Thursday, July 31, 2008


My parents and I keep a blog to stay in touch. In it, we write sloppy, reference our pets, talk about the new paint job on our neighbors’ garage and write about other things no one else would care about.

This week dad recommended I post some of my family-blog writings here. I hesitate because they are mostly about me (ie boring) and poorly written (ie confusing). But maybe, like he says, some of you are interested in messy, stream-of-consciousness stuff. Below are a few entries from this week. You've been warned ☺ (I’ve added some parentheses to clarify things that might not be obvious).

July 28, 2008

Met a lot of “humanitarians” tonight. I went to a birthday party for the director of OCHA (UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) with Christina (IRC’s outgoing Country Director), Denise (IRC’s incoming Country Director) and Christina’s fun friend Layla. The youngest and least experienced at the party (by far) I noticed absurdities and quirks that I wouldn’t have as a seasoned “insider.” I felt like an anthropologist…!

The party is held at Club 1905, a remodeled old palace in Downtown Kathmandu. On the outside it has a lagoon with swans; on the inside, white tablecloths and expensive art.

It is raining when we arrive. We run from the car (Christina drove the IRC-mobile), across the bridge and into the club’s restaurant. I feel sorry for the swans (soggy feathers looks miserable).

The only Nepalis at the club/restaurant are men in pressed white uniforms serving pieces of chicken on toothpicks, mini quiches and glasses of wine. The attendees are all Western. (I hear mostly British, American and Australian accents.)

Three minutes in, the old British guy I met on my first day in Nepal buys me and another lady a drink. Nice of him, but now I’m stuck, obligated to talk to them for a while.

Both him and the lady have gray hair, well into seemingly successful careers. She heads the UN’s Political Such-And-Such Unit here. He is in charge of “turning out the lights” on the UN mission in Nepal. (Which is due to phase out in the next six months.) He talks about his time as a commander the British Army (where he “did quite well” he says) and the lady and I nod, “ooh” and “ahh” on cue.

Beneath my nods, my attention drifts to the conversation behind me.

“When I was in Darfur…”

A lot of tonight’s sentences start this way. Darfur. Chad. Somalia. Liberia. Most have lived in places I’ve only read bad news about.

Since Nepal is now peaceful, humanitarian workers are becoming redundant, unnecessary. A lot of talk at the party is about looking for jobs, next assignments: “The world is actually quite calm now,” the British guy says to the old UN woman and I. He sounds bored, or disappointed. “Just Darfur as usual – but I’m not going back there – 4 years was enough. And then of course there’s Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s always Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Rodolfo, a burly Spaniard who pops multiple mini quiches in his mouth at once, tells me how bored he's been in Nepal. He works for the UN Mission as well. “There’s no action here anymore,” he says. He’s headed to Chad in two weeks, where he hopes to find more excitement.

* * *

Stuffy British guy could afford to buy me a drink because there is civil unrest in the world. He (and everyone else at the party) makes his living from conflict. Not all are as bold as Rodolfo, but I think many of them get a thrill, pleasure, excitement from being near conflict. (Can I exclude myself? I’m not sure.)

What motivates Alex and Lief [two people I hit it off with – young, sarcastic, but didn’t seem to have lost all their idealism & hope] might be different from what motivates Rodolfo and British guy. The latter seem more motivated by action, money, prestige than a desire to “help.” But at the end of the day, all of them get paid, put food on the table, because there continues to be suffering in the world. When conflict is minimal, the job market is tough.

July 29, 2008

Lying on our burgundy couch (looks like something from one of Ames' old lines - department store-print, made-in-china-feel to the upholstery), I can feel my upper back muscles call out to me. "Rub me!" "Soak me in hot water!" "Take me to a yoga class!" they say. "Anything but another day behind that god-fersaken desk."

Sorry guys, hard to escape the desk this week.

Outside of work, it's been quiet. Tienle and Jenny are on vacation. And even Boo has stopped barking. (Although he'll probably start soon now that I've written that.)

The first few days alone here were nice. I like time to myself - I can walk around in my underwear and leave the cutting board unwashed cuz I know I'll use it again in the morning. And I like evenings without noise from the TV. (Tienle always has it on, even when she's doing something else.)

But I've had plenty of alone time now. My needs for pantlessness, messiness and quiet have been met and now I have new needs: conversation, laughter, noise.

I'm anticipating Jenny and Tienle's departure at the end of August. This week has shown me that however nice living alone might sound in theory (although actually it doesn't sound that nice at all now that I write it out), I will need roommates.

I met a few potential future roommates this weekend at the OCHA birthday party. Most of the people I met were older and NOT potential friends. But a few were - in particular a girl named Alex who works for UNCDF (I think it stands for UN Capital Development Fund - so many acronyms) and a guy named Jarrod, who works for the NGO Mercy Corps.

By the end of these days, I don't have the energy - or desire - to be social, to meet up with people I don't know well. But I also don't like going home to an empty house. When Jenny and Tienle are around, they provide enough social interaction to satisfy that need after work. We're comfortable enough around each other that it's not exhausting. Having them away this week has reminded me they won't be around forever. And that I'd better start preparing for their departure now. Jarod and Alex might be a start.

On that note, it’s off to bed for me. Tomorrow - my night, your morning - might be a good time to try and talk, no? And, the elusive morning in Nepal. There's always tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow I'll wake up in time to call you. He! We'll see...

July 30, 2008

Good day; really fun night.

Good day because I received more positive feedback about the DFID proposal (Someone in NY sent an email saying we have the go ahead to submit it – without any changes or concerns; Charlotte in UK sent her revisions saying she thinks it looks really great; I overheard Christina say to Denise “Rosie is so on top of DFID – she’s got it all under control.”)

I finally feel proud of this grant. For weeks this DFID proposal has hung on my shoulders like a dead weight. But the feedback from the past few days has been encouraging, surprisingly positive. So that feels good. And just the relief of being (essentially) done with it puts me in a good mood, too. Ready to move on to other things.

Which brings me to dinner.

(Some background: This month I'm going to design a curriculum for a report-writing training program that I'll give to senior IRC Nepali staff over the next several months. Christina suggested I talk with Deepak, IRC Nepal's Deputy Director, to understand what staff writing needs are and to work out the logistics of the program.)

First, I need to describe Deepak.

Few Nepali have pot-bellies. (The nation's diet (rice and lentils), geography (walking intensive) and poverty (limited money for food) are not conducive to weight-gain.)

Deepak is an exception. His belly is the size of a large couch pillow and he carries it with pride. He struts about the office (or does he swagger?), his chest erect, swinging his belly from side to side. Confidence and authority ooze.

Despite my natural aversion to people with swaggers, I really like Deepak. He impressed me from the first staff meeting I attended.

“Shall I take notes?” he said before we began. Christina laughed, “Oh boy, Deepak’s back. Now we’ll get back in line.” (He had been away for a month helping his family move to Canada. He will join them in three months.)

After every discussion he asked, “so what will the action point be on this? I’d like to assign someone to take the lead on that or else it will never happen.” He was right.

Five minutes after the meeting he sent out draft minutes. They were well written and next to each point he'd written who would follow up and by when. In his email, he welcomed feedback on the minutes and said he’d finalize them and re-send them out by days end tomorrow.

Efficient. Action-oriented. Well organized.

He’s also surprisingly nice. (Again, with his swagger and belly and official-sounding title, I’d expected his demeanor to be more severe, distant.) When I asked him if we could talk about the report writing training, he said, “why don’t we talk about it over lunch sometime – that would be fun, no?” When lunch didn’t work out today because he had to return home to pay his plumber, we agreed on dinner.

Getting sleepy so will cut this short. We went to Thamel and ate at a (ready for this?) Indian/Mexican/Continental/Nepali food restaurant. We got dumplings for appetizers and he popped them like M&Ms.

I learned a lot from him. We talked about the report writing training, but also about the other places he’s lived and worked (Laos and Zambia mainly), about his feelings on the school systems in Canada versus US (his children will be starting school in Canada in September), his analysis of the IRC’s big problems in Nepal (a topic for another time) and his analysis of Nepal's political situation (he's an optimist).... I’m fading so fast now I’m about to drop. To bed!

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