Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Fallacy that is 'Free Will'

I've never considered myself to be a 'man with a plan'. Rather, I'm a man of ideas. Indeed, the idea for this blog entry came to me while walking to Williams this evening, and the words that follow just poured out of me in the span of an hour.

Ideas can be powerful things. They have the power to take over your life. Where plans can be constricting, ideas are free to grow, and change, and take you places you never dreamed. "A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death." (It was John F. Kennedy who said this, inter alia, in a way that only he could.)

Moving on, "you have to have an idea of what you are going to do, but it should be a vague idea." Pablo Picasso said that. To be true, I can recall an episode of the program South Park where underpants gnomes had an ingenious idea whereby the stealing of underpants could lead to wealth beyond their wildest dreams. The idea went a little something like this:

Phase 1: Collect Underpants.
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Profit.

See what I mean? Powerful stuff, however vague.

Returning to the quoting of giants upon whose shoulders I am standing, Oscar Wilde has purportedly said a great many things, one of which being, "we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." Stephen Fry is fond of reciting this quote, which I am reminded of each time I see his cameo appearance in a second series episode of the BBC comedy Extras. But I digress. What does it mean? I can take an educated guess - but it has very little to do with what I am writing here. What matters \ is that this is one utterance of Mr. Wilde which has stayed with me through the years and now takes me to this other, more prescient utterance: "an idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all." Very true.

Looking back almost seven years to the day, an idea occurred to me that I should attend law school - to what end, I don't know, but I'll try to describe it in a moment. The idea did not spring to my mind through a process of spontaneous generation. No! I'm sure very few ideas - if any - ever come about that way. This idea was placed in my mind by one of my professors partway through a lecture on Fluid Dynamics. Odd? Yes. To all of us in the lecture theatre as well. Due to the way the various gears and sprockets of his mind were connected at the time, on that occasion, in that lecture, he professed to us the utility of having both an engineering degree and a law degree: how very indispensable we would all become to our employers, and how very much money we would all be sure to make. The idea, which took at least 20 minutes to convey, went a little something like this:

Phase 1: Combine our mechanical engineering degrees with law degrees.
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Profit.

Pratt & Whitney fit in there somehow, as the company did in many of his ideas, though as for how: your guess is as good as mine. I understand he's done some work for them. Maybe they were on his mind that day. If ever a man could be accused of 'prattling on', he could. In any case, the grandiose ideas he conveyed from time to time were generally lost on all of us, with the exception of this particular idea, on this particular day, on this particular individual. Thanks to me, it wasn't lost on two of my classmates either, who then formulated a plan which included yours truly.

Was this a dangerous idea? Well, danger is in the eye of the beholder. But as Oscar Wilde was purported to have put it, "an idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all." What follows is pure profit.

To bring this up to speed a little faster, and without dwelling on too many of the details, I successfully wrote my LSAT; applied to the law program at UWO; and began my concurrent degree program the following September. I quickly assumed the herd mentality of a first year law student - which was thrust upon me in the first few days of law school - and, without much delay, I began offering my services to law firms as a first year law student. Given my technical background, the law firms that expressed interest and scheduled interviews saw me as a candidate for their 'intellectual property' practices. It is only in this last year that I have even begun to understand what exactly 'intellectual property' is, and if you asked me to define, it I would say it is a nebulous concept that probably includes copyright and patents. But I couldn't even say that in first year law school.

Needless to say, I did not get hired as an intellectual property lawyer by any of these law firms, so by December (indeed, only three months in!) I gave up on the prospect of becoming a captain of industry under my original idea. I was stuck on Phase 2.

As it happened, at about that time there was a tsunami off the coast of Southeast Asia, so a new idea occurred to me: I would drop out of school and join some kind of rescue or rebuilding operation in Southeast Asia. I relayed this idea to a friend of mine, and he liked it, but he had a better idea: we would wait until the summer and we would both go to Africa and dig wells. Brilliant! So, the following April, he and I went to Africa, and while we didn't dig wells, we did other humanitarian work that planted the seed in me that has taken root and irrevocably altered the course of my life.

This new idea was that I would use my law degree to become a 'human rights lawyer' (whatever that is) and, paid or not, the last five years I have been doing whatever I can to get the necessary experience to make that possible. This new idea was so good, it was almost a plan: only the details were missing. If expressed as an equation, it would have looked something like this:

Get international human rights experience + Time = You will become an international human rights lawyer

Ask me what 'human rights' are? I can't answer that. Not any better than I can answer what 'intellectual property' is. The concept is so nebulous that a consensus of nations can't agree on what should be included. But I've put in the work, I've put in the time, and now it seems I can't get a job that doesn't have something to do with international human rights. Seriously.

But get this: before I go any further - and I do apologize, for this is proving to be one of the longer blog entries (and has very little to do with Djibouti or my being there) - I want to briefly relate three conversations I've had over the last year with three gentlemen working in the public international sphere: be it human rights, development, or other humanitarian efforts.

The first conversation was with a man I met in Djibouti who had lunch with me at the end of a conference on migration patterns in the Horn of Africa. He told me that I was at a crossroads in my life and it would be the decisions I make now that determine where I end up and who I'll end up with when I'm finally his age (he claimed to have about 20 years on me, and I believed him). He told me that when he was my age, he was married; he began having children; and he was all the while taking international posts with various international and intergovernmental organizations. Some posts were family friendly, and some were not. He told me it all worked for the first few years; his wife accommodated his career (to the detriment of her own); and his family followed him to the posts that would allow it. But he told me that, eventually, the day came when his career and his family life could no longer coexist and he had to make a choice of one or the other. His wife also wanted a career and she wanted some stability for her family. He's divorced now, he continues to work in exotic and exciting (and dangerous) places, and he sees his children from time to time.

The second conversation was with a man I was marooned with on a beach in Djibouti past a place called Doralei. We had just been snorkelling through a coral reef together and were then having a snack, watching the sun set behind the mountains. He told me that when he was in Spain and still married he used to go to work when it was still dark, sit in a room with no windows, and leave for home after the sun had set. This was his life, six or seven days a week. He told me he very rarely had an opportunity to do things like spend a weekend at the beach and watch the sun set behind the mountains. He said it was inconceivable that he could trade what he had now for his old life away from the sun. He said we were lucky to be doing the things we were doing and that people back home didn't know what they were missing (though, to be true, I've tried to convey some of it in this blog).

The third conversation was with a man I met in Canada - a friend of a friend - who has a similar life path to mine and, moreover, seems to share certain of my traits. He told me there are lawyers in Toronto that he went to law school with who do things like 'mergers' and 'acquisitions' and make a lot of money doing them. He told me they say things like "I wish I could do the things that you do," but he says that they can't because they're stuck where they are. He told me he'll never have a lot of money - and I agreed that I would never have a lot of money (what would I do with it?) - but he loves what he does and the choices that he's made have left him free free to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. He can put a sign on his door telling people they should find some other lawyer and he'll go to Africa for a week or a month. He said he and I are both young (I would argue I'm much younger) and there'll be plenty of time for each of us to worry about having families "years from now".

What do these three conversations amount to? More ideas to ponder.

It is now 2011, and I am not an engineer. I am a lawyer - an international human rights lawyer. I am these things because of a couple of ideas. Without a plan, or a prayer, I let these ideas of mine take root and here I am: unable to get hired to do anything that isn't 'international human rights', whatever those are. So I've accepted a job in Thailand, and barring anything unforeseen, it looks like I'll be heading there any day now. I'm to be the Associate Protection Officer. I'm excited and anxious and afraid that 'free will' might just be something intellectuals concocted to give themselves something else to argue about. My ideas - put in my head by other people - have taken root, taken over, and it seems I'm heading back overseas.

From time to time I worry that I'm not making the right 'choices' right now; but I also worry that maybe the idea that there is any 'choice' in the matter - any matter - is utter nonsense. These days I look back and wonder what might have been had I not been present in that Fluid Dynamics lecture and made the 'choices' that have lead to my becoming a 'human rights lawyer'. What might have happened had those ideas not been planted. I think about the conversations I've had with greater men than I and wonder what will become of me. But I can't see that far ahead. All I have are ideas, and Phase 2 is still a big question mark. The ideas take root and I somehow find myself a few years older and in Phase 3, whatever it is.

Does God have a plan for us all? Some people think so. Some people derive a great deal of comfort from that premise, so I use it as a reminder when I have nothing better to say. As for the voracity of that claim, I and others are still waiting for evidence beyond speculation, conjecture, and argument rooted in supposition. But when I find myself in Phase 3, confused as to how I got there, I wonder.

I should write a discourse on the fallacy that is 'free will' but I'm going to save it for another day - and another blog. I think this one is finished now. If I start writing somewhere else, I will post the new address in a new entry here. Warm wishes to everyone for 2011. Keep your sticks on the ice.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

One last sea turtle

Towards the end of August I received a call on my mobile at around 9:30am about going to the beach.

At the time I was already up, sorting through laundry, and had been expecting the call. At the time I was staying in one of the spare rooms of my supervisor, which she graciously allowed me to stay in shortly after returning from the field and finding myself without a a place to stay. As it happened, her daughter was in Belgium visiting her grandparents, her daughter's nanny was in Ghana visiting her friends and family, and she therefore was in large house with rooms to spare. At the time I was very lucky to have a colleague with room to spare (and also lucky to have another colleague looking out for me, making arrangements for me to stay in the empty rooms of colleagues).

The proposed beach trip was to be to the same beach that I had previously visited with my Spanish and Italian friends. I was thus required to attend because I was the only one who knew how to get there. In truth, while I could visually picture the route we could take, I couldn't recall names apart from the need to pass through 'Doralei'. Beyond that, I knew we needed to pass on the left when the road forked and became unpaved; I also knew we'd need to pass on the left when approaching the Sultan's Palace, and that as the road leads down the mountain towards the beach it becomes incredibly steep and appears to further erode with every rainfall and we would need to proceed cautiously and slowly (at the time there had been many a rainfall).

The five of us who would be attending at the beach were to meet at my Spanish colleague's house at 10am. The five of us included a Spanish colleague, her uni-lingual Spanish son, an American-Romanian colleague, a Swiss intern, and myself the Canadian. The previous evening there was an interruption to the water supply which may or may not have been city-wide. I discussed this with one colleague, and the possibility of a cessation of water services potentially lasting until October, and our imaginations ran wild with how unsettling the prospect of six months without running water seemed (until that point, I had been without running water while living in the field, but I was carrying buckets from a running water source: I could not imagine what would happen without a running water source from which I would carry buckets).

On the way to the beach we stopped at a fruit stand and purchased some bananas and a very large watermelon to take with us. I sat in the front seat and navigated as best I could. Sure enough, my directions proved correct, and we established ourselves at the same tent, table and chairs as I'd used the previous weekend.

After we set up our chairs, some of us tested the water and some of us tested reading in the sun. Once my colleague and her son had been in the water for a while, Fabien and I borrowed two sets of goggles from them (though just one tube, which Fabien used). Right away I spotted a sea turtle in the same bed of weeds in which I'd spotted one the previous week - it could very well have been the same turtle, but that would only be speculation, and the identity of the turtle is truly immaterial. Fabien and I followed it along the weeds, until it dove down and perched on some coral about 15 feet deep. Fabien hovered around the surfaced and I kept diving down to take a closer look (despite years of smoking I'm still an incredible under-water breath-holder). The turtle put up with us for a few minutes longer before finally having its fill of us and propelling away like a jet engine.

We arrived back on the beach at about 11:45am to find that the three land lubbers had ordered lunch (there are two 'restaurants' on the beach, though no power supply to speak of, and I later learned that food and ice are brought to the beach every day and that it is best to phone ahead to alert the restauranteurs of your intended presence so that they know to bring enough on any given day). Three courses of lunch - and two rounds of desert - arrived around 1pm for each of the three land lubbers, of which none was prepared to finish; Fabien and I gratefully wound up eating half of it.

Around 2:30pm, while I was still in the water, two of our Spanish friends arrived (one of whom had previously worked in my office, and was then working for one of our implementing partners). They were both there for snorkeling, so I and Fabien returned to the beach to each retrieve a mask and tube and join them. It didn't take long for me to break away from the larger group to test the waters and see what I could see on my own.

I guess I spent about an hour in the water, and when I got back found out that the group with whom I'd come to the beach had all left without me; fortunately for me, and I must presume that my previous companions had figured as much (though, to be true, this was never confirmed), my Spanish friends were in a position to offer me a ride home. The driver, whom I had attended the beach with the previous week, informed me he had actually planned to spend the night sleeping on the beach - an idea he got from a Scotsman at the beach the previous week - but because his Spanish companion was pregnant he acquiesced to returning to Djibouti that evening (I was good either way, but returning to bed and food was in all likelihood the more preferable option). I had the remainder of my bananas, the Spaniards shared some sardine and tomato sandwiches, and together we watched the sun go down behind the mountains before leaving.

On the way to the car, one of the local Djiboutians working at the beach asked us for a ride into town, so the two Spaniards (both fluent in French, and therefore conversing with the local) asked if I would be okay with that. My response was that "I was totally fine with anything, it's his car, and I'm also just hitching a ride." We left and, as noted, the road in and out is treacherous like you wouldn't believe. Before coming to the main road, the driver spotted a partridge at the roadside, so he stopped the car to take a picture of it. As it happened, just before seeing the partridge, some guy had waved to us trying to get a ride, though we didn't stop for him. Some 50 meters later, our vehicle - the object of his wave's desire - by coincidence stopped so the driver could take a picture of a partridge. The guy, having no reason to think otherwise, ran to the car for his ride. We all laughed, agreed that the partridge was God's hand interceding on behalf of this man, and allowed him to travel with us. So now I was in the backseat with two Djiboutians (who, it seems, have their own difficulties with accessing water with which they might wash themselves), and everyone in the car was speaking either French or Spanish.

We dropped each of the Djiboutians at different places and in so doing I received a mobile call from Fabien: he informed me he was sitting at the Hotel Alia, so I asked if he wanted to meet at Saba Restaurant for dinner - to which he agreed - and he suggested I invite our Spanish friends - which I did. We all got fruit smoothies and remarked on how they could pass as entire meals, and how they are so great, and how we wish they were available (as readily and at such low prices) in our own countries, etc. Fabien and I were the only ones to eat.

After dinner, Fabien and I walked to the house of the colleague with whom I'd been staying for the purpose of collecting my things. Fabien had wanted to walk, mostly to try to capture the lightening on his camera, and I had no reservations. Before we arrived, as his internship was ending in a few short weeks and he'd not done so to that point, Fabien asked if I wanted to visit the 'Sky Bar' with him at the Kempinski Hotel. I said sure, and we went to the 'Sky Bar', which is on a rooftop terrace overlooking the ocean and the city. We each had an $8 pint of Stella Artois and reminisced about our shared experiences with our colleagues, our office, and the country. Fabien asked for one of my cigarettes, which he awkwardly attempted to smoke in front of me (I've never seen him smoke since arriving in Djibouti, and he says he smokes very infrequently, but when he was trying to light and smoke the cigarette, it's as if he'd never smoked or even seen another person smoke a cigarette before: it was truly a sight to behold).

After an hour of reminiscing, and attempting to capture lightening with a digital camera (note: this is difficult), we left the 'Sky Bar' and the Kempinski Hotel and wandered over to our colleague's home so that I could grab my belongings. We carried the things back to Fabien's studio apartment, which overlooks the city's train station where it appears every homeless person and urban refugee in Djibouti congregates in the evening. Fabien watched some of the movies I'd transferred to his laptop, and I took a shower and attempted as best as I could to sleep on Fabien's vinyl couch-like love seat.

(This is, in all likelihood, the penultimate entry for this blog, and happens to be the entry I'd intended to include at the end of August. Due to circumstances, as they were, I left Djibouti on 4 September and completed my final report from a library in Canada. I intend to write at least one further blog entry - perhaps two - to wrap my experience as best as I can and provide some final thoughts on what I'd hoped to get from the experience, what I in fact got from the experience, and what I plan to do with it all.)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Two Evenings in Djibouti (and One Day Outside)

Last Thursday evening - two Thursdays ago - our plans were almost rained out. Some people in the office made plans for a select few of us to go bowling, and I invited everyone under the sun to join us, including a friend from CARITAS (she just got back from Italy, with sister in tow).

Just before we were about to leave our office that evening, the skies opened up and the city began to flood. Fortunately, after 30 minutes or so, the rains let up and a taxi was able to come and get us.

To our chagrin, the bowling alley had also flooded. The employees of the alley kept telling us '10 more minutes'; '15 more minutes'; and after a little over an hour of that we were finally able to hit the lanes.

And then the ants came.

They were everywhere; they were huge; they were flying; and they bit! I got a nice bite on my left shin, but was otherwise alright (one of my colleagues got multiple bites on his neck).

We all had terrible bowling scores, but as no one among us was particularly adept at bowling, most people thought we did rather well (I'll note that none of us broke 100, and if you're not very familiar with bowling, the best possible score is considerably higher than that). There were pool tables in the entrance area of the bowling alley, and my Italian friends remarked that it was unfortunate we didn't try 'billiards', as they are much better at that.

After bowling, we went to 'The Melting Pot', where several other expats - all Italian - joined us on the patio. We were originally to be eight, so a table was reserved for us inside; but we arrived as eleven, and eventually became fourteen, so our only option was to be seated at a ridiculously long table on the patio.

I was seated next to the sister of my friend from CARITAS, and at one point in the evening, she leaned over and asked me, "why don't you learn to speak French while you are here?" It was a straightforward question, deserving of a straightforward reply, but I've always got to be 'the funny guy', so I remarked "because French is an ugly language and I refuse to learn it." Before I could say I was kidding, and that I have just been delinquent with my studies, to my surprise she was in complete agreement with me and wished that everyone at the table would stop trying to speak with her in French. Incroyable!

By the time our meals were served it was relatively dry on the patio, the wind was no longer as intrusive as it had been, and apart from the miserable weather early on - and the ants - it was a rather nice end to a rather interesting evening.

Last night - which also happened to be Thursday - I went out with my friend from CARITAS with her sister in tow. Our first stop was for some burgers at 'The Beverley'.

'The Beverley' is a place which is a very tiny elevator ride four floors above some kind of eatery, or convenience store, or pharmacy - I'm not sure which - that has very mysteriously, and misleadingly, borrowed it's name and logos from 'Planet Hollywood'. 'The Beverley' doesn't have a washroom inside the restaurant: one is required to pass through the entrance, follow a series of signs that say 'Toilet' - all with arrows pointing in surprising directions - until one walks through a construction zone and arrives in a tiny room with a toilet, a sink, and a bucket filled with water (because there is no running water, obviously).

Before our meal arrived, I journeyed to the washroom adjacent to 'The Beverley' and when I returned to the restaurant, our waiter - whom I'll describe as being 'super jazzed' - asked me if I wanted a serviette (he said the word 'serviettes' with an inflection at the end, so I could only assume it was a question concerning serviettes and my desire to have one). I answered in the affirmative. He put a small plate on the counter, placed some paper napkins on that plate, and smiled at me. I thanked him for the paper napkins and returned to my table; I told the girls I had no explanation as to why I was carrying a small plate of paper napkins, but that our waiter was super-jazzed.

The burgers were pretty good; the waiter was a riot. I'll recommend 'The Beverley' to anyone.

The evening's post-burger activities were advertised as 'billiards', and there were two places my Italian friend and her sister said we could go: to one place with 'red and yellow balls', or another place with 'numbers on the balls'. I opted for the numbered balls and showed them how we play 'billiards' in Canada (Final Score: Canada 3, Italy 0).

After billiards we went to 'Scotch', one of the local, seedy, discotheques, filled with Legionnaires and 'ladies of the night' (a typical Thursday night, really; we may substitute bowling for billiards, but we can always count on plenty of Legionnaires being around Djibouti-ville after dark, and on the red lights being turned on). We didn't stay there long, as we really just spent our 20 minutes sitting uncomfortably in one of the booths, gawking at everyone enjoying themselves on the dance floor in whatever way they might.

On leaving, my Italian friend and her sister wanted to go to another, equally desirable place, but as it was [enter some excuse for not wanting to go to another discotheque here], I said my good-nights and walked home.

Earlier that evening I'd agreed to join them on a beach adventure the following day - that day being today, which is Friday. They'd already formulated the plans, but offered to include me in them, which I willingly accepted.

Today - Friday we congregated around 'Planet Hollywood' in the city centre and at shortly after 10:00 we left for the beach. We spent close to six hours at the beach (the name of which starts with a 'K', has two words and three syllables), and I spent probably 2.5 hours snorkeling spread out over two visits to the water (there were other visits to the water but only two for snorkeling).

On my first snorkel, a solo snorkel, I went about 100 meters out, another 100 meters left, and discovered a coral shelf with an astonishing variety of fish (I wish I could tell you what each one was called, but I can only describe them as ranging from the size of my pinky to the size of my arm, and being assorted combinations of every colour imaginable).

On my second snorkel, this time accompanied by a new Italian friend (we were six Italians, one Swede, and one Canadian in a convoy of two Japanese SUVs today), I came upon a sea turtle grazing some sea weed. I came upon him first and motioned to my Italian friend to join me where I was. He was a good size, with a shell diameter of almost one meter, maybe more given the distance between he and I.

The turtle saw me.

I don't know if turtles are capable of thoughts beyond 'hungry' and 'afraid', but when I looked at this turtle, I could definitely sense alarm, and deduced this turtle's thoughts had migrated from the former to the latter.

The turtle slowly started moving, with me in hot pursuit and my Italian companion in tow. As I was using a borrowed snorkel and mask, my mask was not sealing correctly, and by this time had slowly filled with water. I breached and emptied my mask as quickly as I could, but when I returned under water the turtle had vanished.

I breached again, along with my Italian companion. She remarked how incredible it is to see the turtle take off as fast as it does. "Yes," I remarked, "that must have been incredible to see."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hello Kitty

I attended at the CARITAS compound this morning, which is located a few kilometers away from our branch office, as a member of the reception team for urban refugees. Interestingly, the only refugees I received this morning are registered in the Ali-Addeh camp, but I'm beginning to realize it's not uncommon for refugees in the camp to spend the majority of their time here in the capital.

The morning began as reception mornings typically do, with members of the Protection Unit standing outside the gate screening refugees. Many of them have appointments and are allowed to enter for their appointments; many of them have expired attestation papers and are allowed to enter to renew their attestations; many are just waiting for appointment slips, which we fill out, and which they take and leave. Many, however, are refugees from the Ali-Addeh camp who want to be received here in the city. They are advised to return to Ali-Addeh to be received there, though this is advice to which they are not overly receptive.

Today is the first day of Ramadan so all of the Muslims in this country, in theory, are fasting. My supervisor thought this might mean that most refugees would stay home, but the refugees at the gates were just as numerous today as they were last week (though not nearly as aggravated).

My reception interviews today were four: one refugee from Ali-Addeh who has been in the capital for some weeks now, in part due to a security concern in Ali-Addeh, and in part to attend to some medical concerns with his children; one refugee from Ali-Addeh who is here attending to some of her own medical concerns at the hospital; one refugee who is here attending to some medical concerns of her children; and one refugee with his own medical concerns who actually resides here in the capital for reasons I won't get into (but will note my interview with him was the most colourful of the morning).

After four or so hours of receiving the refugees, for want of a vehicle (these are difficult to come by for one reason or another), my interpreter and I set off on foot for our office. Yesterday was quite cool - or relatively cool - as there was a strong breeze in the morning; today the air seemed dead so the walk was unbearable.

After a few minutes of walking I suggested to my interpreter that we just stop at a convenience store for some water and then I would hire us a taxi to take us the remaining few kilometers. He was amenable to this. We walked into the convenience store, I grabbed two bottles of Tadjourah water (this is premium Djibouti water, but at the YES Market it is priced the same as any other water); but as today is the first day of Ramadan, my interpreter informed me that he is fasting and unable to drink the water. On informing me of this I felt a little sorry for making him walk as far as I did in this heat.

As I've noted before, my work space in the branch office is located in the second floor annex with the program staff. When we returned to the office I walked into the area where the members of the Protection Unit are located to brief someone in the Unit on my activities of the morning. One of my colleagues appeared to be having some difficulties around the printer, so I went over to greet her but as I passed her office door I caught the eye of some other colleagues and went in to greet them first.

I walked over to shake one colleague's hand and in doing so heard a shreik from the colleague at the printer. We all went into the hallway to take a look at what the commotion might be. It turns out a cat had a litter of kittens in the cabinet on which the printer is located. What the cat was doing in the cabinet with a litter of kittens is anyone's guess, but a number of my colleagues, as we stood around gawking, commented on seeing the cat coming and going from this office but thought nothing of it.

How is a cat coming and going from this office an unremarkable event?, I thought to myself. But this piece of information didn't seem to pique the interest of anyone else.

Some people noted that if the kittens are touched by anyone then the mother will abandon them; others noted that there's no harm in a litter of kittens remaining in that cabinet. I stood by with a huge grin on my face, unsure of what the culturally appropriate response might be.

My other supervisor attempted to employ rhetoric to get everyone on board with removing the litter of kittens from the office but no one was biting. Action was required. We found another cabinet, moved the printer onto it, and wheeled the cabinet full of kittens out to the front entrance. The kittens were not at all amused by any of this and became alarmingly vocal; but my interests lay elsewhere so I returned to the annex.

Sometime later I returned to the Protection Unit and in doing so passed by the entrance to the building. The cabinet had been removed and the cries of the litter of kittens were no longer present. I attended at my supervisor's office to brief her on the events at CARITAS but she interrupted me before I could start. "One moment," she said, as she stood and opened her window. "I just want to check on my kittens."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Chicorée Café

I've already noted how French is not my lingua franca.

When I first went to Ali-Sabieh I stayed at the Hotel Palmeraie with my colleagues from Nairobi; thereafter I stayed in the guestroom at the LWF compound. In between I returned to the capital for a few days and, while there, purchased a few things from the 'Cash Centre' (this place, and 'Casino', are the two places in this country that mostly closely approximate the grocery stores I am used to in Canada).

I'd been drinking far too much Coca-cola in the morning - throughout the day, really - so I was determined to resume drinking far too much coffee instead. I attended at the 'Cash Centre' and purchased an electric kettle and what I thought was instant coffee. The packaging was a little different from what I was used to, and it purported to be invigorated with various vitamins and minerals. Inside the container was what appeared to be dehydrated, instant coffee.

On returning to Ali-Sabieh I awoke the next day to make instant coffee that first morning back. To my surprise I discovered I had, rather, purchased a delicious chocolate breakfast beverage. On further examination - trial and error, really - I discovered it could be mixed with either water or milk, hot or cold.

While this delicious chocolate breakfast beverage was a welcomed surprise, it was not the hot caffeinated coffee-like drink I'd planned to have purchased.

The next trip back to the capital, some three weeks later, featured another trip to the 'Cash Centre' and another attempt to find instant coffee. I did manage to find it in a small aisle of all those things you might associate with coffee: filters, sugar, coffee whitener (probably), and tea. On comparing the different brands available to me, I selected to one that not only provided me with the best value (the brand name appears to be 'Le Prix! gagnant'), but one that also appeared to be the most fancy.

The picture on the jar looked more exotic than regular coffee - one of the reasons I purchased this brand over the others (not being able to distinguish between them by what was written on the labels). In Canada I typically drink coffee, where possible from Tim Hortons. There are fancier places, serving coffee-like beverages with fancier sounding names, which come in cups of fancier sounding sizes. I'm really just sure about what coffee is, though, and I'm not too sure about those other things; and if it is just coffee, why it's just not called coffee.

I never actually used the instant coffee after returning to Ali-Sabieh; I'd already formulated the routine of Coca-cola and canned mango-drink in the morning (I think you have to call it 'drink' when it's mostly made from sugar - but the cold mango pulp and sugar beverage is really quite good). Part of my breakfast routine of buying one or two baguettes from an old woman who show's up at Ali-Sabieh's roundabout at 7am or so, then buying my Coca-cola and canned mango-drink, before I head to Ali-Addeh for the day.

As I've already related in an earlier post, I've since relocated from Ali-Sabieh and am now back in the capital, having largely completed my field research in Ali-Sabieh. I returned on Tuesday to collect my things. I might have returned on Sunday or Monday but over the course of the weekend (last weekend, not this weekend) I came down with my first case of food poisoning since arriving in this country. The early part of last week was consequently a write-off.

In the capital, at the branch office, I've been assigned a new desk after having played musical chairs during my last few visits: I'd begun in the resettlement office; was relocated to the protection office; and now finally find myself sitting with the Associate Liaison Officer to IGAD in an area I refer to as the Annex. I keep my electric kettle on the floor, behind my desk, and I keep my instant coffee in one of the desk drawers along with a variety of other things. (Wednesday or Thursday of last week was 'Toilet Paper Ration Day' so I have two rolls in one of my drawers to get me through the next month.)

Yesterday, Saturday, I came into the office to do some work. I like coming in on the weekends because it's a little more quiet and I work on the weekends because I'm boring. But because it's my own time I can also occupy myself with whatever I might choose to occupy myself with (like a child who sees something shiny, I'm easily distracted by any foreign stimuli).

On paper I seem pretty exciting, having travelled to far off places and having done some pretty interesting things. Pictures of me posing with cadavers and live crocodiles exist. In practice, however, I'm really quite boring. Thursday after work I went out bowling with some colleagues, and while I won't say what any of our scores were, I will say that I had the highest one. But when left to my own devices I prefer to sit with an internet browswer open on my laptop so I can look up whatever might come into my head.

Yesterday, in the office, while making my coffee I came to wonder what it was I was preparing. I entered the name into Google and was directed to my favourite place to spend time (though en francais, as I wasn't yet aware of the proper English translation).

Evidently, whatever it is I'm drinking, it's just fancied-up poor-man's instant coffee. On learning the history of 'chicory', and how it has been used as a coffee substitute for poor people and in war time conditions, it doesn't seem so fancy anymore.

I don't think that really matters though. I think chicory is always going to taste a little more exotic than just plain coffee, because I now associate this different-tasting coffee with an odyssey of multiple trips to the 'Cash Centre' and arduous research in the Annex. It will always remind me of Djibouti somehow.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Back in the Capital

In my room at LWF there are three beds, all size single (i.e., slightly shorter than I am tall). The first bed which is easily the most comfortable bed in the room has a wooden bed frame that feels like it is going to disintegrate when I try to move it. It actually pulls apart at each one of its joints on every attempt. As I cannot move it to a location beneath a fan or a mosquito net hook I just leave it where it is and stack clothes on it.

The second bed has a white, metal bed frame with half-circle arcs at either end. My first night at LWF I pulled my mosquito net over each arc to keep it from touching me while I slept; the next morning when I awoke the net had pulled out and I was covered in mosquito bites. Absolutely covered in them.

This second bed also has a bed frame which is just the perimeter of the mattress and so has three pieces of particle board laid across it, on which the mattress rests. Until the beginning of July I was using this bed but, one morning, I shifted the wrong way, the boards fell from the frame and I was sitting on the floor, trapped in a mess of frame, board, mattress and mosquito net.

This second bed has become the guest bed.

The third bed frame, the one which I came to use, is also metallic but has a cross-hatch of springs spanning the length and breadth of the frame. My first night on this bed I found that, with the foam mattress that was initially on it, I was sinking into the middle and unable to move in the night. I also found that, with this foam mattress, my mosquito net was coming untucked from the corners and I was potentially exposed to the malaria-carrying disease vector I'd been trying to avoid. So I switched the mattresses between bed numbers two and three and found the perfect compromise.

A resettlement mission came from the branch office, arriving in Ali-Sabieh on 10 July to commence its mission on 11 July. An intern on the mission stayed with me at the LWF guest room for all 10 days of the mission. He used the guest bed with the particle board platforms and the foam mattress. While he didn't have the same trouble I did with falling to the floor on moving inappropriately, he did have that same problem with the mosquito net coming untucked in the night - which was particularly surprising as he actually had ties on each corner of his net to tie the net to the bed frame. Funnier still, the fan under which the bed was placed doesn't seem to circulate any air. None!

I heard about that a few mornings, and had a laughing fit on more than one occasion; but gradually grew deaf to his complaints.

The resettlement mission was rather large, with five people conducting Refugee Resettlement Form (RRF) interviews. After having spent the previous two weeks in the Ethiopian section, speaking primarily with Ethiopians but also with Eritreans, I decided it was time to return to the compound to recommence my interviews with the Somalis. The first day I was able to secure a room and met with a few people but had very little organized; it was also difficult for refugees to come into the compound, as they were being turned away at the locked gate, so I was only able to meet with those people who were already inside the compound.

Due to the size of the resettlement mission, on the second day I lost my room, so I ventured into the refugee camp and returned to Section 7 where I interviewed more Ethiopians and drank more Ethiopian coffee.

On the third day, one of the English-speaking refugees, a teacher at the refugee school, took me into Section 5 where I visited his home, met his family, and went for a tour of some of the other homes close to him. Afterward, I went back to Section 7 where I again met with the Eritreans. Shortly after midday there was a bit of a commotion in the camp due to what was happening in Kampala, Uganda, so a bus was sent out to look for me and bring me back to the compound. As of that moment our security was heightened somewhat and I, and others, were required to stay within or close to the compound.

Thereafter I used one of the rooms available in the school. I also made my first visit to a coffee stall set up next to the compound. I hadn't organized anything but a mob of refugees came to see me wanting to have some kind of audience with me. I dutifully explained to everyone who I am, what I'm doing, and explained I'm neither in protection or resettlement - or a medical doctor - and cannot help anyone with any of their problems. I don't think anyone believes me when I tell this to them. In any case, I asked everyone to organize themselves by way of a list, and one of the refugees took charge of this exercise and presented me with a list of upwards of 50 names - which continued to grow as more people showed up. Suffice it to say my dance card was full for the next week.

On the second to last day of the resettlement mission my interviews were interrupted and I was taken to the office of the local authority for an audience with the regional authority, the local authority, and a slew of others. It seems no one knew, or everyone forgot, what it was I was doing in the camp. So I again explained my study and thanked everyone for their comments and support.

The following day, I returned to the capital with the resettlement team at the conclusion of the mission, and met with my superiors at the office the morning after. Having completed six weeks of field research at the Ali-Addeh camp, and interviewing some 200 or so refugees, it seems I'm in well enough shape to start writing my report from the branch office. I will only return to Ali-Sabieh and Ali-Addeh from time to time to meet with some of the local authorities to gain their perspective on the various facets of the administration of justice in Ali-Addeh and Djibouti.

After spending so much time in Ali-Sabieh and Ali-Addeh I'd forgotten how hot and humid it is in the capital. Unbearable, really. I'm staying with one of my colleagues, an intern from Switzerland, who has a studio apartment close to the Hotel Alia (where I spent the first 10 days in Djibouti). Now that I am staying in Djibouti for good I will need to find a place of my own, and I'm making inquiries to this end, but so far nothing has been found.

On Friday, 23 July, as most things in Djibouti-are inoperable (as I've noted to some people, Friday is Muslim Sunday in Djibouti), I came to the office to work on some things. A few hundred yards up the road from my colleague's flat there is a roundabout followed by a small area with barren trees and a large cross, all of which is surrounded by a chain rope suspended maybe a foot and a half above the ground from regularly placed poles.

As I walked by this area with my computer bag hanging from my shoulder, wearing brown and blue plaid shorts, a green t-shirt, a blue and white American Eagle baseball cap, and brown running shoes, I believe I was giving onlookers the distinct impression that I am from the United States. I know this because, as I walked along the road, someone beyond that roped-in-area was calling to me - at least I presume it was me. Over and over he repeated: "American! Fuck you, American!"

It's great to be back in the capital.

Friday, July 9, 2010

An English-Speaking Angel from Canada

Of late I have been spending long days in the refugee camp interviewing refugees, beginning from the time I arrive, and working as close to the time that the car comes to take me away as possible. On any given the day the car may pick me up at four thirty in the afternoon or it may pick me up at noon. I never know.

These have been long days. I haven't been taking lunches with the exception of two days ago when the Executive Committee of the Ethiopian section 'invited me' to join them in eating some traditional Ethiopian food - too spicy for me, and they enjoyed that. As I have been sitting in the Ethiopian section the last two weeks, the Ethiopians have been preparing traditional coffee, and keeping the various translators and I well stocked with fresh thermoses of coffee throughout the day.

As soon as I arrive, I want to get down to business, so I walk over to my tiny folding chair and my even tinier desk and I ask to see the first person on the list. Lists of interviews are prepared for me each day by the Executive Committee of the Ethiopian section. This level of organization will be sorely missed when I return to the Somalis.

I generally meet one person at a time, though I will meet with an entire family from time to time, and on one occasion I met with all of the orphans living in the section at the same time (and then individually thereafter). I meet with large, representative groups, including various sub-committees representing different demographics within the section. I have met with various ethnic minorities living in the section, such as the Eritreans, and I have met with various linguistic minorities living in the section, such as the Oromo. I have also met with all of the women in the section - or a majority of them at least - as they felt their sex was not being attended to well enough.

In each of these meetings, whether with one person or with a group, I introduce myself, I explain who I am and the study I have been asked to undertake, and I stress that I am not regular staff and have no inherent powers of protection or resettlement (or any ability to influence people who have those powers). In spite of my warnings, the people I meet with tell me I have been sent by God, either as an angel or a very special person, who will indeed protect them or resettle them, as the case may be. I sport a wry smile when my translator tells me these things, and I ask my translator to tell them that I thank them for their high compliments and I will do what I can within my power to make their concerns known.

I perform these interviews and say these things, over and over again, starting from about eight o'clock in the morning and going as late as four o'clock in the afternoon (we're really not allowed to remain in the camp much later than that). As the days wear on, my translators ask to leave and to be replaced by different people; I tell them that they may do as they wish, as they are all volunteers from the refugee community, and I appreciate any and all help they can provide me with.

When one volunteer has been with me long enough on any given day, and has sat through so many interviews, he'll know my caged introduction and will just jump right into them. He'll tell me that the person or people sitting in front of me understand why I am there but I still confirm with them that they understand I'm just a consultant who has been asked to write a paper on dispute resolution systems and access to justice in the refugee camp. They tell me they understand both what I am there to do and that it is God who has sent me both to do this and to help them. I smile and we proceed.

I'd like to make a game where I see how many interviews I can get through in an hour and then see if I can break that record in each successive hour. Unfortunately, some interviews take as many as four hours. It wouldn't be much of a game really.

At the conclusion of each interview my translator will say "take a break now?". While I'm ready to jump right into the next interview and keep blazing through each day's list, like a machine, my translators are not machines and I recognize they need breaks. They invite me to their cigarettes but I show them that I have my own and invite them to mine. This periodic indulgence is a habit I will unfortunately need to break when I move back to the compound to interview refugees from the Somali sections. I'll just be taking frequent latrine breaks while I am there [note: you'll need to refer to an earlier post here].

While I am enjoying the interview procedure, and the routines I've been developing with the translators I'm working with have been fun, I can't say that I enjoy the stories I'm being told in the same vein. People are telling me about their problems, both with other refugees and citizens, and the difficulties they encounter when they try to access the different faces of the justice system both in this country and in that refugee camp. I've shared a few details with some people privately. I'm not going to share them here. I don't hear very many things while I'm in the refugee camp that make me smile. Yes, when I am likened to an English-speaking angel from Canada it causes me to grin. But when this English-speaking angel from Canada is asked to save someone from the daily misery of life in a refugee camp, and that misery is explained, there's not a lot of smiling.

I met a girl yesterday who will be entering the seventh grade at the refugee school in the fall. There are eight grade levels taught at the refugee school, after which the education of refugees ends unless they are able to pursue further studies in other countries (the parents of some refugees sell half of their rations to pay for their children to take further studies abroad; they tell me this).

This particular girl, who will be turning 15-years-old next month, was required to repeat the fifth grade. She was required to repeat the fifth grade because, during her first time through, being an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian, she took issue with being required to memorize the Quran. While UNESCO was charged with providing education to refugees the memorization of the Quran was required learning; this has changed since LWF has taken over, and I am told the Quran is no longer required learning for students, Muslim or not.

Religious intolerance is something to which I could devote an entire blog.

I've met this girl's father on numerous occasions. He's one of the elected leaders of the community. He is actually a leader in several capacities. While he has a number of distinguishing titles, as a single father, I would warrant that 'dad' is one of the more important ones: probably the most important as far as his children are concerned.

While I have met this girl's father previously in his capacity as a community leader, I interviewed him for the first time concerning his personal refugee experience on Tuesday of this week. He had a number of things to tell me but several stories concerned his daughter. I asked him if it would be alright if I met his daughter and he agreed to arrange this for me for a future day.

I met this girl yesterday towards the end of the morning. When I arrived in the camp yesterday, I was dropped off in the Ethiopian section, and as a matter of chance met someone I'd had the pleasure of meeting the day before. He speaks English and teaches in the refugee school. He informally became my first translator for the day. We walked to the Eritrean sub-section of the Ethiopian section, where I met with several of the Eritreans and was given a view of their living conditions (many of them require new tents, or first tents, and as their God-send I tell them I am making inquiries).

Towards the end of the morning I walked with my translator to the Ethiopian meeting centre and I met with the girl I'd arranged to meet with several days prior. She confirmed for me the things her father had told me, the details of which I won't provide here. I don't like that bad things are happening to anyone, or to her in particular; or that these details are now known by me and that I have a written record of them on which I will base parts of a future report.

Her mother still lives in the camp but her parents are no longer together (the details of their separation, while interesting from my perspective and may wind their way into my report, won't be provided here). She tells me she will visit her mother, from time to time, and her mother may give her food, but she remains with her father where she helps him with cooking and cleaning and caring for her other siblings.

After she confirmed the details of the several incidents and provided me with her own perspective on whether or not justice was served I asked her a few more questions about her experiences, generally, in the refugee camp. A number of women I speak with, and even men, discuss the problems they have with collecting water from faraway wells and wood from faraway valleys. The men speak of being beaten and the women speak of being raped and beaten. There is often talk of verbal harassment and there is often talk of stones being thrown.

I asked this girl whether she ever has problems when she goes to collect water or when she goes to collect wood. She told me that, because other girls have problems collecting water and collecting wood, her father does not let her collect these things on her own: he either accompanies her or he collects them himself.

I know the intimate details of this girl, this family, and I want to write a song for this man about how great of a dad he is - something Enrique Iglesias or Mariah Carey might sing. I think his daughter does, too.

Monday, June 28, 2010


More often than not I think in terms of 'convenient' versus 'inconvenient' rather than in terms of 'safe' versus 'unsafe' when looking at situations. For instance, when arguing with a khat-fueled taxi driver about the cost of rides as they relate to the colour of skin I found the episode most inconveniencing.

(In India he would have been a 'rickshaw wala' and I would have had a great deal of fun arguing over whether I should pay the meter rate or some other, arbitrary, fixed rate. But it is also more likely my rickshaw wala would merely have been drunk rather than strung out on amphetamines.)

Little things arise all the time which can be most inconveniencing. In the middle of the night, when I need to exit my room to use the adjacent washroom, it is often full of cockroaches (usually near dead due to the precautions I take with insecticide, but inconveniencing nevertheless). Since leaving Djibouti-ville I have been generally limited to taking 'navy showers' and, along similar lines, am required to fill and haul buckets of whatever whenever I wish to use and then flush a toilet (after completing my dutiful inspections for cockroaches). Whenever I try to buy anything, anywhere, I am certain I am getting ripped off, but prices are never posted and - most inconveniencing - no one speaks English.

As another for instance, which arose a few evenings ago here in Ali-Sabieh, I had arranged to have my laundry done at the Hotel Palmeraie by Hassan, whom I deal with generally with respect to all things culinary. He speaks very little English but after a few minutes and attempts usually understands what it is I am requesting, he is highly agreeable, and most situations are resolved with exclamations of 'd'accord!', 'tres bien!' and 'merci beaucoup!' on his part (along with the passing of a few hundred Djibouti Francs on mine).

While I am no longer staying at the Hotel Palmeraie, this place is too French for me, and I'm uncertain as to my laundering options. During my stay at the Hotel Palmeraie I arranged for my laundry to be done and this was accomplished within the span of 24 hours for a few hundred francs (whereas, during my stay at the Hotel Alia in Djibouti-ville, the cost was close to seven thousand francs). So I thought, why not now?

On attending at the Hotel Palmeraie for dinner one evening late last week I discussed the matter of my laundry with Hassan and whether I might be able to bring it by the next day (I attend at the Hotel Palmeraie for dinner most nights as other 'restaurants' in Ali-Sabieh do not offer written menus, nor do they offer much in the way of spoken English). He was amenable to this, as far as I could tell, so I agreed to return the following day.

During my previous stays in India and Ghana I was able to wash my clothing by hand in buckets supplied by my respective landlords. Laundry detergent could be purchased at most shops in any given neighbourhood: generally not far from wherever I might be living. In Djibouti, everything is written in French, and I'm at a loss for doing things myself; so I opt to add more currency to the local economy and hire someone to do it for me.

To get my laundry to the Hotel Palmeraie I considered packing it all inside my travelling backpack. After considering the size of this backpack, and finding it too large an item to be carrying with me across the city, I opted to try to cram all of my laundry into my everyday backpack (on doing this my backpack looked very much like a cube with shoulder straps). I also thought against introducing a new, larger backpack to the general crowd of people who accost me when walking around, who wonder how I am doing, where I am coming from, and if I might be able to give them some money.

One other wrinkle is that I do not have regular transportation in Ali-Sabieh so I was required to walk across the village from one extreme to the other, beginning with my current residence at the LWF compound. In the mornings and the evenings there is generally a cool breeze blowing through Ali-Sabieh making the walk quite bearable. On this particular evening, however, there was no breeze. I was therefore required to pause partway to replenish the fluids I was losing on this hot summer night.

Hassan was there to greet me with a menu in hand when I arrived at the Hotel Palmeraie. He scurried back to the kitchen or wherever he goes after he hands me a menu to give me time to write down my selections; I used this time to wipe the perspiration from my face and arms, drink more water, and carefully remove all of the laundry from my backpack.

When Hassan returned and saw the large accumulation of to-be-cleaned laundry, he explained, with heavy heart, that either the machine or the girl who uses it is broken.

Most inconveniencing.

I expressed my displeasure, gave him my meal selections, and repacked all of my laundry for the walk back to the LWF compound on completion of my meal. Ultimately, with the assistance of the LWF staff, I was able to hire a girl to do my laundry. She arrived early the next morning - most convenient - and did a great job. She has all of my future business so long as she wants it.

A few nights ago I was sitting on the terrace of the Hotel Palmeraie, having just finished my dinner and reading my copy of 'Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell', and a member of the local American military detachment (they rent a compound adjacent to the Hotel Palmeraie) asked if she might join me for a while. I accepted her company and we chatted briefly about the village, the weather, and then what I am doing in Ali-Sabieh (what I would like to do in situations such as this is relate specifics of what I'm doing, which are largely confidential, but what I end up saying are uninteresting things about the theory of a functioning administration of justice).

She explained to me that she and the rest of her detachment had been invited by 'Monsieur Le Prefet' to an Independence Day celebration in Ali-Sabieh that was supposed to begin at 8pm but had been delayed until 9pm. She showed me her very impressive invitation (lazerjet no doubt!), the details of which were printed in French so they were lost on the both of us. After a few minutes we were each of the view of leaving the terrace so she went her way and I went mine.

On my way I happened by the location of the Independence Day celebration as it was being set up in front of the office of 'Monsieur Le Prefet'. A large crowd was gathering and the local military was present, between the the crowd and the office, standing 10 or so meters apart, wielding blue hats and machine guns. I was somewhat interested in what might be happening with this celebration and considered staying but, in addition to the machine guns already present, I recalled that my new American friend was also carrying a side-arm.

Something told me there was a real possibility this crowd may become unruly, or at least might express great interest in me: the only white non-military person among them. The dichotomy of 'safe' versus 'unsafe' became alive in me and I thought it better I return to the LWF to watch football with whomever might be present.

Ghana beat the United States to advance to the next round. Go Black Stars!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Khat Scratch Fever

I have ready access to water; I actually just bought two more 1.5 litre bottles for the day (I've just finished my first bottle for the day). I would say I drink between 3-4 litres of *water* a day, plus coffee, coke, or whatever other fluids I may take in. Now that I am in Ali-Sabieh, accessing bottled water becomes a little more tricky. It's in just as many proximate shops at which I may purchase it, but Djibouti-ville and Ali-Sabieh are quite different in many respects. One big difference is the fact that there are *many* white people in Djibouti-ville; I feel like the *only* white person in Ali-Sabieh at present.

Accordingly, going to shops to make purchases thus becomes an invitation for people to approach me and ask me for money. I'm not inviting them, per se, and in fact feel terrified at times (especially when these people are in large groups, while members of which are chewing 'khat'). Little children run after me shouting "Monsieur! D'Argent!"; grown men walk up to me with hands outstretched who simply say "D'Argent." On some occasions, people who approach me will know a little English (which they offer after I say "je ne comprend pas; au revoir"); they will ask me my name, where I'm from, tell me Canada is great and that people speak both English and French there ("not me," I tell them), and then they ask for money because they are hungry.

Sometimes I feel bad for these people; sometimes I want to unleash the karate when I see them chewing a mouth full of khat. In neither case do I give them money.

Khat is something that is chewed by people throughout East Africa and the Middle East. It is a plant that has properties similar to amphetamines. Walking around Djibouti-ville I've seen a few road accidents, or the evidence of previous accidents (cars with the front end smashed in; lamp posts that have been knocked down), all of which the result of drivers chewing khat. It is a Schedule I drug in the United States; we don't particularly want it in Canada either. For whatever reason, the United Kingdom does not have a problem with khat.

Yesterday offered me a most inconveniencing experience involving khat.

At the end of the day, on leaving the office, I stopped at a fruit and vegetable stand to purchase some lettuce and tomatoes. I was staying in the spare bedroom of a colleague's flat in Djibouti-ville, and she wanted to make chicken salad for dinner, thus requiring lettuce and tomatoes and my effecting this purchase.

Across the street from the fruit and vegetable stand was a taxi, and the driver kept banging on his door, whistling or otherwise making sounds in my direction, trying to get my attention so that I would hire him for the ride home. I didn't want a ride from him so I shouted "no!" (on more than one occasion) and shook my head indicating a general unwillingness to hire him as my driver. Eventually, I made my purchase (the proprietor of the stand actually had to leave and go to another stand to get the lettuce and tomatoes I desired), and I proceeded to walk back towards the roundabout where the Hotel Alia is located; across the street from the hotel is a convenience store ("YESMart") where I'd planned to purchase two baguettes and a six-pack of 1.5 litre bottles of water.

The taxi driver was still across the street as I proceeded to walk. He started to slowly creep beside me, banging his door, shouting at me, motioning for me to get into his taxi. Across the five-way intersection where we were at that time was another convenience store (the name escapes me right now) where I might also purchase bread and water; I decided I might as well stop here and hire this taxi, so I told him to "wait here" and I went inside.

On making my purchase, the proprietor of the store placed my water in the back seat of the taxi for me, so I got into the front seat and we were on our way. I asked the driver if he spoke English, he indicated that he did, so I told him "I'm going to Siesta, but not the hotel" (the "Hotel Siesta" is a popular hotel that features a swimming pool; my colleague's flat is down the street from there).

Generally, when I get into a taxi, I establish with the driver that the ride will cost 500 Francs; all taxi rides in Djibouti-ville cost 500 Francs, unless you call in advance for a ride (700 Francs), or are going to the airport (1,000 Francs). I failed to establish this at the outset with my new English-speaking friend and this omission would prove to be to my detriment.

The driver was going exceptionally fast, he was tailgating, and he was blowing through roundabouts without due regard to other motorists; this driver was chewing khat, and I was holding onto to the 'holy shit handle' above my head for dear life.

Eventually we made it to my destination, and the driver jumped the curb and pulled up onto the sidewalk outside the gate. I thanked him, reached into my pocket, and pulled out a 500 Franc coin. He said "no, no, no; it is 1,500 Francs". I argued in the negative, indicating that all taxi rides are 500 Francs in Djibouti-ville (I did not get into the exceptions of calling in advance or going to the airport, as neither exception applied in this instance). He wouldn't have it, responding with the assertion that I was his brother, and I had to pay 1,500 Francs.

With an exasperated look on my face, I exited the taxi, I took my six pack of water out from the back seat, and returned to the passenger side window again offering the 500 Franc coin. He wouldn't have it. I placed it on the passenger side seat, collected my water, and began to walk away. He shot out of the driver's side door and rushed around his taxi to block my path. At this point, not only was I his brother, but I was also white, so I had to give him 1,500 Francs. All I could say was "so what?!" and I directed him to take the 500 Franc coin.

Eventually, perhaps roused by the discussion of the colour of my skin, the security guard for the flat complex came outside and stared at me with a blank expression on his face; soon enough, another security guard joined him. Neither could speak English, or at least enough to be helpful in the situation. I again told the driver he should take the coin or I would put it on the ground and walk away; as he was not taking it, I put it on the ground and walked away.

The driver wasn't done with me. He followed me through the gate, into the compound, and continued to berate me because of the colour of my skin. This wasn't fun anymore; it wasn't really fun to begin with. I didn't want him to follow me anymore. He was indicating I should call the police. I couldn't be bothered to respond so I proceeded inside and informed my colleague that I was slightly detained on arrival as my taxi driver required that I pay 1,500 Francs due to the colour of my skin. She confirmed the price of taxi rides in Djibouti-ville (500 Francs, with two exceptions) and said I was wise not to pay any more than that on principle.

At this point the driver started ringing all of the bells to the flats in the compound. The security guards were doing a poor job indeed. My colleague opened her door, yelled at the driver, and indicated she would call the police. He stated to her that his brother had to pay 1,000 Francs because he was white; her response was that she was calling the police and she shut the door.

Somehow, through no effort of my own, the cost of a taxi ride for this particular white person was now 1,000 Francs. Was he breaking? Should I break? I asked my colleague if I should just give the driver another 500 Francs to make him go away. She was firm in her resolve. I should not pay any more and it was a matter of principle: the taxi ride costs 500 Francs and I should not be intimidated into paying anything more.

So this white man wasn't breaking, and neither was 'his brother' the taxi driver. The bells kept ringing for a few minutes, then the driver went outside of the building, stood inside the gate of the compound - I could see him through the kitchen window staring up incredulously. After a few more minutes he sat in his car outside the gate. My colleague could not remember the number for the police, nor did she know enough French to make placing a call worthwhile.

In any case, the driver eventually left, and the 'security guards' got a stern talking to from my colleague.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Safety Dance

I know the reason I'm in Djibouti is to evaluate the systems in place for attributing fault, punishing the guilty, and setting wrongs right when wrongs have been committed against individuals or the community well-being in the Ali-Addeh refugee camp. But, for the most part, I feel like I'm somehow hermetically sealed in some kind of protective bubble: the situations I'm investigating are far removed from the present; I'm exploring the past in the protected confines of an office; these situations are happening in the abstract and the people I'm interviewing are merely relating to me information that will be useful for my study.

Today in the camp was some kind of 'Celebration Of The Child' as put on by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). As part of this celebration, biscuits were being distributed to children, and at some point in the day these biscuits were moved into the compound for ease of distribution (or some other equally compelling reason you might think of - the one I provide is mere speculation).

Digression: there is a 'policy' in place that staff are not to smoke in the refugee camp. I'm presuming this policy is in place for international staff, as I have seen some local staff smoking; or perhaps they're just not of the same policy-following bent that I am. I haven't asked why the policy is in place, or otherwise questioned why there is a policy in place, but have again used my powers of speculation to assume the policy is in place to prevent the refugees from seeing us smoking. So I've found a quiet, secure place where I can't be seen smoking: in the latrine. Coincidentally, the latrine stays a few degrees cooler than its surrounding; again, by speculation, I believe the concrete walls are slow to transfer the heat of the sun from the outside to the inside (it's been a few years since I studied heat transfer - but I believe my math is accurate here). In any case, for the next few months, until one of my superiors catches me or reads this blog, I'll be smoking in the boys room. But I digress...

At approximately noon, while walking back from the latrine to the office in which I was observing a resettlement interview, I was pulled aside by one of the refugees I'd met last week - he is very interested in talking to me about some of the things I'm studying (and in particular, as they have been affecting him over the 19 years he's spent in the refugee camp). As the gentleman and I were discussing his situation, something of a commotion started a few steps away from us. I later learned that someone - either a refugee or a local - was attempting to dispossess the LWF of some of the biscuits intended to be distributed to the refugee youth in celebration of their status as children.

Soon, the commotion escalated to the grabbing of shirts and the shoving of bodies; eventually, fists started flying in the form of punches; ultimately, rocks of all sizes began being thrown first by the two pugilists, and then by the bystanders. I was quickly ushered by the refugees - for my safety - through an open door so that I could wait out the commotion with one of my colleagues; she assured me that 'security should be quick to put down the commotion'. She was correct, and when I exited the office a few minutes later, everyone on the outside was all smiles: and any element that might otherwise reignite the troubles was standing outside the compound, looking in through the gate. All that was left to show there had been any sort of commotion were large rocks lying everywhere and the lingering memory of shouts and crashes.

And so it is that I have been blessed with the gift of context.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Times Withdrawal

Life in Ali-Sabieh is pretty laid back (as far as life in regional capitals I'm familiar with goes). These are long, tiring days here, but nothing is rushed; life is lived at a reasonable pace. There are many people on the street, sitting in the shade, doing their best to conserve energy in the summer sun.

I wake up shortly after 6 o'clock every morning to ready myself for the day, then join my Nairobi colleagues for breakfast on the terrace at the hotel as we wait for the rest of the mission team to arrive. They serve us coffee, tea, and a basket of baguette pieces; we're given the option of having either an omelet or butter and jam to accompany them (but not both). The weather is cooler than it will be in the afternoon, and sitting on the terrace proves to be a nice way to start our day as we wait for the bus from our office to pick us up to take us and the rest of the mission team down the gravel, mountain road into Ali-Addeh.

At the Ali-Addeh camp, we drive into to the compound and find refugees waiting to be interviewed by my three Nairobi colleagues for resettlement in other countries (resettlement is one of the three 'durable solutions' the attempts to provide for refugees). My colleagues are here for the express purpose of interviewing them for resettlement. One is a Kenyan, one is a Norwegian, and one is an Anglo-Saxon (though markedly more British than I am); all three women and have been on resettlement missions all over the region.

I'm not part of this mission; I just hitch a ride with the mission team as a way to get into the camp. I'm not really part of the regular program (as I explain to the refugees who approach me: "I have no influence over resettlement or registration so I can't help you with [insert problem here]"). I just try to catch rides where I can (for instance, this weekend, the bus will be taking the mission team back to Djibouti-ville on Thursday, which I will hopefully take as well; my being in Djibouti-ville will be precarious at best and, with the office being closed on Friday and Saturday, I plan to show up at the office on Sunday and cross my fingers that a car is heading back to Ali-Sabieh and that it will have room for me and my things).

Each morning at the compound in Ali-Addeh, I try to find a free room in the compound, and for the first hour or so I review my notes from the previous day(s) and otherwise occupy myself with puzzles from my Sudoku book. I try to set up meetings with representatives from the various sections in the camp - there is one Ethiopian section and seven Somali sections. I also try to meet with representative groups in the camp, such as the Somali Youth Committee, and the Committee for Southern Somali Women Refugees. I interview them about life in the camp, attempting to elicit information about their cultures and how they deal with 'problems' which may arise in and around the camp. As I say, I try to arrange these interviews in advance; but if I don't have an interview scheduled, many of the refugees who spend time around the compound during the day speak English, and I'll ask them if they wouldn't mind sitting with me for a while to tell me a little about themselves, their culture, and life in the camp.

I'm beginning to get some idea about how complex life is for the refugees in the camp (and for refugees outside the camp, but that's a different story altogether). Because of the fact that the refugees come not only from different countries, but also different tribes/clans within the countries, the whole justice system in the camp is incredibly complex. It's a steep learning curve and I'm only starting to understand many of the dynamics surrounding the refugees, the local community, and the state and non-state actors providing support services in the camp. Being a person whose comfort circle includes getting information from secondary sources, these primary-source interviews are something foreign to me; but I get a little more comfortable with each one, and I'm getting a better understanding of which questions elicit the most useful discussions with every passing day.

At about 4 o'clock, my Nairobi colleagues have completed their resettlement interviews for the day, and we all load back onto the bus for the long drive back to Ali-Sabieh. It's nice being on the air-conditioned bus and I generally find myself falling asleep on the ride home despite the rocky and mountainous terrain.

We have dinner on the hotel terrace at 7 o'clock and, in the meantime, I may or may not walk to and from the office to briefly take advantage of an internet connection (as I am doing this evening in composing this blog entry). Sitting here, at the office, I've just read an article on a NY Times blog concerning the Tea Party, metaphysics, and American political discourse, and my humble opinion is that this article is three shades of brilliant. One of the comforts I miss from Canadian office life is arriving at work early, pouring a cup of coffee, and sitting down to read the NY Times from my desktop; or even being able to read it over lunch. The mere act of sitting and reading in a climate controlled environment, with easy access to hot and cold beverages, are things I miss. I'm adjusting to 'working in the field' - to more austere conditions than what I've been used to in the recent past - but it's a process. Being where I am, without access to North American news media, I have no one to chat up about the 'Very Angry Tea Party' - who would even know what I'm talking about. Sadly, this process is one of withdrawal.

The menu at the hotel features various baguette and meat combinations - being the sandwich fan that I am it is all I could ever ask for. We're given the option of french fries, spaghetti, or green beans to accompany our meal. I try to mix things up, but there are only so many combinations that are capable of being made. The food is good, not too spicy, and the basket of baguettes is bottomless as far as I can tell.

There are a pair of near identical, malnourished cats that sit under our table, meowing at our feat as we eat. They will occasionally attempt to jump on our laps if we aren't paying attention (given the state of their hygiene, at the dinner table - while we are eating - this is especially alarming). The waiter informs us that he feeds any scraps to the cats (he's a Francophone, so I'm relying on my Nairobi colleagues to translate for me); the cats sure don't look like they're getting any scraps, but it may just be they have metabolism deserving of my sister's fat cat Franklin's envy.

I'm at the hotel two more nights then back to Djibouti-ville for the weekend to get more cash from one of the two functioning ATMs in the country - both of which are located in the capital within walking distance of each other (to my chagrin, my debit card does not work, so I have to withdraw cash on my visa, then transfer money from my bank account to the visa online afterward). I move into the guest room of the LWF office when I get back to Ali-Sabieh and then spend the following two to three months living there, watching movies on my laptop, and re-reading the books I have brought with me (including Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which I've already read twice before - on two different continents - the book is that good).

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Grasshopper and the Spider

I'm lying in my bed, under my mosquito net, watching The Runaways on my laptop with the air conditioner running at 'medium cool'. I can hear knocking. Is it the movie? I can hear more knocking. I turn down the volume on my laptop: someone's knocking at the door.

"Hold on!"

I'm trying to figure out where the opening in the mosquito net is. I don't want to pull out too much of the net from where it is tucked under the mattress because I don't want mosquitoes getting inside as I vacate this enclosure.

"Just a second!"

I squirm out from under the bug net, walk over to the door, turn the key once and open it. My colleague is standing outside my room in her nightgown, hair net and flip flops.

"Can you kill a spider?"
"Probably; hang on… what the…? Oh no."

I quickly shut the door and as I do a grasshopper hops into my room.

There are hundreds of grasshoppers on the pathways outside of the rooms of the hotel - all rooms have exterior doors - congregating around the lights that have been left on. Two nights ago it took me three attempts and 10 minutes to get into my room amidst swarming grasshoppers. When the grasshoppers swarm it can be overwhelming. There are no cats outside of my door to eat the grasshoppers because a low wall running alongside the path to my door prevents the cats from seeing and getting to the grasshoppers. To avoid this situation I now keep the light outside my door turned off.

The grasshopper in my room isn't large, but I still won't sleep if I know there's a grasshopper in my room. I try to grab the grasshopper with my hand, but every time I get close it starts hopping frantically. More than frantically: maniacally. For want of anything else, I grab my baseball cap and throw it on top of the grasshopper. The grasshopper manages to get out from under it and resumes hopping around the room. After a minute or two of hopping passes I again throw my cap on it, quickly close it around the grasshopper, and carry it outside as it hops frantically inside my hat. I can feel the grasshopper, hopping inside of my cap as I carry it outside and release it in the garden.

I walk the few steps to my colleague's room and see that her door is slightly ajar. I gently knock and push the door open to se her sitting on her bed. She motions with her hand, above my head and to my right.

"The spider is there."

I look up and to my right. The spider is there.

It is the largest spider I have ever seen. Larger than my hand. As large as my head. With long, sprawling legs, stretching out across the wall and ceiling, like an afghan blanket hanging from above.

I take a step back through the door and look at my colleague sitting on her bed. I lean forward and again I peer up and to my right to look at the spider.

I have never seen a spider like this before.

I look at my colleague.

"I'm sorry, that's too big. I'm afraid I can't help you."
"Then I'll have to go and get one of the men to do it."
"Yeah… I'm not that kind of man. I'm very sorry."

I go back to my room, open my door and quickly rush in before a grasshopper can follow me. I go to my bed, untuck the mosquito net from under my mattress, squirm back under my mosquito net before frantically tucking the loose end back under my mattress. I roll over, adjust my pillow, and press the space bar on my laptop to resume watching my movie.

A few minutes pass by. I can hear some banging in the next room. I presume the spider is being killed by one of the men.

I envision what I will do if I ever encounter a spider that large and don't have a man around to kill it: I will spend 15 minutes staring at the spider, pacing, before I attempt to kill it; miss; and after 5 more minutes of deliberating I will give up, crawl under my mosquito net while leaving the light in the room on so that I can watch the unmoving spider throughout the night.

I try to forget about the spider.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Night Running

I'm starting to freak out a little bit and I'll tell you why: I noticed this morning that I'm developing a slight 'arm rash' in the folds of my elbows. This might not worry you, but after reading what follows you will discover why it worries me.

A little over five years ago I arrived in Accra, Ghana, for my first international volunteering experience. I was with my friend Andrew (the local population called him "Andrews" because this name appeared in the locally published Christian Bible). The two of us would go on to Kumasi after our first week in Accra, but for the first week we were based in Accra with six other volunteers and one organization representative for orientation and training.

Ghana is one of many countries where malaria is present and prophylaxis is required. At one point, Andrews actually purchased a digital thermometer so he and I could monitor our temperatures periodically throughout the day to discern the slightest elevation as indication of fever and the onset of malaria (there were always slight changes but we were comfortable with the range within which the changes took place). This purchase was not made until some weeks after that first week in Accra, after we had relocated to Kumasi (and had, by that time, heard many of our new acquaintances had succumbed to malaria).

While still in Accra, we dubbed one of the other volunteers 'arm rash' because she developed rashes in the folds of her elbows and later the folds of her knees; anywhere skin folded I believe (though my memory is not as sharp now that it is five years later). It turned out this girl did not start taking her malaria prophylaxis until the day she arrived in Ghana, rather than taking it in advance of arrival (as is prescribed). She developed malaria within a week. On this present trip, I did not start taking my malaria prophylaxis until two days before arriving in Djibouti (36 hours, really), rather than a week prior (as is prescribed). I can't recall if the arm rash is a sign of the onset of malaria or not.

So I'm freaking out a little bit.

Things are progressing a little faster in the camp than I'd anticipated. My supervisor had explained to me that, before I would be able to start interviewing refugees from the Somali sections, I would need to sit through a series of repetitive introductions with leaders and elders. This hasn't been the case at all. First thing yesterday morning a meeting with the Somali Youth Committee was arranged for me and I sat with an audience of about 100 youth, explaining to them who I am, what I'm doing here, and my interest in learning about their culture and their ways of 'solving problems' in the camp. Everyone wanted to be the first one to tell me everything there is to know about their culture and their ways of 'solving problems' in the camp. I actually had to end the meeting after an hour and explain that I would be coming back many times and would hopefully be able to meet with everyone individually or in small groups.

Shortly thereafter I was taken to a meeting location within the office compound inside the camp where I met with nearly all of the Somali section leaders - even representatives from the Ethiopian executive committee arrived shortly after we began, presumably not wanting to be left out. Again, I explained who I was, what I was doing, and my desire to learn all about their culture and their methods for 'solving problems' within the camp. After I said my piece, each leader took a turn thanking me for attending at the camp, telling me a little bit about dispute resolution systems (incredibly well-organized, and quite different from what I had been told from outside sources), and providing real life examples of situations that had arisen in the camp.

One situation that has struck a chord with me is one which arose several years ago, relating to the Danish cartoonist who expressed himself by drawing and publishing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed. At the time of it's publication I can recall there being a significant public backlash - one experienced all over the world in relation to this publication, with the cartoonist himself receiving a number of death threats (for the life of me I can't recall what eventually happened to him).

In the Ali-Addeh camp, in response to the cartoon, I was told that a number of Somali boys destroyed the Ethiopian church. This problem has since been resolved, and my sense in the meeting room yesterday (among both Somali and Ethiopian section leaders), was that it was resolved amicably; however, I'm hoping to gather more information relating to this incident as it should shed a great deal of light on the level of satisfaction and confidence the refugees have in the dispute resolution systems currently in place.

At the end of the day, after returning from the refugee camp to the hotel in Ali-Sabieh, I had an interesting conversation on the terrace with one of my colleagues who is here on a resettlement mission from Nairobi. I'd asked her whether she'd encountered any instances of 'witchcraft' in the Ali-Addeh camp or other camps to which she'd visited in the past. Indeed, she had, and in the village in Kenya in which she grew up there were cases of both witches and 'night runners'. I'd never heard of 'night runners' before so she explained that they are people who run about the village at night - completely naked - knocking on doors and windows and 'creating a disturbance'. She also explained that they are not dangerous like witches, but they are treated like witches just the same.

We continued sharing stories until there was no sun left, about our travels and previous encounters with witches - mine from Ghana and hers from all over Africa - and wished each other to be free of encounters with 'night runners' before retiring to our rooms for the evening.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Parlez-vous Anglais?

'Parley-vous Anglais?' are generally the first words out of my mouth anywhere I go in this country. The response is, typically, 'non' or 'un petit peu' (the response isn't even in English). To them I say 'je parle Francais un petit peu', and then I struggle along, largely in poorly composed English sentences.

Indo-China was comparatively much easier; everyone spoke English in Cambodia (to varying degrees). I probably shouldn't be surprised that not everyone in the world speaks English. But I have lived for many years in an Anglo-centric universe (despite my own country being both English and French). I wish I could go back in time and slap the 15-year-old version of me who gave up on French class. In retrospect, and for many reasons, speaking another language would have been of immeasurable benefit (as I found in Ghana, where my Twi lessons paid off immeasurably in negotiating down the price of various purchases: "me pa wo kyow; te so kakraa"). C'est dommage.

This is my second day in Ali-Sabieh. My temporary accommodations in the Hotel Palmerei are considerably more austere than what I was getting used to in Djibouti-ville (no running water as yet); though the price, remarkably, is not commensurately lessened. Again, this is just temporary, and I am looking forward to what will become my semi-permanent address in Ali-Sabieh (which I will elaborate upon in future posts).

Yesterday, and today, I visited the refugee camp in Ali-Addeh. It's not a long drive, only 20km (give or take), but navigating the road is more like 'off-roading' so it takes about a half hour or so to get there. The camp itself is located in a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains; the landscape is not unlike Iqaluit in the summer, with the exception of sparsely distributed trees here and there. But there's no water. There is a dry (dry) river that runs through the camp; but really, there is very little water to speak of (my understanding is the wells in Ali-Addeh do not supply the camp with the amount of water required for a population of 13,000 refugees).

So far, and while accompanied by other members of my office, I have had some limited interactions with the Ethiopian community, including their community leaders, as well as several Somali refugees at the office in the camp. I've explained to the Ethiopians the purpose of my visit and hope to start meeting with them in the coming days to commence my interviews. I understand getting to know the Somali population will not be quite as informal as it was with the Ethiopians so my relationship with their leaders will hopefully build overtime (again, I will elaborate on this in future posts).

The sun is slowly setting and I'm still at the office in Ali-Sabieh so I should start shutting down to make my way back before dark (I learned last night in walking the town with my supervisor that the streets are not well lit - and I don't know this place very well as yet). More to follow as the days unfold.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A 'murder' of dolphins?

It seems I haven't entered anything on here in five days and, as I find often happens, in long absences, many of the trees are lost for the forest. I won't dwell on this now, and in the future will attempt to write something new every two to three days; however, for this instant entry, I'll just say a bit about what things are shaping up to be.

I met one of my supervisors on Wednesday and confirmed the scope of the TOR for my contract. My project, as is succinctly stated in the TOR, is to evaluate the administration of justice in the Ali-Addeh refugee camp. Little has been written on this discrete topic of the administration of justice in refugee camps (though I have found one comprehensive study from 2006 in the archives I plan to use as a benchmark), and less still for Djibouti in particular (to date nothing has in fact been brought to my attention).

The data in 2006 study to which I refer above was compiled through questionnaires completed by Field Offices and submitted to the author of the report. For my report, I plan to collect all data by personally interviewing the relevant stakeholders: the refugees themselves; local police; the local bar and judiciary (to the extent possible); the local and national government, especially ONARS (Department of the Host Government concerned with Refugees); and international non-governmental organizations. It is hoped that, by submitting the same question set to multiple stakeholders, I will get a more comprehensive understanding of not only what is happening in the camp, but also what the various stakeholders understand is happening in the camp.

One interesting wrinkle that should present a pretty steep learning curve for me will be understanding the complex legal structure resulting from various legal systems stacked on top of each other. At the country level, there is the national system of law importing aspects of the French Civil system, Shariah (Islamic) law, and traditional/tribal legal principles. There are also the legal traditions brought into the camp by the refugees themselves from the countries they have fled (Somalia and Ethiopia being the largest contributors). There are also the international norms which hopefully (hopefully) each of the legal systems respect. I have many months to figure it all out and it should prove interesting if nothing else.

Apart from the above, office life has included further orientation and one staff meeting for the Protection Unit (everyone just happened to be in Djibouti City at the same time - the next meeting is schedule for Canada Day so I'll have to make my way back for this meeting to celebrate). Life outside of the office has included a few trips to both the downtown area and outskirts of Djibouti City with new friends and colleagues. One evening I went to an Ethiopian restaurant with a friend on a year-long contract with CARITAS (my 'salad' included, among other things, ground beef, french fries, and sliced bananas). Another evening I went to a few local establishments with some of my colleagues 'to experience Thursday evening in Djibouti City' (an interesting experience I won't soon forget, but will also feel comfortable leaving behind once relocated to Ali-Sabieh).

Yesterday, along with two colleagues and the four-year-old daughter of one, I went on a snorkeling trip to one of the islands off the coast of Djibouti City by way of speedboat. On our way to the island we came across a 'school, herd or pod' of approximately 200 dolphins who travelled with us for a few minutes of our early-morning trip. For the life of me I could not think of what a group of dolphins is called and was forced to look it up. I didn't think school would apply as dolphins aren't fish; and 'pod' I though only applied to killer whales. I even considered a 'murder of dolphins' - but that only applies to crows as far as I know. This snorkeling trip, again, was a great experience and I'm glad I had the opportunity to get a break from the heat of Djibouti City - however pricey - but one I won't need to repeat again soon as the intense sunburn all over my back will serve as a timely reminder for many days (harkening memories of Thailand and my last diving trip some three years ago that also involved intense sunburns for all involved).