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Final days at The Hague-and traveling! November-December 2006

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November 27, 2006: What Do You Want to Do?

Insight CEO Patrick McWhinney was at the ICC today and we had a chance to talk about some interesting issues.  This is the second time I’ve been with Patrick in The Hague, and it has been great to talk with him again.  He brings a dynamism that is not regularly present with others; his desire and drive are exciting and always addictive.

At dinner tonight, he pushed me: what do you want to do?  It’s a question people ask each other all the time but rarely take as an opportunity; my common response is to turn the question around, “Well, what do YOU want to do?”  Is that respecting what others want, or simply lacking the ability to decide?  Certainly, part of the Fellowship is exploring this question, and searching for what I really want to do, experience, say, and see, rather than what others expect me to do or what is typical in society.

The discussion with Patrick about my future started when, referring to my plans to work in Jordan, I said, “Part of me still wishes I could go to Iraq or Afghanistan to do work there.”  So, what part of me is saying that?  I can see a few: I would love to believe I could go to Iraq or Afghanistan, help out and make a difference.  Another is to gain experience in situations of active conflict; given that these are the situations I am looking to be involved in professionally, I should familiarize myself with them when I can. And, for better or for worse, I want to have good stories to tell!

And, yet, I will likely not go to Iraq or Afghanistan, despite Patrick’s motivation.  I am influenced by others’ and my own concerns for my health and well-being.  I also believe that I can satisfy the above interests through my current plan to work in Uganda and Jordan, minimizing the possibilities for physical harm while maximizing my potential utility.

In any case, I’m still left with a slight feeling of dissatisfaction, not necessarily because I wished to work in Baghdad.  Rather, because I now feel that I may not be fully living up to the goals of the Fellowship.  I also feel that I am alienating some friends and family with my decision to go to the Middle East at all.  As a result, I feel as though I’m walking a middle path to balance those desires.  But I am not fully certain if this is the path I wish to walk; it may just be a path in the middle of these expectations.

November 29, 2006: Fellowship Theme

One of the best aspects of the Fellowship is our opportunity to practice and produce theory simultaneously.  My main role at the International Criminal Court is – or rather, has been – practice, looking to implement conflict management theory into my work.  And my work in Uganda and Jordan will be similarly focused on application.

In addition, we are required to produce a paper and presentation at the end of the Fellowship, something that is based in our experiences but also contributes to the academic field.  What makes this fun – or difficult – is that we have to simultaneously develop our theme while having these experiences; we can’t simply gather data for 12 months and then go write.  So it involves some guesswork about what experiences I may face in the future, which is difficult to say the least.  But, this process also allows us to focus and direct our future experiences to explore more fully what we are interested in exploring.

The theme I have become interested in is how effective communication theory and techniques can be used to coordinate efforts by multiple organizations to achieve common goals.  In order to be successful in reaching their goals, many organizations must work with others: the International Criminal Court holds sessions with the State Parties, non-governmental and community representatives from countries where it is holding investigations, and discussions with the UN and other international groups.  Similarly, elsewhere in the world, the U.S. Army must cooperate with the Iraqi government, corporations seeking to rebuild the country, and numerous other groups, in order to better fulfill its goal.

I’d like to explore questions in this area: should there be overt cooperation or coordination between organizations and when do mandates or politics demand autonomy? What are the benefits or costs? What is the most effective way to pursue this? Is the coordination between organizations best accomplished by representatives or an independent consultant or organization?  How affiliated ought the various parties be and how much autonomy is necessary?  I think these questions could be valuable for the organizations with which I will be working.

December 1, 2006: Last Day

I’m tempted to extract a final lesson, some words of wisdom from my experience at the International Criminal Court.  I do fear that conclusion I draw will be forced because my experience was truly so limited.  Moreover, the ICC is not something I feel I can sum up in a few words. Rather, I will try to speak to my immediate experience and how that has affected my views for my Fellowship theme and beyond, in my personal life.

It became clear to me quickly that success is difficult for international organizations.  There must be many measures of success, and numerous goals must be pursued with the full knowledge that the institution cannot simultaneously be successful for everyone.  In other words, with so many concerned parties – from those with direct input to international NGOs – an institution can only please so many of these groups.

The importance of a clear mandate cannot be underestimated.  This allows the institution to seek its goals without having to cater to interests from various groups.  The institution, or even parts within the institution, cannot be made into politicians, seeking to please many.  Along with numerous other precautions and important structures, a clear-cut, specific mandate can reduce pressures on the institution.

This is related to other thoughts, namely cooperation between organizations.  As I noted earlier, cooperation and coordination is the area which I will be investigating for my Fellowship theme, partly because of what I have observed here.  For example, the coordination required to transfer a prisoner to The Hague is vast. I can only imagine the coordination necessary to effectively pursue the ICC’s mandate.

Finally, my experience here has helped me to clarify my own desires for future work.  I loved the international “flavor” of the office, which was always dynamic and satisfied my need to explore new people, cultures, and ideas.  The overall sense of “doing good” in the world pervaded the institution and, personally, pleased me greatly. In my future work, contributing positively to the world, public service, will be important.  I also recognize that I enjoyed having flexibility in my work, allowing me to pursue different types of tasks in different manners.

Overall, the experience at the ICC was eye-opening and contributed greatly to my understanding of international organizations, the importance of cooperation and coordination, and the picture of my own future.

December 3, 2006: Music in My Ears

As I was starting to pack today, I realized something was missing.  Something didn’t feel right.  I had eaten well, I had slept well before, I had a list prepared of tasks to perform.  What was missing?

Finally, sitting down to my laptop, I realized: I simply did not have music on.  I always listen to music.  In my room, on the walk to the train, on the train to work, on the walk from the train to work.  And back again at night.  I love music and seek to be surrounded by it whenever I can; it suits my moods, or sometimes directs them.

And yet, where does that leave me?  What is the line between music adding to an experience – say, cleaning my room and packing my bags – and actually preventing opportunities?  With iPods and the likes, we are seeking to incorporate music into our every breathing second while shutting others out.  We are also preventing potential connections and basic human interactions.  How likely are you to ask directions from someone with earphones?  Certainly less likely than if they were music-less.  So if part of the Fellowship is to encourage these interactions, and if I feel an mp3 player discourages them, I am faced with a decision.  And my choice will look like this: I will listen to music on my mp3 player only when I am traveling long distances, multi-hour trips.  For local trains, buses, and walking distances, I will go without the mp3 player.  I want to hear and interact as much as I can, so I think this will be a good way to maximize that chance.  It will be different, too, because I am used to omnipresent tunes that guide me through every waking moment.

Inter-placement Travel: The Mediterranean

December 5, 2006: To Nice!

I’m on the train away from The Hague, traversing across the whole of France to my evening’s destination of Nice.  Taking some time to travel alone will, I hope, be as fascinating – and beautiful – as my time in Ireland.  Passing through France in December, though, the countryside is vastly different.  There are no aggressive greens, no immediately pleasing emerald hills divided by ancient slate stone, no stark contrast to a sapphire sky.  Rather, the palette is bronzed and muted, the trees more relaxed in their olive displays, the small towns sporting a honeyed dress worn by time.  Even the clouds, wispy at best, seem to lack the energy they might have had at another time, in another life.  The land’s resolve seems broken, it is submissive to the threats of winter which has only just begun.

And I am in a transition phase myself, physically moving beyond the canal-laden cities in Holland to a land that I simply cannot imagine: Uganda in its wholly different beauty.  The transition between the two will take me through six other countries, more than doubling the number of countries I had visited in my life.  How can I guess what energy the clouds will have in Paphos?  Or the richness of Fez’s December?  I can envisage their landscapes but that is simply a projection; so I try not to imagine what they will have in store.  And yet, it is impossible not to imagine.  I can go online and see exactly what it had in store for others, but this is not what it has in store for me.  Or maybe it is.

La Spezia, Italy

December 8, 2006: Eating Alone… Again

Before departing for the international portion of the Fellowship, the other two Fellows and I were discussing what we thought the hardest part of being away might be.  Julia suggested that “eating” would be most difficult because it is usually such a social thing.  I doubted this would be true: I love eating and I could probably eat anywhere, anytime, and be perfectly happy.

But I was missing the point.  It’s the social aspect of breaking bread, of having discussions, of sharing tastes, to which Julia referred.  For me, after three months of meals abroad, alone, I understand more these feelings.  It is awkward.  I realized that, in The Hague, I rarely ate.  Rather, I multi-tasked while eating: reading news online, doing work for the ICC, writing emails, even watching CNN.

So tonight, purely exploring for the sake of the Fellowship, I went to a restaurant to try a real Italian pizza (dynamite!) and simply eat. Me, alone by myself; the act of eating solely, by itself.

Lo and behold, Julia was right: it was difficult!  I’ve eaten out a few times alone before, but normally I bring along some reading or something else to do.  Last night, I tried to focus on simply sitting alone in a crowded room.  It was fascinating.  The low murmur of voices around me was exacerbated because I could not understand the Italian.  It was pouring outside and the feeling of being totally, utterly alone was immense.  I made myself enjoy dinner and sit for over an hour; at some point, I simply had to leave, preferring to brave the rain rather than wait it out any longer.

What makes this awkward? Clearly, there is a reason why this act feels strange to some people; Julia mentioned it to me, so at least one other person feels this way.  Is it some deeply ingrained human need, or are we just used to eating with others?  What is it about the act of sharing a meal with others that is so fulfilling, while eating alone feels dissatisfying?  The flipside of this idea, of course, is being outgoing enough to find someone with whom I can share a meal even though I am alone in a foreign land.

Regardless, I will have plenty more meals to eat alone and with others, which is another way of simply saying I have plenty.