Saturday, October 31, 2009

Just a little update

Ever have that feeling where whatever you do at work is the last thing you want to do when you go home at night? If you're in school it might be reading? If you work in an office it might be working on  the computer. Well for me home is hotels at the moment and work is anything involving reading and writing, really trying to keep track of anything, so forgive the lack of posts, I'll see what I can do about picking it up.

So let' see, I left the states a little over 2 weeks ago now and things have been moving along quite well. This week the research team  (3 national consultants) and I headed to Bireuen, which is about 4 hours away from Banda Aceh, where I'm based. We got to go out to villages, talk to people there about the programs and hear about the changes that have occurred since the tsunami. Many of the villages in Bireuen were actually far enough inland so they weren't affected, but 30 years of conflict leading up to the peace agreement that was signed after the tsunami left their communities in almost equivalent ruin, with schools and health centers burned and communities afraid to send their children to school and the like. I'm amazed by how much progress has been made, and by the fact that a severe natural disaster managed to bring an end to such a long civil war. From what I've heard, after so much devastation from the tsunami, neither side could go on the way they had and a peace agreement that gave Aceh a relative degree of autonomy was arranged. Given all the classes and degrees and theories about how peace is brokered, what does Aceh tell us? It doesn't necessarily tell us that those things don't work, but rather than sometimes it takes something shocking and out of the ordinary for fighting groups to stop and agree to peace. It seems like real lasting peace is so hard to achieve, that it's really a wonder that it appears to have succeeded here.

So back to it then. Village visits have been fun, but a bit trying at times because I don't speak Bahasa (Indonesian) or Acehnese (local language) so I try to participate, but also spend a lot of time looking at pades and watching people harvest rice, and trying to find shade to hide in.  The work is coming along well, although it's a lot to wrap my head around. But one of the senior researchers is here now and he's a very big picture guy so it's great to see what he thinks of all the community ranking exercises and interviews we've done.  So back to the field for a week tomorrow, off to Lhoeksamawe and Aceh Utara and I'll be back to Banda Aceh (and maybe heading to Sebang over the weekend!).  It's about 5-6 hours to get out there so I'll have some deep thoughts for my next post. Hope everyone's having a great Halloween and thanks for staying in touch!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

welcome to the jungle

I wonder if it's a coincidence that it snowed in the Northeast right after I left for Indonesia?  Well according to Master Shifu there are no coincidences, so we'll go with no.  The landscape here is absolutely beautiful and it feels like a jungle even when it's urban, a bit of that is the heat and humidity, but part of it is all the palm trees and the roads lined with stands full of tropical fruit!

So I made it here after long hours of traveling and watching more moves and tv shows than I can count. I've managed to make quite a few fast friends on the way which has been helpful and hopefully forecasts a very nice trip. A friend on the plane from the US had his driver bring me to another terminal where my plane was to leave from so I'd make it on time. Sadly said airline lost my reservation and I stayed the night in Jakarta, but the effort was appreciated. I also made a friend at the place I am staying who offered to take me out to dinner last night. He was here for four years after the tsunami and said he'd want someone to look after his daughter who is my age if she was here. So did he take me for sate or noodles or Padang or Aceh food? Nope! Pizza and beer! (Medium pizza, $4, 1 can of beer $4) Who knew it could be found here. Apparently the owner, who is originally from Aceh, was living in Italy at the time of the tsunami and decided to come back and try to help get businesses started again. Now he's got a pizza place, a bungalow for guests, a fish farm and is starting a surf school soon. It was a delicious evening and through talking to Robby, who works in microfinance, and a couple other ex-pats in the restaurant I got a very interesting take on what's going on here.

Apparently the organization that hired my consulting firm is among many that are shutting down the majority of their operations, given that it's now five years after the tsunami and the emergency and even redevelopment phases are now winding down.  But it seems that millions of dollars when unspent and all this money has been turned over to the World Bank, who is now sub-granting out to organizations doing finance and economy related projects, both micro and macro, in order to continue building and growing the economy here. Aside from any prejudices I or anyone have about the World Bank, it's an innovative solution to a brand new problem. More money for aid and development than everyone knew what to do with.

So back to my work, for now I'm working with a team of national staff to interview staff from the organization as well as members of the government and other NGOs to get at their thoughts and perceptions of the work and it's successes and failures. Then the plan is to head out to the field on Tuesday and start gathering data through interviews, surveys and focus groups.  The countryside is supposed to be beautiful, so I'll be posting lots of pictures soon. But here's a picture of the Grand Mosque, which is absolutely on my itinerary for this weekend.

Take care and keep warm!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Get ready... get set...

One of my professors' favorite, or maybe just most used, descriptions of emergency response work is that rather than "get ready, get set, go" it's more like "go, get ready, get set". You're off the starting block before you have any chance to prepare, because that's the essence of an emergency. You can do your best with emergency preparedness, but to a large extent you will always be somewhat unprepared.  And so off I go to Indonesia. For those of you who've been asking, I'm working on a project assessing a major NGOs 5 year long tsunami response program, which is in the process of winding up. We're evaluating whether their outcomes match their objectives, whether the money was spent well and whether it was effective at causing change. I'll update more about what I'm doing as I do, but for now I'm working on reviewing program documents starting in 2004 before the tsunami and designing data collection tools, quite the task!

I'm leaving NYC on Thursday morning (and am off to Indonesia on Saturday) and I'm almost surprised by how nostalgic the idea of moving away has made me. Since I moved here in 2006, from living in the Bronx to Washington Heights to Harlem and all the rats and late night reggaeton I've heard in between, I've always know New York wasn't the city for me. I love the range of things to do, places to eat and people to meet, but I'm more of an open spaces person I think. But above all, leaving has reminded me how many great people I've met here and I'm glad I'm going to be able to come back in December to finish out my work and see everyone again, and definitely go ice skating. I went out to dinner with a friend tonight (pupusas!) and he asked me what I regretted not doing here. After I made a list of things like apple picking, ice skating and kayaking, he pointed out that they were all things that could be done other places. So as much as I'll miss it here, I'm at go, here's hoping I'm ready and set.