Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Adventures in Rome

I have recently gotten some emails from friends in my masters program about their internship adventures and for a moment it made me think that I am not having any sort of internship experience but with alittle reflection I have come to the conclusion that’s not true, it is just night and day different.

Getting emails (Silvia's [a friend working in Africa at the moment] was the one that finally made me "just write something") prompted me to scrawl out this message. I suppose I have a bunch of things to report but they seem petty compared to bombings and general upheaval that Mark [who is working in Nepal now] seems close to or the dire poverty of Tanzania that Silvia is seeing.

In Rome the food is not a worry but a constant delight. Not to butter up Silvia (who is Italian) but I think my favorite thing about Italy is the food, even the cafeteria in the FAO office is good (I thought "good cafeteria food" was an oxymoron until I came here).

Rome has had its ups and downs, mostly ups (and when the downs happen I just go to the nearest pastry shop, yes folks I will probably come back looking like some Save-The-Whales poster child [though no problems so far])

The first 3 weeks seemed to go ok, had some good housemates; a German/Panamanian Lawyer, Italian Physicist, Italian Lawyer, and me (can't I be in a household where I am *not* the intellectual gimp?!). It was all happy goodness until our landlord had a schizophrenic/psychotic episode (she was really nice at first) and tried to evict my housemates and I (swear to god we didn't do anything wrong). It seems to have started when the German lawyer wanted to read the contract and she got offended/mad (what kind of idiot is going to give a *lawyer* a contract and think he/she isn't going to read over it?!). Fortunately she wasn't too smart when she rented out the apartment because two of the four of us were lawyers, so she ended up paying us to leave (paid us two months rent plus 3 nights at a minimal bed and breakfast). Bizarre.

One of the Italians I lived with helped me find a place pretty quickly so now I am resituated with a new place with 2 months of rent ready to be paid out thanks to the ex-land lord, in many respects it is better than what I had before. Instead of the bus I now have a slightly longer walk but a much quicker overall commute on the Metro, geeze I feel so "cosmopolitan". I have been there about 2 weeks but don't feel I know the neighborhood like the other place, it is right off of a massive road and doesn't have the NY "block community" feel that the first one did, oh well, can't have it all.

I have done a lot of eating (no weight loss for me) and a lot of sight seeing. The history here is just unreal to a guy whose country is 200 years old. From my old apartment I passed by the Coloseum everyday, I sip on wine at 100+ year old wine bars (forget pubs, beer, and peanuts [never was a beer kinda guy]; I am loving the wine bars, wines, and antipastos [cheese and smoked meats]), and walk down 1000+ year old roads, incredible.

Work, yeah I guess I do a bit of that too. While just about everyone in my school program seems to be doing real work to varying degrees, I am the exception. I sit in the FAO headquarters spend half the time emailing, working on my weblog, and reading news feeds; the other half of the time I spend reading up about sanitation regarding fish feed.

The informational resources at FAO (and I guess UN institutions in general) are mind-boggling, the fisheries department has a library specifically for fishies! All I have to do is find the title, email the librarians and they find it (where ever it is, their library, the main library, interlibrary loan etc) and tell me when it comes in! I have never experienced a luxury like that before.

My advisor, while *really* nice, is really busy, and pretty much just helped me get in touch with a few select people when I came. This internship is apparently all me, that is, I have not been given anything to work on, pretty much said work on your project idea and I will help when I can. This is good and bad, not realistic in the work sense but allows me to read and read and read.

It has also allowed for reflection time and helped me to re-identify core interests within development, reading all the things I have and occasionally getting off topic when I find interesting stuff (feed efficiency & alternative feeds, fun fun don't you think?).

Reading some emails have made me appreciate where I am a bit more, be it Akiko's ritual daily slathering of 200% DEET to ward off the various life sucking mosquitoes in Cambodia, or Silvia's constant confrontation with dire 3rd world life/mentality in Tanzania. While I do feel a certain level of guilt in saying this I will anyway, I don't particularly miss those parts of development work. The adventure and money (I am sure I have spent more on 1 month of rent than most of my fellow interning students have in 3 months total) parts yes, but the frustration of working in the field is still fresh on my mind from Peace Corps (and that was for eastern Europe, seemingly easier than Cambodia or Tanzania).

Despite the lack of 3rd world adventures here there are adventures to be had: Getting lost in Rome while barely being able to speak Italian, fending off rabid landlords, gypsies, etc (pardon my seeming heartless but when you have seen conditions like what some PC Volunteers [or SID 2nd year'ers] are experiencing right now it makes you a bit less sympathetic), watching out for pick pockets, psychotic drivers/mopeds. The moped motorists are the worst; I unaffectionately refer to them as "moped morons". I have seen 3 of them get macked by trucks, cars, and even other moped drivers, and it ain't always the car/truck/other drivers fault. I have almost gotten hit twice by them weaving through traffic and driving on *sidewalks*, they are *everywhere*).

Anywho, if all goes well I will be going to Bangkok in early to mid December. I hope Amy (a friend of mine who has been living there already for a few months) is ready to do a wee bit of babysitting (I can feel the cringe as she reads this) because right now I know about 3 words in and one of them is profane (which won’t really help unless I want to get my ass kicked). Hopefully the NGO I will be tagging along with (doesn't look like they will have work for me either, I will just be accompanying them on site visits or that is what my advisor has lead me to believe) will be able to help some. I have never been to Southeast Asia, and some of Akiko's stories are not exactly encouraging but I gotta take the good with the bad I suppose.

For those who are interested I have put up a few (and will add more soon) pictures of my European/Roman escapades, take a look if you have the time (the first of the bunch is not vacation but art stuff, you can ignore that)