Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 bookshelf

a great little used bookshop in Melville, a neighborhood in Jo'burg, RSA

I'm starting a new side bar list for 2010 reading, so here's a comprehensive list of the books I read (mostly devoured) in 2009. The books are in the order I read them (backwards) - the most recent book first, all the way to the beginning of 2009.

As I was going through the list to hyperlink the titles, I realized that I felt emotion and memory for each entry on the list - I could actually imagine how I felt and where I was when I read the bulk of the book. My most productive reading place this year was my friend Katie's place in Beaver Creek, Colorado, where I hid out for a couple of weeks in the snow - maybe it was the giant bath tub or the fireplace - I read A LOT. Otherwise, my favorite place to read is on a couch, with one leg thrown up over the back of the couch. I do a lot of that at Danny's house - usually around 3:30 pm when my mood inevitably crashes.

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder - from the author that wrote Mountains Beyond Mountains - this book is about a Burundian man who makes his way to NYC during the war in Burundi (after a horrific journey through ravaged Burundi and Rwanda), ends up at Columbia, and returns to Burundi to build a clinic - which has become Village Health Works. Incredible and inspiring read.
Location: the couch in Danny's living room, recovering from a cold picked up in the Ohio winter

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger - read this first and then watched on my flight back to the US. Eric Bana continues to be one of the most beautiful men on earth. And it was a great book.
Location: KLM flight across the Atlantic on my way home for Christmas

Half the Sky by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn - excellent and inspiring book about the plight of women around the world. Incredible - everyone working on women's issues should read this to feel refreshed. I sent it as a Christmas gift to my wholesale distributor - Stacey Edgar, of Global Girlfriend.
Location: Danny's couch

Buddhism Without Beliefs
by Stephen Batchelor
Location: in bed, all over throughout the year

The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman - hungover and in my underwear, this seemed perfect for a Sunday afternoon - a bit outdated today, but Friedman's crystal clear explanations for globalization and globalution are addicting. I'm loving the education on stocks, bonds and the electronic herd.
Location: poolside

Man Walks into a Room by Nicole Krauss - my mountain-climbing companion Kapner left this with me and I reluctantly picked it up - it was beautiful. A man loses the last 24 years of his memory - a haunting look at memory, love, forgetting...
Location: Mihingo Lodge at Lake Mburo

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali - fantastic first choice for the Kampalan Ladies #1 Book Club. An honest look at what it's like being a woman in the Muslim world. Unbelievably brave book. Read most of it with malaria.
Location: on my malarial sick bed

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin - a No. 1 Ladies Detective knock-off, this novel was a welcome respite from anything serious - quick and quaint tale of daily life of a Tanzanian cake-baker in Rwanda.
Location: night time by lantern in Gulu

The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman - I loved this book, even with it's ridiculous length and redundancy. I was really late on the bandwagon, but now I know so much more about Bangalore, the internet, China...fascinating. Read this in Zanzibar, of all places. I really know how to pick em.
Location: Z Hotel, Zanzibar, recovering from climbing Kilimanjaro

Surrender or Starve
by Robert Kaplan - picked this up off the bookshelf in my house for the Kilimanjaro trip - about the politics of famine in the Horn of Africa in the 1980s. Turns out it was Jackfruity's old copy, which made me think of her Bissell vs. Kaplan posts back in the day.
Location: slopes of Kilimanjaro

Cheap by Ellen Ruppel - excellent book about the high costs of discount culture in the West - pretty relevant to my current existence.
Location: my apartment - a rare place to hang out

Body Surfing
by Anita Shreve - and thank you, Anita, for depressing the shit out of me. I got hooked on Shreve back when I was an even more emotional high school student. I hope it says something positive that I can no longer stomach the drama.
Location: poolside at Danny's house

Life of Pi by Yann Martel - really enjoyed this, but was thoroughly confused by the island that eats you.
Location: at my parent's cottage on Johnson's Island - laying on the couch on the patio, but somehow conjures memories of rhubarb at the Marblehead farmers market

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho - re-read this on a Wednesday afternoon. Means more to me every time I pick it up, and I'm feeling very at one with the soul of the universe...just about to turn myself into the wind.
Location: Danny's couch

A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan - how the writer built his own "place" - a little shack in which he writes, read, and thinks. A heavenly piece of literature.
Location: in bed at my apartment

The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton - checking in with Socrates, Seneca, etc. to feel better about the random annoyances of daily life.
Location: on the little couch in the Cronin guest house

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse - I picked this up in South Africa at a little used book shop.
Location: on the little couch in the Cronin guest house

The Native Commissioner by Shaun Johnson - picked this up at the Apartheid Museum in Jo'burg, and wow. Tells the story of a white South African man working under the Apartheid regime and trying to detach from his horrific work - resulting in depression and, ultimately, suicide.
Location: on the couch at Mosetlha Bush Camp in South Africa - while Hitesh was snapping away taking photos

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan - as beautiful and depressing as Atonement. McEwan seems to be a bit obsessed with how small decisions totally change our lives.
Location: in Melville/Jo'burb, at the Ginnegaap Guest House

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Location: On the porch of Virunga Lodge, Rwanda, with that looming volcano in the distance

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan (not finished, gave it to Julie) - an exploration of sweetness [apple], beauty [tulip], intoxication [marijuana] and control [potato] - so nerdy it hurts (and I'm actually reading it - the apple part was all johnny appleseed...)
Location: Rwanda

Creating a World Without Poverty by Muhammed Yunus - treatise on "social business" and lots and lots of talk about the various Grameen businesses.
Location: on the couch at the Cronin's gu
est house

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - excellent book, scary parallel reference to red satin pajamas.
Location: New York and DC, before heading to Uganda

On Love by Alain de Botton - read this for the second time, with fresh eyes.
Location: Los Angeles, during downtime at the LA Gift Show

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn - "talking" gorilla unveils the dangerous story we as humans have been selling ourselves - the bogus idea that the world belongs to man. Man belongs to the world.
Location: Katie's place in Beaver Creek, Colorado

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell - Why didn't the Getty realize that the kouros was a fake? "...mostly it's because the Getty desperately wanted the statue to be real."
Location: Katie's place in Beaver Creek, Colorado (most of it read at a little gelato shop while Katie was skiing)

In Defense of Food
by Michael Pollan - I heart MP and the pages 147-201 of this book. In short, the cover says it all: "Eat Food. Not too much of it. Mostly plants." Thank you, MP, for your continuing common sensical brilliance.
Location: Katie's place in Beaver Creek, Colorado - mostly read in bed

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith
Location: Katie's place in Beaver Creek, Colorado

The Tipping Point
by Malcolm Gladwell - LOVED this book and trying to figure out how to tip One Mango Tree
Location: Katie's place in Beaver Creek, Colorado

Untethered Soul by Michael Singer - eliminating the annoying chatter in your head, letting go of your stuff, tao - excellent and simple advice for a better way of living
Location: Started in the Bahamas, on the beach at the Sivananda Ashram, finished in Beaver Creek, Colorado

The Other by Ryzcard Kapuscinski - a collection of lectures on the concept of "the other" as told through Kapuscinski's journeys. Always thrilled for "new" stuff from Kapuscinski, and this one is pretty bold and thought-provoking - an honest look at being a white westerner working in a non-white, non-western context.
Location: Katie's place in Beaver Creek, Colorado

Friday, December 18, 2009

yawning chasms of change

For weeks prior to leaving for my two-week US Christmas vacation, I was waxing poetic about snow, Starbucks coffee, and shopping malls. The months since my last visit were enough to wash away any cynicism I'd had about Midwestern American life. Plus, it's Christmas. It's home.

Since I got home, I've been in a bit of a fuzzy and emotion-less observation mode. After a whirlwind 24-hour DC visit and trunk shows at a fair trade shop in Cleveland, the snowy white fairy dust settled out.

I forgot that winter in Cleveland means this:
It gets sort of light outside, the sky stays gray and ominous and from 8 am to 6 pm it looks like it's 6 pm. Perpetually on the cusp of dusk.

And Christmas:
Even in a dying county facing brutal job loss, the Strongsville Mall is packed to the gills. In this little suburb of just over 40,000 people, the roads are brimming with cars and the all paths seem to point to the mall. Nothing seems to have changed.

Except, it seems, for me. Everything seems a bit shellacked. Even the Starbucks Grande Mocha that was my lifeblood for so long looks bigger and architecturally weird (was there ALWAYS that much whipped cream on my coffee??). Driving my mom's Matrix feels like a kid's toy after the rumble and roar of my diesel Pajero. Driving is too easy. The country of origin labels on every piece of clothing seem larger than life. In my first 24 hours back home, I managed to have a quick spree at Victoria's Secret (helloooo people - they figured out how to increase your bust by TWO cup sizes!) and GAP (a perennial addiction that's harder to break than Starbucks). But since then I've been a bit shell-shocked.

Much of this is superficial. I doubt I would have had the same reaction had I spent two weeks in DC. But the chasm between the life I live in Uganda, and the life I knew in Cleveland - the life I left more than ten years ago - is gaping. So I imagine it's a bit like visiting the Grand Canyon. Looking down and wondering at the majestic fissure - wondering how it got there. What it means.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

dreams of sewing machines - taking stock

I'm back at Schiphol Airport again. This time I found the Starbucks, in Lounge 1. I had to go through customs to acquire this grande mocha.

It really hasn't been that long since I was last here - it was summer then, on my quick layover back to Entebbe. One thing is certain - I always feel very far away when I'm here. It's cold and dark. It's almost 8 am and the sky is still inky black.

So, in my usual habit of reflection at Schiphol, here's the list.

  1. I climbed Kilimanjaro.
  2. I made a second visit to Zanzibar and got a henna tattoo on my butt.
  3. I survived malaria.
After surviving malaria, I succumbed to workaholic syndrome - putting aside everything else in my life to focus 110% of my energy on One Mango Tree.

dreams of sewing machines...

Personal merged with professional, and my emotions suddenly linked up with the ebb and flow of doing business in Africa. In short, over the past few months I thought I was losing it. Coming out on this end, surrounded by the sterile organization of Schiphol, I can now say that I've "learned lessons" and "overcome challenges." Starting a business in Uganda is no easy task - trying to make it sustainable is even more difficult.

  1. moved into our new workshop
  2. hired a cook/cleaning woman, compound manager and armed guard service - fired compound manager for pimping and hired a new compound manager, suspended new compound manager for stealing airtime... and so it goes
  3. started up the One Mango Tree Guest House, and quickly discovered that being a landlord is a full-time job in and of itself
  4. hosted Stacey Edgar, founder of Global Girlfriend, who visited our new workshop and gave me a schooling in all the things I didn't know - she more or less lit my ass on fire
  5. worked with Hilary Dell, our first design intern, to design 5 pieces of apparel for Global Girlfriend - a cami, scoop neck tee, tee dress, cardigan and wrap dress - production on 7,500 pcs. starts in December
  6. started working with Gihan da Silva - a Sri Lankan living in Uganda who knows everything - about apparel production, textiles, used cars, rally car racing, government bureaucracy, how to talk to Acholi women to make sure they show up for work, etc. He is my saving grace and my best friend in Uganda, and he's now working with One Mango Tree
  7. found a Ugandan lawyer and went through the annoying process of registering as a national NGO in Uganda, which took months and cost $1,000 and about a dozen trips to the lawyer's office, only for him to send me home to collect additional documents. Our complete certificate sat on the NGO Board Director's desk for weeks just waiting for her to show up and sign it, but it is now complete
  8. went through a similar lengthy process to acquire a TIN number (like the EIN in the US)
  9. faced slightly less run around and acquired an export certificate
  10. build a relationship with a mostly reliable shipper, dropping our costs from over $12/kg to about $4/kg (thanks Gihan)
  11. learned how to fill out oodles of customs paperwork - commercial invoice, packing lists, GSP Form A, and continued my education on AGOA policy (handbags don't qualify), Category 9 exemption and HTS codes
  12. learned how to procure packing materials - carton boxes, poly bags, sticker labels - the things you don't really think about until you get an order for 4,600 pieces
  13. completed a 4,600 pc. order for Global Girlfriend - definitely our biggest accomplishment this year - through this production we brought all of our tailors up in their skill levels and perfected quality control. The change this created in our capacity was incredible, and we had to bring on three new tailors to get it done - the end result was 133 cartons of One Mango Tree products shipped to Seattle
  14. received a grant from International Organization for Migration (IOM) to take on referrals from their partners (ex-combatants, vulnerable women) for training and employment, training program starts this month, wrote a case study for their Labor Market Analysis
  15. found a textile designer and worked with volunteers Anna and Zach Thompson to design four of our own fabrics for 2010 - all organic and absolutely beautiful - allowing us to cut ties with the Chinese wax print knock-off market we relied on in the past
  16. signed off wholesale distribution in North America to Global Girlfriend
  17. brought on Alison Farley to be our independent sales rep through Global Girlfriend
  18. received another order for 3,000 pcs from Global Girlfriend
  19. made our first projections and income statement
  20. somehow squeezed in production for Christmas and gave the website a face lift, with help from new intern Amy Karr on photography and editing
  21. since June, our staff went from 6 to 25
And finally, at 8:20 am, the darkness is lifting outside. Welcome North.

Monday, December 07, 2009

beautiful one mango tree video

Our friends at International Organization for Migration (IOM), with whom we partner on community reintegration, put together this gorgeous video of our tailors working in our new workshop. Check it out and pass it around!