Sunday, January 30, 2011

Development as Distraction: Following the Security Rules

Security isn’t a joke in the international aid sector. Regardless of the belief that we transcend local politics, and as a rule never carry weapons, aid workers (both foreign and national) are still targeted and killed. When it happens, it gets big press coverage, as the narrative makes for good copy: person with good intentions who wanted nothing more than to help country A, ends up being killed by citizens of country A (also it reinforces the media narrative that development is doomed to failure).

Right now I'm in Pakistan, a country that faces multiple threats like other developing countries which are at war, insurgency, fighting rebels or work with a particular loony organisation and so I take the rules seriously: don't eat in certain places, don't go out alone after dark etc. But in Bangladesh, India and Nepal I feel pretty safe, though I still have to go through the security process which makes the briefings somewhat amusing. In my experience, the office security guy is usually ex-military and being South Asian will have worked with the British Army at some point in his previous career, so that he speak down to me like a subordinate in his Queen's English. Of course, the biggest challenge is for him to come up with a range of security threats to justify his full-time employment.

For example, in Bangladesh, the biggest threat apparently is riding on motorbikes which is a nightmare for organising a social life in Dhaka. My security rules permit to ride a scooter, whereas my friend’s do not. After dinner we want to visit the bar, but I can’t give him a ride (he can’t take a rickshaw either for security reasons) and so we end up going home. In Nepal where I just spent the past ten days, the main security threat, apart from an earthquake which noone is sure is coming, are “fatal mauling by leopards, sometimes tigers and bears and also encounters with elephants.” Seriously, someone is paid full time to monitor the leopard mauling situation. But I can imagine the story in the British press:

A UK aid worker was mauled to death by a leopard in Nepal yesterday, whist facilitating a community workshop on handwashing. Participants reported that during the "after-lunch" enegiser session (the "massage-circle" game), the predator jumped through the window. “He was so brave, as he tried to wrestle the wildcat himself to protect the other participants” reported a local school teacher, “I would have done the same, as when you’re facilitating a workshop it is like sailing a ship, if necessary you have to go down with it.” Participants were seen to be very upset, and one was reported to have said “it was a shame that he was attacked before the coffee break, I was really looking forward to the samosas that they provide. In fact that is the only reason I come to these NGO things.” 

Aid workers beware!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pause and Rewind: When your parents are right, but for the wrong reason

When I was at that forgettable age of 15 or 16, when like Adrian Mole I was trying to establish myself as an intellectual amidst a mix of Star Wars, cider and late Brit-Pop, I knew that I was my own man. In fact, I was so much my own man, that I had to show the world and express it at all times. It was a challenge to do so, namely as I was living at home with my parents, doing a paper round and going daily to High School. One way to set myself apart was to slouch when I sat. My parents sat up straight, my teachers sat up straight, so to prove I was different I would sit with bum hanging off the seat.

It achieved its purpose: my parents hated the fact that I sat "like a drug addict" and thus revealed to me a way that I could upset them in any occasion, both at home and in public. I've since paid the price, as my coccyx is now so sensitive that I can't go on a car journey of longer than 2 hours without taking 800mg of Ibuprofen.

All of this made it inevitably frustrating to read an article in this weeks Economist reporting on the study of Dr Huang and Dr Galinsky on “fussy parents” and posture, which concluded “that father… was right. Those who walk around with their heads held high not only get the respect of others, they seem also to respect themselves.”

Sit up straight you drug addict

Firstly, how do scientists get funding to conduct such pointless studies which they know are going to undermine youth? Secondly, whereas the outcome of my father’s prejudice and tyranny may have had a good outcome (i.e. improved self-respect), he never wanted me to sit up for that reason and so his intentions where wrong. Making me, 13 years later, still in the right.

Monday, January 17, 2011

PLanning a Wedding: My first Nightmare

Last night I had my first dream/nightmare about the wedding. I was having lunch (not in France), and suddenly realised that it was my wedding day, and that I still hadn’t bought my shoes or shirt. I took the executive decision to not shower due to the lack of time (the marriage is at 15:40 after all), and quickly put on my suit to go to the shops on the way to the Town Hall (though I still wasn’t in France, so thankfully my subconscious couldn’t deal with that scale of crisis). Only to realise that I’d bought a purple, silk, double breasted suit from Next (the fact that it was from Next is when I knew it was a nightmare). So I’d have to change that at the same time as buying the shirt and shoes. Suddenly I woke, not in a sweat because its bloody freezing in Kathmandu, but you get the idea.

What worries me is that there are still to 191 days to go till the big day, and already its doing this to me…

The suit that I want. Definitely not from Next.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Development as Distraction: What am I?

One of the trials of trying to get married in France is that on one of the multiple forms that you have to complete, you're required to state your job. I work in the international development sector, but I'm not in the field delivering  babies or building disaster resilient latrines, or even showing communities how to use the disaster resilient latrines. I sit behind a desk, I attend meetings, I get to develop the projects and look for funding so that my aid worker colleagues in the field can show communities how to use latrines.

Sometimes I even visit the projects. During which on my trip to Pakistan last September, every milk cooperative that my project had established treated my arrival like that of a wedding, throwing petals over me, musicians, the farmers dancing, serving both Pepsi and Mirinda. In fact the only way to make it less acutely embarrassing was to dance with them, which of course was filmed so that I am now the butt of office jokes in Vehari District.

So what am I? "International Development worker" hardly rolls off the tongue, and if you haven't done the masters, you don't know what International Development is. Ditto "NGO Worker". Technically I work for a charity (due to the legal status of my organisation) but there is no way I am calling myself a "charity worker".

Thankfully Alanna Shaikh, on her blog Blood and Milk, has helped me find the answer. I'm an aid worker, even if I don't work at the community coal face (again, I spent 6 weeks in Pakistan working on the Floods last year, and I got stuck in the field office and never actually visited a camp). As Alanna says:
"So, since I work on aid-funded projects, in my own little corner of trying to promote international development, there’s no real way around it: I am, in fact, an aid worker. When you work exclusively in aid, it’s easy to forget what a small part of the whole you are."

That does it for me. Now, how to translate aid worker in to French?

Rachel Weisz was an aid worker too

Monday, January 10, 2011

Planning a Wedding: Bride Wars 2 (part II)

Both Prince William and I have had time to plan our weddings somewhat since he decided to try and upstage my 2011 summer wedding and he's now pulled some pretty low blows, so it only seems proper to update the wedding challenge score.

Round 7: National Holiday
Commenting on the last round, my dad pointed out that having your wedding day (i.e. 29th April 2011) declared a bank holiday is worth 2 points. I see it as a cheap way of ensuring people are pleased about your marriage. Out of respect to my father and his royalist ways, and also because he is going to buy me a Paul Smith suit for my own big day, I will grant him that score. Also, it gives Wills and Kate a fair chance to catch up.

Us 4 1/2 Them 3 1/2

Round 8: Draft in Your Cousin
So panicked was William by the fact that his Rubbish Royal Wedding would be trounced by our Perfect Provencal Marriage, he got his cousin Zara Philips to marry her rugby player boyfriend. So now it is us versus two Royal Weddings in 2011. This was unexpected and not particularly fair, as all of my cousins are either too young, or scared of embarassing our grandparents by "coming out" to get married. So now it is back to all square.

Us 4 1/2 Them 4 1/2

Round 9: Personalised Little Touches
Using all the strength of the institutions that he will one day rule over as king, William got the Royal Mint to issue a coin in honour of the wedding. This is the supreme wedding reminder, as if there is one thing that everyone carries in their pockets it is small change. The only snag is that his fiance comes out unrecognisable and ugly, and it is a £5 coin which noone uses. On the other hand, using all the family resources I have at my disposition, I have secured a donation of the finest 300 bottles of wine that have ever been produced which will be specially prepared for us with our own label. Far more useful than an old coin.

Us 5 1/2 Them 4 1/2

Round 10: Inviting Colleagues
Ever since the Royal Wedding Planners revealed the basic outline of the Royal Wedding Day (Prince William's assistant is called Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, a name so stupid that it automatically loses him a point), it has been possible to discuss endlessly whether Katie should be allowed to travel to Westminster Abbey in a horse drawn carriage, and where the royal kiss will take place.

But one detail that the Royal couple can't avoid is that they have to invite to the reception people "representing the couple's official and private lives". Imagine having to invite your office to your own wedding day (added to the fact that William doesn't even have a real job). We will be able to choose exactly who we want to invite, and the bride will be travelling with her own 2 horses (a Citroen 2CV). 
Us 6 1/2 Them 3 1/2

After 2 rounds of battle, my wedding is still on top.

Points Review for Round 4: Round 4 was awarded to "Them" as it was assumed that Elton John would be performing at their wedding. Elton John has now reported that he will probably be busking outside. If this proves to be the case, the Royal Wedding will be deducted a point.

Point of Order: (a) It is actually my future wife who has done most of the concrete wedding planning. (b) A "Very Modern Royal Wedding" is an oxymoron surely?

Pause and Rewind: The Bike I learnt to ride on

Today whilst taking my new bike out of the terrace, I came across the bike that I learnt to ride on. No idea who's it is/was, or how I was once small enough to fit on it, and I don't remember learning to ride. But it's such a simple bike that 23 years and 11 bikes later, it is pretty much in the same shape and still working.