Monday, June 28, 2004

Pushing forward

It's Tuesday morning and the rain is falling in Yerevan. This country gets a lot of precipitation for being as treeless as it is. People tell me that there are few trees because most of them were chopped down and used for firewood during the winters of the early 90s when the city had no electricity. I can't imagine what kind of misery that brought.

There's so much to write about that it's hard to know where to begin. I went to a concert, last evening. One of the things that I really love about former Soviet states is that you can get in to an orchestra concert, ballet, or opera for literally pennies. Last night's event cost about $1.70, and it was a wonderful showcase of music by Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, and a modern Armenian composer whose daughter was the featured pianist. The event was attended by lots of important looking people, but the big celebrity was the Catholicos of the Armenian Orthodox Church (analagous to the Pope for the Roman Catholics). I walked up to the Catholicos' attending priest at the reception after the concert and asked if I could meet his holiness. I was told that his holiness was occupied talking with some important people. I told him that I could wait. Five minutes later, he quickly left the room. I felt a little disppointed, but realize that important people are indeed busy, and that I am not important. I comforted myself with the thought that maybe he saw me and got scared.

I went to a local bazar, yesterday, to hand out my questionnaire. We have formally adopted this method of implementing the questionnaire. I'm a little worried, because we've got to hand out over 400 questionnaires before we'll get a single one of them back. This is kind of setting us up for a little bit of trouble should people decide to stiff us. All I can do is cross that bridge when I come to it. In the mean-time, I'll also try to get as many people as possible to fill out the questionnaire on the spot. I'm frankly a little nervous about the way things are working out in Armenia. I don't want to say that the local staff here is uncooperative, but they are definitely busier and therefore not as easy to work with as they were in Tajikistan. I realize that the program is much larger, out here, and that credit-officers are pretty strapped for time. I also know that the only way we will not get our sample size covered would be because people are not properly motivated. It's interesting how very large problems can be that merely involve effective communication with people. It's very difficult for me to motivate the clients, which is why the project lives and dies by the support of the credit officers, who are the figures of authority for the clients. It seems that I have to enlist the support of the credit officers one by one. I realize why leadership is so important, because if I could enlist the support of the main person in charge, direction would follow from there. I think that I have been ineffective in communicating the needs for this project with the leadership, because they seem somewhat reluctant to engage the support of the credit officers, who are therefore obviously reluctant to engage the clients. They credit officer with whom I went yesterday is now on board, because I was able to talk with him about the project, and he was able to see that it is important and doable. He is now going to pass out the questionnaire himself to his clients, today, while I stay in the city. That's just one credit officer of many, though. I've always felt that I'm not a great leader in that it's hard for me to unite people to get large group tasks done. It's obviously a lot easier to take responsibility oneself, and say 'to heck with other people.' Not a lot would get done if everyone felt that way though. I also realize that leaders are made, not born. Although I've always felt a little bit reluctant to step into the limelight to organize and motivate people, I'm feeling more and more a desire to become better at it. See all the wonderful things I'm learning as an intern?

There are also some things I'd like to get down about recent Armenian history which will clarify experiences both here and in Azerbaijan. According to the CIA worldbook, Armenia currently occupies 16% of Azeri territory. This is a result of ethnic friction that occurred in Armenian dominated parts of Western Azerbaijan at the end the 1980s. While it may seem that Armenia technically won that battle, the problem is still festering, and Armenia is turning out to be the big loser. Azerbaijan's close ally, Turkey, has imposed an economic embargo, and therefore most of Armenia's borders are closed. I don't really know what the differences are that caused bloody territorial disbutes to break out here in the Caucasus and Central Asia, as opposed to the Baltics where the Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians get along remarkably well. It's definitely a great way to shoot your country in the foot, creating problems that could well last for generations. When I travel to Azerbaijan, next month, I'll have to take a train north through Georgia, and then go back down south to Azerbaijan to get around the close border. I look forward to seeing Georgia and its capital, Tbilisi. These three little Caucasus countries are all very ancient and unique, and there's a lot more I'd like to learn about them.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Religious freedom in Ukraine

Today's post is going to be a short one. I'll have more to say on Monday. I just ran across a FANTASTIC speech given by Elder Russell M. Nelson, an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, last month in Ukraine about religious freedom. Those of you who know me well might be aware that I spent the last two summers working with the Ukrainian Association of Researchers of Religion and Religious Studies Department of the Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. I know that title is quite a mouthful, and the speech is kind of long, as well, but it's worth your time. I can't quite explain how much the things he says here affect me, but they reach pretty deep into my core feelings of the need for tolerance, freedom, and understanding in everyone's search to become the people we want to be. I'm glad there are people out there like Elder Nelson who are not just more eloquent than I, but who apply the principles they preach in ways that I need to do better in, as well.

Friday, June 25, 2004


Well, my dear friends, I made it safely in to Armenia, and have spent the last two days surveying clients, again. I hope that I will be forgiven for only talking about my work, and nothing of the culture or countryside, because frankly, I haven't seen anything of Armenia except for the inside of builidngs, yet. I did travel to a little village, today, to survey some clients, and saw some beautiful mountains and wildflowers in the distance, but that was about it. I did not walk around that little town very much, because I got food poisoning, yesterday, and spent most of the night in unmentionable unpleasantries. Today has brought little relief, and I've been kept going on immodium tablets, water, and bananas. I feel bad that as a result, my cultural sensibilities have somewhat declined, but I'm sure I'll get over it.

The thought has struck me that by the time I've finished doing this in five countries, I might never have a desire to conduct another survey again in my life. The tedious nature of this process keeps driving me to investigate new and better ways to survey clients. It is obvious that the Armenians can deal with the somewhat abstract ideas of approximating family income and expenses a bit better than those in Tajikistan. Armenian clients are able to ususally complete the questionnaire in roughly half the time of Tajiks, and they all speak Russian, as well, which enables me to personally explain things to them. I was, in fact, kidding when I stated two posts ago that I've mastered the Tajik language. I don't have a clue. Anyway, although the time to complete the questionnaire is less of an obstacle than in Tajikistan, clients are very reluctant to spend any time at all away from their businesses to actually do it. Even the idea of inviting them to a large meeting at a nice cafe has turned out to be rather distasteful to them. We developed that method last year in Azerbaijan, because we grew concerned that people would have the same concerns about leaving their businesses. We figured that we needed to provide them with a good incentive to spend some time giving us feedback, so we invited clients to a nice cafe or restaurant for tea and cookies. That is not working, here, and I'm realizing that every country is quite different, and requires a different method of administering our tool. So we've decided that we'll hand out the questionnaires, and collect them either at their businesses, or the following week when they come to pay their loans off. I'm worried that this may introduce bias into the data set, because only a part of the clients will return the questionnaire. Therefore, it seems that we need to come up with a way of providing them with an incentive to return the questionnaire. I'm not sure of the best way to do that, but I'm sure something will come to mind. Comments or suggestions from my limited readership might be very helpful, as well.

That's about all the news for the day. After reading several sub-standard novels, over the past few weeks, I've hit on a slightly more interesting one. I'm about a quarter into Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It's kind of interesting, but sometimes way too philosophical and simplified. She is a huge voice in the world of libertarians, but so far she's only been successful in deadening some of my libertarian sensibilities. Such a process might also be a natural outcome of spending as much time as I do in the NGO industry. Nevertheless, I still like to flatter myself for an independent thinker, and will probably continue to tell NGO-folks that their programs should be privatized. That discussion is for later, though.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Anchors away

As I write this post, I'm sitting in the Moscow Domoyedovo airport. I've got a little bit of extra time, because the flight to Yerevan from Moscow that we booked turned out to be full. The little travel agent in Dushanbe was only able to reserve our seats, which lasted for 24 hours. I was not informed of this, and the reservations were made last Thursday. Hopefully I won't be in Moscow for very long, but I might not be able to fly out until tomorrow. If that turns out to be the case, I'll get to go hang out in the downtown, and maybe even get to go see Uncle Lenin, again. That would be fun. It's kind of neat how travelling outside the USA is never quite as simple as I've grown accustomed to at home. I'm sure things will work out.

I left Dushanbe early this morning, and feel a little sad that I was unable to spend more time with the local staff, there. They definitely have a special group of people, and I feel confident that they will be more than moderately successful, as they get the new program off the ground, there. My presentation to the office staff went pretty well, I think, although I had not thought through it as much as I would have liked. It seems to me that the most important part of the country staff presentation is to provide some information that will prove practical in their service of their clients. In addition, I want to begin to enlist their support for future similar analyses that will hopefully be carried out without the aid of a Washington researcher. The country director is much more supportive than I imagined he would be, so I could find myself heading out to Tajikistan again, sometime in the not-so-distant future.

Well, that's about it. The roubles are flowing by the minute at this computer, here.

Monday, June 21, 2004

A weekend in the hills

I spent my second weekend hanging out with the Office Manager from the FINCA staff. His name is Mumin, a pretty cool guy who just finished his degree in computer science at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He says that he feels really out of place, here, because he's become Americanized, so he wants to hang out with an American. That's cool for me, but he found out that I'm not quite like the Americans he's used to. First, we went 'clubbing' on Friday night. Now, I'm not much of a clubber, even when I'm hanging out with teetotaling Mormons in Utah, so it was really unique for me to spend the evening with a bunch of sloshed muslims in Tajikistan. It's actually surprisingly difficult to get away with the explanation that "I don't drink" out here, because theoretically, no one else does, either! My buddy Mumin was thouroughly slathered when he started explaining to me that he doesn't really know how to meet girls if he's not drunk. I tried to get him to explain to me the social implications behind this, but I forgot that people don't feel particularly philosophical when they've been boozing. I suppose that's maybe my answer. Who wants to wax philosophical, anyway, when you're meeting girls? That must be MY problem.

Anyway, Mumin is a great person, and I could see that he was actually feeling a little self-conscious of his and everyone else's drinking. The next day, I went with Mumin and his buddies up the canyon to spend a Saturday on the river. These guys are all from the same clan called 'Kosonee' that actually is originally from Tashkent, up in Uzbekistan. They are Tajiks, however. A lot of the cosmopolitan city-dwellers in this part of the world have historically been Tajiks, who are ethnic Persians. These guys claim close kinship with the Iranians. The nomads of central Asia are the Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Kazaks, and Turkmens. Their languages are all Turkish-based, but ethnically they are closest to the ancient Monguls. So they live out in the wilds. Anyway, Mumin and his four buddies and I took off for the hills. They have all known each other their whole lives; I understand that Kosonees always treat each other like intimate family relations. This can become a little bit akward when the family gets large, as I found out later. I was impressed with Mumin, while his pals were getting all good and liquoured, he didn't drink a drop. So we had a barbecue, made some kebabs, swam around in the super-cold water, and did some hiking. Pictures are posted on my other page.

When we were ready to leave, we found out that a bill was due for the space that we used for our little barbecue. Apparently the owner of the little lodge where we were at is also from the Kosonee clan, and all these guys assumed that everything would be free. It was not. He laid a bill down for about $15. Each of the guys looked nervously at each other. Except for Mumin, they are all out of work, and make about $10-20 per month. So I good naturedly dropped some money on the table, and we left. Little did I know that they felt a serious breach in guest-relations had occurred. A couple miles out of the canyon, we pulled in to a little run-down road-side cafe. It turned out that the owner of this cafe is also a good old Kosonee boy, and they were not going to get stiffed twice. They sat down with their good buddy, told him of their shame and my hungry stomach (without consulting me), and began ordering meat. The guy couldn't help but look a little uncomfortable, as he thought of the fact that the only 6 hungry guys were going to consume the only food he had prepared the entire day. They were speaking rapidly in Tajik, and although I have easily mastered the 'official' Tajik language during my 10-day stay here, the oddities of the Kosonee dialect continue to ellude me. So I was staring at them stupidly as the conversation got heated. Little did I know that it was all on my account. They finally settled the problem, the host went into the kitchen, came out with a large plate of meat, and set it in front of me. I was expected to eat every last scrap of this freshly roasted beef, along with several large, flat pieces of bread, before we could leave.

Of course, I protested. "I'm not a big meat-eater," I informed them. This, apprently was rather too obvious, and the main reason they didn't bring me a large plate of carrot sticks. "But I just ate 3 kebabs, not half an hour ago." This also wasn't sufficient, because I had paid for them. "How about we all share?" Nope, that wasn't going to fly, either. So I ate the meat, and everyone was happy, except for me and the cafe owner. I suppose we all have to make sacrifices for our friends.

So enough of that. I spent most of the day today working on processing my data. Tomorrow I'm going to present it to the office staff. I'm trying to make it as interesting as possible, because I really want some good feedback. Things are looking up that I'll be able to work more with Tajikistan in the future, on this project. The country director is very supportive of the project, and I think we'll be able to work something out if we can just get a little funding from FINCA for it. Well, I'm about done, for the day. It's getting late, and the security guard here is looking at me kind of funny, wondering why I'm here until 7pm every night. I'm not really sure why. Maybe if I got drunk once in a while, I could get some girls....

Thursday, June 17, 2004

A few thoughts on the natives

One of the reasons I really enjoy the kind of internship that I'm doing is because I get to interact with and try to understand cultures that are very foreign to me. It almost seems, at times, that the more foreign a culture is, the more curious I am about it. People who have grown up in different parts of the world just seem to do things that make absolutely no sense to me. A wise man once said that "You'll understand people better if you assume that people's behavior is rational, at least from their point of view. Try to see what they see." I've had a few thoughts, lately, about things out here that are very different from what I would expect, with my limited American background. Since I've got no one to tell these thoughts to around here, and I assume I've got a captive audience, I'll list a few:

1. Today, a group finished answering a questionnaire surprisingly fast. All, that is, except for the man who indicated that he had the most education in the group (one question asks them to tell how many years of education they have received). Watching this man agonize over the questionnaire for almost an hour, I became thouroughly convinced that he possesses almost no critical thinking skills. It seemed that he fundamentally did not know how to read a question, consider the options, and write down a correct answer. These are my conclusions, at this point. While I could have misjudged the guy, the credit officer who helped conduct this questionnaire suggested to me that in Tajikistan, the most qualified people aren't necessarily the ones in the universities. Apparently, there's a good chance that this particular university student has never spent any time in the university, but merely pays off his professors to obtain grades and a diploma. It makes sense, too, because he's the only breadwinner in a family of six, and if he figures that he can afford the bribes for a diploma, and come out ahead, then he does it.

2. Speaking of bribes, I have noticed before that policemen outside the US like to stop and hassle drivers for the sole reason to pad their incomes, a little bit. It goes way overboard in Tadjikistan, though, as there is quite literally a police officer standing on every street corner and intersection. These representatives of Dushanbe's finest stop cars at random, and the only way to get them off your back is to subtley slap a little somethin-somethin extra into their hand as you shake it. My humble driver, Talib, has demonstrated this several times, as we've driven around, over the past week. Some drivers take it to new heights, however, by pre-empting and getting real buddy-buddy with the coppers. I had another driver who specifically went out of his way on Tuesday to buy cold drinks for the men in blue. When he drives around the city, he happily honks and waves at all of his police-friends. I'm certainly not criticizing the system, here, because it seems that Tajiks are some of the most courteous drivers in the world, and they actually follow the rules. Since the unusually ubiquitous police don't need any reason to pull someone over, the drivers don't seem to want to provide them with additional excuses.

3. I have not yet met a FINCA client who keeps enough of a family budget to know how much they spend on food in a week or month. This is not particularly surprising, I suppose, in a poorer country where families live from day to day. What is surprising, however, is that every single client can immediately tell me how much their home is worth. At first glance this may not seem remarkable. It is, however, rather interesting. For many reasons, it has been suggested that housing in this country cannot be reflective of family wealth. This is because it is not liquid, the banking industry is too underdeveloped to allow families to use it for collateral. Most families were provided with their residences by the old Soviet government decades ago, or they live in small villages with clans that have occupied that area for generations. All of this should suggest that there is essentially no housing market, and that families don't necessarily move into domiciles whose value is commensurate with their income. How then can a person know that their home will fetch $15,000-45,000 on a non-existent market? Furthermore, how can a family that makes $50 per month sit on a piece of capital as large as $20,000 and still not afford to send their children to college for a mere couple hundred dollars a year? Finally, why is it that people immediately quote the value of their residence in dollars, as opposed to the local currency? It's almost as if they're assuming that I'm suggesting to them that I'm interested in buying their home! I don't yet have an answer to these questions, but I'm still thinking.

4. On a lighter note, my sister Anna recently forwarded me a great e-article on Russian culture. Since I am a great forwarder of fascinating internet literature, I figured that this one was too much fun to pass up.

That's all for now.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Hog Heaven

One of today's thoughts is going to be an excerpt from The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. I've taken to spending my free time reading, lately, because the city of Dushanbe is very small, and I've pretty much seen the whole thing. Aside from processing my data set, I have nothing much else to do at night but to snuggle down with a good book. So here's a little snippet about a wonderful place. (If you would like to read this or other good old classic novels for free in the same way that I do, go here.)

"One could not stand and watch very long without becoming philosophical, without beginning to deal in symbols and similes, and to hear the hog squeal of the universe. Was it permitted to believe that there was nowhere upon the earth, or above the earth, a heaven for hogs, where they were requited for all this suffering? Each one of these hogs was a separate creature. Some were white hogs, some were black; some were brown, some were spotted; some were old, some young; some were long and lean, some were monstrous. And each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart's desire; each was full of self- confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity. And trusting and strong in faith he had gone about his business, the while a black shadow hung over him and a horrid Fate waited in his pathway. Now suddenly it had swooped upon him, and had seized him by the leg. Relentless, remorseless, it was; all his protests, his screams, were nothing to it-- it did its cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life. And now was one to believe that there was nowhere a god of hogs, to whom this hog personality was precious, to whom these hog squeals and agonies had a meaning? Who would take this hog into his arms and comfort him, reward him for his work well done, and show him the meaning of his sacrifice? Perhaps some glimpse of all this was in the thoughts of our humble-minded Jurgis, as he turned to go on with the rest of the party, and muttered: "Dieve--but I'm glad I'm not a hog!""

After nearly finishing the novel, I think I can correctly interpret Sinclair's not-so-subtle irony. Ultimately, both hogs and people end up the same way: meat.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Updates in Dushanbe

Assessing clients started, today. It's interesting how my brain only seems to remember the really enjoyable things that I've done, and I somehow always manage to filter out the not-so-fun stuff. I remember how much I learned, last summer, when I worked for FINCA, and how much I wanted to develop our data set and improve the tool. I conveniently forgot, however, how exceedingly obnoxious it can be to administer a 4-page questionnaire to fairly uneducated people. Nagina and I surveyed 4 groups with five clients in each group, today, and it took us approximately a whole hour for each group. I realize that I can be a naturally impatient person, so I have to take a deep breath, sit down, and read every question out loud, explain, and give endless hypothetical examples. Today, for example, I spent over twenty minutes explaining the difference between daily gross revenue and profit. After 20 minutes of examples, everyone nodded their heads, wrote down their numbers, and profits still exceeded revenue. It's also interesting to realize that in spite of all the many hours my partners and I put into making the questionnaire as explicit as possible, I can still find all kinds of things that can use improvement.

We're not really pressed for time, right now, because Tajikistan has a clientele of only about 200, because they started operation in January. I am concerned, however, that other country programs are going to be almost impossible to finish in just two weeks. Additional problems will arise in Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan, where we'll train a few local college students to gather this data in the future. When I first thought of returning to the NIS to work with FINCA, I had hoped that the training of local college students to gather data over time would occur in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The FINCA programs are brand new in these countries, and the clienteles are small enough to institute not just a new policy for collecting client data, but a new culture that encourages transparency and oversight. It will be very difficult to institute a program in Kyrgyzstan that requires clients to be regularly assessed. They have over 25,000 clients in that program and over 200 office staff. I talked with the Tajikistan country director, Adam Blanco, about this problem over the weekend, and he agrees that Tajikistan would be the place to institute longitudinal client assessment. He has just recently joined FINCA from the for-profit banking industry. He agrees that gathering additional client data would be imperative if FINCA programs are going to become self-sustaining by gaining access to expanded investor capital. I'm hoping to work something out with him before this is all finished. We'll see how that goes.

I'm not sure all the stuff in the preceeding paragraph makes sense; I haven't explained most of this stuff in depth, yet, but I'm sure it'll become clear with future posts. Anyway, we go back to Kurgantyube tomorrow, and hopefully will be able to meet with approximatley 40 clients. I forgot to mention that things are going a little slower here in Tajikistan because we are not able to invite women clients to come to large group meetings at cafes where we can assess them 100 at a time. There is a stigma in this traditional Islamic society against women going to cafes or restaurants by themselves without their husbands. That's why we have to meet with the groups individually. We're making headway, though, and I'm pretty sure I'll remember this as 'fun' a couple months from now. I did get to go up to see the mountains over the weekend. This is a beautiful country. I posted a few more pictures in my folder to the left. I haven't put too many on there because they take a long time to upload with this slow connection.

That is all.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Consider the Lilies...

Well, the title of this post is in honor of my younger sister Anna's recent mission call. I apologize to those out there who are not members of my religion, but this one is just too good to pass up. It occurs to me that if our Heavenly Father cares about the welfare and beauty of the flowers growing throughout the world, then He definitely worries about a wonderful young aspiring sister missionary. I can't imagine the chances that Anna would get called to serve in the same mission where I served, but there you have it. She'll enter the MTC on July 28 for the Russia St. Petersburg mission, almost exactly 3 years after I returned home. Unfortunately, I won't see her for quite a while, as she'll be gone by the time I return home. She'll be in pretty good hands, though. That's all for now. I hope I didn't spoil Anna's announcement for anyone.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Welcome to Tajikistan

I hopped off a plane at 4:30, this morning, but my brain had absolutely no idea what time it really was. I feel like the last few days have been quite a blur. I came to Dushanbe via Paris, London, Munich, and Istanbul. The layover was quite nice, in London. I was able to spend a day with my old friend, Jeanette Lyman, who's now a student at Oxford. She showed me around that ancient little town, and I even got to see the dining hall where they filmed the Harry Potter movies at Hogwarts. It was good to chat with Jeanette; she was the first person who ever told me about micro-credit back when we were in Ukraine shortly after my mission. I've learned a thing or two, since that time, and we chatted about my opinions that the micro-finance industry should be privatized to take advantage of venture capital markets. Apparently, Oxford is a bastion of Marxist thought (who'd have known that the term is not yet universally considered an oxymoron?), so Jeanette has promised to find me a good Marxist critique of micro-finance. I'm excited.

So anyway, back to Tajikistan. I leave tomorrow for a small town in the mountains. Apparently, the FINCA program in Tajikistan received its funding from USAID under the conditions that they would focus on the more embattled parts of the country. The idea, as I understand it, is to encourage stability by investing in a region. That seems like it could be a logical plan. FINCA has only been in Tajikistan for about 6 months, and ninety percent of the clientele are located in the community of Kurgantyube, an area of extreme ethnic conflict. We'll meet with the office staff, there, and book a venue to meet with the clients when we return, next week. I use the term 'we,' because I have pseudo-partner named Nigina, a native Tajik who recently graduated from a social work program at Washington University in St. Louis. I'm not sure how much of the project she'll work with me on, but it's nice to have some assistance.

So that's the news. I'll post some pictures as soon as I take them.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Our Nation's Capital

I'm in Washington DC, now, and things are looking up. I've got four out of six visas squared away, and I've been pleasantly surprised with the accommodations afforded me by the officials, there. I spent no more than 5 minutes at the Armenian embassy. I regret my sarcastic remarks from my previous posting.

I leave for Tajikistan, on Monday, now. I'll have about a day layover in Heathrow, London. I'm looking forward to seeing a little bit of the capital where my ancestors came from. For the time being, I'll spend the next few days in Washington. I'm looking forward to seeing the new World War II museum, as well as some of the Smithsonians.

I spent some time walking around alone, last night, and I couldn't help but think that people live very differently in Washington as opposed to Provo, Utah. That may sound like a no-brainer, but I was struck with how individuals' way of life fluctuates so much even within one country. It's a completely different world, out here. I sat in a smokey, dirty little Guatamalen cafe, and found myself wondering how similar the atmosphere was in there to a cafe in Guatemala. There was a little sign up that said "as of April, this store will accept no checks, credit cards, and will extend no credit to anyone, including close friends." It occurred to me that there are probably some interesting stories that led to the necessity for that little notice.

So anyway, it feels really good to finally have the bookends of my internship figured out, by now. There's a lot of uncertainty in the middle, but it will be fun to set the pace as I go.