11.10.08

Africa Day 11: Dar, Home away from home

Posted in africa 2008, photos, travel at 4:06 am by wingerz

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Day 11: 3/25, before bedtime

Had a fantastic day in Dar, thanks a lot to Jen and Ellen’s planning. Dar is a lot less intimidating than the first time we passed through. Maybe we are getting more used to the environment. Have noticed the foreign influences on architecture. Overall no trouble from the locals, though some of them look seedy. I really like the idea of negotiating cab fare up front, then you know the driver is incented to get you to your destination quickly. Overall very enjoyable but totally packed day.

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The day starts at the local market, selling all sorts of goods, from shovels to scythes to pots to buckets to CRT TVs. The non-perishable goods are in an open 2-storied structure. On the way back we walk through the food market, which is starting to get busy. The smell of dried fish is especially pungent. Tomatoes and peppers are arranged in small pyramids.

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Next stop is the National Museum. Highlights include a biology section with humanoid skulls from all over the world (mostly Africa). They also have a women’s art exhibit with some beautiful wood carvings. One of the artists welcomes people into the exhibit, each of her works has a brief explanation of the meanings, which I enjoy reading.

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We see a packed carpool as we taxi between locations in the city.

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Lunch at Chef’s Pride. Goat stew is excellent. Fast, tasty, and cheap.

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We visit BRAC, a microfinance nonprofit based in Bangladesh. They only lend to women running small businesses who make less than 2000Tsh (less than $2USD) per day. Groups of women in the neighborhood work together to hold each other accountable for loan repayment. The focus is on sustainability for the borrowers and low overhead costs for the organization (about 10%).

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Stop by a crafts market on the way back. Bombarded by shop owners pushing their wares from the moment we step off the bus. Everywhere we turn – Welcome! Karibu! Is free to look! In the middle of the market, many people are hard at work producing wooden crafts; wary supervisors give us dirty looks. Some workers carve, many sand. Two gentlemen, on separate occasions, ask me for my shoes. One persistent salesman follows us to the bus.

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I go up to the 8th floor to take some pictures. People-watch for a bit – the rooftops come alive in the cooler evening. Two women sit on a swing; a mother and two children sit at a plastic table; someone is doing laundry.

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Eat dinner at a Thai restaurant, where we celebrate Panos’s birthday. The kitchen staff has a sense of humor, as the phallic banana split demonstrates.

11.04.08

Africa Day 10: Shopping in Rwanda

Posted in africa 2008, personal, photos, travel at 2:36 am by wingerz

Day 10: March 24, morning

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We went to two markets today. One was a touristy craft market and the other was a more local market. Picked up some dishes and some fabric for a tablecloth. Didn’t make it out of the fabric section into the rest of the market, but it was a beautiful place to lose ourselves – colorful patterns lined the “walls” all the way up to the top of the high ceiling. Occasionally a shopkeeper on the other side would poke her head through the fabric wall to investigate our transaction. Deeper inside the market the light was dimmer but the fabrics were just as colorful and intricate.

Jen made a last minute stop to pick up a basket.

10.28.08

Africa Day 9: Gorillas in the mist

Posted in africa 2008, personal, photos, travel at 12:45 am by wingerz

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Day 9: March 23, Volcanoes National Park

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Our guide, Olivier, stops us at the top of a small hill. The thick vegetation has been cut away to form a small clearing. Moments before, we had taken off our packs because the gorillas were close by. A tracker had been following the family all morning and communicating their location back to us. Suddenly, Olivier makes us step aside as a black creature scurries up the hill past us.

We descend down the slippery slope, trying to find footholds and handholds in the dense vegetation. Mist surrounds us; it has been drizzling all morning. We’ve been hiking for about an hour with our guide and armed guard. Half an hour of it was through the farmland surrounding the park. We reached a 3ft-high stone wall that marked the forest boundary. We climbed over it and spent 25 minutes trekking through the dense forest in search of the Umubano family. The hike has been very difficult – slippery, muddy, and steep. The stinging nettles are plentiful and I feel their painful stings through my pants. Sliding down some of the slopes is sometimes the fastest, most graceful way to get to the bottom.

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We finally catch up to the gorillas when they stop to have breakfast. We go off the trail and into the vegetation. Olivier hacks through it with his machete to give all of us (including the gorillas) more room to maneuver. Charles, the huge silverback, plods towards us and Olivier pushes us out of the way. We spend an hour observing the family of eight gorillas. Olivier makes grunting noises to soothe them. They do not feel threatened by us, and we take care to not make any sudden or menacing motions. A young gorilla hangs out under Charles’ watchful eye. They eat methodically. Their faces are striking in their humanity. Our time with them flies by, and they start heading out before the hour is up. A baby hitches a ride on its mother’s back, and we follow them up the hill. We get one last look at them as they disappear into the misty jungle. The young one spins around playfully once, as if to say good-bye.

Later we learn that another group of our travel companions got to see something more exciting – one of the younger males sneaking a quickie in with one of the female gorillas while the silverback was away, a definite no-no in the social structure. The silverback is the leader and protector of the group, and only he is allowed to mate with the females.

* * *

This is where Diane Fossey did her research on mountain gorillas. There are five families that tourists can visit; the other families are for research-only. Eight visitor permits per family are granted each day, each at a cost of $500 (!), and the visits are limited to precisely one hour (though the hike can last quite a bit longer, like four hours each way). Conservation efforts have been well-rewarded; the mountain gorilla population has approximately doubled to 600-700 in the past twenty years. Lately there’s been a lot going on on the Congo side of the jungle.

* * *

This marks the end of the wildlife-focused portion of our trip. This has definitely brought back some old dreams of becoming some sort of biologist. Exhausted beyond belief tonight.

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10.25.08

Africa Day 8: Remembering the genocide

Posted in africa 2008, personal, photos, travel at 3:46 am by wingerz

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Day 8, March 22, Kigali

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The Kigali Memorial Center houses powerful exhibits about the Rwandan genocide, along with other genocides of the 20th centruy. We tour the outdoor gardens and mass graves first – they are still being constructed. The first two levels are finished. The remains of over 200,000 people (of an estimated 800,000-1,000,000) will rest here when all of the graves are complete. The mass graves contain coffins, which contain multiple bodies. They are covered by large stone slabs. Colorful flowers brighten the landscape, but do not lighten the heaviness of the atmosphere. There are a few bouquets left to mourn the dead, and a very large black wall with small print to remember the names of the deceased (still in progress).

A lot of the discussions today were about the ingredients for genocide – chief among these in Rwanda was a deep divide between the Hutus and Tutsis. When Belgians colonized the area they distinguished between the two, giving the Tutsis ID cards and preferred treatment. In modern-day history, the distinction is mainly a social one, not a racial one. There was marrying between the groups, and switching was possible. When it was unclear which group a person belonged to, the Belgians made the distinction on the basis of personal wealth, designating the rich as Tutsis. They were given cushy jobs in the government and were expected to control the Hutus, leading to widespread resentment.

The genocide was carefully orchestrated, with propaganda being distributed through print and radio channels in the years before. This was particularly effective due to the low literacy rate. Name lists were assembled to identify targets. When a plane carrying the president of Rwanda was shot down, events were set into motion. Death was dealt by a myriad of gruesome tools – machetes, clubs, spears, and rifles. No one was spared; women were raped and killed, and children were killed since they were the future of the Tutsis.

It’s still impossible to really understand the magnitude of the atrocity. The exhibits inside try to bridge this gap by presenting intensely personal views. They seek to de-desensitize people, who cannot comprehend the numbers because they are so large. Videos of survivor interviews play and color photographs document the events leading up to the genocide, the three-month descent into hell, and the aftermath. Articles of clothing found in mass graves have been retrieved and presented as outfits. Upstairs one orange room (filled with the profiles of children) led to another each with a brief description and horrifying cause of death. Another room featured skulls (some fractured) and bones from victims, along with dark, ghostly images of faces.

It didn’t make much sense to me in high school, and now that I’m more familiar with what happened, it’s still not clear to me how things escalated so quickly and how the world let it continue.

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10.23.08

Africa Day 7: Off to Rwanda

Posted in africa 2008, personal, photos, travel at 2:48 am by wingerz

[Here we go again – going to try to finish off the Africa blog entries before the end of the year. So far, we’re about halfway through the trip.]

Day 7: March 21, evening

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Greeted by pouring rain at the airport. The Kigali airport looks quite modern, as does the city itself. There are a lot of new buildings, a lot funded by post-genocide foreign aid.

Scooters taxi people around – a common sight is two people with green helmets riding on a single scooter. On the corner outside our hotel several men in yellow vests sell phone cards, and they also hold phones that can be used to make international calls. Prices range from $1 minute down to $0.20/minute. Internet cafes are plentiful, but connectivity is not that great – one cafe was out of commission when we went to use it. The one we ended up using had a slow connection, and a man shut down all power to the monitors in the cafe without warning.

Service is not yet a strong suit of the Rwandans. Coffee took over 1/2 hour and we had to leave without being served because we didn’t want to be late to dinner. Dinner at an Italian restaurant took over 2 hours. Ellen’s laundry, promised to be done by 5pm, was not delivered within a half hour of the deadline so she stormed into the laundry room to find out what was going on.

This is now one of the safest cities in Africa, thanks to a very strong stance against petty crime (apparently police can and will shoot thieves). It definitely feels safer here than in other places like Dar and even Karatu, but we don’t stray far from the hotel.

10.22.08

Joey and Seoyoung’s Wedding

Posted in personal, photos, wedding at 1:46 am by wingerz

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California hasn’t been all that bad so far. In my first week, we had dinner with the in-laws, hung out with my parents, saw Ellen and Will, and attended Joey and Seoyoung’s wedding. Not a bad start.

Joey and Seoyoung were married in a lovely outdoor ceremony at Summit House, in Fullerton, CA. It was pretty much a huge high school reunion with a lot of my favorite people from AHS, some of whom I hadn’t seen in over a decade. The reception was elegant and incredibly fun.

Joey and I go way back to 3rd grade, when he moved to Arcadia. We spent 10 years together in the Arcadia public school system before going separate ways in college. We were reunited in Boston when he came for law school. Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen each other in a lot of different contexts. It would be silly to say that we haven’t changed a bit since then because that obviously isn’t true. The amazing thing is that our lives haven’t taken wildly divergent paths; hanging out feels just as natural as it did two decades ago, when we’d attend each others’ birthday parties (hiking + pizza for mine, sleepover with R-rated movies for his). A few random memories (some borrowed from Wilson’s best man speech):

3rd grade: Joey moves to Arcadia: Not only do we go to school together, we end up on the same soccer team, forming a formidable back line. We both wear huge glasses.
6th grade: Highland Oaks graduation: In the yearbook, Joey says that he’s going to be the first Asian player in the NBA. He continues to play point guard in our pickup games.
7th grade: Foothills Junior HIgh: We all develop a love for Funyuns and the cafeteria’s chocolate chip cookies. Wilson joins our crowd.
10th grade: Bug-collecting: We kill some bugs in an acetone gas chamber and pin them to our box. The next morning, some of them wake up. We also get freaked out by a huge black bumblebee that sends us running away.
11th grade: US History: While working on a class project at my house (in the backyard), Joey gets a phone call. He (unsuccessfully) attempts to run through a screen door.
12th grade: Government Team: It becomes clear that Joey’s going to be a good lawyer some day.
College: We bump into each other occasionally at Berkeley, and always hang out over the holidays. It becomes clear that Joey is becoming way cooler, more eloquent, buffer, and better looking than the rest of us.
2002: Joey comes to Boston for law school. With Wilson nearby in NYC, we get to hang out a good amount on the east coast. We end up at my aunt’s for Thanksgiving, where, inexplicably, the three of us end up sleeping in a single bed.
2004: Joey and Wilson serenade Jen and me at our engagement party.
2005-2008: Joey gets a law degree, new job, new place, new car, and new wife. It’s been an eventful few years for him.

Seoyoung and I don’t go all the way back to 3rd grade, though we were friends in high school. It’s been great to catch up with her over the past year. Hopefully she’ll forgive me for no longer following the Mighty Ducks and the NHL (who does these days, anyway?).

Here’s to their new life together and many more decades of friendship between Joey, me, and our families.

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10.06.08

Goodbye, Seasons

Posted in personal, photos, weather at 12:10 am by wingerz

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New acquaintances are sometimes surprised to hear that I’m from California and that I’ve been living here for 11 years. Most West Coast transplants end up leaving after they finish school, citing something to the effect of the winters being too cold.

New England weather is an interesting beast. Sure, you might walk out into sauna-like conditions in the summer or a slushy, disgusting ice storm in the winter. But every season brings it’s share of memorable days – there are the warm evenings of Summer; the cool, crisp, colorful mornings of Fall; peaceful snowfalls of Winter; and perfect, gorgeous days of Spring. Bostonians certainly appreciate their weather. I realize that it’s perverse to suggest that even though I love good weather, I don’t want good weather all of the time. I love watching the surroundings transform.

From a photographer’s standpoint, the weather is a godsend. It makes for some dramatic photos, and the threat of rain at any time of year means that you don’t have to wait for winter to bring along a cloudy day with its soft, diffuse lighting. There are two events in particular that I look forward to above all others: the Public Garden tulips in spring and the leaves changing color in the fall. Come to think of it, I really appreciated these things even before capturing it all in photographs.

When it comes down to it, I like good weather, bright colors, and snow. It’s been nice to have all of them within easy reach.

Photos of some pretty leaves.

10.05.08

Goodbye, Farmer’s Market

Posted in food, personal, photos at 12:49 am by wingerz

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I started going to the Union Square Farmer’s Market two years ago. Today’s haul: bok choy, peapod stems, honey crisp apples, bosc pears, corn, heirloom tomatoes, and a baguette. Some of the farmers recognize me but I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I’d no longer be a regular customer – in particular, the very nice people at the Yang Family and Nicewicz Family stands. Over the past few years I’ve learned to never again tolerate a mealy apple or peach, that supermarket tomatoes are boring in every sense, and that it’s ok to have a few holes in your leafy greens. Also, marshmallow fluff was invented here in Somerville, and I’ve got a shirt commemorating it. I haven’t ever tried it though, and I still think it’s gross.

I’ll miss our little market. On the bright side, I’m sure I’ll be able to find a nice market in California.

A few photos.

07.05.08

Independence Day

Posted in photos at 12:15 am by wingerz

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Enjoyed a phenomenal day – caught up with good friends at the Feigenbaum barbecue and enjoyed the fireworks from our office (which meant good seats despite rolling in around 10pm for the 1030pm start). The wind didn’t cooperate as I tried to get some photos of the fireworks.

06.29.08

Twilight

Posted in photos at 2:07 pm by wingerz

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I’ve been meaning to spend more time with my tripod, so I headed out to Harvard Square around sunset a few weekends ago to see what I could find. Favorite subjects of the evening: a flock of geese and my beloved Dunster House.

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