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desk jockey

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When I first sent in my application for Peace Corps - over 10 years ago now - I was excited about the possibility of working in international development. Of course at the time I wasn't really sure what "international development" actually meant. I had vague ideas of holding babies and teaching women to make soap. I did do those things as a volunteer, amongst other activities. Even after Peace Corps, when I actually got to know NGO and USAID people, and applying to grad school, when I had to articulate my career goals clearly and convincingly, I still didn't have much of a concrete clue of what I'd actually being doing on a daily basis.

I never expected to be chained to my desk. Literally.

Because I'm the sole native English-speaking jill-of-all-trades, everything that has to be generated in English (and occasionally in French with much head-banging) falls on my desk. Every month there's something with an intractable deadline which prevents me from visiting the field. This month it is the annual budget and accompanying narrative. Next month it's drafting several major reports for big donors. After that I have to prepare a training on mainstreaming gender in education. It seems impossible to escape my office. The last time I went to the field was last August during the food crisis, when everyone else was on vacation and I was asked to pinch-hit. Since then I've been trapped.

When I tell people in the US that I work for an international organization in Africa, I can tell that they have the same dreamy, hazy, romantic ideas that I had. It's ironic because the work that I do every day - writing reports and proposals, looking at budgets, sending and answering emails, sitting in meetings, basking in the glow of my computer screen - can literally be done anywhere in the world. The only difference is that when I step outside I'm in Africa but still "in the rarefied atmosphere under a bell jar."
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On April 27th, 2006 12:06 pm (UTC), flemmarde commented:
oh dear... it's kinda silly isn't it? least of all because the point of being near the field is to be able to get out there and really know what the situation is. but i would also suggest you know a hell of a lot more by being there than anyone in a western hub of development bureaucracy.

it's sounds a little frustrating. they should at least put your HQ by a beach under a palm tree
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On April 27th, 2006 02:00 pm (UTC), ticklethepear replied:
Thanks for the cyber tea & sympathy. It's funny because people at HQ speak of "going to the field" with reverence and admiration and even, dare I say, dread. I suppose if I were dodging bullets while hooking up IVs I'd feel differently.
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On April 28th, 2006 06:19 am (UTC), flemmarde replied:
yes i suspect they're mostly in dread of bouncing round in the back of a 4x4 all day and having to sleep on a hard bed with unreliable electricity
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On April 28th, 2006 09:24 am (UTC), ticklethepear replied:
Or getting sick. One trip I came back with a nasty case of malaria. So maybe I shouldn't grumble so much.
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On April 28th, 2006 09:32 am (UTC), flemmarde replied:
argh... yer a lightweight! one trip i had my leg blown off and had to drag myself across a river infested with hippos and amorous afrikaaners to get to the one horse flyblown medical outfit, to be evacuated in a helicopter under heavy fire...

ahhhh... that was the life :)
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On April 28th, 2006 09:41 am (UTC), ticklethepear replied:
Hand to hand combat with Amorous Afrikaaners...I'd be envious if I weren't married!
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On April 28th, 2006 10:03 am (UTC), flemmarde replied:
hahahaha! that's the only bit i didn't make up, and let me tell you, it wasn't fun. there was a boatload of them in zambia and they were very drunk truck drivers on a "booze cruise" that had been sold to us as a sunset cruise. i was stuck with them for several hours and they decided amongst themselves which of their toothless mates was going to have me :(
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On April 28th, 2006 10:11 am (UTC), ticklethepear replied:
You mean dealing with drunken Aussie men didn't prepare you for this?!
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On April 28th, 2006 10:18 am (UTC), flemmarde replied:
hahahah.. no probably not. one automatically knows the rules in one's own culture whereas dealing with unknowns made it tricky!

nonetheless... i dealt and came out unscathed :)
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On April 28th, 2006 10:23 am (UTC), ticklethepear replied:
Hallelujah for that.

And now, a benediction: may your daughter never be accosted by drunken hippos and yawning Boers.
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On April 28th, 2006 10:48 am (UTC), flemmarde replied:
completely! so long as that doesn't involve putting aside an adventurous life!

apparently, according to the discussion going on regarding monkeygirldiva's discovery of italian werewolves in geneva, her battles will be closer to home :)
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On April 28th, 2006 11:00 am (UTC), ticklethepear replied:
I see it now: "India, the Italian Wolf Slayer." Stay tuned!

And all I have to console myself here is a bunch of dead chickens.
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On April 28th, 2006 11:02 am (UTC), flemmarde replied:
you'll have to take on the mantle of sylvia, the infected chicken slayer :)
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On May 2nd, 2006 09:09 am (UTC), ticklethepear replied:
I would, but I'd rather organize your closets. :)
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On May 2nd, 2006 10:53 am (UTC), flemmarde replied:
i'd rather you did too :)
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On April 27th, 2006 01:08 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
Development dreams
Hiya Sylvia,

I'm doing a consultancy on my first USAID project, and I'm realizing that's the case with all these contractors/orgs everywhere. I'm really shocked at how much more experience I have than these Americans sitting in their offices. They may be living here, but that doesn't mean they know what's going on. Except you, I'm sure, are so much more clued in than they are and actually make a real effort to figure it out. I'm 100% certain that our Peace Corps experience has everything to do with our love of being "in the field" and our approach to making projects that are relevant and sustainable.

I'm shocked to see that these projects don't do regular evaluations, rely on big numbers (quantitative vs. qualitative), and close up shop randomly. It's all at least 10 times worse than I ever imagined.

This week's been really eye-opening for me, so sorry if I'm on a roll.

Too bad there's not an easier way for us to find ourselves back doing the fun grassroots stuff. That's what still--to this day--gets my pulse racing.

xoxo, Mandy
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On April 27th, 2006 01:58 pm (UTC), ticklethepear replied:
Re: Development dreams
You're right. I'm a lot more in tuned than most people probably. Wish I could actually go out and see what we're doing though! It was in my performance plan to go out at least once a month but to date that hasn't transpired, alas.
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On April 27th, 2006 02:01 pm (UTC), ticklethepear replied:
At least you have security issues as an excuse.... *double sigh*
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On April 27th, 2006 09:43 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
You had me at "chained to my desk." Yum. But the postcards really make it seem like you're doing something exotic.

Michael
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On April 28th, 2006 09:25 am (UTC), ticklethepear replied:
Heh heh. Only the desk, alas! And no interesting postcards from BF!
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