Monday, July 2, 2007

First day at work

Before I came here, CANADEM (the organization that sponsored me, thanks to CIDA funding) prepared us for the "challenges" of working for the United Nations - nothing getting done, frustrating work pace, the desire to change everything and the inability to do so, etc. etc. But from what I can see, it isn't at all like that where I'm working at IRIN (the Integrated Regional Information Network of the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). Within half an hour of my being here, I had a computer, with my own email, a desk phone, a cell phone, a list of everyone's contact information. It's amazing! I haven't seen anything like that at any place I've worked at before. The people are hard-working and efficient (nobody even thought of eating until like 2pm and most didn't leave their computers all day. It's 7pm now and two of the reporters are still here (since 9am this morning!) So it seems like a real good operation. There are three reporters, Nancy (the American), Nicholas (a Brit), and David (an Australian). There's another American intern here, Uma, who is very nice, and a bunch of people working for the French service. The admin staff are Senegalese. When you're in the office though, you don't even realize you're in Senegal. It's air-conditioned, all hooked up to internet, security guard outside, etc. It's only when you step outside - when the warm air hits you, and you walk on the sandy streets - that you remember!

The first thing I realized when I got to work was just how ignorant I am about Africa. These people know so much about the politicians, the different conflicts going on in different countries -- from solid waste problems in Liberia to diseases in Burkina Faso to rebels in Cameroon... it's crazy! So my first job is to get myself acquainted and FAST! By Friday, I have to prepare a background report about Cameroon for one of the journalists who is going on "mission" there - a week-long stay to do some reports, make contacts, etc. Rebels from the Central African Republic have been kidnapping/killing people across the border in Cameroon, there's been an increase of refugees coming into Cameroon from CAR (part of this job is learning all the acronyms) because of the violence in Chad and Sudan, there are ethnic tensions in the north of Cameroon, and apparently volcanoes too. Lots to read about! The other intern, Uma, is heading off on her first overnight trip (within Senegal, but in a different region), and she's only been here two months, so it looks like there is room to do some good reporting!

It is the first day of course, but my initial impressions are that I'm so glad I'm here. This is exactly the type of work that I wanted to do being - learning about humanitarian issues, helping the world learn about them, and being involved with topics I'm passionate about. It seems like a good team, and there's lots of work to be done.

So that's that... still no baggage, the British Airways flight coming into Dakar today is delayed, so we're not going to pick up the bags (if they come) until tomorrow... My hair has never been so greasy. I washed my only set of clothes in a bucket yesterday.

Had my first Senegalese meal yesterday too. Dahin: It's rice, meat, and pate d'arachide (i'm not exactly sure what that translates to). It cost me 1000 CFA francs, which is about $2, and was very tasty.

Oh, and had my first harassment! Some guy on the street asking me to "step aside" with him for a chat. Persistent too... took about 10 minutes of walking to get rid of him. But harmless in the end.

That's all for today.
Miss you all!

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