My final week in Nairobi was filled with last-minute errands, a speech at the US Embassy and farewell get-togethers with friends. The speech went very well, with about 25 local information science professors, librarians and government and NGO representatives attending. They were extremely attentive and asked great questions. The key point I had wanted to get across was that information professionals - whether in knowledge management, library science or competitive intelligence - need to provide value-added analysis, rather than just point clients to information repositories. The group took it to heart and gave some great examples of where they could start employing that strategy immediately within their organizations.
I also picked up my custom made shirts (ugly, but well-made and carry fond memories) and ran a gauntlet of going-away dinners. It was great fun, and hard to say goodbye to a group of very kind, interesting and welcoming new friends.
I arrived in Boston on Saturday, after an uneventful, but long, series of flights. My plane actually landed nearly an hour early and I sailed through immigration and customs with merely a “Welcome to Bahston, Mahjorie,” from the Immigration Officer. Friends (and dogs) cheerfully met me at the airport and we headed to my sister’s house to meet my family for lunch. It was nice to catch up in person, after months of instant messaging and a few phone calls. Returning to Connecticut, I found my house to be in terrific shape, thanks to a great friend/house sitter.
Even though I had been warned that “re-entry” would be challenging and difficult to absorb, at this point, I haven’t experienced it (aside from having to shovel a foot of snow.) My time in Nairobi was eye-opening in terms of how governments and NGOs operate, but in fact, I lived a very easy, modern life there. For ex-pats and those with money, it can be a charmed life with great housing, household staff, and trendy restaurants and shops. On the work front, having had no prior exposure to NGOs, my limited time and contact with the NGO world has left me quite disappointed and frustrated. From what I can see, NGOs have created infrastructures that do very little capacity building, but rather create institutions that will remain in-country in perpetuity. If NGOs were doing their jobs well, they would be working themselves out of jobs, but I did not see that. I strongly believe that if all aid funding were cut, there would indeed be dramatic and terrible results, but ultimately, it would force local governments to stand on their own and eliminate the reliance, complacency and corruption that constitute the current status. It’s a harsh stand, but the existing co-dependency will never be resolved if neither party has any incentive to do so.
Although my visit to Africa was enjoyable and hardly all-encompassing, I think it unlikely I will return to the continent. The people, culture and scenery were wonderful, but there are many other places I now want to visit. Living and traveling in a new place has rekindled my desire to travel and finally use some of the vacation time I’ve accumulated over the years. Stay tuned for the next adventure.