Thursday, May 1, 2014

Tour de Africa

I've been waiting to travel for work and I finally got my chance last November.  I traveled with a team for an evaluation of a grant agreement. The trip was fun, exciting, and exhausting. We met up with 3 WHO colleagues who work in the Africa Regional Office. The trip took us all over Africa, five countries total. 

We started in Kenya for a few days to meet our team from WHO/AFRO and to meet together as a whole group. After 3 days in Kenya, we split up to go to different countries. I went with three other colleagues to Malawi for another 3 days where we met with USAID, WHO, UNICEF, and the Malawi Ministry of Health. After Malawi, we had a pit stop in South Africa, then headed to a full week in Brazzaville, Congo! 

Brazzaville was a weeks worth of meetings and presentations at WHO/AFRO. The work days were super long and intense. Luckily, I loved my colleagues and we had summer temperatures in November.

Africa is an amazing place! I loved getting to meet with people face to face and learning more. Our AFRO colleagues were so good to us. They are all MDs with families and super interesting personal stories. We loved asking questions and they loved sharing their culture and experiences. 

Thank you KLM Airlines for providing Tillamook cheese on my flight.


Our transportation in Kenya (as you can see I don't have too many pics of Kenya, I was mostly in meetings all day, every day I was there. Hopefully, next time I can get out and see a few sights, especially the baby giraffe orphanage!)

UNICEF grounds in Nairobi

My sleeping quarters in Malawi- complete with mosquito net!!

Malawi backyard at our "hotel". Okay, actually one of our consultants knew the people here, so we stayed a little luxurious at the Kumbali Lodge. I had a private cabin and beautiful, well kept grounds. Notice in other pictures we were at the end of the dry season, so we were definitely in luxury as there are sprinklers, a pool, and green grass. 

My cabin

Entrance/Parking lot at lodge. Don't you love the vintage car!

I was exploring around the lodge and came across these two sisters. They were eager to talk to me and wanted their picture taken. (English is spoken in Malawi)

Typical house on the drive to the office

My friend Lisa was in Malawi the same week as me!! Lisa is a dear friend who was in my singles ward and also works at USAID. She's my lunch buddy and running partner (we used to run home together after work). It was so fun to meet up and have Malawi!!!

 The back side of the lodge/farm. (notice how brown it is??)


A tributary of the Congo River ran by our hotel, the "Brazzaville Beach Hotel" I'm not sure exactly what they are calling a beach, but the river provided some nice sounds and looked beautiful at night. The mosquitoes were a bit intense here and in Malawi, and I think at one point I had over 45 mosquito bites on my legs. Note to self- drench yourself in insect repellant and avoid shorts in the evening. Don't worry Mom, I took my malaria drugs faithfully!

In contrast to the murky river, we did enjoy a nice pool. I even dipped in it one time.

The Brazzaville Beach was definitely a downgrade after Kumbali Lodge in Malawi. The internet was spotty, food limited and so so, and the rooms basic. See the big hot water heater in the picture? Well, the first three days I took cold showers because I couldn't seem to get any hot water. I never really thought to complain because, hey, it's Africa. I didn't really expect luxuries. But then I heard everyone else had hot water (and I even used my coworkers shower once for some warm water), so we asked at the desk and the next day, I had hot water!! Just a simple flip of the switch! Warm showers made the rest of my stay much more pleasant!

Video conference with colleagues in Burkina Faso, isn't technology incredible!!

Walking to the office after lunch at WHO

This is the real Congo River, with Kinshasa, DRC right across (which you can't see because of the rain). We sat down to a wonderful dinner and then came a huge storm! We're talking torrential downpour!!! The whole restaurant is outside (covered, but open air) so we huddle close together and tied scarves and napkins around us to not get completely soaked. The heavy downpour lasted about 30 minutes, then we sat down to enjoy our meal.

 Fish!!! A little intense to have to debone your own meal, but worth the effort!!

USAID Colleagues: couldn't ask for better travel companions. We all got along and had a blast, even amidst the stress and long days.

The Full evaluation team minus 2 (one USAID, one WHO/AFRO)

My last day of work in Brazzaville, on my walk home. The views were spectacular! We had one free day before flying out and the locals were kind enough to take us shopping. I bought some sweet fabrics that I hope to use for pillows or a bag, someday. You know, when I get crafty. We also enjoyed awesome food and a swanky hotel/jazz night one evening. There has to be a little play with all the work!

After two weeks of traveling, work, and utter exhaustion (we're talking 12 hour days every day), 3 of us decided we needed a break, so we turned our 7 hour layover into a 36 hour layover in Paris! First time to Paris and I fell in love! One of my coworkers is a fluent French speaker and well acquainted with Paris, so she acted as the de facto tour guide. Coming from summer weather  to fall in Paris was a bit of shock and required some creative dressing, but with how quickly we ran through that city, we were okay. 

First stop in Paris (after hotel and naps of course) was brunch! Oh my goodness, such good food!!! We ate slowly and enjoyed our time before we hit the city running. We strolled through gardens, passed by the Louvre, through Paris' city center with the famous world's fair ferris wheel before making our way to the Arc de Triomphe and onto the top of a hotel to see the Eiffel Tower by night. After that, I split with the other two heading to get massages while I ventured back to the hotel for some R&R. The hotel had a spa with pools, sauna, and steam room, which I enjoyed and then met back up with the girls for dinner. My dinner meal was so so, but my dessert was AMAZING! I mean, life changing. Hot brioche drizzled and soaked in some sort of cinnamon heavenly goodness. I don't get that excited over food very often, but this dessert was seriously incredible. My mouth starts drooling a bit just thinking about it (5 months later). The next morning we booked it to Notre Dame and then to the airport.

Ahh, brunch!

Paris was the perfect end to our crazy work travels. It blended relaxation with beautiful sight seeing. Also, getting to experience so many countries in a short period of time was thrilling; Europe to East Africa to Southern Africa to Central Africa and back to Europe. Six months later and we're still finishing up the project we started with the trip, luckily, I love my job! This trip was 22 days of absolute insanity. Exciting, eye opening, instructional, exhausting, laborious, tiresome, and fun. I love traveling!!!