The streets of my city smell more strongly of human urine today than they normally do. I am puzzled as to why this is.

I went into a wine store. The expert behind the counter waltzed up to me and asked what I was in the mood for. “Red, and under fifteen dollars. Give me your least shitty wine matching that description, please.”

He chuckled, “How old are you?”

“Over twenty-one.”

“Well, let me ask you some questions.”


“What does your furniture look like?”


“Where did you buy it?”

“Most of it is stuff I found, or inherited from old roommates. My dining table was a craigslist find.”

“Ah, I see. Well, let me find you something cheap and red then.” He began scanning the shelves.

“Or, I could go for a nice Croatian desert wine, if you have that.”

“What did you just say?”

“Croatian desert wine.”

“Now there’s a curve ball. Wow!”

I laughed nervously. As it turned out, the wine store didn’t have any Balkan wines, so I opted for a bottle of cheap red wine anyway.


Sally Benz at Feministe has a really thought-provoking post up about non-monogamy and the ideals of feminism.


Afghanistan’s Shia Family/Personal Status Law is back in the news. When I get a chance, I’ll write a substantial post about it.


Thanks to facebook, I caught this video about the rebuilding of Bamyan. It makes me want to visit Afghanistan more than ever.


Mischa said my blog is becoming the Political Assassinations Review. I think he’s right.

Wherein I whine about stuff

I’ll be joining the “badvocacy” discussion soon, writing about the problem of selecting local interlocutors in international human rights advocacy. If only letting people in developing and war-torn countries “speak for themselves” were a simple undertaking free of  bias and politics.


One the hardest things to admit is loneliness. To admit being lonely is to admit that, while people might care about you, your relationships aren’t strong or deep enough to overcome your loneliness. Thus, to admit being lonely, I believe,  is to fess up to a failure. Human beings are not built for solitude, but that’s what I’ve found in this city over the past year. I’ve had twelve months of living with my loud internal monologue and far less human interaction than I am accustomed to. It’s been hard, very hard. Harder than anything I’ve dealt with since I was a kid.  During winter 2008, I transitioned from a close-knit, cause-driven community of IO employees abroad to the rowdy camaraderie of a small, badly under-resourced field office in a decrepit American city no one cares about.  Almost exactly a year ago, I left that office, went back to school, and took a research fellowship. Since then, I’ve spent more time alone than during any other period in my life.  But I am not made for this kind of life. And I need to leave this place. I have overstayed, and it’s time to go.


Yes, I’m being self-indulgent and emo. That’s what blogs are for.


Some days, I wish I could lay claim to radical politics, reject instead of revel in small victories in struggles for justice because they didn’t bring down The System, dream of revolution and the end of all inequality.

But, I can’t, and I never have. Since I’ve been politically aware, I’ve always been something of a pragmatic idealist, with a strong focus on institutions.  (I was an immensely boring, nerdy teenager.) Largely, this comes from having spent many years of my life in a place where the rule of law was much weaker than it should have been, and where I saw firsthand the insidious effects weak state institutions have on the lives of ordinary people, and especially the most vulnerable.

So, I believe in good governance, and work for better governance. I believe governments must and can respect, protect and fulfill the rights of people within their borders, and that the eternal problem of resource scarcity is a specious argument not to do so. I believe that reducing inequality requires both top-down and bottom-up efforts. I believe in the rule of law and in political accountability.  I believe that culture is malleable, and I have seen it bend to progress. I believe in the power of education, but I recognize that changing attitudes does not happen instantaneously, and that some changes can only begin with intervention and enforcement.  I believe in liberal democracy. I prefer rule by liberal elites to rule by illiberal populists. My vision of a gender equal world is the Battlestar Galactica vision — men and women aspiring to and achieving the same heights of greatness, but also the same proportions of evil, with neither gender assigned specific social roles. I believe that the most effective social movements are organic and mass-mobilizing, but I am not willing to leave minority rights to majority whims. War offends me, but I’m not a pacifist. Violence repels me, but I’ve used it to defend myself. I’m not poetic, nor romantic, and my grand dreams for a better world are rather bland. If I signed on to a manifesto, it would likely be written in legalese and bureaucratese. It would have clauses and footnotes.

I’ve been thinking about these things recently, because I’ve been involved in heated discussions on facebook about policy issues ranging from Afghanistan to healthcare, and I’ve been the crazy hippie pie-in-the-sky leftwinger in some of these, and the civilian-blood-drinking  rightwing militarist in others. (The former variety of ad hominem attack gives me way too much credit.)

In the end, I like to think of myself as a technocrat with a soul.


I have noticed that the phrase “what goes around comes around” has entered the lexicon in Bosnia, because my Bosnian friends have been using it in their gmail messages, facebook statuses, and as their religious affiliations on facebook.

Even with no other context, it seems fitting.


It is already getting cool here, and I’ve gone the past few nights without sweating. Perhaps this summer was unusually short, or perhaps it felt that way simply because the seasons pass more quickly once one reaches a certain age. I didn’t get to swim this year; the closest I got was running around in a bikini in a friend’s back yard.


UNAMA’s Kai Eide says Afghanistan’s stable provinces also need aid.

No kidding!

From Afghanistan Conflict Monitor/IRIN:

Development aid should be targeted at stable provinces in central Afghanistan where projects can be more successful and effective than in conflict zones, says the UN. ‘We focus too much on conflict provinces and we spend enormous amounts of money there and it does not have much impact because of the conflict,’ said the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, during a recent visit to Bamyan Province. More than 60 multilateral donors have spent about US$36 billion on development, reconstruction and humanitarian projects in Afghanistan since 2002, according to the Ministry of Finance (MoF). While there is a lack of reliable statistics on aid expenditure, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) says there has been a major disparity in aid spending across the country. Kabul, for instance, has received almost 20 percent of the development funding while the provinces of Daikundi, Faran and Sar-e-Pol have together received less than 1 percent, UNAMA officials told IRIN. Kabul is not considered an insecure and poppy-producing province but the southern Helmand Province has been both insecure and the top opium poppy-producing province in the country.


Eric Holder disappoints me in more ways than I care to count. Ugh.

Ok, so maybe that was a bad idea

No guide to Sarajevo for now. Too many angry comments. Ouch, people. I’m sorry I didn’t mention your favourite restaurant, or you thought I dissed your favourite food (I am not a foodie, and never claimed to be one), or  I left out the Sarajevo Film Festival (actually, if you read this blog regularly, you’d know that I’ve mentioned the Film Festival before, that’s why I left it out in the guide.)

I didn’t mention Banja Luka and Mostar because… I didn’t live in Banja Luka or Mostar, and I don’t know them well enough to advise anyone on adjusting. Ditto for Tuzla, Zenica, Doboj, Trebinje, and the others. I lived in Sarajevo, and only Sarajevo. 

The RS wasn’t mentioned in the post (expect implicitly in my mention of the Tara River) only because I spent most of my time in the FBiH. I thought about mentioning more attractions (yes, like Kozara National Park) but the post was long as it was. If you want a comprehensive guide to BiH, buy a guidebook. There are many good ones. I recommend the Brandt guide by Tim Clancy.

So, here’s the deal: instead of a guide, just ask me for advice if you need it and I’ll see if I can send you in the right direction.

And calm down. I wasn’t trying to insult anyone. What I wrote was based on the content of many emails I’ve gotten from people asking about life in Sarajevo. Some of the questions might seem dumb to you, but they are nonetheless standard questions people ask if they’ve never been to Bosnia before.

Expats, get a grip. I wasn’t claiming to be better than anyone else –I often behaved just as badly as everyone else.  The things I wrote were based on reality, and you damn well know it.  I’ve seen your photo albums on facebook, and some of you have seen mine, so let’s cut the bullshit.


I keep oscillating between “everything will be ok, it’s ok to be an administrative assistant” and ” I will go stark raving mad if I have to spend another year, including another six month Siberian cold winter, in this lonely place.”

The thought of throwing myself into the arms of the OSCE again, has even crossed my mind, though not seriously, because they no longer pay their interns.

I’d love to continue working in refugee resettlement, but the shift there is also to greater reliance on unpaid interns.

Bits and Pieces

In the last year, there has been a flurry of engagements and weddings in my wider social circle, with two engagements this week alone.

Holy crap, time flies.

O _ 0


Early spring is always a pensive time of intense brooding and distraction for me. I’m exactly where I was two years ago, emotionally and professionally. I’m waiting for that life-changing email, that crucial phone call, waiting to find out if the summer will mark the beginning of a new chapter abroad, and making all kinds of contingency plans stateside.

Please, NGOs in Afghanistan, just effin’ hire me already.

I’m a hard worker, a quick study, much tougher than I look and –bonus!– the idea of living in a guesthouse excites rather than bothers me.

Come ON already!

Bits and pieces

I want to hug the heroic IRC employees who saved dozens of people from drowning in Burma/Myanmar.


The next four months are going to be a triathlon. I’ll almost certainly complain, but I (not-so-secretly) enjoy the challenge and work better the more pressure I’m under.


I’m really, really awful at describing myself on paper (beyond my resume), but pretty good at doing so during phone and in-person interviews.


Six months of winter is hard on the soul. Six months of cold wind is murder on the skin.


This is such a limbo time for me.

I’m waiting to hear back on a grant, so the resettlement office director and I can hire a full-time refugee health coordinator and get the refugee health mediation program up and running. (If this happens, I’ll be abandoning the blog for a while, because I just won’t have time.)

I’m waiting to hear back from this government agency and that government agency.

I’m waiting to find out whether I’ll be off to Kabul, Bishkek, Dushanbe, Nias, Juba, LA, DC, or NY come June –or slithering back to my mother’s basement to wallow in bourgeois angst and inhale snackfoods.

I’m waiting to hear from friends abroad.

I’m waiting to see if my best friend has finally broken her eight-year back luck streak in the romance department.

I’m waiting for a bad haircut to grow out.

I’m waiting to see if CitiBank fails.

I’m waiting for the snow to melt and the green to return.

I’m waiting to buy Microsoft Office 2007 for my laptop and a replacement digital camera until I can afford them.

I’m waiting for a certain blogger to email me back and save me from daily pangs of embarrassment and self-recrimination for having attempted to show off my (really bad) Dari.

I’m waiting for a breakthrough, somewhere.


Ok, back to putting together my outreach proposal for this Friday’s meeting at the resettlement office.

Bits and pieces

Next Friday, I will be making a presentation for my colleagues and supervisors on utilizing social media in development work.  My boss, who is somewhat “old school” has finally embraced some of the ideas my younger colleagues and I have been pushing.

“We’re entering a post-literate age,” he told me.

Well, maybe not post-literate, but certainly with less in print.



So I don’t feel the compulsion to hurl my coffee mug across the room, I am going to pretend this is poorly-executed satire.


Today, I have a program development and fundraising meeting at the resettlement office.  I can smell the grant proposals a mile away. Hurrah!


No feedback on job applications so far, even on one for which I met every single one of the very specific qualifications.

* Professional research experience

*Refugee resettlement and asylum work

*BA in human rights or a related field

*Overseas human rights experience

*Understanding of global press freedom issues

I meet literally all of those qualifications (which has never happened to me before), and I suspect that’s not common, for an entry-level person anyway. If I’m not even called for a phone interview, I’ll start really worrying.


I just told my current boss about the above job application and my curiosity about why I haven’t been contacted. He laughed and said that those qualifications are not uncommon among entry-level people, and that the organization probably had a ringer in mind for the job anyway and won’t even consider other applications.

I can be so naive.

Something tells me I’m going to have to be content with a secretarial job in Boulder, Colorado come June.

I’ve put five years into this, and I’m coming up against a wall I cannot scale.  The other day, I told a similarly struggling friend that I feel the hardest part of chasing a dream is knowing when to let it go.

I don’t think I’m at that point yet, but I am very discouraged and I feel like it’s getting closer by the day.


My mom, who runs a small business in Longmont, CO, is asking her friends and clients if they know of any clerical jobs opening in the late spring. I sent her my resume today. And so begins the long process of settling.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

Yesterday, in an email that was perhaps too frustrated and desperate-sounding (yes, about my search for my next job), I mentioned that I am the kind of employee who works until 10pm on  a Friday night if that’s what it takes to finish a task. And then I though, hmmm, it’s been kind of a while –at least two months– since I worked that long in the office (not counting, of course, the work I bring home and fiddle with until 2am.)  But wouldn’t you know, it happened last night. My colleague Steve and I worked until 10pm to finish the most mind-numbingly boring part of a proposal that went to DC this morning on a train with one of our other colleagues. By the end of the night, our eyes were crossing in and we were slap-happy from doing tappy tappy computer work for roughly thirteen hours.

Our boss drove us home. Earlier in the evening, he had  brought up with me the subject of Steve’s and my desire to work in Afghanistan. His take was, and is, that we’re just in our early twenties, we should be bullshitting around, trying to discover our paths for a few more years. As usual (this is a conversation we have often), I groaned, slapped my hand to my forehead, and explained that I’ve been on the same path since I was in junior high school. I know what I want to do indefinitely. Steve knows (mostly) what he wants to do right now. Isn’t that enough?

In a more practical sense, the economics of being young have changed dramatically in the thirty years since my boss was the age I am now. Back then, someone of middle class status of above could extend the “I don’t know, I’m just trying different things” period into her or his late twenties, or longer. Today, it’s extremely unwise to do so beyond, say, eighteen. And if you go on to higher education, you damn well better know what you want to do with your life, because you’ll be sunk if you set yourself back tens of thousands of dollars in debt only to realize too late that you hate what you’re studying, or can’t make a living with your degree after graduation.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think this system is bad socially and that the kind of debt students are put in is unethical, but it’s still the reality we (recent graduates and soon-to-be graduates) have to confront in at least the short-term. The uncertainty part doesn’t apply to me, and I’m thankful for that (again, I’ve been blessed with uncommon certainty in what I want to do). I know my boss means well, but I wish he would stop writing his young employees off as overly serious children in need of more playtime and socialization. It’s not helpful, it’s just frustrating.


Slightly related: I kind of miss the communal “all-nighters” at the resettlement office.  The office I work in now is very professional. Everyone has his or her own office with a “please knock” sign or a solitary cubicle. Even if staff stay long after closing, it’s not the kind fo place where you gather around the grubby kitchen table with beer, pizza, and piles of case notes. For all the fuming I did over how “unprofessional” the resettlement office could be, there really were  things about it I found very endearing.

The career subject came up with my boss again today. He suggested I do the Peace Corps. No.

Working nine to five and then five to nine, and checking ReliefWeb compulsively every fifteen minutes.

Work work was not exactly thrilling this week. I had to research USAID political party strengthening programs covering the last ten years and put them into charts by country, year, program, activity, etc. I also had to re-do the CV’s of people who will potentially be working on a new project. Then, I had to do some literature research for a colleague before she departed for Jordan. Then…you get the idea.


For the resettlement field office, I met with the new Development Officer, who, oddly enough, has never worked with grants or government contracts. I compiled literature on these subjects for her, as well as lots of handy web-based resources on grant-writing, squeezing money out of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and getting free supplies from local sources. We’re going to meet again the week after next.  In the mean time, I’m going to follow up on a conversation I had the other day with someone from the university’s School of Public Health about setting up a fellowship program at the field office for their MPH students and recent graduates.

Even if the foundation says “no” to our proposal, there is going to be a refugee health mediation program. One way or another.


It was nice to be back in the old office. I hadn’t realized how much I missed the smells, the confusion, the perpetually askew pictures on the walls, and the comically diverse team of sarcastic co-workers representing the US, UK, Spain, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Burma, El Salvadaor, and the DRC.


It’s time for a Dari lesson.