Monday, July 11, 2011

Bad News, Good News

When flying in a Cessna I always insist to sit next to the pilot: aside from making a point of being in the front even where there is no business class, I take pleasure in bantering over the two-way about syncing the torques and tales of Cessnas flying on moonshine and Antonov 24s belly-landing in deserts and mythical Russian pilots walking away from wrecks in their wife-beaters.

That is the least I can do to mitigate the indignity of awkwardly getting my red-faced chino-and-pink-shirt-clad body in and out over the wing of the aircraft.

As we approach, the landscape looks familiar: arid lands scattered with "informal settlements" built out of corrugated iron, cardboard and HRI-branded tarpaulin, surrounded by fences made out of thorn bush and rusty rear axle links cannibalized off who knows what unfortunate trucks. Children forever frolicking nearby along goats and donkeys (a scene also known in the business as a "photo opportunity"). As we approach the camp, we beheld more solid structures and the signs of a lucrative business: people selling building materials, a bizarre and counter-intuitive reality of every respectable refugee camp.

This one here is not just any camp of course, we are about to land nearby Dadaab, the mother of all camps and beloved destination of Hollywood stars and every HRI official worth their salt.

Rule of the thumb is when the construction-materials business is picking up, the seasoned HRI employee knows that fresh refugees are coming in and is moving towards unlocking the necessary sources of "emergency funding" to ensure the HRI presence in the camp grows accordingly. HRI "people on the ground" have done an awesome job out of hijacking every meeting around, cluster or no cluster, and ensuring that HRI is well present in every committee and action group, the better to "leverage" whatever funds are bound to be unlocked by the most recent, highly unfortunate, drought across the border in Somalia, a country few of us actually have visited, but many of us know very well from coordination meetings in Nairobi, field trips right here, in Dadaab and the regular security trainings organized nearby Nairobi to make sure everyone is prepared to talk tough over moccachinos at Doorman's or Java House.

Indeed, bad news are piling up this summer and that is good for business.

Just yesterday I landed in Nairobi all the way from Juba where I was celebrating along other international HRI staff the official independence of Africa's most recent country. Take it from me: these moments must be savored and one must enjoy both the enthusiasm of the masses and the business opportunities while they last.

Sure, the business opportunities always lasts longer than the enthusiasm (shit, sometimes when enthusiasm leads to disappointment which leads to "social unrest", the business gets even better, along with the "hardship pay"), but good news, bad news, we enjoy them all while they last.

Besides there will come a point when someone will ask: "Where were you when so and so happened". Being able to say "I was there" is crucial to both your field cred and the ability to pass as a better "key personnel" in various applications for funding.

That is all good for business.

Of course, like you, I am looking forward to more opportunities to absorb the enthusiasm that comes with a new country, speculate on the new Government's inexperience and monetize on donors' optimism in such situations. In many ways, you will agree, a newly independent country is a perfect storm for HRI.

As of Dadaab and the drought in Somalia? Well, the global tarpaulin experts are here to help! Ka-Ching!