Friday, June 10, 2011

End of Week Two

Our four chickens

It's hard to believe that I've only been in Kurdistan and in the job with Heartland Alliance two weeks. In many ways it feels much longer, though there are times when I have to remind myself that I'm actually in Northern Iraq. In many ways, it feels entirely comfortable, though there are times when I feel like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz ("Toto I don't think we're in Kansas anymore"). Having spent the prior 30+ years of my professional and personal life in private practice at an international law firm doing corporate law and living in London, Chicago and Washington, D.C. with lots of time spent in New York City, Los Angeles and elsewhere, including Kiawah Island, South Carolina, working with an NGO (non-governmental organization) and living in Sulimaniyah (which you will note has a number of different spellings) has required certain adjustments.
The island of Manhattan

Now I'm sure many of my friends and colleagues thought it would be hard for me to make the adjustment from designer suits to simple, loose clothing that covers the arms and most of the legs, yet isn't totally uncomfortable in the heat -- but that was an easy adjustment. In my prior job (and personal time) I travelled a lot (in fact I love to travel) and I'm sure many of my friends and colleagues thought it would be hard for me (if not impossible!) to make the adjustment from first class air travel and five star hotels to travelling in an SUV with four other colleagues for 5+ hours and sharing a room in a hotel that isn't luxurious -- but that's not a problem for me. I think many were surprised when I told them Jim and I would be living in a house with four others (and four chickens in the yard, down from seven), given that I had been living alone in London and Chicago since my son, Christian, graduated from high school and left for Amherst College in August 2002 (and before that it was basically just the two of us plus my friend who lived in our third floor apartment). But I don't find the adjustment to shared living space difficult at all, even though the house does not have central air conditioning, only ceiling fans and room air conditioners which stop working when the electricity shuts off, which it often does. In fact, the house Christian and I lived in in Evanston, Illinois for 15 years did not have central air conditioning, only ceiling fans and one window unit in the downstairs tv room (but admittedly, Evanston almost never saw 100+ degree weather). And I grew up in a small town (LeRoy, Ohio, pop. 300 or so) and lived in a large town (Bloomington, Illinois, pop. about 50,000) until I went to college in Washington, D.C. so the transition from London to Suli and all that entails has not been difficult, although I have had to adjust to the fact that there are no ATM's and no one takes credit cards -- not even the "five-star" hotel we stayed in in Dohuk, and to the absence of the almost unlimited choices in food, restaurants, shopping, etc. that a large cosmopolitan city offers. Nor has the cultural adjustment been difficult -- the night life here is pretty limited, particularly for women and for non-Iraqis but I have never really been part of that scene -- and I can respect and appreciate cultural differences (unless they impact on people's human rights).
View of London

No, none of those adjustments have been difficult and I know that I can be very happy living almost anywhere in new and different ways. The BIG adjustment, which I'm still undergoing, is going to working with an NGO in the Middle East from working at a law firm that functioned 24/7 and that provided incomparable services and support. Obviously the work is quite different -- but I love the work and hope that I am becoming a human rights lawyer (thanks to the privilege of working with people who are incredibly dedicated and experienced human rights advocates). And the pace is quite different. It's not that human rights lawyers don't work every bit as hard, if not harder and in more challenging circumstances, as lawyers in private practice -- they do, and I'm working as hard as I ever have. It's that I'm finding I can't make things happen as quickly as I would like (I know those of you who think I'm a control freak and a perfectionist are laughing). Because we answer to donors and work in situations that can be challenging, there are an incredible number of procedures (including paperwork) that have to be attended to, particularly for program directors. And although in private practice I had to keep track of my time and expenses and deal with other administrative matters, there was always someone to complete time and expense reports for me, take care of plane reservations, etc. (and I want to give a HUGE thanks to my former firm for the services it still provides me -- and a special thanks to Christine, Ron, Carla, Shaf, Stephen and others in London and Chicago who respond to all my emails and phone calls and make my life so much easier).
Kiawah Island, South Carolina
So when I feel frustrated or discouraged that there's so much to do and I'm not getting enough done or people aren't responding quickly enough or that I'm drowning in paperwork and spending too much time on administrative matters and not enough time on substantive work, I have to tell myself that this is a different world than the one I was used to and that I have to adjust to it -- because it's not likely that it will adjust to my will!  And I focus on how grateful and fortunate I am to have the opportunity to share in this work with incredible colleagues dedicated to helping victims of human rights violations. 

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