Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Last Days in DC

Well - I'm officially gone from DC now, as shocking and weird as that is for me to write! I arrived in South Carolina at my dad's house last night at 7pm and my boxes and such are due to arrive later this week.

The last few days in DC were a blur -

Wednesday - I carried 100 lbs of books to the postoffice to ship to Amsterdam. A final humiliating submission to the US government bureaucracy as I had to shuffle through the USPS line filling out and re-filling out forms and apologizing for having heavy boxes to the haughty ladies of the Florida Street Station.

Thursday- the international shipping company sent an old man who appeared to have a heart condition to my fourth floor walkup to get my boxes to ship to the Netherlands so I ended up helping him carry them all down the stairs.

Friday- after being informed that the moving company would not be able to pick up my boxes in the AM as I had organized, they then changed their mind and arrived 12 hours early - interupting my goodbye drinks with my former boss at the Tabard Inn. Two hyperactively strong Mexican men proceeded to tear through the apartment taping up and hauling away everything while the Iranian truck driver smoked cigarettes on the sidewalk checking out the Friday night happy hour crowd on their way to Adams Morgan. God only knows what will arrive in South Carolina. I tipped the Mexicans with that bottle of tequila that I had been eyeballing as a solution ot the anxieties of moving all week.

Saturday - Spent the day throwing things away, freecycling, having lunch with Bernice at our 'usual' and then drinks with Cat, Rick, and the kids. And then! the goodbye party- during the worst Nor'easter that the east coast has seen in ages. Amazingly, people actually showed up for the party. We all met at Perry's where they cordoned off part of the bar for us. What fun! I'm so happy and thrilled that so many of you made it out on the wet, stormy, cold evening to wish me off in style. Sean and Alec outdid themselves with Dutch names for all the guests and tulips galore. I hope someone was able to gather the tulips since I got hammered on farewell shot after farewell shot and the end of the night is a blur. Thanks to William who put up with my insanity and managed to dump me back into Diana and Marco's house that night! From what I recall, I left Angles (where the after party raged on until 3am) and then demanded that he go get the car while I went into Rumba Cafe and danced for a while.

Sunday morning, I awoke to find that the world's biggest hangover had settled on my head. Somehow, through that fog, I managed to get back over to my apartment and give away things through freecycle some more. If it weren't for Kevin and Brian coming to meet me and Alec for brunch, I don't know what would have happened. I would probably still be there lying in a ball on the floor in my empty apartment. Big thanks to the gentlemen from New York who assisted my friend Megan by carrying her television down to her car. After a hilarious brunch discussing "pirate novels" (It was called skye o'malley - Kev!) among other things, Kevin and Brian dropped Alec and I off at the car rental shop where I got a lovely white minivan to haul the rest of my belongings away.

Sunday evening, we had bookclub which was a lovely way to spend the last night in DC. Talking about Black Swan Green, eating ziti, laughing about the good ole days when I was a dirty hippie. Some final photos. Absolutely lovely. A few short trips up and down that damn fourth floor walkup with Gus, Neil, and Alec and the van was packed, the trash was hauled (mostly), and I was out of there. Goodbye little purple apartment with a view of the Washington Monument and a great roof deck. Goodbye Jolt and Bolt and fabulous lox bagels and mango smoothies.

And then Monday rolled around - Alec and I jumped in the minivan and after a last minute goodbye to Simon, my Siamese cat that April is kindly looking after until I get settled, we hit the road. The weather got progressively warmer, sunnier, and lovelier the further South we got. We stopped off at the Ava Gardner museum where I have decided to become the "Ava Gardner of the humanitarian world." Ava moved to Spain and England after growing weary of Hollywood where she had love affairs with bull fighters, arguments with her neighbor - the deposed president of Argentina - Juan Peron, and a 'normal life' of sightseeing and entertaining her gentlemen callers in London.

Sadly, my reverie was rudely interupted by a certain North Carolina State Trooper C Bell who pulled me over for speeding 83 in a 65 on I 95 right outside of Fayetteville. I hadn't been pulled over for speeding in YEARS! In fact, I think the last time was right in that spot where the cop looked at me in disgust and told me to "get out of his state". I will have to skip the court proceedings of fighting the ticket, I guess and just pay it (or not) - $140 of Heinekens and gouda cheese down the drain.

Luckily, Alec and I arrived in South Carolina with no further incidents and enjoyed an evening of twenties music and spaghetti with my father. Now, I have ten days of rest and a short trip to Charleston for some sightseeing before I leave for Amsterdam and my new life and new beginnings in Europe. More to come as it occurs.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

My thoughts on White Toyota, White Aid

I just read Hugo Slim's post on Alertnet called "White Toyota, White Aid" which I thought was quite thought provoking and interesting.

As I prepare to move to an operational agency, I'm wondering how my opinions will change about risk taking and speaking out and advocacy. Hugo says "The rhetoric of solidarity, partnership, empowerment and support which international NGO discourse uses to describe current aid relationships, more often than not, describes relationships which are still more desired than delivered. " At my former organization, Refugees International, I strongly believed that my role was to take the voices of the displaced and amplify them as much as possible and advocate for change on their behalf. I found myself arguing with service providers about what was "in the best interest" of the displaced. I'm a firm believer, then as now, in the fact that the displaced are the best informed and suited to make decisions for themselves.

Time and time again I heard well meaning 25 year old Westerners (as well as their 50 year old compatriots) tell me that the IDPs or refugees were wrong in their assessment of whether it was safe to return or not to return. I attended a returns planning meeting in the Democratic Republic of Congo for some IDPs who had been living in Kinshasa for years. They were finally getting assistance from the government to return home. The implementing agency was planning to give the people cash to purchase what they needed to re-start their lives back home. They had been the targets of criticism for htis. My colleague agreed with the implementing agency (while I sort of agreed with the criticism - worrying that the money would be distributed to the men who would buy beer and cigarettes rather than food and supplies for the home). As my colleague said - "who made the decision that they would leave and come here? Did anyone help them while they were here? Not really - they are survivors. They are adults. They know what's best for them. They can buy the same supplies at the market cheaper. It's a lot easier for them to transport cash and buy bicycles, mattresses, and large bags of wheat when they get there than to carry it with them."

I realized at that point that I was infantilizing the displaced men and women that I was there to represent. "They'll just use the money unwisely" I remember instinctively thinking. There is definately a 'post-colonial' tendency amongst the do-gooders to tell the displaced what to do. And its easy to fall into it. After all - we have advanced degrees and have been to other settings! "We know what is best for you, so listen to us and whatever you do, don't sell your rations to get other things you might need." We obsessively monitor waste and corruption in the rations distribution without really analyzing - are we helping them or helping ourselves?

I used to speak to a lot of audiences at my previous job. I would try to get across the need to respect and value the decisions and lives of the refugees and the displaced. I would urge them to make donations to NGOs that weren't tied to just one project to allow NGOs to make better decisions. In general, NGOs tend to represent the voices of the people better than the UN which does a better job than most governments, but there is still paternalism, racism, and neo-colonialism in the NGOs.

It's a complicated business - this humanitarian relief and development business. I've been interacting with my old university a lot over the past three weeks and re-engaging with my young idealistic beliefs. As I go to work for one of the "Big 8" (sounds so safari), I wonder how my opinions will change? Will I fit into the service provider "we know best" attitude? Will I be able to influence them at all? Or will I change? Only time will tell.

Moving Sucks!

I have to vent.

The moving company (the one that didn't try to hardsell me or browbeat me into choosing them), just returned my many emails and phone calls and told me that they want to come by on Saturday morning at 7am instead of Friday morning at 7am like we had decided. It's driving me crazy! I just want these boxes out of the house so I can get rid of everything else and just make sure I haven't forgotten anything! Not to mention that its going to be very difficult to make sure noone parks in those spaces on Saturday morning when they are all drunk from Friday night!

I wake up everymorning anxious with heart burn because I am afraid I'm going to fuck up my move. What if I forget to pack something incredibly essential such as my underwear! What if I accidentally pack something incredibly essential such as my passport! What if I get there and its 10 degrees below zero? what if I can never find a house and when I do I'll have to buy knives and forks and pots and pans and sit on a hardback chair and listen to the radio everynight?

I have been eying the half empty tequila bottle since 8am. I live almost directly above the dumpster. Its tempting to start throwing things out the window into the alley. Or to be a total bitch to my landlady and just LEAVE everything I cant get rid of pack or move here. Someone should call around 6pm tonight and make sure I'm not passed out in a tequila stupor.

This is it folks, I'm never moving again. I'm going to live in Holland for the rest of my life whether I like it or not. Or I will become a permanent backpacker. I will live with only what I can carry on my back like a turtle.