One Day in Zanzibar

House of Wonders and Stone Town waterfront, Zanzibar
House of Wonders and Stone Town waterfront, Zanzibar

A little more than 10 years ago, I had a rare moment of clarity.  I was sitting with my second child, who was 9 months old, on my lap while my 2-year-old danced and swayed around me.  Everyone else in the Mommy and Me class was singing – with gusto – the Barney song “I Love You”.  Glancing at the clock, I realized that the week before – at exactly this time – I was being interviewed live on national TV in Peru about that country’s truth and reconciliation commission.

The stark contrast made me realize that I had chosen a life in which there might never really be a “typical” day.   Setting aside the insipidity of Barney, I realized that these small moments with my young sons were as important and valuable as the other, more high-profile moments of my career, which often takes me to exotic locales.  I learned not to compare my days.  Not to sift through the experiences of each day and measure the worth of one against another, but to see them all as a whole.  To acknowledge that each endeavor for work and for family gives me strength for the other. To realize that I am fortunate to have these varied experiences, which, woven together form the rich tapestry of my life.

So for the Weekly Photo Challenge: A Day in the Life, I am choosing to share one day that I recently spent in Zanzibar for work.  As I write this, my daughter is sitting beside me, looking at the photos and talking about them with me.  One day in Zanzibar, one day of spring break at home. Days and experiences, knitted together – so many days to be thankful for!


(See more Weekly Photo Challenge entries here.)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lunchtime

Dar es Salaam, TanzaniaMarch 2013
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
March 2013

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge theme is “Lunchtime”.  Since it’s also phonoegraphy month, I’d like to share a series of memorable food/menu photos that I have taken with my iPhone 4.  To quote the menu at the Red Onion Restaurant in Dar es Salaam, “Bone Appetite”!

Scrumbled Egg or Egg Porch for breakfast?  Decisions…

New Delhi, IndiaJanuary 2012
New Delhi, India
January 2012

I think I’ll have the cheeken burger.

Yaounde, CameroonFebruary 2013
Yaounde, Cameroon
February 2013


Kathmandu, NepalSeptember 2012
Kathmandu, Nepal
September 2012

This sugar is not just pure.  It is DHAM pure!

New Delhi, IndiaSeptember 2012
New Delhi, India
September 2012

UMMMM …Deep Fried Squid Feelers!

Dar es Salaam, TanzaniaMarch 2013
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
March 2013

Jupped Rabbit? Magret Duck? Toulouse Poele?

I can’t even understand the English translation.

Douala, CameroonFebruary 2013
Douala, Cameroon
February 2013

No. Just no.

Dar es Salaam, TanzaniaMarch 2013
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
March 2013

The secret of Cajun cooking – revealed!

Stone Town, ZanzibarMarch 2013
Stone Town, Zanzibar
March 2013

Should have bought a case of these!

Dar es Salaam, TanzaniaMarch 2013
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
March 2013
(Made in Pakistan)

In Morocco

View of the Kasbah in Rabat
View of the Kasbah in Rabat
January 2013

There is no guidebook to Morocco, and no way of knowing, once one has left Tangier behind, where the long trail over the Rif is going to land one, in the sense understood by any one accustomed to European certainties.  The air of the unforeseen blows on one from the roadless passes of the Atlas.

I recently visited the Kingdom of Morocco for the first time.  Looking for reading material before my trip, I discovered a book about Morocco by Edith Wharton.  This came as a deep surprise to me, a longtime Wharton fan.  I thought that I had read every Edith Wharton publication in print, from her ghost stories right down to her interior design book (I wrote a paper on that one in college).  I knew, of course, that she had written some travel books; I had even read some of them.  But until I saw it listed as a free title on Kindle, I had never heard of In Morocco.  

Published in 1920 (the same year as Age of Innocence), In Morocco is widely considered the first travel guide to Morocco.  (Wharton certainly thought so, as she states, “Having begun my book with the statement that Morocco still lacks a guide-book, I should have wished to take a first step toward remedying that deficiency.”)

I’ve always admired Wharton’s  highly descriptive style, which lends itself exceptionally well to travel writing.  In Morocco is the account of Wharton’s motor trip across Morocco in the fall of 1917, at the tail end of the First World War.  Much of Morocco had become a French protectorate in 1912, so she made the trip at the invitation of the French Resident-General Hubert Lyautey.  It is no secret that Wharton was a committed supporter of French imperialism (she described herself as a “rabid imperialist”) and this comes across strongly in In Morocco.  (Unless you want read a love letter to colonialism, skip the chapter on Gen. Lyautey’s Work In Morocco.)  Equally hard to take is her paternalistic attitude towards and use of  racist terminology to describe Moroccans and their culture.

In spite of this, I enjoyed the historical perspective provided by In Morocco. More than anything,  In Morocco is a series of sketches of a place where past and present are intermingled, at a moment when the country was on the verge of change.  Wharton was very cognisant of the fact that post-war tourism would alter Morocco forever.


Morocco is too curious, too beautiful, too rich in landscape and architecture, and above all too much of a novelty, not to attract one of the main streams of spring travel as soon as Mediterranean passenger traffic is resumed.

Visiting Morocco nearly 100 years after Wharton, I found it interesting to read her admiring documentation of this specific moment in time, which she has preserved in prose as solidly as if in amber.

To see Morocco during the war was therefore to see it in the last phase of its curiously abrupt transition from remoteness and danger to security and accessibility …


Yet I also found the Morocco of 2013 to be a place where the boundaries between past and present are still slightly blurred.  Visiting many of the same places that Wharton had visited nearly a century before, I discovered that her descriptions were, in many cases, still brilliantly apt. The following photographs were taken by me but the words were written by Edith Wharton.


View of the Medina in Tangier
View of the Medina in Tangier

This feeling of adventure is heightened by the contrast between Tangier – cosmopolitan, frowsy, familiar Tangier, that every tourist has visited for the last forty years – and the vast unknown just beyond.



The European town of Rabat, a rapidly developing community, lies almost wholly outside of the walls of the old Arab city.  The latter, founded in the twelfth century by the great Almohad conqueror of Spain, Yacoub-el-Mansour, stretches its mighty walls to the river’s mouth.  Thence they climb the cliff to enclose the Kasbah of the Oudayas…. Great crenallated ramparts, cyclopean, superb, follow the curve of the cliff.

Kasbah of Rabat
Kasbah of Rabat

Salé the white and Rabat the red frown at each other over the foaming bar of the Bou-Regreg, each walled, terraced, minareted, and presenting a singularly complete picture of the two types of Moroccan town, the snowy and the tawny.  To the gates of both, the Atlantic breakers roll in with the boom of northern seas, and under a misty northern sky.

Kasbah in Rabat
View of Salé from the Kasbah in Rabat

It is one of the surprises of Morocco to find the familiar African pictures bathed in this unfamiliar haze. Even the fierce midday sun does not wholly dispel it – the air remains thick, opalescent, like water slightly clouded by milk.

Seawalk in Rabat
Seawalk in Rabat

Kasbah of the Oudayas

Garden of the Oudayas

Inside the gate of the Kasbah one comes on more waste land and on other walls – for all Moroccan towns are enclosed in circuit within circuit of battlemented masonry.  Then, unexpectedly, a gate in one of the inner walls lets one into a tiled court enclosed in a traciered clositer and overlooking an orange-grove that rises out of a carpet of roses.  This peaceful and well-ordered place is the interior of the Medersa (the college) of the Oudayas.



The Tower of Hassan

Tower of Hassan, Rabat
Tower of Hassan, Rabat

The “Tower of Hassan,” as the Sultan’s tower is called, rised from the plateau above old Rabat, overlooking the steep cliff that drops down to the last winding of the Bou-Regreg. Truncated at half its height, it stand on the edge of a cliff, a far-off beacon to travellers by land and sea.  It is one of the world’s great monuments, so sufficient in strength and majesty that until one its fellow, the Koutoubya of Marrakech, one wonders if the genius of the builder could have carried such perfect balance of massive wall-spaces and traceried openings to a triumphant conclusion.


Near the tower, the red-brown walls and huge piers of the mosque built at the same time stretch their roofless alignment beneath the sky. This mosque, before it was destroyed, must have been one of the finest monuments of Almohad architecture in Morocco: now, with its tumbled red masses of masonry and vast cisterns overhung by clumps of blue aloes, it still forms a ruin of Roman grandeur.


The founder of Rabat, the great Yacoub-el-Mansour, called it, in memory of the battle of Alarcos, “The Camp of Victory” (Ribat-el-Path), and the monuments he bestowed on it justified the name in another sense, by giving it the beauty that lives when battles are forgotten.


On the west coast, especially, where the Mediterranean peoples, from the Phenicians to the Portuguese, have had trading-ports for over two thousand years, the harm done to such seaboard towns as Tangier, Rabat and Casablanca is hard to estimate.  The modern European colonist apparently imagined that to plant his warehouses, cafes, and cinema-palaces within the walls which for so long had fiercely excluded him was the most impressive way of proclaiming his domination.


These are just a few of the words and images I found on my recent trip to Morocco.  I was in Morocco for work, however, so my own version of In Morocco will not be a guidebook or travelogue. My version of In Morocco will be a series of sketches, too, but it will the stories of people who are working to improve human rights in their country.  I am not a writer with Edith Wharton’s powers of description, but these are stories that can and should be told.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Home


Girl walking home from school

Yaoundé, Cameroun

February 3, 2013


Cattle head home past the US Embassy

Avenue Rosa Parks, Yaoundé, Cameroun

February 4, 2013


Incredibly unsafe school bus (NO SEATS!) brings school kids home

Douala, Cameroun

February 8, 2013


A young boy plays in front of his home, which has a small shop on the front porch

Nkolfoulou, Cameroun

February 9, 2013


Welcome home (and happy Vanitimse day)!

Minneapolis, MN

February 10, 2013

This week’s Photo Challenge calls for photos that evoke “home”.  See more Weekly Photo Challenge: Home posts.

Let The Rain Kiss You

My daughter and son in Oslo’s Frogner Park, at the end of a rain storm.

April Rain Song

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.

Langston Hughes

Some mornings, I wake up with an image or a poem in my head.  Sometimes, a song.  The other day, it was this picture; today it was this poem. As winter arrives, the world around me is beginning to slowly freeze.  Liquids are becoming solids, their molecules sluggish in the cold.  Soon everything will be still, sleeping until the April Rain Song returns. Run with joy while you may, and let the rain kiss you!

As a new (and irregular) feature, I plan to start posting some of these morning musings here.

The photo also fits this week’s  Travel Theme: Liquid  on Where’s My Backpack.  To see more responses, click here.

Family Life in Kathmandu

This is a letter I wrote home from Kathmandu in January.  It gives an interesting perspective on life in Nepal – a splash of local color – so I thought I would share it on the Human Rights Warrior.

Usually, when I travel for work, I stay in a hotel.  It’s different when I travel to Nepal. Here, I stay with a family at their home in Kathmandu.  I could never give you directions to their house on the unnamed street in the warren of hundreds of small streets and alleys in the Battisputali neighborhood.  But I could show you how to get there.

Morning noises.  I lie in my bed on the third floor and listen as the house wakes up.  Doors of wood and metal creak and slam.  Outside, I hear the sounds of chickens, dogs, some kind of hoarse-cawing bird.  Women speaking in Nepali in the kitchen building below my window at the back of the house.  A man sings off-key at the top of his lungs as water sluices into his bucket from the water tap next door.  Someone is whistling loudly, someone else is hawking and spitting.  No need to modulate your voice – everyone here rises at dawn. All this before the rooster crows.  Tinny Nepali music is playing on a transistor radio. There’s a knock on my door, followed by a cheerful “Namaste!”  The tea tray is set on my bedside table. I have the first of many, many cups of tea in bed.  This is how the day begins in this home in Kathmandu.

Can you see my alarm clock in this picture?

Some things have changed since I was last here in March. There is a new security gate with a buzzer, as well as a flat screen TV.  Crime is a growing concern in some neighborhoods in Kathmandu.

The biggest news is the daughter has married.  Like most marriages in Nepal (but unlike her parents, who made a love match), this one was arranged. Her new husband is in the Army, so the wedding procession was especially grand with a military band and an antique Nepali horse-drawn carriage.  Someone told me that the only horses in Nepal are in the Army cavalry, so the only people who know how to ride are in the Army.  The polo grounds in the park in central Kathmandu are, therefore, de facto used only by the cavalry.  The daughter is 23 and has just finished university.  Her mother thought maybe she should go to graduate school first, but she was ready to get married.  Her green wedding garland, stitched in red and covered with spangles, is on the wall on the stairway to my room.  It has been framed, with a wedding picture in the middle.  The wedding couple wore their garlands during the three days of ceremonies.  She first met her future husband about two months before the wedding.  They come over for dinner and I meet her new husband.  She seems happy.

The daughter has now gone to live with her husband’s family.  The family I stay with also has two adult sons who are close to my own age.  They live here with their parents and their own families.  The oldest son just finished building a big, new house in front of the family home. The younger son and his family live in the parents’ house, which he will inherit.   Property in Kathmandu is expensive, so it is better to divide what is already in the family.  There is a driveway and small courtyard in the front.  In the back is a kitchen garden, flowers and fruit trees.  It is a small green oasis in a dirty, dusty city.

Niches in the courtyard wall are home to animal sculptures

Three grandchildren live here, too.  In the big new house, there is a grandson who is in 12th grade.  His classes in college (upper secondary school) go from 6:30 to 11 am. The granddaughter, like my middle son, is in fourth grade and “running 9” (when she turns 10, she will be “9 complete”). Unlike my son, though, she spends 2 to 4 hours a night doing homework. The Nepali is very rigorous and the examinations are taken seriously. The secondary schools post billboards with pictures of their students and their scores on the national standardized exams.  Another change since my last visit – the granddaughter is starting to help her mother and grandmother with cooking and serving meals. She shows me some of her sketches – Krishna and Disney Princesses – and gifts me with a sketch of Minnie Mouse.

Her little brother goes to preschool. He speaks Nepali, but understands English and also Hindi from watching Indian cartoons.  Nepalis have an interesting relationship with India.  In addition to enjoying Indian serials and Bollywood movies, they take the short flight to India if they need a vacation or an operation.  Yet they set their clocks 15 minutes off Indian time so they don’t have to be on the same time zone as their much larger neighbor.

Image from a compound wall in the neighborhood.

There are others who live in this household, helping with the household chores, meal preparation, laundry, washing the cars, minding the kids.  There are eight people employed on this compound by my count, but there could be more or less.  People come and go in a constant swirl of activity.

The water in the house is city water, but the water for drinking and cooking is delivered by tanker truck and pumped into the polytank on top of the kitchen building.  It runs through a filtration system of three plastic basins – one with pebbles, one with sand and one with charcoal.

View of the kitchen garden and the water filtration system on the kitchen roof.

After a sunny day, there will be hot water because the water for showers is heated by solar panels.  As your plane makes the approach to land in Kathmandu, you can see the sun winking off the solar panels on every roof. If the day has been overcast, though, you are out of luck and have to ask for someone to bring up a bucket of hot water for bathing.

The shortage of electricity in Nepal has resulted in load sharing in Kathmandu.  Each district has electricity for 4-5 hours at a time, usually twice a day.  The schedule changes every day, so you may have power from 4-8 am and 7-11 pm one day but 10 am- 1 pm and 1 – 4 am the next.  The week’s schedule is on a government website somewhere, but I never know what it is.  Twice already during my stay, a fluorescent light in my room has buzzed to light in the middle of the night.  Our house has a backup battery, but that means that there are only lights in 4 rooms in the house.  Supposedly, there are hydro-electric plants being built with the help of international community.  Once these are completed, Kathmandu will have more regular electricity. Hopefully.

The power situation makes cooking difficult, but the women of the house, who share the cooking duties, somehow manage. For Nepalis, a typical meal involves dal (lentil “soup”), bhat (rice) and tarkari (vegetable curry).  We usually also have at least two kinds of tarkari and sag (greens), as well as aloo (potatoes, usually fried).  Often, there is also chicken but served on the side.  Like my own family, this family has both vegetarians and meat-lovers in residence.  I have never eaten so well.  For dinner, I eat a healthy dal seasoned with turmeric and ginger that is served to women after childbirth. Punctuated by bright green scallions float, it contains fried chickpea lentils that give it a surprising crunch.  At breakfast, I eat papaya from the tree in the backyard. I see grapefruits the size of my head growing there, too.

Here in Nepal, people often greet each other by asking, “Bhaat khanu bhayo?”  Literally, this means, “Have you eaten rice?” but in practice it means “Have you had your meal?” Babies eat rice as their first solid food during their first rice feeding ceremony at age 5 months for girls, 6 for boys.  They will eat rice just about every day of their lives.

It is winter, so the days are short in the Kathmandu Valley.   Offices and schools are on winter hours, opening a little later – 10:30 instead of 10 – and closing a little earlier so people can be home by dark.  There is not much nightlife in Kathmandu. During the day, if there is sun, it warms up nicely but at night it is cold.  I sleep under a cotton comforter as thick as a mattress.  Buildings are not insulated and floors are often marble or tile.  I notice that people working in offices and stores are often wearing their coats.

Traffic is a huge problem in Kathmandu. The population grew during the conflict as internally displaced persons fled the Maoists in the countryside.  Now the Maoists are in a power-sharing coalition government.  The violence has ended but the coalition government is gridlocked.  Nepalis have been waiting three years for a new constitution. In the newspaper today, the government promises a completion of the process within the next four months but people are skeptical.  When the committee drafting the constitution gets paid by the month, where is the incentive to finish the job?

The Kathmandu population has continued to grow due to the country’s high unemployment.  People come to the capital looking for work.  There are now 3 million people living in the Kathmandu valley, driving too many cars and motorcycles on streets that were designed for oxcarts.  The air is polluted and many people wear masks over their lower faces.  Many Nepalis have gone abroad to study in India, the UK or the US or work in Malaysia and the Middle East.  Every Nepali I meet has a relative somewhere in the diaspora.

Right now, in January of 2012, there is a scarcity of petrol in Nepal.  I see long queues for gas and hear stories of people waiting 12-14 hours a day and still not getting to the front of the line. The government recently hiked the price of petroleum, resulting in student protests.  The protesters, who are members of different political parties,  called a nationwide bandh for today.   Bandh, the Nepali word for “closed”, is a form of protest requiring the closing of markets and schools. It was a Maoist tactic during the conflict.  Now they are in the government, but the practice continues.  The headline in one newspaper is “Maoists reap the bandhs they sowed.”

No driving is allowed today.  The Nepali Police, as well as the Armed Forces Police, are out in full riot gear today, but the bandh is enforced by the protesters themselves.  It is strange to walk in the middle of the street, with no cars and motorcycles.  There is a holiday mood, more so than yesterday – an actual public holiday.  People mill around, chat, play badminton in the street.  Most people support the protesters and their criticism of the government for the rising prices.

When I get back to the house, my friend waves from the second floor balcony.  When we arrived last week, she was the one who opened the door and said, “Welcome home!”

Le Respect

I was in Geneva last week and happened upon this bit of public art on my way to the tram.  “Le respect, c’est accepter quelqu’un même si on ne l’aime pas”. Translated loosely: “Respect is accepting someone even if you don’t like him.”

This was displayed on the wall of a school in the Pâquis neighborhood of Geneva (which you may recall is in the francophone part of la Suisse/Switzerland).  I lived in les Pâquis twice when I was in law school and have stayed there several times since when I have had work to do at the United Nations.

Palais des Nations, the former home of the League of Nations. The three-legged chair sculpture honors the victims of landmines worldwide.

In all my experiences in the neighborhood, however, I had failed to discover:

1) Tea Room la Vouivre (The Wyvern Tea Room) where Cary Grant’s sweet smirk is reflected in gilded mirrors as you enjoy your pain au chocolat and sip your cafe au lait from a Maoist pug dog cup;

2) Buvettes des Bains, the nude-beach-by-summer turns out to be (quelle surprise!) the best-fondue-place-in-the-world-by-winter;

3) the fabulous second hand shops (!!!!), where you can find vintage French dresses, designer Italian shoes, and hand-knit baby hats for 2 Swiss francs (this really deserves a separate post); and

4) the meaning of the word respect.

The school and the artwork is easy to find – it’s on Rue de la Navigation, just past the Melting Pot Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurant (which, in theory, also serves crêpes, although not the night I ate there).   On the other side of the mural, the sidewalk actually passes right through an elementary school playground.  Not a responsible adult in sight during recess, I almost got hit by a dodgeball and, sadly, couldn’t help pondering the stark contrast with the locked doors and color-coded alerts at my own children’s American schools.

There is a second mural as well:  Pour avoir des amis il faut les respecter.”    “To have friends you have to respect them.”   Both of these sayings make sense to me, but that wasn’t the real lightbulb moment for me.

The word respect, as the pictures of these walls illustrate, is both a noun and a verb.  According to the Random House Dictionary, Le respect – the noun – means “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability.”  Respecter, the verb, means “to hold in esteem or honor” or ““to show regard or consideration for.”   French dictionaries add a slightly different twist: “Le respect est une attitude qui consiste à ne porter atteinte à autrui.”  In other words, an attitude of not harming others.

The lightbulb moment I had on Rue de la Navigation, as I dodged balls on the place de jeux d l’école de Pâquis-Centre, was this:  respect requires both the noun and the verb.  You need the essential, positive, affirming elements of the subject/object (the noun). And you need to take action (the verb), including the action of NOT doing something harmful.

As the sign below says, much smaller and not in neon:

“The respect is a precious gift.”