Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Dawn of a New Era

Yesterday, I, along with millions of people around the world found myself tuned into history in the making. It was the inauguration of America's 44th president, democratic President Barack Obama, our first black president and even more importantly, a figure of hope, progress, and change.

This time last year, I would have been able to walk a few blocks from my Eastern Market apartment to the National Mall in DC to watch the inauguration first-hand. But this year I found myself halfway around the world, much closer to Obama's Kenyan roots. So I settled for the live broadcast which I watched with dozens friends as we projected the live broadcast onto a large screen, al fresco. As the sun set and a cool breeze offered relief from the African summer heat, we gathered on a different lawn to witness and celebrate the moment together, Americans and non-Americans together. With Lesotho's mountains as our backdrop and Obama's words as our soundtrack, it was almost as nice as being there in person.

Watching Obama being sworn in and watching former President Bush make his departure from Washington DC was surreal. I was particularly touched by California Senator Dianne Feinstein's opening remarks:

"The freedom of a people to choose its leaders is the root of liberty. In a world where political strife is too often settled with violence, we come here every four years to bestow the power of the presidency upon our democratically elected leader. Those who doubt the supremacy of the ballot over the bullet can never diminish the power engendered by nonviolent struggles for justice and equality, like the one that made this day possible. No triumph tainted by brutality could ever match the sweet victory of this hour and what it means to those who marched and died to make it a reality. Our work is not yet finished, but future generations will mark this morning as the turning point for real and necessary change in our nation. They will look back and remember that this was the moment when the dream that once echoed across history, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial finally reached the walls of the White House."


Monday, January 19, 2009

The 'Other' Golden Gate

I just returned from a wonderful weekend away on the South African side of the beautiful Drakensburg range that separates South Africa from Lesotho. It’s located just past the famed ‘Golden Gate National Park' of Free State, with its winding valleys and sandstone cliffs. A big group of us drove the 3 ½ hours from Maseru after work on Friday arriving just after 10pm to our rented cottages located just on the brink of Royal Natal Park, a World Heritage Site.

On Saturday, we split into groups and either trekked in the park or went tubing along the nearby rivers. I chose the hike and despite the extreme heat and humidity, really enjoyed the view (and the frigid swim in the many swimming holes by the gorge!). The mountains were lush and looked like plush velvet blankets covering rolling hills, interrupted only by jutting rock formations throughout the valleys. Much of the hike wound through tall grass and bush trails, exposing us to the unforgiving sun and elements. Every so often, we were granted relief as the path guided us through cool rainforest patches, complete with monkeys, crabs, and singing birds. By the end of the day, I was exhausted, sweaty, a little sunburned, and definitely ready for a cold shower (and cold beer).

That evening, we all gathered to braii and share stories from the day’s adventures. Turns out, the tubing group was even more bumped and bruised than us, with a couple of too-close calls… so it looks like I picked the right trip!

All in all, a great weekend with some great people. I am going to make a real effort to get out and have a few more adventures in the coming months, before winter creeps up on us and we’re back to hibernation!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why am I not surprised?

Today, as I was walking along a busy road on my way to meet some friends for lunch, a vehicle slowly and steadily drove right into me as I crossed the street in front of it. I managed to stay on my feet as he pushed me to the middle of the road and lucky for me there was no oncoming traffic heading towards me. It might be worth noting that I had the right of way and had already begun to cross before he even reached the intersection (which had a stop sign). However, given the tendencies of drivers here, my first reaction was that he was indeed trying to kill me. I am sure I would not be the first victim of road homicide, and certainly not the last. Also, given that pedestrians in Lesotho are regarded at the same level as perhaps garbage or stray dogs, I wasn’t too surprised at the blatant disregard of my right-of-way.

So, after being pushed back about 5-6 steps onto a road of potential oncoming traffic, I did what any sane person would have done when someone was trying to run them over. I marched right up to the driver-side window and demanded he roll down the window to explain himself. When he clumsily fumbled to roll down the window, I gave him a hand by opening his door for him. There we stood face-to-face, victim and would-be assassin. I stood before him, still in shock (did I mention it was raining??) and got right to the point.

Are you trying to run me over? I asked.

At this, he began to profusely apologize and I noticed he had a car full of passengers—none of which seemed too shaken by the commotion. I shook my head, told him to watch it next time and reminded him that had I been a child, he would have had a much bigger problem on his hands. It sucked. The way people drive here sucks. Being a pedestrian sucks too. The fact that I know people who know people who have actually died on these roads sucks even more. And the biggest shame is that it isn’t a surprise. The only surprising thing is that this didn’t happen sooner.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Happy New Year!

Hello and welcome to 2009!!

I can’t believe another year has come and gone. I remember ringing in 2008 like it was yesterday. I was in Trinidad—on my way back from a trip to Guyana—and oddly enough, I ended up at some chain restaurant in the middle of town that felt like it could have been anywhere. I welcomed the New Year with sun-kissed cheeks and dozens of fresh mosquito bites from the Guyanese jungles. At midnight, with a champagne flute in hand, I walked through that restaurant and personally wished every single person a ‘Happy New Year!’ And looking back now, 2008 definitely turned out to be a great year for me. Despite my fair share of struggles and stress, it was also full of joy and surprises— big and small—both personally and on the global scale.

This year I rang in the New Year from U.S. soil though I was in no mood for Times Square crowds. Instead, I met up with a couple of close friends I hadn’t seen in a long time and enjoyed the good company. From the warmth of a teeny walk-up apartment in the lower east side, we nibbled on hors d’ourves and watched the ball drop on TV from about 20 blocks away. It was perfect.

For the rest of my time home, I caught up with old friends, spent time with my family, and indulged in American comforts I didn’t even realize I missed. I even made it to DC for a few days before flying out and was able to feel the tangible excitement in the air (and in the shops, and newsstands, and Metro….) for Obama’s inauguration this month. As much as I wished I could stay a few more weeks to see it firsthand, I am happy to be back in my ‘other’ home now. It really did feel good to get back into Maseru (never thought I’d say it!), back to my little home and car. Welcomed in by the summer heat and a circle of good friends, I am as ready as I’ll be to jump back into things and start the new year.

Til next time!!