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Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Notes from Bangladesh: typhoon holiday

We got off-season rates at Cox’s Bazar on the Bay of Bengal. It was a wonderful time to be there. Every day we had stretches of sun parenthesized by downpours and impressive winds.

Boats in the Bay of Bengal

Sunken bridge

In the bay

Food ranged from the sublime to the grotesque. The grotesque included the high-carb ‘free’ breakfast at our hotel—flatbreads, Chinese noodles, curried vegetables, dals with beef or mutton, chicken curries, oatmeal, sweet rice puddings, omelettes, boiled eggs, croissants—where families and honeymooners fueled up for the day’s activities.

The sublime included the best grilled fish I’ve ever tasted at a hole-in-the-jungle eco-restaurant that we got to by hiring an electric baby-taxi to drive us up the coast past army teams repairing washed-out roads. The most exotic, and by far the least expensive, was a dining hall where families, labourers, businessmen, and ladies with their friends filled benches at tables on either side of a corridor that allowed waiters to whiz up and down delivering delicious fish curries, bhotas, vegetables, rice, pickles, and much else and where the three of us could eat splendidly and take home doggie bags for an equally splendid evening meal for just over $5.00.

The best grilled fish I’ve ever tasted

On a hotel-arranged tour of beauty spots, little boys with prehensile feet carried Isha up a gully to see a waterfall and across a channel over a decorative bridge.

Carrying Isha up a gully

Next week after a Vancouver visit, I’ll be heading back to drought-ravaged Ottawa, where Danjuma tells me he has plenty of peppers ready to garnish Italian sausage.

Friday, August 13th, 2010

My goodness this has been an exciting week!

Filed under: death,Europe,excitement,family,Luc,surprises,travelling — alison @ 17:43

First my friend tweets that he thinks he may be dying,* then I hear that someone else has skin cancer,** then… Mark wins round trip tickets for two to Paris. And he invites me to go with him!
______________________________
* He’s now in the ICU but appears to be making a full and speedy recovery.
** Which is expected to be fully and speedily recovered from, but still.

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

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

Mail-order brides

A little kerfuffle over at Science Blogs brought mail-order brides back to my attention. (Didn’t they have their fifteen minutes of fame in the eighties?)

I commented to Mark that I didn’t see what the fuss was about. He gamely pointed to the fuzzy grey borderline between mail-order brides and prostitution.

Alison: Well, there’s a fuzzy-to-nonexistent borderline between marriage and prostitution generally. The point of marriage is that it recognises sexual relationships as inherently potentially exploitatitve, and confers legal rights and responsibilities on the parties involved.

Mark: Ah, but that doesn’t apply in the US. If they divorce, the mail-order bride has no residency rights and is deported back to her country of origin. It’s not like Canada where a sponsored immigrant spouse has residency rights independent of the status of the relationship.

Oh. Right. I keep forgetting. (Which is odd, because one of my favourite stories about sponsoring Mark under Canada’s Family Reunification Program is how when he went to get his visa exchanged for a residency card, he was sat down and solemnly lectured that if I were to become abusive, he was not to hesitate to Move Out Immediately. Quebec would help him find a place to live and give him welfare if he needed it. He would NOT have to leave the country. Quebec would come after me for reimbursement as necessary. He was NOT to worry about that.)

But does that mean that we should be worried about the institution of mail-order brides, or that we should be protesting the lack of protection the US offers immigrant spouses – exacerbating a situation of potential exploitation where marriage is supposed to alleviate it?

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

Hazards of corporate travel

Filed under: corporate life,music,travelling — alison @ 02:12

Elevator music in hotels.

I’m home now, but “Let your love flow” is still coursing through my brain.

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Maybe Vancouver is small?

Filed under: corporate life,cross-Canada,travelling — alison @ 10:58

Vancouver is supposed to be smaller than Montreal (2M vs 3M) but looking over the very dense skyline it just didn’t seem so.

I happened to accidentally wander past my employer’s front door though, a coincidence suggesting that perhaps Vancouver is smaller than it looks.

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