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Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Just got back from Tanzania. After climbing Kilimanjaro (amazing) we headed to Zanzibar (gorgeous) for a couple days before returning back to Cameroon. I can’t believe how developed east Africa is compared to west Africa. Tanzania made Cameroon look really bad. In any case, I only have about 3 months left and have tons of work to do, but my mother has persistently urged me to provide a write-up of my experience.. so here is a shoddy yet final version!

The moment of truth had finally arrived. As I boarded the plane for Tanzania in Yaounde, Cameroon, I felt grossly unprepared.  Though I consider myself decently athletic, I am not at all what you’d call an ‘outdoorsman’. In fact, I’m much the opposite. I’d never been camping, and certainly had never undertaken any task of this nature. Fortunately Caleb, my climbing buddy, loves rocks grass dirt and Eddie Bauer, so he balanced me out.

Caleb and I had spent countless hours planning the climb up mount Kilimanjaro, and even more time in organizing our fundraising campaign, Climb Kili for Literacy. We had successfully been able to raise all the funds thanks to several selfless donors. We even had a website with all the details of our project and endeavour. It inevitably became a very public affair. Now if I don’t make it to the top, it would be beyond embarrassing.

We flew to Nairobi and then to Kilimanjaro International Airport in Moshi, Tanzania. Minutes before touch down, we caught the first glimpse of our adversary. Mount Kilimanjaro looked massive, towering well above cloud cover. It seemed difficult to fathom that I’d  be attempting to summit there. We touched down in Moshi and found the tour company we’d been corresponding with. Every climber is obligated to hire a guide, and we went with the budget tour package offered by Tro-Peaks.
There are several routes one can choose from when summiting Kilimanjaro. They range from easier hiking routes(Marangu) to very difficult technical climbs (Umbwe). We went with one of the difficult hiking routes, Lemosho, known for its beauty. We tried to negotiate a 6-day package with several tour companies (so we could have more time in Zanzibar after the climb), but were advised against it due to difficulty and had to settle for a 7 day instead. We actually ended up completing the climb in 5 days, though we came to fully understand the tour operator’s advice! We arrived in Moshi on July 7th and stayed in a hotel there the same night. We planned to depart for the mountain about 9am the next day. 

Day one of the climb, we ate breakfast, assembled our gear, rented a tent, sleeping bags, and a couple other items, and left for the Lemosho trailhead with our crew. Our crew consisted of porters, a guide, and a cook, all of whom we got to know pretty well over the length of our climb. Once we arrived, we strapped on our day packs  (20-30 lbs) and began. The first day was spent entirely in the rain forest where we got to see tons of unique vegetation, Elephant tracks, even more Elephant dung, and lots of monkeys (the black and white colombos monkey and blue monkey). We arrived at camp about 3.5 hours later and settled there for the night. Our cook, Kombo, prepared a delicious meal of potatoes and tilapia.

The 2nd day was rough. We got out of camp at about 7am and started our way up the mountain. We had slept at about 8,000 feet the night before and would be settling at about 12,000 feet on the second night. We trekked through more gorgeous rainforest, then at slightly higher elevation, moorland (which are dense short shrubs), then finally entered semi-arid desert by the end of the day. The diversity of ecology throughout the climb is one of the things that makes Kilimanjaro so incredible.  What made the 2nd day tough were the extreme inclines and declines throughout the trek. We had to traverse what was left of an ancient volcano that had exploded; first hiking over the rim and then down into the crater, known as the Shira plateau. At about the 6th hour, I felt a sharp pain in my knee, right about where I had torn my LCL in college. I was pretty worried because it was only the 2nd day and we still had so long to go.. I thought it would only get worse. The last hour I practically limped to camp. Our camp was above cloud cover and allowed an amazing view. That night was very cold… as was the 3rd and especially 4th night.

The 3rd day we got up and out of camp again at about 7am. The cold nights made it nearly impossible to sleep but I still felt decent. I took some Ibuprofen and wrapped my knee. I decided to use a walking stick (I had picked it up on the second day in the Moorland area) to ease the pressure.  We hiked up to Lava Tower, a volcanic plug, at 15,000 ft, ate lunch there, and then hiked down to our next camp, Barafu, at about 13,000 feet.  It was again a 6-7 hour hike. Luckily my knee held together and I felt pretty good.  On the way to our 3rd camp, we crossed a valley full of a plant species endemic to Mount Kilimanjaro.  Very cool.  The camp the 3rd night offered the most spectacular view I’ve ever seen. We were right under the snowcapped peak of Kili, with a green valley watered by glacier water on our left, barren rock on our right, and a sea of clouds downhill behind us.

I woke up the 4th day with a headache and feeling a bit sick. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the altitude or the frigid temperatures at night.  Either way, I found this day to be downright miserable. We again started very early in the morning and climbed up the Baranco wall, which was a high ridge on one side of the valley where we camped. It involved some ‘scrambling’ and moderate climbing but nothing too extreme. I had fractured my right arm a couple weeks back and it was still healing, so I avoided using it and awkwardly made my way up. We then hiked up and down a bunch of ridges, approaching the base of the summit. We finally settled at Baranco camp at 15,000 feet, from which we would climb straight to the summit at over 19,400 feet.  We arrived at the camp at about 3pm after about 7 hours of hiking. We tried to dry our clothes and prep for the summit attempt which would be the same night. I felt especially crappy and went into the tent and got into my sleeping bag. I took some meds and went to sleep at around 9pm, hoping to feel better within a couple hours somehow.

We woke up at 11:30 pm the same day and had some tea and biscuits. Miraculously, I felt normal again. We packed on every single layer we had and tried to insulate ourselves as best we could. I am going to pause here and tell you about our ghetto gear situation.

Caleb and I are Peace Corps volunteers in West Africa without access to many first-world amenities; such as cold weather clothing. Our “gear” was basically a random assortment of whatever we could find at the Ngaoundere fripperie. Thus, on the night of the summit, we were both wearing about 4 layers of random long sleeve shirts with ski jackets. On our legs, we were wearing about 3 layers of pants, one of which the tour provider fortunately contributed.  Out of all the white people on the mountain that day, we looked, by far, the most ridiculous and ill-equipped.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Unpause. We left at about 12:20 am. Caleb had the good fortune of falling ill at this point; I’ll save you the unsavory yet comical details for now. The hike essentially felt like a death march. At such high altitude, every step took more effort and breathing was labored. This is probably the only time during the excursion that I felt like I really might not be able to do it. Caleb and I barely spoke at all.. instead focusing on just trying to make it up. The most ridiculous thing about the summit night was that the peak was deceptively far. I remember looking up to the top of the ridge to see how far we had left. We’d arrive at the top of the ridge about an hour later, completely exhausted, only to find an even steeper and taller ridge than the last. This happened several times. Finally, we arrived to Shira point, which is at the lip of the volcanic crater of Kilimanjaro. We then had to walk around the lip of the crater about 45 minutes to Uhuru peak, at 19,400 feet, the highest point in Africa.

By the time we reached Uhuru peak, it was about 4:45 am. Caleb and I were freezing, exhausted, and a bit delirious. So much so that we stayed at the peak for no more than about 90 seconds, took as many pictures as possible, and promptly began the descent.  

The descent from summit was MUCH better. Caleb and I were completely pumped that we’d made it to the top. Our guide took us down the ‘express route’ down from the summit, which was a side of the mountain essentially composed of volcanic gravel.  We basically skied down in our hiking boots, though Caleb was much better at this than I was.. I bit it at least 7 times. On our way down we also caught a spectacular sunrise and amazing view. We reached the base camp at about 7:25am and recuperated while we waited for breakfast.

We rested, dried off, ate breakfast, and at about 9am, decided to continue all the way down the mountain. We were completely drained, but since we still had the entire day ahead of us, we really had no excuse.  The way down was very painful on the feet and knees.  My knee pain had returned and was super irritating. Although the increase in oxygen did wonders for us. We hiked down a different part of the mountain this time, and got to walk through a beautiful cloud forest.  We arrived at the gate at the bottom of the mountain completely starving and fatigued at 3:40 pm, concluding about 13 hours of hiking for the day and our long awaited climb of mount Kilimanjaro

So that’s it. It was an incredible experience. I can’t emphasize how much I appreciate everyone’s donations for the Climb Kili for Literacy campaign, and my friends' and family's efforts, especially my sister Hiba Suleman! We are already hard at work putting everyone’s valuable contributions to good use. We hope to post an update on the status soon!


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I'm back!

I have not posted in my blog for about 5 months. Don't worry, I'm still here. So much has happened.. during the preceding couple months my life has revolved around 2 things; the 'Climb Kili for Literacy' project and the GMAT exam.

So I believe somewhere on this blog I had mentioned that I will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro along with my friend and fellow volunteer Caleb Hawkins, while raising money for our literacy project, Climb Kili for Literacy, in the process. The fundraising was basically headed by my sister Hiba, who also made this boss website...

I'm proud to announce that we have already met our $8,000 fundraising goal! The money will go towards creating libraries and purchasing textbooks in the region. Our trip will take place from July 6th to the 17th. We plan on taking the more challenging 6-day Machame route up the mountain then perhaps taking a quick trip to Zanzibar afterwards. I'm stoked! I have been training of course but will need to pick up the pace as the climb is less than a month away.

Now, about the GMAT. This exam is required to apply to MBA programs and is taken into heavy consideration. It took a good amount of time and energy to prepare for the exam as I needed a very high score to be competitive for top programs. There is a very long story associated with this which culminates into me having to fly to London last-minute to take this exam due to typical 3rd world complications here in Cameroon. Fortunately I did well! I stayed in London an extra week with my cousins and their families; it was fantastic. They fed me till I couldn't breathe which is good since I showed up in London looking like a Sahelian cow at the end of dry season. I then briefly stopped in Paris on the way back. It was my first time there and I was impressed! Gorgeous city... don't tell the French I said that though. I just got back and can't believe how fast my trip just flew by. Furthermore, I can't believe I have only 5 months left here in Cameroon!

I also successfully completed my 2nd business training seminar during the last few months. In this seminar, about 65 microentrepreneurs registered for the course and 40 of them successfully graduated.  I was also interviewed about the seminar on national TV again, and this time I bumbled slightly less than last. I must say it was a lot easier the second time around and definitely less stressful. The demand for the training program has increased drastically and people are constantly contacting me to sign up for the next one. One aid organization has even  required that members take my course in order to qualify for financing! We will probably offer one more seminar, after which I hope the Ministry of Small and Medium Sized Enterprise will be able to run it on their own. I actually have confidence that they will, as they have been incredible throughout the process..

On a completely random note. My memory card with all my pictures of Cameroon got completely wiped clean a couple months ago :(  I will try and make up for it in these last few months. Stay tuned

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Glass Half Full

I’ve had a string of surprisingly positive events lately. 
Firstly, I sold my goats for a profit. Let me go back. In about March of 2011, I had decided to help out Nana’s family because they do a lot for me, and I didn’t want to give straight cash...  so I decided to buy them goats. I bought 2 males and 1 female for 32,000 CFA ($64) on brusse, where they are substantially cheaper.  They were surprisingly easy to manage. They basically ran around village munching on various greenery all day, and returned back to Nana’s compound at night.  We hit a rough patch when the mother gave birth to 3 baby goats which all ended up dying. We were thus left with what we started with. Nonetheless, goats are known to be significantly more expensive toward the end of the year around Christmas and New Year’s. Sure enough, we ended up selling them for 66,000 CFA ($132) just before Christmas. This makes about a 200% profit over the span of 9 months. Not bad.  I let Nana keep 50,000 CFA and kept the 16,000 CFA myselfto pay for school fees for 2 of the girls in his compound who have dropped out due to not paying school fees. Trusting locals with money is very dicey. By the way, they took all the goats away on single motorcycle, which transported a grand total of 2 grown men and 3 goats at the same. TIA (this is Africa)

The main event was the graduating ceremony for our business training program. It took some stressful planning but turned out very well.  Of the 51 registered participants, 37 had earned diplomas, which meant they attended all sessions and completed all the meticulous homeworks.  I did a lot of running around to get people together and invite guests.  The guests were several development organizations in the area which provided project financing or other assistance.  Ibrahim was the only staff member who could make it due to another big administrative meeting happening the same day. We had a committee of students take care of preparing refreshments, and worried about the rest ourselves. On the ceremony day, turnout was great, as virtually all students and guests were present. Also present was CRTV, Cameroon’s national news program.  They taped just about all of the ceremony and interviewed Ibrahim and I at the end. It aired on the national news on December 29th but I failed to catch it.  The students and staff were incredibly gracious and continuously praised me throughout the ceremony. I am so accustomed to things not working out that it was quite unexpected and probably the most humbling moment of my service thus far

With the girl’s group, we’ve been trying to start a small income generating activity.  Our first 3 runs of samosas and beignets all lost money.  On our last run however, of another type of cake-like beignet, we finally broke even. Our operations are pretty simple. We all get together at Nana’s wife’s place and prepare the product, the girls then carry it around on their heads for the next few days until they’ve sold everything. They are actually pretty good at cooking and selling. Hopefully the next time will be successful, and we'll be well on our way to riches. 

In other news, things are good. I hit my halfway mark recently. We are well into dry season. I traveled quite a bit during the holidays, and will make another trip to Yaoundé in a couple of weeks for a Peace Corps conference. After that, I plan on buckling down and focusing on my GMAT exam and projects in village.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

1 down, 5 to go

Turns out, my neighbor’s chest pain was in fact due to acid reflux, and my prescription of pepto bismol was dead on. I credit my medical savviness to the fact that I’m brown and obviously genetically predisposed to being a doctor. Yet alas, I am a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa. Again, sorry mom.

Our first session of the business training was very stressful, but went very well. About 45 of the 50 people who registered actually showed up the first day, and about 5-6 newcomers showed up and tried to register on the spot. We allowed them to sit through the class but did not allow them to register, out of principle.

I taught Entrepreneurial Spirit and Goals and Action Plans on the first day. I bumbled through the curriculum with my mediocre French in front of 50+ attendants. I actually broke out into a sweat at one point while I was straining to comment on something that I was having trouble translating.  Luckily my counterpart Ibrahim and his staff were with me to facilitate communication. That was crucial to say the least.   We also invited a special guest for our first class to share his personal story. He is an Al-Hadji that owns a popular fruit shop in the main market. Al-Hadji means someone that has been to Mecca for the mandatory Muslim pilgrimage. Around here, it is also a status symbol, implying a certain level of success. His story was inspiring. He quit primary school to sell Papayas because his parents died. He then started a tiny farm which he grew into a plantation over the course of 40 years. It was a sort of rags to (not glamorously) riches story due to determination, discipline, and work ethic, the type that is incredibly rare to find here. Also, he did it all without any help or financing. For anything and everything he bought, he saved up for it. Now in Cameroon, that is a completely foreign concept. In any case, he got a huge ovation, as he should.  

With one class done, we have 5 more to go, which we will be teaching once a week over the next 5 weeks.  Will let you know how it goes

Friday, October 14, 2011

random update

I seem to be getting worse at this blogging thing. Since the last post, there was the festive Eid. As usual we dressed up, ate a lot, and visited people. There was also a ceremony at the Lamido’s palace in town which we attended. The Lamido is basically the chief of Ngaoundere. There was lots of marching and horse racing. We also saw the Lamido who came out with an enormous entourage which included personal fanning assistants and a guy that held up a sun umbrella for him while he was mounted on his horse. Biya forced me to take countless unnecessary photos of the event because he thought people in America would find it just that dazzling. I will put them up, but I guarantee you will not get through them all, and you will be left underwhelmed

I also took a mini vacation to the northern regions. It was a lot hotter and muggier than my part of the country. It is also more desert like, especially the far north. My trip was lots of fun and was the inspiration for my decision to not take my CFA Level III in June, but climb Mount Kilimanjaro with a friend of mine instead.  Mt K is in Tanzania. It takes about a week to do, and is more of a strenuous hike than an actual climb.  We are in the process of planning logistics but I have already started training.  As for the last CFA exam, I will hopefully take it once I’m back in the states.

Work has picked up. I’d been preparing for months for a large scale business training seminar which will begin on Tuesday. The team that will be taking on this endeavor with me comprises of the staff of Small and Medium Sized Enterprise. We started by identifying some serious needs that need to be met in the business community and setting goals to address them.  Next, we presented, studied, and revised the 12 subject curriculum amongst ourselves (during Ramadan) before we decided we were ready to schedule the course. We then put up flyers and broadcasted radio advertisements about a call out meeting where participants could register and learn more about the course. We expected about 60 people to attend and had set up classroom seating accordingly.  Amazingly, only 12 people showed up. We continued the presentation anyways and asked participants to fill out a form and pay the sign-up fee to register, which we set at a measly 1,500 CFA ($3) just to cover the actual workbook they would be using. Fyi, charging some sort of fee is essential as it weeds out unmotivated and/or lazy people who we do not want to work with anyways.  Finally, only 7 people actually registered. We were quite disappointed at the prospects of our seminar and decided to set the registration deadline for 10 days later, in case anyone who could not come to the meeting, still wanted to attend the course.  We preferred around 30 students ideally, but we expected a maximum of 15 would end up registering for the class.  It turns out, however, through pure word-of –mouth, a total of 50 people ended up signing up and paying the registration fee by the deadline.  We even had to turn dozens of people away that said they would pay the fee at the first class, or that showed up a day or two after deadline. Needless to say, we got more than what we bargained for, and definitely have our work cut out for us. We will see how it goes

Also, I have been working as a sort of micro consultant for small enterprises. I am currently working with a packaged drink start-up, a hotel that would like to undergo a renovation project, and a women’s group that would like to start income generating activities.  With my microfinance institution, I have been pushing the bank to complete our application for KIVA, the non-profit internet lender; because I think it would be a huge boon. I even went to headquarters to meet with the CEO just for that reason. The meeting went great, although the CEO is a pretty intimidating dude. He started his banking career as an investment banker for Chase Manhattan bank in London, which he did for around 10 years. Not sure what brought him back to Cameroon. Finally, I am working on a project to fight against malnutrition. We’d been putting together a proposal to team up with UNICEF in order to get some support and credibility behind it. We have already met with several UNICEF officials and will be sending the final version out in the next few days, after which we will start setting up sessions with communities in the Ngoundere area.

On a completely random note, my neighbor has fallen ill with some chest pain. When I asked her husband what it was, he said people are claiming it is sorcery. Apparently they had bought some traditional medication for her which needed to be burned over a fire so that the fumes could be inhaled by the patient. Once she did that she started uttering the name of a well-known sorceress on the other side of the village.  I did my part by giving her some pepto bismol. After all, it does cure just about everything

Friday, August 5, 2011

Ramadan Mubarak

Ramadan started about 5 days ago. It really hasn’t been that bad thus far. The fasts are around 13 hours a day and there is not a lot of activity going on during this month, thus, work is slower than usual.  The only issue I’m having is with the enormous amounts of cous cous and gumbo sauce i've been eating for dinner, and then again for breakfast since Nana's family sends it over.  That means, I am spending majority of my waking hours either 1. Fasting or 2. Stuffing my face with cous cous and gumbo … I'm fairly certain I'll leave Cameroon with a severe allergic reaction to it.  Talking about it now is in fact making me queasy.  There is also this inter-village soccer tournament going on right now. I’m on a decent team, but we’ve been giving up too many lousy goals. We usually play at about 4:30pm, 2 hours before breaking fast.  It gets pretty tiring to play while fasting but actually takes my mind off of being hungry. It’s a ton of fun though because lots of the villagers come out to watch and get really rowdy whenever goals are scored. 

Since I’ve been back from my trip to the states, my projects have been finally getting off the ground. My main wok activities for the moment include doing business training with the Ministry of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (MSME) aimed at entrepreneurs and cooperative leaders, an organizational management workshop with the Ministry of Agriculture aimed at common interest groups and associations, and a project to address malnutrition with a local NGO by incorporating nutritious foods into local diets (mainly soy and moringa). 

All of these projects are in the beginning phases but are coming along. Of course, this would not be the Peace Corps if it was not for the countless setbacks and disappointments along the way. The idea is to keep pushing through and hoping that by the end of my 2 years, I have accomplished something.  My business training project is my main focus for the time being. So far we have gathered and planned the curriculum and structure of the course. We have also begun our “training of teachers”, in which I first teach the course to our MSME staff (there are 4 of them) so we can gain some experience and make adjustments to our program along the way. As a side note, one of the staff members looks straight up like Eddie Murphy and I can hardly take him seriously. The staff is essential though because at least one of them will be teaching the class with me. Since my French is still not totally fluent and Fufulde (local dialect) is almost nonexistent, it will facilitate adequate communication. My main counterpart there is Ibrahim, who is the awesome departmental delegue for MSME in the Ngaoundere area.  He is very motivated and enthusiastic about this project, which is immensely helpful.  We will most likely start the actual class after Ramadan. It will be one 3-hour class a week for 6 weeks. There is also assigned homework after every class. In order to receive a Certificate, one must attend all classes and do all homework.  Once the class is done and we have identified the Certificate owners, we will follow up with their enterprises personally (like mini-consulting). That’s the idea anyway

The organizational management workshop with the Ministry of Agriculture is modeled off of a project another volunteer did in the north, and I think it is very necessary and applicable here in the Adamawa region.  It is aimed to address the widespread problem of dysfunctional common interest groups, associations, and cooperatives.  The idea is to attend these groups’ meetings and take them through modules to instill organizational structure and the ability to execute profit generating projects.  I am supposed to work with Ministry of Agriculture agents that go into the field and already frequent these groups. However, they are super flaky and have not yet found a counterpart there I can count on. This is key, because it usually makes or breaks projects.

The third thing I’m working on right now is getting together a project to fight malnutrion, primarily among youth.  The local foods are very high in starch and carbs but low in just about all other important nutrients, especially protein. Therefore, the children are very skinny and often stunted in growth. I was approached by a member of a local NGO, Synergie de Jeunesse et Développement, to help him come up with a comprehensive approach to solving this problem. We propose to emphasize the importance of improved diets, provide live food transformation demonstrations, and promote income generating activities addressing malnutrition. So far we have written a complete project plan and pitched it to UNICEF. They seemed quite receptive so it looks promising for the moment. We’ll see

That’s all for now. a plus tard

Monday, August 1, 2011

..aaand I’m back

Lots has happened since poor old Simba died. 

A while back I had registered for the notorious Level II CFA (finance certification) exam.  I studied regularly from January until the exam on June 4th, which I lined up with my vacation back in the states so that I could take it in Indianapolis while I was there for 3 weeks.

I originally thought it wouldn’t be so bad I since I set my own schedule here and could make time for it. Little did I know… studying in Africa is a beast of its own.  The lack of air conditioning, deafening storms, intermittent electricity, and unavailability of starbucks all took its toll as I neared exam date. Without delving into too much detail, it was awful, but I found out last week that I PASSED by the skin of my teeth. Of course had I failed I would not be disclosing all this because that would be plain embarrassing.  As many of my friends have asked, what does that mean?? Well, it means I’ll take the Level III Exam once I get back home... exciting, right? Level II is the hardest of the 3 levels however and I think preparing for the last exam in the U.S should go much smoother.  Next I will be taking the GMAT, hopefully by the end of the year, for grad school admission

My trip to the states was pretty BOSS , as kids are saying these days. The first week was a wash since I spent that cramming for my exam, but the last 2 were a blast. I spent about 2 days in Chicago and got to see lots of old buddies and coworkers.  Chicago in the summer is the best city on the planet. There, I said it. The rest of the time I spent putzing around with friends in Indianapolis as well as spending time with the family. Of course I was continuously bombarded with questions … what’s it like? do you get tired running from lions and throwing spears?  do people there wear clothes?  I fielded them as best I could, remembering I wondered pretty much the same things during my first plane ride to Africa. Seeing so many familiar people and my ‘old’ life back home was a bit surreal. Things at home seemed just about where I left them except for the onslaught of engagements and marriages among my friends. I suppose we’re at ‘that age’.

On the way back I had stopped by in London to see family and family friends, which was hectic but well worth it.  I had spent half the previous night in O’Hare because United Airlines’ computers were down and they had no idea how long it’d take to get back up. Not only that, they couldn’t issue any stipends or make hotel reservations for us because, again, the computers were down. We finally took off after a 6 hour delay (computers came back up). The actual flight was really sub-par compared to the European airlines (Swiss Air and Air France) I took on the way to the States. The plane was older, the stewardesses more grumpy.. and overall less aesthetically pleasing. Not to mention the ‘blankets’ they handed out that could’ve better been utilized as baby bibs.  I don’t like to admit this, but it was one of those times I was embarrassed to be American.

I finally landed back in Africa on June 20th, 2011, and wondered for the 786th time… what am I doing here?