Thursday, 31 May 2012

Walking

Today I was walking with my replacement. She wasn't walking that fast, but I had to ask her to slow down - I've noticed I walk differently here.

In the UK, I walk upright, with my shoulders slightly forward, striding out. I'm usually going somewhere, and why not try to get there as quickly as possible.

Here it's hot and I'm wearing flipflops. I walk with my centre of gravity a bit further back, and saunter more, picking my feet up less. 

It's a lot slower, but it uses a lot less energy, and sometimes this way I can even get all the way to from the guesthouse to the office without dripping with sweat. It's not something I did on purpose, but it's definitely different, and it's definitely the way I normally walk when on holiday. Will be interesting to see what I do when I get back to the UK - if I get back to 'getting somewhere' walking or if I'm still saving energy.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Kayes


I’m sitting in the airport waiting to leave Kayes. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to see much of it, and what I have seen hasn’t made much of an impression. The town sprawls along a couple of main roads, and, since Kayes is halfway between Dakar and Bamako and is the last town before the Senegalese border, the roads are filled with trucks, with a weigh scale half way along the main road. Other than that, it’s like any other town – low, square buildings made of concrete, dust, and people walking slowly between them. There are a couple of restaurants selling rice with fish or vegetables or meat, and a nightclub we weren’t allowed to go to. And a fancy hotel.

I believe there’s more to it than that – the Lonely Planet describes colonial architecture and a bustling market, and we passed the market and crossed the Senegal River on the way to the airport, and both looked a lot more pleasant than the bits we’ve seen. But we were working from 8-6, and were then placed under curfew from 6 onwards, more for the convenience of the area manager, drivers and logistician than because there was any actual risk – we also got an email informing us that since we had a gaggle of white people here, we should avoid ‘exhibitionism’ in town.

We considered going out yesterday, Sunday, for a bit of tourism – maybe a pirogue trip or visiting a local colonial fort or going to the market – but it was hotter than I’ve ever experienced before, far too hot to do anything except lie inside with the a/c on, and any we all had a proposal to write to be submitted this evening. So we stayed home and worked instead.

So my experience of Kayes consisted of an office and a hotel. While the hotel was nice, and there was a pool, it gets old after the first couple of days, and anyway I only used the pool once because it was so hot it was like swimming in a bath, plus it was basically opaque which freaked me out a bit – I couldn’t help wondering what was living down there. I literally didn’t interact with anyone except colleagues in the entire time I was here, and was just shuttled between the two in a white land cruiser. It felt like everything that’s worst about the aid system (something I wrote about a while ago, about the Americans in Burundi, who even used to get loo roll shipped in from the US). It’s true that in Bamako I mainly hang out with other expats, and when I don’t then it’s with colleagues, but at least I also get to talk to people on the street, in shops, and taxi drivers, and I feel like the place I live is an actual community rather than sanitised expat land.  

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Summer Eights


This weekend in Oxford was Summer Eights, one of my favourite weekends of the year. Last weekend was my 10 year school reunion, something I’d been looking forward to for a couple of years. Neither is that important – I’m in touch with the people from school I want to be, and the ones I’m not in touch with it’s generally because I have nothing in common except having been educated in the same place. And Summer Eights will happen again next year.

But still... between the two of them, I’ve been a bit gloomy about being away for the last couple of weeks. My boys from St Hugh’s won blades, the girl who used to cox M1 and is now coxing the women executed a beautiful t-boning of Queens, and, best of all, Pembroke ended 8 years in the wilderness by reclaiming the women’s headship. It’s not the big one for me – my headship ghosts were mostly laid when the men took the torpid headship this year – but it’s a big deal, with smashing boats and Pimms and sunshine and burning a boat in the quad. As if to rub it in, today was the hottest Summer Eights on record, with glorious 30 degree temperatures in Oxford and less dust than last year after a few weeks of rain. 

It’s also something that I can’t talk about with colleagues. Rowing is niche even in the UK, though I could probably explain to a British person why I miss it so much. But the people I’m hanging out with here don’t know what Pimms is (and think it sounds disgusting), they don’t understand about duck tape, and most of all they don’t understand that when you live in a country where it rains most of the time, then the windows of sunshine are extra joyous, and none of those are things I can explain. The other point is that the gloom isn’t just about those two things – it’s also about the reminder that there’ll always be things I’m missing – weddings, christenings, 30th birthdays, Henley, the cricket, trips to Cornwall or Wales – without even getting on to the day to day niceness of England in summer – the Isis, the Perch, the river, and running in Oxfordshire. 

What I’m trying to remember is that in January and February in Oxford I was going loopy, bored in my job and with my life, and terrified of waking up in 20 years time stuck in middle class, middle aged inertia. If I were still in Oxford I’d have enjoyed eights and a trip down to Dorset, but none of those were reasons to stick around. The work’s more interesting here, I’ve learnt loads already, and in many ways I can’t really remember why I was so apprehensive about leaving since it was so clearly the right thing to do. I’m glad I spent enough time in the UK after my masters to remember that it is home, and I can’t imagine being based anywhere else, but at least for the next year or two I’ve got no particular intention of going back. In the mean time, I’m looking forward to going back to Dakar, where I’ve got some Brits I can talk to about home stuff, and I’m desperately looking forward to a trip home in July and August. 

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Bamako Market

The day before we went to Kayes, Joachim the Regional Wash Guy (yes, that's his full name. Really.) and I broke out of the ACI bubble and went to the market in Bamako.

The traffic was dreadful, so we got out of the car and walked the last few hundred metres - a rare treat on it's own. I'd heard about Bamako's terrible traffic, but this was the only evidence of it I'd seen, and it made a big change from ACI. There, I see a lot of people in the street, and a couple of times I've seen parties, but since it's the same people going about their daily lives, it feels more like walking through someone's living room on my way to work than it does like being surrounded by people. The streets near the market were very different - stalls spilling onto the streets, hand carts carrying goods to be sold, women selling mangoes. It was more life than I got to see anywhere else in Mali, so I'm glad I got to go on that score alone, as I assume that that's far more representative of the city than my office-guesthouse-taxi-restaurant-taxi-guesthouse shuttling.

In the market, there wasn't anything particularly new. At this point, I've got most of the African tourist tat I need  want and even I am struggling to justify more earrings, so I wasn't really planning to buy unless I saw something good. But it was interesting to look around - lots of leatherworked boxes, lots of ebony carvings, silver Tuareg jewellery and regular Afro-tat beadwork jewellery. Some nice wooden and silver earrings which I womanfully resisted. An ebony handled bottle opener which actually might have been useful - at the moment we're getting Joachim to open our bottles for us with his cigarette lighter, and it doesn't feel very empowering to have a man open your beer for you every time. In the end though, I left with just a leather bracelet - dyed in different colours and with an asymmetrical shape that I like. It's unusual enough that I don't have one already, and is also something I'll use, and it's nice to have something to remind me of Mali.

We were also shown some Dogon door replicas - as part of the hard sell, I was made to sit down in a stall and be told the story behind the carvings (something about a woman who had no children, and a marabout... it all escapes me somewhat). I found it very interesting, but Joachim was clearly feeling uncomfortable and wanted to go, and since he was being very nice and pretending to be married to me so I wouldn't get hassled, I humoured him.

So far nothing special. But what really jumped out at me was the fact that on a Saturday afternoon in a big tourist market in central Bamako, we were the only shoppers. To be fair to Joachim, he wasn't just dragging me away because he was taking the husband role too seriously and assuming that included cutting short my shopping, it was also that he felt uncomfortable about the fact that we weren't buying much when people clearly needed us to. The market normally would cater both to tourists and people who live here - but tourists aren't coming to Mali any more, and many of the people who live here have gone home - or at least aren't buying new stuff that they won't be able to take with them if they need to leave in a hurry.

If things stay stable, the people who live here will start to drift back. But if a path to long-term stability doesn't become obvious soon, their organisations will start downsizing or relocating and they won't be back. Tourists won't be back any time soon - not only because Mali is now associated with wars and coups, but also because many of the sights they come to see (i.e. Timbuktu) are out of reach in the North. Meanwhile, the people in the market need to re-think their livelihoods in a situation where there are few options, and where they will have invested heavily in stock to sell, and in rent for their stall space. And that's just one example - this is the one that I'm exposed to, but there'll be others - of how the situation affects real people. The tragic thing is, that there's very little we can do about it except hope for a swift transition and an economic recovery - otherwise the people whose market income is damaged will be left with very few alternatives and a steadily declining income stream.

Evacuating to Kayes

So this week we're in Kayes, having been pre-emptively evacuated from Bamako for a few days. This was because the 20th or the 22nd depending on how you look at it (it's complicated... trust me) was the 40th day of the transition from military rule in Mali, which was the designated day for the inauguration of the transitional government. By Friday there still wasn't a transitional government, so we decided to clear out for a few days in case it got difficult in Bamako. I packed all my stuff though - I'm meant to be back in Dakar next week, and not confident I'll be back to Bamako in time to leave from there.

On Sunday, when we set off, we were all a bit grumpy as an agreement had just been agreed. But off we set anyway, on a journey which our logistician had assured me would take 5 to 7 hours. Google Maps suggested 8, so I was cynical, but it turned out to be 11 soul destroying hours. Here are some things that sucked about it:

  • it was 11 hours
  • the gut clenching fear you feel as a lorry drives straight for you only to swerve away at the last minute. Traffic accidents are either the biggest cause of death for aid workers, or one of the biggest. Which was actually something we extensively discussed on the road, for extra comfort and fun. Bonus points if you spotted the irony in evacuating us from Bamako for safety reasons while sending us on a journey that was statistically far more likely to kill us than being in Bamako.
  • I was stuck between two WASH guys who had a long coversation about WASH at the beginning.
  • having to stop when (first) a bag of onions and (second) a bit of desk fell off the roof rack. And no, I don't know why we were taking a desk or onions from one part of Mali to another, either, given that as far as I can tell neither onions nor desks appear to be in short supply in Kayes. On the plus side being able to produce a roll of duck tape and a leatherman when stuff is falling off the roofrack = smugness.
  • I forgot my ipod in Dakar.
  • in the Sahel, there are no bushes.
  • although we got some breaks I couldn't really walk around in them because it was 45 degrees and I'd have died of heat, especially as I was trying not to drink too much because of the lack of bushes.
  • the programme manager spent the last 3 hours saying there were only 45 minutes to go. To quote John Cleese: "it's not the despair. I can handle the despair. It's the hope I can't stand".


Eventually we got to Kayes and hotelled ourselves up, while the UK contingent and Joachim, the Belgian WASH guy, headed straight for beers. No national stereotypes here, oh no.

Next day, turns out it was a good decision to shut the office and pack us out, as there were massive demos in Bamako by pro-junta crowds protesting against ECOWAS 'meddling' and the interim president. They were calling for the implementation of a 'national convention' comprising 'civil society' to elect a transitional president - commonly believed to be code for Sanogo. This feeds a lot into Sanogo's narrative that he's the 'anti-politician' clearing out the corrupt classes, and which he's associated with a lot of anti-ECOWAS propaganda.

The counter-argument is that civil society in Mali isn't that strong, and that Traore, the interim President was, as Speaker of the Parliament, democratically elected and in the line of succession, so having him as interim President is a constitutionally legitimate solution in a way that having an unelected 'convention' decide that the coup-ster would be President wouldn't be. At the same time, there obviously are large groups who feel that anyone associated with the political class can't be trusted to run the transition, so it obviously isn't that simple either.

The unrest ended with crowds storming the presidential palace and beating the interim president unconscious - with only three fatalities. Given that the Presidential palace is on top of a hill and well guarded, it's obviously inconceivable that this could happen without army support, whether explicit or otherwise. Meanwhile, various pro-coup groups have decided to hold a 'national convention' anyway, and may announce their choice as President later this week. Since this is likely to be Sanogo, and it's pretty clear the military are the ones still running everything, this isn't likely to mean anything good.

On the positive side, this morning the Prime Minister, Cheick Modibo Diarra, who is generally seen as not fully part of the political class, having spent lots of time outside the country working for Microsoft, went on TV to condemn the attack, as did ECOWAS, and, eventually, Sanogo did too. So for the time being things seem to be calm in Bamako, although by all accounts still pretty tense.

In Oxfam terms, this is frustrating not only because of the political crisis, but also because of what it means for the emergency response. When there are demos we have to close the office, which makes it difficult to work and delays our emergency response, and some people can barely work at all. Given that we're entering the peak of the crisis and time is therefore of the essence, this is pretty frustrating for all of us.

Otherwise, it's like a really weird combination of normal work and being on holiday. The office is basically like every other Oxfam office, with some nescafe and dodgy internet and the same five people I share an office and apartment with in Bamako. On the other hand we're in a hotel rather than the same guesthouse we're always in, and it has a pool and a bar with music and a pool table, which counts as super exciting when you've spent the last month living in an apartment 100m from the office with a 9pm curfew. And since I can't work as effectively here as I can in Bamako, it feels a lot like being on holiday, only a really sad busman's holiday.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Soul Destroying Heat

I've been in Bamako three and a half weeks, and I can conclude that the weather so far has consisted of the following options:

Soul destroying heat:
45 degrees. As soon as you step out of the a/c, it hits you. Air that hot is heavy and hard to breathe, like being in a sauna, or like the wave of air that hits you when you open the oven. Walking anywhere happens slowly, and you still feel the sweat trickle down the back of your spine within seconds of stepping outside. When we have a meeting and there's a power cut, so no a/c or fan, I drink a litre and a half of water in just over an hour, and by the time it comes back on I'm light-headed from sweating and have to eat a teaspoon of salt and a mango to be myself again.

This heat lasts from about 7am to about 10pm. A few times I try to go running in the morning, but the weight of the air and the heat combined makes me light-headed, and I realise that my current training motivational line ("if Woods can finish the boat race, you can harden the fuck up and keep running") has a flip side - I don't want to end up collapsing in heat exhaustion by the side of the road in Bamako. So I hide inside and skip with the air conditioning on.

Slightly-less soul destroying heat:
Sometimes it isn't 45 degrees. Sometimes it's a mere 40 or even 38. It's amazing how refreshing 38 feels when you've endured a few days at 45. I knew I was getting used to it here when I caught myself telling my local shopkeeper how much I was enjoying the 'frais' weather when it was still 38 degrees outside.

These two make up about 99% of the time here, but there are more options.

Sandstorm:
We've had one, and it was almost biblical. Winds blew, and suddenly there was sand whirling everywhere. I was on skype at the time being given an impossible deadline, and it felt almost biblical as the sky darkened and the sand rolled in. Fifteen minutes later it was gone, and apart from a bit that had got into my office around the edges of the windows (the windows are Chinese, so they don't really fit the window holes), you'd never have known it was there.

Interestingly, a colleague in Niamey says they had one a day earlier. We aren't sure if it's the same but we're calling her to ask for weather updates now.

Dust: 
It's always quite dusty, but sometimes it takes it to new levels. On the days before we were stuck home because of the shooting, there was a huge dust cloud over the city, so dense that visibility shrank to 100m at times and they had to close the airport. The dust got everywhere - all over our floor, no matter what we did, into your eyes and noses, caking your skin and hair and clothes and keyboards.

There was an element of cruel irony to it as well, as it was actually relatively cool, probably because the dust blocked out the sky, nuclear armageddon-style. But going running was out of the question because I'd have choked to death in about a minute.

Rain:
Sometimes it rains. These seem to be getting more frequent - no longer once a week and now once every couple of days. When it rains it generally starts quickly, the sky darkening and the rain arriving within ten minutes. Then it hurls it down for anything between half an hour and four hours, and then it stops. If you're out in it, you either need to get under shelter PDQ, or if PDQ is less than 30 seconds, carry on and ignore it because you're soaked anyway.

After the Rain:
After the rain it is actually nice. It's cool and there's a bit of crispness in the air, probably because there's less dust. Unfortunately, after the rain there are also lots of mosquitoes, because you can't have everything.

Tomorrow I am going to Kayes, which has the same weather as Bamako only about 5 degrees hotter, because it's further north, and with less air conditioning. Updates to follow.

Trust

As I mentioned in my ACI2000 post, it's very community here, which I like a lot. And a big part of that is trust - people trust one another here in a way they don't in cities in the UK.

Some examples

I go to a couple of little shops regularly. No-one here ever has change, so they often let me take a coke without paying and I pay them back the next day. Or I pay too much and run up an account. I like that I am trusted to do this. Same with the ladies who sell mangoes outside. Of course, given the difficulty in getting change, it's the only way to manage.

In bars, at least the cheap ones like the Hotel Princesse, they don't keep a running tab of what you're drinking. They just collect all the bottles in a corner of the table and when you're done they count them and tell you what you owe. It'd be easy to hide a bottle or two, but no-one would. With food they often just ask you what you had. Again, you could lie about it, but that would bring down the system, so no-one would.

Parents are happy for kids to run around the neighbourhood on their own, whether there are adults there or not. Our street is usually full of people, but not always, and there are enough strangers there that I don't think you'd see that in the UK. I'm a random person they see going to and from work but who they don't speak to, but they're happy for me to play with their kids on the makeshift swing some of them made out of rope (aside: this looks and sounds more fun than it is. I ended up on the floor in a dusty heap being relieved I wasn't carrying Oxfam's laptop bag at the time). I could be an axe murderer, but I'm not and most people aren't.

In the UK we get that in villages, but not in towns. A lot of it is a factor of the level of development - everything is cheap, but there isn't enough change. There are only small shops, rather than big bland supermarkets, so you know your shopkeeper. Mine is a big Man U fan, so I have spent most of the last week making fun of him, though he did admit it was a good game. No-one has a job, so they spend their days on the streets selling mangoes, and know their neighbours. But it's also a function of the area - my sister seems to know everyone who works on the Walworth Road, and at the opposite end of the spectrum my friends who live in nice villages know everyone there. Conclusion: I think that if I move back to the UK I'll try and find somewhere where I can talk to people.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Bamako Birthday


I actually wrote this on Saturday 12th May, so a week ago, but the internet in the guesthouse has been down so only just posting...

So it way my birthday on Wednesday, and I think this is vying with the one where I was trying desperately to finish the mémoire and the one where I was petrified of impending finals as the least rock and roll birthday ever. When I tell you that the most memorable part of the day was the euphoria when a particularly tricky contract management issue resolved itself then you get the idea.

But people wishing me happy birthday on facebook was nice, and my colleagues managed to dig out a cake from the Lebanese restaurant in the quartier (tasted a bit old, but was distinctly a cake). And I left the office at 6:30 and Stefano, who is Italian and therefore a chef extraordinare, cooked dinner, and he’d managed to dig up some gin and we all had some beer, so generally it was a nice evening.

More importantly, two years to go till the big 30. On my list of things to do before I’m 30 there remain:
- Go to a music festival
- Go to 50 countries (7 to go)
- Run a marathon
- Speak three languages well
- Read Ulysses
Of those, number 2 is on track. Number 1 I need to sort out, and number 3 was on track until I moved to a country where it’s too hot to move. I’ve found a Spanish-English language exchange in Dakar so when I go back that one should be OK. The last one I just need to harden up and do. But yes, let me know if you’re going to a music festival and I will try and come too.

Yesterday there was another team birthday, so I went down the Lebanese place to buy a cake. Worryingly, there were four cakes when there were previously five, and going back today for lunch there were only three. I am now considering taking bets on how long those three stay there for, and if the two they’ve managed to sell ever get replaced. Still, gift horses and all that…

Update: a week later there are still three cakes, but they are a different three to the old three. So there is obviously reasonable cake turnover, which is a relief.

Monday, 7 May 2012

ACI 2000 and the Hotel Princesse

The Oxfam office is in a suburb called ACI 2000, and the guesthouse is about 5 minutes away around the corner. According to the Lonely Planet, it's the up and coming area where embassies and NGOs are basing themselves, and it's true that both the American and Ghanaian embassies are in the area, but other than that I'm not fully convinced. It's very quiet and out of the way, not at all developed, and not at all expatty.

But because of those things, I like it a lot - it feels real, not like the manicured expat suburbs where people like me normally live. The streets are dusty, and everyone else living on them is Malian. And when I say living on them, I really do mean living on them - people don't seem to spend any time inside, they're always out on the street, selling mangos, talking under trees, or watching the little TV outside the tiny general food store owned by a guy whose fortunes have been transformed by the Oxfam guesthouse opening next door.

I like it because it feels like a real place, and like a community. People live on the street, and they say hello. I recognise the same people smiling and laughing and greeting one another, and the same hordes of children saying hello in the morning. At night, when it's cool, I walk around the neighbourhood - and again I feel safe. Last night we got back early from a bar, and I heard music, so I went to investigate and found a party. I never worked out what it was, but I leaned against a wall and listened and watched for a bit before wandering off home.

The disadvantage is that this being a muslim country, living in a very Malian area means beer isn't easily available. We've found two exceptions. The closest is the Hotel Princesse. Advantages as follows: very close, sells beer, will sell takeout, has outside tables which are light-ish if you bring your own candles and aren't in smokefilled rooms. Disadvantages: is mainly a collection of rooms to rent for the hour with a small bar attached, so it feels kind skeezy, very dark and dingy (so the patrons can hide in the shadows), and is really close to the house so all our neighbours will see us going into the prostitute bar = sub optimal.

Option 2 is a bit further away, so it's main advantage is that it isn't a prostitute bar right next to the house. Also we ate there the other night and none of us got food poisoning. And although there are rooms and prostitutes, it feels more like a bar with a few rooms attached than the other way round, like the Hotel Princesse. On the other hand, you can't sit outside and it's horribly dark inside.

What we mainly do is get takeouts from the Hotel Princesse (there are quite a few people in Team Guesthouse, so we get through it...), but as all the more legit options are across town in expatland and we're not meant to be driving around at night at the moment, it might be the destination for a birthday excursion next week. And on the plus side it's good for the local economy.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Well that was exciting...

Yesterday I came home from the office a bit earlier than expected because some people staying in a hotel (the ones that can't fit in the guesthouse as we're full up) who'd gone home early had heard gunfire. So we stocked up on beers from the Hotel Princesse in the neighbourhood (on which more later... it's a joy that deserves it's own blog post) and headed home to sit it out.

Being an Ushahidi-ite, my instinct was to go on twitter and figure out what was going on that way. Consensus was that the former Presidential Guard were trying to take the TV station in some kind of attempted-counter coup. It now seems (unconfirmed, via twitter) that this was actually triggered by soldiers from the Junta trying to arrest two Presidential Guard leaders - so nothing to do with the ex-President at all, which would make sense given that he's in Senegal, was due to step down at the election (meant to have been held in April) anyway, and hasn't shown any obvious interest in reclaiming power.

Next morning, we woke up to a huge thunderstorm. Everything was quiet after that, as if the rain had sent everyone hiding (given how hard it rains here, it's not implausible). So we went to the office and stayed there till we heard shots again at around 11. By 12, the shots were getting closer and more frequent and we could hear military aircraft overhead, so we decided to call it quits and head back to the guesthouse, stocking up on pasta and sauce on the way.

For the rest of the afternoon we sat around in the guesthouse, everyone else working and me trying to work but really trying to find out what was going on via twitter. Turns out my location meant I could figure out as much as anyone else could - the Junta attacking the 'red berets' (Presidential guard) in their compound to the South East of us, and a bit of shooting to the South West near the main bridge. Nothing much changed over the day, though the red berets were gradually pushed back and it now seems that the Junta have taken over their compound, and it's all basically over - and the fact that the shooting has basically stopped does seem to back this up. For a more 'as it happened' account see here: http://bamakobruce.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/strange-days-in-bamako/.

More worrying is what this means for the peace process. In the first place, the Junta apparently spent a lot of the day claiming that foreign influences were behind the violence, and parading some English-speaking 'prisoners' on TV. Whether these were actual prisoners, or whether they were anything other than poorly paid mercenary footsoldiers if they were, is beside the point - the Junta are obviously trying to portray 'foreigners' as destabilising the country. This could cause problems when the ECOWAS force that is supposed to enforce the transition deploys - if the Junta's strategy is to decry foreign influences whenever they do anything they don't like, it won't make their job any easier.

Even more ominous was the dog that didn't bark - the interim President, Dioncounda Traore, who hasn't been seen nor heard from all day. The Communications Minister was apparently on TV at about 4pm, by which time it was all over. But by that time we'd had many statements from the military supposedly reassuring us about the situation. The Communications Minister felt like an afterthought. Cobbled on to the fact that the Junta can apparently wander across town and try to arrest the leaders of the Presidential Guard, triggering two days of fighting which they comprehensively win, it makes it pretty clear that the Junta are still in control and won't stand any challenges to their power. I guess we'll wait and see, but it doesn't bode well for a transition to civilian democracy.

On a personal note, I've used twitter to follow crises before - Haiti being the most obvious - and to follow politics and Torpids. But this is the first time it's really been close and important to me, and it's a revelation. I remember the first day in Cote d'Ivoire, where we really didn't know what was happening, the phones were ringing and Dad was ringing everyone to figure out what was happening. The government planted rumours (Guei killed storming the TV station... only not so much) and it took days to be sure they weren't true. Without twitter, I'd have just been sitting at home all day listening to gunfire and climbing the walls. With it, I knew what was going on and by adding the information I had (where I'd heard shots from, what kind, how frequent) I could contribute to a process of working out what was happening. As I discussed in my evacuees post, uncertainty is corrosive and frightening. Knowing what's happening and being able to think about what it means for me and for the country is incredibly empowering, even if the knowledge I think I have shifts every hour. Bottom line: I don't get how people who use twitter every day have time for real life, but there are times where there's nothing like it.