Last week, I purchased flights from my home in Spokane, WA to Cape Town, South Africa, and then returning from Brussels, Belgium back to Spokane – 5 months later. To get from Cape Town (the Southernmost point in Africa) to Brussels, Benjamin and I plan to drive along the West Coast of Africa to Tunis, Tunisia (the Northernmost point in Africa), through 20-28 countries, across two deserts and numerous areas of unrest/conflict along with many other challenges.
Lest you think the route is more defined than it is. My initial route was a printed-out map of Africa that I drew a line on along the coast. For the updated version above, I asked Google to map a route from Cape Town to Tunis and then dragged the route around to avoid areas where I know there is conflict, the route is impassable, or based on my intuition of what I thought might be “interesting.”
Why you might ask? Well, my son (Benjamin) just graduated from college, and before he does something responsible (like get a job) or irresponsible (I’ll let you come up with your own examples), he suggested we go on an adventure. Driving across Africa seems like a good example of such an adventure, so that is what we are planning.
Hanna and I flew to the Southern Tip of Baja California Sur, Mexico this week to continue learning to kiteboard. Last year, at the same time, we went to Punta Chame, Peru for the same. We arrived Sunday evening with the plan to start sailing Monday but there was no wind. We settled instead for a beautiful sunrise and a slack line. The latter seemed like a good practice for balancing on a kiteboard.
Hanna (of course), made it across. I was less astute at the task. Regardless, given no wind, we decided to go exploring West, on the Pacific coast side of the peninsula.
We parked just above Playa Bonita, near the construction of a new resort (The Palm) and I was surprised at how deserted the beach was. It stretched for miles but there were only a few cars and accompanying visitors. From there we hiked North along the coast for less than 2 miles, up and over the rocks looking down on Playa Las Tinajas. Remarkably, there was no one there. Literally, in the entire time we hiked, we only saw one family at the start and then no one. (It’s not like we were on the Eastern Coast of Madagascar or something.)
There were pelicans and seals a little way out from the beach – having a good little laugh at the joy of beach life I expect.
When we returned back to the car we drove to Playa Los Cerritos and stayed a little way out of the new construction area at Cerritos Beach Inn. We chose this location to be the night we splurged for accommodations with an ocean view room. (In hindsight, there wasn’t much point because we loved sitting downstairs overlooking the beach so basically only used the room for sleeping. We appreciated it nonetheless.)
In the morning, a father and son walked along the beach for 40 minutes to the hotel to have breakfast. Upon calling the rest of the family to drive over and join them, the dad realized he had the keys. Whoops! I offered to drive him back, picking up gasoline on my return to the hotel.
We left the hotel around 11:30 heading to Pozas Budistas (translated Buddhist Pools). This was casually recommended by the Kartchner’s – who neglected to mention details like, it’s a 4-wheel drive road, be sure you have a full tank of gas, don’t forget to take lots of water as you are going to be in the high desert for several hours, and oh… by the way, when you get there you won’t find any signs. (Admittedly, they told us to count the 11 water crossings but we missed this detail.) All this to say, the drive was wonderful, but not exactly a paved road.
Not only was the drive an adventure, but the pools themselves were (mostly) great as well. We hike in at one of the upper pools (rather than from the bottom), and so the first pool was a slide. Awesome! That is except for the fact that I took the first slide and when I emerged I was freckled with baby leeches. Yes, really!! What? Who recommends this to their friends I wonder? (The rattlesnake wasn’t a big deal because although we wore sandals on our hike, we didn’t see the rattler until we were back in the car.)
Regardless, not to be deterred, we hiked down the creek jumping along the giant boulders until we reached the main pool. And, since it was hot, Hanna volunteered that I test this pool for leeches as well. It was clean, refreshing, and cool. We swam. We were in a high desert and swimming. It was wonderful.
Zorro Falls…. wait what? A waterfall and freshwater swimming hole in the middle of the desert? Really? Yes, really! It was stupendous.
In the evening (Wednesday night) we stayed in the ecolodge, Rancho Ecologico Sol De Mayo, just above the falls. Internet was only available at the entrance, not at our cabins, and there was no cell service. They do have a restaurant, but it was closed while we were there. If you visit, bring your own food though, as they have a great cooking setup with a grill (they provide the charcoal) and a kitchen with dishes. Rather than staying in the cabin, in fact, you can camp. In addition, they have a host of animals from peacocks to pigeons, and rabbits to horses (no relation to dinner). I loved the atmosphere of the ecolodge and, best of all, it allowed you to access the waterfalls after hours. When we went down in the evening, and had it entirely to ourselves. In the morning, I visited as well and took a glorious swim while the sun came up and shone into the pools. It was stupendous.
The wind was forecast back at La Ventana by 11 AM Thursday morning, so we headed out, a 1.5-hour drive. Unfortunately, wind is not as reliable as that and, while Hanna got out, I didn’t. Furthermore, Hanna spent the morning in the water as there wasn’t quite enough wind and she wasn’t able to actually get up on the board – though it was exhausting nonetheless. In the afternoon we headed back to the hotel for a nap and to catch up on work.
Astoundingly… Friday it was too windy. Wow… this sport is picky about the conditions – at least for beginners like us. Not to be bored, however, we took the opportunity to drive to Playa Balandra – which was beautiful. Unless you hike in, it is only open for entry at 8 AM and 1 PM and we timed it just right to make the 1 PM entry. (We were towards the back of the queue but we still made it into the park.) There is an overlook from which you can see both the inlet and the beach of this epic location. Down in the water, you can walk the entire area with the water below your waist. (I expect the sunrise is spectacular and I’d like to hike in early one morning if I’m ever back in the area.)
Back in La Ventana, we stopped by the natural hot springs at El Sargento. The timing was great because the tide was still coming in so we made a pool in the hot springs (which were too hot to start), and then waited for the tide to come in to cool it down.
Afterward, we headed to dinner. The restaurant was empty and the owner informed us that the menu didn’t correspond with the food available. We told him that suited us, and we welcomed him to make us something great – just not anything Hanna is allergic to. We both enjoyed our dishes and then switched so we could sample each other’s. Unfortunately, after switching, Hanna’s dish now had some unknown substance that triggered a significant allergic reaction. She took the necessary immunotherapy but it’s especially disconcerting when you are so far from significant medical facilities. Furthermore, while the medicine is life-saving, the after-effects are an unpleasant experience, to say the least.
On Saturday, we finally had wind, not too much and not too little. It’s about time! We watched the usual sunrise from our bedroom window – yes, it was like that every morning we stayed in La Ventana. And, around 10 AM, we watched as the wind blew in from the North. You could see it in the water. And, by 10:30 AM, it was time to sail.
We sailed from the Elevation Kiteboarding School and took the jet ski option – which meant they took us upwind via jet ski and then instructed us as we sailed (or struggled to sail) around the bay.
After the morning session Hanna was exhausted while I decided I deserved another afternoon of the sun in my eyes, water up my nostrils, and saltwater “hydration.” And, since we couldn’t catch an early flight out in the morning on Sunday, we may as well try again in the morning before rushing out for the 2-hour drive back to the airport.
Needless to say, we are close, but at the end of a second week (18 hours in total for me and 12.5 hours for Hanna) we still aren’t quite independent kiteboarders yet. I expect next time, but that’s what I thought last year so….
Tonight we fly home, Kigali->Entebbe->Amsterdam->Seattle->Spokane. A total of around 30 hours. Before that, however, we get to go meet with some of the specific households that IntelliTect supported with their donations to GiveDirectly(GD) in 2021. It’s about a 4-hour drive to the village of Gitwa, and we will only be able to stay about an hour before heading back, but none the less, it provides an opportunity to hear first hand about the impact.
Upon arriving in Gitwa, we first went to the government village officers where we met with the section head. He had one of his staff present the impact on the community, using PowerPoint and a projector, comparing before and afterwards.
The impact included:
100 percent of the households had purchased government health insurance (no doubt a government encouraged purchase)
100 percent of the households had electricity – supporting a minimum power equivalent to three lightbulbs
The vast majority owned a cow (another strongly government encouraged purchase)
<more data to come>
After the presentation we got to wonder around the community and I was asked to select any household I would like to visit. Note, as your read these description, they are each anecdotes. They can’t be used to measure overall success of the GD program. None the less, I was encouraged, blessed even, by the interactions.
The Miller – Mugabe Moise
The first building we came to was a flour mill and the owner, Mugabe Moise, was outside. Prior to GD he was renting flour mill equipment and leveraging some training he had attended. Using the cash transfer, he purchase the flour mill equipment, and a second one, outright. He was paying ~5 USD/day for the electricity to run the mill and about 15 USD/month for maintenance. In addition, he seemingly employed one person to run the mills. As a result, he calculated his net profit at the equivalent of 5 USD/day, significantly higher than the 1.90 USD/day ppp value set as the extreme poverty delineator. (Although, I confess I didn’t find how many, if any others, in his household he was supporting.) This was clearly a success story. I suspect he was very likely already above or trending above the poverty line even before the GD money, but regardless, it was a huge success and I’m excited about what the future holds for this gentleman.
The Excited Widow – Musabyimana
This woman, Musabyimana, was so excited she invited us into her home. In the corner was a small wooden bench standing on it side. She explained that before receiving the money, that was the only furniture she had. Now, she had this wonderful set, and the bicycle. She also had a cow and an additional room she had added on for where to put her next cow.
The Farmers – Everist Niyonzima, his wife Uwanyirigira Anne Marie, and their grandchild
This family, Everist Niyonzima, his wife Uwanyirigira Anne Marie, and their grand daughter had peas that were drying on a cloth outside. They said they were for themselves but if they every had excess produce, they would sell it. It didn’t seem like they had any steady source of income and they were seemingly living off of subsistence farming. Their grand daughter lived with them as she was a surprise and so this couple was helping out their daughter.
One of the things they purchased with the cash transfer was a new corrugated iron roof. While they were incredibly grateful for the money, it was hard to gather what they had spent it on and the impact it had made.
(When we asked to take a picture the Everist asked if he could please go get changed first as he wasn’t expecting visitors.)
We met a few more folks during our hour long walk. Some of them invited us into their home. All of them were extremely grateful. None of the remaining ones provided a clear indication that they had used the money to establish a stable income. All of them expressed joy at their improved quality of life due to the various spending that included:
TV and speaker
Land for their children
Improved stucco walls
Painted their houses
On the way back to the car, however, we met two folks that were working to establish a business:
Leveraged the cash for establishing a mobile banking stall within the community
Bought a cow and sold it at double in the town (15-30 minutes from the village), with the intent to purchase more cows from the community that he could sell
After reaching the GiveDirectly office in Ngororero, we switched to their hired car and drove out to the district government offices. We met with the district government leader to confirm permission to go into the community. From then we headed up into the mountains, split up, (Phil and Sean going with their own GiveDirectly field worker), and then want to observe our first census.
“GiveDirectly is a nonprofit that lets donors like you send money directly to the world’s poorest households. We believe people living in poverty deserve the dignity to choose for themselves how best to improve their lives — cash enables that choice.” In Rwanda, where IntelliTect has donated, each recipient was given a little more than 800 USD in two installments a month a part. Interactions with the recipients are as follows:
Community meeting: a section of 2-3 hundred recipients is gathered together and informed about the unconditional cash they are going to receive and how the process works.
A meeting with each household occurs, called a census, where information is gathered to support the process and, if necessary, a phone and SIM card is provided in support of a mobile bank transfer to the recipient.
Recipients are contacted by phone and informed about the cash transfer.
Cash is transferred in two installments separated by a month.
A follow up “audit” occurs in which GD asks recipients how they spent the money.
The census I observed was led by Priscila and I had my friend Cedric (whom I met earlier) help with the translation. We were accompanied by the chief of the district and two armed police they brought with them. I suggested that armed police might interfere with the census process but I was assured they were for “our protection” and the GD staff acquiesced.
The process went something like this:
Explain the program
Confirm that the cash transfer is non-conditional
Caution the household of potential scams
Ask the recipients which of the heads of household would be the official recipient (if no preference is specified, GiveDirectly chooses the female) and get confirmation that both participants agree. About 60-80% of the time the household selects the female and if the couple doesn’t express a preference, GD chooses the female.
Document all income-generating activities – surprisingly, this didn’t record the amount of income, just the various activities (more on this later)
Provide the option for a new Motorola phone (<15 USD value subtracted from the total cash transfer) with instructions on the mobile banking (via which they will receive the cash transfer)
Review guidelines (like no conflict – more on that later) and spending exclusions (which include drugs&alcohol, gambling, and high-interest loans)
Confirm identity and electronically sign acceptance agreement
Photos of both recipients, family, and the house (inside & out)
Generally, a household census is expected to take around 30 minutes but ours was more like 50 (presumably because of the pesky foreigners that were getting in the home.)
It was a well-run process. In addition to the optional phone, the household was provided with a handout explaining the program and identifying the amount of the cash transfer. The census data was recorded in a mobile-enabled, offline (Salesforce) application which included the recording of all photographs.
Before the census, the recipients didn’t know exactly how much they were going to receive – well except for rumors from the neighbors. The actual transfer would occur in two separate transactions, the first within a month or so and the second a month after that. Regardless, once the amount was confirmed, the joy and excitement of the recipient household was overwhelming. In fact, when we left and passed a second household who Priscila would be taking a census with next, the mom came out and gave me a big hug. As a GD field worker, Priscila’s job was to meet and take a census with 10 households per day, which included the time taken to travel between households.
By this time we were running late for the community meeting. This was where GD would announce to the next community that like their neighboring community before them, they would be receiving the unconditional cash transfers. As we approached the building — an old auditorium from a private school that had closed due to a lack of paying students — we could sense the excitement. When we walked in everyone was celebrating by singing. The song was a gospel-sounding government song about following the rules and something about security. It was emotional to hear, but upon learning the translation, it seemed eerily like George Orwell’s 1984 — but no one seemed to be aware or have any concern. Interesting!
The community meeting outlined the process, covering much of the same information that was presented in the census (which was next after the meeting for this community). In addition, the district chief presented before and emphasized after, how everyone must follow the rules, watch and report their neighbors for any suspicious behavior, and implied that the GD activity was in some way associated with the government. When GD presented, the fieldworker got the crowd excited with a shout of “Give” to which the audience responded “Directly.” An activity repeated throughout to help keep people’s attention and excitement. The meeting ended with questions, many of which were already answered but there were some areas of clarification.
From my perspective, both GD activities were emotionally charged and the joy and excitement palpable. A few times, especially at the start of the community meeting, I had to suppress my emotional joy bordering on any tears leaking out. I was honored and blessed to be there.
One important point to note: GD highlighted that the key goal of the cash transfers was for these people to escape extreme poverty. As a donor, this was exactly what I would hope. Unfortunately, it actually opened up an important question for me.
What was the increase in income from before the cash transfer to (some significant number like) five years later?
A second question related to the point they emphasized during the community meeting: couples should not have conflict in order to receive the cash transfer. This is important because they want unity in the financial decisions the couple is making. While I (obviously) have no conflict in my marriage :), this raised an eyebrow for me:
Why did the census, which asked about marital conflict, only detect conflict two percent of the time when UN Women had the following statistics at the time of this writing:
Physical and/or Sexual Intimate Partner Violence in the last 12 months: 20.7%
Lifetime Physical and/or Sexual Intimate Partner Violence: 37.1%
Before breakfast, and like the previous day, I awoke, worked for a couple of hours, and then joined up with Phil and Sean for a walk. This time, however, we decided to be more deliberate in walking into areas that were less tourist and commercial (but staying within the safety boundaries suggested by the hotel). We headed north along the main road until we found a dark enough alley – and in this case, I’m referring to enough of the black, volcanic dirt for a road rather than something paved. It was great. We were able to interact with the locals by playing pool and soccer, and obtain a sense of what the real Goma is like behind the preponderance of NGO buildings on the main streets. (Sean suggested we play NGO bingo.)
(See more journaling below, but there are lots of photos.)