Sunday, December 13, 2009

Welcome to the Jungle

It has been a busy two weeks, but I finally got out of Dar and back into the African bush. The last week in Dar was a bit hectic (and expensive - yikes!), but the training was really good. I learned a lot and got to see most people that I had met there before heading out.

It took about 12 hours from the time Lisa and I got up until we arrived in Kasulu, but we were glad to get it done in just one day. Our flight left out of Dar at about 8:30 AM and we touched down first in Tabora, on our way to Kigoma. When they opened the plane door to let some folks off and let some others on, we were bracing ourselves for the heat that we thought would be blasting into the plane from outside. To our delight, it was a cool breeze and just lush greenery all around. Of course the runway is only sort of paved, but Tanzanian drivers (of any vehicle) are pretty formidable and seemingly can handle anything. It is pretty amazing.

So, after enjoying about 20 minutes of a welcomed change of climate, we headed on to Kigoma. We were again greeted by calm, cool weather and CLOUDS upon arrival. It was pretty awesome to be comfortable walking outside around midday - after broiling in the hot sun and dust of Dar. It was just green, green, green, with this deep red earth that ran through the landscape - creating a gorgeous view.

We were greeted by the UNHCR driver at the airport, along with some other UNHCR employees headed to Kasulu with us. We were in a LandCruiser heading out of Kigoma. The paved road ends pretty soon after getting out of town and that is where the real "fun" begins. Thank god we were in a UN vehicle. I can't even imagine what the trip would be like in an old, beat up bus on its last leg. though I may find out soon enough, if my plan to head to Burundi/Rwandan pans out...

To say the ride was "bumpy" would be an understatement, but the view more than made up for it. I have had to stop taking pictures of the green mountains and red earth because they surely will get boring after looking at 10 pictures or so, nevermind a few hundred - which is where I still may be headed at this point. It is just TOTALLY. COMPLETELY. GORGEOUS. I am HOPING to post some of them, but since the only access we have to internet is using UN computers, it might be an issue, unfortunately. Will keep you posted...

So, we are staying with our colleagues at the moment in a 3 bedroom house, that has electricity about 4 hours a day (from roughly 7pm to 11pm), running water about half the time, toilets and showers. It is pretty posh compared with Sofara, Mali though. Plus the town has SO much stuff! They have all kinds of fruits (i.e. pineapple, passion fruit, bananas, etc...). Also, bread (sliced even), canned goods, loads of spices, and beer, liquor, and even some wine here. It is pretty sweet.

The rain and mud are a bit insane though. There is an amazing amount of rainfall during rainy season, which began last month and will stretch into May I think. It makes for some beautiful scenery, but it is no good for keeping clothes presentable for the office...

Our co-workers apparently are totally partiers...they headed out after a work party last night to the "disco" in town, until the wee hours apparently...after beers, gin, and Amarula (South Africa's version of Bailey's). We may end up there with them next weekend after the end of the year party. Could be interesting...

Our office, which is just down the road (hallelujiah we don't have to take taxis or bajajs everywhere), has electricity 24-7 and internet access. This is where I am now, actually. This week we spent getting RSDs (refugee status determination briefs) together for a committee at UNHCR. So far 5 of the 10 we have submitted have been approved, which is sweet. We will be working on RRFs (resettlement registration forms) this week on those asylum seekers who have been given refugee status based on our RSD submissions.

The work has been great so far - and I haven't even been to the camps yet. We are hoping our work permits will be approved next week and that we can start interviewing refugees (the people in the camp where we will be working have already been granted refugee status) in two weeks. So, we will hopefully be on track by Christmas. The COI (Country of Origin Information) has been so interesting to read, even though it is atrocious what people are doing to each other in the Great Lakes region. It has been awesome to actually get to do this full-time. Enjoying your day at work, even when it is hard, is pretty amazing - and I am so thankful for it.

So, hopefully it will not be another 2 weeks before I can update you all again - and hopefully there will be photos too.

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