Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My update email for you all that I don't email and really, don't even know but you read my blog

Dear all,

It is that time again and a little late actually, but I have legitimate excuses for that, which you will now be regaled with. The update on me (some things don't change….it's all about me). For those of you new to this list, let me know if you want to stay on or not….I can't imagine why you would not….

I am back in Sri Lanka as some of you know. Some of you don't. Some of you know and think I must have lost my marbles. Some of you don't know and may think the same.

Last time many of you heard from me, I was in London at SOAS doing my MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development. I was complaining about economics and how difficult it was to get my head around it and I am happy to report in the end, we got along just fine. I still don't get it but I am more at peace with my ignorance. It may have been one of the coolest classes I have ever taken, that is, in the second term when we got out of numbers and started talking about late industrialization, rent seeking and corruption and debt relief…I just started ignoring the numbers and wiggly lines after a while and that felt much better. The nine months of classes was intense and I am glad I took the year off and did it. I keep saying that I got my MSc out of the way but it was more than just getting it out of the way; I am engaging with my work differently, no one more shocked than I that this is the case. Had some excellent teachers, not just good teachers but good people. Met good people too. I had some issues with London which through the goodwill and stubbornness of the Londonites that I met and have the fortune to be friends with (Clody and Rebecca to name just two people who showed me London the way I should have seen it all the time) faded and any grudge that I hold against London now sounds trivial.

I still think NYC is way better.

Anyhow, so with classes behind me, a MSc thesis in front of me, I packed my bags (or rather my younger sister did…I have discovered I am rubbish at packing and hate it so intensely I would rather leave my stuff behind), and got on a plane to go and spend the summer at home to write my thesis in peace for three months. Yay. Just before leaving, I saw a job with the British Red Cross advertised for Ampara, Sri Lanka. Livelihoods. Like an idiot, my second day home, I sent in my application. First interview, written test, second interview and after six weeks being home, I packed my bags again (ok, fine, my mom did), and came back here. In the short time I was home, I got to do the things I had been wanting to do the whole year when I would get homesick. I spent lots of time with my family and had one amazing weekend which I sorely needed with my two best friends (and the twin babies of one of them). We all managed to be in the same country/city at the same time.

A lot of people have asked why I took another position in Ampara. I have a long winded answer but short answer: I liked their work when I was here. I like the Red Cross and was happy to be back in that fold. Wanted to see what it was like in the middle of a program. They were doing conflict work (with ICRC) which would be a first for me and I needed a testing ground instead of just heading off willy nilly into it (I had an interview for a job in northern Uganda, but I said no. They wanted me to be area coordinator. I do NOT (yet) have the experience for that in northern Uganda…)

They said to me, don't try to write your thesis while you are working, you will go mad. I scoffed. They were right. My first three weeks were amazing since I was learning about the work and really really loving it and then began to realize my thesis was due in three more weeks and the weekends that I was taking to work on it were not going to be sufficient and I needed a plan. I enlarged my liver and got typhus. It bought me two weeks; two weeks in bed, that is. Week one was spent wondering how it was possible that someone like me was unable to function and leave my bed when outwardly there really did not seem to be anything really wrong with me other than a slight cold and week two after figuring out I really was ill and this was not some psychological block to not write my thesis, was about fielding jokes about 'laying off the sauce' while I recovered in Colombo. I still think I did it to myself and if I didn't have test results to prove otherwise, I would not believe myself. I did mange to get the dreaded thesis done in time (for the extension I got) and thank god I did spend time before coming out to research and be clear about what I wanted to say, though who knows if I have actually passed it or not…. Won't find out till December and no, you can't read it. Title: Understanding conflict economies and shadow networks; implications for a Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration process. Mouthful. And it is, as it sounds, all about economics. I was sick of my thesis and still am a little but I do so love the topic. I have my school books with me here and the plan is to properly read Francis Fukiyama to know why it is that I do hate him since I know I am supposed to hate him. Ditto on Amartya Sen but love instead of hate. Who knows, I might just discover vice versa on both….I seriously doubt it but at least I will be able to back up why I think that with some prescient point from page 78.

What can I say about a place that I have come back to after an absence of 14 months….

I can't say right now. I think I need till December to come up with anything of interest to say. I am mostly just looking around and seeing what is like to be in the middle of a program instead of having helped set it up. Looking around at tsunami money dried up or on the verge of drying up, looking at conflict work instead of tsunami work (and that is a 'relief'), looking at how best to apply the theories I learned last year since I think there is place for it but not in the jargon in which I learned it but translated….communicated rather. I still love the different modes of communication that exist. More nuances, I suppose.

I have a great team. Learning lots from everyone around me and also from my own mistakes, or perseverance in trying to get something to work…trial and error stuff more on my management skills than anything else at this point, I think. I manage someone who is doing the job that I used to do. It is strange to be that one step removed from actual field work. I used to run the meetings. My Senior Field Officer (SFO) does now with the Field Officer (FO). I still get in there but I see in their eyes what I know used to be in mine when I would have others in the community meetings I would run. The look is losing its gleam, which is good since I am so NOT ready to be ousted from running community meetings. It is where I feel so alive and it is the best part of the work. Being there, working with communities, facilitating as best as I can and seeing everyone get on with it. I know someday I will have to grow up and start being in an office answering a million emails etc but not today.

People who are still here from the last time have told me I have changed. Not good, not bad, just changed. Comments like that require navel gazing, which as some of you know, I do on my blog, www.zehrarizvi.blogspot.com , but will not here since this is long already and babbling and it is my bed time. Did want to send a big hug to everyone out there and please let me know how you are. I promise to try and reply to as many emails as I can (there are some in my inbox sitting and waiting to be replied to and you know who you are and promise I am writing soon!) and for those of you who turn your noses up to mass emails, I forgive you.

Lots of love from a sleepy but happy (and healthy),


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