28 February 2015

If you build it, they will come... with their wickets: Afghanistan FTW!

I am truly one of the last people you should expect to see writing anything about sports.

I'm a born and bred American who watched my first Superbowl only 3 years ago (I am several decades into my existence on this earth). And my first real awareness of it was only when it was postponed after 9/11 and how that kind of screwed the schedule up so now it always happens later. I grew up in Southern California during the years when the Lakers were Magic and there were apparently ticker tape parades happening on a regular basis and I honestly only made concrete in my head maybe a year or two ago that the NBA championships 1) are a thing and 2) happen in May. This despite the fact that my grandfather, who I grew up with in the house, was a die-hard basketball fan and former college player for a big b-ball school. And two days ago, I learned there is a basketball team called the Golden State somethings from where else but my home state and that they're actually like kind of famous right now.

Incredibly, I also have a very special place in my heart for sports movies. Thank god I was alone when I watched, in the privacy of a darkened economy class flight somewhere over an ocean, "61*." Long, heavy tears rolled down my face as I watched Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris battle it out over something sportsy during the fateful summer of 1961. "A League of Their Own," "The Cutting Edge," "The Wrestler," "Radio," all take places of pride in my fondest movie-watching memories.

You don't need to be a cinema critical theorist or a psychologist to pick out what's going on here--clearly I like a good underdog story that starts with a struggle, wraps up nicely with a feelgood happy and/or successful ending, and the earnest, moral-of-the-story cherry on top together make the perfect recipe to bring on a very satisfying crying session. Forget chick flicks, nothing is a surer tearjerker than seeing those hardworking kids/down-on-their-luck hockey players/aged former stars bring home the gold/take down one last foe/finally get their chance to take the field. And "Rudy" is iconic for teaching us that dreams are the stuff of perseverance and for making the slow clap a national phenomenon.


Which all segues very obviously to how will this impact Afghanistan?

What? You aren't following the Cricket World Cup with bitten-to-the-nubs fingernails?

Okay, I admit, I understand the rules of Quidditch better than I know anything that involves cricket. But something amazing is happening right now in New Zealand, and I'm not just excited because of the heartwarming sports movie potential (though I'm obvs pretty happy about that... Hollywood, wake up, you're on, it's time to pay attention.)

First, there's the fact that Afghanistan is playing the Cricket World Cup at all. Hello, this place has been war-torn for decades, fighting off heavily armed foreign invaders and violently dogmatic domestic terrorists.

Second, cricket has only been a serious thing in Afghanistan since 2001! Is there any better meet-cute beginning than war refugees picking up the game while growing up in exile in neighboring Pakistan, where cricket is serious business, and bringing the enthusiasm and skill for the game back with them to their home country after the U. S. of A. took down the evil Taliban?! (Seriously, Hollywood, I'm doing ALL.THE.WORK.FOR.YOU.)

Third, in this transition year of 2015 in regards to the character of future US engagement with Afghanistan, with all the hand-wringing from SIGAR and the DOD and the State Department and POTUS about what programs US taxpayers have funded and which ones worked and what ones are effective yada yada yada, maybe the place money could make a BIG DIFFERENCE is if we NBA/NFL/MLB-ed the shit out of that sport in Afghanistan and turned it into the nationally galvanizing/money-making machine (read: tax revenue providing! Taxes fund good governance!) that it could be. What could make a more epic story than the little sport that could turning a whole country from the Bad News Bears to the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series??

Fourth, Afghanistan just won its first game in the Cricket World Cup! They're gonna leave the Cubs in their dust at this rate.

Take a knee, everyone.

Look, this team isn't just an underdog in the cricket world, its country is an underdog in the world world. There have been amazing development gains in Afghanistan in the last ten years--dramatically increased life expectancy; game-changer level reduction of maternal mortality and all that is indicative of in terms of general healthcare access, nutrition, women's education and literacy, etc.,; unprecedented school attendance for boys and girls across socio-economic strata.

Yet, with all these gains, Afghanistan still ranks as one of the poorest countries in the world, continues to be fraught with violence from within and threats from beyond its borders, all while waiting with baited breath with the uncertainty of what will happen to the country's ephemeral security and seedling economy when the U.S. packs up its last boots sometime in the next few years.

Sure, you could say I'm selling idealism in its naivest form by framing this story as the best sports movie ever made, but I'll counter with, So what?! Sometimes underdogs need their story to be told with high production values and record-busting opening weekend ticket sales! What the hell kind of contribution to human society is the "Ironman" franchise when compared to the David-triumphing-over-Goliath lesson of "Miracle"?!

(And if we really want to tone down the idealism and naivete of this proposal, let's get the World Cricket Federation--Is that a thing?--on board for some promotional effect and some heavy product placement for American goods that would appeal to Afghan markets and we'll be on the right track to wipe that slimey sheen of earnestness right off this project.)

Anyway, I'll be paying attention to the news of how Afghanistan fares in the 2015 Cricket World Cup and keeping my fingers crossed that whether the outcome is more gold medal or more "Cool Runnings," Hollywood and Washington both have their eyes open and their idea hats on for making the most out of the country's heartwarming, tearjerking triumphs in cricket.

Take heart, Team Afghanistan, like Coach says, you were born for this.

13 May 2014

hello... is it me you're looking for?

I'm 8 days away from graduating from Columbia University with a Master's degree.

I'm sitting in the library computer lab at SIPA for the fourth night in a row and I will be here, in these bowels of SIPA, until the wee-est hours of the morning.

apparently even during finals, 8am on a Sunday is too early to be in the library...
there weren't even any other Asians here!

Today, as I walked in the late afternoon sunshine, sad that I was walking toward these very same bowels for yet another night of mental marathon running, I looked wistfully at all the people who got to be out in the sun today, playing.

Then, in a rare moment of maturity that I'm pretty proud of, I thought to myself, "Shut the hell up! What's wrong with you?! You're going to look back on these years as two of the hardest and most amazing years of your life. Enjoy this while it lasts, dummy!"

So, while I'm excited to actually get back to this blog and do some writing (for fun! and without the need to cite a damn thing!), I'm gonna keep my big girl pants on, finish this last paper like a f***ing rock star, and savor my last hours in the bowels...

Cuz next week, I'm double mic-dropping (BOOM!!) like a baller (BOOM!!).

... and then I won't be allowed to say things like that anymore because I won't be in frat school--I mean, grad school--anymore. 

01 April 2014

new york, a love story

There were so many days, weeks, months of winter, walled up behind snow hills and ivory towers that I almost forgot how much I love this city... almost. 

16 October 2013

New York Public Library: a love letter

I got a junk email today from the New York Public Library

Normally, I junk junk mail, but, actually, I LOVE the NYPL, so I opened the email to see what cool thing they have going on. It was a survey that would only take me 5 minutes to complete, they said, so wouldn't I do it just for them, they said, pretty please, with sugar on top?

Sure. I love NYPL. Why not?

It was going pretty fast--NYPL, you're always so reliable--then I got to the question that asked me to share a story for why I support NYPL...


15 minutes later, I submitted this (photos added later):

Soon after I moved to NYC, the main library is where I set up shop like it was my office for months every day that I wasn't working at my barista job in an East Village cafe. 
I started, finished, and sent off my grad school apps and scholarship apps in the Rose Reading room and was sitting there a couple months later on a cold March afternoon when I heard from my final and top choice--Columbia--that I'd gotten in. I started to cry quietly so as not to disturb the other patrons, so relieved to know that I'd be staying in New York studying exactly what I wanted to study. Then I gathered my things and RAN outside the building to call my parents with the good news.
Every time I walk past that spot on the north side of the building, I always think about how happy I felt sharing my news, shouting into the phone over my dad's bad cell reception, "I got in! I got into Columbia!!!" and how happy my parents were to hear this.
The security guards are the people I'd say I've interacted with the most, especially once I became one of the regular faces coming in and out of the building. They're always great, real characters, and I felt like I'd found my Cheers bar--only better smelling and with clearer eyed seat-warmers. 
Since starting school, I've had less opportunity to visit the main library, but one of the things I'm looking forward to after finishing my Master's this year is having more time in my schedule to spend a few hours a week back in my first real NYC home in the Rose Reading room. 

17 July 2013

the moodle is trying to kill me, or "what i did on my summer vacation"

Studying the trials and tribulations of underdevelopment is all well and good, but I never understood the importance of practice as much as when I had to use the moodle (the internal website for my graduate program) on a low-speed internet connection. 

The impatience I felt last fall for the global classroom (connecting the entire network of MDP programs around the world) from a Columbia user point-of-view is nothing compared to what it feels like to try to open a single page on the moodle from anywhere that doesn't have high-speed internet--even using the "low bandwidth" setting is not enough to keep my blood pressure from soaring and the vein on my forehead from popping out a little more. My sympathies go out to all those who were connecting with us during the global classroom.

Nonetheless, in terms of getting through the day, the Internet and its connection speed are the least of our worries, as rationing water and power come before we even begin to think about how painfully long it takes and how many tedious steps are involved in accessing the moodle.

The four of us working for Millennium Villages in Rwanda this summer opted to live in Nyamata, the "biggest" town near the actual MV village, Mayange, and where the MV Rwanda office is located. In the seven weeks since we arrived, the dry season has progressed and we are feeling it at home. 

We are supposed to have piped water at the house every Tuesday and Wednesday morning and every Friday evening—though I found out today that this has been cut to twice per week. For the last four weeks, we've had problems of not being able to fill the house's water tank because the water pressure was too low, or the water that was supposed to arrive on Tuesday morning at 7am didn't start until 5pm or 10pm or even 4am the next morning, which means Daniel, our house guardian, has to stay awake until the water is on so he can fill the assortment of jerry cans, 5-liter water bottles, plastic buckets, and cooking pots we’ve assembled to store extra water. We've had to buy extra jerry cans of water (at 150 RWF a pop) to carry us through to the next time the piped water came on.

I taught Le, one of my housemates, the phrase "if it's yellowlet it mellow," and we've all become very strategic about trying to use the toilet somewhere besides home as much as possible in order to avoid running out of water for things like washing dishes, flushing the toilets, and performing our own limited ablutions.

(Having grown up in Southern California during a looooong drought, I'm no stranger to water conservation behavior change campaigns and I'm pulling out all the stops in our house this summer. So, yeah, like thanks, California Board of Education, I, like, totally learned something, I guess.)

The sink in my bathroom is like the canary in the mine—each time I turn the knob is like a check on the gauge, I can tell by the water pressure how much is left in the tank and the smaller the trickle, the closer we are to running out; I’m always anxious that this turn will be the one that releases only a gurgle of air and perhaps a melodramatic final drop or two. 

This week we ran out of our last jerry can on Monday morning and the tank was completely empty by the next morning. The water came at 3am and today we woke to a full tank, a platoon of water containers at the ready, and Daniel fast asleep despite the late hour because he’d been up all night first waiting for the water to come on and then filling the containers.

Also, I don't know how or if this is related to the water problem, but for the last few weeks, nearly every night we have had a power outage that lasted anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. This is only inconvenient in that it usually happens right in the middle of our dinner preparations, so we've become connoisseurs of half-cooked pasta topped with olive oil and soy sauce (75% of us are East Asians, after all). When it happens in the afternoon and the back-up generator is out of gas, the office empties, and work grinds to a halt.

Bitch, moan, rinse, repeat. 

As annoying as the water and electricity problems we're having are, they are not really much more than that—simple (temporary--for us) annoyances. I remind myself that even complaining about these problems is a sign of the relative luxury we are living in compared to most of the people in the community we serve and the neighborhood we live in.

Every day, we see kids and adults pushing bicycles heavy-laden with full jerry cans up and down the inclines that give Rwanda its "Land of A Thousand Hills" namesake. Electric wires and poles crisscross the Rwandan countryside, but at night, houses are as likely to be lit by kerosene lamps as electricity as “cash-power” is too expensive for most despite their technically being “on the grid.”

All this has made me wonder, at the end of this summer, are these three months much more than just adult camping? Are we the ultimate summer poverty tourists,“slumming it” for the novelty of seeing development in action? I'd like to think not and I'd like to think that, just like with what CA’s Board of Ed taught me about water conservation, I'm, like, totally learning something along the way.

While the three months of summer initially seemed like they would stretch lazily across twelve long weeks, I can’t believe we’re already more than half-way through. It seems like we’re only now getting settled and it’s already time to start preparing for our goodbyes.

Professionally, admittedly, I’m not making a lot of progress. I've come to realize that given the language barriers and the heavy involvement that the CHW program has with the Rwandan Ministry of Health (read: bureaucracy moves slooooowwww) and the hesitation (read: we are explicitly forbidden) I have to "go rogue" at the Mayange site (read: strike out on my own with an interpreter in tow), I'm probably not going to get very much accomplished with my project this summer. 

To make up for that, I’m trying to learn as much as I can about Rwanda's culture and society (with some very interesting observations! More to come on that in a later post.) and how these influence the country’s development challenges. I do this by tagging along for site visits even for sectors that aren't explicitly under the health sector purview, talking to people I meet on the bus to and from Kigali, and asking people why they think things are the way are or work the way the work or what they would keep or what they would change about Rwanda’s development progress.

I still have hope that, ultimately, I’ll be able to produce and deliver something that the MV health office here will find useful, but, so far that seems as likely as a full tank of water on a Tuesday.