Summer Vacay 2017!

I can’t remember last time I was looking forward to vacation as much as this year! Before going to Cuba earlier this month, I had only taken three days off the entire year (in April, when I was in Stockholm), and between October and April, I worked at least 4-6 h every weekend. Combined with a move, changing positions within my organization, and several work-related trips in the fall/winter (one covering three countries in a month), it has added up and I’ve been quite tired these past few months. Hopefully, the fatigue will be replaced with energy during the coming three weeks of (hopefully) sunny days, beaches and salty water, good food, and in the company of good friends! My itinerary? Very Euro-centric with stops in Portugal, France, Latvia, and Sweden!

beach bento

Beach Bento from Algarve, Portugal: A pen, a notebook, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a scarf. Not much more needed here!

Back to the Farm

Back to the Farm – literarily! Saturday, I joined a couple friends and volunteered at the Bread for the City farm lot a few kilometers outside of DC. Bread in the City support low-income families in DC with food and strive to create food justice by increasing access to fresh produce in food desert neighborhoods. We were about 35 people there, helping out with weeding, pruning, and picking berries. My friends and I ended up in a group that arranged corn-based cover plastic to avoid the spread of weed and the decrease evapotranspiration. Compared to the farmers that I work with in Malawi and elsewhere, this was very light work and on,y for a few hours, but lots of fun. And incidentally, Bread for the City grow on UDC’s land, in the same place as their research plots and greenhouses with hydroponics and aquaponics are located. So I already spent several Saturdays there when I took my Certificate in Urban Agriculture at UDC  last year. A good start of the weekend!

UDC Farm

UDC Farm

UDC Farm

UDC Farm

Farmers for the day: Diana, Jake and I!

I Love Sunday Mornings!

Sunday mornings is one of my favorite time of the week! I’m often more rested than Saturday, without anything that I need to get to, and with a whole day in front of me. Sometimes, like this morning, I make scones or no-sugar breakfast muffins to have with my morning tea, which an hour or so later is later replaced with a coffee. I then take some time to go over what I got done over the past week, next week’s to-do list, and creative projects, while listening to my favorite CNN programs on TuneIn: Fareed Zakaria’s GPS and Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources. It’s two of the few programs on CNN when they actually do analytical interviews and have discussions with non-politician.

Otherwise, non-local tv news here are quite sad – there is little real information, and instead news programs mainly consist of politicians  coming on for a couple of minutes for a few questions that they rarely answers and instead take airtime to get their message through, without any nuances and often not fact based. (The last part being extra depressing for me since I am always advocating for evidenced-based policy making in my work…) And with massive amounts of commercials. I noticed when I was watching CNN in Addis Ababa last week that some of the programs that I listen to in the U.S. broke for a proper news update together with a few adds, while here in the U.S., the same break is just one long commercial break. It’s of course good news for quality printing media, since we are all subscribing – subscriptions to papers like The New York Times have gone up since the election.

I truly hope that poor-quality news programs are not a trend among tv news around the world – democracy and progress need reliable news and tv can have a lot of positive development impacts – but that the U.S. will instead see higher quality in their news over time. It seems like the election was kind of the bottom mark here, and that there are some attempts by media executives to turn this around. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the Sunday morning shows, and get the rest of my news from diverse sources from around the world.

Sunday breakfast

My plans for today? Work. More specifically, detangling how agricultural risks impact public expenditures for – yep – evidence based policy making!

Up in the Air: When a 14 h Flight Seems Like a Bliss!

It’s early morning and I’m in Doha, about to get on my second flight. I can’t wait for 14 more hours up in the air! No e-mails, no-one interrupting, no social media, and with hours and hours to truly disconnect and be able to work for hours consecutively, with the only interruption being meals and a movie or two! These days, my phone (including data streaming) is free in some 170 countries or so, so I am rarely disconnected. I know I am not the only one at work who is not overly enthusiastic about flights with internet, although it seems like many travelers are eagerly waiting for free wifi up in the air. But it’s just so nice to for once be completely unreachable, if only for a few hours. I know it’s today’s first world problem; yet, at the same time, it is so bizarre to long for a 14 hour flight just to be able to focus on – that’s right – work!

Godiva coffee break

On-flight office…

A Bientôt Ethiopia!

I’m saying goodbye to Ethiopia for this time, but it seems like I will be back soon again, and probably many times over the next couple of years. It’s been a good stay: work has gone well, I’ve seen a little bit of Addis’ surrounding as I went on a day trip to Adama, some 100 km south-east of Addis (although I didn’t meet any farmers this time), had Ethiopian food for lunch and dinner several days, and had lots and lots of fantastic coffee. I also managed to see a few more places around Addis, including a little art gallery with some intriguing paintings.

A funny thing is that everyone I meet here knows about Sweden and shine up when I tell them that’s where I’m from. Ah – Sweden! Good country! I guess the around 1 percent of GDP a year that Sweden provides in development assistance has paid off in at least one way!

Finally, I am very happy that I met the taxi driver that took me around this time – he spoke English fluently and told me so many interesting things about Ethiopian culture and history! If it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t have learned as much about Ethiopia as I did during my eight days long stay there!

Ethiopian landscape

Ethiopian livestock

Adama horse cart

Church Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa art gallery

Tomoca Coffee Ethiopia

More pics on Instagram @asagiertz

In Ethiopia for the First Time

I’m in Ethiopia for the first time! Or I’ve probably been at the airport at least 30 times these past three years, but I’ve never actually stepped outside until now. As always when in Africa, I’m here for work. This time to support two of projects on nutrition-sensitive agriculture and since I have a lot to get done during the eight days that I’m here, so I doubt that I will be able to see much. Nevertheless, the city has already made a few impressions on me:

Addis Ababa, or Addis, is situated 2,355 meter above sea level, and is thereby one of the highest elevated capitals in the world; fifth after La Paz, Quito, Thimphu, and Bogota. It’s actually noticeable. I get dehydrated really easily and probably drink about three times as much water as normally. And I run out of breath easily wen taking the stairs. My colleague said that some people have difficulties adjusting, which says something about how high up it is.

Addis also gives an air of change and things seems to be moving rapidly. For a development worker like myself, it’s a bit of a nightmare getting on top of things because there is so much going on, but this is of course a good thing. Construction of new buildings are taking place all over the city and roads are being expanded and paved, much of it through Chinese investments I’m told. It’s very inspiring!

Otherwise, the daily joy here is the coffee. Even if I drink it espresso-style, it is the best coffee I’ve ever had anywhere! (And I can compare with 50 other countries!) Fantastic coffee and perfectly foamed milk in a delightful combination whether a cafe latte or macchiato! I believe that regardless of high we set our goals and what we want to accomplish, it’s enjoying the little things along the way that make us happy!

Addis View

Addis View

Addis Construction Works

Tomoka Coffee Addis

Tomoka Coffee Addis

New Year’s Resolutions for 2017

I normally set up goals for the new year rather than make resolutions. Resolutions sound like something that are bound to be broken. Or something that we are trying to force ourselves to do. Goals are more about development and things that move us forward and make us grow. However, given last year’s ugly environment in the U.S. and around the world, and the realization that business as usual is not an option if we don’t want to end up in Voldemort’s utopia, I actually set up a few resolutions for 2017:

  • To be a lot nicer to people in my surrounding
  • To volunteer for our natural environment
  • To mentor a kid or a teen
  • To be more considerate of our limited natural resources, especially as it concerns food and disposables
  • To finish my book, about which a pre-editor said that possibly the best part of the story was that my protagonist Tora was unusually likable –  I think teens could use a heroine like here in times like this! (A sample to be posted soon.)
  • To work on another small book project that I have had in mind for over years and that seems more relevant than ever. More to come…

Other than that – and more like the goals I usually set – I hope to contribute to positive development in this world through my work, and maybe to give a more nuanced image of the countries that I visit through this blog and Instagram, than what is often portrayed in the media. You can follow me on IG and Twitter on @asagiertz

Did the current climate inspire any of your new year’s resolutions for 2017?

Heart Painted

Thinking of New Year’s Resolutions…

Since I’m a goal oriented person, I always make a list of things I want to do or accomplish over the year. I am still thinking about what I’d like to do this year, so I won’t reveal my New Year’s resolutions yet. I have a ton of things that I dream of doing but it is also important yet set somewhat realistic goals, and as I know that my spring will be quite hectic in terms of work, I thought I’d think a little more about what my focus should be. So that my resolutions don’t end up in this museum

My own trick is to just to have goals that I really want to achieve and not things that I think I should do. My motto is also that it is better to do a little than nothing at all, which often results in more than I expect because I start things without any pressure. But there are lots of advice out there, like this article on the topic, which claims that only 8 percent of all resolutions are kept. So if I fail, with this year’s resolutions, at least I am not alone!

National Park

Two of my goals for 2017 will relate to this spectacular view!  

A Year in the Life: Snapshots from 2016

A Year in the Life! Not that of the Gilmore Girls, but that of mine. Another year has passed and I think many of us are happy to see 2016 come to an end. Being the news junkie that I am, it’s been a heavy year with all the evils going on, real and rhetorical. Perhaps because of the country in which I grew up, I am not used to the harsh rhetoric that was thrown back and forth during the U.S. election campaign. Everyone talks about energy vampires and one things that sucks out all my energy is when people speak ill of others and spread meanness around; it completely drains me! So the past year’s new cycle has been quite heavy for me. Fortunately (and speaking of the Gilmore Girls), I found the perfect antidote earlier this year: the Gilmore Guys podcast! The lovely duo Kevin and Demi have, while discussing every episode and character of the show for some 400+ hours, convinced me that the sometimes horrifying words that have come out from certain politicians are not the norm, but that for normal people the barre is set higher for what is acceptable behavior and not. I love Gilmore Girls – some describe the series like a warm blanket that helps through difficult and uncertain times – and so what better in times like these than to listen to a kind and cool community that shares my love for the show? (While writing this, I realize that I may have to write a separate post on this topic…)

As for my own life, nothing life altering happened for me in 2016, but I still did quite a lot. Here is a photo collage of what happened in my life in 2016. In the order of seasons, of course, in line with the title series!

Winter

Los Angeles: essentially my first time in Southern California since I lived there after high-school, and I still love it! Spent a few very nice days with my friend Anthony in Venice Beach, doing everything LA, from yoga and hiking, to tacos, acai bowls, and coconut water, and walking for hours along the beach every day. We also barbecued one evening with two of Anthony’s friends – an Italian-American couple whose wedding I attended in Venice my last summer in Italy. So from Venice to Venice Beach – closing the circle, or is the world just weirdly connected? // A visit at NASA: a childhood dream came true when I got to visit one of NASA’s Goddard’s Space Flight Centers in February (hence a rare picture of me here!) Behind me is the James Webb Space Telescope that will be launched in 2018 to replace Hubble. It will be rather compact when it is launched and then unfold itself in space over a period of six months (if I remember correctly) and it will be able to capture events billions of lightyears away. The most exciting part is probably that they expect that, just like Hubble, the James Webb Telescope will capture a lot of things that the developers have not planned for and that we are still not aware of. So fascinating – I can’t wait to see what it picks up once launched! The actual purpose of my visit? To learn more about NASA’s emissions and climate change observations. Almost as fascinating as the telescope and the space conditions testing facilities, and it made me dreaming of one day get to work for the space agency…

Spring

Paris tout seul: on my way to La Rochelle for a week’s holiday with friends, I was reached by the message that my dad had passed away. Not unexpectedly, but still a time for reflection. I stayed in Paris for a few days while rearranging my travel plans to go back to Stockholm. // New York: my only visit to the city this year, but with bella Camilla whom I know from my time in Rome! And lots of jazz clubs as her partner, Morten Ankarfeldt is a jazz musician (base player). // Learning: I spent a few evenings and weekends this spring taking a course in Urban Agriculture at the University of the District of Columbia (one of the U.S.’s Land-Grant Universities and with a cross disciplinary College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability, and Environmental Sciences, CAUSES). It was a fantastic break from my usual office life! I learned a lot of very practical, non-academic skills, was out in the fields digging and planting, and met people with very different backgrounds from me. My only complaint is that it was too short! // A marathon trip with four countries in less than two weeks: Kenya, Botswana, Zambia, and Malawi – inspiring meetings with regional organizations and a presentation on agricultural risks in Malawi.

Summer

A new job: When I got back from my travels in early June, I saw an add for a very interesting job in Sidney, that would involve work on the Pacific Islands. Perhaps a long shot since it was for a quite highly qualified candidate, but the islands are interesting from a food systems perspective and Sidney is after all the no 1 city to live in according to international rankings, so I thought it would be worth trying. I drafted an application and was just about to submit it when I was offered another position in Washington with focus on the Africa region and more broadly on food and agriculture. It took another four months for the move to happen in practice, but if I would have gotten the offer a few weeks later, I might have celebrated the New Year in Sidney instead. Someone said that it seemed to be meant for me to stay in DC a little longer. I guess only time will tell! (The pic is from flying over Ethiopia’s agricultural landscape on one of my trips to Africa.) // Greece: 10 days of bliss on the gorgeous island Santorini! Perfect weather, fantastic food, and lovely people. I give it *****! // Break in Stockholm over the summer, enjoying the beautiful city, the company of friends, and Swedish fika (coffee, tea, or lemonade with snack). And of course my new kitchen in my little apartment that I mentioned in a post here (although I still need a kitchen table…) //  Copenhagen: quick stop on my way back to DC, visiting Camilla and Morten, and their little baby.

Fall

Uganda: possibly the country that gave me most awww this year! Buzzing, quickly adopting new technology, and with interesting art and culture here and there, Kampala definitely a cool place to visit. In my case, no less than twice in the fall. I haven’t been outside the capital yet, but I got to see Lake Victoria for the first time in my life and it is stunning! // Country no 50: The last new country that I went to this year was Sudan, which was also the 50th country that I’ve traveled to. I spent most of my time in the capital Khartoum but went into the rural areas for two days together with Government representatives, talking to farming and fishing communities. I also saw the Nile for the first time – incredibly impressive!  // Moves: I only moved 10 blocks and yet changed neighborhoods completely, from a beautiful but rather quiet area from which I could see the White House on a clear day, to a buzzing and quickly transforming part of North West DC that Washington Post named The District’s Best Dining Neighborhood of 2016.  I also moved into a new office in another building right across the street from where I used to sit. // Leisure: last but not least, I visited museums and and went performances (including St Petersburg’s incredible Mariinsky Ballet at DC’s Kennedy Center), and kept up with my art, with piano and singing lessons, ballet classes, and painting. Am I improving in any of these fields? Maybe a little, but I mostly do it just for fun and wellbeing!

In conclusion, I am ready to leave this year behind me! For those of you who wants to see more pics from this past year, check out my gallery on Instagram, @asagiertz