The Year of the Camel

My friend Emi called my attention to the fact that 2006 was the Chinese year of the dog. For me, that was spot-on. 2006 felt a lot like a year of the dog: busy, with not so much rest. The calendar entries for a typical day of the first six months of the year used to read: “write thesis,” “go to library,” “paper due,” “presentation for class,” “this time really do write thesis,” “apply for [x] job [for which [xx,xxx,xxx] other people are also applying],” “on call for class,” “edit Forum articles,” “meet with study group of people who are more organized than you about writing their thesis,” and so on. The second half of the year was “re-apply for [x] job,” “study for French class,” “do translations to pay the bills,” and “volunteer in order to increase chances of getting a job” ... As a matter of fact, the dog seems to be more about “loyalty, faithfulness and unselfishness” and about “delighting in anything occult, mysterious, bizarre and unusual.” So maybe not quite that fitting after all. After giving the matter careful thought, I figured the camel would be the appropriate patron animal of the year. 2006 was a bit of a dry spell, but it seems that the caravan has finally made it to the oasis!

Highlights of the Year

I guess the highlight of the year would have to be graduation. Officially, I am now a Master (or a Mistress?) of Law and Diplomacy, which I do think sounds awfully impressive. There was a time when I thought the thesis would never write itself, a
nd that I might have to delay submission or have to pay somebody to finish it. But came 21 May, I was there with the rest of the class in Boston and delighted to have my dad and Thilo there to cheer me on. (Sadly, Mami didn’t make i
t due to a slipped disk, which put a sad note to our subsequent family holidays in Maine. But we did manage to have a happy family reunion with the Fuchs and Goldenberg cousins in Lexington.) 

The fact that The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs successfully published one more special edition and another regular one, right in time for graduation, was another high point of the year and in no small ways due to the work of a fantastic team of Fletcherites. The new Forum marketing strategy focuses on getting each editor to remind one hundred family members and friends of their family/friend duties, so I’d be very obliged if you could all buy your annual copies at the nearest Border store or online!

Then I took part in a humanitarian simulation exercise in May that got me coverage in The Boston Globe. Unfortunately, the reporter managed to blow my one moment of fame (and my chances of ever succeeding in the humanitarian world) by quoting me as saying: “I was actually quite scared, even though I knew the guns were only plastic.”

What else? My career as a nude model has been taken to new heights as muse for the internationally renowned “body artist” Spencer Tunick, in a lost bet and following the determination to prove to Andy that Germans really do strip naked all the time. But most definitely an experience to remember! ;)

Well, and lastly there’s the matter of the caravan reaching the oasis, aka Connie getting a job, but see below for more details (I’ve got to find a way of getting you to read the whole thing, don’t I?).

Life in B-Town

I have to confess that I’ve had difficulties of providing a straight-forward response  to the question “So, where do you live?” this year. But it does look like 2006 was the year of cities beginning with “B.” The year started out with New Year’s at Miriam’s in Berlin and will end at Elias’ in Beirut. In between, some six months in Boston and two in Brussels. And, I guess, there were a couple of months in “Baris” and “Büsseldorf,” as well as my life-altering World Cup trip with Huria to Berlin (truly phenomenal is all I can say, but for a deeper impression, and something to laugh at, you can see my pictures here).

So, 2006 was also the year of the suitcase.
There was the quick trip to The Hague in January for ICC-research purposes and to visit the Fletcher GMAP course; two trips to Maine first with Miriam, then with my Dad and Thilo; then California in June on a roadtrip with a bunch of “achievers” from South Africa, Germany, and Australia;

in quick succession Geneva, Lausanne, London, Oxford, and Cornwall; and then my first “real” mission to Nairobi and Juba in South Sudan. Phew. Life in B-Town has been hectic this year. And I just came back from my first visit to an orthopaedic specialist. No more heavy suitcases for me - I might have to invest in a special assistant who can carry them for me.


Well, health, you say. Not normally deserving of a section itself, but I did want to share with you that I successfully had my eyes lasered (“lasiked?”) in January, with a little help from my flatmate Elias (who pushed me into a taxi as the valium started to kick in), and the loving support of Xanthe and Delphine, who supplied me with audio-tapes, ice-cream, and mental support. The operation was successful despite my worryingly “extended retina” - see, you might never have realized what a problem this could be, but after having to see two specialists, believe me, I hope you don’t have one... No more amusing pictures with bad glasses, sorry!

During one of my numerous vaccination-update doctoral visits this week (I’m squeezing in all annual visits into a five-day window...), my doctor diagnosed an official chocolate-bingeing habit. He’s threatening me with referral to chocoholics anonymous, but I thought moving to some war-torn area of the world might do the trick also (apparently, Pete Doherty’s detox trip to Darfur is working wonders).

Jobs and things

Job? What job? Well, honestly, people. I can tell you one thing: life after graduation sucks. You think you were well-qualified before you started your job. Then you invest $100,000s in further education and forego $100,000s in opportunity costs (you do the maths), and of course you think that everybody will just be waiting for you to finish your masters and give you a job (at half the salary you used to earn before you had the mad idea to go through with all of this).

And then they start saying: “ah, well, yes, maybe, but you have got to work on your French a little bit” (hang on, wasn’t “learn to speak fluent French” my task during sixth form ten years ago?). Or: “we’d really like to have you, but in order to interview you, your application has to be approved by ten different offices, nine of whom think you’re great, and the tenth of whom thinks your qualifications aren’t sufficient for an entrance level position.” Or: “we know you applied five months ago, but we’ll only be able to give you an interview in another three months, by which time you have to make sure that you will be able to leave immediately for a war-torn area of the world at no notice and with no support and of course no guarantee that the job will last longer than three weeks.”

To cut a long and depressing story very short: I had my first interview two days after returning from the States (see above regarding firm belief that they are just waiting to give you a job), only then to spend the next three months doing intensive French in Düsseldorf, Belgium, and Paris. Most of the days language school during the day, human rights internship with a great NGO full of impressive women in the afternoon, then translations throughout the night to pay the bills. Now, nobody told me about that?

Nonetheless, the support
from the Fletcher network in Boston, New York, Geneva, Burundi, Chad, and Sudan was really encouraging (you know who you are!), as was the help of colleagues at FIDH in Paris, and UN contacts in Bonn. Then, October came, and with it two job offers. One permanent (for which see end of this message - you’ve got to get through the suspense), one with a great rule-of-law NGO in Belgium for a short-term consultancy regarding the setting-up of an office in South Sudan. One week later, I found myself in Brussels, going on my first mission to Nairobi and Juba and writing lengthy reports. (I’m planning to finalize my blogs on Juba soon, promise). So life is good again.

Friends and Visits

Well, I’ve got to say, guys: the visits to Boston were a bit sparing... (won’t you wish you’d fulfilled your visit obligations once I get posted to, say, Groszny, next year?!)

One highlight of the year was Melissa’s and Jason’s star appearance for the Boston marathon in April (I would like to stress that following Melissa on a bike for a large part of the trail as she was in turn following Jason was no mean feat either - even though we never caught up with him...). But the prize for distance goes to Miriam who flew in from Berlin and took me and my yellow puffer jacket out on a romantic weekend trip to Maine just as my head was about to explode with thesis-traumatic stress disorder. She drove patiently as I was typing my bibliography on the passenger seat and even managed to give some well-received commentary over lobster dinners.

[Disclaimer: The following two paragraphs read like an excerpt from my Nobel prize acceptance speech, so don’t read through all of it unless you think you’re mentioned! But I figured that, if one only gets a chance to write once a year, then one ought to thank everybody for their kind hospitality and support throughout the past year!]

Surprisingly, the visits from Boston to Düsseldorf were far more numerous. Erin set the scene with an early Fletcher visit from Paris in January. Nirmalan and Mike both managed to see my home-town in the rain (see below - dressed up cunningly by my parents to look like real tourists). I think they liked the ice-cream more than the Frank G
ehry buildings, but at least they now have a better appreciation for what an important city I live in (sometimes). Oxford-Ingolstadt Thomas even moved to Düsseldorf for the occasion, and London-visitors Kit, Eugenia, Dan, and Manish decided they couldn’t miss it, even if no World Cup games were shown in Düsseldorf.

Then there were the “external” reunions. Gillian came to Paris for a visit to the catacombs, and Thomas, Mathilde and Quitterie were some old Oxford friends who took good care of me in Paris.

Former Freshfields colleagues Andrea and Charlie reminded me of Paris’ culinary side, and Fletcherites Elias and Akshay brought a bit of Boston to the Seine. Fletcher Mathilde also proved her worth as hostess by showing me Paris at night, libraries at the weekend, and cinemas at
night. In South Sudan, Gillian came over for pizza, and Fletcher-Marco introduced me to South Sudanese markets. Without Monica’s help, the visit to Juba would never have gone as smoothly... Michael and Alexis showed me how to spend a proper evening in Nairobi. In Lausanne, I managed to visit the Olympic museum accompanied by real-life Olympic athlete Jessica, and in Geneva I was taken out for dinner by JCE-Ugo and ICRC-Bruce. In The Hague, Lindy, Martin, and Nobuo proved that the JCE “brotherhood” is still alive; in Utrecht, Patrick finally introduced me to the family; and the “achievers” bonds with Kateena, the two Thomases, Florian, Julie, and Ricardo were strengthened in Oxford. And, of course, there were more Truro girlie reunions with Emily, Hannah, and Jemima, and briefly Pippa before she relocated to New Zealand. In Brussels, Tobias fed me German cookies, ex-Freshfields colleagues Beatrix and David provided my only warm dinners, and Ann and Bea rescued me from having to sleep under the bridge on a few occasions. I repaid Bea for her kindness by putting the nappies of her gorgeous baby-son Nathan on the wrong-way around. Hmmmm. And in London, I could always count on the hospitality of Kit, Sarah, and Claude (who is a shining example to all of us by getting married in time for her 30th birthday), and Ravi at least managed to squeeze in a cup of coffee!

Family News

The Schneiders are all doing well, so far, despite a number of health scares this year (most notably Mami’s slipped disk, granny’s diabetes). Thilo managed to beat me to the gainful employment status by moving to Munich to work for a subsidiary of Hypo Vereinsbank doing a job I don’t really understand, living with Antonia in a 2 square-meter apartment with a balcony (which they use for cooking and moving their legs every now and again). Teus keeps talking of retirement, but only once his golf handicap has suitably improved. Omi Schneider is in great form despite her 86 years, and Omi Frische is hanging on in there thanks to Heidi’s never-ending support. Cousin Julius is now almost taller than I am, and Theresa is set to become the family’s first professional gymnast (quite surprising given that the rest of the family can’t even touch their toes).

In terms of almost-family news, the Gerresheim lot Sylvia, Marko, Tanja, Flo, Bennie, Arne, and Alex still looks after me during my visits home.

And now?

In order to relieve all relatives who might feel obliged financially to support a starving, unemployed ex-student, I can give a sneak preview and disclose that I do at least have a proper job lined up for next year.  I figured that eleven months would be an appropriate delay between graduation and employment, so I postponed the starting date to 15 April. I’ll be working with the International Committee of the Red Cross as a delegate. In case you are wondering what that entails, well, I’m not exactly sure. Possibly some tracing of families who lost each other in a conflict zone, visits to prisoners of war, humanitarian diplomacy, and - if I’m lucky - some humanitarian law. In any case, it means I’ll be posted outside of Western Europe for the foreseeable future, although I do hope it won’t be Groszny... I’m filling the time between now and April with attempting to learn Arabic and have decided (finally!) to go to the Middle East for a couple of months. Check this website for updates!

2007 will be the Year of the Pig, by the way. According to one Chinese horoscope I found, “Pig is very lucky animal because Chinese see that pig eat food all the time, enjoy sleeping all day long and worry nothing during its entire life.” On that note, I have to go and get some more Christmas chocolates to last me through the evening.

To all of you, family and friends, former and future colleagues, I want to wish you all the very best for a successful and HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope we’ll meet again soon.


Since thesis and job hunt have disappeared from my to-do-list this year, I really have no excuse for not re-instituting my almost-annual Christmas/New Year Letter. It’s not on paper as in the first years of its “publication,” nor on mass email as in the ensuing years of laziness. In line with 21st century requirements, it’s now on my very own website, which I hope you’ll visit throughout the coming year for updates on my life and whereabouts. A very happy 2007 from Düsseldorf to all!