Friday, October 7, 2011

CBA Internship - Pre-Departure

I set up this blog back in 2008 before I went backpacking in Australia and Southeast Asia.  As you can see, I never wrote anything in it.  Sitting in hostel internet cafes just never seemed as appealing as sitting . . . well, anywhere else, really.  Now, I am here in Namibia, and I have promised people that I would write this blog.  It has been over three weeks.  This is my first entry.  I am in trouble.  Gloria, my co-intern, thinks that I should just give up and refer people to her blog.  (I get the feeling that she doesn’t have much faith in my writing abilities—by which I mean my ability ever to write anything!)  I think there are a number of people, mostly back in Canada, who would be disappointed in me if I did that (including myself).  Also, the CBA and CIDA, the kind people (organizations) who have actually sent me overseas, have requested one, so really it seems like the least I can do.  So, I am going to try to catch myself up, starting from the beginning. . . .

I was born in Vancouver, on January 25th; it was Super Bowl Sunday, and my Dad was already not very impressed with me. . . .  Okay, wait, no, that is going a little bit too far back, I must admit.  I’ll pick something more recent.  (Some of this may be a little dull for my fellow interns; if any of you are actually reading this, I advise you to skim ahead to the part where I actually get to Namibia.  On the downside, you will miss the part where I talk about how awesome you are.  Your call.)  When I was in first or second year law school, I heard about this programme where the Canadian Bar Association would send young lawyers to intern at human rights organizations in developing countries.  Obviously this sounded amazing to me; I did not exactly meet the requirements at that point (what with being a student still and all), but basically I had wanted to participate ever since.  I will now explain how the programme works, for those I haven’t told or for those who simply can’t remember.  (Cough, Dad, cough.)  I hope all this info is right.  The Canadian government has a youth employment programme.  As part of this programme, the Canadian International Development Agency (“CIDA”) gives money to other (non-governmental) Canadian organizations to sponsor young people to intern at organizations overseas.  To be eligible, you have to be Canadian, be 30 or younger, have no paid overseas work experience in your field, and meet some sort of educational requirement.  In this case, the sponsoring organization is the Canadian Bar Association (“the CBA”), so there is the additional requirement of being a lawyer (and having demonstrated interest in human rights issues, etc.).  So, to be clear, the funding organization = CIDA, the sponsoring organization = the CBA, and the host organization = the organization overseas.  This means that if you are a lawyer, you are paying for this through your tax dollars and not your CBA membership fees.  (Dad, I am still looking at you on this one.)  Anyway, the year was now 2011, the programme was running, I finally met all the requirements, and, by some miracle, I actually made it through the CBA’s crazy interview process (sorry guys, but it’s true—even my highly esteemed references said so!), so I got an email early one Monday morning telling me I had been accepted, and of course within minutes I had replied to say I was in.  I had thus just barely scraped in to this programme in my last year of eligibility.  Good times!

The internships were to start in September.  As part of our pre-departure preparations, the CBA was going to bring us all to Ottawa for a mandatory pre-departure orientation session.  This was particularly awesome for me, of course, as it meant they were actually flying me all the way across the country to Ottawa, and (1) I’d never had anyone (other than my parents) pay to fly me anywhere before and (2) my only previous visit to Ottawa had been a day trip from Montreal for an international legal conference at the U of O campus.  My only glimpse of Parliament was craning my neck from the highway on the way home.  We had four days of training, the first three of which were at our hotel in Gatineau, right across from the Museum of Civilization.  (I was initially very confused by where exactly Gatineau was, but apparently it includes what used to be called Hull, i.e. the place where all the young people in Ottawa would go to drink—or so I was told back in my Kingston days.)  I had been really quite excited for orientation (see the aforementioned free flight across the country) but as it grew closer, I began to get just a little apprehensive about what the other interns would be like—I feared either uptight law school snobs or granola crunchers who would judge me for wearing nail polish.  Luckily, I got neither.  To paraphrase the relief of one of my fellow interns, luckily, the other interns were not complete. . . .  Okay, perhaps I should rephrase. . . .  Luckily, everyone was totally awesome and they had done totally amazing things with their lives so far (and were sure to do more, of course).  It was really quite a sad little love-in.  (To my fellow interns: you see if you’ve skipped ahead, you’ve missed the part where I tell you you’re all awesome.)  So, we all got to know each other; to learn important skills, such as how to build bridges between icebergs (it’s a cultures thing); and to eat poutine.  (Poutine is very important.  Gloria and I are still debating how we can make poutine in Namibia.  I think it’s going to involve KFC and crumbled Babybels.)  I had originally been placed with an organization in Nairobi, Kenya (which shall remain nameless, for reasons that will become apparent), so I got to meet the other interns who would be going to Nairobi (who were, again, awesome, so I am sad that I don’t get to hang out with them this year) as well as a really cool girl from Kenya who was studying in Ottawa and gave us loads of tips for what we should do abroad.  Anyway, we spent our final day of orientation at the CBA headquarters in Ottawa, and then (after a few celebratory beverages later that night), the next day we were on our way home (or, in my case, to Montreal, but that’s a bit off topic . . . ), for the most part not to meet again until Africa.

To explain a little more: usually (these days, at least) the CBA selects eighteen young lawyers to participate in this programme; this year there are nineteen of us.  Historically, the CBA has sent interns to organizations in a bunch of different developing countries in Asia, South America, and Africa.  Apparently more recently, however, they have decided to streamline it a bit so they are concentrating on a smaller number of countries.  This year, there are interns in Columbia, Guyana, South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, and Kenya.  Over half of the interns are in South Africa; two each are in Namibia, Tanzania, and Kenya; and two are in South America.  (Obviously this makes the South America interns a little isolated; sorry guys!)  I will also mention that of the nineteen interns, there are six guys and three Allisons.  (Actually, technically one is an Alison, but we’ll forgive her!)  I don’t know what that says.  Anyway, as I mentioned, I left orientation terrible excited to be headed off to Kenya with the other Nairobi interns.  Prior to orientation, I was trying to play it cool, but now I was letting myself get excited, letting myself believe I was actually going off to Africa, until. . . .  The Friday after orientation (i.e. four days later), I was on the highway with my mom, headed from Montreal to St. Catharines to visit my family in Niagara, when I got a very ominous sounding email from our programme director, telling me that he really needed to talk to me, he couldn’t reach me, and could I please call him, but not until after 4pm.  (It was now 2pm.) Naturally, I got a little (read: extremely) worried.  Finally, standing outside in the middle of the Queen’s campus (which I hadn’t visited since 2003), I got to call Ian, who informed me that the organization in Kenya where I was supposed to be going was acting really sketchy (my words, not his—for my fellow interns, please refer to the first sample interview question), so he didn’t really want to send me there.  He was going to wait another day or two to see if they shaped up, and if not, he was considering sending me to Namibia or South Africa instead.  He told me he was 100% positive he could find me another placement, but I was freaked out regardless, and proceeded to spend the next five days in an extremely bad mood.  Finally, the following Wednesday, he emailed me to tell me that I would be joining another intern, Gloria, at the Gender Research & Advocacy Project (“GRAP”) of the Legal Assistance Centre (“LAC”) in Windhoek, Namibia (where I now sit finally typing this really belated first blog entry during my lunch hour).   I hadn’t really talked to Gloria at the orientation, and I didn’t really know much about Namibia, but the LAC sounded cool, and I was again on my way to Africa.  Awesome.

August was a kind of frantic, at many times very sad, occasionally very happy, and almost entirely stressful month, and I won’t write much about it.  Going from being marooned at Whistler, to being shot up with multiple vaccines, while suffering from an ear infection, having my lovely personal trainer Jen trying to kill me at my final few training sessions, and planning and executing my mother’s somewhat epic surprise birthday party—oh, and trying to prepare for Africa, get a visa, and read the 400 or so pages of materials my supervisor had already sent me—left me a little cranky.  On the upside, I got to hang out with my puppy and parents at Whistler, see lots of lovely family and friends, go back to Ontario, and attend a wedding some thirteen years in the making.  Then, in September, after all the frantic preparations, finally it was time for Africa. . . .