Well, that’s a thing. A terrible, terrible thing. Everyone tells you how terrible it is, and you think you know, but you don’t know.
First, the numbers: This was my second year on the political science/international studies job market, and total, I applied to probably 100 positions overall (including postdocs), had eight or ten phone or skype interviews (including the one for my current visiting position at Pomona College), three campus interviews, and one job offer.
Now, I only know what it’s like for me, but when people say fit is important, they are so right, at least for those of us from non-elite institutions. Especially for me, researching a non-mainstream topic with a non-mainstream methodology, even though I applied to general IR positions, I probably didn’t get a second look from most of those hiring committees.
What I did get was a job, doing exactly what I want to do. Starting July 1, I’ll be an assistant professor of political science and international studies at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. It’s a liberal arts college with a cool history and is in an area I’m looking forward to moving back to. I even get to teach things I’m really excited about, like African politics, gender and conflict, and even IPE (as long as I can give it a development focus). And I’m certain I got this job on fit. Not only did I fit their requirements and they fit mine, but there’s a general sense of fitting in with the culture of the place and the personalities of the other faculty.
It’s a joy right now to be done with the dissertation and feeling secure that I should have employment for the next few years. I feel extremely fortunate that the right thing came up at the right time for me – it isn’t the case for a lot of people in my position – so I’m trying to honor it by working smart and hard.
My home during my time in Mali is The Sleeping Camel, a backpacker hotel that’s retained half that identity and added in clientele from the UN mission (MINUSMA) and various affiliated UN agencies; with the decline of the tourist crowd because of the Northern Malian conflict, UN numbers swelled.
Here, I’ve developed an eclectic group of friends, some from the former travel crowd and some from the new security-minded crowd, most on the anglophone track, but only a few Americans.
The Camel also has a boat that it uses to cruise on the Niger river and is often rented for relaxing half-day trips by all kinds of groups. One Saturday, a couple of the Camel’s owners invited friends out for a day trip on the boat. Food and alcohol were largely provided, but after I said that I made killer brownies, it was requested that I make brownies on the boat.
There was a tiny oven with uncertain temperature and definitely no measuring cups, but the brownies with M&M’s were a success! No photos of the brownies exist because this was toward the end of day that was supported by coolers of beer and a bowl of sangria, but below are photos from the trip.
I reckon these were the first brownies ever made while cruising down the Niger River.
Though I had flown on a UNHAS flight from Conakry to Freetown, I returned by road, about a 5-hour drive. When we crossed the border, I expected to pull out my passport, but we just honked our way until a series of ropes dropped across the road. I barely paid attention when my French-speaking driver for the first half said, “Okay, now we’re in Guinea,” because I expected that someone would ask for our identification, even if we weren’t interrogated. When I turned to him a minute later and said, “Wait, now it’s Guinea? Why didn’t I have to show my passport?” he replied, “It’s because we’re in a diplomatic vehicle.” This was true – my driver was from another West African country’s mission based in Freetown, but I’m not a diplomat, especially one from West Africa, and it didn’t look like the border control was any stronger for any of the other cars going through.
Just over the border, I switched cars to make the trip through Guinea. This driver was one I had met before in Conakry, and he was a military officer who does something like diplomatic security. Because fuel prices are so much less expensive in Sierra Leone than in Guinea, we drove back across the border – where he had to surrender his gun that he had stowed in the center console of the car – got gas, then drove back across the border, where he retrieved his weapon, and we were on our way.
Funnily enough, neither driver spoke English, though they were both able to cope in Sierra Leone enough to get gas. I actually don’t think there was much of a shared language at all, even a local one, but this is more about the attitudes of West Africans to help facilitate basic communication, a big contrast with many Americans and Western Europeans, who are much more rigid about the level of language skill. There was a problem with payment, and I considered offering to translate, but it was quickly cleared up and we were on our way.
On the Sierra Leone side, this highway was fairly newly paved, with occasional signs that it was by the assistance of the European Union. Once into Guinea, however, the road was full of potholes and our journey was much slower. The better to see the landscape and villages and find a clean cooking pot from which we could have our lunch!
The night before I left Freetown, I had dinner with another friend of a friend who works in justice promotion as part of the larger development industry in Sierra Leone. We had a long discussion about whether development money is good for a country. I noted that there was public education for social issues, that Ebola had been at least acknowledged by the government, that there were paved roads with minimal potholes and about a quarter of the amount of trash on the streets as there is in Conakry. His point was that despite these modest improvements, there was still no economy to speak of and that all the development money was making people dependent on it so that when the money starts to go away (which it perhaps is nearly 15 years after the end of the civil war and about a year after the end of Ebola), the country will be in big, big trouble. The corrupt government can barely function on its own.
I don’t know what I think. Certainly I want the economies to grow on their own in their own way; however, smooth roads facilitate trade, even within a country or region. A population’s or government’s dependency on foreign skills and money will likely not contribute to any lasting “progress” or “development”; however, when basic services are nonexistent, it seems that it’s necessary to provide for them in some way.
(originally posted on The CIHA Blog, where I am an editorial assistant)
(Just before this post went live, the UN envoy to the Central African Republic was forced to resign because of the sexual abuse allegations.)
Recent reports documenting sexual abuse committed by United Nations peacekeeping troops in Haiti, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Mali and Central African Republic underscore the long history of sexual misconduct committed by peacekeepers around the world. With the recent spate of such reports and the UN peacekeepers’ obvious abuse of power, it becomes essential to examine critically the manner in which the UN responds to the accusations as well as the way the media presents these events.
In the recent article, “Could Peacekeeping Wives Deter Sexual Abuse in UN Overseas Operations?”, following reports documenting widespread abuses by peacekeepers, Thalif Deen asks, “As a preventive measure, would it help if peacekeepers and U.N. staffers are sent on overseas missions along with their wives, partners and families?” The article explores the notion of allowing spouses to join deployed peacekeepers, specifically male peacekeepers, as a viable solution to halt sexual abuse. Similarly, in a separate article, “Sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers remains ‘significantly under-reported‘” the author quotes the new UN report, which states, “Staff with long mission experience state that was a ‘general view that people should have romantic rights’ and raised the issue of sexuality as a human right.”
These articles’ failure to mention the United Nations’ efforts to incorporate a gender perspective into all organizational policies – gender mainstreaming – as prevention of sexual abuse and exploitations in the UN’s peace operations highlights the ineffectiveness of UN efforts. Gender mainstreaming has resulted in women making up 13 percent of those deployed in UN peacekeeping missions; however, the first article’s proposed solution does not mention this, perhaps because women are not the ones committing sexual abuse.
Instead, the proposed solution perpetuates the idea that men, to some extent, lack the ability to control their sexual urges. Moreover, it deflects the blame from UN peacekeepers perpetrating these atrocious acts by suggesting the absence of a sexual partner drives men to sexually abuse and exploit the people they are sent to protect. Yet the age of many of the victims undermines the argument for “romantic rights,” with 36 percent of the victims reported to be minors and with evidence that minors were targeted for sexual assault even after previous reports drew public outrage. For the staffers claiming that peacekeepers should have better access to appropriate sexual partners in order to attain their romantic or sexual rights, this objective is at odds with addressing the power imbalances inherent in UN missions, which are tasked with ensuring the basic human right of physical security of the local population.
While certainly the majority of peacekeepers are law-abiding, acts of sexual abuse and exploitation continue to be reported, as peacekeeping troops continue to be deployed. Images of UN peacekeepers raping and abusing the very people they are sent to protect further complicate the neocolonial narrative put forward by opponents of peacekeeping forces, highlighting the UN’s work and response to the allegations as also gendered. Meanwhile, narratives that portray African men as violent and sexually aggressive persist.
A new narrative is needed, one that takes into account the intersecting power relations of sex, nationality and economic position, both in the UN’s work and in the media accounts that cover world affairs.
Why yes, Morocco is beautiful. Why do you ask?
My friend and cohort-mate, Kelsey, has been conducting her own fieldwork in Morocco, and as Casablanca is a direct flight from Abidjan (and no travel visa needed), I spent a week with her, touring a bit of the country.
The photos above are from Chefchaouen, in the mountains south of Tangier. Many of the buildings in the media are painted blue, making it lovely and peaceful and cool. So lovely. Blue city, in the mountains – possible future writing retreat.
Between us, Kelsey and I spoke four languages, which was such an asset in Morocco, where the Moroccan version of Arabic is mixed with legacies of Spanish and French colonialism (and tourism), so we could communicate with just about anyone we came across.
We also visited Casablanca, where the Hassan II mosque (pictures below) is located, as well as Rabat and Tangier, taking the train and bus everywhere.
We also exercised our passport privilege by hopping on a boat to Spain, where we stayed in Granada for a few days, exploring the Arab/Moorish/Muslim influence on southern Spain and compiling a "best of" tapas restaurants in the city.
Saturday I moved into my (hopefully) permanent apartment in Abidjan after moving around a bit. On Sunday, I went shopping at Adjamé market for a number of kitchen and household items. To buy lots of stuff, the trip was worth it. Supermarkets are quite expensive, but if you're willing to spend the time and brave the crowds, markets like Adjamé are wonderful.
My previous experience with African markets was in Dakar, where so many expats also go. There, you can't take a quick look at something without being harassed (and if you don't speak French, don't worry, many of the merchants speak enough English or German to tell you to look at their wares). But in Abidjan, my market day was completely different.
The most notable thing was that I was the only white person that I saw in the market, which is vast (both the market itself and the surrounding "black market"). One of the stores on the edge of the market, apparently some kind of restaurant supply store, was owned by a Lebanese couple, fairly common here, but I was surprised that it was frequented only by Africans.
I mentioned this later to a friend who has been here a couple of years, and she said that there were more expats before the crisis, so it was to be expected that there were few to none at this market especially, which is not in an expat neighborhood.
The other issue was that I was not overly harassed when walking by or when stopping to look at something. Certainly, I was asked quickly if I needed help or encouraged to buy another type of vegetable, but there was no pushiness behind it. If I responded no thanks, then that was taken as a given. I'm assuming this stems from a lack of recent tourism and that many of the markets in the city are geared toward actual local trade rather than tourist spots.
I don't write this to toot my horn about how "real" I am by shopping at a local market, just that my expectations from one country in the region didn't transfer directly to the reality in another country. And this is the core of my research, that a policy that might work in one place is sometimes inappropriate to the context of the place you are in because of history, politics, social relations, economics, and any other little thing you can think of. (Also relevant in humanitarianism and development aid.)
I love markets and am going back – if only for vegetables and to take photos of the giant land snails in buckets and tied-up chickens on the floor.
Went to the U.S. embassy yesterday to meet some people, for my security briefing, and to get the badge that allows me to check for mail, use the gym, and hang out at general events. I'm officially a Fulbrighter now.
There was nothing too remarkable about it, just the usual multiple layers of security plus vast bureaucracy and promotion of certain forms of power. While the machinery and larger global politics is certainly ripe for criticism (and which has been done so many times before), everyone I met there, both the Americans and the Ivorian national staff, were all helpful and welcoming. My fellowship is paid for by the U.S. government for international cultural exchange, and I am quite aware of the privileges that I personally have and that I also am able to exercise because of my citizenship.
But again, though my research focus is not health care, it's that topic that seems to attract my attention. I was given a health packet from the embassy clinic, mostly so I could know the recommended local doctors and hospitals (and the French versions of medications was a bonus). Much of the packet is devoted toward preventative medicine, and the HIV & Sexually Transmitted Diseases section is a disaster – I don't know if it was developed locally or copied from similar packets in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, but the language is so problematic when talking about local populations.
"Cote d'Ivoire, like the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, is a hotbed of HIV infections; 3.9% adult HIV prevalence." Hotbed? While this rate is higher than the U.S., it's not anywhere close to the prevalence in a number of other countries in southern Africa. The date for this statistic is 2008, and the current UNAIDS estimate is lower, at 2.7%, both of which are down even further from 7% in 2003 and 13% prior to the first war. And the "hotbed" language simply serves to reinforce the "othering" of Africa as a diseased place.
"The HIV prevalence among local prostitutes, and presumably amongst promiscuous natives [emphasis mine] who frequent late-night clubs, is 50%. That means there is a 1 out of 2 chance that the person you 'pick-up' in a bar is infected with HIV!" Wut? Let's allow that the 50% figure is accurate for prostitution (I couldn't find a recent source but note previous stats), how on earth can it be extrapolated to "promiscuous natives"? So much sex-shaming and racial/national segregation and repeated othering language used in a public health message. And the cute little exclamation point at the end, that you really only have yourself to blame.
I would encourage a great deal more sensitivity and less fear-mongering toward the local populations. Give the stats, give the health precautions (as done for malaria and diarrhea), but keep the ugly, moralizing, whiff-of-superiority tone out of it.
Here’s an image of my Ebola form when I arrived back in Cote d’Ivoire from Senegal. It’s in English. Super for me, but I’m going to assume that a number of people who got off that plane were not proficient. Why was it not available in French? (Because it’s a Kenya Airways flight, where the flight crew spoke only limited French?)
And again, the giant glob of hand sanitizer, which, seriously, I’m glad to have after germ planes. And there’s sanitizer in lots of public spaces around. I’m thinking about the politics of this versus clean water and hand-washing, but at least in airports, I’m glad for the glob.
Saw this on my way from hotel to the airport, after the taxi's overheated radiator and the fender-bender with a mini-bus. I also saw a motor-scooter with probably 30 live chickens strung up by their feet, looking wary but knowing about their futures, but I couldn't get a photo.
As a side note, Weebly is "banned" in Senegal, where I am now, and who knows yet about Cote d'Ivoire. Updating through a proxy server, but this is pretty irritating.
Travel and research notes
Fieldwork and travel in Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Mali, as well as Burkina Faso, Morocco, Tanzania, South Africa, and wherever else I end up. Plus occasional research-related thoughts. And now ... Teaching!