Posts Tagged 'yoga'

the working life

It occurs to me that there are a lot of posts here about parties and horseback riding and other frivolous adventures, but not much about my daily activities. Mostly, that is because on a semi-regular basis, I actually work, and that isn’t all that exciting to write about (or read).  But for the purposes of explaining life here in Mongolia, here’s a post on work.

I work with the Open Society Forum, which is part of the Soros Open Society Institute network.  The network is an amazing model – while initially each country office was a subsidiary of the main office in New York, eventually each branch spins off to become semi- or even fully autonomous.  Yet, each office in-country retains its contacts in other countries (and New York), providing a web of organizations each with a common purpose.

In Mongolia, OSF operates in a number of sectors, including economic, fiscal, environmental, and social welfare policy.  In addition, election monitoring and anti-corruption are other important areas in which OSF has a vested interest. On a regular basis, OSF staff work in these fields, often collaborating with Parliament, and local and foreign NGOs, as well as other organizations in the OSI network.

My role at OSF is somewhat undefined. I am, of course, here to do my own research.  But at the same time, I have certain expertise that can be useful for them, particularly in terms of methodology.  Our American educational system places a high value on problem solving and critical analysis skills, and Mongolia is still heavily invested in the Soviet model (aka, rote memorization).  So one skill I bring that is useful is a clear understanding of analysis and methodology in research.  Which is beneficial, because OSF currently has a cohort of policy fellows in dire need of some training.

Policy analysis is by no means a difficult field, but without a foundation in the type of thinking that is promoted in our educational system, it can be difficult for students educated here to step outside the system and delve into analysis and synthesis.  So I’ve been working on a training manual for the fellows – just a simple pamphlet outlining the steps in a policy analysis, as well as some brief information on various data collection techniques.   I’ve also been working on developing a private blog to share thoughts and provide critique on some of the documents the fellows are sending in (first step: proper explanation of a literature review).  In this case, it seems clear that the policy fellowship serves two purposes: one is civil society engagement in political processes, and the second is training for the fellows in critical analysis.

Of course my other role at OSF is rather simple – I am the de facto yoga instructor.  It is actually quite a lot of fun, and I do appreciate a weekly committment to my yoga practice.  Ideally, it will help me maintain my own home practice as well.    Other than that, I am also available to edit English documents and help put together a newsletter.  I am also working on setting up a system for producing podcasts.

I am, in other words, a policy analysis expert, methodology trainer, yoga instructor, and new media specialist.

As for life in the office, I have it good.  The staff cook lunch every day, so I get to eat freshly homemade Mongolian food (way better than restaurant food by a mile). Of course, it also requires dropping the vegetarian pretense, which frankly has not bothered me here.  Knowing that my meat is not industrially produced but instead is raised and slaughtered in a traditional manner means I’m not violating any major principles that led me to being a vegetarian in the first place. I meet my awesome friend Dave every so often for lunch – he helps keep me sane and fills me in on all things post-Soviet political. We also tend to eat veg….

And that is working in Mongolia in a nutshell.  I am also here to do my own research which is slowly coalescing.  More on that, soon enough.

In the meantime, as part of a longer (perhaps lifetime?) project, I’ve set up another blog.  It starts here in Mongolia and will branch out…  And will be looking for guest bloggers!

opportunity and paul farmer

I find it ironic (perhaps in the Alanis Morissette way?) that the rest of the world comes to the US for opportunity, and I came to Mongolia.  But, in the two weeks I’ve been here, I’ve been given opportunities that would have taken a lot more experience or effort in the US.  For example, working with Open Society Forum has given me the opportunity to work on HIV/AIDS, education, governance, and even economic development issues. Normally, we’d agree that I’m not really trained to do this.  In Mongolia, though, the one-eyed man is king.  And so, with my limited experience with these issues, I’m the perfect “outside” expert.  Or take for instance, my new role as a yoga teacher.  Never taught before, and not really trained.  But, I guess we make do, and it’ll be a learning experience for both myself and the students.

Yesterday, a friend and I were discussing Paul Farmer, who used to be something of a hero of mine.  Now I’m disillusioned and jaded, and I see the man now has feet of clay.  One of the things I mentioned is his ranting about how we in the public health community “wait for the evidence” before we act, and in doing so, lose countless lives.  That might be true, but if waiting means ensuring that the right actions are taken, then waiting could also save lives.

But being in Mongolia has given me a fresh look on Farmer’s POV.  Is there such as a thing as a little knowledge being a dangerous thing, when the alternative is no knowledge?  Or perhaps, action is taken when pieces of the whole are cobbled together, creating, if not a full picture, at least a semblence of one?  Paul Farmer did what no one else was doing in Haiti.  And I am teaching yoga in a country where, as far as I can tell, there is only one yoga teacher.

I think Farmer’s mistake was in thinking that the work in Haiti would translate to the whole world.  So I suppose my mistake could be in thinking that teaching yoga here means I can teach it anywhere (without training).  I guess I will learn something from Paul Farmer after all.