The Long Story of My Small Accident

Given all my travels, I guess it was time for me to be in an accident! Throughout my career, I’ve heard so many awful stories from colleagues about accidents they’ve been in during business travels. The worst may have been a colleague who told me that during a business trip in Romania in the 1990s, he was first in a plane “crash” when the wheels didn’t unfold during landing and they went off the tarmac and into a nearby forest, and then he was in a car crash a few days later. Fortunately, he survived both! Although it happens, it’s rare that I hear of people who have been in plan crashes. Traffic accidents on the other hand is a relatively common cause of death for development professionals and international civil servants. So I guess it was my turn. 

The accident happened when I was in Kampala in November. Actually, it felt almost like the law of attraction, because Kampala traffic is quite chaotic and I’m always worried about being hit by a car or a boda boda when I’m there. During this trip, it was on my mind a lot before the accident happened, but I wasn’t hit while crossing the street which was my main fear. Instead, I was standing by the back door, putting in my bag in the backseat of our SUV, when the driver started driving. Ouch! Fortunately, he didn’t realize what was happening until the wheel had rolled over my foot because I don’t know what would have happened if he had stopped on top of it! I spent the rest of the day in doctors’ offices and getting x-rays before finally jumping out on two crutches with a few painkillers and a very, very swollen foot in an elastic sock.

I guess being in an accident like that reveals who we really are, and I saw a not entirely flattering side of myself. When it first happened, I went into a state of physical shock, and started shaking and completely lost all feeling in my foot. It scared me terribly that I couldn’t feel anything and I thought my foot was completely gone (actually, my first thought was that my ballet classes were a thing of the past). My colleague then helped me into the car and we drove quickly to a clinic. What I didn’t think about, though, was the driver. I’m not writing his name here, but he was of course in a terrible shock too. It wasn’t until we got out of the x-ray clinic some four hours after the accident, and had gotten confirmed that nothing was broken, that I asked him how he was doing. And no,, I’m not very proud of myself!

The doctor in Uganda was a senior doc who had probably seen everything, and he told me that in theory, I could walk on the foot but that it would be too painful. He thought that I should be able to run on it in about six weeks, though. My office manager wanted me to fly home, but I had too much fun stuff planned for the rest of the time there, including a bucket list experience, so I decided to stay. And with the no nonsense doctor, I felt a little silly about the whole incident. However, when I got back to the U.S., I went to another doctor who gave me a surgical boot along with strict instructions to to stay off my foot for at least another month. No running in six weeks in other words!

Since then, my boot has been with me on no less than three international trips (twice to Sudan and to three islands in French Polynesia). The boot really made things easier because connecting at international airports on crutches turned out to be quite a pain! And even though I first went on a safari and then did a work trip to remote pastoral areas in northern Uganda while still on crutches, I’m not sure I would have been able to walk across sand dunes to see ancient pyramids in Sudan or gotten onboard the boats that took us to our hotels in French Polynesia without that boot. I even managed to swim with sharks in Fakarava and make a short hike up to a waterfall in Tahiti. I should have been in Lilongwe for work right now, but it got cancelled. Otherwise, my boot would have started to resemble that little garden gnome in the movie Amélie!

Travel with foot injury

Anyway, after slowly transitioning out of the boot and walking in regular shoes for exactly five days, I now seem to have gotten a stress fracture and am walking around in a surgical shoe. So no dancing or running for me for yet a few weeks! At least not on two feet…

My friends and colleagues here have been incredibly helpful, especially in the beginning when I couldn’t move around so much. Living alone is really challenging with something like this happens! Working through the American healthcare system for the first time has also been quite an experience, but I won’t write about it, it’s too depressing. All I can say is that those of you who have universal healthcare, be happy!

Monday Motivation

This week I’m reading: 

50 Plants that Changed the Course of History, by Bill Laws. I bought it a few years ago when I visited the Kew Gardens in London but somehow never got around to read it. Wars, conquests, and trade have throughout history so often been in pursuit of food, spices, and textiles. And so many of our modern medicines are replicas of plants with healing effects, not to speak about beauty products. So I really look forward to reading it and learning more – perhaps it will make me see the plants around me with new eyes! 

This week, I’m following:

@alphafoodie – for the most colorful food pics on Instagram, and mostly with fruits and veggies! Ah, to be that creative in the kitchen!

Food of the week:

Soy milk. With my travels, I have mostly had regular milk these past months and admittedly, I LOVE anything dairy, from milk and yoghurt to ice cream and . But non-livestock products is of course a healthier option and the way that livestock is raised here, also more sustainable. 

Cause of the week: 

It will have to be #NeverAgain! In any way, small or big, and not just in the U.S. If you can, join the marches on March 24. It can never be acceptable for children to witness or being subject to gun violence!

This week, these words inspire me:

 “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” by Nelson Mandela, and I think of what many have said on the news these past days, namely that 20 years ago, marriage equality was something politicians here in the U.S. stayed away from and that everyone thought was impossible to achieve. But opinions changed and it got done! So maybe it will be possible to change the gun laws in this country too, despite the NRA and the 2nd amendment.

Breakfast flat lay

Back to School: Doing A Program in Sustainable Food Systems

Sometime in September last year, I went back to school. Again. I hadn’t exactly planned for it this time, but by now, I have completed a third of an Executive Education Program in Sustainable Food Systems at the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York. It all started with me looking for a course in environmental economics. I had for a long time been trying to find something that suited me as I wanted to get better insights into the tools available to estimate the real cost of food. I think we are getting to a point where we need to assess the real cost of food (environment and health) when considering agricultural investments or when pricing food, since we otherwise will continue to produce and consume food in a way that is not sustainable. My first M.Sc. was in economics, but my major was in macro and development economics, plus environmental economics was at the time a relatively new topic so we didn’t spend a lot of time on it. Anyway, the course that I found was part of a program in Sustainable Food Systems, with a lot of focus on natural sciences and ecology, complementing my current background in social sciences, and because the environmental economics course was so inspiring, I decided to complete the full program.

This isn’t the first time I go back to school since I started working on agriculture and food sector development more than a decade ago; I’ve done both an M.Sc. in Food and Nutrition Policy and a Certificate in Urban Agriculture. The reason is that this topic continues to evolve:  When I first started working in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in the mid-2000s, there was a growing awareness of the significant impacts that agricultural growth could have on poverty reduction, and an emerging global agenda around resource constraints. However, climate change impacts were still being discussed as a future abstract, agriculture’s contribution to environmental degradation was still predominately viewed as a high-income country concern, there was little acknowledgement of the sectors’ contribution to greenhouse gases, and food security was mainly viewed as having enough access to energy/kcal. I think even someone who is not working in this field realizes that a lot has happened since. Climate change adaptation and mitigation are today part of any discussion on agricultural development. Scarcity of natural resources and externalities from the agricultural sector are factored into environmental impact assessments for public investments in the sector. Increasingly, nutrition and the importance of a diverse food system to achieve all dimensions of food security are being acknowledged by governments and agricultural development practitioners, and it is widely recognized that overweight, obesity, and related diseases are no longer just a “high-income country problem”.

So in order to provide the best possible advice to those that I work with, I need to stay on top of all these developments, to gain insights into new technologies and evidence behind new discourses. So I revert back to the classroom every few years, trying to be as knowledgable as I possibly can in the field that I work in. That the program gives me an excuse to go up to New York on a regular basis is of course an added bonus!

Columbia University

This is how inspiring a visit to the campus can look like. A little less academia-romantic is setting the alarm clock for 1 am in the morning to log on to a 2-hour webinar while on work trips in different corners of Africa. But well worth it!!

The Days Are Long But The Years Are Short

Sometimes, life spins so fast that it’s difficult to keep up. Or at least that’s how I felt this fall. To be honest, my life is not that exciting, but somehow, there is so much happening all the time. These past six months have been filled with travels, a new academic program, and new challenges at work. And then in middle of everything, I was in a small accident, which made everything in life ridiculously much more complicated! With all this, I constantly felt like I was one step behind, just barely keeping up with deadlines. So this year – in spite of my preference for new year’s goals instead of resolutions, as per easier posts here – I made one promise to myself: to be more on top of things in 2018!

With that, I bought a planner. I gave up paper planners a few years ago, with the phone planner app, but I see on blogs that planners seem to be coming back. There is just something special about seeing all the days of the month in front of you on a paper, with deadlines and plans clearly marked up. Hopefully, this will mean more time for fun writing between travels and seminars, instead of desperately trying to meet deadlines. Or at least that’s my aspiration…

Planner 2018

The quote in the heading is old, but I got it from Gretchen Ruben!

Along the Algarve Coast, Or One of the Poorest Guided Tours I’ve Been On

Portugal is the 54th country that I’ve been to in my life. I have amazing experiences from so many places around the world (although I still have a lot more to discover), but it also means that I have done many guided tours of varying quality. On the bottom of my list was a tour in San Francisco a few years back with Andreas. The “guide” told us absolutely nothing of interest and made so many bad jokes that two people actually left the trolley at a stop at Golden Gate Bridge and took the bus back into the city.

A competitor was Kennedy in Grenada, who took Jonas and me around the island for a day. His tour was very scattered, with a lot of information and dates but without any story real story. He also cracked a bunch of sexist jokes, trying to bond man-to-man with Jonas. It went so-so… And then there was my island tour on the Dominican Republic, where 2/3 of the tine was spend on the bus picking up or dropping tourists at hotels, or waiting for a boat.

Jonas and I agreed that this tour ended up among those on the bottom of our list. Scattered story telling through which we learned very little (essentially nothing about the explorers and Portugal’s interesting history, which was actually the topic of the tour), and poor sexist and racists jokes, with a lot of bitter comments about politicians and wealthy people. Both Jonas and I had an uncomfortable knot in our stomach when we got off the bus in the evening. On top of everything, our guide/driver dropped us at souvenir stores every chance he had (which I know from my days has a travel guide gives commission ). So I can’t recount interesting stories and anecdotes about the beautiful places we saw. Here are some photos instead:

Algarve Coast

Lagos Portugal

Lagos Portugal

Church Algarve

Silves Portugal

Silves Portugal

Mount Fóia

Westernmost Point Europe

Wild landscapes on the Algarve coast // Lagos with a statue of Prince Henry the Navigator, who is considered the main initiator of what is referred to as “the Age of Discoveries” // Lagos’ picturesque streets // in memory of Silves‘ Arab history // The “Top of the World“, at least according to Algarve’s inhabitants. Pile three stones on top of each other on one of the rocks up there and your wish will come true! //The Western-Most Point of Europe, from where the explorers took off with

Under The Bridge

LX Factory under the 25 de Abril bridge: Lisbon’s Williamsburg or Stockholm Söder, with restaurants, cafes, and sustainable fashion and interior design stores. The 25 de Abril bridge has gotten its name from the date of the Portuguese democratic revolution, which incidentally started the day I was born!

LX Factory

LX Factory

LX Factory

LX Factory

Two Days in Lisbon

Two Days in Lisbon was just enough to take a tour around the town, and see the main sites as well as the Marine History Museum. The explorers have always fascinated me since I learned about them in school, so what better museum to visit than that coveting the early voyages around Africa and across the Atlantic!? Even though I no longer dream of sneaking on board a ship and hiding among the cargo until reaching an unknown destination,  their journeys and the trade that developed after interest me because of the impacts they had on the food system and what we eat today.

Jonas and I were not the most organized tourists and with only two days, I think we may have missed quite a bit. Neither of us felt when we left that we really had a feel for how Alfacinhas (people from Lisbon) live their lives or how they enjoy spending their free time, and that we therefore didn’t really get a sense of the real Lisbon. However, we did stumble upon a very cool area under the 25 de Abril bridge, with restaurants, cafes, and sustainable fashion and interior design stores. And we ate a lot of seafood and tasted a Pastel de Nato at Patisseri Nacional, and had a wonderful lunch at a terrace in Alfama with a splendid view the city, and an equally wonderful seafood dinner at Doca 6. So event though we may not have gotten the full Lisbon experience, I think we covered at least some its highlights.

Lisbon View

Lisbon Palace

25 de abril bridge

Maritime Museum Lisbon


Patisseri Nacional

Patisseri Nacional

Lisbon View

We stayed at a really nice, very affordable boutique hotel (Internacional Design Hotel) right by Parca da Figueira in central Lisbon, which I can really recommend. It was cozy, the breakfast restaurant was pleasant (not the least the room), and the staff was super nice!