Blog under maintenance

After having received several complaints that my blog was difficult to read with the previous theme I was using, I just switched over to this new one. While I make adjustments and figure out exactly how to make it work, please accept my apologies for the weird formatting. Please feel free to leave comments if you have suggestions (ps. I’m not hosting this blog, it is strictly WordPress, so I am a bit limited in my options). Thanks!

Sunset in Monrovia, November 2009

Into the zombie underworld

You may have noticed that zombies (along with vampires) have made a resurgence in pop culture, and it seems like everyone has something to say about them: even economist Tyler Cowen and political analyst Dan Drezner found a way to write about zombies.

Don't care

Personally, I find these stories annoying and irrelevant. Why? Because zombies aren’t real, and I don’t care about the mathematics of a zombie attack or the possibility of a zombie apocalypse. At the risk of sounding like a grinch, I’ll add that zombie parades and zombie walks are also things that fall under the general “I couldn’t care less” category.

However, when I saw on Facebook that Joel Kaiser, an aid worker in Haiti, recommended a piece entitled Into the zombie underworld, saying it was “One of the absolute best articles I’ve read on Haiti. Well worth the read…”, my curiosity was piqued.

Into the zombie underworld is – bar none – one of the best pieces of investigative journalism I’ve read in a long, long time. The prose is superb and very tight, and that in spite of the 8,000+ words. I really don’t want to give it away, because it reads like a thriller or mystery, but I was left believing in the existence of zombies, which, frankly was not a likely outcome, as suggested above. A couple of excerpts:

“Every zombie is made only with the official approbation of the secret society; lacking these documents, the zombie is illicit. (These documents do exist: I was later able to examine a zombie laissez-passer.) Nadathe had no documents.”

“Zombification is not the only punishment the secret societies can inflict, but in rural Haiti it is the ultimate sanction, more dramatic even than death. The fear of zombification, Davis argues, is absolutely central to the social system of rural Haiti.”

This piece is a must-read – not only for the zombie angle – but also for the nuanced and intricate portrayal of Haitian society.

A second home

Folks, apologies for the light posting recently – I’ve started to blog over at UN Dispatch and have been focusing my attention on creating content for that platform. (I’m also away on vacation til next week…)

It’s a pleasure and an honor to join a really great crew of bloggers which, among others, include Alanna Shaikh, Una Moore, Peter Daou and Mark Goldberg.

If you don’t already have UN Dispatch’s RSS feed, you can grab it here.

An honest voice

One of my Vancouver friends, Joel Kaiser, is a life-long aid worker. Over the last decade, he’s worked in Sudan, Uganda, Indonesia, Eritrea, Afghanistan and countless other places that a majority of people place squarely in the “godforsaken” category.

Since mid-January, Joel is in Haiti. I know that he’s giving 200% of himself down there, and I really admire his dedication and strength. He keeps a blog, entitled “What am I doing in Haiti?“, where he recounts his days: the challenges, the frustration, the small victories and the day in and day out of his work and life there.

Back when we were both in Vancouver, I remember encouraging Joel to start a blog so he could share his stories – I thought his compassionate, human but also hilarious take on aid work was definitely worth sharing. One time, he told me about this project called “shelter-in-a-box” that was meant to be a ready-made shelter for survivors in disaster areas. The concept was utterly flawed and made no sense from a logistical point of view, and the way Joel told the story, in his honest, slightly snide voice, made it stick in my mind to this day. (By the way, Joel, if you’re reading this, I’m still waiting for that guest post on “shelter-in-a-box”)

In any case, all this to say that if you have any interest in reading a really honest account of what it’s like to be an aid worker in Haiti, I urge you to bookmark Joel’s blog.

Excerpt from this highly recommended post:

“I bite my lip while she carries on sifting through the pile. I don’t know yet how this attitude has negatively affected my relief work, but I’m certain it has, be it ever so subtly. It is a lesson I already knew, but sometimes need reminding: aidwork is first and foremost about the life of each survivor, as an individual. Allow them to become a faceless mass and you’re soon drifting into a world of cynicism. I will have accomplished very little—perhaps even nothing to me—if after so many months here all I’ve done is simply give stuff out.

I take a few deep breaths (I hate to cry in front of staff), silently repent, and carefully slide a couple of the spoiled cards into my wallet.”

Social Entrepreneurship in Peru

My friend, managing director of I-Dev International, forwarded me the details regarding a winter break 10 day immersion program for students and young professionals interested in social entrepreneurship, microfinance and corporate social responsibility. Some details are below, but you can read all about the opportunity here.

I’m familiar with their work in Cajamarca, and they’re a great, young and dynamic organization with an awesome team.  I really encourage you to check them out.

I-DEV International’s Doing Development In… (DDI) program was created to give young professionals & students from top graduate programs a realistic, first hand view of how grassroots development, microfinance, corporate social responsibility and social venture capital programs are making a difference on the ground, in communities at the base of the pyramid.

This 10 day immersion program, offered in 2 sessions over the winter holidays, provides participants with a unique opportunity to:

  • Meet & Engage with senior management at top international development organizations
  • Learn the on-the-ground challenges of managing corporate social responsibility programs in developing countries
  • Gain an authentic, first hand view into the daily lives and challenges faced by communities at the base of the pyramid
  • Have a truly unforgettable vacation
  • Also, Cajamarca is not a half-bad place to spend some time over winter break: