Sunday, May 23, 2004

A Most Momentous Week Indeed (Robyn Meets Bono)

I was off to such a good start, update-wise, this month. A run of three (three!) updates in a row promised to result in breaking my all-time record of four updates in a row, set sometime in the spring of 2002 when cool stuff was actually going down on a regular basis.

Alas, my renewed diligence was interrupted by really cool stuff going down, and my not having the time to write about it. No disrespect to the website audience (both of you), but I wouldn't mind a more regular occurrence of this kind of dilemma.

The first week in May was a brief respite between moving into DC and helping to set up the annual InterAction Forum. To recap, the Forum is an event at which the executives and employees of the nation's leading humanitarian organizations come to the Washington Marriott for three days and go to workshops and eat salmon and wear nametags and discuss the current state of international development and humanitarian workers (here's a hint: it's currently pretty crappy). Very important issues are discussed and very important speakers are in attendance (see last Update).

The whole shebang this year was essentially organized by a relatively new and preternaturally capable employee named Cassandra who has never done anything like this in her life. Cassandra was primarily assisted by an equally capable consultant named Beth. I was on hand as well for much of the week leading up to the event.

There were several 15 hour-plus days which consisted of padding around the dark office in socks, sticking little flags that say "Advocacy Day" to roughly 2,465,634 name badge holders (unofficial estimate), running off enough copies to bring the Rainforest Action Network to its knees in despair, removing roughly 394,857 "Advocacy Day" badges from the nametags of those who cancelled, and vicious tirades aimed at attendees, hotel organizers and, at times, colleagues all in the name of "therapeutic venting." For good measure, I hyperextended my knee early on in the process and so continued the rest of the endeavor hobbling around and whacked out on painkillers. The first day of the conference revealed that even the most empathetic and saintly of humanitarian workers who would lay down their lives to get a bag of rice to a village in Ethiopia will just about disembowel you for mis-alphabetizing their program packet. Pulling off a conference like this with little direction and little perspective of what the hell you're doing is much like making sausage. Just enjoy the tasty treat before you, and inquire not about the nasty, bloody work it took to get it to your table.

But this is a not a hard-knock tale, dear friends, for there was considerable emotional payoff for myself on the first night, when Bono made his appearance. He was a bit late, which accounted for a good deal of poorly concealed concern on the part of those staffers who had earlier been practicing shepherding a Bono stand-in through the catacombs of the hotels service entrances with walkie-talkies and all manner of gratuitous, CIA-style rock star-wrangling (by comparison, Colin Powell and the Secret Service-type folks just walked through the door and locked it behind them). But he arrived, the staffers still got to play Secret Agent, and he delivered a very good speech that had those who were skeptical about his inclusion in the program fairly well converted. After his speech he was led by his "people" (easily distinguishable from the non-profit crowd by their black suits, black shirts, and red neckties) into a room where the InterAction staff gathered for a group photo. Sadly, I am a bit obscured in the shot, and there was no verbal exchange nor a handshake between myself and the guest of honor. However there was a point in the evening after the initial insanity of the early morning had faded away, the event seemed to be well on its way to success despite many long hours of doom-laden prophecies on my part, and I was standing (quite literally) shoulder to shoulder with someone whom I can claim as my hero without fear of being guilty of overstatement. At this point, all the grief and trauma that marked not only the past week, but the past year and a half, was all worth it, and I was ecstatic.

And just in case it's not all worth it, I have a nice chunk of overtime coming my way. Don't even worry about that.