29 June 2006

Leave of absence

I realize I'm not the world's most reliable blogger. Anyway, I'm taking a break for at least 5 weeks while I travel to Ghana and then London. Check out my travel blog, Buduburam and beyond.


Packed and ready

I'm leaving for the airport in about three hours. From DC, I'll go to Chicago, then London, then Amsterdam, and finally Accra. The PCO staff will meet me at Kotoka Airport in Accra and take me to Buduburam with the other new volunteers.

I finally finished packing about an hour ago. Both my main bags each weigh less than 25 pounds, so I'm good to go on the luggage front. By comparison, went I went to London in 2003, I had about 120 pounds of luggage. Then again, I didn't take a lot of lightweight, fast-drying clothing on that trip.

Because I thought it would be fun, I took a picture of all my luggage.
The big red backpack is my new friend. And yes, I will look like a pretty typical Western tourist with it. However, it has a removable daypack attached, which will come in handy. I've decided to name the backpack the Doodlebug. AU people will also notice my SIS bag, which holds fun things like books and travel documents. The other black bag is just more stuff. It really seems like a lot, but I guess it's not too bad for 5 weeks.

It's been an emotional roller coaster these few days. I go from being nervous to excited to indifferent pretty much at the drop of a hat. Right now, I'm just exhausted after having been up all day. The time stamp on all this blog's entries is for local time in Ghana. Back on the east coast of the U.S., it's around 1:30am. I'm hoping for a brief nap before going to the airport.

Anyway, my housesitter's stuff is all piled in a corner, ready for temporary occupation. However, we all know that Buster is really going to be in charge of the apartment while I'm gone (which is really no different from any other time).
As you can see, he has his peanut butter jar hidden under the bed. That means he's ready for action.

Anyway, back to business. I'll be getting a cell phone once I get to the camp. I'll publish the number as soon as I get it. In the meantime, you can check out www.africanprepaid.com or www.bigzoo.com to check out calling rates.

Time for a nap, then off to the airport I go. If I don't get a chance to drop a line somewhere en route, look for something once I'm settled.

Peace and love.

27 June 2006

An open letter to the United States Congress

Honorable Members of Congress,

I must respectfully express my intense disappointment in your collective actions lately. Today's vote in the Senate over whether or not to amend the Constitution to ban flag burning is simply another exercise in legislative frivolity. Recent votes on whether or not to amend the Constitution to ban "gay marriage" are of a similar vein.

This nation faces real problems. Economists point out that another recession is looming. The Federal budget is absolutely out of control, running record deficits. Also, there is the not so small matter of running two wars simultaneously. Finally, the current Administration has engaged in at least two domestic surveilance programs on questionable legal grounds and without appropriate levels of oversight. To waste valuable time and money debating ridiculous attempts to amend the Constitution to meet with every shift of the political tide is insulting not only to the American people, but to the Constitution itself.

These pathetic grandstanding exercises must cease. There is a reason that the American public has so little faith in either party to effectively lead the nation. Please stop this foolishness and return to real work.

Sincerely yours,

Jason A. Terry
Disenfranchised resident of the District of Columbia

24 June 2006

Possibility for a side trip

A little background
My peacebuilding course this week included a contingent of five people from Nigeria. Three of them work for Shell Nigeria (yes, the oil company) in their community development office, which apparently has a peacebuilding section (who knew?), one works for the Nigerian national oil company, and one is a government official in charge of community development in Rivers State, where they are all from. All of them knew each other from back home. Their state is in the Niger Delta, which has become increasingly tumultuous in recent months. They came to get some more training and new ideas about options for bringing peace to that area, since all of them have some sort of responsibility for that in their jobs. As part of the training this week, we divided into four teams to create peacebuilding projects that some participants could take back home with them. I was in a group with the government official, and we put together a plan for one of the crisis areas that he has decided to try to implement upon his return to Nigeria.

An unexpected invitation
As we were wrapping up the course today and discussing how we can use the skills we learned, the instructor revealed to the group that I am going to Ghana next week, and would be afforded the opportunity to develop my skills there. It was around this point that my groupmate/government official friend said to me "You will come to Nigeria." I expressed a little hesitance, and noted that it's hard to arrange travel and get visas, etc., to which he simply responded, "Remember, I work for the government. You let me know when you get to Ghana, and I will take care of all the details." He told me that he wanted me to see the area that we had been discussing all week. He assured me repeatedly that he was very sincere, and his friends encouraged the idea even more. I'm not sure if it will work out yet, but I'm definitely going to pursue this further.

22 June 2006

Other preparatory fun

First things first
I've gotten a couple other questions since my last entry on some of the more thrilling aspects of preparing for travel to a place like Buduburam. Yes, I did have to have a number of shots. After getting lost in the DC suburb of Silver Spring, I finally located the doctor's office, which was halfway to Baltimore. This doctor didn't talk much, but he got the job done. He lined up band-aids on my arms, in a little column, and then shot me up, assembly line style. Finding a flight was equally traumatic. Because of my stopover in London on my way back home, I've booked two separate tickets. I realized that it's really hard for an American to book a ticket with London as the originating city, at least when you're flying to Ghana. I finally found a cheap KLM flight, but couldn't book it online, so I had to call Northwest Airlines here to set it up. Finally there was the small matter of getting a visa. You have to apply for a visa with the Embassy of Ghana. I went there in person because that's more reliable than mail, and they're only a 10 minute bus ride away. I had to hand in a fat wad of paperwork, and in return was given a raffle ticket with which I could claim my visa in a week. That's right, a raffle ticket - one from Office Depot, to be precise. This system made me a little nervous, especially since the person who took my application seemed slightly more interested in watching the Price is Right. Anyway, I went back a week later at the designated time, and got my visa. For having submitted probably 12 pages of information, including 4 copies of the application form and 4 photos, all I got was a lowsy sticker in my passport. Just in case, I'm keeping the raffle ticket.

Get your kit on
I think I've got all the clothing and things I need for the trip. I still have to acquire a mosquito net to go over my bed, as well as the obligatory conspicously Western traveller backpack in which I can shove all my waterproof pants and moisture-wicking shirts. Finding a reasonably priced waterproof shoe is also on the list. Other than that, there shouldn't be any major purchases to make. I think I've got most toiletries and things. Frenetic packing starts this weekend.

Don't you have a bunny?
Yes, I do have a bunny. A Guilford student who is interning in DC will occupy my apartment while I'm gone, with primary responsibility for feeding my bunny. I guess he'll probably take care of himself too. After the bunny, of course.

Mental preparation
The most recent method I've found for dealing with my impending journey is to completely ignore its existence. Now that I'm getting back in the groove though (only a week left!), I'm starting to feel better about the trip. Nervous, but better. Honestly, it's a lot like every other major travel experience I've had: completely different from what I know. A few weeks back, I was lucky enough to meet an anthropology student at AU who focuses her doctoral research on Liberian refugees. Last summer, she spent ten weeks at Buduburam, and has been an excellent resource and comfort. We're getting together at least one more time before I leave for some good, deep discussion of the place and how to get around it.

Special mission
My friend came to know quite a few people at the camp, including one woman who gave birth to a baby just after my friend returned back to the States. I am being dispatched with a gift for that baby, and will embark on a quest to find his mother shortly after I arrive and get settled.

There is no formal training program that I am required to go through before I depart. I'll get information about working for PCO once I arrive. However, this week I'm taking a course through AU's Peacebuilding and Development Institute called Positive Approaches to Peacebuilding. The class has about 13 people from various parts of the world, and we're learning from two instructors. Topics covered include appreciative inquiry, getting to forgiveness, and engaging in sustainable and appropriate reconciliation efforts. I think this will make me well prepared for my work with PCO, especially if I get to work with the Peace Cells project. But it also does some work on dealing with children, so if I do end up working more with the kids, I can do that too. Still though, I'd rather work with the adults.

I'm unsure if my visa allows me to come and go from Ghana, and I may not have time for that anyway. However, I do hope to make it to Accra a couple times to meet some other peacebuilding/peacekeeping professionals that I've heard of and have some connection to through people I've interned with or studied under. Two organizations I especially want to check out are the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre and the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding. If anyone else has any other recommendations, please send them my way.

My new name
Finally, I should briefly mention my terms of reference while I'm away. You know, the informal ones. My friend above tells me that I will mostly like be called either "white man" or "obroni" while I'm gone. It's pretty obvious that I'm gonna stick out a lot, so I guess that just makes it more fun, right?

15 June 2006

Being jobless + summertime news slump = very little blogging

That's right folks. It's slow news season in DC.

On the Africa front, the only hugely noteworthy developments are that the Islamic Courts that took over Mogadishu want everyone to believe they're non-terrorist nice guys. Also, Nigeria and Cameroon have resolved their border dispute! That only took... well, it took more years than I have fingers. Finally, Darfur is still miserable, and Sudan still isn't keen on a UN peacekeeping mission there.

But hey, the UN is gonna shut down at the end of the month anyway. Even though people in both parties and a whole bunch of big NGOs think the U.S. position on UN reform is, well, pretty much a secret to everyone but John Bolton. Uncle Kofi is now begging for money... and, sanity.

On a lighter note, the Post's Reliable Source has reported on a three year old boy who had a Jim Lehrer themed birthday party. Should the parents ever decide they don't want this kid, I'll adopt.

Now, back to job hunting and preparing for Ghana.

09 June 2006

The basics

What are you doing?
At the end of June, I'm travelling to the Buduburam Refugee Settlement in Ghana, which is currently home to roughly 40,000 Liberian refugees, plus some others from Cote d'Ivoire and Togo. I'll be volunteering with a refugee-run NGO called the Population Caring Organization (PCO), which has a multi-faceted mission of promoting community reconciliation, providing basic education with a special emphasis on peace and conflict resolution, and various other public health and training initiatives. I was placed with PCO by the Global Volunteer Network, which operates out of New Zealand. It's a little fuzzy what my exact responsibilities will be at this point, but I'm hoping to work most closely with the community peace cells project.

Where are you going, exactly?
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has a map that shows the camp's exact location, and I promise you that you won't find it on any other map. The camp is situated near a major road between Accra and Cape Coast, and is about 30 miles west of Accra. I'm told that the camp is also near some pretty nice beaches.

Who talked you into this, and who are you going with?
The answer to both those questions is me, myself, and I. After searching the internet long and hard for something to do in Africa this summer, this is what I came up with, and it's right up my alley. There will be about 10 international volunteers working with PCO while I'm there, but as far as I know, I'm travelling on my own. Once I arrive, I'll be living in a small house just off the camp with some other PCO volunteers.

Why are you doing this?
I have long been interested in West African conflicts, ever since I debated peacekeeping in Sierra Leone during a high school Model United Nations conference. My fascination has only grown since that time, and I recently decided that my master's specialization will be in "peacebuilding in Sub-Saharan Africa." Unfortunately though, I've never been able to travel to Africa before now. Thus this trip will 1) be an introductory experience, 2) complement my studies and 3) hopefully prepare me for my post-grad school career.

When will you be there?
I leave DC on 29 June, and will travel for about a day and a half before landing in Accra. There I'll be picked up by some PCO staff and taken to the camp by cab. I will fly back from Accra on 1 August, stopping for a brief vacation in London, before returning to DC on 5 August.

How exactly can you update a blog from a refugee camp?
The camp has been around since 1990, and consists mostly of concrete buildings with tin roofs. While there is no running water, there is electricity, which is somewhat to mostly reliable. The camp has many entrepreneurial ventures, including an internet cafe known as the Eagles Nest, which serves the emailing/blogging needs of the whole settlement.

I hope I've provided a decent overview of things here. Check my links page if you want to find out more. Look for another update closer to travel time, and feel free to either email me or leave a comment with questions. My email is jason dot terry at american dot edu.

02 June 2006

Lest ye think I'm the only one who believes current U.S. policy toward Somalia is stupid

According the the Post, a State Department officer in Kenya who oversaw Somalia affairs has been transferred to Chad, after having complained to both State the Pentagon about the nature of the "let's make friends" policy.

The article really speaks for itself.

obligatory panda post by yet another DC resident

This past Monday, the boy and I made the obligatory pilgrimage to the National Zoo (which happens to be in my backyard) to see the one and only Butterstick, aka Tai Shan, aka the world's cutest panda cub.

However, Butterstick was napping under a log, and all you could see was his backside. His parents were out though, and were precious in their own right. Due to the extreme heat that day, both were in search of shade. Here are photos:

Butterstick's daddy (who lives in a separate abode)

Butterstick's mom (after having practiced for World Cup soccer in her pool)

And finally, some Butterstick butt (the fuzzy thing in the middle)

I hope you enjoyed the cuteness as much as I did. :)