Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Back in New York City.

Since March 8 I'm back in NYC. In the weeks to come I expect to blog less because most days are spent behind a laptop. However, upcoming weeks are going to be interesting:
  • Together with Massimo I'll be going to the gym at least three times a week for rowing. I lost almost 10 kilograms in the Congo last time, so the idea is to try to avoid adding too much in the months to come. And with several colleagues I'll squash as well once or twice a week;
  • I received a small office at Columbia, but probably will still be working a lot in coffeeshops;
  • April 12-15 the MPSA conference takes place in Chicago where I present two papers: 1. One on migration, and 2. one (together with Macartan) about our Voix des Kivus project. Both, unfortunately, still have to be written;
  • By the end of this week Macartan, Raul and me have a deadline to hand in a revision of a paper we submitted to a prestigious journal. I'm currently running some extra simulations on Columbia University's supercomputer, we are replicating all our results (both the formal and statistical ones) one more time to be sure that everything is correct, etc.
  • By the beginning of April our final report for the Tuungane evaluation has to be in. Yes, the evaluation of the 5 year Tuungane project - the project that is the reason for the existence of this blog. More (among others the results!) to come;
  • Then in May I'm likely to be back in the Congo again - with Macartan and Raul. There are two reasons: 1. To present the findings of the evaluation to shareholders, and 2. To meet up with my research team that is currently still in the field to collect data for the dissertation.
Then by the end of May the semester is already over again. In upcoming months, though, it is write, write and write. I will be on the jobmarket in Fall 2013 so have 2.5 semesters to turn the ideas in my head and all all the piles of data into a dissertation.


Last Tuesday together with colleagues Ali and Pierce we visited Neelan in Brooklyn to work in the coffeeshops there. It was fantastic. The sun shined. We visited the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. And at 11pm we ended our day of work with a whisky in a spacious bar sitting on a leather sofa next to a fireplace. It's good to be back.

Ali and Neelan. Neelan is carrying data from his fieldwork in India.

Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Back from Congo: Congo Recap.

I'm back in New York City since last Thursday. A quick recap of my two months in the Congo:


This time in Congo’s South Kivu province I was not under IRC's security umbrella. Given that I've already had my fair share of sleepless nights due to gunfire, have been chased by a mob with sticks and stones, and several other things happened that I don't write about because my mom reads these posts, this was the major concern. In the end it was unnecessary. We had no security incidents whatsoever. What came closest was the use of force from my side on two occasions:

When in Goma, Freddy and I took motorbikes to get to the harbor from where we would leave by boat to Bukavu. The motorbike had to stop for a truck that blocked the road. While waiting a local youth bumped into me rather unnecessarily because it was not crowded. I immediately checked my pockets and noticed that my moleskin notebook was missing. When he noticed I knew, he started running and after a short chase I had my notebook back. Ha! He better had stolen my wallet: the notebook had information from many interviews and was thus many times more valuable to me than my wallet.

When leaving Congo Neelan - as a proper academic - took the hotel room key with him. About two months later I had the same room as Neelan in the hotel. Due to a hole in the backpack I lost the key one day and had the following conversation with the hotel employee:

  • Peter: “I lost my key. I'm sorry. Can I have the spare key.”
  • Employee: “Because the other white guy took the key with him we don’t have a second key.”
  • [Now several minutes of silence and me waiting for more from his side]
  • Peter: “So what are you going to do?”
  • Employee: “Well we don’t have a key”
  • Peter: “I know. But all my stuff is inside and thus we have to solve this”
  • [Several minutes of silence and me getting more and more annoyed.]
  • Peter: “Ok. I’ll go to the bar next door to read a book and you solve the problem. You have two hours.”
  • [On my way out also informed the boss of the hotel of the issue. Then after 2 hours:]
  • Peter: “My door is still locked”
  • Employee: “Yes. We don’t have the key”
  • Peter: “I know. But how are you going to solve that”
  • [Several minutes of a blank stare and me getting really annoyed.]
  • Peter: “If you don’t open it, I will kick in the door myself.”
  • Employee: “Haha. That’s not possible.”
  • [A minute later the (oh-so-high quality) door was kicked open and I was in the room.]


Also health-wise things went unexpectedly smooth. Overall I haven't been sick, with the exception of some diarrhea and throwing up the first two weeks when Neelan was still in Congo. Needless to say, I now blame Neelan for me being sick during that period. There is only one type of animal that bothered me twice: those insects that start digging in your foot and leave their eggs. I have had this before (here), and with a little bit of pocket-knive-surgery and disinfecting-with-whisky this was solved quickly (see the picture below).



Needless to say this was the reason why I went through all the trouble of going to Congo again. And it was worth it! A lot of amazing data has been and is being collected: from lab-in-the-field experiments, village mapping, etc. Data that is central to my dissertation. There is another reason, however, why especially these last two months in the Congo were so important. Let me give an anecdote. Last semester I presented a draft paper at Columbia's comparative politics workshop. In brief, based on data collected for our Tuungane evaluation, the draft has a lot of regressions and empirical results regarding migration. People then correctly asked: “So what do the migrants say?” At that point I had spend over 1.5 years in the Congo, but I could not tell them that. I spent time in the field but never specifically focussed on my dissertation because the time spent in villages was to manage evaluation teams. Another problem was IRC's security rules that make it obligatory to be out of the villages in the early afternoon. Now after two months of sleeping in the villages and talking over and over again with migrants, I now do feel more comfortable answering this question.

Do note that I still have the feeling that there are a million things that I don't understand in the Congo - and this only seems to get worse the more I visit the country.

Friday, March 2, 2012

David Mitchell.

In line with the previous post hereby one more. David Mitchell's Soap Box. So funny. I wish I could argue/talk like this:

Please also watch his series "Peepshow" that he does together with Robert Webb. It is really good fun (link here).

And back in the Netherlands: a Happyplace.

I'm back in the Netherlands, and in addition to family, friends and "patatje oorlog" (i.e. sophisticated Dutch cuisine) this also means a good internet connection. This morning I spent time going over the many emails that were sent in the last 2 months by friends with a video or link to "something funny" on the internet. With a cup of coffee, that is a great way to start the day. One of the jewels I came across (ht Ali) is this website with unintentionally inappropriate test responses from children. Three examples:

Btw, I'm quite sure that children with such responses will go far in life. On a similar note, Ken Robinson is going as far as saying that our current education system is destroying creativity (please watch here).