transparency

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Notes from Liberia – third trip

My father has just returned from another trip to Liberia. The danger pay isn’t what it used to be, but he still loves his work.

*** *** ***

Dear Family and Friends,

I came back from Liberia in early June after three weeks of field work on a mid-term evaluation for a USAID-funded education program.

Liberia is putting itself together… with help from NGOs and International Organizations whose signs are on every corner.

When I was there in 2004, there was still tension. People weren’t confident that the wars were over. Young people who had been fighters and young people who had not been fighters were uneasily moving back together in their old villages – though many former child soldiers, ashamed to return home, stayed in Monrovia, the capital, with no trades except the ones they learned in war. Market women sat in front of the home of a warlord/minister, silently holding up signs that said No More Fighting. My danger bonus was 25%.

In 2009 I visited teachers’ colleges. The students were from all fifteen of the country’s ethnic groups. You could still see wariness, but mainly they were working well together as Liberians. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was President and was respected. My danger bonus had dropped to 15%, and applied only when I was in the countryside.

This year, the streets of Monrovia are livelier; the towns in the hinterlands are more prosperous; and ‘Ellen’ is running confidently for a second term. We once ran into a roving band of ‘commandos’ who were doing a poor job at intimidation, since they no longer carried guns. To [my wife] Vivian’s chagrin, the danger bonus had been eliminated.

I took pictures and am attaching three for flavour.

The owner of the hotel and the founder and patron of Zorzor Rural Women Literacy School.

The owner of the hotel and the founder and patron of Zorzor Rural Women Literacy School.

The first is the front office of the hotel where I had just spent the night. The woman in the yellow dress is the owner of the hotel and the founder and patron of Zorzor Rural Women Literacy School. She, herself, began school after having three children. With the encouragement of her husband, she eventually earned a high school diploma.

Stop Early Marriage!

Stop Early Marriage!

The second is on a door of a mud house in a village a long way off the main road. We talked with townspeople. Different generations are back at school making up for years of lost education during the wars. Three of the young people who talked with us walk 40 kilometres to school at the beginning of the week and 40 kilometres back on the weekend. Others attend night classes at the local evangelical church. These are the survivors.

The class is full, so we know that the teacher teaches and the children learn.

The class is full, so we know that the teacher teaches and the children learn.

The third picture speaks for itself. The class is full, so we know that the teacher teaches and the children learn. Children and parents judge the quality of schools; if the school doesn’t provide value, the children go to work on the farm.

My email misbehaved during most of the trip. When I eventually understood what was happening, Vivian hadn’t heard form me for ten days and was contacting the embassy to learn whether I was lost. Soon I started getting urgent messages saying “Please Contact your wife!” (One of the education team opposed getting involved, reasoning that I might not want my wife to know where I was. She was over-ruled.)

My assistant, Frank, and I spent three weeks, mostly on bombed-out or mudded-out roads, in a four wheel drive Toyota whose multiple breakdowns effectively randomized the communities we observed. I stayed in a different bush hotel every night, usually paying extra to have the generator turned on in the morning so I could type up the previous day’s notes. Eating was good – eggs and bread in the morning; bananas, plantain chips, and roast corn on the road; foofoo or rice and goat pepper soup in the evening. Liberia is a Christian country, so there was beer with supper. In Monrovia I ate grilled barracuda on the beach or Lebanese tabbouleh, hummus, and kibbee at a rooftop restaurant run by Indians.

In the capital, Frank found me a well-run local hotel on the main commercial strip, which I preferred to the beachfront expatriate hotels where I had previously stayed. I may have been a disappointment at the hotel, however. The first evening, while I waited for my pepper soup, the bar filled up – an attractive young woman on every second stool. Each one winked prettily as I walked out. The second night, they weren’t there.

It was a thirty-six hour trip back – through Accra, Addis Ababa, Rome, and Washington. Quicker though than the trip over, when we were diverted through Dakar to avoid the volcano in Iceland.

On my return there was two weeks of report writing – now over. And then the excitement began: First a 5.5 earthquake that felt like a ghost train running through the house. Two days later, the police invaded our quiet agricultural neighbourhood and removed plants and occupants from houses on our nearby corner.

Happy Canada Day and Fourth of July!

Pat/Patrick

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

scrambled eggs for Alston

Filed under: Alston,children,food,how to,recipes — alison @ 22:12

Scrambled eggs are so simple that most people don’t know there’s a way to make them. I have often seen people break eggs directly into a hot frying pan and stir frantically until they had a pile of tough, dry crumbs. This does not produce a yummy meal, but scrambled eggs can be very yummy.

Eggs
1 tbs milk or water per egg
Butter to taste
Salt and chili (not cayenne) powder
Cheese (optional)
Heavy frying pan (use a cast iron pan for more nutrition unless you can taste the iron)

Melt butter in the frying pan on medium-low heat.

Beat the eggs and milk or water gently with a fork. You aren’t going for perfect uniformity and you certainly don’t want froth.

Pour the eggs out into the frying pan… and don’t touch them. Not right away. If you want you can lay thin slices of cheese in the liquid egg at this point. Let them cook gently until the bottom 2-3 mm are set. Use a spatula to gently push the set egg into a heap in the middle of the frying pan, letting the liquid egg flow back out to set. Continue until all the egg is set.

Sprinkle with salt for taste, chili powder for looks.

Eggs cooked this way will be soft and delicious. If soft eggs aren’t your thing, put a lid on the frying pan and leave it off the heat for a few minutes to let the eggs continue to heat.

Eat with hot buttered toast and maybe ketchup. Ketchup sounds scandalous, but scrambled eggs are comfort food. If you loved them with ketchup when you were a little kid, then let yourself enjoy the ketchup now.

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Thank you L, K & E!

Filed under: children,cross-Canada,family,food,how to,Nora,recipes,travelling — alison @ 22:51

On our third day in BC, Nora took us to visit her friends in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. For some reason we only took one picture while we were there, like so:

Olympic Peninsula as viewed from near L, K & E's house

 

We stayed two nights. L is vegetarian, so in addition to bringing a bottle of wine, Nora volunteered me to make supper, which I did. It was simple and flavourful and asian-inspired, and I made three different dishes to maximise the chances that everyone would find something they could eat, like so:

Dal
red lentils
curry powder or paste
a little canola oil

Heat the red lentils in the oil, stirring until they turn pale. Add water, about four times as much as the lentils by volume. Keep cooking until soft, adding water as necessary. Dal should be soft and slurpy, not stiff. When the lentils are soft, stir in curry powder or paste to taste. Keep cooking on low heat for another fifteen minutes or so.

Carrots and Apricots
2 large onions, sliced thin
500 g carrots (1 lb), chopped into irregular 1-cm (half-inch) chunks
a fistful of dried apricots, sliced into 4 or 5 strips each
a little canola oil

Heat the onions gently in the canola oil while you chop the carrots and slice the apricots. When the onions are soft, stir in the carrots and apricots. This can be ready in as little as ten minutes after you add the carrots, but you can also keep cooking gently for another half hour or more as the onion flavour deepens and the carrots soften.

Rapini and Garlic
1 bunch of rapini
6 cloves of garlic, put through a garlic press
a little sesame oil

Boil a pot of water large enough for two bunches of rapini. Chop the rapini roughly and drop it into the boiling water. Leave it there for about three minutes or just until the stems start to soften. Pour out into a colander, rinse in cold water to stop the cooking and squeeze out the excess water. Set aside until just before you are ready to eat. (Blanching vegetables like this is scary to most people these days, because of all the vitamins that are leached into the cooking water. Note however that by completely immersing the vegetables in boiling water you cook them very quickly, and the reduced cooking time almost makes up for the leaching.) Just before you are ready to eat, heat the sesame oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Stir in the garlic then immediately stir in the rapini before the garlic starts to burn. Heat through for five minutes.

Barley
1 cup pot barley
2 1/2 cups cold water

Put the barley and the water in a pot together and cook over medium heat until done, about 45 minutes.

*** *** ***
This menu is easy to make because there is very little timing to worry about. Everything can pretty much sit on the stove until you’re ready to sit down. The rapini are in no danger of getting grey and mushy because you don’t stir-fry them until you’re sure people are coming to the table. It’s nutritionally balanced even if you’re a little kid and you can’t stand rapini.

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

a bee for my bonnet

Filed under: challenges and memes,children,consuming,dogs — alison @ 21:31

I finally went to my suit store and for a little over $400 I bought:
– two lined, tailored suits;
– a soft, unlined fitted jacket;
– a lined skirt.

I am still dreaming about how I can match everything with t-shirts, scarves and tights. Fun!

In other news, I have finally found something to become obsessed with as I transition into my age-appropriate role of batty menopausal pest. (Running the world will just have to wait until I’m post-menopausal, as per Margaret Mead.) The Riot for Austerity. It’s a project in which people set themselves the goal “to cut their emissions by 90% of what the average person in [Australia, Canada or] the US consumes – the approximate amount people in the rich world need to reduce by in order to avoid the worst effects of global warming.”

Which means in my case:

1. Using only 10% of the average Canadian’s annual use of 1,200 litres of gasoline, so 240 litres per year for our household of two.

2. Using only 10% of the electricity of the average Canadian’s 17,000 kW-hour per year, so only 3,400 kW hour for our household.

3. Using only 10% of the heating and cooking energy of the average Canadian. I’m not sure how to calculate this, but if I use the US figures from the site that would mean 285 litres of heating oil per year.

4. Reducing garbage production to 10% of the average Canadian’s 1.35 kg of municipal waste per day. Our allowance will thus be 135 g each per day.

5. Consuming only 10% of the water of the average Canadian household’s daily 1,000 litres of water, which means each of us would use no more than 50 litres per day.

6. Spending only 10% of what the average Canadian spends on consumer goods. That would mean capping at $1,600 per year for our household. That will cover all clothes, toiletries, recreation, household maintenance etc. for two people for a year.

7. Reducing the impact of purchased food by 90%. That would mean that if I purchase 20 food items in a week, I’d use 14 home- or locally-produced items, 5 bulk dry items, and only 1 processed or out of season thing.

The idea is to pick from one to seven goals and within a year, make the infrastructure changes necessary to meet the goal(s) and maintain them after the year is up. I like the idea of this project because nobody’s saying “recycling my newspapers has the magical effect of making the impact of my consumption on the world disappear.” (Bonus! If people are actually achieving all these goals I can forgive them for breeding, which is psychologically beneficial.)

I’m not sure which, if any, of the goals I could meet. We may already be meeting the water one (oops, nope, I water the garden). With a little effort we could meet the food one, and I think we’re already not far off the heating oil one. No idea about electricity. Consumer goods would be a radical change (see beginning of this post). Garbage though – it already takes at least 135 g per day to take care of Pepe’s little incontinence problem. Enlisting his cooperation for my pet project will take some doing.

The other reason I like this project: when I am laid off and not working and rampant inflation has taken hold, being broke will be repackaged as virtue.

*** *** ***
Now, I wonder what Mark is going to say when he finds out.

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Tell me I’m wrong.

Filed under: children,consuming,fallacies,naïveté — alison @ 06:43

I’m fed up with all the pious concern about greenhouse gases. Really.

Most or all the remaining fossil fuel underneath the earth is going to end up as C02 in the atmosphere. The question is when: are we going to move it all from the earth to the air in the next 50 years? Or 200? But we are going to move it. So what’s the fuss?

No, we can’t compensate for fossil fuels in the air by replanting the forests we’ve cut down. The carbon that was in the forests is now in the air. If we replanted all the forests we cut down, they would suck up all the CO2 released by cutting down the original forests. The fossil CO2 would still be out there.

Besides, we can’t significantly replant the forests. Not without reducing the human population to below a million (and keeping it there). The land the forests used to occupy is needed for human habitation and agriculture.

It’s too late anyway. Does anyone remember when the Kyoto accord was signed? And how we were all so disappointed because it was too little, too late, and anyone who thought that Kyoto targets were meaningful had missed the point? Well. We’ve missed our Kyoto targets. And if they were too little, too late, then we are up shit creek, aren’t we.

I know it’s not polite to say, because having children is what people do and for most parents is the most (difficult but) satisfying part of their lives, but I honestly don’t know what people think they are accomplishing when they reproduce.

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

baby

Filed under: children,dogs,Granny,parenting — alison @ 06:30

In a comment on my last post, Susan said “I thought Pepe WAS a baby!”

Good point. He’s a prosthetic baby.

prosthesis. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/prosthesis (accessed: October 15, 2008).

1. a device, either external or implanted, that substitutes for or supplements a missing or defective part of the body.

For instance, those cool racer feet for someone who’s had their feet amputated, or saline implants for someone who’s had a mastectomy. It’s fairly obvious why someone without feet would want artificial replacements: even if they don’t look or feel like feet, you can still walk and run, which is the important part. Replacing a breast with an implant is a little less clear, because the implant carries risks, making it harder to detect any recurrence of cancer; it doesn’t look or feel like a breast; and the practical uses of an implant are subtle. I’ve thought about it though, and if I had a unilateral mastectomy I think I’d have an implant. Clothes would fit better, but also the weight on my body would be balanced and I would be less susceptible to the backaches that women with a single large breast get.

Anyway. Back to Pepe. I always wanted a large family, and I like babies. I never had the circumstances I wanted to start a family, so never did. I was always certain of my decision, but I missed the kids and babies I didn’t have. Sort of an itchy, uncomfortable feeling that had me looking for something I knew I didn’t want.

Then I got dogs. They aren’t kids or babies, but they occupy the itchy kids-and-baby spot so I can settle down and concentrate on my life instead of my itch. Kind of like a saline implant isn’t a breast, but it holds the clothes in place and allows one to head out and do the groceries without worrying about the alignment of one’s spine.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress