Tuesday, June 06, 2006

I'm sitting in the second story of a cafe just outside the south gate of Sichuan University, looking out a window at balconies covered in potted plants and clothes that won't dry because it's too humid. Perhaps it is time to give a few more details as to how and why I've ended up on this continent.

The Sparknotes:

  • I spent part of last fall doing microfinance research with women's groupements in rural Senegal - love it! Something about putting the tools for poverty alleviation right in the hands of those who care most about it (the poor) just seems to make sense to me.
  • Met Randy Kritkausky, President of Ecologia (www.ecologia.org) at a J-term workshop. Instant mutual admiration for one anothers' work.
  • Received an email from Midd's Career Service Office outlining a grant for students with unpaid international internships. Don't have one, but think: why not? Forwarded it to Randy.
  • Next Day: Randy says: "Wow, YES!" He has just returned from a trip to China where he met The Rabbit King, a peasant entrepreneur who grew his business from a handful of rabbits to millions (his bank account followed suit). As his wealth grew, however, The Rabbit King took it upon himself to help hundreds of thousands of his fellow peasants out of poverty via gifts of money, rabbits, and animal husbandry lessons. He expressed his wish to continue sharing with more and more of his people, as well as his awareness of his finite funds. Randy shared some of the microfinance ideas that I had discussed with him in January, and the RK got excited. Back in the States, Randy wonders whether there is a way for me to personally share these ideas with the RK...after receiving my email, he offers me a summer internship doing just that.
  • While waiting for word on the grant, I learn that Oxford University's World Education Corps has decided to sponsor the internship. (Oxford?! Cool.)
  • Realize 2 things simultaneously:
    1. I do not speak Chinese (damn, no Wolof in China.)
    2. I have a best friend (Kate) who does...and who is still in China, without plans for the summer. I forward this info to Randy, who agrees that the internship must be offered to her as well.
  • Go to bed with a stomache ache. Wake up two days later w/o an appendix. A minor set-back.
  • Kate signs on!
  • I learn that I don't get the grant. Hmm... an amazing internship doing something I love with someone I adore, on a continent I've never visited? Not about to pass this up just because of a silly grant.
  • Bed-rest and Fundraising can go hand-in-hand.
  • Learn that James Martin (of Oxford's James Martin Institute of the 21st Century) thinks that what we're doing might make a great addition to his documentary. Considers sending cameramen with us. (I do a jig.)
  • Nearing my fundraising goal...
  • Middlebury's Alliance for Civic Engagement thinks this is an amazing opportunity! They sponsor it too. I have no idea what the internship title is, but I sense it is getting longer and longer...
  • The cameraman punctures a lung. Maybe no documentary after all (still waiting to hear on this one.)
  • Plane ticket prices go up! Without finishing fundraising, I bite the bullet, say a prayer to the heavens, and buy a plane ticket to China. (I also buy travel insurance that includes a section on Death and Dismemberment...huh.)
  • Fundraising goal achieved! This trip is actually going to happen...
  • Breathe in. Breathe out. Pack, kiss Vermont goodbye, board a plane, and... boom.

    And that is how this adventure came to pass.

    What now?
    The last few days were spent in meetings with a cast of international characters from the Ecologia staff and board; in boardrooms and tea-houses, fancy hotel lobbies and overgrown rooftops. I've gotten to participate in the inner workings of an international NGO. I've seen which nuances get lost in translation, and which core values need no translation at all. Common interests abound between leaders and students and executives - our meetings have helped them to see this more clearly.

    The Cast
    A pair of experienced movers and shakers from Middlebury, VT
    A Chinese businessman with $ and soul.
    An introverted Lithuanian with a knack for community organization
    A retired Economist and past UN board member (she very much reminds me of my Grandmother Young)
    A powerhouse of frenetic energy trapped inside a small Chinese woman's body (Ecologia's ground-staff in China)
    A Chinese Student fresh off of a semester abroad, and eager to remain in China. One who now, as her mother says, considers herself a "citizen" here...
    An eager (and appendix-free) student of international social engagement

    All but the last three have now moved on to other cities and continents to continue their work. Meanwhile, Liu Yang (Ecologia ground-staff), Kate (newly proclaimed Chinese citizen), and I remain to see what connections can be made between the work of the Rabbit King and China's microfinance culture.

And that's just a taste of it. Other endeavors include: Moving into my second appartment in a foreign city! Figuring out the hotwater heater! Fighting off the cockroaches! Making friends with the fruit women! Hanging the laundry! Hopping a bus and going wherever it takes us! Mmm...life is such an adventure.