18 July 2007

IDDS -- a month of Fridays

I think...we're finally through the valley of death [knockonwood knockonwood]. The last four days have been killer. All the organizers have literally been working 18+ hour days...and I'm fucking tired, but very very very content. Today, official day #2, was not so bad, and hopefully, tomorrow will be better. I've been so worried about the participants, worried about their flights, making sure they arrive safely here, have food to eat, sheets on their beds, pans in their kitchens...hahaha...latest fiasco -- scholarship checks. We have stipends for living expenses for a few participants while they're here. They are in check form. I started passing out a few checks and got a lot of blank stares. It seems many had never seen a check before. Makes sense in retrospect--why would you need checks if you live in a village in Tanzania? Here I was, I had written out these nice set of instructions with a map about where to cash the check, and suddenly it felt very very dangerous to hand this precious slip of paper to someone and have them try to cash it on their own. Especially when they would need the money for buying food. Great, I thought, I just organize a little field trip to the bank and we can all go together. Haha. The IDDS schedule is so bloody packed it's been infuriatingly impossible to find a time to take people over. Must try again tomorrow, not a complete disaster because we've been feeding them three meals a day so far.

Not to mention that I'm now locked out of my dorm because our keynote speaker, Paul Polak, has my room key, Amy Smith's room key, and my MIT ID card that I use to swipe into the dorm. And now he's in New York. I drove him to the airport, and he borrowed it (it was all on the same keychain) to get his bag out of Amy's room. We both forgot he had it and now it's far away. He's supposed to mail it to me, but I just discovered Tim sent me a postcard weeks ago to my address, and it's lost...meaning that the keys and such are likely to get lost too. WOOHOO! Bring it on. Besides, Paul Polak is an appropriate technology god, and in some twisted way, it's kind of cool that I lost my stuff to him.

Anyway, today was splendid. This really is a magnificent event. The energy is overwhelming. Tonight we had a mind smashingly awesome presentation from Peter Girguis, a professor at Harvard that harnesses microbes in dirt to make electricity. Seriously. And Shawn Frayne, D-Lab alum, who's inventing a revolutionary, deceptively simple, micro wind generator that uses a vibrating membrane. Kind of like the Tacoma Narrows bridge on a small scale. Bloody amazing.

...AND I LEARNED HOW TO SAY THANK YOU IN TIBETAN. (sounds kind of like "qua-gin-ch")

15 July 2007

Of shoes and ships and sealing wax

My life is exploding.

Cee, being the badass she is, brought me THAI CURRY PASTE! red and green curry!! From THAILAND!!! She bought it fresh in the market and bravely smuggled it through customs and airport security from Bangkok to Boston. Came all wrapped up in little bags with a rubber bands. [sigh] Just like everything in Thailand is wrapped up in little bags with rubber bands. [sigh] One whiff of the stuff and I nearly died from happiness convulsions. Which brings me to my shameless plug: Cee knows Thai food really well. If you're interested in making authentic Thai food, check out the recipes and scintillating photos on her website: www.realthairecipes.com. It's breathtaking.

IDDS starts on Monday. 29 hours. I've been thinking about this for years, and working on it for the last 9 months. I'm helping Amy Smith organize the International Development Design Summit. Hahaha. It's really a mouthful. This is crazy crunch time. between trying to make sure everything's ready for the kick off on Monday, and getting 40 people with different flights from the airport to here including all the hazards of international, delayed, and missed flights, to making sure everyone's suite has cookware (totally underestimated the effort on that one) to dealing with sheets and check in mistakes, not to mention interacting with the intense documentary crew that's here to film every fiasco, I'd say every organizer of this event (there's about a dozen of us) has had a harrowing, jam packed day. And I'm having the time of my life. And the event hasn't even bloody officially started yet.

Life has entered the surreal zone. A few days ago, TIME magazine did a photo shoot of Amy in D-Lab (because she does great things and everyone loves her). And there I was, fly on the wall, puttering about, trying to tie up more loose ends for the summit. I can't believe I'm doing this. I can't believe I'm here. Other adventures include transforming a rat infested room into a shiny machine shop, cold talking to restaurant managers for donations [shiver, shiver], and meeting people from Tibet, Zambia, Haiti, Guatemala, India, Pakistan, Ghana, Brazil, Tanzania... as they trickle from the airport into the dorms. These are the people I'm going to be working with for the next month. I can't believe this is happening.

(and I held my own in a Spanish conversation with Carlos who just a few days ago was working with my man Gavin Boggs at MayaPedal in Guatemala! ...this is the summer my Spanish is going to get much, much better because there will be so many people to practice with...)

"Sometimes I sneak in at night and blast things."
Two wishes instead of plastic flowers.

It's hard and fun and boring and chaotic and goofy and disorganized and challenging and happening.

And just in case I've somehow missed you with my waves of emails, check out www.iddsummit.org. Come to the public events! Especially our keynote speaker, Paul Polak, this Monday, July 16th. He's a HUGE player in the appropriate technology realm...he founded International Development Enterprises (IDE). An example of IDE ingenuity: producing a Bollywood film to promote and advertise their treadle pump. It should be an incredible talk.

06 July 2007

Round and round

Hahahahahahahahaha! How amusing! Apparently, "I've been thinking a lot about happiness" for a while...it seems to be the common thread running through all my disparate posts in the past few months. Humdrum...my mind's running the same track over and over...

Breathing faster

Best Fourth of July I ever had. Spent the day helping to build a raft out of some plywood lashed to a pair of old windsurfing boards with used bike inner tubes. We launched it on the Charles at Magazine beach about 8 pm, it stayed afloat beautifully. Three of us with 2 very tiny paddles and a paddle improvised with wood, screws, more bike inner tube. Rafted down the river about a mile, under the BU bridge, under the Mass Ave bridge. Lots of grins and comments from kayakers, canoers, and motor boaters who passed us on the way. It was dark by the time we reached the fireworks barge. Boston, being one of those patriotic revolutionary cities, always throws a grand fireworks spectacle from a barge in the middle of the Charles River. People crowd the edges of the riverbank and the tops of buildings, but we were in the front lines, floating on the water, as close as we could get to the barge without drawing attention of the Coast Guard. It was so surreal, surrounded by glinting sky scrapers that echoed and fractured the music from speakers along the river, we floated silently on the dark water between gleaming yachts and kayaks that darted between them. It was kind of raining, but we were already wet, and the water was warm. The fireworks were so close…every cell in my body shook, and the explosions reflected off the skyscrapers… There were other MIT kids with homemade rafts, but I think we were the only ones that didn’t get kicked off the river…

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness recently. It seems like I should be able to dissect its elements and engineer a state of being happy all the time, right? [snicker snicker] That’s how I approach problems. Like a scientific experiment. This is very sad, but a few days ago I started an excel chart to track my happiness. I’m convinced it comes and goes in periodic waves…and proving that to myself will somehow make everything better, right? Hahahahaha…I really should run away and lock myself in a monastery. I’m chasing all the wrong things.