Thursday, May 29, 2008


Flying British Airways was absolutely magnificent. The seats were big and squishy, with headrests that were actually designed to support a nap. There were video screens on the back of every chair, and an entire movie and television lineup. I watched a lot of Doctor Who. (I know, there's no accounting for taste.) Where domestic airlines serve peanuts for food (literally), we had complimentary wine, dinner with dessert, multiple beverage services, AND breakfast. And this was a seven hour flight. I wanted to stay awake to watch The Godfather and a few new releases I've been meaning to catch, but the plane hummed me to sleep. What a great flight.

I think Fate was preparing me for what would come next. Heathrow was a mess! The check-in attendant in the United States advised me to speak with an employee about my luggage as soon as I touched down in London. Only, when I touched down in London, there were no airline employees to be found. Only a long gray hall, followed by another long gray hall, followed by another, and another, and another. I stopped counting at five, and focused instead on putting one foot in front of the other. I have about 80 pounds of carry-on luggage, and 100 pounds of checked luggage. Carrying all those books for Gulu has its costs. Just ask my traps.

Anyway, after a long, long walk I finally progressed from Terminal 5 to Terminal 4. I was supposed to go to Terminal 3. The sign pointed me out an automatic sliding glass door. Full of confidence, I walked toward the door. It never opened. There was a bus outside leaving for Terminal 3. I tried to wave down the driver, tried to slide the door open -- no luck. I turn to the woman at the security desk behind me. "Is something wrong with the doors?" I asked.

"No, it's my job to open them. Oh look, you just missed your bus. The next one will be by in a few." I sigh. I wait for the bus. It's a ten minute DRIVE to get from terminal 4 to terminal 3.

I am falling asleep as I type, so if you see a random note about purple bumblebees playing poker in the shower, you know why.

Upon reaching terminal 3, I am told that my flight was canceled. The airline blames it on a technical strike. It took three hours just to get a turn to talk with the booking agent. He told me I wasn't stranded. He told me that all I had to do was get my paper ticket from the Virgin Atlantic main desk and take it to Kenya Airways so that I can book a new flight with them. Sounds easy enough. I start to leave when I realize ... I have no idea where I'm going. So I ask a security guard for directions. He says something in a thick British accent that I barely understand.

I tried to follow the directions. Exit, left right left. Only that doesn't work. I wind up going in a circle. I smile at the flight attendant offering directions as I go by the second time. The third time around the terminal, I wind up in immigration. Not what I thought I wanted! The time after that, and I'm actually having conversations with the security guard outside of Virgin Atlantic. He asks where I'm going. I tell him. He sends me back to the little Virgin Atlantic desk upstairs that can't help me.

It turns out, everyone is wrong about where this desk is. The desk isn't even IN the building. Finding it on my own was a minor trick ...

Okay, must finish typing quickly, because I really am falling asleep with my eyes open.

Seven hours later, and I am officially rerouted through Kenya airlines. There were some great moments. I made friends with a lot of folks going Nairobi who were likewlse stuck in London. I got to hear the "Mind the Gap" recording on the underground, again when I took the Heathrow Express train, at one point. And when I explained my ticketing situation at the Kenya Airways counter, four clerks simultaneously break out into a rousing chorus of "Always Look on the Bright of Life."

So I'm just rolling with the punches. Or sleeping over them. I'm going to go take a nap.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I'm at the airport, writing to kill time. I have six and a half hours until my flight. I was so worried about rush hour traffic, and security, and extra baggage. Turns out I didn't have any extra baggage (right on the limit, though), no traffic, and, well, I haven't gone through security yet. They accepted my passport at the gate. That was good. And I figured out what I did wrong with my FAFSA this morning -- did I already post that? Hope not.

Anyway, I finally get to unwind. I've been digging through my carry ons to see what I actually packed. The town car showed up an hour early, so I sort of panicked and rushed out the door -- which means I didn't finish up packing well. My rule of thumb for traveling is "always have your passport and a credit card." I'm safe, on those fronts. But there are other things I will have to work out.

Example. I couldn't for the life of me find my camera battery recharger. I will have to order one online and have it mailed to me in Uganda, or rely on disposable cameras -- the batteries are almost dead already, unfortunately. Looks like I'll be shooting more video. I forgot my sound recorder, too. Grumpy about that! I suppose I can tape interviews with my camcorder, but its charge is short and I can't edit those sound files as conveniently. Oh well. I didn't have time to pick up my dry cleaning, so I only have three suits. Hooray for mix and match. I wonder if they sell plus-sized clothes in Uganda. And at the last minute, Darien tossed me my iPod. Great idea! Only I forgot to bring the plug. Maybe I can find something here at the airport in the next six and a half hours.

Honestly, what I should do is call Mia and see if she wants to meet me for dinner. I mean, I haven't gone through security yet. I wonder if she's in the state.

Actually, it's not so bad, sitting here. It's actually beautiful. Some people who walk by, you can tell exactly what country they come from. Oh, that guy's GOT to be Irish. And then he starts talking, and boy was I right! Some people, you can't tell. Well, I can't tell. For example, this stylishly-dressed white couple. I had them pegged as American for sure. Only they didn't speak a word of English. Maybe they are American, but once the language started spilling out of their mouths, I suddenly wondered.

Here is a British woman who looks like a slender version of Drew Barrymore. Here is an Iranian woman wearing the traditional burqa. There goes a lovely-smelling African woman with her baby tied to her back in a sling.

It isn't hard to keep entertained. Especially sitting next to the "Kosher Cafe / Hot Nosh" vending machine. I actually saw someone eat out of that, too.

Speaking of eating, I should go find lunch. I had a banana when I got to the airport a couple of hours ago, but nothing else since Sandy forced me to eat last night. (Nerves.) There are some nice sandwiches not far away. Maybe I'll go see about that. And an iPod charger. And a paper journal, in case I want to write something to post later.

Love you all. I'll make phone calls, if I can find a place to charge my phone.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The people I love

Last week, when Emily was leaving for Gaborone, I could tell she was scared. You could hear it in her voice. So I brought her donuts when I took her to the airport, and did my best to be a supportive friend. Small stuff, really. She was very appreciative, and I was a little embarrassed. I mean, I didn't do anything special.

Today, I understand better. I have been feasting on Tums. My blood pressure is 147 over 88. I had to fight with my insurance company twice. I needed to verify my identity with the guy on campus who is disbursing our loans, and it took an hour to find him. In the meantime, I discovered that FAFSA still hasn't processed my student loans, even though I submitted my application weeks ago. And my Stafford lender has stopped making loans entirely, so I have to find a new lender. I am trying very hard not to panic. Supposedly I can do all of this from Uganda, over the internet. I am doing my best to just breathe.

Then Michael called. Michael is my absolute best friend from UCLA -- I call him my big brother. He's got an inner strength that I absolutely admire, and a mind to match. I didn't pick up the phone because I was crying just then, but when I saw his picture flash up on my cell phone, it was like ... it was like breathing cool air after being in a steam room for too long. Better. I literally hugged the phone. (And kept crying.) Later, I drove by my friend Jessica's house to give her a video game strategy guide. She saw the strained look in my face, and insisted that I come in, sit down, watch some sketch comedy with her. She bought me pizza. I adore Jessica. And I talked on the phone with Mom for about an hour, too.

I need these people so much, right now. Family and friends -- they are the reason I can go out and take risks like the one I am taking tomorrow. I love you guys. Thank you.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Malaria? Blame Aetna

If I had any idea how much money this trip would cost, I would have planned better. The hidden expenses are incredible. Example. I booked my plane ticket, yes. But how to get from home to the airport? I was initially going to take Amtrak. $120 each way is pricey but tolerable. But there's a problem. Amtrak won't allow me to take all my bags. So I try shuttle service. Only no shuttles pick people up from Philly to take them to JFK. It's just too inconceivably far. Forget that on the other side of the country, shuttles drive that distance all the time. We call it "commuting through Los Angeles."

Please forgive me. I am cranky today.

So I decide to rent a car from Philly Airport and drive to New York. Mom balks at this. I don't know the roads, I don't know the traffic, I get lost easily, she will put extra money in my account if I please, please, please find ground transport. Okay, fine. She's right. I would probably wind up in D.C. before I made it to New York. So on a friend's advice, I book a sedan. It costs $200 one way. Ouch. Only, after I book the trip they let me know it's $200 if I have only one piece of luggage. With five pieces of luggage, the price goes up to $320 one way. Plus gas. Plus tolls. Plus a tip. Suddenly, I'm paying $500 for a one-way trip, which adds up to an extra THOUSAND DOLLARS just to get from Philadelphia to New York and back.

I don't care if I have to sleep in the train station, I am not booking a sedan back home. I'll just abandon most of my luggage in Gulu, see if I can crash with my aunt in Manhattan, and take Amtrak home in the morning. Details TBD.

Next crisis. I rush to the store to get my prescriptions. Only guess what? They don't have Malarone for me. I'm supposed to start taking my malaria pills TOMORROW, but Savon's won't be able to get the meds until Thursday -- at which point I will be in London. I panic, and the pharmacist notices and says, "Well, I guess I could see if we could speed it up."

The rational part of me is very thankful that he says this. The rational part of me recognizes that this is customer service -- pushing a delivery time for one concerned customer. But the part of me that has been too nervous to sleep since school let out is throwing a temper tantrum. Gee, THANKS, buddy, Maisha-angry says. It's good to know that you threatened me with Thursday on a whim, that you weren't actually basing your estimate on any sense of how long the prescription delivery would actually take. I manage to bite my tongue and wait fifteen minutes while the pharmacist dawdles behind the counter, only he never fills my scripts. Instead, he lets me sit around for a while and then tells me that my health insurance will only pay for one month's prescription at a time; it'll be an extra $500 to purchase the other two months' worth of medication at full cost.

I try to swallow my frustration. I call my health insurance company, hoping for some sort of policy override. They are closed for Memorial Day weekend. I didn't even know it was Memorial Day weekend.

Meanwhile, I still haven't gotten my tax return, my economic stimulus check, the fellowship that is supposed to be paying for all of this, or rent from either one of my tenants (although to their credit, it's not due until June 1). And I am smarting from the extra fees that I paid to get to Florida for that conference. And I have to pay another thousand to MoneyGram shortly for my hotel room. I am the closest to zero dollars that I have ever been in my whole life, and that is with a healthy dose of support from Mommy and Daddy.

I guess I'm tense because this doesn't begin to consider the administrative junk I have to take care of at home and abroad, or the laundry and cleaning I have to do before Wednesday. I miss my dog; I miss my easy, aimless life of science fiction and junk food; and I miss having a paycheck. I have felt terrifically out of sorts ever since law school began, and this hiccup of time before flying out? Cool as I try to be, it feels like I'm choking.

(It'll be okay, it'll be okay, it'll be okay ...)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

To my friends traveling in Africa:

Avoid South Africa! For now, anyway.
Details from my emergency travel insurance:

Security Situation Updates - South Africa

May 25, 2008 12:20 GMT
ANC Holds Rallies against Xenophobic Attacks

Members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) organized public meetings and rallies on 25 May against the ongoing xenophobic violence in the country.

President Thabo Mbeki addressed a public gathering at Healdtown in Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape. ANC President Jacob Zuma and other leaders are expected to hold public meetings amid the Gugulethu community at the Bekkerton Hall in 'Springs' on the East Rand, Dawn Park community at the Mapleton open grounds, and Delomore community at the Jerusalem open ground.

Rallies are scheduled to be organized at the Etwatwa stadium, Mehlareng stadium in Themisa, Huntersfield Stadium, Orange Farm communities at the Leshata Secondry School, Raphela Secondary School, Thetha Secondary School and other areas in Gauteng with substantial immigrant population.

Security personnel backed by the military remain on high alert level particularly in the suburbs of Johannesburg to avert any further outbreak of violence.

At least 50 people have been killed and nearly 25,000 displaced in a wave of xenophobic violence that began on 11 May in Alexandra township, north-east of Johannesburg. The attacks have targeted foreigners of African origin including nationals from Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Somalia. The residents accuse the migrants for increasing crime levels within the country as also for depriving them of employment and housing. An estimated three million Zimbabweans as well as 50,000 Mozambicans are believed to be currently residing in South Africa. The mobilisation programme of the ANC is an attempt to curb the rising anti-immigrant violence and restore stability in the affected communities.

Despite deployment of military personnel in Johannesburg on 22 May, the security situation remains fragile. The subsequent spread of violence to other regions of the country including provinces of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal in the east as well as in Western Cape is indicative of the deteriorating law and order situation within the country as well as government's inept handling of the crisis.

Travel disruption is likely due to the scheduled rallies and public gatherings. There remains a high possibility of further outbreak of violence targeting immigrants in the country. Foreign nationals and businesses face a high risk of being directly targeted and also face a risk of incidental violence. International SOS will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as warranted.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Gentlemen, start your engines

I'm almost there, already. Less than a week until I take off! This is the first chance I've had to feel anything, too -- life has been so busy with finals, only now can I step back a moment to think about what I am doing.

At the conference last week, uncle Lako pretty much told me I was foolish booking this trip alone. I guess that worried me a little bit. To admit my silliness, watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (that scene with the giant stick bugs) worried me more. But then today, an incoming law student friended me on Facebook, and he has more than 200 photos of Kenya, and looking through them got me giddy -- Africa can be so beautiful! I mean, it's paradise, when people aren't killing one another. So I can't wait to go. And I have something good to work for.

Meanwhile, though, I am just trying to keep my life in order. Insurance, loans, registration, tenants -- everything has to be in order before I leave. It's a lot, and I won't get it all done. I'm working on accepting that. I'll just have to coordinate from Uganda as best I can.

For now, I'm sleeping as much as I can, eating healthy food, and trying to handle at least one administrative detail every day. (Do I have enough keys made? Does Sarah know everything she will need to know to move in? Why is Marguerite's e-mail bouncing, and how can I arrange for her to discuss condo regulations with the new tenant? When does my health insurance policy renew? Where in God's name is my federal tax return? What do I need for a visa? How am I going to get from Entebbe to Ntinda?) But eh, it'll all get done. Or it won't. I will leave soon, anyway.

Life sparkles.

p.s. -- Emily is blogging about Botswana now, so you should definitely check out her blog. The link is in the lowest group on the right.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My twin sister

At orientation, the dean of Penn Law said that one in three of us would likely marry a classmate. I haven't exactly found a husband, but I have made a great friend. Emily Torstveit is my twin sister (we've been confused with each other more than once), and the forerunner in our summer adventures. Just this morning she landed in Gaborone to do legal work with the University of Botswana. I am so excited for her! Off the plane, and already starting to explore! Hang on, Ems, I'm not too far behind you ...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Basket cases and other anecdotes

I think the presentation went well, yesterday. Had some clear and astounding successes, made some clear and astounding mistakes (not the least of which was forgetting my pants, darn it). At the end of it all, my uncle Lako, who is a professor of African studies at the Claremont Colleges, stood up and pounded his chest, beamed with pride, and gave me a bear hug. So I'm satisfied with the outcome. Alex de Waal is here, which is kind of giddy amazing. And many others are here too who are of that same caliber. I found out that my uncle Darius was once a law clerk in Sudan. I had no idea! So when I feel like an ignorant child, I have to remember, the folks I'm speaking with are activists on the ground, professors, and some of the most controversial social movers in the country. (And by that, I mean people who have been imprisoned for their political activities, chiefs, ministers, etc.) I need to ease up on myself.

This is just amazing. I can't even organize what I'm writing, there is so much to say. Like all the people here -- German, Norwegian, Austrian, Swedish, Sudanese, Canadian, American, Mexican. We have young people and old people, Arabs and Fur and Christians and "animists" (the connotations of that word makes me giggle). There is a lot of anger in the conference room, but twice as much laughter, and everyone gets along despite the controversy of ideas. In fact, perhaps we get along because of the controversy of ideas. Having a safe space to express our thoughts allows us all to learn about one another, like one another. I wrote this last year in my old MySpace blog (which I have since taken down) -- I am amazed at how well Sudanese can handle sadness and anger. They just laugh at it. Happiest people in the world. One professor said that in the North, they have this phrase: "It is like a block of ice. It will melt away."

The presentations yesterday were fantastic. I left a little bit early, when the world started smooshing together in weird angles and sliding over itself, and I started confusing dreams with reality. It's been a while since I've slept properly. I missed an impromptu discussion about recent violence in the suburbs of Khartoum with Mr. de Waal, but I was worried about what would happen if I didn't get to bed. Still, there was plenty that I did see.

One Parisian student from Norway spoke about developing "friendships" between the U.S., the U.K., China, France, and Sudan. She suggested that such alliances were necessary to make the Darfur Peace Agreement actually meaningful, and her whole presentation was spoken in the language I learned in Public International Law. With a French-Norwegian accent.

Another woman spoke for nearly 30 minutes about basket-weaving. Sounds boring, right? It wasn't. She started off by proclaiming the falsehood in the notion that Fur women are pitiful, weak victims in the genocide. She told the story of Zamzam, the warrior who managed the kingdom of Fur for her ailing brother and rode on horseback into battle, just like any man. She told us about another woman who raised orphans even though she had very little, herself. At one point, the government requisitioned her donkey for fighting, and this woman went and told off the general. "If I were part of the government, I would give you my donkey," she said. "But I am not. I am a poor woman raising orphans. You should be taking care of me!" And then she shamed the soldier into giving the donkey back. Basket-weaving, according to our presenter, is a continuation of this kind of personal empowerment. The creator comes up with her own design -- and you should see the colors! Rich blacks, bold reds, whites that almost burn. The designs reflect whatever they see. One woman made a design that looked just like the "no signal" image on her television. Another woman wove Arabic words into her basket when the northern Government declared that all women must learn how to read. The baskets are a strong creative expression made during a time of destruction. Despite the desertification rampant in the environment, these women have developed a network to obtain weaving materials from further south. And you can see pictures of them, gathered in the IDP camps, laughing and making their baskets. And they earn money this way, and make their own lives better. They save themselves from the genocide.

A Sudanese-American like me talked about learning Dinka in Cairo. She said that, in Dinka, the happy answer to the question "how are you" translates to "my heart, mind, and body are all together." Conversely, when you talk about being homesick, you say "I am here, but my heart is at home." ... I know that feeling.

Some presentations were just adorable. One woman from Germany had spent months researching Bari culture. The irony here: Two of our group members, my uncle Lako and my friend Scopas, ARE Bari. So they had a few things to say, where they thought the presentation had holes. (Like I said, it's hard to compete in this environment, as a foreigner.) One of the most precious moments occurred in the middle of this woman's Power Point. Ulrike, the presenter, is German, and she had some trouble with consistent translation and formatting. Her quote marks were backwards, forwards, inverted, and all over the place. She combined a lot of words, and every once in a while wrote in German without realizing it. Clearly, Ulrike has a good deal of respect for the Bari she was interviewing, which is what made this so funny ... in one header, she slipped back into German. Instead of writing "The Bari," she wrote "Die Bari." You could see the giggles hiccuping through the crowd when that title popped up.

I made mistakes, too. One of the FAO papers I relied on was incorrect, or just dated. Oops. Naseem Badiey, an American at Oxford who will be presenting on a very similar topic, was able to correct me on that point because she has been in direct contact with the mayor of Juba. She says she'll pass some of her sources on to me. Another gentleman who spent some time in Rumbek asked me to think more about the development of the Southern Sudanese Land Commission, the Interim Constitution of Southern Sudan, and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement's desire for rule by the communities. I asked him for more sources. And my new friend from U. Khartoum wrote a very heated response to my suggestion that Sudan adopt a pluralist government system similar to the U.S. I will have to be careful about how I phrase that in the future. I don't mean that Sudan should mimic U.S. policies and structure. All I meant was that it seems as though the national government will be taking care of cross-border issues, and the local governments will be taking care of internal issues, with some control by the federal government over local practice where local practice threatens the survival of the state, and some control by local governments over federal practice where federal practice threatens a local way of life. From here on out, I will excise the words "Western," "U.S." and "developed" from my writing unless I have no other choice. They provoke a strong negative reaction.

On a positive note, I got more response to my presentation than any other speaker. People were just excited -- the southerners were glad to see the root of the issue addressed, and solutions proposed. Apparently people have been talking around this topic for a while, afraid to step onto an emotional land mine. Northerners were curious about my proposals on how to balance cultural and economic needs by securing easements, leases, exactions and consultations with the involved communities. Women wanted to know more about gender issues. Foreigners wanted a clearer explanation of the North / South divide. I had answers for all of them, and could point to specific sources. It was fantastic. And I had, by far, the most technically savvy Power Point out there, and I finished within the allotted time. It made me proud. Law school and journalism have done me some service.

I can certainly see a paper developing out of all of this:

Part I: Explanation about why land use in the South is such an important topic, with historical background and comparison to conflict in the rest of the peripheral states
Part II: Description of cultural practices in the rural areas
Part III: Description of the clash between culture and development
Part IV: Description of urban planning issues, especially in Juba
Part V: Accommodating returnees and women
Part VI: Conclusions on the state law / cultural law split

It could easily be a dissertation, but I think for now I'll start with ten pages per section. Besides, I'm still nervous about going to visit. And I don't know that this can be a dissertation until I live in Sudan for a few months.

Oh help. Look at me. I'm talking about a Ph.D. I'd better watch my mouth.

Anyway, Uncle Lako filmed me giving my talk. If the sound came out, I'll post the video (and videos of other people talking) as soon as I get home to my USB cable.

Friday, May 16, 2008

One hour before the presentation

You know that dream where you wake up and go to school and take your classes and suddenly realize you're not wearing any PANTS?

Yeah. I forgot mine in Pennsylvania ...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hubris of the self-righteous

Poorer, sleepier, happier. I have arrived in Florida. So far I've read about 150 pages worth of material on land usage, and as ready as I feel for this presentation, I have a lot more to prep. I don't even know how to pronounce the names of half of the cities I'll be talking about, not to mention the communities. (Jur. Kakwa. Yei. Malakal.) Thank goodness I have intelligent people supporting me in this project, and I can back up my assertions with strong research.

I walked into the hotel lobby today to find a woman from the UK chatting up the hotel attendant. "Are you going to the conference, too?" she asks. I say yes. "Will you be speaking, or simply attending?" I tell her I'll be speaking. "Oh. What will you be speaking on?" I tell her land use issues, and fail to elaborate because the three hours of sleep I got last night make it difficult to form coherent sentences. She blinks. And then she begins her rant about academics.

"I am not here to speak," she says. "I am here to do some fund raising. Do you go to a school? You will start a fund raising group for us. We help children in Darfur. We are really doing something, not just talking about land-use issues."

Uh-huh. While I am curious to know about the children of the Fur, I have to bite my tongue to avoid verbally upbraiding this woman. Hostility is no way to make friends, and academics are important to any humanitarian recovery process, too. I could explain to her that these silly "land-use issues" that I will be talking about have embroiled Sudan in civil war for forty years, disenfranchise whole communities of people, result in epidemics of violence and water-borne disease, and reflect the very source of contention in Darfur. I could tell her, if we can't make peace work in the South, how are we supposed to make peace work in the North? I could say that I am taking care of children, after my own fashion, and that I have seen my own share of scattered families and destroyed villages, too -- maybe not the quantity she has, if she works in Sudan, but certainly on a more personal level.

But I swallow my pride and nod. I promise to visit her information booth, tomorrow morning. And I will; I will go listen to what she has to say. Because I am going to have to learn to manage my own sense of self-importance, and deal with others who have inflated egos, too. That's just how the world works, and I want to support every effort that I can, if only by listening.

Hm. I expect more of this to come up in my career. A lot more. I mean, look, I even made that crack about saving the world, this morning. Please tell me if that kind of humor becomes crude. Splinter in your neighbor's eye, log in your own, and all ...


While my focus is currently on east Africa, I couldn't neglect to mention the recent earthquake in China. The following is a repost from our Penn Law announcements.

As you may be aware from news reports, a 7.9-magnitude devastating earthquake hit the central China, Si Chuan Province, on 5/12/2008. The death toll from the disaster was raised to nearly 19,000 (the number is increasing) while tens of thousands of people remain missing and hundreds of thousands are injured. Rescue teams are now digging through collapsed buildings in schools, factories and residential areas to reach victims trapped beneath rubble. Many families lost their beloved and homes in this deadliest natural disaster in three decades in China. Survivors now are in great need of water, food and other supplies.

Many charities and non-profit organizations are now open to donation for China earthquake. If you would like to know more information with respect to ways to donate, please click the following links or contact the charities you are familiar with:

American Red Cross

Mercy Corps

China Red Cross

Hong Kong Red Cross

Thank you for your concern and kindness.


You can't save the world if you fall asleep and miss your flight.

Am on the phone right now, paying the $150 reassignment fee plus the additional charge for the altered flight, so I can get to Florida for the Sudan Studies conference. This is the most expensive domestic flight I've ever taken, literally.

I'm not sure where I made the mistake. Did I wake up, turn of my alarm clock, and go back to sleep? Was I conscious when this happened? Did I neglect to set my alarm? Was my alarm not enough to wake me up? I was working on my presentation last night. I was exhausted, trying to read through that 96-page report from U. Khartoum. I haven't been able to sleep for the past, I don't know, week or so. So maybe ... who knows. Who cares. It's only $218. I don't need money. Really.

... I didn't believe that last time, either ...

... I'm going back to bed.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008


So I'm finally settling in to putting this presentation together. Hoo-rah. And I just got a 100-page report from James Okuk Solomon of the University of Khartoum, the full-fledged version of the FAO's land tenure report. It's like Christmas.

Now to read it all and assimilate it into my presentation. In one night. Tee hee!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I have two duffel bags. One is in the trunk of my car. It has a year's worth of work by the International Human Rights Advocates' Gulu team: books, binders, syllabi. It's quite a pile. Last night, I had to figure out how to move the bag from the law school to the car. Fortunately, some friends were around. Rob is a small man with a slight frame, and he is interested in corporate law. When I told him what was in my bag, he said that he'd never imagined himself doing anything to address human rights issues abroad. And then he carried that monster of a duffel the whole way to the car.

The other bag is in my living room. It has neosporin, Hydrocortizone cream, Advil, Tylenol, Ace wrap, Tums, Claritin, bandages, multivitamins, you name it. None of these items are coming home. I'm somewhat awed that I have both of these duffels. They're symbolic, to me: my nanosecond of protest against chaos.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

No more shopping, please!

Thanks to C for the note that my e-mail address was broken. I fixed it below, but just to reiterate, that's melonai at law dot upenn dot edu.

In other ramblings, I just got back from a 12-hour shopping trip with Emily, who is a super-fantastic shopping buddy. During the past 48 hours, I have spent $500 on my plane flight and hotel room for the conference in Florida, $250 on medical supplies (and I haven't even purchased the mosquito repellent or water filtration system yet!), $400 on suits so I will look official on the job, and $100 on books for research on Sudan. And I encouraged Em to do some pretty naughty things, herself.

I am ready to stop spending now please thank you. Sigh. I love Penn for giving me a grant, but it is NOT sufficient to make a solo 10-week trip, even to Uganda. Oh well. I'll just repeat what I wrote earlier about not needing money, until I finally believe myself. (Actually, I got a note from the financial aid office that I will be receiving more money than I thought, but that said funds would be taxed, which I was not expecting. Easy come, easy go. I wonder if Professor Burke-White is working his magic behind the scenes.)

Saturday, May 10, 2008


By the way, e-mail me your address if you want a postcard. If there ARE postcards, I will send one to you. I don't promise they won't be goofy, though. :)

One thing is certain

Yay! My hotel room in Ntinda is confirmed! This makes me happy. And a friend of a friend used, um, methods to confirm the validity of my passport. It's valid! I'm still going to write to the passport agency, but I finally feel like I'm on the right track.

Going shopping with Emily today to buy suits. She has a veterinary appointment with Gordon the fabulous kitty in the middle of the day, so hopefully I will be able to use that time to run to the library and check for books by Francis Deng, who seems to have written a lot about the Dinka.

Does anyone know where else I can get info about Dinka culture? I need to write back to my friend, Jok. He wrote a book. And is Dinka. And should know.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Things to do

  • take care of my insurance renewal for the year

  • sign the lease with my new tenant

  • pick classes for next semester

  • pick firms to interview with this fall

  • buy new suits

  • get a water filtration system

  • find the malaria and antibiotic prescriptions so I can actually get them filled

  • pack

  • take the 20-hour writing contest

  • research lots

  • draft that presentation

  • read the books on Ugandan history

  • get my passport straightened out

  • so i can get a visa

  • remember everything that I DON'T already have on this list

  • laugh

  • spend as much time with friends as possible

  • call home just to check in on my dog

P.S., God kicked me out

Looks like I will be staying at the expensive Ntinda hotel instead of the Christian medical clinic, after all. Oh well. Who needs money?

1/3 way there

Finals are over. I finished yesterday, thank goodness. I think I slept at least 15 hours today, and probably more. It feels fantastic to be done, although I did make some mistakes this year that I vow to learn from, professionally. More on that after grades come out, on the off chance that one of my professors is actually reading this.

In the meantime, I have begun to gear up for my upcoming trips. Today I booked my flight and hotel room for the Sudan Studies Association conference in Florida. Looks like I'll be the first person to present. I'm a bit nervous about that, given how much I haven't done yet ... but truly, if I keep my presentation simple, I think everything will be fine. Mostly I want this to be a networking opportunity, to meet people who know more about southern Sudanese culture and land usage than I do. And I should be able to do that, just by presenting my preliminary thoughts and questions on the subject.

I've already met one woman from Oxford who will be presenting on the same topic. I honestly wish she were reporting on something else, so there would no chance she could make me look amateur, but hey, at least we can trade notes. Maybe we can grab dinner together one night; I'll be flying back home before she presents. (It saves me $60, and at this point I need all the money I can get for Uganda.)

Am also struggling with the national passport agency to figure out whether my book is still valid. Do you know, there is no easy system for looking that up? Sigh. Logic was never the government's strong suit.

Anyway, it's good to be done with classes so I can focus on (ha ha) the important stuff. And it's good to know that I'm 1/3 of the way through law school. I have learned an enormous amount, and I feel proud of that, even if I'm not a straight-A student. And what fantastic projects coming up! Already, I have so many ideas for the International Human Rights Advocates next year!

More soon. Happy day to you all.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Public International Law

I just finished formatting my study group's Public International Law outline. It's 104 pages, not including the cover page or the table of contents, and the conversion to PDF format is crashing my computer as I type. I might not get a great grade in this class, but I have a darn fine outline. I'm so proud! Keep your fingers crossed for me: I download the take-home exam tomorrow morning, bright and early.

If you're reading this, and you were part of my study group, you're the best!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

2008 Global Health Career Day


I wanted to share a conference with you that was held here at the University of Pennsylvania last March. I found it extremely pertinent to issues of human rights and humanitarian relief - here, there, everywhere. This is a long presentation, but certainly worth a ten-minute glimpse. Any of you involved in the medical field might consider watching this in full, for reasons of professional development. The title of this blog posting will link you directly to the conference's web site, where you will find videos of each presentation. I tried to include them here, but unfortunately the file sizes are too large. Instead, here is the presentation schedule.

Love to you all!
- Maisha


8:30-9:30 a.m. Keynote Address: Global Health: A Declaration of Interdependence
  • Introduction: Steve Larson, MD, Assistant Dean, Global Health Programs, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

  • Speaker: Richard Guerrant, MD, Director, Center for Global Health, University of Virginia School of Medicine

Dr. Richard Guerrant is an internationally-recognized expert on enteric infections. He is the founder and Director of the Center for Global Health (CGH) at the University of Virginia (UVA), School of Medicine. The CGH draws students from UVA’s Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Law, Commerce, Engineering, and Arts & Sciences. Students travel to Latin America, Africa, and Asia, building new relationships and helping to strengthen and diversify the institution’s long-standing research exchanges with international partners. This support of emerging leaders in the US and abroad contributes to developing a critical mass of scientists and health professionals working to improve the health of people globally.

9:30-10:45 a.m. Clean Water: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Global Health Problems
Ensuring the health and wellness of global communities requires a collaborative effort that brings scientists and health care providers together with educators, government leaders, economists, and community representatives. Using the central theme of water and sanitation, this panel will highlight strategies for a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to global health and community wellness.
  • Richard Guerrant, MD, University of Virginia School of Medicine

  • Samantha Beers, Esq., EPA

  • Stanley Laskowski, Philadelphia Global Water Initiative

  • Shannon Márquez, MEng, PhD, Temple University College of Health Professions MPH Program

11:00-12:30 p.m. Collaborative Partnerships in Global Health
Over the past decade, the health and wellness of global communities has received considerable attention in the news. A diverse group of participants ranging from private industry to academic institutions can now be found on the frontlines of global health. A central theme for effective collaboration in global health involves capacity building and sustainability. This panel will highlight a variety of models and approaches intended to achieve these results.
  • Stephen Gluckman, MD, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (Botswana)

  • David Spiegel, MD, CHOP (WHO)

  • Anthony Sauder, PE, PG (Engineers Without Borders)

  • Debra Abraham, MSN, RN University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Hospital Albert Schweitzer)

1:30-3:30 p.m. Advisory Panel : Multi-Disciplinary Opportunities in Global Health
The rapidly growing interest in global health is a shared phenomenon experienced by schools across PENN’s campus. This panel provides an opportunity for students to learn more about Global Health career opportunities among a variety of diverse disciplines.
  • Marjorie Muecke, RN, PhD, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing Global Health Affairs

  • Neal Nathanson, MD, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine Global Health Programs

  • Stephen Sammut, University of Pennsylvania Wharton

  • Robert Collins, DMD, MPH, University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine

  • Sarah Paoletti, Esq., University of Pennsylvania Law School

  • Hong Truong, University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering, PENN Engineers Without Borders

  • Giang Nguyen, MD, MPH, University of Pennsylvania MPH Program

Friday, May 2, 2008

For Your Amusement

I've been looking up videos and pictures of Kampala, just so I know what I'm getting into. This made me giggle for about 30 minutes straight. I hope you have fun with it, too. It's by Bebe Cool, originally posted on UGPulse. (I know Emily will like it, because it has animals.)

Change in plans!

I met a lovely woman named Martha Wright at the seminar presentation last week. Martha lives with the Karamoja in Uganda, in an area somewhat to the north of Kampala, south of Gulu. Definitely the type of woman I admire. She is a Penn graduate with her Ph.D in education. She dresses simply, and the shape of her body radiates strength ... like someone who has been molded by sun and dirt, not treadmills and salad. She told me these stories about being raided, and about using a winch to pull her convoy out of mud puddles. This is the kind of woman I want to be -- if I could be like this woman, I could live through anything.

Anyway, Martha is helping me find a place to live, for much less money than the housing agency. She introduced me to a man named Charles Howard, who has been her special hire driver in the past. Charles will be taking a qualifying exam -- presumably for university studies, I think that's what qualifying exams are -- so he can't drive me from Entebbe airport. But he is making arrangements with a friend of his to take care of me. He has also found me a different place to live, in a protestant hospital's guest house in Mengo. It's much cheaper, and comes with breakfast every day. No swimming pool, but like I said before -- that's okay! And there is a restaurant where I can buy meals.

Maybe I like this situation because I implicitly trust Martha. After hearing her talk about the Karamoja, I can tell from my own experience that a) she's got a good bead on Uganda, and b) she is not a scary religious fanatic. And by "good" I mean she does not come off as ignorant, or aggressive, or prejudiced, or hyper-evangelical, all of which I have seen U.S. relief workers become. She sounds educated and caring, and I like her ideas about helping people by learning about them, first. She just makes sense. So I will transfer much of that trust to the people she puts me in contact with.

Here's the interesting part: I realize that I have embedded myself in a religious network. All of these people are Protestant. That ... might mean ... going back to church. You might call this my first cultural surprise. I will be very honest. Here in the United States I have made a good effort to stay away from the Christian church, ever since a somewhat nasty experience with a fellowship group during my undergraduate years. I will omit details; let me just say that I railed against narrow-mindedness and forcible evangelism.

Now, to gain awareness of the people I live with, and to buy a social pass around them, I might have to attend service. Okay. I can do this. Actually makes sense -- if I want to learn about people of course I need to learn about their spirituality. The part of me that will be Christian until the day I die (you cannot be born and raised in a religion without it claiming some lasting part of you, no matter how much you try to separate yourself intellectually) says that this is poetically appropriate. Here God called my father out of Sudan, protected him all the way to the United States, and set him up as a doctor. Here God is calling me back to the Continent, and protecting me with His people in a hospital. Of course it would happen this way. How else would things possibly work?


I am late for a study group. Must run. Wish me luck: I hope this living situation works out.