Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Spring Plans

This New Year's Eve, I'm on a bus to Boston--thus my excuse for writing now and not partying.

My excuse for writing about me is that there is absolutely nothing interesting going on in the world, especially Gaza, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, China, Russia, Ukraine, the United States, Israel, or Cuba.

Since, this New Year's Eve, the world is at peace, I'm going to take a break myself from criticizing soul-crushingly foolish government errors and analyzing gut-wrenchingly hopeless security spirals, and talk a bit about me, and what I'm doing this spring.

I'm not talking about this summer or the fall after that because I don't know what I'll be doing yet. I'm still looking for a job.

But that's not all I'm doing this spring. I have indeed landed myself an internship, which I'll be starting on the 5th of January, and continuing at ~20 hours/week through May. The internship is at Conflict Dynamics, International, a non-profit firm that works with the UN and lots of liberal-democracy governments to make specific policies on the sources of contention or insecurity in wars to try and end them (or prevent them from restarting). The president, Gerard Mc Hugh, has enough of a reputation with the folks that the works with that he gets to propose his own project ideas to them. Pretty cool stuff.

When I interviewed at CDI, I was continually distracted by the many maps on the walls. Very detailed, well-used maps of the Darfur region, and settlements, ethnoreligious densities, conflict sites, refugee camps, were all over the walls. Mr. Mc Hugh didn't mind my jaw-dropping in his office, and calmly asked me how my education was going.

"Great," I said. "I'll be finishing in 4 years." I was boasting a bit. But I was trying to impress the guy. Very few people work in that company, and I needed to show that I wouldn't be wasting CPU cycles, ink, coffee, or oxygen.

"Four years with a master's? That's impressive."

"I'm impatient," I replied. I am, it's true. But he probably didn't need to know that.

He chuckled. He has an Irish accent that took me the longest time to pin down: "I know the feeling."

"Oh? You get your Master's in 4 years, too?"

"Well, three, actually, but I was going to mention something else."*

So this guy, he's got a leg up on me. Got out of MIT quite a bit quicker than I did, and then decided he was going to be an independent consultant. My impression is that he started Conflict Dynamics because the demand for his time became too high for him to handle himself. So now, he's got his fingers in Sri Lanka, India, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Columbia, probably a few other places. And me, I'm slack-jawed drooling, looking at these maps on his walls, and blubbering like an idiot as he asks me questions. I don't quite remember what I said, but it wasn't eloquent.

Sensing that I had no idea what the heck I was saying, he picks a problem for me to get my hands on: Sudan. I'll be working directly with him, right next to the guy, on a desk that was completely covered in books and papers last time I was there. I might be spending the first day cleaning it. I'll have a pretty hands-on role in (at least) electoral reform in Sudan to try to create a government with better minority representation (and better minority protection). This should do a few things:
1) Decrease the motivation for Darfurians to fight for independence.
2) Decrease the ability of the Arab-Muslim plurality to act single-handedly.
3) Try to resolve tensions between the north and south in parliament, rather than on the battlefield, which should make these Christian Africans more participatory, and allow them to act as political friends or allies of the Darfurians.

I'll probably end up working on other similar projects, too; we'll see. The coolest part is I will likely be taking a short trip to Khartoum to do some field research. Here's to hoping I don't get shot.

So that should take up most of my time that's not spent writing my thesis or going to the last few classes I have to squeak through. Then, I graduate--hopefully I'll have landed a gig by then.

*All this, of course, is paraphrasing from memory.
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