Friday, October 29, 2010

Patricia and The Horse

Somewhere not far from Bredjing, "Africa", a fleet of white HRI-branded landcruiser and escort vehicles slowly negotiate the preciously little space between the dusty huts that collectively form “the village”, coming at a halt in a spot of shadow next to a trip of goats munching on green plastic bags.

The occasion is a strategic meeting between HRI’s Livelihoods Team and Abdulshafi “the Horse” El Noor, a reformed rebel leader and local dignitary whose “community” needs to be included in a “livelihood mapping exercise” completed by HRI, on behalf of “the country team”.

The HRI delegation is led by Patricia, nutritionist, yoga enthusiast and HRI Regional Livelihoods Program Manager who, as always when “in the field” is wearing her shalwar kameez kit acquired from an “ethnic” shop in Columbius, Ohio, offset with a cotton head-scarf bought en route in Nairobi Airport. She’s carrying her trusty Nalgene flask and a recently acquired SLR camera and has managed to re-composed herself after an unpleasant argument in the car over the intensity of the air-conditioning.

She doesn’t know it yet but this meeting will define her from now on. It will influence her career and be forever re-lived in her memory in increasingly romanticized terms. For years to come, in conversations there will be a point when she will say something along the lines of “when I was dealing with the warlords in Africa…” either impressing people or making them cringe, depending who you ask.

It wasn’t hard to get The Horse to agree to have this meeting. Khaled, HRIs fixer Liaison Officer, arranged it by means of “technical expenses”, further sweetend with promises of “capacity building” involving Khaled’s men.

What Patricia doesn’t know is that Khaled is one of the Horse’s men. As a matter of fact, all HRI employees in Bredjing are, but that’s another matter.

The meeting takes place in the “community center” – a rundown structure built by Blurred Vision (HRI affiliate) that is used daily to shelter goats from the mid-day sun. The horse has a spacious house of course, fully air-conditioned (with electivity produced by a generator “capacitated” by HRI as part of another project), but Khaled advised him it would be better to “keep it real” for Patricia. A few kids playing in the dust with a few donkeys nearby completed the perfect picture.

And it was the perfect meeting as well as that most unlikely intersection of two very different worlds. To Patricia “the Horse” was the stereotype of the "african warlord" and to The Horse Patricia was the stereotype of the "clueless westerner", lost in an unfamiliar reality, too young and inexperienced to matter. The discussion never went past niceties plus one awkward joke each, both lost in translation (although Patricia thought the horse was ever so slightly hitting on her).

At the end it was an “amazing experience” and a photo opportunity. But it was also a significant HRI success (the "mapping" will be completed, reports will be written, backs will be patted, further funds will be raised) and ultimately a confirmation that the good order of things around Bredjing, Africa will be preserved: The Horse and his people will continue to pretend they are "cooperating", and HRI will continue to pretend money doesn't change hands.

And, just in case you are wondering, that stock constantly disappearing from the warehouse is nothing but normal “shrinkage”, really.


  1. poetic and heartwarming.
    you made my day good sir.

  2. I usually read paragraphs of your posts aloud to my co-workers- they're funny and true. Keep the comedy relief coming. I need something to do at my desk when not traveling in "Africa".