Originally sent to my newsletter subscribers on November 5, 2017.
PSA: This week is municipal election week. I’m not sure about everyone, but there’s a runoff for Mayor in Raleigh, NC. Please GET OUT and VOTE. I submitted my absentee ballot last week.
Power Africa: Launch of the Beyond the Grid Fund for Zambia
(From Top: Swedish Amb. Cederin, Minister Chalikosa from Zambian VP Office, U.S. Amb. Schultz, & Minister Mulusa; Beyond Africa panel leadership; U.S. Amb. Schultz walks and talks with Swedish Amb with the Zambian Ministers ahead; U.S. Amb. Schultz speaks with solar electric vendors.)
On Wednesday, I had the great honor and privilege to represent USAID, primarily as a photographer, at an event with the United States Ambassador Eric Schultz, Swedish Ambassador Henrik Cederin, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, REEEP, and Power Africa. YES, I GOT TO MEET BOTH AMBASSADORS!!!
I wonder when it will feel normal to have a driver arrive to pick us up, exit the Embassy, and then arrive to pick us up from an event, only to go back through the most vehicle secure sweeps I’ve ever seen to re-enter the compound again. But about the event…
It’s incredible how the Swedish and U.S. governments are partnering with Zambian organizations (both private and public sector) to reduce the number of people without electricity. Currently, 70% of Zambians are without modern energy and 95% of those are in rural areas. I just can’t believe how much it would leave those people behind. What impressed me is Zambia’s commitment to investing in clean, renewable energy, as they combat the disparities in hopes of improving economic development and reducing poverty. They are also encouraging different solar electric startups so that competition will drive the market and make electricity more affordable.
U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green recently informed the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations that he is personally looking for ways to expand the reach of Power Africa, a bipartisan effort launched during the Obama administration to increase access to electricity in Africa. Apparently, U.S. lawmakers are frustrated by the lack of information about USAID reform plans, but I’m out in the field seeing good things and, trust me, there’s lots of regular reporting — I’m writing up some of those detailed weekly reports, myself, that go straight up to Washington! Green told the committee that what he has been struck by most since entering the job in August is the extent of humanitarian need that currently exists in the world.
It was a good day already representing my country at public events. Upon our return to the office, Chando told me to get right on editing them, which sent me into a panic, because photo editing is one thing I’ve always wanted to learn and not gotten to, but by the time he’d returned I’d already read a couple online articles and watched a YouTube video to teach myself how to use the software. Mary-Alice, back at NC DIT, remains my photog hero. Next time, I might not wear a cute vintage dress and heels to photograph an event, no matter how many ambassadors are there though…
Did She Say Earthquake?!?
On Thursday, my boss and I were chatting about project needs and trying to run through the millions of deadlines that bombard you at USAID, when all of a sudden my chair and everything around us was shaking. Because of all the security briefings and movies I’ve seen about Embassies getting attacked, I immediately thought we were under attack. Nope. It was an earthquake. Thank God that’s all it was. I’d been wondering if Zambia had any national disasters and I got my answer!
A short while later an email came from the State Department, indicating that approximately 11:15 a.m. what appeared to have been a significant, albeit brief, earthquake hit Lusaka. There was no confirmation about epicenter or magnitude and the disturbance did not appear to be manmade. Perimeter checks were conducted at the Embassy compound and no breaches, seismic damage, or suspicious activity was observed. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Peace Corps, Warehouse, and American International School of Lusaka (AISL) all report that conditions are normal at those locations.
Someone else responded to the listserv and advised that apparently the tremors are going around the region. It appears to have been a magnitude 4.6 in Tanzania – Wednesday there was a 4.7 in Botswana. (Botswana and Tanzania are 2 of the 8 countries surrounding Zambia.)
Gelato & New Friends
If you follow me on Instagram, you saw this post from Thursday night. If you don’t follow me, then you should! 😉 Social buttons in the footer of this email!
Top left: a beautiful Zambian night sky outside my flat.
Top right: Chocolate gelato Tiffany suggested we walk to get for dinner. K25 = $2.50. Such a great idea since we’d all had an INSANE day. Better with friends.
Bottom: My 2 newest girlfriends, who are helping me feel like I have a home. Tiffany on the left and Jess on the right. Both of these women are super sweet, really dynamic, from California and recently spent 27 months serving with the Peace Corps in rural Zambian villages. Today we experienced an earthquake so we talked about how we reacted and where we were when it happened. Tomorrow (Friday) marks a month with USAID for Tiffany and Jess and me making it through our first full week! We’re keeping busy working on initiatives and definitely earning our keep. I feel like, despite how bizarre everything is to my normal, for the first time in a long time, it’s easier to just live day by day rather than how overextended my life has been in the States.
I Repeat, “This is Just a Drill.”
That’s what I heard on the loud speaker, repeatedly on Friday, which reassured me when the Marines were announcing over the loudspeaker that the Embassy doors were breached and active shooters were invading the compound. I just kept shaking my head, in amusement and disbelief that this was my real life working in an Embassy, bracing myself for armed Marines to march by my desk in a drill. They must not have come to my area of the floor because I never saw them. Because of Benghazi, there are more regular drills for security. I can’t comment on what the other measures are, but I will say those are the heaviest doors I’ve ever opened.
The drills felt like some mind trick though because not only were they practicing drills for active shooters and an attack, but I was under deadlines, being a firefighter, during my first week. Copy-editing. Confirming event schedules. Meeting officials. Photography. Editing photos. Reviewing programs. Social media strategy. Style guides. Talking points. Weekly report to Washington.
Health Grassroots Friends & a Birthday!
On Monday, my friend Nathan, the Director of Grassroots Advocacy for Citam+ came by my flat after work. We sat around talking for hours and then he escorted me to the grocery store to pick up a few things. It’s unfortunate, but I recognize that, for my safety, I must often ask for escorts, that’s usually because it gets dark here early and there are so few lit areas on the streets. He helped me navigate the different brands and products, even advising me how to shop to figure out what I like. The unfamiliarity of the things in stores is overwhelming. He also advised me to avoid carrying my purse to reduce risk of mugging so on non-workdays I now wear my over the shoulder bag and also bring less with me.
I have good news though. In February, we heard that Zambia had been promised 650 health posts by the end of 2016 and, at that point, they’d only built about 350. Now, they’re up to 575! The obstacle now is shortage of staff to fill the health posts. At least the grassroots with Citam+ persist, even if the progress is slow.
Finally, Nathan’s nephew just turned 5. This may not sound significant except for the fact that until now, Jonathan didn’t even know what a “birthday” or “birthday party” was. This is very sad because Jonathan’s previous home life was not good, but Nathan is dedicated to ensuring Jonathan has a better life. On Friday, I walked to the store and bought him a ball and some sweets. Then I got a ride to the other side of town to surprise him. In February, he could hardly even speak Bemba well, shouting “Yandi,” which means “mine,” at me ALL day LONG, grabbing at me with his feisty underdeveloped strong arms. Now, we had full conversations in English and he used manners with me, saying “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” We played ball in the yard, they shared cake with me, and then I got to stay for a traditional Zambian meal eating nshima (kind of like grits and mashed potatoes), greens, and some beef with my hands. I hate having my hands dirty so this is an exercise in cultural discipline!
Happy Birthday USAID!
November 3, 2017 was the 56th birthday of the United States Agency for International Development! So glad President John F. Kennedy was mindful enough that we needed to encourage and partner with other countries to encourage development for a brighter future for all. The work I see and do here is pretty real. Zambia has had a consistent USAID presence for 41 years now.
Pictured right: JFK speaks to USAID directors and deputy directors on the White House lawn, June 8, 1962.
- K or Kwacha – Zambian currency. Conversion rate is more or less $100 = K1,000
- Geyser – Pronounced “geezer” meaning hot water line. They kept saying they needed to check the geyser and I just went along, agreeing, “yes, you should probably check that,” since I really wanted hot water again.
- Till – Cashier, like when you’re checking out at the store. Some do not have card machines so you hold up the line if you ask for one. Best to carry Kwacha.
- Cooker – Oven. Important to ask when looking for a flat!
- Knock off – Probably my favorite. This means “when you get off from work.” So, we’ll ask the guard my flat or the cashier at the Embassy, “when do you knock off” to find out when they close for business or leave for the day.
What I’m Reading
A little about the book…
Soon after the fall of the Taliban, in 2001, Deborah Rodriguez went to Afghanistan as part of a group offering humanitarian aid to this war-torn nation. Surrounded by men and women whose skills–as doctors, nurses, and therapists–seemed eminently more practical than her own, Rodriguez, a hairdresser and mother of two from Michigan, despaired of being of any real use. Yet she soon found she had a gift for befriending Afghans, and once her profession became known she was eagerly sought out by Westerners desperate for a good haircut and by Afghan women, who have a long and proud tradition of running their own beauty salons. Thus an idea was born.
Please note: none of the sentiments expressed in this blog are a direct representation of USAID, the American Embassy, or the Federal Government. They are completely unaffiliated and a sole representation of my perspectives.