Saturday, October 25, 2008

Something From Your Heart

I'm rubbing shoulders with the... well, not rich and famous, but the important government, non-governmental organization, and civil servant people of the world.

Feeling more relaxed? Not really, but I play along. I don't initiate conversation, but will always chat away with anybody who makes the effort to address me. Haven't gotten a hang of that polite, witty, cosmopolitan jargon yet, and I still can't make my body behave as if it's a natural element of the diplomatic surroundings it is in. I compensate by keeping a low profile. Sometimes I try to take on a disinterested look, and hope that it will pass for an I'm-such-an-experienced-UN-person-I-can't-even-be-bothered-with-shaking-the-Secretary-General's-hand look.

I lie. Actually, I always introduce myself as the intern in order to account for my lack of expertise and experience in certain areas. Better to be transparent from the first handshake, than have somebody call your bluff half-way through the meeting. But I do keep a low profile.

I got the veteran New York subway traveler mien down to an art, though. I sweep by lost tourists with a scent of true New York that lingers in their nostrils as they watch me walk away with quick steps towards wherever it is that real New Yorkers go. Sometimes people stop me and ask for directions in heavily accented Englishes and I find myself actually knowing where to point them to.

I don't have this air of experience at the UN, but I noticed that carrying the UN card comes with a certain level of respect nonetheless. Like last Friday at the conference at NYU School of Law, when the lady signing us in was just about to ask me if I had registered for the event when she looked up and saw my UN card dangling from its silver chain around my neck. "Oh," she said as if she had demanded something of me that was completely off grounds. "I'm sorry."

Today was another conference Friday. This time it was at the UN, in the ECOSOC Chamber, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (yes, the very same Ban Ki that I didn't shake hands with), Henry Kissinger and a bunch of other distinguished speakers convened to discuss concrete steps to achieve global consensus on disarmament and weapons of mass destruction. I was there to take notes of anything that might be relevant for the UN counter-terrorism work.

I'm becoming quite the counter-terrorism expert. After weeks of extensive research and briefings for my supervisor, I was asked to write the first draft of an article on the UN Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force. Of course, it's all still very confidential at this stage (of course), and it's just a first draft. I suspect my supervisor will have lots of comments and things she wants to go over and change, but that will have to wait until next week.

Oh, speaking of things I can't tell you about, I spent the afternoon in a room on the 7th floor of the Ford Foundation building on 43rd Street in an informal, but confidential, meeting on how to address the issue of regional imbalance and proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East and how to achieve a nuclear free zone in the region. Quite interesting (and I got to shake the hand of the permanent representative of Egypt to the UN--take that Ban Ki).

Something I can tell you, though (I think... to be honest, I have some difficulty knowing exactly what is off the record, what is confidential, and what is public, but I'll take a chance on this one), is that I was at a brownbag meeting with Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, where he presented the report he was handing over to the General Assembly the following morning. It was strange to have all these places and events that I visited or heard about this summer being referred to and recounted to you in an official UN report.

The little Palestinian boy who was shot dead by Israeli soldiers. The increased so-called flying checkpoints that Israel sets up all around the West Bank at will, apart from the permanent ones that are always there. The Jenin students who were killed in Nablus. The peaceful demonstrations against the building of the Wall on Palestinian territory that were cracked down on by the Israeli military. I mean, I had to pass those checkpoints. I've seen the Wall and the way it tears through the landscape and breaks people's lives. And in the mornings on my way from my little apartment atop the sheep to the taxi station, Samer would stop me outside his store and tell me the latest news on where the Israeli soldiers had done their nightly raids this time, if they had arrested somebody. The times they had killed people.

When I introduced myself at the meeting with Richard Falk I decided to throw my low-profile approach in the bin.

"I'm Ruby," I started. "I'm an intern at the Department of Political Affairs."

And then. To hell with it.

"I spent my summer in Palestine, and I decided to write my thesis on the role of the UN in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when I get back to my university after this internship. That's why I came to this meeting."

And it paid off. After the meeting a very nice lady from the Division of Palestinian Rights started talking to me and asked me about my thesis. Without mentioning names (you know, this whole confidentiality thing... it's driving me nuts), she is by far the most helpful person I've run into at the UN since I came here. She invites me to her office, sends me articles, goes through her archives, refers me to others who can help, suggests topics.

I got some new ideas that are really useful for the development of my thesis, in part thanks to her help. But I think the most important thing she said, was right before I got into the elevator to go back up to my floor (she's on the 33rd).

"Look at these articles, and check these websites, and come see me next week. I think it will be useful for you," she said. And then she paused for a moment and added, "You have to do something from your heart."

She is right.

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