Sunday, September 25, 2011

You-N?


Salutations,

I am officially working now at the United Nations IRIN office in Dubai, and I feel awesome and anxious, often swinging between both extremes on a daily basis. Awesome because it's the UN! Anxious because my position is temporary and tenuous.

In the last blog update I wrote (in between the song lyrics and reposted articles), I expressed how worried I was about finding a job, and my fear of resigning to a regular desk job and reluctantly bypassing any adventures. But then my desperate tango with odd-jobs and frequenting workshops and conferences led me to this traineeship, for which I'm eternally grateful and relieved for. Not only is the UN the dream of every IR graduate, but it is such a blessing during these hard times. While my stint here will be too short-lived, it's enough to re-enter the UN later when I'm somewhere more financially secure and experienced to handle my own shit.

Oh, but there's always a little room for irony. While the odd-jobs were good work if you can get it, they were just too infrequent and far between. I felt like I was jumping from ice slab to ice slab in the Arctic. I leapt to a solid piece and looked around for the next one to jump onto before the one below me starts to melt, and I always managed to (thank God) find another ice slab to jump on. I managed to 'stay afloat' as it were, but ironically it was securing myself a steady job that meant that I am steadily reaching the bottom of my shallow savings.

There are amusing upsides to the job, like receiving emails from Keisha(maza) and Maradona. After the initial shock I do a double-take and realize that somewhere within this confusing maze of UN agencies we have at least a handful of people who share the same as celebrities and send mass emails, so it's cool. You find out weird stuff like there's a branch of the UN that works with scientists who study strains of algae that could fight malnutrition (that's actually where I got the email from a Maradona from).

In terms of growth I'm surprised at not only how much I'm learning, but how I process the information. It's such a radical difference when you're learning about current events from the classroom and from within the organization. All the logistical planning and the roles of different parties involved come into sharp relief and I began to understand things in ways I couldn't before. And my colleagues are truly great people. I was worried about whether I should take the smack-talk about the UN seriously (the smack-talk being jaded expressions like "oh the UN is mostly staffed with a bunch of idiots that are only in for the personal gains, don't buy into that belief that everyone there is a bleeding heart") so I came to the office a little apprehensive, but I had nothing to worry about. They're all down-to-Earth people and they could probably work in the private sector and make three times as much money, but they're putting their efforts into humanitarian projects and are relatively behind the scenes so there's no glory either. They're always helpful and are ready to answer my random and assorted questions.

Oh and it's a giant large bonus that the office usually comes together to lunch over KARACHI DARBAR take out food or traditional Egyptian koshari! AHHHH! Lunchtime is heaven! When people ask me if working at the UN lives up to all it's hype glamor all I have to do is remember lunchtime and exclaim with a big fat "YES."

Ooh baby baby, la la la la la la

So while I'm here I'm soaking up as much as I can and keeping an eye out for other opportunities after my traineeship. I do a bunch of different things here, but my favorite is helping the translation editor post the articles online. Take a look at the IRIN website and warn me if I've accidentally posted cracked articles or explicit youtube videos instead of humanitarian stories.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Decade After 9/11: We Are What We Loathe By Chris Hedges

Truthdig

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/nationalism_in_the_aftermath_of_9_11_20110910/

Posted on Sep 10, 2011

My Job is to Watch Dreams Die


 [original post taken from reddit.com , original links below]

I work at a real estate office. We primarily sell houses that were foreclosed on by lenders. We aren't involved in the actual foreclosures or evictions - anonymous lawyers in the cloud somewhere is tasked with the paperwork - we are the boots on the ground that interacts with the actual walls, roofs and occasional bomb threat.

When the lender forecloses - or is thinking of foreclosing - on a property one of the first things that happens is they send somebody out to see if there is actually a house there and if there is anybody living there who needs to be evicted. Lawyers are expensive so they send a real estate agent or a property preservation company out to check. There is the occasional discovery of fraud where there was never a house on the parcel to begin with, but such instances are rare. Sometimes this initial visit results in discovering a house that has burned down or demolished, is abandoned or occupied by somebody who has absolutely no connection with the homeowner. Sometimes the houses are discovered to be crack dens or meth labs, sometimes the sites of cock or dog fighting operations, or you might even find a back yard filled with a pot cultivation that can't be traced back to anybody because it was planted in yet another vacant house in a blighted neighborhood. The house could be worth less than zero - blighted to the point where you can't even give it away (this is a literal statement, I have tried to give away many houses or even vacant lots with no takers over the years) or it could be a waterfront mansion in a gated golf community worth well over seven figures that does not include the number "one". Sometimes they are found to have been seized by the IRS, the local tax authority, the DEA or the US Marshal. Variety is the rule. The end results are the law.

If the house is occupied my job is to make contact and determine who they are: there are laws that establish what happens to a borrower as opposed to a tenant and the servicemember relief act adds an additional set of questions that must be answered. Some of the people have an idea of why I am there. Some claim they never knew they were foreclosed on, or tell me that they have worked something out with their lender, some won't tell me a thing and some threaten me to never return in the name of the police, their lawyer, or the occasional "or else/if I were you". During one initial visit the sight of 50-60 motorcycles parked on the lawn suggested that we try again the next day. At a couple the police had cordoned off the area and at one they were in the process of dredging the lake searching for the body of a depressed former homeowner.

If nobody is home I have to determine if they are at work, on vacation, in the army, wintering/summering at their other home, in jail, in a nursing home, dead or if they moved away. It isn't easy. Utilities can be left on for months. Neighbors can be staging the yard and house to appear occupied to prevent blight in their neighborhood. By the same token people will stop cutting the lawn for months, let trash and old phone books pile up on their porch, lose gas and electric service and continue to live in properties that have not only physically unsafe to approach but are so filthy that when it comes time to clean them out the crews have to wear hazmat suits. One house had a gallon pickle jar filled with dead roaches on the porch. Somebody lived in that house and thought that was a logical thing to do. People like me are tasked with first contact.

Evictions are expensive and time-consuming. Ultimately once the process gets that far there isn't much that can be done to prevent it. You didn't pay your mortgage, the lender gets the house back. There are an infinite number of reasons why the mortgage couldn't be paid, some are more sympathetic than others, but in the end you will be leaving the property willingly or not. The lawyers handle the evictions - they churn through the paperwork in the background, ten thousand properties at a time. They have it down to rote function based on templates, personal experience with the various judges and intimate knowledge of the federal, state and municipal laws, along with dealing with the occasional sheriff who refuses to evict somebody, the informal policies established by the local judges and a myriad of other problems that can arise. As a business decision many lenders have determined that it is cheaper to settle with the occupants - instead of going through the formal eviction they will offer cash. In exchange for surrendering a property in reasonably clean condition with the furnace still hooked up, the kitchen not stripped and the basement not intentionally flooded the lender will cut the occupants a check. It costs much less than an eviction, provides reasonable hope that the plumbing won't freeze and can take a fraction of the time to obtain possession. This is where the personal element becomes real.

Some people jump at the chance. They don't want to live here anymore. They may be getting married and moving in but couldn't sell the unneeded house. They have a new job across the country, they're moving to the other side of the planet. They were renting and found a better place in a neighborhood where the thieves don't grin at them through the kitchen window while they disconnect a running air conditioner knowing that the average response time for the police is measured in weeks for a call like that. The cash is a down payment, a security deposit (since their landlord never returns theirs), or maybe a moving van. These are the best cases. Sometimes they are happy to hear from me. Other times, not so much.

When I make first contact and explain that the lender is offering them money to leave sometimes they tell me that they haven't slept for months, knowing that somethingwas going to happen but never knowing if tomorrow was the day when somebody kicked in their door and threw their kids out on the lawn. Their lenders won't tell them anything, they have nothing to go on but horror stories from other people that they never knew. It never occurred to them that they should call an attorney and ask what was going on. I can be the first people to discuss their situation who isn't a debt collector: you can hear the release of a massive weight in their voice. It isn't much, but at least it is something.

Or they can get angry and defensive, tell me that they were never foreclosed on, tell me that I am trespassing and owe them $5,000 in "land use fees" for "using" their property as I walk to the front door. They threaten to sue, they threaten to call the cops, they say I should look under my car before I start it from now on. They send letters written in various forms of English - one time scribed in crayon - detailing their rights and how I am violating some maritime treaty from the 1700s. In my travels I have learned that if you copyright your name you can't be named in any kind of legal action, if you never write down your ZIP code then you aren't a resident of the United States and that if I tell somebody that their lender is offering them money to vacate while leaving the staircase (yes, these get stolen) and driveway (yes, these get stolen) in place then I am guilty of slave trading under some United Nations something or other.

For those who reject the deal, nothing changes. They don't lose any rights and it isn't counted against them in any way - neither the lawyers nor the courts care because the lenders don't have to offer anything - the eviction process continues. I listen to the stories why they can't/won't take the deal. They can't afford anything else. They don't have anywhere else to go. They want to make the eviction as expensive as possible. They're going to get "a big settlement" from some vague lawsuit any day now. They want their kids to finish out the school year. They intend to take the furnace as soon as they find a new house. All kinds of reasons. Some are heartbreaking, others not so much.

For those who do take the deal, at the appointed date and time I meet them at their former home. I walk the yard and enter every room. I open every drawer and cupboard making sure the house is clean and doesn't have old engines, toxic chemicals or dead dogs lingering anywhere. Sometimes the kids are there, maybe waiting in the car, maybe not. I see the marks on the wall showing how the kids grew over the years. I see the anguished poetry scribbled on the wall by stoned teenagers and the occasional hole punched in the wall. One woman handed me the key to her reinforced bedroom door - during the divorce her now ex-husband was still living in the house and she had to barricade herself in at night. Another said "right there is where I found my son - he couldn't handle losing the house".

Sometimes they don't want the money and don't want to be evicted so they sign a waiver stating that everything left inside can be disposed of. Hospital beds. Oxygen tanks and wheelchairs. Hundreds of boxes of shoes. A mannequin. A 2nd grader's homework portfolio. A wedding album filled with pictures with one person torn out. Get rich quick "business plans". 40 years worth of drafting documents. To the lenders and the lawyers, these things don't exist - they close the file and order a trashout. Sometimes I linger as I check the basement for mold and lead. I am the final period on so many significant chapters. To most other people it is just part of the job but in so many other universes this is where I ended up. There is no difference between myself and these people other than the intangible twists of experience.

And so I listen. I feign dispassion but I'm not fooling anybody. Somehow they can tell that I care and thank me even as they admit that it isn't my fault, that it isn't my responsibility to listen. I've stood inside another's dream for an hour as they spoke, not really to be heard but to say goodbye - to leave the ghosts behind.

They go to the car and return with the openers.

The keys are peeled from a ring.

They thank me. Sometimes they cry.

And they're gone.

I wait for their car to vanish before I put up the sign. To most everybody else it is just another house on just another block in just another city in just another financial catastrophe.

But I was there. I saw the dream end.

But at least I don't make them turn out the lights one last time as they leave.

That's my job.


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http://www.reddit.com/r/reddit.com/comments/k3zrz/by_request_from_the_jobs_thread_why_my_job_is_to/
http://www.reddit.com/r/reddit.com/comments/k3zrz/by_request_from_the_jobs_thread_why_my_job_is_to/c2hbwq2