Page 1

November 2007

Volume 8 No. 2

Gays Invade Student Body

The Newspaper of the Johns Hopkins University Nitze School of Advanced International Studies

SAIS Gets Scary

Bring better odds for straight men, better fashion for all By Matt Kaczmarek

Thirty minutes into Friday happy hour, and the usual questions are overheard: “What’s the plan for tonight? Where is everyone headed?” The difference this year is the answer: “Apex has a cover on Fridays, Cobalt is still free with student ID.” Suddenly these gayfriendly establishments are part of the SAIS social scene Welcome to the inner world of the SAIS gays. For years it was a small invisible network, estimated at around 5 students per DC class, with a few more in Bologna, but an unofficial (and unscientific) SAIS Observer poll conducted for this article estimated that approximately one in four of this year’s DC first year men publicly identify as gay, possibly even more than that. One first year gay explained his initial surprise arriving at SAIS this year, “I noticed it right away, there were so many of us! It’s great, and it vastly improves the pool of potential husbands.” The official number of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) students is impossible to obtain. The school does not collect statistics on the population, and collected data would fail to account for students who choose not to publicly identify themselves as gay. But many students say that the difference in numbers this year is perceptible. Another first year student said he noticed on the first day of pre-term that “half of my class was gay.” A returning student agreed, “They were far more prominent this year. I didn’t know any pre-term gays last year.” While the sheer number of gay students and their early prominence may have contributed to growing recognition on campus, one gay student suggested, in reference to Dupont Circle’s notoriety as DC’s “gayborhood,” that “a school located between the Circle and 17th street would have to turn gay eventually.” Still, none of the gay students said SAIS’ location in a well-known urban gayborhood influenced their decision to attend. “I came in spite of the fact that SAIS did not advertise having a GLBT student organization, but clearly I made the right decision,” said one gay student. Students say the reception from the larger school has been very welcoming. “They’re the cream of the crop,” said one first year straight female. “I love the gays, they keep continued on page 3

SAIS’ annual Halloween party comes with its typical mix of costume craftsmanship, clever commentary, and complete crassness For more pics see page 12

First Years Elect New SGA Reps 1st year reps Niv Elis and Rabeah Sabri bring idealism and enthusiasm to their new role By Pam Mukerji

SAIS students elected Niv Elis and Rabeah Sabri as the firstyear representatives to the SAIS Student Government Association (SGA) on October 5. They will be responsible for including a firstyear voice in the SGA’s mission of representing the interests of the student body. Niv and Rabeah graciously agreed to let me interview them a few weeks after their election. Aware of the administrative decision-making process and its impact on students, Niv decided to run for first-year representative out of a sense of social responsibility. Although he says he was always informally involved in school politics, this is his first time serving as a formal representative of student government. Rabeah, on the other hand, was a student senate member at

Northwestern University, where she completed her undergraduate degree. She considers herself a bridge-builder, and says that since preterm she has recognized common questions and concerns about the student experience here at SAIS. For both Niv and Rabeah, being SGA first-year rep provides a great opportunity to proactively generate solutions to student problems. Niv’s goals as first year rep include improving the well-intentioned, but oft-frustrating bidding system, as well as deepening the sense of community through social events, happy hours, parties, and student forums. Rabeah is concerned about easing student access to course readings, and working on other career and academic issues important to SAIS students. Both first-year reps have

hit the ground running since their recent election. Their schedules are full of planning meetings, conferences with administrators, and orchestrating SGA activities. And although they come to their positions with many new ideas, Niv and Rabeah also understand that much of their job is focused on the planning and implementation of normal SAIS activities. On the Friday of our interview, both were foregoing the typical Friday aftercontinued on page 3 In This Issue: Diversions On Campus Bologna Connection SAIS Students Arts and Culture Op-Ed

2 4 5 6 8 9

November 2007


LETTER FROM THE EDITORS Winter Hibernation Comes Early This Year The colors of the leaves have hardly changed but already we here at The Observer have noticed students disappearing into their dens for the winter. Despite elaborately planned Happy Hours by the East Asia Society and the Foreign Relations Career Club, attendance at our traditional weekly gatherings has been sparse. Even on normal weekdays around school, loafing has been at a minimum. We don’t even hear the Bologneses ciao-bella-ing in the cafeteria anymore. For the past months the only notable social events (at least the only ones we’ve been invited to) were the batch of Halloween parties in the last weeks. And though they brought out even some of the most hermetic students, we felt like we barely knew anyone at these parties – and not only because of the costumes. Of course, we blame this on internships. While the first years have been busy applying for the State Department’s unreasonably early deadline (sorry to break the news, but you won’t be getting your security clearances until mid-July), the second years have been spending 20+ hours per week at their places of employment hoping to impress somebody (anybody!) as they pursue post-SAIS employment. While we at The Observer understand your desire for gainful employment after graduation – though we don’t plan on it for ourselves – this is getting a little ridiculous. Last year’s second years knew the importance of loitering in the cafeteria and spending Friday nights drinking to inebriation in Kenney auditorium. And while we suspect they paid for it in unemployment, we think they were on to something. Because when your current boss is long-retired and you’re looking for a new job, you’re going to wish you had paid a measly $3 to buy a beer for those other SAIS graduates who will be running the world. So our advice: Have fun now. You might pay for it in the short-term, but we don’t think you’ll regret it. And besides, we miss you.

The SAIS Observer Editors-in-Chief Alex Selim Neil Shenai Jessica Stahl Contributors Emma Ashburn Photos: Ujjal Basu Roy Ourania Dionysiou Tania Hamod Niv Elis Matt Kaczmarek Sterling Jensen Abby Lackman David Michaels David Michaels Josh White Pam Mukerji Jon Rosen John Thorne

The SAIS Observer is a news monthly written, edited, and produced by the students of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of The Johns Hopkins University. SAIS students, faculty and members of the administration at the Washington, D.C. campus, Bologna campus, and the Hopkins-Nanjing Center are encouraged to submit articles, letters to the editor, photographs, cartoons, and other items for consideration. Material for consideration or inquiries may be submitted to : The SAIS Observer is an approved SAIS student organization. Opinions expressed in the SAIS Observer are not necessarily the views of the editors, SAIS, or the University.

The Observer welcomes accolades, denials, comments, critiques, and hate mail at

Page 2

Diversions: Keep your eyes and ears open and contribute to the below sections! Email us at with submissions

Verbatim What the SAIS community has been saying "Now that Al Gore won the Nobel Prize, what do you think is more of a threat to the world Global Warming or Al Gore's rapidly expanding ego?" – Anonymous SAIS student to Newt Gingrich “I sent you a possible point-coun“I’m surprised that terpoint for this month. I hope you they do terrorist don’t mind, I already wrote your financing, but I points for you.” would be great at – Not-so-anonymous Observer that. I already contributor have a lot of valuable contacts we “Oh my gosh! He just can use.” makes me so mad!” – Anonymous SAIS – Anonymous student talkstudent at a job ing about Spencer Pratt, a interview character on the MTV ‘reality’ show “The Hills” Anonymous SAIS professor: “What can be done about global poverty” “I’m sorry. My parents Anonymous SAIS student: didn’t anticipate globaliza“In 5 pages?” tion.” - Anonymous SAIS Professor: “You can have student explaining why his 10 if you need it.” name is so difficult to spell

Anonymous SAIS student #1 talking about his professor: “She’s like a robot sent from the future to destroy us all.” Anonymous SAIS student #2: “Is she at least a Transformer? Because I might be okay with that.”

By the Numbers 2

Months since school started


Number of national-level elections worldwide since school started


Months remaining in the “Year of Elections”


Dollars available to a 2nd year student through the Class of 2007 Fellowship


Dollars donated to the Class of 2007 Fellowship fund as of April, 2007



Dollars needed for the fellowship to reach endowment status so that it is payable on interest accrued and not dependent on further donation Number of career counselors who hold regular appointments with students


Approximate number of full-time students enrolled at SAIS (according to SAIS website)


Ratio of career counselors to students at SAIS


Number of staff members employed by the SAIS library


Ratio of librarians to students at SAIS

The Ostrich Who’s having a good month, and who might want to stick their heads in the sand and hope for better luck next month?



SAIS Halloween Party (and Leela)

Econ Department

Lame attempts at politically relevant costumes? Check. Awkward attempts to dance with members of opposite sex while wearing said costume? Check. Even more awkward next mornings (that Ahmadinejad I made out with was actually who?!) Check and check.

Certain core econ class professors are garnering unusual amounts of criticism from their students…and here we thought SAIS would give us a strong econ foundation.


It seems like a spate of SAIS students are either recently married, recently engaged or soon-tobe married. As bad as that makes the rest of us feel about our love lives, congratulations to you!

Registrar’s Office Suddenly we mysteriously need to change our locker combinations mid-year, and in the ensuing confusion it is impossible to know which lockers had their combinations changed and which haven’t. April Fools come early, or something more sinister?

Spring Break Chiapas Trip

Happy Hours

Unlike other SAIS trips that tend to fuel disappointment amongst rejectees (ahem CM, SS), the Chiapas trip accepted all applicants. Take that, China trip.

Participation in Friday night happy hours has dropped off significantly. You know it’s bad when not even The Rentseekers and a game of Twister can draw a decent crowd. Don’t even try and tell me you all have too much work to spend an hour or two meeting all the great people you go to school with.

Underground Club Culture Extracurricular clubs that is. A slew of them have popped up to capture the untapped market on everything from latin dancing to foreign language to political debate. They might not get SGA funds or a happy hour, but these clubs are filling some major gaps in SAIS’ extracurricular coverage. Everyone’s favorite source of tv shows and movies has mysteriously gone down, leaving spates of us with nothing to take our minds off our econ problem sets.

November 2007


SAIS Pride continued from page 1

me out of trouble,” said another. Added a third, “It’s great; they pressure the straight men to dress better.” But what about the straight men? “If you do the math, it can’t be bad for me,” said one first year (and single) straight man. Asked how long it took to learn of the large numbers of gays, he said, “Some were more obvious than others.” “I’ve never really had gay friends before,” said one second year straight man. “But I’d be much more likely in the future to be friends with a gay coworker.” When another was asked if there were more gays at SAIS than he had been around previously, he replied, “Well, I was in the military until now.” SAIS Pride, the official student organization for gays and lesbians, recorded a five-fold jump in membership over last year, its inaugural year at SAIS. The club now offers career panels and networking events with GLBT employee groups from interna-

first year remarked, “SAIS is an elite American graduate school; I expected there to be some presence.” According to SAIS Pride leaders who conducted research during the process of founding the organization, Georgetown, SIPA, and Fletcher all have GLBT student organizations, but all are social clubs, and all report low membership. Many students interviewed also questioned the seeming lack of lesbian students on campus. “Where are all the lesbians?” said one straight man. One non-straight woman noted that she was the only one she knew in the school. Some students attributed the difference in prominence between the gay and lesbian communities to cultural differences, differing traditional ways of meeting and networking, and “unfortunately, just lower numbers.” Regardless of gender, gay and straight students both agreed that the gay students seem well integrated into the larger pop-

“One gay student suggested, in reference to Dupont Circle’s notoriety as DC’s ‘gayborhood,’ that ‘a school located between [Dupont] Circle and 17th street would have to turn gay eventually.’”

Page 3

SGA Monthly Report The SGA checks in to tell us what they’ve been up to in the past month By Niv Elis, First Year Representative

The Annual SAIS Halloween party took place on Tuesday, October 30th at Local 16. The fund raiser (which was cleverly disguised as a drunken party) was a smashing success, raising over $3400 for the Summer Internship fund through the Student Foundation. A brief glance around the room showed the incredible amounts of SAIS students' pent up creativity. The costume contest winners included a geisha, a sketchy "my space" profile, a pedophile ("most un-P.C."), a set of fallopian tubes, and "the twins." The winners were so well disguised, however, that we didn't catch all their names, so they should send an e-mail to the SGA to collect their prizes! Coming up next is the annual International Dinner. Planned for November 16th, the dinner is a smorgasbord of ethnic and regional foods and culture, and is always a SAIS favorite. Also in the works, a plan to subsidize tickets to a Christmas jazz concert out of the SGA cultural fund. On the non-social front, the SGA is continuing its work on revising bidding procedures and on improving career services.

You can contact the SGA at

tional organizations, companies, and the gov- ulation. One gay student said that he felt “no Still, tension may lurk below the surface. As one gay ernment. different” bringing a same-sex date to the At a recent career panel that focused Halloween party, and straight students inter- first year was being interviewed for this article, another asked on GLBT experiences in the private sector, a viewed said they were “eager to find out” him if his new fall sweater looked good on him. A woman, packed room listened to gay SAIS alumni and what might be on tap at the highly anticipated standing nearby, suddenly exclaimed, “Hey! I’m fashionable! recruiters discuss experiences in their firms happy hour sponsored by SAIS Pride, slated Why do I have to be a man to answer that question?” and offer advice. One panelist described how for spring semester. According to one straight his firm assisted an employee in relocating woman, “the gays aren’t really a conversation Matt Kaczmarek is a 1st year MA candidate concentrating in when his partner, a government worker, was topic, other than that all of the men here seem Conflict Management posted abroad. The federal government does to be married, gay, or pretending not to be.” not offer relocation assistance to domestic Gays agree that their experience at partners, creating a unique challenge for SAIS, particularly for international students, GLBT professionals and their families. is an opportunity to be part of a community Faculty and administrators have they might not have anywhere else, especialtaken note of the changing population at SAIS ly in other countries. as well, some in more positive ways than others. As members of SAIS Pride recalled, “Tabling [hosting an information table for prospective students] at open house last year elicited negative reactions from some of our senior faculty, but this year we seem to be growing in acceptance.” Still, some gay students say it would be nice to have better recognition of the community by the administration. “Originally SAIS Pride presented a forum to meet the other gays,” said one founding member. “But now our challenge is to convince people we’re not just a social club.” Indeed, a first year member said, “At first I doubted the relevance of an organization based on the fact that we were all gay, but now I am starting to see the networking value that our community provides.” Another student put it more bluntly, “The DC gay mafia has a fantastic job placement rate.” Many students expressed surprise Alejandro Carrion-Menendez (MA ‘08) and Karl Sageder (BC ‘06, MA ‘07) man the SAIS Pride table at last year’s that the population was so large given SAIS’ Open House for accepted students. Membership in the SAIS Pride club has skyrocketed this year, with a memconservative academic reputation, but as one bership of about 5 times that of last year.

November 2007


Page 4

1st Year Reps English as a Second Language

continued from page 3

noon relaxation to set up that evening’s happy hour. As Niv put it, “Even if not every activity is innovative, it still needs to be administered.” Both Niv and Rabeah’s dedication to SGA seem to be motivated by a commitment to the SAIS student body. Rabeah First year rep Niv Elis has a backsays that she believes ground in policy research and NGO that the students here work are truly one of SAIS’ great assets. She says that classroom exchanges are a resource because they challenge pre-existing beliefs and opinions because they are with practitioners and world citizens who have lived those issues. “Things are a lot more complex than we tend to believe in our sheltered worlds,” according to Rabeah. Niv shares a similar respect for the diversity of background and experience students bring to SAIS. “In the library stairwells, you can hear people talking on cell phones in six different languages,” he says, reflecting the wonderfully international flavor of our campus. As far as improvements to the community here, Niv wants to fill what he feels is a particular lack of creative outlets. Coming from an artsy Wesleyan University undergraduate background, he says he would love to see more avenues for student expression. Both also expressed a desire to see more racial and socioeconomic diversity in future classes. Niv is a conflict management concentrator, and says that the economics component of the education was one of the reasons he chose SAIS. Before starting his master’s program, Niv was a foreign policy research analyst for the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby. He also spent four months traveling in South Africa, working with Treatment Action Campaign on HIV/AIDS awareness. In his spare time he says he likes watching movie and reading novels. Rabeah concentrates in Middle East studies, and chose SAIS because she was impressed with the fusion of policy and academic perspectives. She lived in Turkey after graduating from college, then moved to Chicago to work for the Nawawi Foundation, an Islamic educational nonprofit organization. She is also interested in photography and sports. Of their mutual background in Middle East policy Niv jokes, “I think between both of us, we can find peace in the Middle East.” Both Niv and Rabeah say they are excited to bring their past experience and enthusiasm to Rabeah Sabri concentrates in the position of first year Middle East Studies and has work representative. But they experience in the non-profit sector agree that no amount of enthusiasm can help them be successful without the active involvement of the student body. Rabeah says, “We are student reps and therefore represent the student will; everyone should feel more than welcome getting in touch with us. In ourselves, we are only two people, and our experiences are limited. We need input. We are an avenue that exists for change; if an issue needs to be addressed and you don’t know how to address it, come to us.” Pam Mukerji is a 1st year MA candidate in Conflict Management

The trials international students endure to prove their proficiency By Ujjal K. Basu Roy

According to the latest SAIS catalogue, classes meet for three hours every week for the 35% of students attending SAIS are non-US 13 weeks of the SAIS semester, and replace citizens. Unless their high school education regular language courses during the semesters was conducted in English, all of these students they are taken. Foreign students who find have to take and pass the English proficiency themselves in the ESL program typically say exam before the start of the semester, and the courses are useful, but that there is neverthose that do not pass must take English as a theless much room for improvement. Second Language (ESL) classes during one or Gabriel Pierard, a first year MIPP student two semesters. Fulfilling the English language from France says, “The SAIS ESL program is requirements at SAIS, even for the most very good but there is some room for improveaccomplished speaker can be trying, and the ment. We should have i) reading of text, ii) experiences of international students in com- writing papers and iii) spoken English. We pleting them range from humorous to harrow- were only asked to write two papers on differing. ent topics as part of the ESL program. There The first step in getting through the English should be concrete real world examples such language requirement at SAIS is sitting for the as job situations as part of the curriculum. proficiency exam. Students are required to Gabriel adds that he would find the pass at a superior level in reading, listening program more beneficial if it was customized and writing, and at an advanced high level in to the ability levels of students. He says, “The speaking. For level of English among most students, students is very heterothe sheer length geneous and there Some mistakes made by new of the exam should be support for English speakers proves just as students according to (Source: great a challenge their different needs. A to completing it If he is really the best man, why isn’t she marry- customized ESL proas do the actual ing him instead? gram according to the questions being needs of different stuasked. dents would be very My mother is an inferior decorator. A n j a beneficial.” Wagener, a first I never liked mushrooms, but now they are startDaisuke Abe, a first year MA student ing to grow in me. year MA student from from Germany Japan, agrees with says, “During The article said there are only maybe five thou- Gabriel’s recommensand beers left in B.C. This is a very serious the written dation of a more taiproblem… I think maybe we should only let very exam, I was small people go beer hunting every year. lored program. “It is very fortunate that bored of writing a graduate school such as essays for four The President got off the plane and gave a big SAIS has ESL classes but hours. I was also kiss to the first ladder. in my view, there could trying not to get (Although given our president, maybe this one be room for improvetoo distracted by wasn’t a mistake after all) ment. Classes could be this nice guy sitmore customized for forting next to me.” eign students who often Anja also remembers that during the have more problems with spoken than written speaking portion of the exam she was asked to English. This would be more practical for us. Also, talk about her family situation. Her mind still SAIS should provide more resources to the ESL on the many forms that international students program to enable programs to be tailored to differhave to complete to enter the US and enroll at ent student needs.” The SAIS English program also offers SAIS, Anja replied “I am single! Is that what teaching assistants in English. TAs are available you want to know?” seven days a week to provide assistance in editing With that blunder behind her, Anja papers for regular SAIS classes. Many internationsuccessfully completed her speaking test, talk- al students, even those who passed the proficiency ing about immigration in the US and the bor- exam, use the TA services, particularly at the start der fence with Mexico, integration and educa- of the school year when they are still adjusting. tion issues in Germany, architecture in According to Sonam Lieberman, an English America, the lack of modern architecture and writing TA, the general level of the ESL students the mix of old and new architecture in gener- who seek out his services is very good. He says that while many students have asked for his help, in al. For those students who successfully general it is the same set of students who come get through the examination process (and for back time and again for assistance. Sonam adds that it is not only internationmany, this involves making it through the al students who could benefit from the writing dreaded “see me” from ESL program coordi- refresher. nator Susan Olmstead), their ESL experience “In my view, native English speakers could also may end there. But those who still need a little come for help since idiomatic expressions are more practice to succeed at SAIS enter SAIS’ always problematic . . . In general, people need a one or two semester-long ESL program. lot of help with citations and when and how to use ESL courses offered at SAIS include them.” Effective English Writing and Critical Listening/Vocabulary Development. The Ujjal K. Basu Roy is a 1st year MA candidate concentrating in South Asia studies

November 2007

THE SAIS OBSERVER The Bologna Connection

Page 5

Letter from Bologna We follow a Bologna Center student month-by-month as he experiences the challenges and rewards of la vita bella By Jon Rosen

This month: Hauptbonhauf101, or why SAIS could learn something from Oktoberfest It was a bit past four on a Sunday morning and I found myself sprawled out on a concrete floor in a makeshift bed of boxer shorts and a sweatshirt. Closing my eyes, I began to drift into sleep that had eluded me for close to 48 hours, a two-day period I was finally able to – temporarily, at least – forget. Overnight train, excess German beer, savagely devouring an entire rotisserie chicken? For all I knew, in my state of semi-consciousness, this Oktoberfest adventure had never even happened. That is, of course, until I awoke with a tap on my shoulder by what appeared to be an eight-foot tall security guard who demanded that I “woken.” Back to reality at the München Hauptbonhauf train station. Yes, for the previous night, I’d been among the hundreds of postOktoberfest revelers who, for lack of better lodging option, had taken refuge at the Hauptbonhauf. Now, forced to rise after just ten minutes of much-needed dozing, I continued to let my mind wander until it landed on a subject that quickly caused alarm: The first full week of Bologna Center classes was starting on Monday, and thanks to this weekend of debauchery, I was sure to be a zombie for it. Great move, Jon. I mean, sure, I’d come to Europe to learn through travel as well as in the classroom, but not by spending nights in train stations? Or had I? Doing my best to remain optimistic (and somehow occupy my final six hours of what I’d by then resigned to be sleepless refugeedom), I removed a list of this semester’s courses from my backpack and began to compare them, one by one, with lessons I’d learned from a night in the station. Could it be that this evening might actually match up, on an intellectual scale, with a SAIS/Bologna education? What I found (as presented below through a sampling of five course-by-course findings) may surprise you: Hauptbonhauf 101 vs. America and the World Since 1945 Go standing room only to hear Professor Harper’s take on German refugees at the end of World War II – or spend a night re-enacting their experience yourself. Hauptbonhauf 101 gives you practical learning at its finest. Hauptbonhauf 101 vs. Microeconomic Theory Not even Professor Cheong’s

advanced section can prepare you for that fateful limited-resource choice between sleeping upstairs where it’s cold but quiet and clean, or down with the masses where the only available concrete has a dubious brown stain on it. Want to study monopolist behavior? With only one bathroom, it’s no wonder your wallet is drained each time you take a piss. Hauptbonhauf 101 vs. Problems of Transatlantic Relations Sure, Professor Allin, maybe Kagan’s right. American power has given Europe its Kantian peace. But all that goes out the window when you’re confronted by a drunken, 60-year-old, train station–dwelling Bavarian, who asks “Ahhr you from Texaas . . .? Is Gheohrge Bush a wahhr criemanal?” and then challenges you to an arm wrestling match. I say lets solve all of our transatlantic quarrels like this. (Though it should be noted, I declined this man’s invitation, pending orders from General Petraeus). Hauptbonhauf 101 vs. Introduction to Development You can read all the Easterlies or Sachs that you want, but when your monopolist bathroom (see above) gets hit with a powerful flooded urinal epidemic (rumors of sabotage circulated when it was revealed that the plumber’s salary had been looted by the sanitation minister), the burden is on us all – this white man included. Suffice it to say the replacement toilet – at the nearby Burger King – quickly became as third world as they get. Hauptbonhauf 101 vs. Politics and Economics of International Energy Who needs a bow-tied oilman to convince us that our world functions better on fossil fuels than it would on, say . . . pints of Löwenbräu? Thoroughly worn down from both lack of sleep and excess of German lager, I relished the moment, at 9:36 a.m., that my diesel-powered train finally departed the station. Though relieved to be on my way back to Bologna, I now understood the value of this one night of exhaustion. Hauptbonhauf 101. I’ve already submitted my proposal to make it a fall 2008 elective. Jon Rosen is a 1st year MA candidate at the Bologna Center

The SAIS Wine Society, started in Bologna by wine connoisseur Ourania Dionysiou, brings together wine enthusiasts at SAIS for events such as wine tastings and winery visits

Outside the Box, Inside the Bottle The SAIS Wine Society brings a bit of old world culture to our American education By Abby Lackman

As logic would have it, student groups at SAIS vary each year as new minds, interests, and passions enter into the academic foray. Amidst the more “standard” clubs such as Finance, Consulting, and Foreign Relations, a new entity has quietly joined us from Bologna: the Wine Society. Now hold on just a second. Don’t turn the page yet. (The ostrich will still be there.) Before dismissing this Wine Society as a group of snobby oenophiles, open your mental palate and sample some of their philosophy. “Wine is about feelings, how pineapple dances so harmonically with almond,” explains Ourania Dionysiou, the Wine Society’s founder. “How tobacco embraces the oakey barrel. How blueberries, blackberries, redberries stop being just berries, and start being the elements of a whole philosophy.” Who could resist that? Dionysiou, a native of Cyprus who practically grew up in her family’s small wine shop, organized the Wine Society last year at the Bologna Center, where it had over 80 members among the students, faculty, and staff who participated in wine tastings, toured local vineyards, attended presentations, visited regional wine festivals, and simply enjoyed taking a break from the daily schoolwork grind. Citing her relative lack of familiarity with American wines, Ourania insists that she did not plan to continue the group in D.C., but the enthusiasm of the Wine Society’s members convinced her to carry on the group’s activities to the other side of the Atlantic and give the New World wines a try. So far, the going has been a bit tough for this wine connoisseur from the Old World. “In America, it’s all about the package, not what’s inside,” Ourania commented after a recent trip to a few Virginia wineries. The philosophy behind the Wine Society is, after all, continued on page 11


November 2007

Page 6

A Mouthpiece for Peace First Year Sterling Jensen’s Experiences as an Interpreter in Iraq By Tania Hamod

First year Sterling Jensen (in camouflage) while serving as a contract linguist with the military in Iraq.

The responsibility of ensuring security and stability in Iraq falls upon the shoulders of Iraqi and American interpreters. They have played a critical role in the conflict, and without them, any U.S. military progress in Iraq would be virtually impossible. In 2006-2007 Sterling Jensen, a 30-year-old MA student concentrating in Strategic Studies, served as a contract linguist in Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar. He was attached to the 1st Brigade 1st Armored Division where he proved to be one of the few extremely skilled interpreters in the region, gaining immense trust and credibility from local tribal sheikhs as well as from US military officials. Yet Jensen recounts stories from the ground that attest that not all interpreters were able to achieve such success. If interpretation sets the groundwork for common understanding and the promotion of peace, one can only imagine the terrible consequences that ensue when interpretations go wrong. The purpose of an interpreter is to act solely as the eyes and ears of those who are engaged in dialogue. Yet oftentimes, understanding another language is not enough to ensure success-

ful discourse; the ability to comprehend nuances and the capability to engage in higher negotiations while cognitively understanding the mission at hand are essential tools that interpreters need to carry with them. They need to acquire a high degree of trust with whomever they are working, whether that person is an American colonel or an Iraqi sheikh. However, finding that level of trust may be harder than one might think. Jensen worked closely with Ltc. James Lechner, deputy commander of the First Brigade, 1st Armored Division in Iraq in 2006 who dealt extensively with Iraqi and U.S. interpreters in Iraq. Lechner commanded 5,000 US troops in Ramadi and underwent extensive training of Iraqi security forces. Those forces included the Iraqi army, police, government and citizens. Jensen and Lechner saw eye to eye when asked about the obstacles that faced interpreters from accomplishing successful dialogue. Both men automatically mention the matter of trust. Lechner explains that since Iraqis have sectarian issues, particularly in Anbar, it often proves difficult to bring a Shia interpreter to a meeting with Sunni sheikhs. Yet prejudice

Despite sporting a silly moustache, Sterling (standing, left) came to be taken seriously as one of the military’s most skilled interpreters.

exists on the other end as well; those engaged in dialogue would often subdue their conversations if the interpreter was someone that they did not know. As a result, the essential details of a conversation may never be brought to light. Lechner said that he had never witnessed a single interpreter who was completely subjective in conversation. Jensen’s results were identical yet he also discusses the lack of US interpreters who are willing to go outside the wire. Many of these Americans know that they are in high demand and will most likely not lose their jobs. Consequently, they refuse to do what they are asked. The responsibility therefore falls on the Iraqi local nationalists who risk and lose their lives completing tasks that they deem necessary. When such deficiencies exist among interpreters, one can only wonder what goes wrong when they do not do their jobs correctly. A dialogue that has gone awry can result in the potential loss of an exorbitant number of U.S. dollars. Lechner says that in 2004, he once had an 18-year-old Iraqi local national assisting his team with locating hidden insurgent weapons caches. Normally, the American military pays cash incentives to reward such assistance. The young interpreter told the local who had reported the location of the cache that “the Americans have thousands of dollars to give you.” In reality, Lechner had only a few hundred dollars to spare. Instead of progressing with the mission at hand, Lechner had to spend time explaining the misunderstanding to the Iraqi who had aided them. Another instance of a failed negotiation occurred when the U.S. began to expand the Iraqi police force in Ramadi. The American troops were able to negotiate with Iraqi locals to discuss where they needed new police stations as opposed to locations depict-

ed in initial plans. Somehow the local police forces assumed that they were allowed to open countless police stations wherever they pleased. The U.S. military only had limited funding, yet numerous IP stations started appearing throughout the area. Lechner said that part of this was attributed to “Iraqi poker” and part of this was indeed a language barrier. Lechner explained how Jensen, however, was an interpreter who possessed all the essential tools to fully master a conversation. Although Jensen was not native speaker, he was able to pick up on the important subtleties by using his own words to express the situations at hand. Jensen single-handedly used his abilities to sustain stability and prevent violence from breaking out in Ramadi. At one point, Jensen explains how the essential process of recruitment into the Iraqi paramilitary was underway. A 19-year-old Sunni interpreter continuously rejected numerous Shia recruits because he claimed that none of them could read or write. Thus, all these men would be sent home, frustrated and feeling helpless. Jensen, noticing this frustration, warmly and confidently approached the men and put them at ease. Although somewhat timid at first, the men slowly proved to Jensen that they could in fact read and write. It turned out that the young Iraqi interpreter let a power trip get in the way of accomplishing an extremely important job of facilitating recruitment. Jensen and Lechner were elated to discover that the men could in fact join the Iraqi military. Needless to say, they were not elated with the Iraqi interpreter. When civilians became injured or lost their homes in Ramadi due to violent attacks, Jensen and other interpreters were able to go beyond offering simple explanations for the civilians’ losses. Lechner describes an instance when Al Qaeda cells were continued on page 11

November 2007


Page 7

SAIS Student Earns Reputation for Expertise and Peacemaking in Pakistan

By Alex Selim

When high profile guests come to SAIS, it’s not uncommon for students to try to gain access to the speakers and pick their brains about their areas of knowledge. But before fielding a question from Josh White at a talk in September, Assistant Secretary for South Asian Affairs Richard told the second-year South Asia studies student, “I’ve heard a lot about your adventures. Someday you’ll have to explain them to me yourself.” Among the “adventures” that Boucher was referring to was a year-long trip to Pakistan as a guest of the Chief Minister of the North-West Frontier Province before starting SAIS. White later returned to Pakistan this past summer in order to study Islamic politics and American foreign policy toward Islamic parties. His first visit to Pakistan coincided with some very momentous events including the earthquake in Kashmir in October 2005, the failed air strike targeting al-Qaeda leaders by U.S. Predator Drones in January 2006 and the riots in response to the Danish cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammad. Over the past few years, the graduate from Williams College in Massachusetts in 2001 with a degree in history and math who grew up in Corvallis, Oregon, has developed an expertise in a region where few others have gotten as much access as he has. “Pakistan is one of the greatest strategic concerns facing America today but there are very few people doing field studies there,” he says. “I guess it’s a bit dangerous,” he adds, almost as an afterthought. He explains how he once had to hide underneath a table at an underground internet café as a zealous mob attempted ransack the place during an anti-Western riot. He then sneaked out the back door. He also ended up this summer at the Red Mosque in Islamabad on the day that it reopened for Friday prayers after the government’s commando operation against its extremist leaders. He watched as the madrassa students retook the mosque and hoisted the flag of jihad, before again being expelled by police. “I left just before the tear gas,” he says with as much modesty as fascination. White began working with Pakistan in 2005, when the Institute for Global Engagement, a faithbased NGO that he worked for, invited Chief Minister Durrani to Washington for a week of, what White calls, “relational diplomacy” to discuss the

troubling new Shari’ah law his party had proposed in the provincial assembly. The Chief Minister reciprocated by inviting members of the NGO, including White, and other American experts to visit the Pakistani frontier. While they were there, the chief minister signed an agreement with IGE to work on interfaith and education projects. White decided to stay on in the provincial capital of Peshawar to work on these programs, and study local history and culture. He described his experience in Pakistan in an article he wrote for the magazine Christianity Today: “That a 27-year-old American Christian was hanging out in Peshawar as the guest of an Islamist political party that four years earlier had come to power on a pro-Shari’ah and anti-American platform caused no end of wonder to the local diplomats and church community. To them, it seemed a bit crazy. For me, it was an extraordinary opportunity to glimpse Islamist political leadership from the inside; to get to know these people as people; to begin to tease apart rhetoric from reality, slogans from conviction; and to find myself, on a certain scorching May morning, the only Westerner making a trip down to Bannu [a town bordering North Waziristan].” It may sound surprising that a Christian would care so much about Islamic studies but, White says, “Interfaith work is a hobby of mine.” He describes IGE, with which he is still affiliated, as an organization that works to inform the Christian community about the rest of the world, and that practices quiet diplomacy on behalf of religious minorities of all faiths in East, Central, and South Asia. Similarly, White, who attends the Anglican Church of the Resurrection on Capitol Hill, aspires

Josh White poses with Maulana Fazli Ali, Minister of Schools and Literacy, North-West Frontier Province

to get Christians to look at the world more broadly and to think about Islam and Pakistan through the lens of more than just “radicalism.” To White, the Christian mission ultimately must be a mission of peace-making. In the same vein, he gave a speech on peacemaking this summer, in Urdu, to an interfaith conference of 200 religious leaders and students in Peshawar. In the meantime, White is continuing his study of Islamic politics. Last summer, he interviewed over 100 people including members of President Pervez Musharraf’s cabinet, senior Islamist political figures, and representatives from NGOs and the World Bank. He hired assistants to help him with his research, and even had tea with the governor in Peshawar. White believes that the international community is right to have deep concerns about the implications of Islamist politics in Pakistan. But he is also interested in the ways in which Islamist participation in the political process and the challenges of actually having to govern can have a moderating effect on religious parties. “When you are an opposition leader, you can say anything you want. But when you come to power, you suddenly have to think: how will I able to carry out my promises?” Though the religious rhetoric is sometimes dramatic, White says, often when people vote for Islamist parties what they most want is good governance. “It’s surprising, but most of the religious parties’ own constituency didn’t really want a strict form of Talibanization.” He notes that many people liked the abstract idea of Talibanism, but didn’t actually want the Taliban to visit their village. He also believes that there may be a pushback against Al Qaeda in the region, what he calls an “Anbar moment,” as the local power brokers get disgusted with the instability that Al Qaeda brings. Not only is White studying Islamic politics in Pakistan, but he is also studying American reaction to it. “I’ve seen in Pakistan that we don’t deal with the situation very well. Why am I one of the only Americans that these people have ever met? What’s wrong with this picture?” On November 14, he will be speaking at a panel discussion at SAIS called “Pakistan’s ‘Islamist’ Frontier: Emerging Trends in Islamic Politics and U.S. Policy Options Toward Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province” with a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and a scholarin-residence at the Middle East Institute. After graduating this spring, White plans to apply to for a PhD program where he can continue his studies on South Asia and sees himself as possibly doing future research on the subject of religion and political stability. There is no doubt that White has a promising future ahead of him. Yet somehow between his studies, his research, his lecture and his PhD program applications, he’ll have to find some time to get in contact with Richard Boucher’s people. Alex Selim is a 2nd year MA candidate in Middle East Studies and an editor of the Observer

November 2007

THE SAIS OBSERVER Arts and Culture

Page 8

Juornalism Club Gives Away $1500 in Prize Money in First Annual SAIS Journalism Contest By Alex Selim

The Journalism and Media Career Club announced the winners of the First Annual Summer Journalism Contest on Friday, November 2 during the Foreign Relations Career Club’s Happy Hour. Michael Anderson won first prize in the News and Analysis category for his article “Prostitution and Child Pornography in Cambodia,” while Maeve Garigan won second place in the same category for “The Hidden Cost of Argentina’s Economic Crisis.” Jonathan Bartolozzi took home first prize for the Travel Essay category for his piece “August in the Nuba Mountains” based on his experience in Sudan and Levi Tillemann-Dick’s “Muslim China and it’s Discontents won second place The winners received $600 and $300 for the first and second prize in News and Analysis category and $400 and $200 for the first and second prizes in the Travel Essay category. The prize money was staggered between the two categories to encourage students to submit to the harder News and Analysis category. As the president of the Journalism and Media Career Club, I established the contest in order to demonstrate how applicable a SAIS education is to a career in journalism and to encourage students to consider such a career. The contest would not have been possible without the generous funding of Deans Baker and Kunka who had the vision to recognize the need for such a contest. Nor could the contest have been possible without the help of John Schidlovsky and Louise Lief of the International Reporting Project who graciously agreed to judge the 25 submissions that were due by September 28. While the Journalism and Media Career Club is working on publishing the winners’ articles in a Hopkins-wide publication, IRP have also agreed to advise the winners on pitching to their articles to other news publications. Alex Selim is a 2nd year MA candidate concentrating in Midde East Studies and and editor of the Observer

The Winners: Travel Essay Category 1. “August in the Nuba Mountains” by Jonathan Bartolozzi A bright and lively piece that brings alive for the reader the experiences of trekking waist-high in a river or finding a “tribe of worms” living in the pot of drinking water. Through this piece, a reader can almost feel the wet sand, the swirling water, the soaking clothes, the pleasure of sweet tea and biscuits under a mango tree. The dialogue and quotes are effective in transporting the reader into this remote region of Sudan that most of us only know about through accounts of conflict. 2. “Muslim China and its Discontent” by Mills Levi This piece does a nice job of combining factual background about China’s western provinces and on-the-ground color. We meet real peple in Xinjiang and by the end of the piece we feel we know them, their fears and aspirations. The story makes the situtation of 10 million Uighurs living in Xinjiang clear and understandable. News and Analysis category: 1. “Prostitution and Child Pornography in Cambodia” by Michael Anderson This is a vividly written and clear account of these social ills. Anderson does an excellent job of stating the causes and extent of the problems and then describing how he went about to investigate it for himself. It’s a solid piece of journalism that is chock full of facts, statistics and information the reader needs to know. The writer does a nice job of mixing his personal experiences and providing the reader with an objective account of the background. 2. “The Hidden Cost of Argentina’s Economic Crisis” by Maeve Garigan A well-written and concise account of a social problem that lingers from Argentina’s economic crisis. The story does a nice job of explaining and illustrating the problem of “paco,” the cocaine derivative that addicted many of those made poor by the economic collapse of 2001. Garigan makes us see the human cost of a problem that most visitors to Buenos Aires would never notice.

On the (Rail) Road A Review of The Darjeeling Limited By Emma Ashburn

Any movie that thanks India’s Ministry of Railways in the credits has a shot at being a great film, and The Darjeeling Limited does have the emotional power of a long train trip. I do my best thinking on trains. You’re going somewhere, but you have to sit still, and can’t do much else besides work on those knots in your head. That is what the three Whitman brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman as Francis, Peter, and Jack) do as they traverse India by train. They’ve brought with them a lot of baggage, both the emotional kind and the Louis Vuitton kind, and it looks pretty heavy as they lug it through the villages and deserts of India. The brothers are in search of spiritual renewal – of course, it’s India – and a chance to discover if they “would have been friends in real life.” In India, on a train, they can smoke cigarettes and sedate themselves as it lurches them toward enlightenment. They do smoke cigarettes, and sedate themselves with an astonishing variety of drugs, as they try to get over the recent death of their father and their mother’s refusal to confront their loss. Besides the parental issues, the brothers deal with sibling tension that erupts into a knock-down drag-out fight. And they have their own problems too, the kind you might not want to talk about with your family. Francis uses various elixirs and pills to dull the pain of his broken face, which he busted up in a road accident that may or may not have been an accident. Peter tries to reconcile himself to the fact that he

himself will soon be a father. And Jack tries to get over his ex-girlfriend by seducing the woman who serves them sweet lime drinks after their naps. India does give them their enlightenment, in a way, by reminding them that while emotional pain is terrible, it won’t actually kill you like rocks or cars can. Whether or not he’s an auteur, director Wes Anderson constructs fantasies. The train is an Edwardian fantasy of sartorial perfection and hot stewardesses. From my cursory knowledge of Indian trains, based on Mira Nair’s The Namesake, I would guess that Indian trains aren’t really like that. In The Namesake, the train is a much more menacing force (but in that movie it also leads to a sort of enlightenment). India, too, is a fantasy. Every detail is attended to, just like in the Parisian hotel room that is the setting for the short film that precedes the Darjeeling Limited, Hotel Chevalier. In this fantasy, there is a bare lack of political correctness that is just obviously offensive enough to be gently satirical. Yet the characters manage to be empathetic. Maybe it’s Adrien Brody’s huge sad eyes or the painfully accurate depiction of sibling rivalry that makes us start to understand where they’re coming from. The music probably lulls us into feeling like one of them, too. In countless scenes, Jason Schwartzman’s character plugs in his I-Pod speakers and we can all rock out to the music on the train or in the desert, together. The movie does require a certain suspension of disbelief – it’s not trying to show us the real India, wherever

you find that, but have India serve as a backdrop for the drama of these messed-up relationships. I’m fully seduced by the clothes, the colors, the slow-motion running, and the music, and more than willing to overlook the unlikelihood that the train dining car really has chandeliers. The brothers all have distinctive faces, and we have plenty of opportunities to watch them as they gaze mournfully at themselves in the mirror above the bathroom sink, in scenes reminiscent of another Wes Anderson movie involving a different unhappy family. As the Russian said, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. On the whole though, trains will make us feel better. Especially if we look good enough to be in the front row at a Marc Jacobs show and are standing at the back of a train, staring out through our huge sunglasses at the fields of some vast exotic country as it rolls by. Emma Ashburn is a 2nd year MA candidate in China Studies

November 2007


Page 9

Point-Counterpoint: The State of Tuesday Cookie Hour By John Thorne

Point: There should be more cookies on Tuesday By John Thorne’s rational side

As a first year student, I have really enjoyed quickly becoming a part of the SAIS community. I find my classmates to be fascinating people, and it is great that the school is willing to foster community in so many ways. Certainly we can agree that the Tuesday Cookies is one of the best ways to relieve a little stress and enjoy a few conversations in a casual setting. I’m sure it is not an inexpensive event- the cookies are of a very high qualitybut I would argue that a slightly greater quantity would be well worth the cost. It is the outside of the classroom interactions that contribute to the paramount SAIS experience. A few more cookies might be a little expensive, but the non-pecuniary benefits of “community,” while intangible, are what make SAIS excellent.

Counterpoint: There should be WAY more cookies on Tuesday, and everyday!!! By John Thorne’s irrational, selfish inner-child

Oh my GOD! There are cookies on Tuesday?!? I had no idea until week four that there were cookies on Tuesdays! And I was in Nitze taking Trade! How could I miss this? That means that there were THREE WHOLE weeks that I missed out on cookies! I love cookies! Cookies, cookies, cookies! The variety of cookies is a symbol of what is great about America! Lots of choice- And the first people there get the BEST COOKIES! Maybe that isn’t what is great about America, but I don’t care! I just ate three of the BEST cookies! And they were FREE! YUM! And one week there were “blondies” with chocolate and cream on top! I love those guys! And soft baked chocolate chip cookies- a classic done right! Not to mention that there are SO MANY COOKIES! And I want even MORE!!! Wow, look at all the happy people eating cookies! We are happy people because we are eating cookies! Oh look, some people are arriving a little latethey must have been in class in the Rome building. No cookies for them. Should I feel bad? I can’t tell! My empathy is clouded by a sugary haze. I just ate five cookies and I FEEL GREAT and nothing else matters in the whole wide world! Wow! Being a graduate student is great! I didn’t even know about the cookies when I signed up! Life is good. Time for a nap. There should be cookies everyday.

Counter-Counterpoint: Stop wasting tuition dollars on cookies! By An Anonymous Jaded Female 2nd Year with an obvious crush on John Thorne (let’s call her Jess Stahl)

Wow. Way to go SAIS. Look at all these cookies. I applaud you for effort to bring us all together with food, but please think about the message you are sending to us: It is clear you view us only as revenue producing units in this machine that is SAIS. We are paying you for the academic realm that you have mastered above all other International Relations schools- not to give us mid-day sugar highs that inevitably end in sugar crashes during my Statistics class. But do you really think you can get us to forget about our looming tuition debt with cookies? I am not stupid! And that John Thorne guy just ate like a dozen cookies. Why am I subsidizing that selfish man-boy’s gluttony? Agh! The inefficiency of it all deeply burns my free-market sensibilities! We just did this in class: If SAIS is feeling generous, just give us some direct-cash-transfers and we will buy cookies, or whatever else we want, ourselves! Practice what you preach, you faux-bastion of lassez-faire ideology!

Counter-Counter-Counterpoint: Yummy cookies! By “Jess Stahl’s” less jaded side

Yum. This cookie is pretty good. C is for cookies, that’s good enough for me! John Thorne is a 1st year MA candidate concentrating in Strategic Studies

Cookies? Really? By Jessica Stahl

John, you ignorant slut . . . Cookies? Really? That’s what we’re debating about this month? Last month it was whether SAIS should invite more controversial speakers to campus, a valid and important topic. And a lot’s been going on this month - the Year of Elections brings up the question of whether SAIS should have Democrat and Republican clubs like most other schools do or if we should jealously guard our non-partisanship; the Halloween party always raises the issue of how far is too far when it comes to costumes and where we should draw the line between political correctness and over-sensitivity; searching for jobs as a second year has made me wonder whether money truly buys happiness and how far one should be willing to compromise oneself for the sake of a decent lifestyle, not to mention whether some professions are truly more altruistic than others or if all professions come with their share of do-gooding (and conversely, of values-compromising); and the weakness of attendance at happy hours leads me to ask whether SAIS students this year are really lame, or just too cool to bother with the SAIS happy hours (and if it’s the latter, when I got left behind in the dust of others’ coolness). But we’re going to do cookies. Okay. Well, in that case, I appreciate your consideration of the demands of my time by writing my sections for me. And while you captured quite clearly what might have been my jaded disdain for cookie hour had I been remotely interested in arguing about cookies (thousands of dollars on mediocre fare that serves a primary purpose of amusing the deans as we’re forced to fight it out for the scarce cookie allotment while we attempt not to spill our thimble-sized cup of coffee all over ourselves in the midst of the melee . . .), I feel that you have failed to capture my essence. If I were going to end my righteous tirade with fauxFrench, for example, it certainly would have been of the Monty Python variety. And I avoid quoting talking puppets whenever possible - they usually prove unreliable sources. Remember that last bit of advice for the future . . . along with this one: Cookies? Really? Jessica Stahl is a 2nd year MA candidate in Conflict Management and an editor of the Observer


November 2007

Page 10

My Acting Career in Indonesia, Part 2 By David Michaels

When we last left David Michaels, he was about to find out whether he got a starring role in an Indonesian commercial. Now, the SAIS Observer continues David’s epic tale of stardom and adventure in Indonesia. I reported at 6:00 Saturday morning to the site of the commercial shoot. I had been hired to act in a cigarette commercial in Indonesia. My agent, Herman, sat me down in a covered parking lot with motorcycles and other actors and asked me if I had eaten breakfast. I said no and he gave me a boxed meal of fried rice, chicken, and an egg. Delicious, yes, but not a desirable meal at 6:00 a.m. Oh well, I was hungry. I was called to the wardrobe van and handed a pair of dress pants and a white collared shirt. They directed me into a building to the dressing room. Absurdly, the dressing room had a glass wall and a glass door. The only difference between using the dressing room and dressing in public was that nobody could hear me getting dressed. That worked out well considering all the embarrassing noises I make while getting dressed. It soon became apparent that the pants were way too small. I really had to suck in my gut to button them, they stopped above my ankles, and I had a permanent wedgy – not how I wanted to look for my Indonesian television debut. When I returned to the marshalling area, a few girls chuckled and told me I looked like Mr. Bean. Later on, I was given the remainder of my costume – a full-body length black robe and a matching hat that looked like a witch’s hat. Besides being truly absurd, it was a ridiculously hot outfit to wear in the tropical, 90degree humidity of Indonesia. As I put it on, resigned to a day of sweaty greasiness, I asked what I was supposed to be in this costume. The answer brightened my month: “You are a Kazakhstan person.” Right then and there, I realized that I was Borat. Well, not really. Nobody told me I was going to be Borat. But the only thing that anybody in the civilized world knows about Kazakhstan is that Borat is from Kazakhstan. So my pretending to be Borat just added to the sense of peculiarity that I was already experiencing. I saw the other costumes that people had on. There was a deliberately wide mix of races and ethnicities among the actors, and each had on a costume from their region. There was Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Arab, Indian, and Western. There were four white guys, including myself. One other guy had on a Kazakhstan costume like me and the other two wore jackets and ties. Of all the places that

David sports traditional Kazakh dress for his part in an Indonesian commercial.

white guys could come from, why did they pick Kazakhstan? I have no idea. It was really strange to me. Finally, at about 10:15, we got our orders to go across the street to the set, an Indonesian restaurant. All the tables and chairs had been removed, but it looked like a traditional Indonesian restaurant – lots of Asian decorations on the walls and things like that. (Actually, a traditional Indonesian restaurant would be a table and plastic stools on the side of the highway, but this was a fancier version.) We then spent about 2 hours in the sweltering heat doing take after take after take of a scene where the ethnic mix of people were welcomed by Indonesians into the restaurant. It

was tiring and boring and everyone hated it. After lunch we did take after take after take of the next scene in which we were all mingling at a party. I was forced to hold a “cocktail” for about two hours straight. The “cocktail” was a glass of bright green Fanta with a straw. It was pretty gross soda but I drank it between takes to relieve my boredom. One of my favorite guys on the set was the “sweat-mopper.” He would come over to us between takes with a bag of tissues and rotate among the actors, wiping the sweat off our faces. At first he didn’t wipe my sweat and after a few takes I approached him and sort of shoved my face in front of him. He got the idea and I subsequently became a regular. I’ll tell you, I would-

David finds out in wardrobe that he’s not quite the height of the average Indonesian.

n’t want the job of sweat-mopper. But he always did it with a smile, which is important. And every time he mopped my sweat, I truly felt like a king. The day wore on like this for two additional scenes and finally, at 8:30 PM, the first day of my acting career was over. They told us to go home and return the next morning for the final day of shooting. Tomorrow would be the volleyball day. Tomorrow would be my turn to shine. I arrived the next day and proceeded to the wardrobe van for my volleyball uniform. I was psyched up and already going through my mental preparations for the big game. I decided to approach this as though it were an actual volleyball competition. Only then could I be the best actor I could be. As I was about to start jogging laps around the court/set, my luck changed. I received word that we were to take off our volleyball clothes and get back into yesterday’s costumes. For me, of course, that meant the shirt, tie, long pants, and stiflingly hot Kazakh robe. This was a big problem because the Sukarno-era gymnasium had poor ventilation and terrible air circulation. It would be another sweat-fest. I quickly scanned the room for sweat-mop guy and saw him in the distance, bag of tissues in tow. Relief was at hand. Our adversaries were the Chinese, hardened communists with an emerging entrepreneurial spirit. Sure I was afraid, but I was from Kazakhstan and it was time to stand tall. Also, the Chinese team had 6 players and we only had 4. It seemed unfair, but then I remembered that this was a commercial and not an actual game. That didn’t stop me from hooting and hollering continued on page 11

November 2007




continued from page 6

continued from page 10

intermingled in villages adjacent to neighborhoods of non-violent civilians. Innocent families had to be detained and to most locals, the U.S. actions appeared offensive and intrusive. Jensen had the capability of assuaging the locals by explaining the operation in detail. In the mean time, the U.S. military was able to successfully drive out Al Qaeda from the village area. What could have been an even more difficult and violent situation was appeased by the abilities of an interpreter. Lechner offers several remedies to improve the results provided by interpreters in Iraq. First, he says, one needs to work with more than one linguist. According to Lechner, a “utopian” situation is having both an Iraqi and U.S. interpreter. To work with someone who is able to understand higher negotiations beyond just simple language is “very far between and rare.” Both Sterling and Lechner mention that the United States could use more interpreters. Arabic speakers are difficult to find and are not usually available to hold posts in Iraq as they have normally already served their time overseas. Lechner recommends that the US sustain the monetary incentives given to this group of language specialists. These incentives are similar to those that the US military enjoys. He also recommends that more people of Arabic descent contribute to the effort of facilitating dialogue in regions like Iraq. Lechner stresses that American education systems ought to be multifaceted, emphasizing language training as a priority in schools. Jensen notices that as stability grew in certain regions, dialogue would improve and become more accurate; people felt more secure and would not be as inclined to let sectarian differences get in the way. Yet the U.S. has a long way to go before finding the right number of interpreters with the skills necessary for improvement. Lechner states that the utilization of interpreters has proved to be adequate to succeed. Yet Jensen is not satisfied with the status quo. His overall assessment is that the progress of interpretation in Iraq is as good as it is going to get. Although he wishes it would improve, he is not so optimistic. With trust comes success, yet trust seems to be a scarce resource these days.

at the fans in the Kazakh section who were actually waving the Kazakh flag. The scene involved me and my teammate blocking a spike from the Chinese team. The spiker was actually a really good volleyball player and got a lot past me. However, I was instructed to always jump straight up and never try to block a ball that is too far to the side. So I swallowed my pride and took the instructions. Like a general told not to commit his troops, I was not permitted to unleash my full arsenal. After about 10 takes we finally got it right. At about 11:45 PM, I was told it was over. The other teams continued filming, but the Kazakh team was disbanded and we could go home. I had thoughts of returning home to Kazakhstan a national hero. The only question was how long the parade route would be and how many Uzbek girls would throw themselves at my feet. Snapping back into reality, my agent ushered me downstairs and handed me a stack of cash – 2 million Indonesian Rupiah ($220 USD) to be exact. Dividing that by the staggering number of hours I worked over the course of two days yielded an hourly rate approximately equal to the US minimum wage. But I was never in it for the money. Some people say they did it for the guy in the foxhole next to them. It wasn’t about that either. Others did it for the women. But I did it for the glory, pure and simple. And so my dream has been fulfilled. I have now acted in my first Indonesian cigarette commercial. Taking this with my previous experience modeling for a whisky company in Thailand, it is evident that my new career trajectory is advertising for vice in Southeast Asia. That suits me just fine.

Tania Hamod is a 2nd year MA candidate concentrating in Middle East Studies

Wine Society continued from page 5

grounded in “valuing our wine experiences more in terms of content rather than in ribbons, plastic corks and fancy bottles.” Despite her frustrations from experiences involving businessmen expounding the virtues of a wine they know little about, Ourania hopes to organize wine tastings and events similar to those held in Bologna – with an American twist – and to embrace SAIS DC into the wine family. “I know that there are tons of good American wines out there,” she attests. But as the Society’s current members know, and future members will know, wine is not just about wine itself. Just as there is no perfect society or perfect president: “There’s no perfect Cabernet Sauvignon – there is however a perfect moment, a perfect goal, a perfect set of efforts, a perfect mood that suddenly makes an objectively imperfect notion, subjectively perfect.” Abby Lackman is a 2nd year MA candidate concentrating in International Law

Page 11

Visit the SAIS Observer Online Your Life Might Just Depend On It!

SAISgeist The Official Blog of the SAIS Observer

David Michaels is a 2nd year MA candidate concentrating in Southeast Asia Studies


Last year we invaded Pakistan, blew up Djibouti and made peace in the Middle East. What will happen this year?

IT’S COMING SAIS Crisis Sim 2008 March 7, 8, 9

stay tuned for details

November 2007


Page 12


For more pics see page 12 Diversions 2 On Campus 4 Bologna Connection 5 SAIS Students 6 Arts and Culture 8 Op-Ed 9 November 2007 Volume 8 No...