Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bye bye, rent!

Paid my last rent for possibly a very long time today.  Feels good.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Kenya’s Constitution Becomes New Front in Culture Wars -

Kenya’s Constitution Becomes New Front in Culture Wars -

Published: May 13, 2010

NAIROBI, Kenya — The push to pass a new constitution in Kenya, a cornerstone of the effort to correct longstanding imbalances of power and prevent the kind of upheaval that followed deeply flawed elections here, has attracted some unexpected interference — from more than 7,000 miles away.

Before Kenyan lawmakers had even finished drafting the proposed constitution, American Christians organized petition drives in Kenya against it, objecting to a provision recognizing Islamic courts.

Now that the draft is done, three Republican members of Congress contend that it significantly expands abortion rights, and are accusing the United States Embassy in Kenya of openly supporting it in violation of federal rules.

Sarah Palin comes to the RRB

This morning when I walked into work, a man behind me asked the security guard, "Is this where the Sarah Palin breakfast is?"


I didn't hear the guard's answer, but when I got my computer turned on I googled "Sarah Palin" and "Ronald Reagan Building", and sure enough, she was in my building this morning for a "Celebration of Life" breakfast.

I mentioned it to my supervisor, just to say that this is a very weird life I have where Sarah Palin might randomly show up in the building where I work, and she said that if I wanted I could go and try to "accidentally" bump into her.  I thought about it, but then I decided better not, because I would want to heckle her and that's probably not allowed during the work day.

So I didn't see Sarah Palin today, but I was for two hours in the same building with her.  Thinking about it still makes me feel like I am having some sort of Twilight Zone experience.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Book review

I was really excited when I started at USAID to discover that they have a library - full of technical books about development, as well as novels and movies set in other countries.  Basically, my version of heaven, except with bad fluorescent lighting.  And, to make it even better, we can request books if they don't have something we want.

So, a month or two ago, I requested a book about feminist movements within Islam, which they ordered for me. And then, the secret catch came: they wanted me to write a book review about it for the library newsletter, so other people will want to read it too.

So, since I did all that work, and it was a pretty good and interesting book, I thought I'd post my review here.  (Many thanks to my editor who made it sound much more nice and literary than when I first wrote it).

Review of Paradise Beneath Her Feet by Isobel Coleman

Much of the discussion about Islam in the West today seems to assume an incompatibility between Western values and Islam: from a religious defense of violence, to the subjugation of women, to the near sacralization of domestic abuse, Islam is often portrayed as backward and repressive.  But in Paradise Beneath Her Feet Isobel Coleman showcases an Islam which not only affirms women, but has a long and rich history of defending them. 

Among the insightful jewels in Paradise Beneath Her Feet are: in 1898 a Muslim scholar from India published a treatise called The Rights of Women, which one year later was followed by The Liberation of Women being published in Egypt.  Also, Grand Ayatollah Saanei, one of the ten highest-ranking clerics in Iranian Shiism, has said women should be able to hold any job, including president or supreme religious leader; women's testimony is to be of the same value as a man's; and women have the right to abortion on the grounds on "compassion".  And these are only some of the examples.

That said, this book does have its limitations.  As the author points out in her introduction, she began researching the book knowing nearly nothing about these topics.  And, accordingly, much of her insight about women and Islam in the Middle East come across as a debutant fascinated and surprised by her findings, rather than a wizened master who is able to thoroughly or exhaustively parse her topic.  The first chapter 'Why Women Matter' leaves one wondering, if a chapter on 'Why Women Matter' is required, and the following case is made solely in economic terms, has not the battle for the defense of women in Islam already been lost?  Or is the self-evident value of women today just a dead Western dream, buried as a Paradise Beneath Her Feet?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Today I had lunch with the woman who will be my supervisor in Nairobi (she's in DC for meetings this week), and it's gotten me all excited about the work I'll be doing in Nairobi!  It sounds like they've really put a lot of thought into coming up with a good training plan and projects for me to work on, and there is a good chance that I'll get to travel a bit around the East Africa region.

Also, today my MOA (memorandum of agreement) - which is part of the paperwork I've been stressed about getting done so I can go to Nairobi on time - finally got sent to me to look over.  So hopefully things will keep moving and I will be able to keep to my (made up) schedule for getting to Nairobi.

A good, good day!

Monday, May 10, 2010

A good article on the debate currently taking place between USAID and the State Department

This is a good article about the power struggle currently taking place between USAID and the State Department over who gets to control development policy.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

One step closer

I got my black diplomatic passport yesterday.  It still feels cool to me, even though all it really gets me is to go through the shorter line at the airport, which has never really been a big issue to me anyway.  But I guess it means I am one step closer to moving to Nairobi.  I also have a tentative "packout" date scheduled, when the movers will come to my apartment and pack up all my stuff for me and ship it to Nairobi, but there is a good chance that that will get postponed if some of my other paperwork, which seems to have gotten stuck somehow, doesn't get done soon.

Otherwise, I am just toodling along in my rotation in the Food for Peace office, which I am enjoying way more than I ever expected to.  Besides having what seems to me one of the friendliest staffs at USAID, their work is much more interesting than I had thought.  Of course it doesn't hurt that I've gotten to go to a couple of meetings at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the big palace-style building next to the White House (although it just looks like a regular old office building on the inside).

One more week, and then I'll be down to my last rotation before I leave, on the Somalia desk.

Michelle Obama at USAID!

Today we had a "town hall" meeting, essentially a giant staff meeting led by Administrator Shah.  He made a speech and answered a few questions from employees.  I hadn't met, or even seen in person, the Administrator yet, so that was kind of cool.

But even cooler was the "special guest" who came by to give us a pep talk and tell us what a great, important job we're doing: First Lady Michelle Obama.