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You can still read about Africa, but now I'm in Canada. These views are my own.

Why Be Sad When You Can Be Glad?
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African Fashion Show in Toronto
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I love the way the world works when you engage it and seek new things out!

So my friend Deanna who I love and adore told me about this girl who followed her on twitter @minadanielle,!/minadanielle who had amazing dresses made from fabric from Kenya and Ghana. I looked at the girl's website: and LOVED the dresses.

I told Deanna, we need to meet this girl! Find out where her fabric is coming from etc. So I sent her a tweet and she responded and then I saw she was having a fashion show at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto today. It took no effort to convince Deanna to go to, we shelled out 50bucks for the ticket, which was also a charity event for breast cancer and off we went!

They had a gallery with exhibits and photos and we were milling around and a girl came up to me and said, "I LOVE your dress!" I was wearing a dress I had designed myself and had a Cameroonian tailor make. We started talking about African fabrics and guess who the girl was!? She was Mina Danielle! I was like, "I'm here because of you!" and we geeked out on how I followed her on twitter and loved the clothes she designed etc. She is Ghanaian but grew up in Toronto and seemed super cool!

I didn't get great photos, but here was one.

And then here is one from her site.

It was really fun! I also saw one of the judges from Canada's Next Top Model, though I didn't wait in line to get a photo with her. And now of course I want a million more things made of African fabrics. Next project, bright throw pillows for my couch!

Did I mention I LOVE TORONTO!?!!!!?!!

Getting Settled
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I'm getting settled slowly, slowly into Toronto. As they say in Cameroon: "Slowly, slowly we catch the monkey!"

My mood is great, normal weekends seem better than the best weekends I had in Cameroon.

Friday I went here which was awesome- It was a first date with a Canadian Pakistani/Italian guy. Pretty darn good first date, though he seems like a total player, probably not someone I should be getting mixed up with.

Then Deanna and I toured every furniture store in downtown Toronto getting interior inspiration. I'm toying with the idea of getting a hand carved Canadian buffet/china cabinet, which is a little over 1,000$, but beautiful and would last forever, or getting a similar style thing, but in mass-produced junk form from Ikea for 300$.

IKEA in Toronto was AMAZING!!!!! It is enormous and has a restaurant, kids playground and grocery store in it as well as tons of furnishings. I could have spent all day there. I'm going to go back monday on my day off to pick up the rest of the stuff I need for my new apartment.

We also spent some time in the new apartment and Isis ran around and hid in all the empty spaces. I LOVE MY NEIGHBORHOOD! I'm so glad I chose to live in the Annex! And it turns out right below us in the building their is a family with a three year old daughter! Isis's new friend!

Last couple days enjoying the lux of Yorkville before I move to my new hood on June 1.

Did I mention I LOVE Toronto!?!?!?!?!?!!!!!

Seriously? Ugandan Protestors Sprayed Pink?
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Is Museveni trying to create the perfect storm of discontentment in Uganda? Now he is spraying people with pink irritating spray in order to easily identify who is involved in the Walk 2 Work protests!

Why does this seem incredibly Hitler/Nazi-esque to me? As if people don't have the right to demonstrate! I don't know how Museveni can even pretend to be running a democracy. No doubt these people are being sprayed pink so that police can harrass and interrogate them and abuse them in the effort to crush their spirit of civic duty and freedom of expression!

Venting, because this truly upsets me.

Hilary Clinton Promotes SMSing African Women Reproductive Health Info
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 Like so many people, I’ve always been interested in the potential of technology to help Africa leap frog ahead in terms of development. I read this article, today discussing Secretary Clinton’s support and promotion for MAMA, a USAID funded program that texts health information to pregnant women and new mothers. The program is now in Bangladesh, India, and South Africa.

This program follows on the heels of Text4Baby, a program launched by the White House. Which by the way started in Virginia, my home State!

I’ve actually thought something like this would be great for African women. One thing I saw in Uganda and in Cameroon was a true lack of general knowledge on pregnancy, best practices during pregnancy, birth, pre and post-natal care. Of course knowledge on health is missing broadly in Africa, but I guess it is particularly surprising regarding pregnancy since everyone is reproducing so much and the population is absolutely booming in Africa!

I think this knowledge is something western women take for granted as we all mostly receive free training and education on reproduction and pregnancy in High School or Middle School through Family Life and Sex Ed. Thus we often take for granted that Africans, having been in the birthing business for so long wouldn’t know basic facts like the importance of wiping front to back. This is something we take for granted as common knowledge, but seriously, a lot of women have had no education on reproductive health before they find themselves pregnant.

Even better than this MAMA SMS model would be to have a live SMS hotline where the women could text in for free questions like “My breast is hard and I can’t breast feed from one side. What should I do?” and then someone would send them the answer: “Massage your breast where it is hard and apply heat. If it doesn’t start producing milk in a day you need antibiotics from a doctor.” All too often in Africa women give up breast feeding when their problem could have been easily solved with some education. Surprising, but I really saw this.

Even better still would be to have them SMS the question in whatever local language and someone trained to respond could call them back and discuss the problem with them. The way the world is today, the return caller wouldn’t even need to be in Africa. They could get the text at a health center anywhere in the world with trained professionals and call back provided that the texter could speak French or English or another common language.

I can remember being at home in Virginia after giving birth and I was a hormonal mess, I didn't know what I was doing. I had post delivery complications.  I was in pain and breast feeding was really difficult.  Luckily, in my home town their was a program where after giving birth, a week later a nurse from the hospital actually CAME TO MY HOUSE FOR FREE and checked up on me and gave me information and help.  This was beyond helpful and amazing.  

Of course not everyone in the world is so lucky. The reality is that it will be decades before so many African women have good clinics set up in the villages they live in, but nearly every village has at least one mobile phone.

Again, I know I'm over simplifying, but you get the point! 

Great Anti-Corruption Video in Ugandan Context
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I think this is a great video and I wish every Ugandan could watch it. When I'm watching this though, I can't help but continue to think that the average African person needs some further education to get from point A to point Z on corruption, or on any other social issue which requires collective action.

Point A is basically identifying the problem and wanting to rectify it.

Point B would be something like seeing a broad, macro solution to the problem, or a specific solution to a smaller scale problem

Point C could mean learning how each individual could act in order to help reach the macro/micro solution

And point Z would be collectively making gains on eradicating corruption and promoting transparency and good governance.

This is an over-simplification of course, but I feel like so many Africans have gotten point A 100%, but B and C are complete mysteries. For many, Z seems like an unattainable utopia that only God could bring!

Training needs to be given to young adults on civics, citizenship, democratic participation, and strategies for lobbying, organizing, demonstrating peacefully and civil disobedience. People need the basics and real life strategies and tools for organizing.

It almost makes me want to quit my job and start the Ugandan Activists Training Center!!!

Settling in but Sick
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I'm settling into Toronto, but I've been sick for like 2 weeks. Started with a soar throat, then got better, then turned into a cold and now I have a full blown sinus infection.  I'm home from work, because I'm a disgusting snot factory. 

Observations on Toronto so far-

--Canada seems like a more rational version of America

--No one smiles at you on the street, just like DC and NYC, not my preference

--Spring is cold, low 50's/40s right now and rainy

--Lots of macaroni and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches on menus.  Love the comfort food trend

-- The health care clinic I went to was not pleasant. lt felt like a factory of patients, like I was on an assembly line.  The doc talked really fast and spent 2 minutes diagnosing me.  Hope he diagnosed me correctly. 

-- The service people at hotels, restaurants, in the metro, at stores are SO amazingly friendly and helpful!!

-- It is VERY VERY VERY complicated, with tons of red tape to get a cell phone in Canada, worse than America.  Really, Canadians should revolt! They just don't know how awful their phone system is.  3 year contracts??? Only 2 main providers??? Unacceptable. 

-- People openly smoke weed on the street and cops turn and look away

-- The city is really mixed with housing and shops all thrown together, which I really like, though it does feel like the city is far more densely populated than cities I've been to in America, with perhaps the exception of NYC. 

-- Pandora doesn't work in Canada, which really sucks.  What a shame.
I really love Toronto so far! I wish I wasn't so sick and I could go explore more!

Notes on Book
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I guess I've begun to use this space for myself to take notes on the book as I am writing.  

My thought today is that I absolutely don't want this book to be a book about Africa.  It is a tell-all story of love and betrayal, a coming of age story, a tragedy and a story about the bonds that motherhood creates.  It is also a glimpse into the State Dept Foreign Service life with snapshots of a few countries which provide the setting for the story, but it is absolutely not a story about Africa.  

Hence I am avoiding using any Africa references in the title and of course the story can't be separated from its setting, but the true point of the book is the changes my own character went through.  These changes came from interpersonal relationships, not wholly from living in Uganda or Cameroon. 

Isis sick
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 UGH... Sometimes being a single parent really blows.  Isis is sick today with snot coming out of her eyes, ears and nose.  So I can't go to training because I have no one else in DC to watch her and she can't go to day care until she gets a doctor's note.  Then on top of it, because I'm not in training I don't get per diem today which means I have to pay for my apartment myself.  There goes 200$. 

In other news, I've been pen-palling with this 33 yr old Canadian guy I met on okcupid.  Cring, I know, the crazy world of online dating, but all my single friends are doing it!  We have literally been writing long letters back and forth for 11 months, about 3 letters each a month.  So last night we had an ichat date scheduled and talked for the first time! Though we actually could't get the ichat to work with video and ended up just talking with voice and no video.  We are going to do a facetime chat before I leave for Canada and try video again.

Stuff like this never works out, but he does seem to be who he says he is based on my investigating around.  And it is a cool to have a pen pal that I now get to meet in real life (in a public place!)!!! 

The Acholi Quarters, Memory and Strangers
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Right now, in the book I’m working on, I’m writing a scene that is set in the Acholi Quarters in Kampala, in the Kireka/Kinawataka stone quarry, which I visited several times. I had an interesting experience in the quarry, with a young Ugandan film maker that left a significant enough and lasting impression on me to make it into a chapter in the book.

Now, looking back, the wonderful thing about the internet is that as I’m writing and thinking about this location I can actually look at other people’s perspectives on the Acholi quarters. The images and video, writings online about the quarry are from the perspective of the privileged (like me) who have access to technology and not the women in the quarry, but this is still a representation of the place and the people of the quarry.

I didn’t take my own photos while I was there because it wasn’t appropriate at the time, but now I can go back and look at youtube videos of women in the quarry, I can read my own blog entry on the quarry that I wrote in January of 2006 and I can look at photos and even satellite map images of the quarry on Google earth. 

Scenes from the quarry from a google image search

Short video discussing the realities for women in the quarry

To me, being able to inform/refresh my own memory by looking at, watching and reading the impressions of total strangers is one of the beauties of our social networking/modern age. In some ways I am not only filling in the gaps in my memory on the locations or events I am remembering and writing about, but I am also allowing strangers to alter and influence my own memory, to notice things I never saw or to challenge the way I thought about something. There is something powerful about this kind of retro-active sharing and reshaping of events.

Without giving away the scene in the book, here is a short bit that I wrote today:

“I couldn’t concentrate on the plot of the film. My eyes stood fixed on the young women, in circles of four and five, scattered all over the bottom of the quarry. With their legs bent beneath them in the hot sun, covered in ashy dust, they sat, sitting, chipping, chipping, all day in the heat at the large rocks. They clutched heavy metal picks and chipped and chipped away at the rocks, creating larger piles of smaller rocks. The rhythmical sound of the metal picks on the rocks echoed through the quarry and up to where we were standing above on a ledge. I could only imagine the cacophony that it created for the women seated down in the quarry. My eyes watered from the swirling dust.”

I wanted to somehow convey the repetitive and monotonous nature of the work, hence the repeating words. 

Kah Walla - A Global Leader for Women
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One of the best perks of working in Cameroon was meeting amazing, inspiring political activists. Cameroon is an oppressive country run with an iron fist by a president for life/dictator and these brave souls really were risking their lives to speak out against the regime.

I was thrilled to see that one such activist,
Kah Walla
, who I had the pleasure of meeting, was honored this week by Vital Voices, an organization supporting women leaders and women around the world.

Kah is inspiring. She is business woman, activist, elected official, feminist and now the first woman to ever run seriously for president in Cameroon. In short, she is a revolutionary and a seriously tough cookie, chock full of intelligence and spitfire.

Here is a photo of Kah taken this February as the police sprayed her with chemical water at a political rally/turned protest in Douala, Cameroon.

And one of her speaking at a World Bank event on doing business in Africa.

Hilary Clinton spoke at the ceremony that honored Kah for being a global leader promoting the advancement of women. Read the full speech here.

Interesting, Vital Voices began as an internal State Department invention and has since grown to an international partnership and an NGO. The State Department continues to be a partner in Vital Voices, providing funding. There was a Vital Voices project in Cameroon while I was there that focused on preventing human trafficking through education.

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