Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Does food drop from the sky?

Well intentioned aid can sometimes go awry in unintended ways. One story that really stopped me in my boots was told to me by my friend Moses Kariuki - a Kenyan who volunteered for several months in a remote village in Southern Sudan.

According to Moses, if you ask any child or young adult in the Sudanese village he stayed in where food comes from, they will not tell you that it comes from the ground, and that people have to work to grow it. Nor will they tell you that it comes from the supermarket. In their reality - and there is nothing you can say to make it untrue, for they have lived and experienced this all of their lives - food falls from the sky.

So the way to get food if you are hungry, is simply to wait for it to fall from the sky... pooped out by large white buzzing birds with funny markings on their sides.

Our western led institutions with the stated intention to help have created this false truth, and taught most Southern Sudanese to believe it through our own behavior. In fact, we have not taught much else in South Sudan for more than 20 years.

Moses also told me about how the Southern Sudanese have figured out that food drops are calculated per house in a village counted from the air, and the food that's dropped each time is meant to last for a couple of months. The more enterprising families build houses in many villages and migrate with the monthly food-drop schedule, then sell their surplus on the region's sparse local marketplaces. Until very recent years, there were no other goods in Southern Sudan than this manna from heaven.

The long term implications of this disturb me a lot. What would happen if children in your country stopped believing that work and planning was required to get food?

So now we've got a whole huge population in one of Africa's largest countries with no money, no jobs, no goods, and very little agricultural knowledge.

I did hear that once hostilities in the region calmed down a bit, the UN tried to drop hoes and seeds for a while. Few people in southern Sudan actually knew what to do with them, so famine continued and food drops started again.

Where does it end? How do you start convincing Southern Sudanese villagers that food actually doesn't drop from the sky but must be worked for? How many generations will it take to re-develop knowledge about how to grow things? Or does our responsibility end because the war there has ended?

I don't know the answers. I'm just saying... there's got to be a smarter way.

Dysfunctional Aid

This week, there has been some hoopla about a new book called "Dead Aid," written by a female Zambian economist who argues that global development aid is bad for Africa. I can't wait to read it, but a critique of the book that I read yesterday rightly warns against the world turning it's back on Africa completely.

In just recent weeks I have personally been talking to friends about our global development aid system as "completely dysfunctional." While I still believe that we all have a responsibility to each other's well-being on this planet, I can also say without doubt that the charity-dependent systems we currently use to try and help the world's poorest countries simply are not helping in ways that lay stable foundations for sustainable development. On the contrary - our global development aid systems introduce so many conflicting distortions into what would be Africa's natural economic development process, that almost no healthy economic development can happen naturally at all.

I am not saying we should turn our backs and not help others in need, or that there is never a role for charity in helping others. What I am saying is that we need to seriously rethink and revamp how we conceptualize helping others in countries far from home, taking some of the world's current realities, lessons learned from the past 50 years of failure, and new opportunities for global development (especially technology) into account.

There are countless stories floating around in my head - from my own career experiences and stories shared by others I know - that illustrate the kinds of things that consistently seem to go awry with charity aid flows. Much of it simply does not arrive to the people it's intended to help; alot that does arrive ends up having destructive consequences on society. As I look at that same landscape of stories, I also see countless sparkles of hope and new possibilities.

I've been planning to start writing some of those stories down, if for no other reason than to help me make sense out of it all. I'm going to start posting them here later this week.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Relocation tasks

Tomorrow will be spent putting up the two flyers I've been preparing this week on notice boards around town.

Expat Moving Sale

Please visit on 4 April 2009 :: 10am to 5pm :: Luthuli Ave, Plot 86 (no. 2), Bugolobi

  • 3-piece wicker sofa set shs30,000
  • 2 wicker end tables shs5,000 each
  • 3-piece local wooden sofa set shs80,000
  • 1 light wood medium sized simple table/desk shs20,000
  • 2-story bedframe from dark wood shs80,000
  • 2 dark wood bookshelves (1.5m x 1.5m) shs35,000 each
  • 1 wicker shelf unit (.75m x 1.25m) shs10,000
  • 1 light wood standing coat rack shs10,000

  • 4.5 KW Generator shs750,000
  • Clothes washing machine (<1> shs350,000
  • Clothes dryer shs100,000
  • Kitchen Blender shs15,000

  • Large European baby crib with mattress shs80,000
  • Collapsible playpen shs40,000
  • Large hard plastic kiddie’s swimming pool shs10,000
  • Toddler size push stroller shs40,000
  • Toddler size car seat shs25,000
  • Car seat for 3-5 yr olds shs20,000

Also available on 4 April:
  • Houseplants
  • plates & dishes
  • pots & pans
  • toys & books
  • misc household items

By the way, the list was much longer, but I invited my neighbors, household staff and a friend or two to reserve some of the things they wanted before I advertise the rest. I've already got $400 in deposits in hand. What we make on the sale of our big stuff is our budget for the extra unaccompanied baggage we'll be flying with... and hopefully for some of the stuff we'll need to buy upon arrival.

I have promised Ben we'll get a new slide - he was not happy when the neighbors bought our 10 year old slide for toddlers that he doesn't even use any more and moved it right away to the yard next door. I'm pretty sure we'll also need some beds, and I'm not taking most of my kitchen stuff. Apart from that, we've still got a whole house full of furniture in storage in Belgium, from when we lived there 10 years ago. The first house we lived in here in Uganda was furnished. Truthfully, I've only a vague idea what we're going to find when we unpack all that stuff from a decade ago.

Certainly, we will not find another Margaret in Brussels. Developing the habit of cleaning up after ourselves and sharing the daily tasks like dishes and laundry are something the boys are ahving to prepare ourselves for. For many years, we had Zarina, who moved on to another job as I was gearing up to leave for a while to the USA. Filling the gap she left was a rocky process, with many trials and many errors. Finding the right person to work in your home in a way that works smoothly is a real challenge. When I then didn't go to the US after all, Margaret was about the 4th person we tried. I hope that posting her recommendation letter around town for the next few weeks will mean she doesn't face a long gap in her employment.

Luthuli Ave., Plot 86/2
Bugolobi – Kampala, Uganda

18 March 2009

To whom it may concern:

Ref: Recommendation of Akello Margaret as a wonderful househelper

Akello Margaret is a very efficient, honest, good-tempered and mature-minded 26 year old woman from Northern Uganda who has provided excellent cleaning, childcare and basic cooking services to my American/Ugandan family for the past 1 year.

She learns fast, communicates well in English, and (unlike so many other Ugandan helpers) she is not afraid to ask questions when she does not clearly understand what is expected of her. She is warm, friendly and considerate with all members of our household, and my children feel safe and comfortable with her. Her humble wisdom, her openness to trying new ideas, and her honest ability to take responsibility for her own actions have made Margaret a delightful employee to work with.

While in our employ in 2008-09, her compensation package included a monthly cash salary of shs200,000, full room and board, assistance with school fees (shs30,000 each term) for a child in Gulu, 3+ weeks paid leave and an additional cash holiday bonus. She worked 6 days/week with every afternoon off from 2-5pm, and she ended her day at 7:30pm after serving dinner around 7pm. She operates household appliances with minimal guidance, and can be relied upon to account for expenses after shopping at local markets.

We never experienced any challenges working with Margaret that were not quickly overcome. After more than 10 years living in Uganda, my sole regret about employing Margaret is that we did not find her and hire her a bit earlier. I would highly recommend her services to any expatriate or blended family in need of mature and reliable household management help.

Margaret will be available to undertake new employment from 15 April 2009, following the departure of our family to Brussels, Belgium.

She can be reached directly to arrange potential employment interviews on 0774 28 35 79

To contact me at any time now or in the future for further inquiry about Margaret’s abilities, background or character, please refer to the contact details below. I will always wish her well.

Most Sincerely,

Christina Jordan


Monday, March 16, 2009

Dr. Madre thinking outloud

My 11 year old Lucas has decided that when I get my Phd. he's going to start calling me Dr. Madre.

I Like it.

On my last day in Belgium I visited the University of Leuven to get a feel for what it takes to publish a dissertation there. Though I knew they had a strong reputation in International Cooperation policy research, I did not know that they also have a special program for foreign Phd students, with the intent of globalizing the University's research base and reputation. They encourage students to spend at least one part of their Phd period outside of Belgium. So it looks like the right place for me to be...

and oh yes, this is Belgium, so it's also FREE! (I had been sincerely worried that the tuition fees would keep me from being able to explore this possibility right now. ) AND I can work on it for as long or a short a period as it takes to finish it, as long as I submit it for review following the university's annual Phd review deadlines.

My mind has not been able to turn off since. I have always been a night owl, but now a most frustrating kind of insomnia has set in, as it always does when I am approaching a new change that excites me. I need to get focused on packing and moving, and yet I am constantly distracted by the gorgeous background image of the dissertation project developing in my mind.

If I could take everything I know now, and explore a couple of new areas that I know are very exciting in terms of potential for our global future, what would I want to say to the world? What would I want ordinary people and other professionals and scholars who might read it to learn from all the things I've learned - good and bad? How can I deconstruct myths and false assumptions about the world I have seen, and reconstruct a thesis that will open reader's minds to new possibilities for a global future together?

Yes, I am dead serious... I lie awake at night thinking about this ridiculous stuff and it is seriously annoying. There's so much I want to say, and so many dots I want to connect. It's a comfort to ground myself with the idea of writing something that must be academically valid. I've got lots of ideas and opinions that are mine, but the book I will write will not be about me - it will be about the development of community-driven social experiments like mine all over the world, and new ways of understanding how they can come together for greater global development good.

I've got the names of some professors there who are working in fields that overlap with my interests. What I need to do now is write a kind of elaborate proposal for the book that I will write, what I will set out to prove, and the research I will undertake to draw academically valid conclusions from. If one of them likes my proposal enough to commit to becoming my academic promoter within their own existing domain of research within the university, then I'm in. So I've got lots more homework to do before I can really start pulling this all together.

(Don't worry, if you don't yet understand any of what I'm talking about, rest assured, you're not meant to yet... I am in major ramble mode.)

Definitely want to build in further study time (1-2 years) with the Buddhist economics-driven Asoke community in Thailand that N and I visited last year (for 5 weeks). For a year I've been dreaming about what I'd do with those kids in a group if they had internet connected computers. They grow up with an active understanding of their responsibility to work with nature in a way that the rest of the world desperately needs... how I would love to engage them in communicating that to others online. I'm also very interested to visit Brazil and have a careful look at what impact the solar powered wi-fi they've recently launched there in some villages is having on local lives. Incidentally, the community I'm moving to in Brussels has the potential to provide a very interesting case study for what I'd like to do. Wait 'til I tell you about Boisfort!

There are a couple of online communities I'm looking at to include as case studies illustrating the different kinds of community-driven development concepts that are emerging. I've got a short list building and have started contacting a few folks. It's feeling good to be finally building a new saddle to get back into again that could mean my path will cross with some old friends. It's exciting.

But I can't sleep. My dear N. is trying to be patient with me.

I am torn about whether or not and how much of all this I actually want to start putting online - and where to start putting it online. I have a domain called Internet4Change which could be a home for a new blog. I could go back to using the great workspace and discussion tools at, but community activity has been slow there recently. Or then again... maybe that's a good thing? I could write about it here, but am not yet convinced that's the kind of transition this blog needs for it's upcoming "out of africa" phase. Maybe I shouldn't share it with anybody, but that's not how I usually think I work best...

At any rate, I need to start getting my thoughts on this out of my head and organized in some form, or I believe my head may indeed explode on my pillow. I am stuck for the moment, trying to decide on the best place to start doing that.

Ideas anyone?


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Breathing in some new air

I have had a very productive week in Brussels, and am quite proud of myself for all I've managed to accomplish in such a short time. I signed a rental contract yesterday for a lovely old 4 bedroom house in a wonderful neighborhood; found a really nice little pre-school nearby for my youngest son Ben; visited the international school where my older boys will go and finalized their enrollment; caught up with a few old friends, and have eaten some wonderful food.

I feel lighter than I have felt in years. Yes, it is definitely time to breathe in some new air. The perspective on the past 10 years that I feel returning in just this one week of focus on forward looking change is reassuring. Opportunities for living life to it's fullest again seem to drip from the trees... I am excited to experience spring again, to dust off my foreign language skills, and to enjoy the cultural ambience that Europe's capital has to offer.

Just after the new year, I wrote out some goals for the next stage of my life’s impact in the world, in terms of lifestyle, work and education. On the lifestyle front, I was hoping to reduce my family’s carbon footprint, buy more often from local farmers and family owned small businesses, and grow my own vegetables. The neighborhood we will be moving to just over one month from now is perfect for all of that.

Public transport is literally right outside our door (I do not plan to own a car in Brussels), the neighborhood is known for being particularly "green" - there is a farmer's market once a week, and even a possibility to buy weekly from a local farmer's coop. We will have a small garden where I can grow some veggies and flowers. The small neighborhood center has several small organic food shops and restaurants with food from all over the world. There are public parks and playgrounds for the kids within a 5 minute walk, and nice possibilities for biking.

Tomorrow I will visit a university to inquire about possibilities for pursuing a PhD. My new landlord has an interest in development and has offered to introduce me professionally to some of his circles. Some old friends have also been making suggestions about people who might be interested in my professional abilities... I am not in a hurry for any of that, but plan to spend the first few months being there for the kids as much as I can to help ease their transition. It is nice to know, nonetheless, that there are some ready avenues to explore once I am ready to think seriously about working again.

Yes, life back in Europe will be good for a while. It's becoming real, and I am really, really pleased.

Also wanted to say a huge thank you to all of you who left comments on my last (very depressing) post. Your thoughts and prayers have been very much appreciated and seem to have been most effective.

Back to Uganda day after tomorrow to begin packing in earnest... we're scheduled to fly out as a family on April 13. Can't wait!