Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Winds are A-Changing

Walked up the stairs of West 4 subway station yesterday morning at around 8.40 am to a scene of blinding golden sunlight bathing a street of autumn leaves made of gold and an old brick building painted an English red. The air was a little chilly. I walked towards all that bright sunshine to find my way to NYU Law School's Lipton Hall and thought to myself that maybe, but only maybe, the air was different than before. I took a deep breath and squinted against the sunlight to try to make out the street signs.

It must have been the night before that the air started changing, come to think of it. I got home when it was dark and all the street lamps shone orange and the pavement was a dance court for yellow leaves that swirled around each other in a mad autumn dance. The wind had picked up and there was a sense of freedom in the air. That must have been when it changed, because I find myself having stopped counting the days because I want them to pass quicker, and having started counting them because they're running away so fast and by counting them maybe I can control them a little and slow them down. Because New York is after all a city where little 17-year-old braided boys say "Take care, sweetheart," when you get off the train for no other reason than to be nice.

And even the UN is probably quite another place than what I've experienced so far. On Thursday morning I got two invites within the course of maybe 10 minutes. First, it was the young woman sitting outside my office who said we should have a cup of coffee in the afternoon (but both of us were busy, so we'll do it on Monday), and then it was the freckled man who always says hi to me in the corridor. He started talking to me on this day, and said that we should go for a drink sometime when I'm not busy working on the counter terrorism thing.

But I'm busy working on the counter terrorism thing. So busy that I spent 8 hours yesterday inside Lipton Hall with about 80 or so Afghanistan experts, government advisors, Pentagon people, Afghanistan ambassadors and journalists who have had tea with the Taliban, had meetings with the Taliban, been kidnapped by the Taliban (one of them in that exact order).

Aside from the fact that I need to build up tons and tons of confidence in this area (that is to say, in the area of meeting with government and NGO people that all are wearing suits and exchanging business cards), the experience of attending that conference yesterday was really good. When Joanne Mariner from Human Rights Watch spoke of the prisoners picked up all around the region by the US and put in the blackest hole that exists in justice (yes, even Guantanamo pales in comparison)--where they are hidden away from the world without charge and without being heard, under physical and psychological stress and duress, where everything that is known about what's going on is pieced together from those that actually eventually get out and can be tracked down and interviewed by Human Rights Watch--I decided I want to work with that. Reviewing governments' practices and uncovering human rights violations.

Then when Clare Lockhart from Institute for State Effectiveness talked about the problems with the thousands of aid projects and programs in Afghanistan that lack a common strategy and fail to achieve any real change because of this. It's mostly just a bunch of overlaps and projects that work against each other, and in the end the village people are left with empty school houses but no teachers, tomato fields but no way to get around the corruption and actually enter the market without going through Pakistan. When she talked about this, I decided that aid and civil services is really what I should get into. But in Palestine.

And finally when Sean Lagan told his story about how he had tea with the Taliban, and met with different Taliban leaders several times, and reported home, and made documentaries, I decided what I really, really want to be is a journalist like him. And shed light on things that look dark to some. Make them see that we're all human when all is said and done. Tell stories from places that few people dare to go. Except I don't want to be kidnapped by the Taliban, and I don't want to see people get executed and beheaded.

But today is another sunny day in New York and I should probably leave the future to the future and concentrate on what I have right now, right here.

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