Wednesday, October 16, 2013


I remember writing here, at a much earlier date, that early on in my time on this continent, it was easy to come up with things to write about because every experience was new and different.  When life started becoming just normal, not exactly noteworthy, at some point during my time in Uganda, the impulse to write sort of faded away.

Well, I've been inspired to start this blog back up again by a move to yet another country, as well as my friend Timothy, who has been blogging daily since he too arrived in Nigeria (though very sadly, in an entirely different city, state and region from me).

Nigeria, while it has some similarities with my other African countries of residence, is quite different in many ways and and Abuja is very much different from the other cities I've lived in or visited.  The city has a reputation for being boring but I really haven't found it to be and I thought I would try and do my little part to help it shake it's reputation.

However, what I wanted to write about first is a phenomenon that I think exists in nearly every part of this country, a phenomenon I'm going to call the This is Nigeria (TIN) complex.  I have lost count of the number of times someone has informed me "This is Nigeria," in an attempt to tell me that things, people, the way things work, are totally different from absolutely anywhere else on earth.  I would say that about 75% of the time, this phrase is invoked to tell the listener that things here are worse than elsewhere - corruption for example.  As if corruption exists only in Nigeria.  Ok, I know that right up there, in the paragraph before this one, I did indeed say that things are different here, and they are but probably not nearly to the extent that the people who say this constantly think.  This complex is also just one of the things that my new home shares with my original home - though I must say that This is America complex and the idea that we are somehow special or better than other people, probably trumps TIN complex in obnoxiousness.

The photos were taken just outside Abuja, returning from a Hash House Harriers run, just before and then during a storm.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Starting 2012 off running

I was running on a scenic desert trail, below the Tucson Mountains yesterday when I was so struck by the beauty of my surroundings that I decided that I needed to write about it.

Ok, I guess photos probably capture the scene better than I could ever describe it. I started out slowly to warm up the muscles and joints but also to avoid the situation that kept playing over and over in my head: typically clumsy, I roll an ankle, or my toe catches one of many rocks poking up through the trail and I tumble forward, face and palms meeting one of the huge Saguaro, or other, cacti that line the trail.

Thankfully I did not end up fulfilling my vision and meeting only 2 other runners in the 10 kilometers, I felt closer to nature than I have in a while. I was so energized by the environment that when I did get some wide flat trails, I was able to finish the run pretty strong.

I hope to make tomorrow's run a trail run too.

So why am I running so much? I have, in a moment of temporary insanity, signed up for the Paris Marathon, scheduled for April 14th. The training is actually going pretty well, minimal injuries and I'm up to 10 miles on my long weekly training run, over 11 this weekend. I've been really lucky to have the opportunity to run in some great places since I started training too. My long runs sites have included along Town Lake in Austin, TX, and around the mall and white house in Washington, DC.

This training schedule has given me more structure than I've had in a while. Working remotely has its benefits but it also means that I don't have that office time/home time dichotomy. Work often blends into personal time and personal time into work time but I can use running as a bookend.

I know that the hardest part of training for me will be training while traveling in West Africa. In some cases the weather is REALLY not conducive to running; high heat and humidity, and in others safety could be an issue.

In any case, the beautiful city of Paris will be the motivation I need to power through. Bring it on, 2012!

Monday, July 11, 2011

I heard this quote on one of my favorite podcasts and something about it spoke to me.

"We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here."

– Richard Dawkins

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Free Hugs!!

I just got home after 4 hours of hugging people and I am quite tired but I feel invigorated at the same time. The Pay it Forward Foundation of Uganda put on a Free Hugs day at one of the shopping malls in Kampala today and it went fabulously.

At first members weren't so sure about the idea but I think they were convinced after a couple hugs and a couple reactions of strangers to being offered hugs. Even if people weren't really in the mood for a hug from a stranger, they rarely walked away without a big smile on their face. Most people did take us up on our offer of a free hug and nearly all did walk away smiling, I would say that the mission has been accomplished

Monday, May 23, 2011

Travel Tips

1. Never strive to be one of the first to go anywhere, never even strive to be in the place in a queue that might seem to be in line with the natural flow of things. You will inevitably be shoved or ignored, sidled and stepped in front of or on, and if you’re like me, you’ll end up thinking not-so-nice things about the people around you and possibly letting these things slip out verbally. The key is to be the last one, anywhere, then no one will be stepping in front of you in the queue, or shoving past you while you’re attempting to place your one small bag in the over-head compartment. Once I surrendered myself to this idea, air travel has been a much more pleasant experience for me and my fellow passengers.

2. Always be polite to airport and airline employees while traveling*. They have the power to either make your life a living hell or make your trip as painless as possible. Use phrases like “Hello, how are you today?” (even better if you can manage to do it in local language) “Please” “Thank you” “Would it be possible to…?” and they’ll get you a long way.

3. Assume that your fellow travelers are the world’s most impolite, socially retarded, self-serving group of people in the world, until proven otherwise. Act accordingly. Of course this isn’t always true and when proven wrong about this, one can meet some very interesting people but making these assumptions at the start can save disappointment in human kind later in your travel.

4. The Addis airport has fresh squeezed orange juice and (of course) coffee that might very well make it worthwhile to pay extra or even come out of one’s way to fly Ethiopian Airways

5. Bring a book. Everywhere.

6. The baristas at Dormann’s in the Nairobi airport will let you jump behind the counter and make a latte for a friend (if you have some experience, they aren’t too busy and they accept your challenge of a cappuccino-off)

7. When using the buses that take passengers from the terminal to the airplane in many airports (sometimes all of 20 feet in the case of the airport in Lome), recall tip number 3 when shoving past the 30 people who are the first to get on the bus, yet insist on standing right next to the door.

8. Strike up a conversation with someone who doesn’t seem to be one of those people mentioned in tip number 3. Good conversation can make a long trip short.

* I am sure to indicate that this rule is for during travel as if you have received unsatisfactory service from an airline, Kenya Airways for example, maybe they rerouted your colleague to the other side of the continent without permission, compensation and barely a notification. With something like this, feel free to release a wrath the likes of which have never even been felt, even at the KQ customer service counter in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Repeated arguments used against rights of homosexuals and why they just don’t hold water

Even though the Bahati Bill has seemed to have gone dormant, the debate is still going about homosexuality in Uganda. Here is something I recently wrote for an online forum. Somewhat surprisingly, the forum has some strong, Ugandan voices in favor of gay rights, very encouraging. These are the main arguments that people in Uganda make against homosexuality:

1. It’s “unnatural”
a. Physiologically
As humans, we do many things that one could argue to be unnatural, yet we seem to be so hung up on this one. What about circumcision, birth by caesarian section, tattoos, piercings? What about flying? That’s pretty unnatural for humans.

So many people are so uneducated about the whole subject that they assume that homosexual sex is anal sex. It is a fact that there are many heterosexuals who enjoy anal sex and also that there are many homosexuals who don’t actually participate in anal sex.

As a human race there are far too many things that we do that would be deemed “unnatural” if we cared to think about it that this point

b. Doesn’t lead to procreation
Estimates are that between 5 and 10% of the global population is gay. Fear that because these people aren’t procreating in the standard way, we will die out as a species is just plain silly. Not only are there billions of heterosexuals procreating in the standard way to more than make up the difference but there are options like surrogacy, in vitro fertilization, sperm/egg donations and adoption so that people who could otherwise not procreate in the standard way can actually have children.

The idea that these people are should not have rights because they are not able to reproduce the standard way is also illogical, by this argument, people who don’t/can’t procreate should lose their rights. This includes nuns, priests, people who choose not to have children people who are biologically unable to have children, some people with spinal injuries, some people who have had cancer, the list goes on. We’re not talking about taking their rights away.

Another idea, how many people actually have the aim of procreation every time they have sex? I’m not sure about this but my guess is very few. Sex is not just a means to an end.

2. It’s un-African, imported by foreigners, not meant to be here
There are words in local languages all over the world for “homosexual” and sometimes there are words for the act of homosexual sex. Taking a look at linguistics, things that were brought by outsiders, often carry the foreign name or at least a name that is influenced by the foreign word, i.e. motoka = car in Luganda, abion = airplane in Wolof (avion is airplane in French). Stories about homosexuality go back to pre-colonial times. It was not imported.

3. Many of the world’s religions condemn it, it’s evil, it’s a sin
To me this argument is moot on the basis that your religion, no matter how popular or how many people adhere to it, cannot and should not govern my life. People in this country have freedom of religion. That freedom is severely diminished when laws are made based on one religion over another. If the laws were to be based on Islam or Judaism, pork would be outlawed for everyone. If laws were based on Christianity, no establishments would be allowed to be open on Sundays. And remember, freedom of religion also means that I have the freedom to chose no religion at all if that suits me.

4. It is taboo in many of the world’s cultures
There are far too many things to mention that were once considered taboo in many of the world’s cultures. How about mixed race marriage? That was once considered taboo in many, many places, still is in many. Many of the world’s cultures also considered people with darker skin to be somehow lesser than those with lighter skin – how do we feel about that one now? As the world progresses, values and ideas change. We evolve.

5. They are “recruiting” children to be gay
If this is true, which I doubt it is, these people are pedophiles no matter if they are gay or straight. Pedophilia is a problem because it involves a person who is not old enough to give their consent. Homosexuality is NOT equivalent to pedophilia. Homosexuality is a relationship between consenting adults and pedophilia is an adult taking advantage of a child, something that should be condemned no matter the genders of the adult and child.

6. It is in the same group with incest, bestiality and pedophilia.
As described above, homosexuality implies consenting adults, this is not the case with pedophilia or bestiality. Incest is usually not consensual for both parties but if it is, it can lead to severe genetic problems in offspring and is therefore illegal on the basis that it causes pretty major health issues for the population and future generations.

7. People choose to be this way
If homosexuality was a choice, why on earth would anyone in Uganda choose to be gay? This would mean opting into a life where you would be very likely to be shunned by family and loved ones and put yourself in danger any time you told someone about your true feelings. Why would anyone opt into this life it all they had to do was choose to be something else? Did you choose to be heterosexual? Is anyone able to choose their emotions or feelings? Is anyone able to choose who they fall in love with? I’m guessing the answer to all of these is “no.”

Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Mzungu, the movie (the final muse)

After a month to cool off and getting away from politics thankfully... I am offended by a new documentary called "Mzungu." I recently watched the trailer and offensive, even if it is far too repeated in recent posts, is the best word for it. It's meant to be about 4 young American kids who come to "Africa" to volunteer and "change the world." The trailer goes on, "On a continent plagued by disease, poverty, survival..." (plagued by survival???) Now, in all honesty, I have not seen this film in full, but if the trailer and all the other little snippets of awesomeness on the website are any indicator, I think my guess about this movie is pretty close.

I'll let you in on something: hundreds of "mzungus" come to Uganda every year thinking they are going to help, thinking they are going to effect change. If they are lucky they'll have a great experience, and like the trailer says, it's very likely that Africa will change them more than they have changed anyone or anything in Africa. We then go back, share our great experience with friends and family, maybe get a little embarrassed that we were so egotistical in thinking that we could just show up for a month or two and have any real effect on the people who have been living here forever. Here's what we don't do - make a documentary about it! Usually we all end up learning that Africa is not the place that Western media and education lead us to believe. That it is NOT a place totally and utterly ravaged by war, famine, disease, genocide and poverty and though those things do exist on the continent, the vast majority of Africans are going about living their lives and if they got the chance to see this trailer, as some of my Ugandan friends have, they would be quite offended too. They are offended by the implication that Africa needs these bored, young, American twentysomethings to come "change" them and save them from the war, famine, disease, genocide and poverty. They are offended by the implication that they strive for "survival." They are offended by the notion of being lumped all together as one: these bored, young, American twentysomethings spent some time in Uganda and Rwanda yet the trailer keeps saying "AFRICA" perpetuating the SarahPalinesque idea that Africa is one country and not the diverse continent of 52 countries that it is.

I have a morbid curiosity drawing me to see the film though I know if I did my eyes would be in a perpetual state of roll. If you have the opportunity to see this film, go for it, just know what you're getting into.