Monday, May 31, 2010

It's getting hot in here

Djibouti is the hottest place on earth. Full stop. And I'm not even in the hottest place in Djibouti: at 156 m below sea level, that honour goes to Lake Assal. People in the office think it would be funny for me, coming from one of the colder places on earth, to be photographed at the hottest place on earth. You know what I think? I think they're right; but I want to wait a bit first. Djibouti City is hot enough for now.

'Where's the beef?' I imagine you're not asking yourself. Well, despite that, the answer is: Djibouti! It's plentiful, it's reasonably priced, and I've had it for dinner two nights in a row in the form of steak. It's actually the only food stuff in Djibouti that isn't imported into the country (besides fish, but I'm told that's not even cut-and-dry). Food prices are sort of high for Africa, from what I've been told and from what I remember from Ghana (pre-revaluation of the Cedi); but baguettes are cheap and plentiful (about $0.10 each). I buy one in the morning and dip it in peanut butter for breakfast; I buy one at lunch and fill it with cheese - also reasonably priced. There's a restaurant next door to my hotel - Hotel Alia - that I just went to for the first time tonight (for steak dinner number 2) that makes delicious fruit smoothies for a little over $1.00. I just had one with banana, orange and mango. Delicious.

Work's going well. Not really working 'as such' yet, but it's going well. Yesterday involved a trip to the United Nations Department of Security Services for a debriefing on the security situation in the country, and in particular the Ali-Sabieh region (where I am to be posted forthwith). During my debriefing I learned that Djibouti is a 'Tolerant Muslim Country'. Roughly translated: there is no dress code for men or women. However, in the UN Basic and Advanced Security training courses I've additionally completed over the last two days, I've learned you are all the better to dress conservatively and to 'blend in' so not to make yourself a target:

"Observing local customs and respecting them will keep you from sending unwanted messages such as irreverence or sexual availability."

Welcomed advice.

I haven't seen anyone around town in short-pants, so I'll stick to trousers (and maybe purchase a few lighter pairs in the market downtown before relocating to Ali-Sabieh). Short-sleeved shirts, however, appear to be a fashion staple here; I believe I will invest in several.

On the horizon: meeting my supervisor (he returns from a mission to Northern Djibouti on Wednesday); firm-up my living arrangements in Ali-Sabieh (I'm now wondering, as I begin to ready my study, whether being based in Djibouti City might be advantageous?); find some French-language study guides (I know embarrassingly little French); and perhaps invest in utensils so that I might start spreading peanut butter rather than dip bread in it.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Djibouti City: Day 1

So far, so good.

My plane touched down in Djibouti a little under two hours ago. The shadow on my face suggests I've been travelling for almost a week but I think it's been about a day and a half (though I have been thrust into the future approximately 8 hours so we'll round it up to two days). Paris was okay, but I didn't have much time to see much as I was on foot; apart from a walk from the Paris Opera to the Eiffel Tower and back - with an interesting stop at a fully-automated public restroom along the way - any sightseeing will need to happen the next time I'm there.

I had very little difficulty with immigration upon arriving in Djibouti, though more than I encountered in France (where no words were exchanged with immigration officials when I collected my stamps). To my surprise, I needed to provide a copy of my 'invitation papers,' and fortunately had them in the voluminous collection of things I probably didn't need to bring (but did just in case). A tip to anyone moving to Africa for six months: give yourself more than a day to figure out what you're bringing (a Swiss Army knife, a lock, and Microsoft Office are three things among many I had intended to bring with me but forgot).

On arriving at my hotel, after being collected by someone from my office at the airport, I met a Frenchman who gave me the skinny on the various amenities proximate to the hotel. There's a 'restaurant' next door; I am told there pubs and clubs close by; but what I'm going to need to find in short order is somewhere I might buy lighter clothing. When I packed for this place I went heavy on long pants and long-sleeved shirts. On seeing people around the city so far, there are a lot of short-sleeved shirts, but sitting next to me are a couple of guys in business suits (I don't know how they do it as I'm told it's going to be 48 degrees centigrade today). Once I've been to the office tomorrow, and have a better idea of what I'll be doing and who I'll be working with, I'll be better positioned to buy my new wardrobe.

Right now I'm just waiting for my room to be cleaned before I can move into it. I've just worked out how much this place costs and it's decidedly more than I was prepared for. I don't see myself staying here for more than a few days provided I can find something more cost effective (but unfortunately have to wait until tomorrow when I know what I'm doing and where I'm going before I can start figuring any of this stuff out).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

France in Four; Djibouti in Five

Four days from now I will be exploring the mean streets of Paris, France. This, however, is just a short layover as five days from now - barring the unforeseen - I should be arriving in Djibouti where I will begin a six-month internship with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

I am to be based in Ali-Sabieh, Djibouti, and my work is to centre on the Ali-Addeh refugee camp. It is my intention to use this 'weblog' to chronicle my time and work in Djibouti.

As a bit of a background on myself (which seems appropriate for this first entry) - and how I came to be on my way to Djibouti - for the last year and a half I have been living in Iqaluit, Nunavut, the last eight months of which employed as Legal Counsel in the Legal and Constitutional Law Division with the Department of Justice, Government of Nunavut. Prior to arriving in Iqaluit I had spent six months in New Delhi, India, with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative - a nongovernmental human rights organization - on an internship arranged by Acadia University, through funding provided by the Canadian International Development Agency. My time with CHRI was not unremarkable, I met many interesting people and accomplished many great things, and indeed this experience left a lasting impression with me of the very gratifying life of being engaged internationally in the protection and promotion of human rights.

After my time in India, I had hoped to again one day resume working in the international development and human rights theatres, but the question remained: how I would go about doing this? On the advice of one of my colleagues in the GN Department of Justice, in late 2009 I registered myself on the CANADEM roster, and further applied for the CANADEM GPS program. My contact with CANADEM GPS has been exceedingly helpful over the last few months and was indeed instrumental in assisting me secure this upcoming internship with the UNHCR which closely aligns with my career development objectives.

While I enjoyed my time in Canada's Arctic, and am sure the very interesting and challenging work I was exposed to with the Government of Nunavut is like nothing I could otherwise have hoped to encounter in my very young legal career, I am very much looking forward to my time in Djibouti and the many rewarding challenges I am bound to be faced with there.

Now, as stated above, I hope to use this 'weblog' to chronicle my time and work with the UNHCR in Djibouti (as closely as obligations of confidentiality and propriety will allow). So from time to time, do check in; check out my weblog entries and pictures I may post; and feel free to post any of your own comments and questions as they may arise. I look forward to keeping in touch with everyone through this medium during my time abroad (and should generally be reachable via email).


James M