Had an Interesting first day in the office.
ALso have a mobile number
My life with the FAO
Had an Interesting first day in the office.
ALso have a mobile number
notes from a hotel room
27.10.2006 - 14.12.2006 18 °C
My last few weeks in Rome were good. I’ve met a lot of great people at FAO and have begun to understand a little more about how the organisation works and also my own job.
I feel very privileged to have been able to work, eat, drink, dance alongside so many interesting people from across the world. Yes, we all rant at each other regularly about the annoying system, but as Louisa pointed out to me… we get upset because we care about what we’re doing.
My own project has become a little clearer. I’ve been trying to analyse what has been going on with it both in Rome and Africa. Who’s who. Who’s done what. Where the strengths and weaknesses are and what are the best possibilities to move forwards. This is largely in the context of how we can help crop scientists do better science. On the side I’ve also been reading up on how products of research using biotechnologies (such as a new variety of rice that will tolerate drought) actually reach to small poor farmers and the impacts that they may have.
It perhaps shouldn’t have been surprising to me that this is a major major stumbling block. There are countless improved crops which only stay in the lab, or with the rich farmers. It is easy to think that a new improved rice is the answer. Even if we assume that this new improved rice really is great, and has been crossed into farmer favoured lines so maintains all the characteristics that farmers like (which is a big if) then there are still lots of problems.
“But surely”, says the innocent plant scientist “All we have to do is multiply seed and give it to farmers”. But this is quite a big “all we have to do”. Producing seed is apparently a big bottle neck. In addition, extension systems in many countries are inadequate, staff poorly trained and access to information limited.
I’ve also, in the last few weeks, begun to make my mark in a wider sense on the organisation. I think I mentioned in a previous blog the importance of coffees. How the organisation is so big that it can be difficult to find out what’s going on, or how to do things, or who is the key person to talk to about use of rural radio stations to dialogue with farmers about their agricultural needs or who to talk to get a visa sorted for Kenya.
Also got chatting with the volunteers and realised that I don’t really know what each they do, or what their departments are experts in. Ok, I knew that: Frederic was studying migration of fisherman in west Africa; and that Claudine works on promoting the concept of the fundamental human ‘Right to Food’; and that Emily is trying to find machines that will help poor schools make milk from Soy and improve the nutrition of their kiddies; and that Alice studies trade flows of Fair Trade and Organic produce. But I didn’t really know more than that. We thought that it would be a terrible waste of the opportunities given to us to work in Headquarters if we left still not knowing. It was also apparent that some of us could help or advise each other on our projects. For example, Emily may know lots about Soy-milk-making-machines but less about growth of Soy crops, or about its nutritional details. However, Margherita is working on a School Gardens project and could quite possibly feed in background information.
It also seemed ludicrous to me, coming from a PhD background, that there was no structure in place to facilitate our sharing these ideas with each other. So, I (with some help) decided to start up a Volunteers Lunch Club, where any volunteers who want to can come and present their work , ask questions, get advice in an informal, non-threatening environment. Within hours of my first email being sent out I had 20 -30 enthusiastic YES’s. We haven’t done this officially at all and it feels a bit like we’re in a conspiracy to rebel against the formalised system of FAO that keeps us apart.
Then because I was leaving Rome, I handed over responsibility for organisation to some of my fellow conspirators at the end of the first meeting. I missed the second meeting (being in Calcutta, India for Sanhita’s wedding – which was incredible) and by the third meeting, three days ago the Volunteers Lunch Club had already evolved into the Volunteers and JUNIOR CONSULTANTS Lunch Club because some of the young paid staff felt left out and thought that they’d benefit from it too. Assuming the Lunch Club continues into the new year, we’re going to try to hit the Personnel department for formalised advertising to new young staff and suggest that they provide free lunches/coffees for us… worth a try.
Felt a bit sad to be leaving all that behind. My new friends. The comfort of having an environment I was getting used to. But work-wise, it makes sense. I’ve done all I really can do in Headquarters. And I applied for this thing for the purpose of getting field experience. Not corridor experience. So now I’m pretty keen to get stuck into my work in Kenya.
Arrived in Nairobi a few hours ago. Was picked up by a young man called Benson, who’s going to be working closely on my project with me – running the website. He dropped me at my hotel and said he’d come back in a few hours once I’d washed and had a rest. He seems like a nice guy. Laughs a lot and I know he has the respect of my bosses in Rome. I’m a bit nervous myself. Not quite sure what role to play. ‘The man from Rome’. The assertive coordinator. The listener. The motivator. Or just me. The danger of being too assertive to begin with is I might alienate people or not hear what they have to say. But if I’m too meek, I might get pigeon holed into a ‘not respected’ persona. I think, all I can do is be me though. I’m not good at playing games.
Will make a tour of the offices and meet the bigwigs tomorrow.
22.10.2006 23 °C
[b]22ND October 2006
Rome, city centre
My flat (C/O Marini, Via Volturno, 7, scala A,00185 Rome, Italy)b]
Yup, you will notice that more than a month has passed since I arrived, and Yup I’m still in Rome. You also may notice that my address has changed and you may be delighted to know that this flat has WINDOWS.
So much to say, but where to begin. Hmmm. Ok
Why haven’t I blogged?
The reasons are threefold:
1. Been having to much fun
2. Since I’m still in Rome, I’m doing a desk job – not as exciting to write about as you may imagine
3. I have been informed of my responsibilities as an International Civil Servant
Number 3 may require some more explanation: apparently even though they don’t pay me, I work for the UN now, and signed an oath on a bit of paper. This states that I will be loyal to the UN and not harm it. At first I thought that having to hold back from criticism would make writing much less fun… but now, after much deliberation, I’ve decided that loyalty doesn’t mean keeping silent in the face of problems, because that doesn’t result in change and improvement. But more practically, I’m just going to take the link to my blog off the bottom of my email.
Reading back it makes it look as if I’m about to say some horrific things about FAO, but in fact, I’m not. It’s a great place, but like any beaurocracy, it has its issues.
The main criticism that most of my young colleagues have, would be that internal communication and coordination within the enormous building has room for improvement (I think that’s how teachers used to describe my behaviour on school report cards… unlike my twin brother who was a model pupil, a delight to teach, with such tidy handwriting – sorry I’m diverting. Rant over). Yup, 3000 people not all working in perfect harmony.
We have all experienced a scenario, that we’ve been working on a project or a report for a couple of months and banging our heads against brick walls in search of key materials, data, expertise etc. Then, quite by chance, over a coffee someone will mention: “Oh, but Andrea Marinari does/did/tried/is the world expert on that”. It turns out that some guy who may be in the same corridor, or 5 floors away has something almost exactly identical to what we’re trying to achieve. He may have finished it, he may still be doing it, he may have given up, but he will have some good advice.
It can be quite frustrating, but at my stage I’m being philosophical and seeing it all as a learning experience.
The key thing learnt it that at FAO you should NEVER underestimate the importance of COFFEE breaks. They are not breaks! I consider them to be one of the most important parts of my days work.
So many of you have asked me, WHAT DO I DO?
Well, task one is of course to have coffee breaks.
Coffee in Italy is not like coffee the UK.
Task two is therefore to decide which of the 20 different types of coffee is desired - a big problem for us new people.
Café lungo machiatto
Café lungo scumatto
Café late (not to be confused with a late, which is a glass of milk)
Café Americano (what british people drink and considered the lowest form of dirty water available)
All of those can be caldo (hot) or fretto (cold), with or without an Italian or French Croissant (French is much better though).
If you’re female and your coffee has milk in it, then the barman will draw a white heart in the dark coffee with your milk.
Tea is an option, but the stuff they have here in Italy is foul. And they seem to think it should be prepared with water which isn’t quite boiling, so as to stop the oxygen leaving the water… I don’t know why.
One guideline to picking coffees. Italians consider that it is appropriate to have some fat in the morning, therefore a milky coffee (Café Late or Cappuccino) is the correct choice before lunch. Immediately following lunch it should really be one of the espresso varieties… Café, Café lungo that may have a little milk in (machiatto). But after that, it is considered obscene to have any fat with your beverage.
Another important point to remember for those of us used to drinking British Coffee, is that an espresso variety of coffee doesn’t actually have much liquid in it. So in the hot Italian climate, it is important to supplement liquid intake with water in between coffee breaks. Otherwise you’ll get dehydrated and do the rest of your days work, and nights play, badly.
Hmmm, I’ve written enough now.
I’ll try to get back on soon to tell you more about what I do, when not choosing coffee.
Emily was getting very maternal at this point... this is the girl who asked Emily if she could have a drink from her bountiful breast
Boat trip up river to see the damn... we didn't get there
So we played on the log instead
Emily thought she'd try her hand at fishing
And then we had a wash
After a long happy few days... we had to go... and slept on the boat home
some older photos
25.08.2006 31 °C
so I never got round to showing anybody my Malaysia photos.
I've prepared a few of my favourites from the Longhouse that Emily and I stayed at in the Borneo Jungle complete with families of ex-headhunters and old ladies with holes in their ears. I will have described the event in the my blog back then.
So, the highlights
Flying in over the Borneo Jungle
The airport terminal...only opens on wednesdays and sundays for an hour
Boat trip to the longhouse
Arriving at the longhouse
Borneo Baby YEAH!
Just finished a few days in the jungle and feeling very tired but very happy. No buses go to Belaga, and barely any road to speak of, so we had to find some other transport to get here.
We took a half hour flight over the Borneo Jungle from Bintulu to Belaga... it was great. Just a little tiny baby plane with propellers, about 20 seats and two other passengers. The plane only flies twice a week, and then only when the weather is good, so we were really crossing our fingers. Swooping low over the jungle certainly gave a sense of the hugeness of it. Its hard to imagine the effect that the loggers would have on that beautiful landscape.
We landed on a tiny little airfield and walked our way up to the terminal building (a shed about the size of a large-ish kitchen) and waited for the staff to close it up and take the boat up to the town. My Footprint guide book says that Belaga is a sleepy town where the residents spend the day in coffee houses watching all the interesting types who come into town, whether they are tourists, loggers or local tribespeople who have come down river to sell there jungle wares. The guidebook is correct, and we spent almost all of the first day chilling in the aforementioned sleepy coffee houses.
Eventually we made the aquaintance of John, a local guide from the Kayan tribe of head-hunters and he agreed to take us to visit the longhouse in which he grew up. The deal being done, we bought gifts for the longhouse headman, then stepped gingerly into Joahn's longboat with two of his tribesmen, James and Joseph and made our way upriver. The ginger steps were made because these boats are not particularly stable, we all had to side dead straight in a row through the middle of the boat as a slight move to the left or right would result in water gushing over the side. Within minutes of the journey being underway a bottle of the local brandy (50 %) was passed around for guzzling.
Arriving at the longhouse, my first impression was that it was really pretty damn long. About two or three hundred people lived there. The longhouse is divided into lots of separate abodes, rather like a terrace, but with a communal balcony stretching the length of it where kids would play, old ladies would smoke the most enourmously fat rollies (or home-made cigarette mum) or men would sit about chatting. We said hi to a few kids then went into Johns abode where, after showing us how the toilet worked, he brought out another bottle of brandy to welcome us. While we were drinking and chatting, he marched up a token "poor woman" complete with hat and bag for a photo, before shuffing some brandy down her throat. Emily and I felt a little bit embarrassed by this and made an effort to ask her name and introduce ourselves.
The aforementioned James and his family cooked us an amazing dinner, accompanied by more brandy, before being introduced to the headman, who we dutifully presented with a bottle of brandy, which he shared around. I was beginning to see a slight pattern to the our activities. In addition to alcohol, Emily got to swop cigarette with the old ladies and I got back into chewing beetle nut. I'm not quite sure what this is, but we used to use it in Sri Lanka. (The sri lankans described it as their version of chewing gum) Its a nut or some sort, wrapped in a fresh tobacco leaf that is coated with a paste from some sorts of water snails. I think there is also another ingredient... can't remember what. Anyway, when taken together, the four ingredients have a mildly narcotic effect that gives you a light head and a bit of happiness. Also lots of saliva which you have to spit out at regular intervals. Oh, and it tastes revolting. But fun. ALl this happens whilst sitting cross-legged on the floor with parafin lamps lighting our way.
We discussed with the people about how they were keep their young interested in their culture (quite successfully). What they thought of George Bush (not good). How their river has been polluted by the logging industry over the last 20 years. And their worries about a new hydroelectric damn which is to be built upriver. This damn is going to be twice the size of the Asswan damn and flood an enormous area of former jungle, that is home to lots of local tribes people as well as lots of endangered Orang Otangs. Several Longhouses and nomads are going to be displaced with only the bare minimum of care or assistance. The people in the Longhouse we were staying in wouldn't be moved, but are very apprehensive... not just abou
Where was I,
Oh yes, staying in the longhouse with the Kayan Orang Ulu tribespeople in the Borneon Jungle. Yeah, we had some good chats, talking about a damn that is to be built about 2 hours boat journey upriver. This damn will apparently be twice the size of the Aswan damn and is being built to generate hydroelectric power. As well as lots of prime Orang Utang forest, about 50 longhouses will be flooded. Those communities upriver will be compensated and moved on, but there is no provision and very little reassurance for the communities downstream, such as the one I was staying in. In addition to worries about the river flow and the effect on fish etc, they are very worried about what happens if Osama Bin Laden puts a bomb under the damn, or it breaks in an earthquake. The only concession made to them by the damn builders was that if they have any relatives left alive, they will be compensated. Great!
Other moments of joy in the longhouse include one of the beautiful young children, who had nestled herself into Emily’s lap, pointing at Emily’s bounteous breast and signaling that she would quite like a drink. Also, the kiddies were very interested in my book, and so I decided to read them a chapter. Emily was tickled pink by the sight of 6 kiddies all totally transfixed by me reading an English translation of the great Russian story, The Idiot, by Dostoyevsky. And when we were to leave the fisherman Joseph felt moved to sing an oldy styley Spiritual Song to give us god speed on our journey. They are apparently not supposed to sing these old songs, straight from god, now that they are Christian… but I didn’t mind.
We were very sad to leave the Longhouse, but excited about the next phase of our journey.
8 hours boat journey down river, followed by a seven hour bus ride we reached the town of Kuching, in the south of Sarawak.