Thursday, October 22, 2015
Saturday, September 19, 2015
Sunday, August 16, 2015
- It takes time to get where you want to be. If I had quit in the first two weeks, I would’ve missed some wonderful opportunities both to meet new people and work on my career. I couldn’t have foreseen that my boss would travel and like me enough to let me house-sit, but I took a leap of faith anyway and toughed it out.
- Geneva is well-known to be an expensive place. Within the UN community, I believe that nearly everyone knows (or has been!) an unpaid intern. Sympathy was on his side! Resources abound for those coming in to do short or long term stints.
- Interns aren’t the only ones who have it rough. I feel like not only did he gave up too quickly, but for a bourgeois cause. If interns have it rough, what about the number of other immigrants who fight for the right to live and work in Switzerland on a daily basis?
- From most accounts, it appeared he made conscious a choice to go it alone, refusing family and other support to live in a tent. Yes, not everyone has the luxury of being able to rely on family, but what a wonderful gift when you do. It was his choice to refuse those gifts.
- No matter where you go, you retain the capacity to network and problem-solve. The best thing I did while in Geneva was as let go of certainty and learned to rely on my community. It led me down some amazing paths I would’ve never seen.
Saturday, July 18, 2015
- Being able to wear high-heeled shoes, and not wonder a) how I’m going to navigate a rocky (or gravel) road or b) if my heels are going to sink into the grass at any point during the day.
- Ice cream, Dairy Queen or otherwise, and the subsequent takeover of the Caramel and Sea Salt flavor.
- Caribou coffee shops – being able to get coffee to go and/or just sit in a cozy coffee shop and chill out with the free, fast, wi-fi.
- Free, fast, wi-fi.
- Hot water, anytime.
- Being able to call anyone in the US at any time. Including my sister and my best friend, whom I missed texting.
- My beautiful Raleigh road bike. Love. Swoon. Love, love, love.
- Showing my legs in public. Legs! Everywhere! And mine aren’t even the worst.
- Target. This could also go on the worst list, but I’m still only three weeks out.
- The softest bedsheets I have ever felt in my life.
- WhatsApp. Man, that thing was amazing.
- Having a routine. This will change, as I get more into a routine here, but I wow. I do miss that structure right now.
- Running into the same great people at the same events/places all over town. I felt like I had a handle on all the activities that were going on in a given weekend.
- Getting excited about finding asparagus (or insert other hard to get item) in the grocery store.
- The hustle and the open air awesomeness of the used clothing market.
- My Rav4.
- Game night.
- Dare I admit it, Porcupine Ridge.
I know that many of the small things from Malawi will eventually find there way here. We've already talked about instituting a game night, for example. However, one of the neat things about blogging is capturing the in-between times. I am in the tweeniest of in-between times right now, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other until things feel "normal" again.
Until then, I'm writing a lot of lists.
Wednesday, July 08, 2015
Thursday, June 25, 2015
Sunday, June 07, 2015
This may be exactly the point: development is one big grey area. It’s still a great book, but the big reveal comes in such a non-exciting way that it feels buried, ambiguous, almost after-the-fact. Even if it might not ever happen in real life, I wanted Patty and Mary-Anne to gloat, for Jillian to get her public come-uppance and for Todd to become addicted to opium and fall into a river of crocodiles.
Saturday, May 30, 2015
Thursday, May 21, 2015
|Talkin' 'Bout Africa|
Sunday, May 10, 2015
|Logo courtesy of |
Sunday, May 03, 2015
- The devastating earthquake in Nepal. This excellent article about how to donate effectively. How much easier it is to the throw money at the problem after the fact, rather than address underlying issues of poverty, governance and equity.
- State sovereignty. The thin line between individual rights and a government mandate to protect its people. That countries have a right to set their own laws and consequences, and carry them out. Even if they are tragic.
- Data. Lots and lots of data entry. It's report writing time for our donor, and we are crunching numbers. I'll be happy when this is done.
Saturday, April 25, 2015
Sunday, April 19, 2015
Saturday, April 11, 2015
|An appropriate question, tucked behind the door of a|
truckstop bathroom in Zambia.
- Experience dealing with being totally overwhelmed and under-prepared: In International Development, this seems to be concentrated in two- three week stints where you asked to do the impossible. My first four months on the job in my first job ever, I got sent to set up an office in Azerbaijan (negotiating the lease, buying furniture, finding and setting up the phone system). I’d never even done this stateside, let alone in a foreign land where I didn’t speak the language. How this was a good idea, I don’t know, but I learned a ton. Somehow, in spite of myself (and more likely, because of better local staff) it got done.
- Flexibility: Every year I am asked by my current employer to rate myself on how my work flexibility. Every year, I laugh. This is the same firm that once asked me to fly to East Timor on three day’s notice.
- Ability to “Learn on the Fly”: No one on staff that knows how to use pivot tables, or create maps from GPS data? No problem. It only takes time, and electricity (and likely, a fair bit of You Tube). I actually love this part of my job.
- Writing/Copy-Editing: Reports. Reports, reports, reports. No longer a dirty word, learning to write well (especially technical writing, translating M&E data into digestible results) is extraordinarily important. So is scanning the previously created field document for typos, or mis-captioned photos of cattle going to the bathroom.*
Sunday, April 05, 2015
Sunday, March 29, 2015
|All About the Banda's|
Sunday, March 22, 2015
|Bean field, feeling misunderstood|
|Proudly displaying mango #11|
Saturday, March 14, 2015
|Here come the goats! Here come the goats!|
Complaining one night over beers, a good friend of mine (who works in the UN system) laughed and then advised. “Remember, your job is not to do your job. It’s to cut through all the bureaucracy to enable someone else to do their job.” I laughed, ruefully.
This perspective just doesn’t mesh with the humanitarian stereotype. You know, the one of a Westerner who has assimilated perfectly to their adopted homeland. S/he lives in a mud hut, happily without electricity, eating street food, and cheerfully taking public transportation. They speak the language, get all the formalities correct, never point their feet where they shouldn’t. As such, they are able to do really effective cool stuff. They hand out blankets to AIDs orphans, mobilize community health programs, and rehabilitate boreholes with a toothpick and a smile.
I will never be one of these people.
I used to feel so guilty about this. Sure, I’ve eaten street food and murdered “thank you” in eight languages, but I can never quite move from “clumsy outsider” to “effective local”. I like roadside samosas as much as the next person, but that doesn’t make me Indian. I can admire, adopt even, certain things out of respect and even, enjoyment. I can slow down when I talk. Share my food. Sit in the driver’s office and get the gossip. But I’ll never be Malawian. The best I can hope for is cultural competence, not fluency.
I’ve gone round the emotional mill on this (sad, angry, frustrated, guilty). The development stereotype tells me that I should be good at all these things - but I’m just not. I have spent the last ten years carrying residual guilt about this until, last week, something caught my eye on a recent post on AidSpeak. J., was expounding on the skills needed to be a good development professional:
The value that foreigners (us) bring to the table is less and less about our knowledge and understanding of the details of local culture (local staff usually know organically in a few seconds those things that take us months or years of study to get right), or our ability to endure harsh conditions (the fact that we might be able to live like refugees for a few days almost never impresses real refugees), and more and more about our ability to engage with the global humanitarian system.
Suddenly, I feel so much better. I've stopped beating myself up over this.
The truth is, I don’t think these people actually exist the way we think they do. And even if they did, there’s an awful lot of tedium that you don’t hear about in the run up to becoming that effective. Never once do you hear about cleaning data sets or editing quarterly reports. No one ever spends hours waiting for the lights to turn back on, or the government official to show up or fixing crashed computers. But those things need to be done.
This misconception has to change. We have to start being honest about what development work looks like. And sometimes, it's boring.
Our lead farmers and local staff know Chichewa and how to castrate a goat much better than I do. But I do know how to jump the hoops of procurement and the industry terms (allowable and allocable anybody?) to get those darn goats in the first place. I can practically quote 22 CFR 226 in my sleep. The thing is, I never valued these things as “skills” because that’s not what I thought a “good” development practitioner did. The mundane is always overlooked, undervalued.
That’s not to say understanding local context is unimportant for expats, or examining the intricacies of the global humanitarian system are impossible for locals. I’m just saying: Let’s each play to our comparative advantage. My comparative advantage will never be goat vaccinations and chatting away in Lao/Chichewa/Hausa. It is in understanding and following a donor system, their regulations, and smoothing the way for smart, creative local staff who understand their culture and their context to do their job.
My friend was right, it's not my job to do my job. It's to pave the way for someone else. That realization adds so much value, so much relief, it almost makes the paperwork...palatable.
Sunday, March 08, 2015
Saturday, February 28, 2015
Sunday, February 22, 2015
|Actual elephant crap (half dried)|
|Three dung beetles, fighting over crap.|
Some day (soon, I hope) my writing will be better. It will not be a pile of crap. If I keep at it, like the dung beetle, I might roll it in to a little ball over half my size and push it along until I can get it home and live off it for a long, long time. Until then, I will keep going. I will keep going until that pile of crap is something useful and beautiful and that causes a Land Rover of white people with enormous cameras to stop and peer at a pile of poop, literally, rolling away from them.
Because that's a story, too.