Greetings all from the farthest virtual location one can imagine: the world of a newborn baby.
March 29th at 8:51am Jane and I were blessed by the arrival of Benjamin Carl, in a homebirth at our place in Boston. Just an amazing experience. Jane did pretty well too.
Tomorrow marks four weeks in this world, and we already can’t imagine life (nor sleep) without the little guy. He’s doing great, and we’ve been fortunate to have had the past month to do some serious bonding. He’s already spent some quality time with his big brothers and various family and friends, and just last night enjoyed the Red Sox victory over the Yankees in his lucky Sox cap. So, he’s fitting right in…more soon.
So I am en route home from two weeks in Mali, yet currently on an interminable eight hour layover in Dakar. Allow me a brief rant: Dakar’s airport is a trip back to the Dark Ages! The only motivated workers there seem to be the pick pockets (of which there are many). Great place to in fact be a pick pocket however, as unwitting passengers must walk the gauntlet as they depart the bowels of the airport…to the bowels of the airport lot
No signs, a maze of dark hallways to areas one might otherwise want to go…it’s a nightmare. Unless of course you’d like to try out role playing a sketchy side of yourself by chance. If so, practice asking in a low voice under your breath, “Hey, friend, wanna cash some money?” Or, the unlicensed taxi driver routine, “Hi. You need TAXI?”, and make a trip to the airport here to try it out.
But, I should also point out that help is only a 15 minute free shuttle away, at the Meridien President Hotel. There’s food, Internet and a pool. All at a reasonable charge. No problem checking luggage as well.
So, as I am in the midst of returning home from Mali, I thought I would list a few of the strongest impressions made on me from my latest trip there:
-Seeing Sanassi, the child I sponsor there through Save the Children, now sixteen years old. I last saw him in ’04, and he–like his village of Gouaron–is well. I will be sure to post some pics of my time there. Looks like there may be an opportunity to bring micro-finance there soon, as part of a solution to a serious clean water problem they have.
-Visiting with several women’s micro-finance groups led by Oxfam’s Saving for Change. This model of MF includes a savings component, and the resulting windfall to the individuals and their communities is amazing.
-It’s impossible to be a vegetarian in most of Mali.
-Meeting with a handful of Ashoka Fellows. One of whom is involved in helping women harvest shea nuts into popular shea nut butter as part of a MF initiative. Another is working to end slavery (yes, slavery) up north.
-Being asked about Barack Obama by young and old alike, even in areas far from the Information Super Highway. They were so proud, as was I.
-Visiting the President’s Palais Royale in Bamako and playing with the Presidential Grandchildren.
-Touring a shea butter factory, south of Bougani. Buying too many samples (isn’t it?).
-Surviving too many close calls on the back of a moto, navigating Bamako’s treacherous traffic.
-Seeing many malnourished children in the villages, unfortunately. One never gets used to the dystended bellies nor the discolored hair.
-Meeeting with the President’s son in law and Finance Minister; discussing MF.
I am eager to get back home and begin eating salad again. Hopefully, with Jane’s able assistance I will have pictures up within the week. Thanks for reading.
We all know the expression “Beggars can’t be choosers”, but supplicants to this theory never tried to use the Internet from Bougani, Mali. Maddening is putting it mildly! You must have jack hammers for fingers, and a deftness of wrist to allow the filthy yet hyper-sensitive mousse click on just the right spot. Picture banging with your left handed fingers while concurrently using the mousse with the right as a cardiologist would a stethoscope. Now I know how those off the information super highway, say in Central Massachusetts, feel.
So given all that I’m forced to be brief.
The past few days have been spent in villages down here, about three hours from Bamako. Working with many self help goups organized with advice from Oxfam’s revolutionary Saving for Change, we watch their weekly metings, review their practices, including accounting. Lots of back and forth as you would imagine. I took great pleasure informing them that their “banks” (and they really are banks) are more profitable than most of the fancy ones in the US and Europe. Who’s laughing now?
These ladies are driven and disciplined. Most importantly, they are seeing results. They all receive a decent return on their pooled savings and the money loaned out amongst themselves. And, for those who borrow, they have started little income generating enterprises which pull they and their families further from abject poverty. Many of you may already be aware of this program, or at least know something about micro-finance; it is absolutely life-changing to witness it personally.
That’s not to say our work is done here; it’s only just beginning. I’ve seen hundred of dystended bellies and malnourished children this week, testifying in stark reality to that.
However these women will not be stopped. They’re constantly asking me and staff for more information: “How can we get more mosquito nets to prevent malaria? How can we store grain and sell when prices are higher? How can we grow our businesses faster?”
Almost all of them know about Barack Obama.
I am without transport so have to sign off now and begin the walk home for the night. Tomorrow a noted Ashoka Fellow is taking me to a shea nut butter factory to investigate the possibilities of building a new plant utilizing micro-finance principles.
Oh and for dinner tonight? Maybe one of those juicy hens the village chief insisted I take.
Greetings from Bamako, the capital of Mali.
Anyone out there? Although Jane and I have been stateside since our reentry last Spring, this trip marks a brief return for me to the developing world. Actually, it’s more than that. This is a return to the place where, in 2004, I decided to shift from the world of personal profit-making to the world of service.
I remember it as if it were yesterday. I’d spent a few of weeks in the field meeting with Ashoka Fellows and Save the Children staff. Most meaningful was meeting “my” sponsored child of several years, Sanassi, in his village. Learning about all the challenges Sanassi and Malians like he faced led me to assist in building a couple of schools which double as community centers. That was fun, easy and most important, impactful. It doubled the number of kids (boys and girls alike) who could go to school, and for the local adolescents and adults it allowed for various kinds of skill and empowerment building. It also sparked the fire in me to get serious about devoting my life to being of service…which led me to getting a degree at the Kennedy School (what did a shoe maker know about being of service?), which led me to hear Mohammed Yunus, which led me to focusing my efforts on micro-finance and social entrepreneurship…then the big research trip with Jane, and here I am back where it all began. (Jane is back in Boston keeping the fire stoked). Whew!
My goals this trip fit beautifully on the continuum: spend some time seeing Oxfam’s rapidly expanding Saving for Change micro-finance program in the villages, revisit Sanassi and his village, and meet with a couple of leading Ashoka Fellows to offer some assistance in their creatively solving of social problems in this great land.
When I have more time and decent Internet access I’ll elaborate further on it all.
In the meantime, consider this a notice that the blog is once again open for business, and an invitation to bookmark it and check in from time to time. You won’t regret it!
OK,OK, sorry for the brief pause between my missives. But can you blame me?
After all, I returned after five months away, feeling as though I had landed on a totally different planet than the one Jane and I got used to in Asia. My priorities upon landing in Boston that chilly day a month ago were (in order), peanut butter, ear plugs, avoiding mosquitoes as though they caused immediate death, and making sure that my head lamp was reachable from bed/sleeping bag/cot. Oh, and sanitary hand wipes, the many needs for which I’d rather not talk about.
You know, now that I review the above list I’m reminded that maybe my priorities haven’t changed all that much, less the hand wipes, but instead I guess there’s been an overlaying of additional priorities. Certainly some such priorities have been welcome; like seeing family and close friends, working out and running with more consistancy, and traditional work. Yet the more mundane tasks that we all seem to deal with in “civil society”, obtaining parking permits, paying bills, fighting with one’s health insurance provider, taking out the garbage, “push three if you’d like to hear this menu again”, these are things I would have happily left on a mountain in Bhutan, never to be seen–or heard– again.
In terms of my work, it too has been a combination of significant and less so. I am thrilled to have a real office in downtown Boston, allowing home to be a place for rest, rejuvenation and Red Sox. And, I departed our guest room/office without a moment to spare, as Jane’s new sewing machine and shears were fast gaining on my tail. In my new office I am hard at work within the micro-finance realm, both domestically and international. Some of the interesting organizations I am actively working with at present include Enterprise Bank and Trust, Veritas Bank, Oxfam USA, Grameen America, and the Social Venture Network, to name a few. My goal remains finding ways to offer less expensive forms of credit to more people in the US and worldwide. Governor Patrick here in Massachusetts is supportive of our trying some inventive pilot programs to do just that. Stay tuned.
Now a few unrelated musings that have struck me since our return:
1. The roads in the US feel as though they’re paved with velvet compared to what we’d grown used to.
2. The tap water here seems cleaner than the bottled water there. (We’re trying to use less of the bottled stuff here–tap’s great.)
3. Jane is an angel for putting up with me in close quarters for five months. Her eleven psychiatrists and weekly electro shock therapy seem to be helping to undue the damage.
4. Barefoot Truth is a great band.
5. Running by the Charles River, or walking all over Boston, is so great it’s hard not to smile.
6. Not only perves smile while running or walking alone.
That’s all for now, time for another meeting with serious suits!
This post is a bit of taunt, to see if he’s really going to get online and update the readers of the world on what is new in his life. That’s if the readers are still reading.
I can tell you what’s new in mine… music, like Scar that never heals by Jeremy Fisher
Or maybe this by Kate Nash
These are just two of the lively artists who keep me company as I sew pretty things in our upstairs office. Far from saving the world, I recently dusted off the Sears sewing machine (okay it’s new, but that’s because my grandmother’s beautiful blue Singer was sent to GA because it was made of metal and weighed a ton, as a single girl I couldn’t lift it into it’s lovely sewing desk… thus I never sewed.) Saving the world, or at least seeing the world will have to wait for a bit. All that time away engendered a desire to nest once we finally graced our familiar threshold. So in between days I am hard at work on some serious pattern cutting, sleeve easing, collar binding, and assorted bouts of seam ripping. It can’t always go my way.
Ken is up to some good work. He now leaves home bright and early for the office each day, toting his black canvas briefcase and an occasional tupperware of leftovers. We are far, far away from the globetrotting days of last month.
SO, that means this blog may devolve into miscellaneous ramblings about our daily life, until the next trip rolls around. If you’d rather read about people who are less mundane, safely surf away from our site. Otherwise, stay tuned. There’s a World Champion Red Sox game in our future, a weekend away with friends, the launch of a policy blog by a KSG classmate, and announcements of babies being born all around us in the South End and stretching right across this mass of American land and water to CA.
Check the blogroll on the side to read about friends’ travels in Japan, France, and other locales. Besides, it’s where I’m going to start putting a list of blogs I like to read when time permits. There’s good stuff out there people!
Just this week Ken rented an official office from which to begin his stateside work on micro-finance. It comes with all the bells and whistles of a real “Office” (think Dunder Mifflin for those of you who are fans of the show), including- but not limited to- several filing drawers, a desk, a recycling bucket, a round table for meetings, and a highly throne-like ergonomically adjustable chair.
Speaking of adjustments, I could use one. I was a crabby spoilsport this morning when we moved him into his new digs. After 5 months of in-your-face-around-the-clock company, I admit I was sad to see my partner go. Granted, we share the same home and see one another quite regularly, but to think Ken won’t be plodding away at sending emails from ‘Mantown’ anymore (Ken’s name for his pleasure palace, complete with a gynormous T.V. and lots of Red Sox paraphernalia), it brings a tear to my eye.
I’ve been coined Chief Technological Officer in our home, which is saying something since the most technical training I ever received came back in 1991, I think I learned how to ‘mail merge’ in college, before the world wide interweb was even a blip on anyone’s screen. We’ve come a long way since then and a happy trip to the Mac store has us both in good spirits. If Ken will just cooperate and commit to becoming a diligent pupil, I’m convinced my Mac tutelage will pay off in dividends! Indeed, the afore mentioned trip to the Mac store has me thinking I may just need to get a part-time job there for the summer, to refresh my skills and talents. It was a bustling place of energy and enthusiasm, even on a rainy Sunday in May.
Ken’s new migration to Arlington Street means our guest room will finally be outfitted for guests. So… any takers? If you’ll be in the Boston area this summer, we hope you’ll say hello.