Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My 2010 Holiday Letter

I definitely like the idea of a holiday letter because it gives me a chance to think about what I’ve been doing all year. Sometimes I get bogged down with the routine of life and think that I need some change, but then I think about all the things I’ve done and seen and realize life is pretty good the way it is.

Quick highlights:

I discovered more of the world with travel to Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Senegal, South Africa and domestically in Chicago, Iowa for the great state fair and San Francisco, where as always I got to learn more about the diversity of my own country. I had a solid month of World Cup madness watching Africa shine! I continue to explore New York and my highlight this year was a tour of the East Side Access tunnels that are being dug deep below Grand Central Station. I'm still working hard at Princeton in Africa. This year we sent another 26 Princeton in Africa Fellows to work in 18 countries in Africa and hopefully have changed their lives. And then of course, I've had plenty of time with friends and family and lots of lazy summer days floating in Long Island Sound.

I hope your year was filled with adventure, new knowledge and community.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Iowa - Summer 2010

After my wonderful experience in Iowa in the winter of 2008 for the Iowa Caucuses I fell in love with the state. Long open spaces, quaint old barns, gigantic grain storage units, nice people, cows… Then the ground was all covered with snow and I had to rush in and out of the car shielding myself from cold winds. The icy white was beautiful, but I knew Iowa was known for another season and another ground covering, so I decided to go back during corn and soybean season to drive through the rolling hills of green and gold and to attend the famous Iowa State Fair this summer.

I’m pleased to say this trip was as good as the first. Coming from New York, at times my eyes crave wide open spaces, full open blue skies, puffy white clouds and the friendlier slower pace of a non-urban place. Iowa has all that in spades along with swaths of wind energy turbines whose slow rotations can calm even the most stressed out soul.

It’s funny to think that miles and miles of corn stalks can be so soothing and endlessly mesmerizing, but at least for me it’s true. I spent days with my forehead right up to the window staring at the deep greens and shimmering gold. Then just when I needed a break an old barn would appear and show the glorious farming history in its weather worn exterior.

I know nothing about farming but am always curious so I look at tractors, grain sheds and gigantic irrigation rigs with immense curiosity. I even made Rick, my host and tour guide, pull off the road so I could check out a hog confinement, where they were fattening up 1000s of pigs. Iowans can’t believe I’d want to stop, but I needed to see what it looked like and say a few hellos to the pigs who seemed very happy to have a visitor.

Photos from the Iowa State Fair

For more commentary, check out my Facebook photo slide show.

Iowa State Fair

So perhaps you are wondering why I chose to spend my summer vacation in Iowa. First and foremost, its Iowa State Fair season. And why did I want to go to the fair, you ask? Well did you know that it’s the only US state fair to make the list “1000 Things to do Before You Die.” It’s so great that Rodgers and Hammerstein's wrote "State Fair", the musical about it. They claim to have 50 foods on sticks and discovering them is the kind of travel challenge I like. Oh and yes, I have two friends there who I wanted to visit and this seemed like the perfect time to come.

Visiting the fair meant plenty of time to see prize livestock. There were enormous bulls (the biggest is the size of a small minivan and 3500 lbs!!!) and hogs (the largest is 1500lbs - lots of bacon there!); Aisles of cows, sheep, goats and horses; Chickens with wild tufts of feathers that made them look more like lions than birds. I particularly decided to focus on pigs since I’ve always been partial to them and wasn’t able to find their barn at the New York State Fair a few years ago and have wanted to see them since. Also Iowa is a proud pork producing state so as the saying goes... when in Rome...

(Did you know that pigs are smart and interactive? Did you know they wag their tails and love to be scratched between their ears and quickly close their eyes in complete happiness when given a little attention?)

It also meant wandering through rows of huge farm equipment and being able to get the feel of sitting behind the wheel on big tractors. It meant rows of 4-H winners in sewing, baking, science and design. It meant learning about breeding in the baby animal building where chicks are hatched and baby pigs, sheep, goats and cows all cozily sat with their moms. It meant taking big rides and eating fried food on sticks. My favorites were pork chop on a stick, salad on a stick and deep fried Twinkie on a stick. My goal was to eat as many things as possible and I made it through 16 items. Unfortunately I missed deep friend cheesecake and chocolate covered cheesecake, fried bologna, pickles on a stick and many more. I guess it means I have to back next year! All in all, it was just that fun that it warrants a trip back some time!

Thanks Iowa for the good times.

If you are interested in my previous musings about Iowa from my trip in the winter of 2007-08 click below to reach the post.

Cordelia Hits the Heartland

Thursday, May 13, 2010

An Article About Princeton in Africa

Click the link
From New Jersey to Nairobi: Princeton in Africa marks 10 years

In case you were wondering, this is why I get to spend so much time in Africa.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Reflections on my trip

After 4 weeks in 5 countries visiting various NGOs doing a variety of work related to nutrition, public health and HIV/AIDS, education and sustainable development, I reflect back on many of the same questions that always fill my mind after a trip to Africa. The biggest ongoing one is “does aid work?” Of course, I can’t answer that question here, but I can say I leave Africa less cynical this time than in the past. I visited valuable programs that are making very positive impacts on individual’s lives. I met passionate people running programs that genuinely believe they are doing good work and have bright attitudes about the future.

In fact, that is the funny thing about my job at Princeton in Africa. Each year, through 25 different Fellows experiences, I get to hear many stories that don’t make it into the mainstream press. Although they work face to face with poverty, disease and conflict, they also work face to face with real people and programs that serve them. They tell of little ways life improves or the way local people help themselves through the tough times. What is always clear to me is that Africa is a much more humane place than the news covers. I never see the “dark continent”. Instead I see rich, deep smiles of real people.

I hope this brighter feeling means there is something changing on the continent. After all the Newsweek cover last week called Africa the next Asia and local magazines are feeling bullish on the prospects of many countries.

How Africa is Becoming the New Asia


Africa: 5 Countries in 4 Weeks

I know most Americans know nothing about Africa and I never even know where to start when trying to share my experiences, but if you have read this far I hope you will read some more and learn about the tremendous variety between regions, nations and cultures. I went to five countries and each one is different. Here are a few things I will miss about them?


The class of the beautiful set of people who have melded the French cultural swish with the great African dignity.

The strong sea breeze.

Mini omelet stands all over and Nescafe carts plying the streets.


The colorful men in traditional dress keeping culture alive. Women often wear traditional dress but seeing men in bright colored patterns was amazing.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Photos from My Trip

Click here to see

Sorry that there are a lot of them. There just was so much to see!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dakar Senegal - The Second Time Around

After two weeks in Benin and Burkina Faso, Dakar felt like another planet. Beautiful palm promenades by the sea, fancy hotels, big houses... Dakar is much more developed and much richer. There are plenty of spots of poverty, but what became clear to me was its sense of style and cosmopolitan feel.

One clear fact is that Senegalese people are beautiful, drop dead beautiful. Tall handsome men. Gorgeous women. And Dakar knows how to show them off.

I had two separate daylong visits where Callie, a Princeton in Africa Fellow who is working for the UN World Food Program in their West Africa regional office showed me around. I visited her office, met with her boss, learned more about the work WFP is doing in the region. Afterwards Callie and I spent time walking around downtown and seeing the sites. Dakar is on a peninsula and has beautiful blue water all around it and tropical sea breezes.

Road Trip to Gorum Gorum in Northern Burkina Faso

While I was visiting, I packed up three Princeton in Africa Fellows, the two who live in Ouaga and the one I had been travelling with from Benin and we journeyed 6 hours up North to the edge of the Sahara desert to Gorum Gorum, where a huge weekly market takes place. It is attended by many of the nomads in the region. Here the faces of Tuaregs and Fulani’s brightened up the view. It was a feast of color and tradition. The livestock market was packed with men pocking and prodding goats and cattle since these nomads are herders. On all my drives in Burkina Faso the roads were lined with beautiful sprawling dry desert lands that were dotted with heads of goats, donkeys and cattle across the red clay soil.

I am a people watcher and experiences like Gorum Gorum are my candy. Seeing such a diverse sets of faces and meeting people from all over is why I travel.

Here are a few photos:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Photos from Northern Burkina Faso

Ouagadougou, the capitol of Burkina Faso

My multi-day road trip filled with long bus rides led me to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, the capitol city. Here two Princeton in Africa Fellows work at 2iE, an engineering graduate school dedicated to sustainable solutions for Africa’s problems. I was able to visit the school and also explore the city.

Ouaga, doesn’t have a lot of big sites to see, but Burkina Faso does have a vibrant culture and is often referred to as the friendliest place in Africa. My free time was spent walking around the markets of downtown people watching as I dodged hundreds of motos and bicycles that ply the streets.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Benin, West Africa

Benin is a little sliver of a country that few people have heard of and few people care much about. It’s certainly not on the tourist track and one can’t get many insights about it on the pages of travel pubs. I went there to visit a Princeton in Africa Fellow at the UN World Food Program.

I have been wanting to go to West Africa for a long time now and Benin was as good a place to start as any. In fact, Benin was filled with rich sites and experiences and had quite a lot to offer. Benin is the place voodoo comes from and was home to one of the larger slave ports. Its Northwestern region has dramatic landscapes and is home to a group of people called the Somba and their homes, Tata Somba houses, have a particularly interesting design that brings traveler to see and study them. It’s also an interesting place to begin to explore French colonial culture and see that they French are keeping a strong grip on the Francophone countries of West Africa.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ouidah, Benin – the birth place of Voodoo

Ouidah, Benin on the Western Coast of the country is the birthplace to voodoo and much of the country believes in various forms of animist religions. Small fetishes (voodoo offerings to the gods) can be seen above and beside doorways and larger fetish temples exist throughout the country. The most obvious fetishes are the remnants of blood and chicken feather that can be seen in many places.

Although I can’t begin to understand the religion and its practices, I did come upon one annual ceremony and able to view the activities and dances that followed. I also stopped by the more touristy Temple de Pythons, where, for a few cfas, they will drape you with live pythons and take your photo. Pythons are a big thing in Benin and when I was up north, far from the Python Temple, a kid I befriended saw the picture of me with them he was so shocked that he made everyone on the street come look at the photo and all their eyes opened wide.

In the North in the Tata Somba country, I found my favorite fetishes. Outside the local houses there are many different sized mounds. Each mound represents a member of the family. Prayers and sacrifices are made on these mounds to protect the people. The part I found most touching was that they said that even if a family member moved far away to Europe and such, the family could continue to pray for and protect them at home.

Benin and Its Slave Trading Past

Gate of No Return - A memorial to the slave port that was on the shores of Benin
Benin also was the home of a major slave trading kingdom in Africa, the Dahomey Kingdom. Their rule spread over areas we now call Togo, Benin, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. Selling slaves to Europeans in exchange for weapons helped them build their strength. The weapons fueled their ways and the slaves they sold were often their prisoners of war. The memorials to the slave trade in Ouidah are vivid. First one starts at an old Portuguese fort where slaves were exchanged. Now there are photos and art work that remind you of the terrible injustices done there and speak to the strength of the Dahomey Kingdom and African’s direct involvement and profit in the slave trade. Along the 3km route to the water where slaves were marched, there are statues and memorials. There is a tree, the Tree of Forgetting, where slaves walked around 9 times in order to purge their memories of Africa before they got on the boats and then there was another tree, the Tree of Return, marking the point of last goodbyes. By turning three times around the tree, slaves could ensure that their spirits would return to their homeland after death. Along the route one is reminded of the incredible brutality and all the efforts made to break everyone’s spirits and also all the people who died before even setting off on the journey.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Benin is officially on the New York Times travel track

Click here to see what the New York Times has to say about traveling to Benin and about vodun on February 5. 2011.  I was there two years before.  I'm such a trend-setter!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Photos of Benin

Children waiting for lunch at a school feeding program sponsored by the UN World Food Program

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Quick stop Dakar, Senegal

Three days of snow delays cut my weekend visit to Dakar to an 7 hour jaunt. Thanks to a Princeton in Africa Fellow, I jam-packed the day and at least got to see some stuff. We had breakfast at a rooftop restaurant with a wonderful view of the coast line and the cosmopolitan city below. I got to visit World Food Program and meet her boss. Then we spent a few hours walking around downtown and topped it off with lunch at the French Cultural Center an amazing green oasis in the middle of town.

I certainly wasn’t in Dakar long enough to form major impressions, but first I want to say that it is GREAT to be back in Africa. There is just a feeling here that makes me feel at home. Instantly I feel relaxed and welcomed. I just can’t get enough of the big smiles and friendly faces.

This is my first trip to West Africa and I can tell its going to live up to my expectations. The thing that makes this city stand out from other places I have been is the colorful wardrobes the men wear. All over the world women continue to wear traditional dress and in Dakar they do too. The colors and fabrics are awesome. But usually men wear the same clothes no matter where you are, but not in Dakar. Many of the men are colorfully dressed too. Long robes, impressive embroidery and a variety of hats dot the sidewalks. The abundance of color here gives India a run for its money.

Unfortunately I have no photos yet, but hopefully I’ll get time to take some on the other day layover I have there.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Stuck in transit - Columbus, Ohio

If you are checking in to see my first Africa post, you might be disappointed because although I was supposed to leave three days ago, due to the DC snowstorm, I have only made it to Columbus, Ohio, where I am stuck in transit. (Long story.) Of course I am an equal opportunity people watcher and I've never been to Columbus before so I took the airport guys rec and got a hotel near the Easton Town Center, a huge fancy sprawling mall, and spent the afternoon walking around and observing Americans in their native environment.

To say that this is a contrast to what I thought I would be seeing right about now on the streets of Dakar is a huge understatement.

Monday, January 11, 2010

My next trip to Africa - From Dakar to Cape Town

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Cordelia’s Year - the quick summary

January: Started off the year at Obama's Inauguration with millions of my closest friends.

February: Jetted off to Africa to visit Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Swaziland and Kenya to see Princeton in Africa Fellows and scout new partnerships.

March: Arrived back in NY just in time to celebrate the big 4-0 with a big group of my friends who have been with me in the many stages of my life.

May: Flew to San Francisco for work and Oregon for fun. Got to catch up with wonderful old friends.

July: Off again this time to the Montreal Jazz Festival for a 40th birthday celebration with high school friends, Karen, Karen and Catherine.

August: Summer educational journey to Israel and the West Bank to get a deeper story of the situation there.

Israel was the 40th country I've been to and I got there on my 40th year! Not bad!

Fall: Leaf peeping with family in the Berkshires, Thanksgiving in DC...

All year: Being executive director of Princeton in Africa. Helping send 25 recent grads to work with service organizations throughout Africa. Living in NY. Commuting to Princeton.

Happy Holidays!