10th October, 2002 // Tanzania
Week 2 - Working conditions
Some days I find myself thinking that the universal overshadows the cultural. We are all humans living under the same sun. Other days, it means everything; it seems that people are a product of their cultures and cannot think outside of those constructs (or perhaps, I am projecting and it is those days that I realize my own limitations). On these days, I have a hard time understanding what it means to be a Westerner in East Africa, not only in terms of my self-consciousness but also as to my ability to truly comprehend those around me. I have trouble imagining how people were able to span the differences between and among them to set up institutions that operate across countries, across cultures, across tongues, across dialects, across religions, i.e., my ‘employer’ the UN.
And here I am, working in a small room with 15 other interns with at least 4 different languages being spoken in the office at any given time. There go Luca and Luca, cracking jokes (no doubt about the rest of us) in Italian. Then Jane strikes up a conversation with Stephen in Kiswahili. Warda comes in and asks Miriam a question in Dutch. Then, Mazou turns to Urlika and makes a comment regarding their project in French. I then find some excuse to make an offhand remark to Michelle in English, just so we lazy English-only speakers don’t feel left out. (But note that I am taking French everyday at lunch, so it won’t be long until I understand as well!)
I would say that the language barriers at work are probably the leading cause of chaos. It seems like we toil at the modern Tower of Babel, trying to build a foundation from conceptual puzzle pieces that at times seem to have no counterpart and are as varied as there are persons holding them up for fitting. But, this is not to say it should not be done; it is incredible that people have reached beyond their borders to find a justice that does not impact them or even their society, but rather justice for persons that they would likely never encounter or have reason to sacrifice for. It is an ideal for which many people have sacrificed at no apparent gains to themselves. They have left their homes, their high-paying jobs, their security, convenience, etc., to work in this Tribunal for the purpose of the ideal.
Ideals aside, the reality of our working environment is amusing at best and extremely frustrating at worst. We are 15 interns in one office (for the Office of the Prosecutor; the interns for the judges have somehow finagled their own offices much to the rest of our bewilderment). We have 4 computers, 1 printer, and half a dozen chairs. Add on the languages described above, the phone ringing off the hook, supervisors rushing in and out, ‘excusez mois,’ and ‘pardons’ every time someone tries to move. And, one could not neglect the roosters’ banter that somehow makes its way up from the ground to the seventh story window like they were sitting on the ledges. That just adds to the madness, and it makes me laugh every time they cock-a-doodle-doo. I guess because coming from San Francisco, and then Los Angeles, you just cannot fathom how roosters get into the workplace… But, I suppose it is simply another reminder that we are not just sitting in a high rise working for the UN. We are in Arusha…
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