Friday, October 23, 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!

Wednesday, October 14, 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.