Monday, September 29, 2008

On the Edge

I'm finding myself counting the weeks and days here.

On Saturday evening, Chris Rock was on TV, and he said that some people have careers, and some people have jobs. If you have a career, you never have enough hours in a day. If you have a job, you find yourself having way too many hours in a day. You begin your day by counting down the hours until the day is over. And you start your week by counting the days until the weekend comes.

Chris Rock has a career.

I start my internship by counting down the weeks. I'm on week three. Day 11. It's Monday 29 September, and I have until 14 November at the UN. Until 18 November in my new apartment.

That's seven weeks left here. Tomorrow is a UN holiday (we don't follow US holidays, but have our very own, and tomorrow is off because it's Eid el Fitr--the end of Ramadan), so that leaves three and a half days this week, plus the coming 6 weeks, which gives me 33.5 days in total. Or approximately 268 hours. The exact days and hours in the apartment isn't calculable, though, because my evenings and weekends aren't all pre-planned. All I know is that tonight, I'm invited to Uncle Ron's mom's place for Rosh HaShana Eve dinner (the Jewish New Year); tomorrow, Auntie Toni and I are going shopping, and then we'll meet up with Step-Grandmother Marianne who is here in New York for a few days; this Friday, I'm staying over at Toni's place, because we're leaving early Saturday morning for the easternmost tip of Long Island, Montauk, where we will stay until Sunday evening... so it's all a bit unclear exactly how many days and hours I will stay in my new apartment.

My new apartment. Uncle Ron drove me up there yesterday afternoon with all my things plus some more. Auntie Toni saw too it that I got clean sheets, a pillow and a blanket; her fat free blueberry and apple muffins; all-bran cereal; a pair of slippers and a candle... so that I will feel a little more at home. Then she went shopping with me so I could get some fruit, hempseed milk (I'm so looking forward to trying that), paper towels and soap and some other things.

My new apartment is on the third floor in a walk-up building on Columbus Avenue. The stone steps are worn by all the feet that have walked up and down for years and years and there are pigeons outside the windows. My room is closest to the front door, away from the other rooms and the kitchen and living room, but close to the bathroom. There's a bed, a desk, a closet, a dresser, and a window.

My new roomies seem nice enough. David works in advertising, Brian is a bass player. I didn't see Galia yet, but she's a singer songwriter. They seem to be keeping to themselves most of the time, which, I suppose, is a good thing when all is said and done.

But still, I count the weeks. Mostly because there are other people's hairs in the sink and the bath tub, and other people's crumbs on the kitchen table. And because I feel like I'm spending my days always on the edge of my comfort zone. It's not bad, but not where I want to be.

And this morning I almost got lost on my way to the subway, and then again getting off it on 42nd Street that wasn't Times Square where I was supposed to take the shuttle to Grand Central (all trains go to 42nd, but apparently one of them doesn't stop at Times Square on 42nd, and that was the one I had to take). Luckily, I have a good memory and a sense of the Manhattan map in my head to make up for my crappy sense of direction, so I could find my way to Fifth Avenue and from there make my way to the UN.

Neale Donald Walsch (a writer and a philosopher) says that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. And I know it does. If you never upset your routine, you will never grow. But living on the edge is. Well, it's just not comfortable, and if it weren't for the fact that it's going to look good on my CV with a UN Headquarters internship, I'm not so sure I'd think it was worth it.

And also, I'm not so sure that you necessarily have to live on the edge of your comfort zone at all times in order to grow as a person, and truly experience life. Take this summer. I did find myself out there on the edge several times, but all in all, I knew that this was exactly where I wanted to be. On the West Bank. Working with Fair Trade and sustainable development. Going to Ramallah on Thursday afternoons to spend my Fridays with Mahran swimming in Jericho, or loitering in the shade, or eating fatoush at Ziryab on Rukab Street in Ramallah.

The only time I felt really, really uncomfortable, was when I decided I needed to see Israel too to get a better idea of things, and went to Haifa on my own. If I hadn't learned from the time I went to Alexandria on my own, I got the message this time: Ruby don't do single traveling well.

After I had pushed myself to stay on the edge for three days, I packed my things and took the first bus after the Shabat back to Jerusalem. As the landscape changed back to the dry, stony, hilly, cypress lined, ancient ruin dotted, olive tree fielded beauty that seems to belong better in the region than the irrigated lush flower beds and Eastern European styled houses and buildings of Israel, my blood rushed back and I'm sure my cheeks were flushed as I ran up from Damascus Gate to the Arab Bus Station, and jumped over the fence, lost my sun glasses, and caught the last bus to Ramallah just as it was pulling out from the station.

I cried as I sat there in the back and looked out the window.

The sweet notes of Arabic song sounded from the speakers. It was dark outside, women with headscarves and men with lots and lots of hair gel sat around me. Some were standing. We were driving through the dark evening streets of East Jerusalem, stopping when people wanted to get off or climb on, regardless of whether there were bus stops or not. I felt as if I had come home again from long and arduous travels to distant shores, and finally felt safe. These were tears of surrender as I sank into the comfort of being where I wanted to be.

This is the comfort I'm longing for now. When I'm not busy talking to Toni and I forget to think about the feeling that keeps coming back to me: as if I'm constantly tiptoeing on the edge of my comfort zone. It's not that I don't like it here, it's just... maybe I don't belong in this place.

I don't know whether I will sink back into the comfort of being where I want to be until I get my butt on a plane and fly back to the Middle East.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Death by Kunafa

Woke up at this morning to a dark, wet New York, pouring rain and the roar of the wind. The streets were full of rubber booted and raincoated New Yorkers on their way to work. I splashed my way from Grand Central up to 46th Street and 1st Avenue, trying to avoid the worst puddles, huddling against the wind, holding on tight to my umbrella.

Ella, ella, eh, eh.

Or actually, it's Auntie Toni's umbrella ella. She offered me her bright yellow raincoat and her pink rubber boots, but they kind of didn't go very well with my black pants, my smokey violet shirt, my wool pullover and my steel gray shawl. So I went with her purple umbrella instead.

I'm still going through all the General Assembly addresses for references to terrorism. Trying to fake my way through some French statements that haven't been translated to English. I'd like to think I'm doing pretty well. (Key words being I'd like to think).

Meanwhile, I'm also reading the news and came across a Ramadan murder plot that unfolded today in Nablus, the biggest city on the West Bank. A Palestinian metal worker walked into one of the kunafa bakeries (Nablus is famous for its kunafa) and ordered one large platter of this syrupy sweet pastry filled with cheese. He said he was going to send it by taxi to his mother-in-law for the breaking of the fast on this last Friday of Ramadan, but most likely didn't mention that he was convinced that this same mother-in-law was behind the recent divorce from his wife and that he had vowed to avenge her.

The metal worker asked to be present when the bakers prepared it, slipped in (as you do when you're plotting to kill your mother-in-law for having destroyed your marriage) some rat poison when nobody was looking, and probably thought he was doing pretty well with the whole murder scheme. But then the bakers (oh, these proud kunafa bakers) noticed that the color of the cheese was different than usual, and wouldn't for the world sell inferior kunafa and risk damaging their fine reputation, no matter how much the metal worker insisted that he was absolutely fine with the unusual looking cheese and didn't want it exchanged for another platter.

Finally, the kunafa bakery argument resulted in the metal worker's arrest for plotting to murder his mother-in-law, and the man has confessed and is currently waiting to be prosecuted.

As if taken directly from Arabian Nights, I know. But it's true. Check it out on

Saudi Arabia has requested a Security Council meeting on the issue of the Israeli settlements in Palestine. President Mahmoud Abbas is speaking to the Security Council right now. I'm listening via the UN webcast site. He's showing maps of how the Israeli settlements divide the West Bank (and thereby the territory where a Palestinian state will be formed, if it will be formed) into four cantons, which really isn't a very good base for a cohesive state at all. Especially when these cantons would be separated, not only by the settlements themselves, but by electric fences, concrete walls and settler roads that Palestinians aren't even allowed to access. And in spite of the agreement in Annapolis, Israel continues with its settlement policy and settlements have in fact increased since the Annapolis agreement.

And now Israel's representative. Settlements are not the primary obstacle, Gaza bombings are. For sure, this is counter-productive indeed and there is never an excuse for killing human beings.

Ahmadinejad is. Yes, he is saying some very untactful things (like Condoleezza Rice just noted you simply don't say "in polite company"), but if Abbas can't control Ahmadinejad's statements and Iran's foreign policy, there will be no peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority?

The kidnapping of Gilad Shalit is. Yes, this is an obstacle, but so are the about 11 000 Palestinians prisoners held by Israel, hundreds of which are children.

And finally, settlers have a historic bond to the biblical land. Whereas Palestinians who have lived there for generations don't?

In the words of Costa Rica's representative to the Security Council: we cannot ignore that the conduct of both sides is motivated by the conduct of the other.

In my own words: but that shouldn't prevent a recognized state and a member of the United Nations to comply with international law, adhere to Security Council resolutions, respect the Geneva Convention and cease to transfer portions of its citizens into the territories it is occupying.

In the words of Italy's representative: it is in Israel's own interest to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority.

Okay, back to my real assingment. The General Assembly and references to the UN Counter-Terrorism Task Force. I'm noting a very clear pattern: blaming terrorism on under-development and poverty. Did everybody collectively forget that those behind the two attacks that have shaken the West the most and took place in New York and London were well-educated middle class men? Do people actually believe that if you have to struggle to feed yourself or your family, you can't pay for healthcare, you can't send your kids or your brothers or sisters to school, you're going to bother with raising money and organizing and orchestrating international terrorist attacks?

I don't know, but I think there are other reasons behind terrorism, even if that shouldn't stop us from dealing with poverty and under-development, too. But for other reasons.

Well, I'm off to the bathroom. I have no window in my room, remember, and I'd like to see if it's still pouring down outside.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Q&A with Ahmadinejad

So Jude Law didn't show up. That's just like him. Pfft.

But Ahmedinejad was there. (I always knew Iranians were a trustworthy lot). And about 400 UN interns from around the world, and university students and professors from all over America. The Iranian Mission to the UN never expected this many of us would sign up for this event, so the Manhattan Ballroom at Grand Hyatt on 42nd St was over-crowded--all the breakfast tables were full, every chair in the back was taken, and people were standing around the room up against the walls, between the tables, and by the breakfast buffet.

He's kind of small, that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And he smiles a lot.

The first question he got from a guy in a pink shirt at the very back, was why he continues to damage his reputation by refusing to acknowledge the state of Israel.

Now, it didn't take a genious to anticipate that the answer would be long and elaborate and include many of the human rights violations and deviations from international law that the Israeli state has been guilty of in relation to the Palestinian people and their land.

"I'm told this is history, forget it," he said. "I tell them, yes, but this is what got us to where we are right now." Women are still being killed, children imprisoned, the occupation continues. "We must not live in the past," he said, "but without our past, we are like trees without roots."

And then he said something that actually made sense, in a twisted kind of way. He said that we forget that 60 million died in World War II. Why did the world decide that the killings of the Jews somehow should matter more? Now, I'm not suggesting it shouldn't matter, and neither do I buy into Ahmadenijad's dimwit suggestions that the Holocaust might never have happened (he says he never actually said it didn't happen, only that he would like to research it more, but people won't allow him... not that I know who's stopping him, but that's what he says), or that the entire world is run by Zionists (because I normally do not buy into wacky conspiration theories in general), but a quick search on gives me figures to ponder.

About 27 million died in the Soviet Union. 27 million! That's a 2 and a 7 and 6 zeros. We very rarely give them a second thought in our part of the world.

Japan murdered somewhere between 3 to 10 million (mostly) Chinese people. When do we remember them?

"We are sorry for the Jews that were killed, we are sorry for everybody who was killed--Jewish, Christian, or whatever."

Yeah, we should be. And even though he brought it up to sort of make us think less of the Holocaust, it still made me think of all of those we normally never think about when we speak of World War II. If there is such a thing as collective guilt, boy do we have lots to make up for. Not that you and I did these things, but our grandparents did.

But anyway, after explaining why he risked his reputation to stand up for the Palestinian people, he suggested a rather... interesting solution. According the UN Charter, all people have a right to self-determination, and therefore there should be a referendum for the Palestinian people so that they can finally be allowed to decide what they want to do with this situation.


Even I who have personally experienced the occupation, have seen what it does to families, have gone past the fields of black sad stubs sticking up in dried-out lands, where once Palestinians harvested olives from silver green olive trees. Even I who have seen the Wall, got stuck at the Israeli check points, read the local news about the kids that were shot dead by the Israeli military, about the old women who were beaten up by Israeli settlers... about the new fantastic idea to spray demonstrators against the Wall with toilet water (yes TOILET water, because it causes infections--go to for daily coverage on what actually happens in the occupied territories, deaths, names, everything).

Even I, even I would never in my wildest dreams suggest that Palestinians should be granted sovereignty over the entire territory (which is the most likely outcome of a Palestinian referendum, I guess, if they were actually given that option). That's like suggesting that the Native Americans should be allowed to have a referendum on what to do with all these settlers that have taken over their country. No matter how just the cause may seem in light of past events, it just doesn't work that way. Sure, without our past, we're rootless trees. But you can't cut out all the branches or shake off all the leaves that get in your way, because the tree would die.

Think of it as a Bonsai tree, if you will. With careful pruning and lots of love and care and patience, we can bend the branches the way we want them to bend. But it's a fine balance, getting the tree to live and grow, because if you cut too much, you kill it.

And just because some branches and leaves used to bite off all these other branches, and has, for the past 60 years, bullied a bunch of branches that were left on the tree... if you'll excuse my cannibalistic Little Shop of Horrors bonsai tree metaphor... doesn't make it right for us to cut out all branches connected to these bullying branches. Because most of them are really only regular branches and leaves, and cutting them off, would be like...

Okay, I give up. The metaphor sucks. But the point is that the Israeli families have lived there for generations now, and no more than their grandparents should have expelled those who lived there before them, and destroyed entire Palestinian villages, cut down their fruit trees, should Palestinians today chase the Israelis out of their homes. This is a very delicate situation that calls for very delicate measures. Any solution must involve all parties, with equal say on the final draft for the future political structure.

But back to Ahmadinejad. He's a good question dodger, that man. Every inconvenient question on human rights violations, public executions of gay people (well, he didn't really dodge that one as much as he just expressed his view that homosexuality is considered to be wrong in Iran, and therefore punishable by law), women's rights, was successfully circumvented with smiles, jokes, and examples that didn't really satisfy anyone who has read the simplest reports on the situation in Iran. But on the other hand, he did have a point. We haven't been there, so we don't know. He invited us all to come and see for ourselves, because the way Iran, and just about all Arabic countries too, are presented in the media, with endless stretches of sand dunes and maybe a camel or two (or screaming mobs of angry Qur'an waving people, crying mothers in traditional clothing, stone-throwing kids), is not in actual fact a very good depiction of what the Middle East actually is. And this is true. Never take somebody else's word for it. See for yourself.

But still. Student uprisings are being quelled, people are being killed and put to prison (not necessarily in that order, though), and no matter how many examples that he brings up of what the US is doing wrong or worse, it doesn't take away his responsibility to see to it that his government adheres to human rights laws within his own borders. Because somehow I don't quite trust him on his remark that Iranian prisons have turned into hotels these days.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I Missed Jude Law

The security these days is crazy. They start checking our badges out on 2nd Avenue, have us walk between all these fences and police cars, check our badges again, then we pass all the press people setting up their equipment for the day, then they check our badges once more, and then we walk through the regular security with the scanners and metal detectors and everything, and then we can't get into the Secretariat building the normal way, but have to go down a flight of stairs, walk through the whole complex, then walk up one flight of stairs again to get to the elevators that go up to floor 37 and my windowless office. And my bathrooms.

Oh, the other day. This was last week. I was walking out from the bathrooms and caught the image of myself in the mirrors (with that amazing New York skyline reflected in the background, just so you know), wearing my formal business attire, with the light blue UN badge dangling from the chain around my neck. And I thought, "Who'da thought?" You know... for a moment there I was kind of infatuated with the whole idea of myself a grown-up business woman working at the UN Headquarters. Business suit and all.

But then the moment passed. And now I'm back to being the unimportant intern who had all these expectations--because this is, after all, the UN Headquarters--that dropped flat on the ground once I arrived at my little room.

And it's not that it's windowless. It's that I wasn't properly introduced, and that nobody seems to care, and that I didn't get any real assignments to make me feel that I'm actually trusted with at least some responsibility, and that the other Rebecca in the room walked past Jude Law in the corridor on her way up to our room today while I was sitting at my crappy computer from 1985 (give or take) listening to the General Assembly speeches (because nobody bothered giving me a pass so I could actually go to the meetings and be there, like some of the other interns) all alone. That's why.

Well, Hani was sitting there too. And he's Egyptian. Which means that I have somebody who feels at least a little bit friendly in that huge building, and someone I can say things like khalas and insha Allah to, and he will understand. That means a lot.

Okay, I know it's my second week, and they're not going to give me all these really fabulous super important things to do until they know I can handle it. But the thing is that they don't even bother to find out if I can handle it or not. Frankly, they hardly give me anything to do at all.

But anyway, the reason for the security wasn't because Jude Law was there (even if you'd think so). It's because almost every head of state from the entire world is there this week for the 63rd General Assembly. Which I'm sure I already told you. But did I tell you I'm seeing Mr Crazy Bastard Iranian President Ahmadinejad tomorrow?

He had like a 9 page speech today (at least double everybody else's) on how everything is God's creation, and how human beings were created from mud in the soil, but how we weren't destined to stay in the soil, and how the hegemonic powers in the world are screwing things up, and how things are still going in the right direction, and how his nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, and boy, am I really interested in what he's going to say tomorrow when we meet him. A bunch of other interns and me.

As much as I'm looking forward to seeing him, though, I'd kind of prefer having a morning meeting with Jude Law at Grand Hyatt tomorrow instead. In a private room. Y'know.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Women Smell Sweet, Men Smell Like Feet

So I know the story behind the breathtaking view from the bathroom windows now.

I'm sitting on the 37th floor, in my little windowless office, listening to the opening of the 63rd General Assembly on streamed live on The General Assembly is closed, but anyone can follow it via the UN webcast. I'm monitoring it for references to the UN Task Force on counter-terrorism. My supervisor needs to know which countries think what about the Task Force, to be able to know where to go next. She's away this week and too busy to monitor it herself.

I'm starting to feel a little more comfortable here, but I'm still intimidated by the vastness of this organization. And I'm not quite sure if this is a place I will want to come back to. Mainly because I feel a little bit like I'm just stacked away in some old room, not really important enough to be important, so to speak.

But anyway, the story behind the breathtaking view. Apparently, when the UN complex was first built, they never took into consideration that one day women would step out of their housewife shoes and enter into high politics. And when suddenly they did, there were no bathrooms for the ladies, and no place near the men's bathrooms to install them. So what they decided to do, was to take the only space available--right next to the elevators where those huge windows are. Yay for us!

Rumor has it that the men's bathrooms are just as windowless as my office.

In the words of a dreadlock-ed perfume seller on 42nd Street: Women smell sweet, men smell like feet. Or at least that's the way the UN must see things, or they could have rebuilt the men's bathrooms and put us there, and then built new bathrooms for the men over by the elevators.

I don't know, but I would have put the interns' office next to the elevators, and the bathrooms over here where the interns' room is.

Funny piece of UN history, in any event. Reminds us how long we've come on the path away from thinking that women are somehow not capable of doing things. Even so, everybody who knows me is aware of the fact that I'm in no way a feminist. I get annoyed with women in the West who somewhere along the line decided to blame everything that's wrong in their lives on men, and who find sexism in every other glance, sentence or photograph. Really, what most of the so-called feminists are doing is contributing to the stupidest idea in the history of gender thinking: that women are passive victims in A Man's World. We're not. We hold our destiny in our own hands, and if something's wrong in your life, chances are it's your own fault.

Don't get me wrong. I'm very much aware of the fact that I owe a lot of my freedoms to women who went before me and tore down walls and cast off aprons and demanded to be taken seriously. They're the ones who saw to it that the UN Headquarters has ladies' bathrooms in the first place, and I'm forever grateful to them for being able to pee sitting down during my time here.

But I would still never call myself a feminist. If you tell me that we are equal no matter what our chromosomes look like, I agree with you. If you tell me that we are treated differently based on our gender, I agree with that too. But if you say that men always have the upper hand, you just fail to see that there are disadvantages to being a man in this world too, just as there are advantages to being a woman.

Take trust, for instance. As a woman, I feel people trust me in just about every situation I can imagine myself being in. Even looking for short-term apartments or rooms here in New York, almost every other ad stated that they prefer females renting their place, and the only reason I can think of is that women are commonly viewed as more trustworthy than men.

Oh, speaking of which, I got the keys to the apartment I'm moving into next weekend. It's a room in an apartment up on Columbus Avenue. But I'll tell you more about that once I'm there.

Anyway, men frequently find themselves in situations where they are not trusted. Or so I imagine. Last winter, one of my neighbors who rarely comes out to his summer house stopped to pick me up as I walked home one late, snowy, cold afternoon, and the first thing he feels he needs to say after he asked me if I wanted a ride, is that he understands if I don't want to get into the car, since he could be a rapist for all I know. I'm not sure, but I would imagine that having every other person see you as a potential rapist, isn't an all too pleasant way of being viewed by your fellow human beings.

Because, really, that's what it all comes down to: we're all human beings, and if there's anything we should be working on is to make sure that no matter who you are, or what you look like, the least you should be able to expect from everybody else, is respect. Not because you're a woman, or because you're a man, but because you are here.

That having been said, I had a realization this summer. I never felt that my sex ever put obstacles in my way until this summer. In fact, after I came back from living in Egypt, I made a point of telling people who asked me if it wasn't difficult being a woman in the Middle East, that the way we happen to view women's rights is largely decided by our culture. Most of us don't feel held back by being expected to cover most of our torso, a large part of our legs in most situations, and a good part of our arms. In fact, we think of it as quite natural to wear a pair of pants or a skirt, and a top or a shirt in most situations (unless we're on the beach, when we're allowed to wear our underwear). But other cultures, who don't cover half as much as we do (if anything at all) could very well view us as being held back by our society's expectations by having to cover so much of our bodies in order to be viewed as decent.

I asked them to think of that, before they made judgements about the hejab, or the head scarf. My experience was that it was really quite a natural part of the dress in Egypt, and that those who chose to wear it, did so not to limit themselves, or to allow others to limit them, but because it is a part of their culture.

But this summer. In my little village on the northernmost tip of the West Bank, that I shared with approximately 3 500 Palestinian children, women and men, hundreds of sheep, quite a few donkeys and a few cows and horses, I had a different experience indeed. Most were very respectful of me (except that donkey that would stand outside my door refusing to budge, so that I had to press against the wall to get past it, while nervously observing its every move for any sign that it would kick or bite me... which it never did, but still). Most two-legged beings respected me and recognized that I had compromised and adjusted my clothing out of respect for their culture and wore considerably more clothes than I would have done in Sweden, had it been 45 degrees Celsius. But then there were some, two to be exact, that complained that I needed to change my clothes to respect Islam now that I lived with Muslims. And in a house in a nearby village where I was invited for lunch one day, I was seated in one room together with the wife because I was a woman, while my colleagues sat in another room just because they were men. Women and men have separate wedding parties, too, which never really made sense to me either, even if we have separate pre-wedding parties where I come from as well (but that also never made sense to me).

But all of this, together with the fact that women get married at 19 or 20 or 21 and have three kids by the age of 25 that they take care of, besides doing all the cooking and the cleaning and the washing, really started making me think about how much I owe to the women who went before me and paved the roads, knocked holes in the glass roof, and bulldozed down walls so that their daughters, and their children's daughters, can have the opportunity to choose for themselves what they want to do with their lives (given that all other non-gender obstacles are overcome).

Really, I know I'm lucky.

But if I didn't have those women go before me in my little village in Palestine, I had Mahmoud Abbas walk beside me. Mahmoud Abbas as in Abu Ahmed, not Abu Mazen (which would have been cooler for the sake of this story, I admit, but don't underestimate Abu Ahmed). And he let those two guys who complained about my clothes know that if anything, they were the one disrespecting Islam by not respecting their fellow human being (i. e. me), and if they ever brought this up again, he would... well, I'm not sure what he said, but those two guys never commented on my clothes ever again. But the point is that even this summer, what it really came down to was not gender at all. It's about human beings respecting each other. Abu Ahmed respected me, and he made it clear that those who didn't, did not live by the cultural rules of their society. Regardless of their sex.

If I see that perfume selling rastafarian ever again, I'll tell him he got it wrong. It's really supposed to be: Some smell sweet, some smell like feet.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Have a good day!

The view from the bathroom windows is amazing, but the computers suck.

I'm in the room that will be my office for the coming two months, on the 37th floor of the Secretariat building. No window, but some posters of lands far away. There is one other Rebecca in the room, and two more will join us. I don't know if they will be Rebeccas too, but if they are, it would be kind of unnerving. If it's a coincidence, cool, if they planned it... I'm taking the next flight back home. Haha.

So I found out what the acronyms on my offer letter stand for. DPA is the Department of Political Affairs (but this much I had figured out), PPU is the Policy Planning Unit (news for me) and OUSG is the Office of the Under Secretary General (should have known). So that's where I am now.

My supervisor Ms Anne Wu is still nowhere to be found, but somebody said she's coming in later today. Hope so, because so far I'm sitting here feeling kind of lost and insecure and... well, frankly bored. The computers suck, as I said, and mine took like 30 minutes to start up. And even now, everything is super slow. Not only that, the keyboard is gray with filth and the desk is dusty.

Welcome on board, Ruby.

I have a growing sensation that this might not be the place for me. This morning as I was walking to the subway station, a construction worker, taking a break from constructing and whatnot, smiled at me and said:

"Have a good day!"

A good omen, you might think. For sure I smiled and said the same thing back and felt kind of good about the whole thing at first. But now I'm sure it was more of a "This is going to be a trying day, so please don't forget to do your best to have a good day in spite of it all."

You know, I started having my doubts already a couple of weeks ago when Ms Anne Wu didn't bother giving me the slightest clue as to what I'll be working with, but I thought I was really only getting nervous about the whole thing. And perhaps that might still be the case--I probably am nervous, it's just that I've been drinking so much Koppla that I don't realize it. (Koppla is a drink made from a bunch of soothing natural herbs that relaxes you during stressful times--it's just lavendar and I can't remember, but it's mild and safe, and it actually works. Love it.)

Anyway, I think this building is far too big for me, and I just feel lost and small. In that little office in Jenin on the West Bank this summer, with Henry the French intern, Mahmoud Abbas of Faqqo'ah and Abu Samer of Al Jalameh, things never felt really formal. Not even when my supervisor Nasser was in did I ever feel like I couldn't walk out of my room and go to the bathroom or whatever. (Which might have something to do with the fact that I spent the first three nights at my supervisor's house, to get settled in properly, and the very first night after having dinner, we sat in his living room and listened to music and he had a beer). But here, oh here I hardly dare to chew gum.

Luckily, I went to the bathroom the first thing I did when I got out from the elevator, so I don't really need to go now. (That's when I saw the view--a breathtaking view of New York streets and the Chrysler building that kind of makes me wish I had my office in the bathroom instead).

Memo to self: bring water to office. You know you'll get thirsty, and you know you won't go out and try to find the bathroom to have a drink.

Oh, and one more thing: the real reason I don't dare to go out of my room is not actually so much that I fear my new co-workers, as it is my incredibly crappy sense of direction. I have no idea from which direction I came this morning, no idea which direction the elevators are, or the bathrooms, or anything else. And I don't want to seem too stupid on my very first day (or my second or third either), so it's better to wait until maybe the other Rebecca is having lunch. Perhaps. I got lost enough for one day as it is, trying to find this office to begin with.

I will navigate around the UN intranet now.

United Nations Headquarters Day 1

It's too hot to wear a suit, I can tell you that much. It's humid and hot and even though the subway is air conditioned, it's too hot for a suit.

And I can't decide whether I feel stupid, kind of fancy, a fake, or just unaccustomed when I wear it. And I can't help wondering what other people are thinking when they see me.

"Oh, there's an insecure Swedish girl on her first day as an intern at the United Nations Headquarters."

Yeah, like they notice me at all. New York is kind of the city where you don't really stand out, no matter what you wear. I mean, people where suits and flip-flops here. Together.

Anyway, we had orientation today. About 200 post graduate students from more than 70 nations around the world sat and... oriented... inside Conference Room 1 in the Secretariat building on 46th street and 1st ave. You know, that big building with all the flags outside of it. Some wore suits, some wore jeans.

"You should be proud of yourselves," they told us. "You should be proud over yourself, because out of about 3000 applicants, you have been selected for an internship at the Headquarters this fall."

And "You are very lucky," they said. "You are very lucky, because the General Assembly starts this week, and come next week your heads of state and foreign ministers from all over the world will assemble in this very building, and walk around in these corridors."

This, of course, means that security is going to be crazy the coming days. They are closing off 1st ave and only people with UN ground passes will be allowed to walk into the closed-off area, and only via 42nd or 46th street.

But, of course, I have a ground pass now. Flora with the light brown, hair spray stiff curls who speaks to herself printed it out for me at long last. There were some problems with the machine, and she had to call Steve to get it sorted out.

"Rridiculous!" She exclaimed with her heavy French accent, and kept on mumbling things I couldn't make out. But I got my badge. Crappy picture, but I didn't expect anything else. Because, as we all know, there is a universal law that says that you can under no circumstances look good on your driver's license, your passport, you id, or (most importantly) your UN ground pass.

Okay, so it's getting dark and my auntie Toni and I are going out for New York pizza. I know I don't eat cheese and stuff, but... I'll get back to being my normal vegan-ish self after I get settled in properly. Insha Allah.


PS Oh, that reminds me, log on to if you want to get your personal message for peace out to the leaders of the world in the coming days. All messages that come in, will be printed out in a book and delivered to the UN General Assembly on the opening day.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

New York Morning

It's 9.16 a.m. and New York is crowding around me. Brownstone buildings, construction sites, black and white One Way street signs, yellow cabs, cars and people.

Three weeks ago my closest neighbors were sheep and goats and I had a donkey wake me up in the mornings.

That was Palestine. This is New York. Palestine was all sun and olive trees and hummus and falafel and friends and strangers and soldiers and long rides in taxi mini vans and music and open arms and a thousand different world views.

New York is a whole other place and on Monday morning I start my internship at the United Nations Headquarters. I'll tell you more as time passes.

Until then.