Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fabulous Quote about the Oil Experience

"Oil creates the illusion of a completely changed life, life without work, life for free…. The concept of oil expresses perfectly the eternal human dream of wealth achieved through lucky accident…. In this sense oil is a fairy tale and, like every fairy tale, a bit of a lie."

- Ryszard Kapuściński, Shah of Shahs

Trying to Understand the Niger Delta

Dear all,

I've decided that, while I'm in the Niger Delta, it makes sense to try to understand its challenges and issues. Mentally, I've divided the challenges into: the oil industry, the government and the people (which involve both).

So, strangely enough, when I was looking to meet up with some oil people, I ran into one of the world's leading experts on the Niger Delta conflicts (and the people fighting against the oil industry/the aspects of Nigeria's government, in efforts to get their homes cleaned up and interests represented). Funny how that works.

So, I thought I'd help you, the reader, with some information.

I met Michael Watts from UC Berkeley. His Wikipedia page.

His Book: Curse of the Black Gold

Important articles by him:

List of Publications:

Goodnight and Goodluck Jonathan: The Niger Delta Cries Out for EcoJustice

Niger Delta Rising.

His Program at Berkeley:

Niger Delta: Economies of Violence See the link to the Stained With Blood and Oil: The Niger Delta video at the bottom.

Will go ask the oil people nosy questions tomorrow!


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Week of Interesting News!

Dear readers,

I feel like I've read a lot of interesting news (and blog) articles this week. Just to share a few with you:

Egypt after Mubarak by Amy Levine at Global Security Monitor, the blog for the Center for Advanced Defense Studies.

India's Israeli-Arab tightrope walk, by Ramananda Sengupta at Al Jazeera, which for those of you in the States who are wary, is the most read newspaper in Israel. This is the kind of stuff I wanted to learn in grad school, but everything was so US-focused. I want to know how China or India or Brazil or Turkey feel about the Middle East Crisis, or Sudan or global warming.

US Africa Command digs in, plans to give more aid to Amisom. By Cosmas Butunyi at The East African. This is about the continued US/AU engagement in Somalia. This article also covers US interests in the Sahel, and counter-terrorism efforts on the Continent. Also good for an overview of recent AFRICOM activities.

The Conversation on Race at The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

African first ladies discuss strategies against cervical, breast cancers. A feel-good piece, but interesting either way. At Xinhua based out of their Accra office.

Enjoy your reading! The diversity of options and quality of writing make me hopeful for the news industry!!


Sunday, July 25, 2010

What Holds A Country Together?

Dear Readers,

Last night, I was discussing Nigeria with a man from Brass (a community down on the tip of the Niger Delta, where the people have a reputation for being tough, stubborn and particularly resistant to schemes). I said that to get things done here you have to be very persistent and stubborn--and that I was probably getting a reputation for being stubborn.

He said "You are not stubborn. You are Nigerian."

Well! Glad that it only took 4 weeks to become an honorary Nigerian. However, the statement and discussion got me thinking. Sure, we can all lament the things that don't work in Nigeria. There is an almost vulgar (to me, possibly to others) gap between the haves and have-nots, and between the ready availability of any flashy thing you want (champagne, fancy cars, fancy anything) but functioning schools for your average Nigerian (the wealthy send their kids to private schools), basic infrastructure (Bayelsa is beter than most with decent roads and such) and such are really tough to come by.

So, my question to this man from Brass was, what's holding Nigeria together?

He said: Fear. The Biafran war (Nigeria's recent civil war between the three major ethnic groups) was so terrible that no one wants to go back to that. So fear of that experience keeps everyone from pushing too far.

I would also add money--there is vast wealth in Nigeria, so even if you waste a lot of it, some of it goes somewhere useful...right?

I'd also add stubbornness.

What else? What holds it all together? What holds any state (by state I mean country) together?

I've also included links to interesting articles about most of the countries listed below.

What about Turkey or Syria?

What about Pakistan? Lebanon?

What about China or the US?

I'd like to hear your thoughts.


Friday, July 23, 2010

How Do You Measure Militancy?

Dear all,

Now that I've been here a few weeks, and have my house in order, I can start to learn more academic things (aside from how to change a lock, which I learned how to do this week).

So, I'm starting to explore what is going on with several major issues in this part of Nigeria...what's going on in the oil sector? What's happening with the Amnesty Program? How do you reform militants?

In relation to that, part of the project I'm working on is trying to measure whether or not our project has an impact on a young person's inclination towards violent organizing. How does one measure that?

Have you measured tendencies towards violence? Gang affiliation?

I would love to hear your thoughts/methodologies/advice!


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Launch of my Project's Blog!

Dear all,

Since Humane Security is my private blog, I haven't written too much about the details of my project.

Starting today, there will be a post once a week about the project, its progress and how it all works.

Go here to read about the project!

The New America Foundation, through their Global Assets Project is hosting it on their blog, The Ladder.

Hope you'll like it! I'm excited about being a 'real' blogger. Who knows what might happen next?


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Patience, Grace and Goodluck

Dear readers,

Nigeria is never boring. It is also never easy. I know I speak as an elite, who is the guest of the highest power in the area, so if it isn't easy for me, it must be really hard for everyone else.

I have met people named Precious, Patience, Goodluck (I haven't met the President yet, but I've met many many men and women with the same name), Prince, King, Virtue, Grace, etc. I'm beginning to think that their parents may have named their kids those things not just because they are precious, but because they hope their kids will have these virtues, or be aided by their names. My Nigerian friend says its because their parents need those things :).

I'm learning a lot about myself here. I'm learning that when I'm frustrated, I sit in front of my Gohonzon and chant, and then I persistently push until I get what I want. Every now and then the frustration builds up and then I yell about it to a friend and then I get back to work. Although I suspect I'm going to need to push harder to get things to work the way I want them to.

There is a serious cultural bent (here and probably in many places) towards things that are flashy, look cool, and might even be cool. This is at the expense of day-to-day functional things. I'm learning that, perhaps due to my upbringing in China, where infrastructure is so important, that function is more important to me than beauty.

I don't need ten expensive ingredients in my food, I just need good, simple food.

I don't need fancy plateware that fries the microwave because of the gold trim.

I need some patience, grace and good luck. I also need to become more pushy. Hope this doesn't affect my personality long term!!


Sunday, July 18, 2010

How Rich is Rich Enough?

Dear Readers,

A friend of mine here in Nigeria got me thinking about whether or not I want to be wealthy, and what that means.

My initial response was--I want to pay off my debt (thanks Ivy League!), and have enough to pay my bills, eat good food (I love food) and travel.

His response that 'It's good to start humble, but what are your ten and twenty year goals?'

Well, I don't really know. I have to admit that sometimes I'm jealous of my brother's financial stability (he didn't go to two private schools and has a steady career path, where as I went to 2 expensive schools AND usually work for non-profits, so..I don't profit :).

How rich is rich enough? I don't want to be as rich as the Nigerian elite. I don't need BMWs, rivers of champagne, etc. I want to live in a place where the kitchen lights work, and there aren't giant holes in the wall. So, I'd happily trade the champagne for a few more functional items.

I'd like to have enough money that I can travel when and where I want. I'd like to be able to afford to give people gifts without worrying about breaking the bank. I want enough money to have a very nice kitchen (yes, Alena does have a domestic side), hardwood floors and a place to store all my books.

As I may have mentioned, I really love food. I love to eat out, I love to cook and so I want to be able to afford those things. I made the best swordfish steak I've ever had, for less than $20. So, I can do fancy food for less :).

As a third culture kid, and the child of a pair of white hippie Buddhists, I collect experiences and memories, friends and adventures...and I was raised to want to create value and improve the world we're in. Great relationships, some card games, good conversation, more stamps in my passport.

I'd like to have jobs that I'm good at, where I feel like I'm making a positive impact, and get to push myself to grow and improve, jobs that promote kosen-rufu.

How much money does that cost? I don't know.

I don't really want to own a TV or a car. I do sort of want a motorcycle :).
I don't know if I want property--maybe one day an apartment in New York, Beijing, London, Paris or Tokyo...or Baghdad? :)

So I guess I don't really have a long term financial plan. Any thoughts? What should I aim for?


Friday, July 16, 2010

Where are all the Antelopes?

Dear readers,

In Bayelsa, it rains a lot, probably 3 or 4 times a day. The locals tell me, that when it is sunny in one part of the sky and raining in another, an antelope is born. I think that's a really nice idea, although I would expect there to be many more antelopes in the neighborhood if that was the case.

So, where are all the antelopes? Where did this idea come from?

Also, people are constantly telling me, 'when in Rome, do as the Romans do'. I'm not sure if that is exactly the saying, but I'm doing my best. My 'work' hours are closer to 11am to 10pm. I might give up on expecting things to happen on my schedule (or on time). I can't quite stop being mostly on time to things, but I'll bring things to do while I wait for people.

Other adjustments--doing business late at night, always covering shoulders, and trying to be endlessly flexible. Flexibility is the key to happiness, right?

What other habits or philosophies should I adopt to get work done? What is your advice for doing business in Nigeria?

Hope all of you are well.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Has just become a member of "Whites Online"

Hey Readers,

In Nigeria, everyone who is even remotely lighter skinned than a Nigerian (or is just not Nigerian) is called "Oyingbo" or "Oyibo"....all the time. Everywhere you go, you'll hear it, people will say it, and you are it. :) Oyibo means White in Yoruba. In general, they mean 'foreigner' when they use it,but the word is the word for the color white.

I'm used to being the only white person for miles...but it took me a bit by surprised when my driver took me to a hotel/restaurant and said 'it's run by your brotha'. 'My brother' turned out to be an older Lebanese man. Despite having much affection for the Lebanese, I've never really thought they were my brothers. :)

So, my houseguest introduced me to Oyibos Online and their facebook group. They're both mostly a friendly online place for expats in Nigeria to communicate.

In all my days of world travel, I never thought I'd belong to a "Whites Online" group.

My second set of thoughts was about race relations, and how weird it would be for all the subgroups of the US to come to Nigeria and just be called 'white! white!' all the time. It's both horrifying and a great simplifier, if all the Arabs, Persians, Jews, Indians, Filipinos, Chinese, etc were all just called 'white!'. Not to mention the reduction of available vocabulary for all those who are bi or multi-cultural.

In another moment of cultural assumptions--one Nigerian was convinced I must be Canadian, because I speak English so clearly and carefully...and don't 'use slang like Americans.'


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Multi-Dimensional Poverty

Dear Readers,

I read an article "New poverty index finds Indian states worse than Africa" comparing poverty rates in Africa and South Asia.

Obviously, the population of India is enormous (even more so with greater South Asia--I think Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world), and the African continent is actually fairly sparsely populated (its a big place).

The thing I want to think about is--how do you measure poverty? I've always had some problems measuring poverty based on income, since in many places, people still trade in services, or can have a subsistence lifestyle. Obviously, there is a limit to my own skepticism, since there are certainly all kinds of inequality out there.

I'd like to know more about the Multi-Dimensional Poverty methodology--do you know something about it?

From the article "The MPI will be used in the forthcoming 20th anniversary edition of the UNDP Human Development Report. It supplants the Human Poverty Index, which has been used since 1997."

"The index takes into account that people living in MPI poverty may not necessarily be income poor: only two-thirds of Niger's people are income poor, whereas 93 per cent are poor by the MPI, it found."

The project I am working on is based on the idea that two of the things the poor need to improve their situation is assets, and financial education. Do you agree?


Monday, July 12, 2010

Yenagoa, Week 2: A Socio-Economic Adjustment

Dear all,

Things change so quickly. I can not even convince a Nigerian to believe me when I tell them that, in the US, I don't have a car, a TV or any servants. In the States, the servants get paid (some, probably not all) a pretty decent wage, and are way too expensive to have unless you need them. In the US, I make my own food, clean my own home, get myself from Point A to Point B on the bus or train, and otherwise walk myself to where I want to go.

In Nigeria, I have a fancy car with a driver who doubles as my 'tough' when I go some place that requires such an entourage. If I travel out of Yenagoa, I have to be accompanied by a uniformed guard with an AK-47. I live in a designated guest house, have people who feed me (had a small lapse when the G was out of town, but we've fixed it). I have 2 'stewards' who help around the house (with varying levels of reliability, but its nothing to complain about) and live in a walled compound with guards and such.

So, this has required me to learn some new skills. My stewards were shocked to learn that I can operate a microwave and heat up my own food. I need to learn to give directives about the things I need done. Until recently, I would end every request with 'is that okay?' which just seemed to confuse them.

Anecdotally, they were also shocked that I can walk around on my own, and that I can shop and cook.

In an attempt to maintain my elitist morality, I also am determined to find out about the lives of my staff, provide positive reinforcement, and to do my best to develop their sense of loyalty to me. So far I've had some very nice conversations about people's families, and at least one of the stewards sings to himself as he works, which is quite pleasant.

I've more or less settled in, my friend is visiting and she and I have had fun outfitting my establishment. There still are some kinks, but they're getting resolved.

Any advice on how to go from not-having-servants to having-servants? What is your advice on how to best engage them, as a foreigner, and as a person with a different set of expectations than they would expect?

A whole new set of lessons!


Friday, July 9, 2010

My cultural heritage.

Dear Readers,

This new adventure seems to involve a lot of thinking and discussing about culture.

The Americans I meet here are almost hyper-American…they know where they’re from, constantly talk about how great it is (although they’re not blind to its faults), and how Nigerians are different. Nigerians tell me good or bad things about their people, but they know where they are from and are more or less proud of it.
I have more trouble with the Americans sometimes. The Nigerians just accept that I’m not ‘from’ here. The Americans expect me to be like them, or at least compare Americans to other people on a regular basis. I feel less American here, and I’m not as uncomfortable as some of them are in Nigeria.

Why in the world would I want to travel to new and interesting countries, and sit with other Americans and complain about everyone else? Seems like a poor use of time.

In fact, aside from typical start-up problems in any new project, I’ve felt perfectly at ease here. Even welcome and warm about being here. There is a certain freedom in being foreign—people don’t know what to expect from you, many local rules don’t really apply—and, if you don’t mind being treated like a circus freak (I can barely go for a walk without passersby doing double-takes…the Nigerians for some reason think that white people can’t go from A to B on their own two feet), then you can go be curious and ask questions and do strange things.

For those who don't already know: I grew up in 6 countries, with the longest continuous period being in China. I’ve lived in 9. I speak English and Mandarin. My mother was born and raised in Asia, but is white. My father’s from the States, born and raised, but speaks 5 languages. They live in Asia now.

I spent a few years in the Midwest, discovering America, and mostly discovering that, like most people in the world, you have to take Americans case-by-case.
Despite my passport being from only one country, when I travel, I feel at home. I’m a 2nd generation, 3rd Culture Kid. Only now, when I’m practically 30, have I learned to miss people. And only a very select few. The rest, I care about, but its like time stops in these different places I’ve lived. I can go to one, and then go back to the other, and start again.

I know that’s not the life for everyone, but it is how I was raised, and I am grateful for all the quirky things that have gone into my upbringing. I am grateful to my parents for dragging me around the world, introducing me to all this strangeness, forcing me to become bilingual, independent, footloose.

It has its drawbacks, sure, but so does everything. I still can’t tell you where I’m ‘from’ and the place that is ‘home’ is with my loved ones…or just wherever I happen to be. I’m not saying I’m not American, because I am, but Americans, like everyone else, are case by case.

Thanks for listening,

Yenagoa, Day 4

Dear Readers,
Well, life certainly takes me to interesting places! I’ve now spent the better part of a week in Yenagoa, which will be my home for 6 months. Its very green, there are lots of nice looking buildings, nice highways, streetlights that work, and I’m in a house, in a compound, in a compound, surrounded by guards…so I feel very safe…although more in a princess in a high tower type of way.

I am more or less settled in, although I’m still waiting on some logistics (running water, my own transportation) to manifest themselves. Otherwise, I have my own set of rooms in a big house, have gotten everything cleaned and unpacked. I even have my first houseguest coming tomorrow!

Yesterday was Governor Silva’s 46th Birthday. Happy Birthday Your Excellency! I don’t know if it is Nigerian custom, or just this governor’s custom to have a lecture as part of the birthday events, but there was a very interesting lecture on poverty by a professor from Port Harcourt. There was also a comedy sketch, and some singing and dancing. The Governor also launched a Foundation for Widows, Orphans and the Aged. Quite a nice thing to do on your birthday.

Then we went to the birthday reception, with all the widows, orphans and aged. I have to admit that I didn’t know what most of the food was, so I picked a little carefully…ate something called a bean cake—which is mashed plantains, black-eyed peas and other things wrapped in a banana leaf and then steamed. It was pretty good.
I gave the governor a small gift and card, which he seemed to appreciate. What does one get for a governor? It was hard to decide, thanks Alice for your help!

All in all, I think I’m off to a decent start—although I’m looking forward to getting to work! Lots to do in a short period of time.

Hope all is well with you!


Friday, July 2, 2010

Day 4: Alena The Jovial

Dear Readers,

My favorite comment so far:
“I like Americans if they are all as jovial as you”

If you haven’t been to Abuja, Nigeria, you don’t know that it is super expensive. Restaurants are expensive. Foreigners are extra over-charged.

While trying to book a flight to Port Harcourt and on to Yenagoa, I took a break at the Hilton’s café. I ordered an ice tea, which was the cheapest thing on the menu.

Despite there being plenty of empty tables, a strange Nigerian man on a phone, chose to sit at my table (without asking), continued talking loudly on the phone and clearly pretending that he and I were deliberately sitting together.

As I ignored him, he eventually got tired of trying to chat me up while he was on the phone…until he got bored and left.

Then a DIFFERENT man, came and did the same thing. I don’t know what it means.
Theories: 1) He wanted to chat me up (which, if that was the case, put down the phone and introduce yourself). 2) He wanted to look like he was with someone, maybe to avoid someone else. 3) I unknowingly participated in a scam (my boyfriend's theory).

The Hilton charges $24 dollars for one hour of using their wireless internet. Crazy, I went to a Nigerian café and got an hour of internet for 1.5 dollars.

Hope you're enjoying this as much as I am! Nigeria is exhausting, but also massively stimulating and interesting.

Alena the Jovial