what can i buy while sitting in this traffic?

Accra has some pretty epic traffic jams. Impromptu marketplaces spring up around waiting vehicles when things get really stopped up, with hawkers offering a fantastic variety of items to passengers in waiting vehicles. One way I pass the time spent sitting in a stagnant 90-odd degree trotro with a dozen others is noting the wares offered.

Recently spotted:

  • ice cold plastic sachets of drinking water;
  • tools: a saw, wrenches, a set of screwdrivers with American flags printed on the handles;
  • a large laminated map of west Africa;
  • cell phone airtime;
  • shoes (specifically, 3 pairs of men’s loafers);
  • snacks: buns, bananas, Mentos, apples, yogurt, oranges, etc.;
  • the Tummy Trimmer, a weight-loss belt (the type of product normally advertised on late-night infomercials);
  • political paraphernalia (it’s an election year here);
  • key chains and bottle openers;
  • wall clocks;
  • insulated coffee mugs;
  • short-sleeve men’s button-down shirts;
  • sunglasses.
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that familiar unfamiliar feeling.

Arriving solo somewhere new is always a humbling experience for me. I am reminded that each place is its own, and I have everything to learn- from how much things should cost to the sound of the languages and accents; from the pace and style of work to the correct amount of the spicy sauce to use (right answer: only a tiny tad).

Every time I find myself in this situation, I am amazed all over again at what incredibly deep knowledge of one’s surroundings and culture it takes to go about one’s business having the slightest clue about how anything works.

So here I go again with a clean slate. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve lived and worked abroad before, Ghana is its own place with its own handshake and traffic patterns and dance moves. It’s time to be comfortable with getting lost and feeling foolish and making mistakes, over and over.

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equator prize award ceremony.

My time in Rio was spent working very hard to help make events run smoothly. My trip and our events at the Rio+20 conference culminated in a fantastic ceremony honoring this year’s winners of the Equator Prize. I actually left straight from the after party for the airport. It was wonderful to spend several days learning from and getting to know the representatives from the winning communities.

Highlights from awards night (plus a few other Rio shots):

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Link: 2012 Winners Video

Next up, Ghana!

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cristo over rainy rio.

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After three very rainy days at a little beach/surf/fishing town 2 hours east, we relocated for three very rainy days in Rio. Today it cleared enough for a trip up to the Cristo Redentor statue along with hundreds of other tourists. I suspect some of them spent the week trapped inside due to rain, practicing the poses they wanted to do in front of the Christ statue. Even with the clouds and crowds though, there was a pretty fantastic panoramic view of Rio.

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summer 2012 preview.

It’s the beginning of the end (of the semester) here in the Bronx. I’m at that treading water stage, simultaneously writing research proposals and/or literature reviews about:

  1. the impact of micro health insurance on household consumption and microcredit use in Bangladesh,
  2. the net effect of production and consumption of khat on poverty and food security in Ethiopia,
  3. the relationship between foreign aid and domestic political incentives.

Even during times as academically stressful as this, I am in love with my grad program at Fordham.

Once these papers and my other exams are all done, I’ll be thinking ahead to summer. I’ll spend much of June in Brazil at UNDP Equator Initiative events related to the UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. Then I’ll be a Vittana Fellow working on microfinance for education in Accra, Ghana until classes begin in the fall. Expect updates!

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april links.

  • This blog post over at Innovations for Poverty Action and its linked New York Times article about lack of monetary change in Zimbabwe discuss the common problem of lack of balance for customers and businesses in the developing world. The IPA study found that “In Kenya, the average firm loses an estimated 5-8% in profits from a combination of sales lost because of not having change and sales lost while searching for change.” Vendors who lack change are a common challenge/annoyance for customers in places with similar change problems.
  • Africa is not a country” depicts data differences between the continent’s countries. It’s (nerdily) fun to play around with the different indicators and geographic comparisons.
  • How Not to Write About Africa: The media shamefully neglects Africa — until it decides to swarm a story with terrible coverage.” by Laura Seay  in Foreign Policy
  • Interesting blog post about where TOMS shoes end up in Haiti and thoughts about the one-for-one model.
  • Why Designers Need To Stop Feeling Sorry For Africa” by Skibsted Ideation over at Dalberg blog. Challenging ideas about the way outsiders view entreprenuership in Africa: “Take, for instance, the title of this Harvard report: “HIV/AIDS and Business in Africa and Asia: A Guide to Partnerships.” Obviously, HIV/AIDS is an issue to be addressed, but confusing and pairing regions with issues make them synonymous in the public eye. How does “Obesity/Diabetes and Business in North America: A Guide to Partnerships” sound? To us, it sounds funny, but it doesn’t sound conducive to business. How would American businesses react to foreign customers who expressed pity for them at large? I bet that seeing foreign news headlines like “Give America a Chance: Support the Fat and Illiterate” would get tiring after a while. That is what Africans experience over and over again–plus foreign-media-dominated news about Africa to the outside world.”
  • Kiva microlenders reveal biased lending preferences, says a recent study.
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kinshasa symphony.

Trailer:

Couldn’t get it to embed, but click here for a longer excerpt from the documentary on the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste in DRC –> http://www.npr.org/templates/event/embeddedVideo.php?storyId=148075689

From the NPR story:

When Diangienda first gathered 12 young people who wanted to learn to play the violin, he had only five instruments: “One of them would play for 20 minutes, and then pass the violin on to the next one.” When violin strings broke, they replaced them with brake cables from old bicycles. When they needed a C trumpet, they cut up another instrument. And when they needed a bell for another trumpet, they transformed the wheel rim from an old minibus.

They’ll be featured on tonight’s 60 Minutes broadcast:

The Kimbanguist Symphony Orchestra is the only symphony orchestra in Central Africa and the only all-black orchestra in the world.

And more video over at BBC.

For those looking to donate, they are looking for funding to build a music school for teaching, learning, and playing music in Kinshasa.

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