A Year of Living Dangerously

Friday, July 29, 2005

You know you've been living in Jakarta too long when...

So last week, my maid didn’t show up one of the days she was supposed to. This wouldn’t really have been a problem for me, except it was right after the weekend of scuba diving lessons and right before I was to leave for Nias. In other words, I needed clean t-shirts for Nias and I didn’t have any. I was a little flustered because I had to re-think what I would take with me to Nias.

It wasn’t until this week, when I was home, that I realized I know where the washing machine is – it’s in my apartment. And I know where the soap is. AND I know how to use washing machines! If I had really wanted my t-shirts, I could have just washed them myself. It’s not like I don’t do my laundry all the time back in the States.

I think what shocked me most was the fact that the thought hadn’t even occurred to me. It was the first sure sign that I had become too used to having a made and very accustomed to this lifestyle and culture.

Of course, I was chatting with Tracy over IM that night and told her about this. She offered to do my laundry for me for a few weeks after I got home, if it would help me re-adjust to the American culture more easily. I told her to stuff it.

I was reading a humor book last night about funny real-life stories that happened here in Jakarta and quirky people who live here. It is written by an expat who opened and runs a bar here. At the back of the book, there is a couple of pages entitled “You know you’ve been in Jakarta too long when…” One of the comments is, “when the footprints on the toilet seat are your own.” Unfortunately, I don’t remember any more of them, although they were quite funny and I got 90% of the references. Well, I think this laundry situation fits into that category.

Frans and Gina used to have their own company before they joined UID. They were wedding planners. They said the largest wedding they have ever planned was for just over 4,000 people. I was floored. Then they said that the average was 1,200. How much does this cost? ~$35k USD. In Indonesia, that kind of money goes a very long way. They feed all of the guests and generally there are more than 5 bands and dance groups. There is always an MC and the event is practically a theater production.

I have been invited to 5 weddings since I’ve been living here myself, although I have not been able to make it to a single one. I also don’t know the people getting married, only friends of the cousins of someone who is married to someone who met the bride once. The family will send out 400 invitations and then triple the number to get the number of expected guests, because it is common for everyone to bring their kids and neighbors and friends. Unbelievable.

Frans said because the weddings are so large, there are always a few people a the wedding that do not know anyone. They crash the wedding for the food. I didn’t believe this until Frans said he had done it! He and his friends, back when they were young and broke, would put on nice batik shirts and go crash a wedding. They would go in a larger group, but enter the wedding in small groups of 2 or 4. Then they would meet up inside and act like they hadn’t seen each other in a long time. This way it would look like they know people at the wedding and that they belong. The bride-side would assume the groom new them and vice versa. He said on good days, they would even get pictures with the bride and groom! How many times have you done this Frans? So many he has lost count. I told him he could justify it as vocational training and market research for his subsequent career as a wedding planner. He laughed.

The early part of this week was absolutely crazy busy with work. Since we just got back from Nias, we needed to update the various donors on progress that has been made. Plus, we need to go back to Nias next week, so we’ve had to plan for that.

Next week when we go back, we’ll be bringing with us one of the donors for the Scholarship Program, as well as her body guard and translator. Also coming will be 2 gentlemen proposing an economic recovery and vocational education program to the same donor. They are from a different organization, Next Step, not UID. And finally, I’ll be bringing PJ and an environmental specialist from Conservation International. We are doing a deep dive on the VCO production facility. After this I hope we will have enough information to finish the full proposal.

On Tuesday, we were also taken off-guard by a request from one of our donors to meet with Warwick Purser.

Warwick Purser
White-haired older gentleman with fantastic style. He runs a handicraft business here in Indonesia that supplies lots of products to Target and other larger retailers back in the States. Lives in Puri Casablanca. Married, but not children. I did hear he’s in the process of adopting a 12-year-old boy from Aceh who was orphaned during the tsunami.

What is most interesting about this spur-of-the-moment business meeting was that Warwick and I did a double take when we met. Richard McHowat had told me about him when we met for lunch because we both live at Puri Casablanca. Richard thought we would enjoy talking and might perhaps want to meet for dinner. We hadn’t yet caught up with each other though. Being introduced to each other here at UID was quite a surprise.

The proposal we’d be working on – handicrafts in Aceh – has 2 big components. 1) It requires meeting the high shopping season in Indonesia, which is coming up in late October and early November. People buy each other gifts for the Muslim new year then. 2) It would provide more professional training around the handicrafts and skills that already exist in Aceh, bringing them up to a standard that would provide sustainable employment and industry long-term.

UID’s role will be to find/build and sponsor the workshop (the actual building) where production would occur. Frans is looking into this right now. One partner offered a potential location on some land where an orphanage is currently located. There is enough space to also build a workshop and the orphanage would be willing allow the workshop, if skills and training was provided to the children. This is very much just a possibility and no way beyond even initial thought stages, but it is a great possibility – and very much an integrated project.

One of the best parts of working with United in Diversity is the fact that the projects are not just a one-time hit. I mean, we don’t just donate boats and then leave. UID’s projects are meant to have a more long-term lasting effect. Provide a workshop with jobs, but that also teaches local children skills. Provide boats, but also nets and maintenance and also technique education. THAT is United in Diversity.

Similarly, we had another introductory meeting this week with an organization based in Colorado Springs → Next Step. The organization is a partner of YCAB (one of our partners) and they have been recruited to make a presentation on economic recovery for Sirombu. The leader of the team is named Wolfgang Fernandez.

Wolfgang Fernandez
Venezuelan by birth, but has lived all over the world. He speaks Spanish, English, French, Italian, Portuguese, German and Dutch. He lives in Colorado Springs, where his children are, although he’s divorced. He travels here to Indonesia a lot. Very friendly. Very direct. Very smart. Very level-headed.

Side note: When we first met, Frans introduced me as from MIT. Wolfgang asked, “and MIT stands for?” He knew the institution but wasn’t really expecting me to be from the school. I think he thought that it might be some other organization with the same letters that he just didn’t know about. His expression when I said, “Massachusetts Institute of Technology?” was priceless.

They asked us a lot about our work in Sirombu and what we knew of the village. They have not yet been there and were trying to come up with ideas of programs and industries they can start. They will provide tools and training and more.

Wolfgang turned to me, just a few minutes in the meeting, and asked, “You’re the MBA. What would you recommend for starting for industry?” To which, I paused, and said, “Well, focus on the natural materials already in place. For example, cocoa grows all over the island. It could be harvested and organized. Another option is additional vocational training for the fisherman – teach them different fishing techniques. There is also a traditional handicraft of grass woven mats – organize the women to make those for sale. Also, look into patchouli oil. The plant can be grown there, bailed and processed in Singapore.” (These were all ideas that had been brought to my attention one way or another over the last 2 months. Also I found out later that Frans is already working on the vocational training for the fishermen).

One of Wolfgang’s other questions was whether we thought Sirombu was the right place for an economic recovery project, or if he should stick to Gunung Sitoli, the capital. Gunung Sitoli would, of course, be easier logistically. Our answer was that the people in Gunung Sitoli already have a lot of help and they naturally have a lot more options, just because it is a city. Sirombu villagers do not have many options. No companies come there. There is no tourism. To help the village, things need to be started there. So, of course, it may be a little more difficult geographically, but it will have a comparatively higher benefit for the community. It also adds another facet to the integrated community solution for Sirombu.

On that note, about the logistics to Sirombu, I’ve heard a lot of surprised comments about the work that we are doing in Sirombu. The village is extremely remote. It is often ignored because it is just “too hard” for the NGOs to get to or really work in.

What is interesting about that comment is there are a lot of reports about relatively little actually being accomplished in Aceh. It is said that the bureaucracy there is overwhelming and making work virtually impossible. Where as in Nias, a more remote location, we already have houses up and we’ll be moving people in.

It appears in development work that it is not natural obstacles that are the most difficult to cross, but bureaucratic and social obstacles.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

:) at Borobudur Posted by Picasa

The monkey god was the star of the episode of the Rama and Sinta story that I got to see. He was fantastic. Posted by Picasa

Ramayana ballet. This picture is my favorite from the weekend. I love the colors and the traditional costumes. Posted by Picasa

The Prambanen temple, at night. (My camera rules! I'm so glad I splurged on it beofre I left the States.) Posted by Picasa

A hand painted batik that I bought. This is me and the artist (or at least the guy who said he was the artist in order to get me to buy - I've become so cynical of tourist traps). It is beautiful though. Posted by Picasa

Ballet under the light of the full moon

So after the whirlwind trip to Nias, I went directly to Yogyakarta (pronounced joke – ja – kar – ta) for the weekend. Through the Lonely Planet guide I have for Indonesia (thanks to Nenns!), I booked an adorable little “home-stay” – like a cheap little family run motel, but in a house. It was about $15 a night (which is actually a lot for most home stays), but it had air-conditioned rooms, western style showers, old antique furniture, and loads of charm.

Link to photos for the weekend: http://www.clarkcolor.com/share/p=196251122297169232/l=54677346/cobrandOid=1003

The two nice girls that ran the front desk didn’t speak English, which was awesome for me. I had to work with them to plan my entire weekend, all in bahasa! They organized getting me a car and driver on both Saturday and Sunday, as well as a ticket to the ballet on Saturday night.

While Jakarta is the hub for business in Indonesia, Yogya (short for Yogyakarta, pronounced joke – ja) is considered the cultural hub. Specifically, it is home to the batik industry and art. Batik is made either from silk or cotton and it is painted on with bright colors. Different types of wax are used to stop or control the dye from affecting certain areas during the rounds of dyeing. The result is a painting or beautiful pattern. (see picture of me with a hand-painted batik I bought).

Friday, I went to the bird market and explored many of the batik shops on the main drag. The bird market in Yogya is famous for having an incredible variety of birds, including illegal ones. If you ask nicely and show that you are not police, they are sometimes willing to let you see baby eagles and such. I didn’t try asking. I was alone and a little shy and this was my first stop on my first trip alone in Indonesia. But I did see a lot of beautiful tropical birds.

The batik shops on the main drag had batik in all different sizes and shapes. I was just looking and browsing, staring at everything. There was so much, I had no clue where to even start. There were a few shops with some beautiful 3-piece, silk, hand-painted sarong sets. I kind of watched as one of the shop ladies helped a customer and saw how the different pieces were draped on a person. SO beautiful. I thought about getting one, but where would I actually wear it? C-function?

After spending the afternoon shopping, I used my guide book to pick out a café for dinner and man did I make a good choice. The food was okay, but the wall décor was just extraordinary. See pictures. One of the waiters, seeing how interested I was in all of the art, brought me around the corner to an art studio – the owner’s art studio.

The owner is a young man, maybe 25, obviously extremely talented and has enough entrepreneurial nature to be making a good living off of it. He does oils, batik, and tattoos. In addition, he owns the restaurant and has a small home stay.

He had one particular batik that I would have bent over backwards to have. Unfortunately, he liked it too and was unwilling to sell that one. It is the picture of the 3 masks in my photo album.

Dinner was lovely and I crashed hard.

Saturday, I started with exploring the Kraton – which is the sultan’s palace. Yogya still has a Sultan and the Sultan is the Governor of the Province of Yogya. It is the only hereditary title left in Indonesia. It was interesting and beautiful and very palace-like. After the palace, I visited Taman Sari, which is the bathing pools of the Sultan and also very beautiful. I expected to see Greek gods and goddesses lounging around eating grapes. See pictures, I bet you can pick the place out. A little more shopping and lunch and then I went back to the hotel and took a long nap.

That evening I went to the Ramayana ballet. Rama and Sinta are the Romeo and Juliet of Indonesian folklore, except it has a happy ending. The full ballet is performed over 4 nights and only done under the light of the full moon (so only offered once a month). I saw the second part. ABSOLUTELY amazing. And SOOOOOO beautiful. Behind the stage was the famous Prambanen temple, which is the biggest Hindu temple on Java. The light of the moon lit up the temple behind the performers. It was really quite extraordinary.

Sunday morning, I went to Borobudur, which is the largest Buddhist temple in Indonesia and possibly the largest in the world. It is huge and very cool. It was built between 750 and 850 A.D. and then was abandoned soon after. It wasn’t re-discovered until the 18th century by a Dutch explorer. It was covered by volcanic ash for a long time. It has beautiful stories carved into the sides and hundreds of statues of Buddha.

Many Indonesians stopped me and asked to take my picture. Felt like a movie star, but I hear the picture thing is normal for westerners in Indonesia.

After Borobudur, I had a time for lunch and a little more wandering around Yogya before I had to fly back to Jakarta. It was a beautiful and relaxing weekend as a typical tourist.

Now back to the chaos of the non-profit world…

Monday, July 25, 2005

The fish are our friends!

Gina announced before we even left Jakarta that she was not going to take a bath while in Sirombu. "You don't mind if I smell, do you?" She had not gotten over learning that there were fish in the well where we stayed last time. “You know what fish do in water?” I just laughed. I intend to bath. It’s so hot here and you never get away from it, plus mosquito repellent and sun block. Very sticky.

It’s been almost exactly one month since my first trip to Nias. It is amazing for me how accustomed I have become to Indonesia. The trip to Nias was now like clockwork. Well, not exactly clockwork, for there were a lot of hiccups, but I was completely comfortable with each phase.

We were delayed landing in Medan because of rain. And then bumped on our flight out in the morning because of rain. And then we were delayed again because of rain. Of course I’m looking out the windows and thinking that this is nothing compared to some of the snow storms during which I’ve landed in the Northeast. Anyway, I guess it’s all relative and what you are used to. I’m also not a pilot.

Under ordinary circumstances, delays are difficult to deal with when traveling for business, but this time it was worse. There was a holiday taking place on Nias – “Children’s Day.” I don’t know much about the holiday, but it meant that all flights were booked leaving Nias from Friday until Tuesday. SO, we were only scheduled to be in Nias from Wednesday morning until Thursday afternoon. Arriving Wednesday afternoon made it really tight to get to Sirombu, do our work and get back. We actually got to the airport only 15 minutes before the flight took off on the way back. They practically grabbed my bag from my hands as we walked in the door.

I did meet a very good looking, Australian surfer on the way over though. I noticed when we were first checking in and he ended up sitting next to me on the plane! I’m never that lucky. Named Adam, he’s a professional life guard and gets 8 weeks off every year. This year, he’s spending 5 of them in Nias, staying with a local family and spear fishing for his dinner. Maybe I should drop out of business school… (just kidding, Dad)

Of course, I have a horrific cold. So here I am sitting next to this tan, blue-eyed, Australian surfer and I’m sneezing and sniffling the whole flight. And then the pain in my sinuses was so bad as we were landing, I was tearing up. Such a great way to make a first impression.

Yedi, a member of our task force, met us at the airport. Our first stop when we landed in Gunung Sitoli was at Meta’s fathers’ house. Meta, again, is another member of our task force. This was where we spent our last night during our last trip. This also seems to be where Yedi lives. I was all confused for a bit, but Gina finally explained to me that most of our task force are members of the same extended family.

This is also where the well is being dug. Yedi told me they have drilled to 18 meters and have not yet hit water. They are going to keep going until 24 meters and if they don’t hit water, then they will try another spot. They weren’t drilling when we were there because it was raining.

Side note: I would have taken a picture, but all there was to see was a single pole, about 4’ tall, sticking out of the ground.

Meta’s father works for the local government in Nias. He recommended to Frans & Gina that the local government help choose the families to move into the first houses completed in Sirombu. This would help prevent jealousy between families. The government is also closer to people and has the means to determine which families most need. Additionally, it would foster good relations with the government.

Everything around socialization and politics of aid work is really fascinating to me. It is a side of life I’m very much not experienced in, coming from finance. It never would have occurred to me to ask the local government to make this decision for us, but I can see its win-win benefits. This is also only one example of the kinds of things I’m learning.

Next it was on to Sirombu – the 3 hours of turbulence.

Yedi was in the car with us. First couple of hours were pretty quiet, but towards the end we were talking and laughing. I don’t even remember what about, but we had a really good time. Oh yes, I did tell everyone the story that the first time I was in Sirombu, during the task force meeting, how the word “America” kept coming up. I, of course, didn’t speak Indonesian very well then (and still don’t for that matter) and thought they were talking about me. I had no idea why they were talking about me, but was cool with it.

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that I realized they were saying “Ama Ika,” which is the name of one of the task force members. Missed that one. When I told everyone this, they all completely lost it. I can appreciate the humor in it too.

Some how the topic of the fish in the mandi (well) in Sirombu came up. Yedi explained that if the fish are alive, then you know that the water is not contaminated. I was impressed. Very logical. If there is a dead fish floating in the well, you know it is probably not a good idea to use it to bath in.

Gina immediately changed her opinion about the mandi. She decided the fish were a good thing and loudly declared, “the fish are our friends!”

From the road, we could see that construction on the houses is proceeding very well. Houses are complete and look great. After stopping for lunch/dinner of noodles, we walked around the construction area. There are still a few things that need to be done before the houses will really be livable though: 1) furniture, 2) linoleum/vinal floor covering, 3) plate covers for the electrical outlets. Also, construction is still going on right next to the completed houses, so if we move families in – there is danger with the construction equipment and the children.

While it’s difficult to pass tents while on the way to inspect completed houses, I know that it is just plain unsafe for the families right now. Another month and we should be able to section off the completed area sufficiently to allow some families to move in.

Also, the donors are getting anxious, understandably. They have paid for houses and they know that the houses are complete. It is hard to understand why the houses can not be moved into unless you stand there and really see the danger.

We learned upon arriving in Sirombu that the seas/ocean was too rough because of the rain for us to go to Hinako. I was disappointed because we needed to do fact finding on the elementary schools in Hinako and see how many new houses are still needed. However, we were really crunched for time at this point because of all the delays getting to Sirombu. If we missed our flight back, we wouldn’t get another until next Wednesday.

We spent the night at Beni’s house (Beni is another task force member and Fona’s cousin). This is the house we stayed at last time – Fona’s Aunt’s house. Well it turns out it is also Beni’s house. Everyone’s related.

We slept again in bamboo shelter. I had real trouble sleeping because the mosquitoes were eating me alive. Even with insect repellent on, I couldn’t lay still.

Around 3 AM, there was an after shock – only 4.3 and it was over in less than 10 seconds. It was the first earthquake I’ve ever felt. Last visit, there was a 5.5 and I slept through it.

The next morning, Gina mandi'd. "The fish is my friend!"

Ama Ika (task force member) showed up with 4 coconuts. We spent probably 45 minutes examining the different ages, cracking them open and getting good visuals of the meat. One of my major tasks for this visit was to examine the coconuts and figure out how many we could get on a daily basis, sustainably. It looks like we’ll be able to get about 10,000 coconuts per day of the exact age we need for virgin coconut oil production. This is enough coconuts to produce adequate quantities of oil for a facility to function profitably.

Next steps for VCO is to obtain funding for a Phase I – which would be about a month of research. It would require bringing Phillip Johnson out to Sirombu, along with an environmental expert to check on the health of the trees. We would do a deep dive analysis on the optimum quantities and best logistical routes, etc.

After that, a Phase II (or final) proposal would be made – detailing the specific financial investment required and exact processes, logistics, outputs, etc. If Phase II is funded, then equipment would be ordered and the facility would be built, etc.

If everything goes well, we could have the Phase II proposal complete before I leave Indonesia (which is exactly 1 month away now). This would make me very happy. Initial reading on VCO was given to me the day I flew into town. I know more about it (right now) than anyone else at UID. It would be very cool if I could get it to fly before I have to leave.

We spent the morning visiting all of the schools involved in our scholarship proposal. Gina spoke with each of the principles individually about getting updated information. In the mean time, Frans and I got video footage of the schools and Sirombu village to put together for the donors. Frans did the shooting while I narrated.

Side note: As soon as I can get some of it edited into good clips, I’ll try to post it where people can download and see.

I had already seen the schools, but it was still disturbing. Some of the children don’t have real shoes – they wear flip flops. The high school has metal walls, dirt floors, and a palm-thatched roof. The teacher has a blackboard about 4’ x 6’ to work with, nothing else. There’s a big field in front of the middle school and apparently they don’t have a lawn mower. Instead, they get all of the middle school children out in a line with machetes to trim the grass.

Despite all of this, the children are so friendly and seem so happy. Maybe they don’t know anything different. Maybe they are content. I can only try to imagine how they do it.

While driving between the middle school and the elementary school, I noticed that there some children playing on the side of the street. I asked Gina why they weren’t in school. She said that they probably could not afford the “school fees.” School fees are only 20,000 rupiah per month – just about $2.

It breaks my heart to see kids not going to school because of that. It makes me want to jump out of the car and just give that kid the $2. At the same time, I don’t really know enough about that one child’s circumstances and also how other children and other children’s families would react. They have to struggle to put their kids in school. Who knows what they have to go through.

Our current scholarship proposal that is being funded actually only covers the children that were victims of the tsunami. In other words, only 10% of the students in the school. The rest of them live far enough away from the shore that they were not affected. Gina turned to me and said that she really wants to find donors to cover all of the students. But she’s starting with this and then working from there. A complete scholarship program for all of the children would get the few out of the streets.

Baby steps.

When we came to one of the elementary schools, Frans & I went into one of the class rooms. Children were diligently working on their exercises. One of the children, I noticed, had blond hair. I thought he was a western child, but when he turned around, the shape of his eyes showed he was Asian.

He is albino. I didn’t catch his name or get to look at him for long, but I just happened to briefly glance at his arms. The skin was red, scarred, crusty and flakey. It looked like he had suffered from severe, repeated sun burns. An albino child with no protection from the sun here must suffer extraordinarily under the sun of the equator. He’ll probably get skin cancer before he’s 15!

Frans & I had to continue taping and finish up to make it to the airport. We didn’t have time to dally at all around. In the car, on our way, I turned to Yedi and asked how many doctors there were in Sirombu. It turns out there is only one for the entire district (county). One!

I then asked Yedi if he would do me a favor. Would he please see if he could get the doctor to visit the little albino boy? I gave Yedi all the cash I had with me ($50) and told him to email me if it costs more. I also asked him to email and tell me if the doctor recommends anything. I’ll do what I can to get that boy help. Sun block? Long sleeved shirts? Poor little guy!

My second trip to Nias was successful in that it was productive. However, it was just as heart wrenching as the last. I hope it never affects me less.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Internet Connection...

The internet connection really is unbelievable in the office. Sometimes it takes me 5 minutes to open an email, let alone download an attachment. Anyway, while I wait, sometimes I resort to playing a game of solitare, if I have nothing else to work on while I wait. The problem with this is that by the time the email is open, sometimes I’ve forgotten why I had opened the email in the first place. It’s a problem.

And I’m using a webmail server for my UID email account, which takes a long time to load. The program automatically logs me out of the email account if I haven’t done anything with it within X-many minutes. So if I’m having a not-so-intensive email day, I often get logged out and have to reload the program.

Anyway, the time I lose logging into email and waiting for items to download is truly amazing. I know Gina & Frans don’t have better connections. Poor Maggie has the same speed connection, but also has an ancient computer. She is also copied on all emails sent by F & G, Thang, me, and anyone else sending a UID-related email. I can only imagine how much time she loses everyday waiting for the server.

What kills me about this is it is not just the time lost waiting, but because everything is slow – you lose your train of thought and your momentum on work. It has happened a couple of times that by the time I’ve managed to open an email, I have forgotten why I needed it.

Really, if I took the time, I could estimate how much time is lost by F, G, T, M, & I and it would probably be equivalent to one full-time hire’s salary. It would certainly be enough to warrant the purchase of an additional server (or 2 or 3 or 8) to service the building. While labor in Indonesia is cheap, and in other places it makes sense to pay less for the connection and have the people wait, UID does not have that luxury. Frans & Gina and Maggie are all well-educated, efficient people. Their time is valuable and the work they do is important. Not to mention the fact that I feel like my time is being wasted by something as easy to fix as internet connection.

I do understand that the internet connection, our office space and our (well, their) salaries are donated. I do not mean to be ungrateful for donations. But, the value of a better internet connection is less than the value of the time of the people employed. This is a waste of donors’ money.

Another big problem that UID faces is dealing with is verifying the accuracy of data. We had a phone call with the elementary school in Krueng Raya, during which the principle was begging for help. He said that the building was non-functional, there were no doors, no chairs, tables, etc. I believe I wrote about this in a prior post. I don’t think he was being dishonest, but when we sent someone to the school to take pictures (we were supposed to go ourselves but were unfortunately re-routed last trip), we found that the building was in tact. It also looked like he had all of the tables and chairs that were necessary to operate.

Perhaps the principle was concerned about additional students registering because his school has no tuition, where other schools in the area don’t. Maybe he had some other reason. But unfortunately, we have to create our proposals based on facts that we can verify. And all of the proposals go out with our names on them. If any of the proposals have faulty or misrepresented information, it is our reputation that will suffer and we won’t be able to get funding for any projects.

Sometimes, explaining to the donors exactly why we need to travel to the project sites multiple times is difficult. I’ve heard Frans & Gina struggling with phone conversations, trying to explain UID overhead charges. It is not their salaries that are being covered (that’s already taken care of). And UID is not trying to make a profit on any of these projects. But still these charges (travel, data verification, etc.) are a constant source of questions from the donors.

In fact, UID actually only charges 3% overhead. Everything else comes out of their endowment (what little they have from their current backing). I think it is truly amazing what F & G and everyone here pull off given the amount they charge.

Side note: The United Way charges 10%. I remember this from working with them at General Mills and they were very proud of their minimal overhead.

Anyway. Enough about the troubles of being a small NGO. I think I’ve made my point. Good news! I read in the paper that GAM (the separatists in Aceh) have come to an agreement with the Indonesian government about not ceding. This is great news because it means that things in Aceh should calm down. I was really glad to hear this. Granted, however, it will probably be a long time before things are completely safe and friendly, but this is a step in the right direction.

The rising oil prices have created something of a crisis here. I don’t really understand the whole issue, but I know that the Indonesian government has stopped running the fountains and non-essential lighting in downtown Jakarta to preserve electricity. This is especially noticeable because it gets dark here by 6PM.

Side note: Since we’re so close to the equator, apparently the sunset and sunrise times do not change significantly throughout the year. Mentally I understand this, but it still is weird.

The other day I decided to google Paul Jordan (the security guy I wrote about in a previous post). I knew he was a published author, but was not expecting to come across any of his works online. Here’s a link to one: http://www.anzacday.org.au/history/peacekeeping/anecdotes/kibeho.html It’s first hand account of the genocide in Rwanda. Not for reading by the faint of heart. I had Maggie print it out for me and I read it while on the way to work the other day. I was a mess by the time I got to the office. Unbelievable. Reading this hit me harder than watching Schindler’s List.

I got an email from Tephanie Longo the other day – a close high school friend – through Classmates.com. It was very cool that she contacted me and I emailed her back. While I was on classmates, I was looking around and decided to click on Stacia George’s profile, thinking “she was really cool. I wonder what she is up to.” Well, Stacia works for USAID and lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I couldn’t believe it! SO COOL! I sent her an email and am hoping to hear more about what she is up to.

I’m really loving my job here and am beginning to think I want to join the Red Cross or UNDP or something similar after school. I was just shocked to see a high school friend doing exactly what I want to do. Very cool.

On that note, the summer is more than half over now. It has gone so fast. And so much of the rest of the summer is packed with things I already know I have to/want to do. I already know that I’m going to miss it.

This past weekend was rather quiet. I had dinner with Rita on Saturday night and Saturday and Sunday, during the day, I took scuba lessons. I’m going to take a little bit of time towards the end of my stay here in Indonesia and go to Bali. I decided that I would really like to do some scuba diving while there, and in order to save money, it was cheaper to take the classes here in Jakarta. So, I hung out at the bottom of a swimming pool all weekend.

We leave tomorrow for Nias again. Agenda:
Tuesday, July 19th – fly to Medan
Wednesday, July 20th – fly from Medan to Gunung Sitoli
- Meeting in Gunung Sitoli (see well)
- Travel to Sirombu
- Take boat to Hinako (a tiny island off the west coast of Nias)
- Visit elementary schools in Hinako, see if they need to be rebuilt
- Overnight in Hinako
Thursday, July 21st –
- Return to Sirombu
- Check on housing construction progress
- Return to Jakarta via Gunung Sitoli and Medan

Anyway, so I’m off. I’ll post again when I return.

Friday, July 15, 2005


We just got a phone call saying that the well is being dug today. And apparently, they will be able to use it by tonight! I can't believe how quick that is...

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

This is Febe. She is the daughter of one of our task force members and lives at the house in Ginung Sitoli (the capital of Nias) where the well is going to be dug.

Reminder of the story: last month we went to Sirombu (on the west side of the island of Nias) to check on the progress of the houses we're building and do fact finding on other projects. On the ground there, helping us, is a team of 10 local men.

One of the men on the task force lives permanently in Ginung Sitoli. Their house is fortunately still standing, but the houses of some of their relatives are gone. There are now 12 people living in his house. And the water system in Ginung Sitoli is completely broken now. They have to purchase all of their water locally and bring it into the house in buckets.

We learned this the morning after they welcomed us to spend the night at their home. That night I had seen one of the girls carrying in 4 big buckets to fill up the mandi in the bedroom they provided us. I made sure to use it since they had gone to the trouble of carrying water in. It wasn't until after I bathed that I found out they had to purchase the water.

To dig a well in Ginung Sitoli would cost them only about $250 USD. The family didn't have that kind of money though. Febe's mother was in the kitchen baking cakes that morning, so that she could sell them at the market and try to make a little extra money.

This family was considered well off prior to the earth quake. They are now struggling to put food on the table. This well will hopefully releive a little of the pressure.

Thank you again!

Posted by Picasa

A well for Febe

I got to make the coolest phone call today. I’m tearing up even as I write this. I got to call the family in Ginung Sitoli and tell them that we raised all the funds for the well! And then we asked for their bank’s routing number so we could transfer the money, which we did this afternoon. Yedi, our task force member, who took the call was stunned on the other end. After maybe 5 seconds of silence, I got “thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!”

THANK YOU SO TO EVERYONE WHO MADE THIS POSSIBLE! It was a truly incredible feeling to be able to call them and tell them this.

We’ll be going back to Nias (to Sirombu and Ginung Sitoli) next week. I hope we’ll be able to see construction in progress. And maybe the next time we go back in August, it might be done!

Wow. Okay.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

I finally got a picture with an umbrella boy! Posted by Picasa

an orchid growing outside the house we stayed at Posted by Picasa

Ndung's kids and a couple of neighbors Posted by Picasa

2 of Ndung's boys on one of his oxes... Posted by Picasa

rice fields Posted by Picasa

Pirated Movies...

Okay, so I’m totally cut off.

Everyone who knows me, knows I love watching movies. I don’t watch much TV, but I do love movies. Well, Indonesia is known for being home to millions of pirated cds. They are sold in kiosks in the mall and even in local grocery stores. Some places you can get them for as little as $0.70, other places you get up-scale pirates for closer to $2 (these still include the bonus features).

The good news is, however, most of the kiosks where you buy the movies have DVD players – so you can have them show you the quality of the pirate before you buy it. Make sure you’re getting something that is watch-able.

First of all, I’m trying to keep from becoming totally obsessed with them and buying all of them. I know I could easily go nuts and then end up never emerging from my apartment. I have, however, allowed myself to be drawn to a few – especially the ones that are not yet out on DVD in the US. I’ve watched Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

So it’s bad enough that I have full access to a personal vice. BUT, I went out and bought a totally cheesy movie yesterday when I had an evening to myself – First Daughter ($0.70). So I was enjoying it until about ¾’s of the way through, it started skipping and jumping to the next scene. It went through the last 20 minutes of the movie in less than 20 seconds. I was totally pissed. AND, because I was ¾’s of the way through the movie, I was dying to know what happened!

So today, dying to know what I was missing, I went to the mall and spent 2 HOURS tracking down versions of the movie at the kiosks. All of them skipped at the same place – clearly manufactured from the same faulty copy.

I can’t believe I just spent 2 hours searching through pirated DVDs to see the end of a cheesy movie.

Okay, so this past weekend, Maggie (the secretary for UID) invited me to spend a long weekend with her family in Puncak (pronounce = “pun” like the “u” in pudding and “chahk”). Puncak, I guess you could say, is the Jersey shore of Jakarta. Traffic was unbelievable. I mean I thought Jakarta was bad. Well this are seems only to have one main road and everyone is on it. The police periodically shut down traffic in one direction to relieve major stoppages in the other. It sucks being on the shut-down direction. There were a couple of times that we left the house to go to somewhere and gave up because the traffic was so bad.

We stayed at a 3-bedroom house in a development there. Totally cute.

Who all went? Maggie & I obviously. Maggie’s driver. Maggie’s sister & brother-in-law. Maggie’s nephew and neice-in-law and great nephew (Jeriko – 11 months old and adorable). And finally Jeriko’s nanny.

Oh, more about Puncak. It is up in the mountains (well, old volcanoes really) about an hour south of Jakarta (if there were no traffic). It took us about 3 to get there though. Oof.

The climate is totally different there. It gets cold at night – down to 60-ish. And it get steaming hot during the day. And it rains a lot. And the volcanic soil, rain and sun helps everything grow. Every single flower I have ever known was growing the gardens at these houses – from impatients and marigolds to orchids and tropical flowers. Also, the temperature doesn’t change year round and there is no real rainy or dry season. So, plants can be planted at any time and will grow happily. There are a lot of nurseries there and they export to all of the cities nearby. The weather was absolutely perfect in my mind and I spent quite a bit of time laying on a matt in the yard.

I got my first look at real rice fields. The gardener (Ndung was his name) for the house that we stayed at was willing to show me around. He took me back to his house and introduced me to his wife and kids. So cute. And then brought me to the field where they grow their own rice to eat. He was very nice and I really appreciated his openness. I took a ton of pictures of his kids though, always showing them the shot afterwards. They would scream and laugh. Having a digital camera is great.

So what did we do there? We did some shopping at a local factory outlet. It was weird shopping in Indonesia through Gap & JCrew t-shirts in Indonesia (all under $4). I picked up two very cool skirts and 2 nice tops. Maggie’s brother-in-law took me to the arboretum one morning. We walked for about 4 kilometers and went to see a very pretty waterfall. Aside from that, there was a lot of time spent playing with Jeriko and talking and hanging out. It was a very pleasant weekend.

As was my last weekend hanging out with Maggie, this one also proved to be a culinary adventure. I can handle unusual food, but I prefer to have maybe one weird thing along with a bunch of things I know and enjoy. Well, most of it was stuff I had eaten before, in one form or another. Uh, most, like frog legs and eel. But, I never had goat satay before or rabbit for that matter. We also had fish-head soup and oxtail soup, mashed-fish sausage thingies, and some sort of boiled gourd with chili sauce. The real kicker was the cow intestines though. I thought it was sort of vegetable dish. I managed to swallow it, but I lost most of my appetite for the rest of the meal. Think rubber terry-cloth and you’ll have an idea of the texture of the intestine.

I had Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch today.

Oh, Puncak is also known for being one of the best places in the world for hang gliding. Don’t worry, I didn’t go hang gliding. But I was really curious about it and how much it would cost. So on our way back to Jakarta, we stopped at the top of Puncak Pass, which was where the launch site was. Unfortunately, we were there on a Monday and hang gliding is only done on weekends.

But they were doing para-gliding! So anyway, I went para-gliding! Which is effectively coasting down in a big parachute. It was very cool. We probably were in the air for about 10 minutes. Oh, and it was only about $25. I have a video. (Don’t worry, the flight was tandem, so I had an instructor attached to my back the whole time).

People who know me also know I’m scared of heights. Um, yea, I was a little nervous. Especially after they told me that what I needed to do was run off the cliff. That was a little difficult to stomach. But it was totally worth it. We were flying. Just cruising over tea plantations.

Anyway, back to work today. Frans & Gina were back in the office from their trip to Singapore to meet with one of our donors. It was good to see them again. We have a lot of work to do. Oh, and we’ll be going to Nias again next week. I’m looking forward to that.

getting ready for para-gliding Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

An example of an Indonesian tail-less cat... Posted by Picasa

Indonesian Cats Have No Tails....

So I was reading the newspaper at the café this morning as I ate breakfast as I often do and I noticed that the paper had a small section (maybe 1½” x 3”) that listed the expected weather for the day. It listed many of the local cities and then next to the cities it had whether rain, clouds or sun was expected. The thing that got my attention here was the fact that the temperature was not mentioned. I guess it’s not really an important factor here – it’s always hot. All people really need to know is if it is going to rain. So totally foreign to me.

And here’s another thing that cracks me up – most of the cats in Indonesia are either missing their tails or they are crooked and broken off early. I’ve asked a bunch of people but no one seems to have a real answer for why this is. I think it must be hereditary. I have a picture of one; I’ll try to post it later today.

Anyway, I’ve been here in Jakarta almost 5 weeks now. I can’t believe how quickly the time is going. So I figured I should take the time to post some better information about United in Diversity, their mission and goals, as well as more specifics about my role and specific contributions.

United in Diversity (UID) was jointly founded by MIT Sloan School of Management, University of Indonesia and Sinar Harapan. Their motto is “Achieving Indonesia’s Progress Against All Odds” and their goal is to integrate the business sector with the efforts of civil society and the government. More specifically, their role is to promote education and industry that will help advancing Indonesia’s sustainable development and improve the quality of life for all its people.

The NGO was kicked off in 2003 with the United in Diversity Forum – a conference held in Bali. The welcome address of the conference was given by Megawati Soekarnoputri, the President of the Republic of Indonesia (at the time). The conference was said to be unbelievable. Sloan’s Professor Thurow was one of the speakers.

UID’s 3 Directors are Frans, Gina and Thang. Guiding them is the steering committee of 5 people – Cherie Nursalim (who offered me the job here) of the Gajah Tunggal Group, Aristides Katoppo (referred to in earlier posts as Pak Tides – very cool guy) of Sinar Harapan, Martani Huseini, the Vice Rector of the University of Indonesia, Frans Seda, the Senior Advisor to President Megawati, and Marzuki Usman, Founder of Indonesia’s Capital Market. In addition to the steering committee, UID also has an Advisory Panel, which includes people from MIT Sloan, Harvard Business School, the Kennedy School of Government, Kyoto University, General Electric, and the World Bank. (This is not an all-inclusive list). More information on the Steering Committee, the Advisory Panel, and UID’s friends and partners can be found at their website: www.unitedindiversity.org.

Side Note: Senior Associate Dean Alan White of the MIT Sloan School of Management is part of the Advisory Panel. This is his connection and how he forwarded my resume to Cherie and how I got my position this summer after I pitched him on what I wanted to do. Things finally become clear…

One of the projects they are just starting right now on the educational side is with System Dynamics – the management science pioneered at Sloan. UID wants to put together a course for business leaders in Indonesia about System Dynamics, bringing an MIT Sloan professor here to teach. Very cool.

Side note: I’m taking Professor Sterman’s class this fall!

Another project that they want to work on is a 2nd edition of The Indonesian Dreams: United in Diversity in Transitional Times. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/9812103724/qid=1120651042/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/102-4433479-8803338?v=glance&s=books
This book, by the way, was edited by my roommate and colleague here at UID, Thang Nguyen. I made sure to get a copy before I left for Jakarta and have read it. It’s very good and thought provoking.

In the wake of the tsunami, UID’s sponsors and partners requested that UID spearhead reconstruction projects for them. UID’s mission is primarily an educational one, but in response to the needs of the people, they have taken on small-project relief efforts temporarily.

So this is where I fit in. My role here is primarily to take over a large portion of the project management for UID’s relief efforts. The staff has been focused on relief for the past 6 months and have, as a result, neglected their duties to the stated mission of the organization. With my help, maybe they’ll have a little breathing room so that they can work on the projects aligned with their mission statement.

Projects that I am currently (as in this week) working on (it changes from week to week) include possibly establishing virgin coconut oil production in Sirombu, the rehabilitation of the middle school in Aceh – providing teachers, scholarships, and building repairs, and finally a food aids proposal for 18 villages on the island of Nias. These 3 projects are all in the proposal stage, which means we are doing the necessary fact finding – trying to figure out exactly how much money is needed to support the projects and what the best strategy is for implementing them.

Think: writing mini-business plans.

The virgin coconut oil production has been the most complicated so far because it involves manufacturing processes and exporting from a remote town. I’m enjoying the challenge but it is a reality check on how complicated it really is to start a small business. Luckily, for that one, I have a great expert oil extractor who is helping teach me what I need to know, Phillip Johnson. PJ designed the process and the equipment that we are going to use if this project gets funded.

Phillip Johnson:
PJ is also a character to talk to. He’s about 50-years old. British, but hasn’t lived there for years. Has a wife and daughter here in Indonesia. He’s brilliant and humble, but talks in circles because he knows so much – all about nutrition and health. We’ll be talking about coconut oil one minute and the next I’m being taught the health benefits of ozone. The kicker is he’s primarily self-educated. Anyway, great guy to talk to, but plan extra time.

Well, that’s a little more about what UID does and what I’m actually doing. It’s 7:30. I’m out of here for the day!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Professional Standards People!

Okay, I’m sorry it has been so long between posts, especially considering I’m not out of town. But man have I just been swamped by work.

Let’s start with the good news – since my last post where I talked about the well, I’ve had 8 donations of $20. I only need 13 total (5 more) to make this well happen people! Come on! Drop me an email!!!

We got back from Nias last Tuesday and I had one day in the office (Wednesday) and then spent both Thursday and Friday at a conference. Just trying to catch up from being gone and then being out another two days, I’m so behind. It’s primarily because the trip was for updates and fact finding – therefore donors expect reports and information soon after we return. Therefore, the conference was ill-timed for putting those reports together. In fact, after the conference let on out Thursday, I worked until 10PM.

Oh, Wednesday, I did meet up with Sean Palacio for dinner. He’s a friend of Bridget’s (Bridget is a close dancer-friend from Minneapolis) and he happened to be passing through Jakarta after being in Indonesia for a wedding. Dinner was great and he was super nice, but after dinner, I worked until 3AM. And then this past weekend, I had 2 very long work meetings all day Saturday and spent all day Sunday editing photos for work.

Okay, no more whining. The point is, I’ve been working a lot. To be honest though, I’m loving my work here. I feel like I’m really using my skills yet learning a lot at the same time.

Now, on to the meat of the post – the conference. The conference I went to was the Reconstruction of Aceh, part I of the Post-Tsunami series. I think I posted a link to the conference website in my last post. I was very much looking forward to this conference because it had really great speakers and a great agenda planned. The entrance fee was set at a whopping $1295 USD, but luckily I managed to get a student discount and an NGO discount.

You know how, for the most part, high prices reflect high quality? There are some cases where high quality can be found affordably, but when the price is high, one really does expect high quality. Well, that was certainly not the case here.

To start, over half of the speakers cancelled. OVER HALF. Unbelievable. And it wasn’t as if the organizers gave a substitute sheet at the beginning of the conference (as they do for subs at Broadway shows). Just before the speaker was about to come on, they would announce that such-and-such person couldn’t make it and what’s-his-name would be taking his place.

There were cell phones ringing throughout the conference and at 2 points, men had actual conversations on the phone while a speaker was presenting. Nothing started or ended on time and many of the speakers had no concept of their allotted time. The slides were too big for the screen. The MC (or conference chair) had the personality of an SEC 10K Filing – lots of information presented in an anal retentive fashion and completely lacking personality. He was also difficult to hear and did not have any command over the audience or the speakers. Just plain lacking all MC qualifications. Man, if only the Student Affairs office were here now. They would eat the conference organizers alive.

Okay, so it was poorly organized. That would have been forgivable if the content was at least decent. OH MY GOD! PAIN! LOTS OF PAIN!!!!!

I’ve had speakers that put me to sleep before, but this was a whole new level of torture. Some had slides. Many didn’t. Some could speak legible English. Many couldn’t. Some presented on their specified topic. Many didn’t. None of the government people presented on actions – they talked about their targets and policies. I think the absolute kicker was the one speaker who hadn’t been told he was supposed to present in English. He was trying to translate there on the spot and his slides were all in Indonesian. He really didn’t know how to speak English either.

That was how horrible the conference was. And I was determined to sit through every single second of it in hopes of finding bits to make the whole investment of time and money on my part worth while.

So, despite the pain and torture of substitute speakers and English that sounded more like a history of the world presented by a Canada goose, there were a few brief shining moments: the World Bank gave 2 excellent presentations, the logistics and communications presentations were also informative (if duly presented), and there was an absolutely outstanding presentation by a security consultant – Paul Jordan.

Paul Jordan:
Probably about 40ish. Good looking. Spent 10 years in the equivalent of Australia’s Navy Seals. Led a medical relief team into Rwanda during the genocide there. Was on the ground in Aceh the day after the tsunami. Lived in Aceh for a year a few years ago. Speaks fluent Bahasa Indonesia as well as something else which I don’t remember. Tall. Confident. Surprisingly optimistic and friendly - considering the things he's seen and been through.

Brief highlights from Paul Jordan’s security presentation:
- Be aware of where your people are and who they are talking to at all times
- Do you have the capability of extracting or evacuating your people if necessary?
- Travel with more than 1 vehicle – if one gets stuck or breaks down, you have a back up
- Best intelligence you can get is from the local people - treat them with respect and they will respond in kind
- Cell phones work for Banda Aceh, use handheld radios outside of the city
- Don’t automatically accept or request military escort – that could make you a target
- Have a good trauma first aid kit with you
- Bring extra food, water, fuel
- Check your spare tire – is it in tact and have air?
- When doing security management – start with an assessment of needs, this will limit unnecessary spending and unnecessary restriction of activities
- Have a medical evacuation plan
- 1st line medical – teach your people first aid
- 2nd line medical – local care facilities – know what their capabilities are
- 3rd line medical – closes good hospital that can handle all medical needs
- Pre-deployment briefing
- Fill out detailed medical forms – keep one copy at headquarters, one at branch
- You need to know who is allergic to what
- Fill out missing persons information
- Know when it is safe to be outside and active
- In Banda Aceh – inside before midnight and don’t leave before 5AM
- Outside Banda Aceh – inside before dark and don’t leave before dawn

Paul Jordan also gave us an update on what happened with the International Red Cross worker (as I mentioned in a prior post – this incident was why we cancelled going to Aceh).

The incident took place in Lhokseumawe, which is about 4 hours southwest of Banda Aceh (the opposite direction from Krueng Raya, by the way). It was after dark and there was a group traveling including this IRC worker. The separatists asked these vehicles to stop and they didn’t. The worker wasn’t killed either, just injured.

Paul said it was a wrong-place-wrong-time problem, not a direct attack. He also said that GAM has made it known that they won’t harm international aid workers that are clearly marked (like I was with my vest saying “Relewan” – or “volunteer”). He said that it wasn’t in their best interests.

This whole presentation was both fascinating and made me feel a lot easier. It almost made up for the complete waste of the rest of the conference, almost. I also happened to be at his table for lunch one of the days. He gave me his card and offered for me to call him if I were ever concerned about traveling up there.

At one point he also mentioned to me that he feels safer in Banda Aceh these days than he does in Jakarta. Since it is just such a big city with so much going on, it is much easier to get into trouble here. Banda Aceh, he said, the people were simple, nicer, and it is just easier to control your environment there.

Anyway, he’s totally nice and I hope he’ll take me up on my invitation for dinner next time he passes through town.

Oh, his company, AKE, is a world-wide security consulting firm. They teach certified pre-deployment courses which cover safety and first aid. I think if I decide to continue with this type of work, I may try to take one of his courses. Probably a wise investment, as Dad would say.

That’s all for now, I’m heading to bed. I hope this post makes everyone feel a little better.