is preceded by mind-numbing stomach cramps - the kind that makes your tummy feel as though someone is squeezing it like a worry-ball.

Then come the rumblies. A small train chug-a-lugs from your writhing stomach and slowly, with bundles of air behind it, pulsates through your upper intestine. It feels kind of like a giant worm on the march; an avalanche thundering down a mountainside; the rushing gush of a toilet flush; a burb bubbling down instead of up.

It's all over over in about 5 minutes.

So far, it hasn't really affected my work schedule, as the cramps happen about once every two hours and I'm never more than twenty feet away from a toilet.

But it's sure taken all the fun out of eating. I'm slamming water and popping peptos like candy. I look at food, wondering if it will make me feel better or worse. I'm not even sure my body is deriving any nutrition from this torture. In fact, I'm pretty sure she's laying down on the job.

Proof positive: This morning, I passed an entire green bean. Whole.

I wouldn't be surprised if a boot came out next.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006


After the workshop finished up (and I collapsed in a heap on my bed), we went out for supper at Carnivore, the gastronomical and culinary pinnacle of East Africa. Well, maybe not. Almost every person I told I was heading to Nairobi suggested that we go – although everyone else in our group had been already and it’s quite “touristy.”

I felt a little stupid suggesting we go there, but it came highly recommended – and so I wanted to tick it off “my list.” (So when conversations go like this: “Oh, Nairobi? Have you been to Carnivore?” I can say “Why yes! It’s lovely/so-so/gave me diarrhea I’d never eat there again in my life!” Trust me, development people compare notes on their various travels so often, it easily turns into a one-upmanship game. But I digress…).

Carnivore’s niche is exotic meat. Kenya is big game country, and appropriately, big meat country as well. Giraffe, antelope, camel, snake – these and many more were supposed to be available for your tasting at Carnivore. And while, vegetarians are welcome (there’s a separate menu), they’re generally snickered at.

Walking in, you’re greeted by a large open air pit, with a double row of swords stacked around it, each skewering a different type of meat. I was hoping to see some eyeballs, or at least a head, but the closest thing I saw was a thanksgiving turkey getting a colonostopy. In fact, the most exotic thing they had on the menu that night was camel, ostrich and crocodile. (I was hoping for snake). The crocodile was fishy, the ostrich juicy and the pork sausages amazing. As one of my colleagues said, “The camel was a little dry.” Hardy-har.

The food arrives in shifts; with a soup and salad plate first, followed by some piping hot plates (I could feel myself getting a tan!) and a pyramid of various “sauces” to try with each type of meat. No A-1 Steak sauce here! Waiters wandered around with different spears, slicing off pieces in front of you onto your plate. The effect was quite theatrical; each waiter hoisting around slabs of steaming meat and large machetes, like they had just stabbed the animal and ripped the muscle right out of them. While there was a baked potato and some salad available, it was definitely a protein-heavy meal (I’ve had the stomachache all day to prove it).

But the best part about being there was that I finally felt myself relax a bit and let go. One workshop down, one and a half to go. No major catastrophes and only a minor bit of running around. What’s more, I got to know my co-workers a bit more – and they’re quite fun and funny. One of them travels in the region a lot and he is a friendly face I might see while in Malawi. It’s so nice when you like the people you’re working with.

This morning, we got up at 4am and took the 7:20am flight to Accra, which was brutal (the morning, not the flight). Africa is SUCH a LARGE continent that flying from Nairobi to Accra took well over five hours (take a look at a map!) We arrived in Accra after a rainstorm, in 90 degree heat, which was quite a shock from the sixty degrees and sunny weather of Nairobi. I’m glad I packed all that cotton!

After a quick trip to the Mission to hammer out some details, we’re now resting in the hotel and getting ready for supper. All my worries about our cantankerous client was wasted, as he was actually nice to me (because he wants my help) and didn’t make me feel like a secretary. I still feel a bit out of my league, but some of the unknowns have become knowns, so that takes the stress away.

Tomorrow night we’re actually having supper with the Mission Director (fancy invites and everything!) and it looks like this weekend we’ll move to another hotel with a seaside view. So far, so good. I wish I could post more, but it’s already too long as it is.

I’ll try to post more later.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Day one of Workshop

Well, I did get a chance to poke around – bought some overpriced trinkets for friends and family, toured Karen Blixen’s home (of Out of Africa fame), ate yummy Mediterranean food and found out that the National Museum was closed (after spending considerable time haggling for the taxi price to get there!)

I wish now I’d spent more time yesterday just sitting on my butt by the pool. I’ve worked my ass off today and I could use some time to relocate it. Actually, my lower back hurts so much, whether I’m sitting or standing – it doesn’t matter – I’m still in pain. L boo.

At any rate, my worries about finding a copy machine were all for naught – the hotel comes complete with a business center and cheap copies (even a copy lady!) The conference expenses are cheaper than I anticipated – which means my worries about credit card meltdown will probably not happen either. We got everything hooked up – and really, the only drawback to the day has been a) the greasy food and b) and long-winded participants when it’s a gorgeous seventy degrees and sunny. J

The facilitator even asked me if I’d run a session tomorrow, so I see that as a sign I’m doing something good.

But the BIG news, which I just found out, is that I’ve been offered a summer internship with USAID in Malawi – with housing and a small stipend for the summer! Hooray!!

What a Ride!

What a ride so far.

Traveling for business is much different than any personal traveling I’ve ever done. First of all, it comes with about $1500 worth of excess baggage. No really. I had two white enormous, 90 lb boxes, one huge 80 lb suitcase and two teeny tiny carry ons for myself. (My previous experience with KLM has taught me to carry all my personal affects with me). Note to self: overweight, excess baggage is not for plebians. I was totally blown away by the cost, until I overheard the guy next to me checking a 36 inch flat screen tv to Nigeria – and paying cash.

It’s fun to admit you’re on your way to Africa for anything because people get extremely impressed. Two spring-break backpackers in the baggage line happened to look at all my boxes (market: Holiday Inn, Nairobi KENYA in big letters) and said “Whoa. That’s hardcore.” I looked at them, motioned to the excess baggage and said, “It’s all shoes.” I think they believed me.

Now, it’s not my general M.O to play chatty-chat with other traveler’s in the many line’s (ticket/baggage/check in/taxi) one finds themselves in due in part for security measures (as a woman traveling alone, you can’t be too careful), but from time to time it’s necessary to be polite. While checking-in in Amsterdam, I happened to be in front of two other spring breaker’s (note to self: don’t travel in March) who were on their way to visit boyfriends. After telling them where I was headed, one girl asked “Boyfriend?”. Ha, I smirked internally – won’t be doing THAT to Kenya again! Instead I said, “No, just business.” Ahh…satisfaction.

Apart from the slight superiority factor I can’t seem to shake, there’s a lot more pressure to “get things right” while traveling for business (hence my relatively sleepless night last night). I am now spending my Sunday in front of a computer and phone, trying track down lost luggage (sigh. Yes, AGAIN), trying to track down my lost suitcoat (left in the backseat of said taxi) and finalizing tomorrow’s agenda. All of this, instead of ducking in and out of boutiques/exploring the city/poking around/generally being curious, which is what I REALLY want to do (although, getting my suitcoat back would be nice).

While the hotel is nice, it’s not big on adventure. I hope to get all this stuff straightened (they’ve at least located the boxes and my suitcoat is now on the way) out by early afternoon and off to some poking around. Hopefully I’ll have time to post again – but I’m not sure. True to travel (business or pleasure) you never know what’s gonna happen next.


Friday, March 10, 2006

Going Going.......gone

Leavin' on a Jet plane.......don't know when I'll be back again..........(actually, I do, but it doesn't quite fit with the song...)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

March Madness

This is a crazy month. And no, I'm not a basketball fan. This is a just crazy month period.

It pretty much boils down to this:

Government 101: As I understand it, thanks to a thirty-odd year hiring freeze, the only way the United States Government (USG) can get any work done (legally, since they can't directly HIRE anyone) is by farming out contracts to beltway bandits that then go in a do the work on their behalf. This ranges from big defense contracts (think: Halliburton) to more innocuous support contracts (ie the one that I'm working on - office support). There are a ton of these agencies in the DC area, all vying to these contracts which the USG periodically puts up for bid (through various mechanims I can't even begin to fathom (see Govt 502)).

Anyway - as we all know, contracts END. Our contract is up at the end of this month. Although we've re-bid for it, it's not guaranteed we're going to get it. SO, there is the distinct possibility that I may be out of a job come March 31st (and I have no idea when I'm going to know).

The office environment has turned into a trepidacious wasteland, with people peeping over cubicles to have furtive conversations regarding future plans. Email traffic over available jobs has skyrocketed, people slip away at lunch or meet over coffee to devise their "strategery". Shoud you stay, should you look for work? If the contract IS re-bid, are you going to sign on? etc etc etc

You know how an abused dog reacts when it thinks it's going to get kicked? We're all in kind of a collective wince here, awaiting the final blow that will put us out on the street. I feel like I'm headed to the pound.

As kind of a final hurrah, in the middle of all this weird office stress, I'm heading to Kenya and Ghana for twelve days (and returning quite near to the end of March). I feel a little like that guy in upstate New York who'd been in a coma for twenty years, spoke for about a month, and then died last month. This is my time to speak! (ahem, and then die).

But anyway, on top of THAT (and here's where this turns into a personal rant): my professor has decided that since HE'S going away to Sri Lanka in April, to make up for it WE'RE going to have class on a Saturday over spring break! What a great idea! Everyone will be up for learning THEN!

To add insult to injury, he even gave us a group assignment for that date. Wha? What part of spring break doesn't this man understand? I am so pissed. My boss and I picked these Africa dates specifically around my spring break, so as not to miss school. I can't believe the audacity of this man!

Whew. Ok. Pant. Pant. Pant. *sigh*

AAAAAAAND, I'm spent.


Saturday, March 04, 2006

There Are No Pros to Procrastination

Oh man, I've got so much work to do and all I want to do it troll in the internet. It's gotten so bad, that I've even checked my WORK email (no one writes to my hotmail accnt on the weekend :( So I ended up in an email exchange with a fellow coworker who was being equally lame and working on a Saturday. New lows, people. I've reached new lows.

Crap, I am in so much trouble.

Not only do I have four fifty page economic articles to summarize and 100 pages to read for school, but I'm also leaving for Africa on Friday for twelve days.

To be fair, this involves work, so it makes sense that I might be checking my work email on a Saturday, but I didn't DO anything about the thousands of missives sitting there. I just read them and said "Eh. I'll deal with this on Monday."

Crap crap crap crap crap.

I can't help to think that I should be doing more. Like, where on earth did I put my elephant gun???

And, oh yeah, I'm coming down with a cold. Blar-choo!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Random Act #1: The Daily Commute

Like most everyone I know, I work.

Inherent in the whole "work" concept is the idea of the "commute," wherein one must find a way to, day after day, show up consistently to the previously mentioned "work". In fact, some may argue that the "commute" is an integral part of the whole "work" experience.

For some of us, this can be a crazy adventure involving a public transportation system. Oh the hilarity.

Actually, before I launch into my diatribe, you should know that I'm pretty lucky, commute-wise. The traffic in DC and the surrounding areas is terrible, to say the least. I live on the edge of the city, but within bus-distance to my M-street internship. The bus stop is literally across the street from my home and I get dropped off within one block of my office for the teeny-tiny price of $1.25 each way. While I have had to wait for over an hour in some circumstances (in a word: snow. DC'ites must think it's crack falling from the sky because they certainly turn into strung out crack fiends while driving in it. But I digress), I'm a fairly satisfied rider.

That being said, it's not WMATA that I have a problem with. It's other passengers that I have a problem with.

A taste of what I've witnessed/been subjected to:
  • Cell phones. I understand your need to discuss the latest shades of Clinique lipstick, but do I need to hear about your Saturday night plans to get "f'd up"?? Puhlease. (Sidebar: shooting dirty looks does NOT help. For one particularly obnoxious phone caller sitting right next to me I reached into my bag and pulled out MY phone, opened it and said "Grandma? Grandma?! Turn your hearing aid on!! I've got your Preperation H in my bag! Don't worry, they'll stop oozing soon! Don't pick!!" She got the point.)
  • Seats. Some seats are smaller/smooshier/closer together than others. I try to be a good bus rider, but sometimes your weight offsets mine, causing the shared seatcushion to tilt in your direction. Please do not construe this as an offer for a come on (however, I've gotten some pretty good ones. "Do you work for the World Bank?" is my personal favorite).
  • Personal Hygiene. Please don't shake your hair in front of me. It's not pretty and doesn't taste good. If you do it again, I'm going to start carrying a scissors in my purse.
  • Homework. Some dude asked me to proofread his English homework on the bus one morning. I don't know what is loopier, the fact that he asked, or the fact that I did it.
  • Smells: One day I rode the bus and it smelled like bananas, pee and thai chicken curry. I haven't had Thai food since (ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew).
  • Again with the seats: If you are 250 bils and are looking for a seat, please don't wedge yourself between me and the wall. Pick a smaller, skinnier girl who won't mind that you smell like bananas, pee and thai chicken curry.

Oh man, I'd better stop. This could go on forever. Also, I'm getting a bit sick!

Peace out,


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

E is for Ego

After much trepidation and nailbiting and general malaise, I have decided to create my own blog. Welcome!

This has taken me awhile, mostly because I am generally against publishing my personal life on the oh-so-public internet. But lately, I've become a blog-hound - I totally suck up information about other people's lives and have really grown to love it. I find myself running into things on a daily basis and mentally composing my reactions, cracking jokes, telling funnies, whatever. So, here I am.

However, I've had some serious hang ups about starting one. Here are my reasons: 1) I generally think that if you're interested enough in hearing my random ruminations that you're

  • a) a friend or family member of mine (that I'll probably talk to sooner or later. Hi!)
  • b) some lunatic who is bored at work and trolling for entertainment (sorry - none here)
  • c) some lunatic looking for their next victim (for the record I am 6' tall, 850 pounds and I live with a huge doberman. Nyeah.)
  • d) someone from High School that, had I wanted to keep in touch with you so you could hear my effusive comments, I would've.

So if you're anyone but a) please stop reading.

If you're still reading - Hi Megan!

No really, if you're still reading, you're probably wondering "Why on earth is this person even creating a blog if they hate it so gosh-darn much?"

I'll tell you why: because I can. Also, because I find myself confronted with some pretty weird stuff on a daily basis, which makes me laugh, vomit, tear-up (more on the urine bushes later) or generally want to share with someone. Anyone. And I can't always hop on email and write down my thoughts and send them off to my friends. Also, my boyfriend doesn't want to hear about the urine bushes anymore.

Relax. It's mostly random stuff. It won't be too painful - and you might find it amusing.

Also, while I do keep a journal - I understand the fundamental reasons why people create blogs in the first place: for attention. And keeping a personal journal isn't really accomplishing much in the "public accolades" column on my life's scorecard (although, it's doing wonders for the "philsophical musings that make absolutely no sense" portion).

So here's to you, whoever you are. Welcome to my random acts of life.