Nov 23, 2014

Watch gentleman in Bangui, Central African Republic

Central African Republic... how could a place, a country, could get this unfriendly for living...

I want to share his story.

I forgot to ask his name, but he was a "watch man" who had his small stand one minute away from my office. So I used to greet him every morning on my way to the office. Sometimes we chatted for a minute or two, and I learned that he has 15 children-- 6 son and 6 daughters (?? they don't add up to 15... ), and some of his children had died young. He said he walked everyday from his neighbourhood which must be around 7km away.

When the insecurity got heightened, I could not go to the office. After two weeks or so, I saw him at his usual place, and we greeted. I was happy to see him again. I asked him if everything was all right, and he replied, no. Apparently, he no longer had his wooden stand. All the used watches on sale were lying on a cloth laid on dirt street. He told me that that Thursday afternoon, when we were told to leave the Office quickly due to the fighting nearby, his stand was taken away by armed men. Then he took his cap away, and showed me a bruise on top of his head, and a trail of blood inside his cap. Around the same time, he was stopped by "armed men" who took his telephone etc. away and hit him to bleed, in his neighbourhood. He said he was treated at a nearby clinic ran by MSF.

This man, who was making his life out of a modest watch repairing/selling business, had no reason to be deprived of his right to work, right to protection, and the right for the most basic human respect.

I wanted to support him but didn't know how to (I didn't want to just give out money). So I asked him how much it would cost him to buy a new stand to put the watches, and gave him that amount. I also picked the yellow clock, and asked him to repair it for me. The guard who was accompanying me whispered why I did not buy a new clock in a nearby supermarket ran by a Lebanese, that they would be nicer. I told him that I wanted to support this man's business, and he nodded.

So I have with me now this yellow clock. Not that I really like the style, but as a reminder of how difficult the life is for many people in this continent, and of their courage, and smile, despite the bitterness they bite, maybe today, again. 






Aug 17, 2014

At Douala airport  ドゥアラ空港にて

At Douala airport, I was at the Kenya Airways' office arranging the delivery of my suitcase that was left behind in Nairobi. A young man in uniform and plastic gloves came into the office with teary eyes. His colleague asked what happened, and the young man replied that he just carried out the corpse from the carrier. He took the gloves out from his hand, and I offered him some wet tissues. Wiping his fingers, he attended my case in calm. 

I remembered a lady at the baggage pick-up section earlier shouting at the phone, demanding her counterpart to take care of the corpse, and to provide some gloves for the risks of ebola. With all rumours and realities, I admired this young man's professional attitude. 



Sep 1, 2013



昨日いつものように事務所前に駐車すると、アブドゥライがいつものように「Cellcom(電話会社)のCinquante mille(5万ギニアフラン、約700円)あるよ!」と笑顔で話しかけてきた。しばらく話していると、彼の左足の甲に直径3cmくらいの、まだ新しい(乾燥しきってない)真っ赤な傷があるのが目に入った。聞くと、2日前、カードを売ろうと車に近づいたところ、車が停車しきれず、自分の足にのっかてきたとのこと。いつ見ても、通り過ぎる車に一生懸命商売しているので、いつか事故に遭わなければいいが、と危惧していたので、やっぱり、と思った。

私だったら大げさに包帯を巻いていそうなこの傷、まだ病院にも行っていないという。毎朝きれいな水で洗っているから大丈夫だ、と。でもこんな口がぱかっと開いた傷にゴムぞうりだと、ばい菌が入って化膿するかもしれないし、実際左足は赤く腫れ上がっている。病院に行ったほうがいい、とCinquante mille渡した。ひどい傷を負わされたにもかかわらず、それに対し怒りのひとつみせず、「仕方ない」と現状を受け入れる態度は、お金のないギニア人一般に見受けられる態度だが、なんともやりきれない気持ちになった。あの傷がひどくなって(大げさだが)例えば足を切断しなければならなくなったとしても、「仕方ないや」と受け入れるのだろう。



Feb 2, 2013

Ces enfants n'existent pas ici (Those children don't exist here)

As part of the joint education sector review that takes place twice a year, the Government (Ministries of Education) and the technical and financial partners conducted a field mission. We visited, among other sites, one of the schools constructed by us and that has been handed over to the Government, and has been used already. I was looking forward to seeing the children learning in the newly constructed classrooms.

We arrived at school. This school had three old classrooms, and the project has constructed three additional classrooms, so that the school can have a full cycle of primary school (from grade 1 to grade 6). We were introduced to a crowd of men including the local education administrator called Delegue Scolaire de l’Enseignement de Base, DSEE (most decentralized delegate of education administration), school director, teachers, and community leaders. Women and children were standing about 3 meters apart. After a brief introduction, we toured around the school. All of the three newly constructed classrooms were used. Among the three old classrooms, only one was used. They explained to us that the school offers 4 classes: grade 1, grade 2, grade 5 and 6.

Where are the children of grade 3 and grade 4?

I asked the DSEE.
An unthinkable response came back.

Ces enfants n’existent pas ici (Those children don’t exist here).

(How on earth can it be possible that the children do not exist in these villages???!!! You mean, there was no love-making or child-making for two years in the villages???!!!) (my heart beating and silently shouting)

Shortly after, the Ministry colleague standing next to me asked one of the children crowding around us how old he was. He did not respond, but instead his mother who was standing behind him responded that he was seven years old, and that he could not start school because they were told that the classroom was “full” when he came to register in the new school year in October. “Your child can come back next year to start the school,” told the Director to the mother. Being refused by the school Director, the child and illiterate mother could say nothing. They went home, and the child has stayed at home since.

Guinean children are supposed to be enrolled in primary school from age six.

The extreme dichotomy between what the DSEE just said and the faces of the children who have been refused to start school as the classroom is full, and who do not even know their right to education, squeezed my heart. I started feeling my eyes hot.

Despite my colleague’s consolation, I decided that I would let my tears continue to fall as I was very annoyed at the situation, and wanted the local education administrators to realize that this situation was not acceptable by any means.

One week after we returned from this field mission, my colleague who accompanied the mission brought good news. The local education administrators and the community took the initiative to identify all children of age 6 and beyond that were out of school. They also identified two teachers—one retired teacher and one university graduate. They will be paid by the community members, until the government can find and allocate additional teachers to this village. Today, over 70 identified children were enrolled and are learning in the two classrooms that had been unused.

I can bet that this situation exists in many other villages in Guinea. I cannot visit and cry in every one of them. Need to think of how to tackle this.

Jan 28, 2013

Candle and fire

My colleague looked distressed today. In the afternoon, he told me that he was leaving early to go to the hospital, to see his neighbor who got burned last night.

He continued.

Yesterday early night, his neighbor girl, a 13-year old, was reading for her course review in a house with a candle light as the power was out as usual. She then fell asleep. The candle then fell, and it did not take much time for the candle to reach the bed mattress which incited a fire. Her family members were outside the house sitting and chilling, as Guineans usually do when the power is out. By the time her grandfather noticed the fire, ran into the house and took the girl out, the girl was badly burnt. My colleague took them to the hospital. The girl died the following morning. The grandfather was hospitalized.

Just because the government cannot provide continuous electricity to all citizens; just because the households either cannot afford or does not have the consciousness to buy a safer torch, a young life had to be sacrificed. And they say this is not a rare news in this capital. Too sad, and too frustrating.





Aug 13, 2012

Rainy Monday (in Conakry)

I started my day at the clinic to do the malaria test as I have been feeling my body heavy the past few days; then a two-hour meeting with my boss to review the indicators to measure the results of our 2012 programme; lunch with take-away spring rolls while checking emails; telephone consultation with the Government counterpart; meeting with a partner to review and finalize the budget for teacher training planned in the near future; tele-conference with a colleague who works at UNICEF office in the neighboring country; discussion with the Human Resource unit concerning the different opinions on the report on recently-conducted recruitment interview; editing to finish the document requested by the NY headquarters and drafted by a colleague; checking today’s emails that have been accumulating since the morning; checking the couriers that arrived today; preparing for tomorrow’s coordination meeting for literacy education… it was 10pm when I looked at the clock.

Are things that I did today making any contribution being useful to for the children who cannot go to school? Are the tasks that seem not very useful respond even indirectly to “why I am in Guinea”?

I left the office pondering vaguely over these things, and thinking, oh well, I was working with a full speed today as I was deeming ambitiously that I would leave the office by 8pm today since it is Monday… I drive my car home, on the completely dark streets without any light, watching out for pedestrians and puddles. I get a bit annoyed at the cars that come from the opposite direction with their high lights—it blocks my sight almost completely! Then shiny stick-like objects—two of them-- caught my eyes. As I got closer, I saw a man walking with the help of the crutches. I passed him, being very careful not to scare him or splash him water. Within 10 seconds, a shiny wheelchair catches my eyes this time. The man who was riding this wheelchair had legs that were as thin as the aluminum crutches I just saw.

As I saw him crossing comfortably, rolling his wheels with hands, the chaotic highway of Conakry that I often get scared of even on a 4x4 vehicle, my fatigue swept away, and I noticed something. Yes, indeed, I am here now so that people living here can have even a slightly more decent, humane life. Conakry is not a friendly city for people who walk around with crutches or wheelchair in mud roads. But these men I saw have at least the freedom of going out. Guinea must have thousands of those with disability and cannot make steps outside their houses. Including the children who cannot access a school 5km away from their homes.

My short drive home today gave me the opportunity to remind myself of something I have forgotten. Thank god the malaria test result was negative; I should just continue what I can do from tomorrow on!