Tag Archives: Work

Solidarity, Sister

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Today, I went to one of the best panel I’ve ever attended (and definitely better than any I’ve planned/hosted/moderated). And, I have been to many panels in my day. This particular event was entitled White House Women in Foreign Policy, a part of the White House’s celebration of Women’s History month. Aside from the yearbook’s worth of photos I took of the East Wing, the even itself was just spectacular.

What about this event was so spectacular? Was it an audience of predominantly women listening to some of the most powerful women in foreign affairs? Was it all the cute professional clothes and shoes I now feel inspired (compelled) to go out and buy?

These were all wonderful accidents of the amazing substance. Hearing four accomplished women talking about their mid-20s was like having them read my mind. I ran into a friend from grad school in line for security and we ended up sitting next to each other. We kept glancing at each other with looks that said, this is down right creepy–it’s like they’re reading our minds.

These well-educated, poised women were up here talking about the fear and uncertainty of their 20s and onward–of their careers, of their families, of their first boss, and of their first jobs. What it’s like to be a minority in the field as a woman. They discussed work-life balance and whether or not it was realistic to “have it all.” Everything that has been on my mind–working abroad, working in government, working outside of government, careers, relationships, plans for a family, all of that were accounted for in the wonderful accounts these women gave of the ups and downs of their lives.

To say the least, it was encouraging. These women worried and planned. They got degrees and went through job searches. They had jobs and bosses they didn’t like. They got opportunities that changed their plans and careers. They sought out mentors. They worked their butts off. They failed. And they succeeded.

There is something immensely encouraging about knowing you’re not alone. And there is something immensely inspiring about knowing these women have trodden the path before me–that many of them blazed the trail. I find that there are few things more valuable in life than being an attentive listener to those that have walked before you and those that walk with you. There is a comfort in knowing that even if we don’t always know the answer, we’re not alone.

White House Women in Foreign Policy Panel

Linda Etim-Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa, USAID; Caitlin Hayden-Spokesperson, National Security Council, White House; Maria Otero-Under Secretary, Dept of State; Michele Flournoy-Under Secretary, Dept of Defense

My Culture

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A friend of mine told me about a book that talks about the difficulties women have dating because they are ambitious and career-oriented, but want to have a family and be stay-at-home moms. That apparently men who are supportive of career-driven women may not see the value in a stay-at-home parent or that men looking for a wife who would value a stay-at-home parent may not know that about his ambitious female friends.  (DISCLAIMER: I haven’t read the book, I was just told about it. So this is my interpretation of what I heard. I also think she said it was specific to DC, or urban areas. Regardless…)

I can’t say this worry had ever occurred to me personally. Certainly, I have been in real experiences in which that conversation is necessary. I’ll out myself as an ambitious woman who would love to eventually have a family and be able to stay at home (I say stay-at-home loosely, I’ll probably be “on the road.” 🙂 ) But, it has never been a difficulty in finding someone to date. And let’s be honest, there are a lot of necessary conversations in any relationship. (Like my addiction to international travel…my bank account and I already go back and forth on that. I can’t imagine my future spouse and I won’t have to have that conversation. Or better yet, we should just have the same addiction to adventure. Hey, girl can dream!**)

This post drifts from away from a strictly “travel” blog here and shifts in to one about culture and values. As I was contemplating the existence of this book, I didn’t quite get it. But it did lead me to think more deeply about why staying at home or having a more flexible job as a parent would be important to me. I came up with this: my desire to create a culture unique to my future family. I love traditions, holidays, and rituals. These are what make life so rich. They are the very reason I yearn to travel—to see how others celebrate the joys in everyday life and in the monumental occasions (life, death, birth, marriage, coming of age…). Life is beautiful and it is the celebration of the joys and how we handle sorrows that makes one ordinary moment different from the next.

This thought led me to something else. I have these beautiful friends that aspire to own a farm. They have an amazing blog where they chronicle their made-from-scratch recipes and other craftsmanship projects. I see them value the hard work and the virtues that come with those efforts and I admire them greatly. They take their values and live them. Admittedly I have wondered to myself, if I really wanted to create a culture as I said above, would I be making lye soap or beeswax candles? After all, I like the values they hold that lead them to do this. But let’s be honest…I love projects, but I don’t ever see myself making detergent from scratch more than once for the novelty of it.

Part of the reason my friends’ blog has sparked so much thought was a debate in my Global Ethics class about particularism versus universalism in tackling poverty—that is are we more effective in our efforts to help our own and do it well or are we more effective in helping the most objectively impoverished though they may be in far corners of the world or isn’t the most effective use of resources? While most of my fellow master’s students argued in favor of universalism, I found myself defending a greater responsibility to our own children and our immediate neighbors. (How did I end up in an international affairs program instead of social work, if this is the case? I may never know.) In this same vein, I found myself inspired to volunteer and support local NGOs, dedicated to ending hunger and homelessness locally, upon my return from India.

If I truly feel particularistic—in that I can most effectively help the world by the children I may raise or serving those in my own little corner of the world—would I not be doing something radical like my friends’ in saving for a farm (or whatever it may be that you value) to create that particular culture that fosters those values?

But I have come to a conclusion. (Besides the fact that I think too much about things that haven’t happened yet…) It is through my love of people and exploration of culture—learning what and how people attribute meaning and significance to in life—that leads me to this frame of mind, to my desire to build a domestic culture. I know traveling has taught me so much—it’s pushed me to my limits and beyond on more than one occasion, but it’s also stretched me and forced me to grow. (In retrospect, I think relationships, families, and living together is similar–pushes your limits, but ideally challenges you to improve).

If I have values, I want to live by them…otherwise, they are no better than a presidential campaign—all rhetoric and no substance. It has just occurred to me that some of my specific values are learning, exploring, and finding meaning in it all. Maybe international travel is my farm–the a part of the way I live out my values…and maybe it doesn’t have to be particular OR universal.

***Speaking of dreamy: For anyone who saw The Bachelor finale this week, I wouldn’t mind riding off into the Thai sunset on an elephant either.

And here I’m facing adventure…

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What will this day be like? I wonder.
What will my future be? I wonder.
It could be so exciting to be out in the world, to be free
My heart should be wildly rejoicing
Oh, what’s the matter with me?

I’ve always longed for adventure
To do the things I’ve never dared
And here I’m facing adventure
Then why am I so scared

 

Without fail, Rodgers and Hammerstein have lyrics to fit every situation. (Including, “I’m just a girl who cain’t say no, I’m in a terrible fix!”…but that is another musical for another blog post!) This pretty much sums up my life at the present moment.

And what should I be doing at the present moment? I should be writing my master’s thesis at this very moment…the moment during “snowquestration”, with absolutely no snow on the ground but a day off from work. Sometimes, I do love the federal government. In fact, it’s well timed. I almost took a vacation day this week to dedicate extra time to my thesis. Instead I’ve spent the day attempting to work from home, looking at job openings, doing laundry, and getting my kitchen and bathroom spotless. …Well, at least I have clean clothes for tomorrow. And two paragraphs added to chapter two of my thesis.

I’ve also been reading blogs almost obsessively. Maybe I should’ve given THAT up for lent (lord knows my Facebook fast failed by week two). But somehow I can’t get enough. I’ve been yearning to write on this blog for months, but didn’t have something set to post about. Usually a coherent topic just comes to me and so a new post is birthed. I wanted to write, but I couldn’t for the life of me think of something that meshed what I wanted to write about and what my audience would want to read. If no one reads this, I might as well start a journal. I don’t need my private thoughts shared on the inter-webs–I would like to have something worth sharing.

But this Wanderlust Traveler is currently wondering, wandering and LOST. JRR Tolkien has a quote which I love (and is currently on a luggage tag attached to my suitcase), “Not all who wander are lost.” Well…such is the blessing and curse of so many possibilities come May.

 

“I didn’t always know what I wanted to do, but I always knew the kind of woman I wanted to be.”

Diane Von Furstenberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I bet you’re wondering why I called you all here today…”

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“I bet you’re wondering why I called you all here today…”

I can clearly picture one of my college friends repeating this phrase at the perfect random silent moment that occasionally washes over a crowd. That’s the phrase that comes to mind when I write this post. Why? Possibly because I picture all of my regular followers and casual readers as a diverse group of people with busy and crazy lives scattered about the world who all stop, for just a moment, to listen to my experiences and my reflections.

Why do you do it? That, I can’t answer. But what I can answer and what I haven’t done yet is explain to you all why I am writing this blog and why I am doing what I am this summer.

I am spending the summer working at a non-governmental organization…for all of you not in the Beltway bubble, an NGO is essentially the equivalent of a non-profit organization. NGOs can focus on so many different issues…you may have heard of Catholic Relief Services, UNESCO, Doctors without Borders…etc. The one I work for focuses on livelihood promotion.

What on earth does that mean? It means that they run several projects-several which help to promote agriculture, allowing people to feed their households and sell their surplus. They provide training on how to plant, what to plant, when to harvest, and how to market vegetables, rice, poultry, fish, etc. They help villages form co-operatives so they can use collective bargaining to receive fair prices for their produce and use the increased income as funds for other projects. The co-operatives also allow banks to mobilize more loans for start up costs.

Another project I like one in which they open up fair-trade community shops so that villagers will have access to basic needs without walking several kilometers every day. They also have helped set up irrigation structures to create acres of farmable land. In this process they have been able to bring water access to the homes for no extra cost!

While there are many more projects, I am specifically tasked on work with two projects. The first is a love of mine. I am helping to update the website, providing the text for each page and helping with the organization of the web pages. Why do I love this so much? A website is the world’s glimpse at who you’re organization is and what they stand for. It’s your mission and your ethos, presented visually. So working on the website requires me to understand what the organization really does and truly acquaint myself with the projects and their results.

My second project will hopefully end in a published report! Not much literature available currently on my research topic, so I cannot wait to finish my study. I have created and sent out questionnaires and started collecting data.

This is why I am here. I am here–seeing and learning about people without access to toilets or water in their homes, medical care, or means to make a living. I am here to learn about how local organizations are making this better for their fellow Indians.

Later in the summer, I’ll tell you about my other adventures.

But I am writing to share my new insights, unique to immersion in a new culture on the other side of the world, one in which the entire society is structured around a different religion and a totally different understanding of the social system. I am writing to tell you about a six day work week as the norm. I am writing so you can envision cows in urban areas–in the middle of the road. I am writing so that outside of our gated communities and safe neighborhoods, you’ll understand the slums and “keepin’ up with the Jones” in the same neighborhood. I am writing so that you can taste the spice of the curry and the sweetness of the mango.

I am writing so that you can experience auto-rickshaw rides–the only way to really take in the city, but holding on for your life as you bounce down narrow pot-holed roads. I am writing so that you see the vivid ornate sarees juxtaposed with the haze of dust and pollution hanging over the “small” capitol city of 1.5 million people. I am writing to express the joy that comes with the monsoon and dancing with new friends in the rain. I am writing to process all of these new tastes, smells, sights, sounds, and sensations–all beautiful in their own way. And all so very different, yet I am learning what stays the same no matter where you go.

The Indian culture is a rich one and I have so much more to take in…so bear with me and please, take in this journey with me!

Comments welcome!