June 21, 2010 post by Dragica
It is Monday and I am ready for action at my internship. Walking to the office this morning, I contemplated my biggest challenge – what will happen when I receive all the documents on victims’ groups’ activity in NEPALI? A HUGE challenge (Fucillo huge, Kim). At the moment, I am scared to look at time on my watch (mid-morning). The day of action is slow in waiting (on Nepali time again).
On Friday, my department coordinator returned from the field visit and I was eager to complete my Terms of Reference, getting everyone on the same page with my project, and launching it big time – “let’s meet on Monday”. Ok, Monday. A day for action. Every hour of my short-term summer internship is precious, and last week (while waiting for him to come back from the field), I edited and expanded upon the Transitional Justice Department Operational Manual where I was able to use my knowledge of the field, and fine-tune it to what I know from the side of academics. I worked with the director on this, and she was happy with my comments, incorporating them all! Ok, the project.. he has my draft ToR in hand; I have my questions for him printed, but another meeting happened in the meantime. He is coming back in 10 minutes – 30 minutes ago. There is only so far my initiative can take me. Nepali time.
International Crisis Group Crisis (“Blunt for Blunt” in Nepal)
As I knew they would be, NGO’s in Nepal are very different from those I helped run in the U.S. We never had private cars, canteens, 5-story offices, servants? This is truly an industry of its own kind. They have a lot of potential, but as I have been doing with Nepali politics (political parties, politicians), I am taking them with a grain of salt as well.
Last week, we met the head of the International Crisis Group here in Nepal at his office with a planned dinner after in Lalitpur. Preceded by a week’s worth of meeting cordial, polite, respectful and collegiate academics, politicians (even when they did not directly address our questions/concerns, they presented their views in a polite manner), this was the first interaction that I felt thrown off by, and very critical of. I realized that when a great amount of experience and intelligence is coupled with arrogance and “pompousness,” it is worth very little.
My skepticism and defense stems from two places – one is a person, in such a poor language at that, criticizing the entire international community (especially the UN), all other partner organizations and donors, acting as the only “enlightened body” on Nepal bound for reforming the entire fields of political science and anthropology here, and the second is the said person attacking an entire field of transitional justice with complete authority and conclusiveness in an overly-simplified manner, mind you! As a young scholar interested in the same topic, looking at the conceptualizations in the field, the approaches and gaps for further study, I felt a natural defense, even though my personal conviction in the importance or the existence of the discipline was unshaken. In spite of my reaction, I have tentative plans to continue the debate with this person who put me on the spot in front of my entire group asking me to define the term “transitional justice” and attacking the term “transition” among other comments.
What makes the academics and practitioners in the field respectable, from what I know thus far, is their awareness and self-critique of the conceptual and normative problems in the field. What I took away from this “crisis” meeting, along with a grain of bitterness that inevitably spilled itself in this entry, is the ability to decipher a surface perspective from the one deeply rooted in the knowledge about the argued subject (and how easily one can appear naïve), along with a reminder of the importance of critical inquiry that The New School (and Cornell) have instilled in me. Nothing is as it appears. In fact, if everything that is said by the politicians and activists in Nepal came true, the country would become an instant utopia.
This is my concern – everyone is very good at saying exactly the right thing, but the rhetoric is cheap when people are waiting for results. With NGO’s, I understand that a lot of their language and actions conform to the donors (they need the money after all). This is where the danger lies. For instance, amidst the above-mentioned exercise of editing my department’s manual, I was seeing how the concept was being defined by my organization and framework adopted, and from an academic standpoint, having studied the field for 10 months now, I was already seeing the misinterpretations, and something that seemingly could have been copied from a workshop on transitional justice. I was afraid that before they even understood the concept, somebody had instructed them to adopt this in their programming.
On the one hand, I see the imports of external ideas about peacebuilding, etc. (bad!). On the other, I see a root of a new policy that could thrive here in Nepal (or do harm, bad!). These are serious concerns. Lesson: Try to look beneath the surface, and learn how to identify what is the layer that hides it, who created it, and why.
One blog post later, still waiting. Nepali time.