Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Traveling Locally, Thinking Globally

Well, I didn't have to go far today to think globally. Just a few blocks from home and I was surrounded by a group of foreign policy experts, including former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci and Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. The event was sponsored by the Center for U.S. Global Engagement, a group formed of diverse actors to broaden understanding of America's interest in "building a better, safer world." It would seem logical to bring together the diplomatic, business and development communities yet that has not taken place with the degree of focus necessary. So, this group will focus on incorporating the greater use of development and diplomacy into the 2008 Presidential campaigns. Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Shashi Tharoor

Ah, he was charming. He delivered appropriate jokes. The right intonation. The perfect British accent. The little sparkle in his eye. The slight grin. He talked of "soft power." He had lived in Yugloslavia. We had so much in common.

He was my...commencement speaker. Yesterday, I received my master's degree in international relations from the Global Master of Arts Program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts. Shashi Tharoor is no usual commencement speaker, having finished second last year in the race for election to the post of Secretary General of the UN, a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction and a key UN figure for more than two decades. One can see why, given his intellect, public speaking prowess and diplomatic skills. Yesterday, he gave a brilliant address regarding India and its influence in the world, from IT to Bollywood. I couldn't help but smile at the "coincidence" of the fact that I had written my thesis on the impact of USAID on U.S. soft power.

Now onto other reads by this prolific writer. Perhaps you'd like to see what he's all about:

Thursday, July 19, 2007

And He's Right -- and a Brit

I can't help but put my foreign policy hat on some days. Today is a day like that, having recently read the speech by the new secretary of development for the UK -- delivered just last week at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. In his speech, Douglas Alexander talks of climate change, population migration, the moral and political imperatives facing all nations -- and ultimately the role that international development can play to bring about positive change. He espouses ideas and solutions that I wish an American development director would bring to the table. His approach is straightforward and common sense, given the senselessness that seems to surround us each day, from Baghdad to Ramhallah to Darfur.

"It can be right, when certain conditions are met, to intervene in the affairs of countries to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity, humanitarian suffering or threats to democracy. We believe that our collective responsibility to protect individuals transcends the right of nations to absolute sovereignty. And, finally, we must be driven by core values, not special interests. Our place in the world depends on us making choices based on values – values like opportunity, responsibility, justice. It’s these values that inform our enduring commitment to human rights, democracy and good governance. It is these values that call us to ensure that power, wealth and opportunity are distributed more equitably. And it is these values that remind us that we have a responsibility to act as global stewards of the environment for the sake of future generations."

We must try to take to heart his comments, not just those working in international relations and foreign development, but those around the world trying to make a difference.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Back in the Other World

I'm the other world. The world of learning, intellectual exploration and discovery. Last year, at the "ripe" old age of 40 (a term I now associate with conflict resolution!), while consulting, traveling internationally for work and raising a three-year-old, I decided to go back to graduate school. I found an interesting, culturally-diverse professional master's program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Massachusetts. It allowed me to continue working, sacrifice all of my personal time -- and emerge a year later feeling intellectually invigorated. I'll soon have a diploma in hand. This morning, my colleague from Mozambique, reminded me what the GMAP program is all about as he defended his thesis on the conflict in Northern Uganda. It was a thoughtful, well-prepared defense and he was unflappable. One of our professors called in from Greece. At my sides were colleagues from Indonesia, the U.K., Thailand and wide points across the U.S. I'm already reminded after being here just a few hours of the great benefits this program has afforded me and the way I now look at the world's problems and challenges.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Stop Trying to Save Africa, Please"

Uzodinma Iweala, the author of Beasts of No Nation (the book referenced here) wrote an editorial in yesterday's Washington Post that should give us all pause. I read his book a few months back, a harrowing, fictional account of a boy child soldier in a fictional African country (but all too real, it seems). In this editorial, he is angered by the way in which Americans have embraced African causes, including violence in Darfur, as "fashionable" and "trendy." He finds the latest edition of Vanity Fair offensive, as he sees it being about whites saving the continent -- rather than Africans continuing to find solutions for themselves.

He's right, of course. But we can't help it. Because of Americans' search for quick fixes and immediate gratification, we have a tendency to oversimplify - think simple solutions and funding will solve the world's problems. My trip to Ethiopia a few years ago, during one of its near famines, was a reminder that this is never the case - as social, economic and political challenges are intertwined and all too often problems are exacerbated over time. Nevertheless, when we stop caring about these nations,when we stop trying to find solutions to poverty and HIV/AIDS, when we turn away rather than seek to do something, something is very wrong. Let's hope that day never comes.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Massage, Heavenly Massage

As I've posted before, I'm a bit of a massage snob -- can't help it. I know it's extravagant. I bit hedonistic. But, my vices could be worse, right?

As I've traveled, I've always found it worthwhile to find an hour or two to squeeze in this indulgence. Yesterday, in the midst of a tumultuous weekend finishing a master's thesis for a professional program in international affairs, I snuck away from the keyboard for an hour to a place just down the street. I was prepared to be disappointed; but was pleasantly surprised by the masseuse's skills and technique. It brought back memories of my favorite massages, including a few in Thailand over the years.

Just one look at the website of this place in northern Thailand that I visited 2 years back and it makes me want to return -- tomorrow! Oh, maybe next year!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Little Sister

She was a beautiful little girl, helping her older sister sweep with a broom made out of palm leaves at the temple we were visiting that early Cambodian morning. We were near Angkor Wat, visiting one of the less popular temples devoid of Japanese tourists with their long camera lenses and loud colors. She came to us shyly at first...but then her little smile made us smile and provided a perfect photo. Old and young juxtaposed in harmony.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I Love this Photo

I've been going through my travel photos lately...again related to my itch to travel given the respite I've had the last few weeks. I just came across this little girl who I met in the backstreets of Cairo a few years back. I was there with a USAID colleague visiting the "slums" where we had provided U.S. funding to clean up dirty streets and provide clean drinking water. The children were oblivious to all of that, despite the long-term effects it could have on their health. They wanted gum and pens. "Pens, please, miss," they would plead as they gathered around and followed my every stop. This is a request I've heard repeated from East Timor to Cambodia. But this beautiful, brown eyed girl didn't chase me with the same intensity -- but a sense of curiousity about my visit.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Fire Island Feelings

The long weekend is over and I'm already dreading the return to Washington, D.C. Fire Island is a magical place -- no cars, no roads, few streetlights and just the sound of the ocean rocking me to sleep each night. I sleep better, eat better and feel better...a combination of sunshine, sea air and the cool breezes which blow in through our open windows each night. Fire Island is the place where our kids can run in their barefeet, eat ice cream before lunch, roll and play in the surf for hours and then fall into bed exhausted each evening.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

A Fortunate 4th of July Weekend's 4th of July weekend. Grilled chicken and salads. Icy cold drinks at sundown. We've assembled all of our materials for the kids parade. We've got red, white and blue lights to hang. I'm poring over recipes in Food and Wine for tonight's rum cocktail and grilling ideas. The sky is cloudless today and the kids are being reasonably well behaved. We're on Fire Island -- our home away from home. It doesn't quite yet look like the picture but we're getting there...and this is the vision I have of the place. I guess we're supposed to give thanks on another holiday for people and things in our lives...but I'm giving thanks today for this wonderful home.