Sunday, September 27, 2009

Finished training

I officially finished training on Thursday, which means now I get to do some actual work.  First up: researching how climate change is likely to cause displacement and conflict.  Should be interesting, but I have to say, reading climate change articles is awfully depressing.  It goes so quickly from "Here's what is likely to happen with a 1 degree Celsius increase in average temperatures" to "We're all doomed!"

Also, I should clarify: my official mandated training is over (10 weeks of it, in case you haven't been counting), but that doesn't mean that I'm actually done with training.  Now I just get to choose which trainings I want/think I need to take.  So this next week I have a one-and-a-half day training (if they let me into the class, I'm keeping my fingers crossed on that one) on how to use field communications equipment like satellite phones.  And next week I have a training to learn how to respond to disasters as part of a deployed team (DART - Disaster Assistance Response Team).

So I'm still going to be really busy; actually I'm not quite sure how I'm going to find time to get the climate change project done.  Might have to do some super early mornings (because I hate late nights).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Death by powerpoint

Okay, I've had it.  I've tried really hard, but I just can't take it anymore.  Hour after hour, day after day, of looking at powerpoints and having people talk at me...  it's physically hurting me now.  The CIA should look into powerpoint lecturing for their interrogation program.  Or not, since I'm anti-torture.

Anyway, it's been nine weeks now since I started my job, which means nine weeks of training, mostly by powerpoint.  One week to go.  And then I'll get to do some actual work for a few weeks, inshallah.  I hope I don't discover that my brain has been completely lobotomized by staring at all these powerpoints the last few weeks and that I'm now completely useless.

But on a positive note, I also had some really good meetings yesterday.  One was about flooding in Senegal, so I was the local-knowledge "expert" (which of course I'm not really, but I did have a few thoughts to contribute, which made me feel good).  The other was trying to figure out what I'm actually going to be doing in Kenya, which was just as unclear after the meeting as before, but at least I know now that I'm confused because everyone else is too, and not because I'm missing out on some important piece of information.  And everyone was very nice and trying to be helpful, which reinforced my feeling that USAID is going to be a good place for me to work.  Even if they are giving me a lobotomy by powerpoint.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More Hong Kong photos

Hong Kong photo

A picture from my July trip to Hong Kong, for your viewing pleasure.

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For the past two days I've been in a training course on conflict assessment and programming (in which we learn how to assess what's driving the conflict, the key actors, overall context, and mitigating factors, and then to design programs to mitigate the conflict).  Throughout the training we used the current situation in Sri Lanka as a case study, determining what the conflict is really about, what opportunities may exist right now, and what sort of programs we would like to implement there.  I really enjoy doing case studies, so this was a lot of fun for me, but the best part was I realized that soon, when I go overseas to work in the Mission, I could be doing work just like this.  But it won't be a case study, it will be for real, and whatever programs I design could actually be implemented!

Very exciting, but also a lot of responsibility...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Swearing In

My training class, along with Alonso Fulgham, USAID's Acting Administrator, and a couple of other important people, just after our swearing-in ceremony, on the very first day.


So far all my time at work has been taken up with training - the first five weeks were "orientation", which was a lot of information from Human Resources about how the Foreign Service works and there were lots of forms to fill out, and then there were lots of sessions to give us a general introduction to the agency, with information about what the different bureaus do, etc. At the end of the five weeks we had a graduation ceremony, which is where they told us what country we've each been assigned to.

Since then, for the past three weeks, I've been in training provided by my bureau (Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance) to learn how to do my job. We've learned how to assess the democracy and governance situation in a country, how to evaluate the impact of programs, and lots of other stuff. The classes have almost all been really interesting, but I have to admit that after eight weeks now of sitting and watching powerpoints all day, I'm having a hard time paying attention.

But for the next two days at least, there will be a change of pace: we're moving on from democracy and governance to conflict management & mitigation, which I think I'll find a bit more interesting (not that D&G wasn't, but it's just not my main interest), and it's also going to be at a different location, which I'm hoping will be cheerier than our cold, dreary basement room.

Also they've said they're going to feed us breakfast, lunch, and a snack for the next two days, which seems so fancy after the past eight weeks of not even being provided coffee or water cooler water. (I've been spending $1.80 a day in the cafeteria on coffee, but I figure it's not so bad since I bring my own lunch and I've been biking to work. Although I can definitely make myself feel guilty by thinking about what my host family could do with an extra $1.80 a day). Anyway, all you taxpayers out there worried about government wastefulness, I haven't seen it at USAID - I mean really, not even water coolers?

Anyway, back to my point about training: two more weeks of training to go, and then, theoretically at least, I will move on to doing some actual job-related work. Inshallah. But I really only have a few weeks in October where that might happen, and then I have a couple weeks of disaster assistance training, and then I'll start full-time language training.

Busy busy busy. But I'm loving it (okay, maybe not all the powerpoints, but in general). And I'm so impressed with how smart and knowledgeable about their jobs everyone at USAID is, it makes me feel like I've really picked a good place to work.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Conflict in Uganda

Recently there's been conflict in Uganda between the Ugandan government and followers of a traditional ruler of the Baganda people.

Guess I won't be bored in my job...

Drought, famine in northern Kenya

I've started trying to read up a bit about Kenya and the whole east and central Africa region in preparation for my assignment out there, and it sounds like things are getting pretty bad out there now. There's a drought, and people are dying.