June 24, 2011

Miami women's swimming's Mandi Grandjean (Canton) is in the midst of her unique experience in the national's capital, Washington D.C. During her nine weeks, she'll be submitting periodic blog updates about her adventure. Here is her third entry.


Last week was my first week at the Embassy of Iraq. The embassy is actually neighbors with Vice President Joe Biden and the Naval Observatory. I work under the U.S. media division of the embassy. On a day to day basis I write and compile media briefs on what the American media is saying about Iraq.

I have also been given numerous projects. One of the larger projects I completed was to read and summarize the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction's quarterly report to Congress for the embassy.

In addition to projects and media briefs, I attend a lot of different events around the city. Last week I attended a Congressional hearing by the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights on the Best Practices and Next Step: A decade in the Fight Against Human Trafficking. This was really interesting and really opened my eyes to the very overlooked problem of human trafficking. I was shocked by many of the statistics I heard in the hearing but was inspired by the many NGO's such as Airline Ambassadors International. This NGO trains airline employees on what to look for in a human trafficking operation that is taking place on a flight and how to report it.

In addition, I attended an event at the National Endowment for Democracy on "Iraq's News Media After Saddam: Liberation, Repression, and Future Prospects". This event was particularly interesting because although Iraq is a transition democracy, it still does not have a fully free press. Many journalists are still targeted by government security forces. However, the media has dramatically improved since the Saddam regime.

Last week was very eye-opening for me. I am immersed in a different culture and am learning so much. This past week has only gotten better. On top of my day to day projects and responsibilities, I attended an event held by the Brookings Institution entitled, "A High Price: The Triumphs & Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism". It was very intriguing to learn and hear more about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, who was the former Chief of General Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, spoke at the event along with Daniel Byman who recently wrote a book on the subject matter. Since 9/11 counterterrorism has become a commonly used word in the America vocabulary, so it was very cool to hear from Ashkenazi representing the Israeli Defense Forces and how they go about counterterrorism.

I also attended a Congressional hearing on Iraq held by the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia on Preserving Progress: Transitioning Authority and Implementing the Strategic Framework in Iraq, Part 2. Every single panelist in this hearing stated that we should not pull out of Iraq and that our troop presence is necessary to maintain and improve the security of Iraq. This is becoming a large topic of discussion in Washington as we are suppose to have all troops, except for training purposes, out of Iraq by Dec. 31.

Yesterday, I attended a Senate hearing by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, "Evaluating Goals and Progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan". This was particularly exciting because the testimony was from Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. I had to wait in line for two hours to even get into the hearing. I was seated in the front row so had a perfect view of Secretary Clinton. The hearing itself was extremely relevant because just the night before President Obama gave his speech on Afghanistan and revealed the plan for withdrawal. I got a tip of what door Secretary Clinton would be coming out of and ended up being about a foot from her and Senator John Kerry who is the chairman of the committee. It was really exciting. I could have easily shaken her hand or spoken to her had their not been a White House Briefing meeting on Libya that she had to attend.

Needless to say, I have had an extremely exciting and busy first two weeks of my internship. I have enjoyed every minute of it.

What has struck me the most, however, is not something that I learned at a hearing or an event, but it was talking with my colleague who is from Iraq. Nour is a fellow intern and is getting her Master's Degree in International Affairs at Texas A&M University. One day on our lunch break, we were talking about the cultural differences between being an American versus being an Iraqi. There are many.

Nour was attending the University of Baghdad during the height of the violence in Iraq during 2006-2007. She told me a story that really had an effect on me, one that I thought should be told elsewhere. Nour was in her third year of college and was preparing for her finals like most students all over the world. However, for Nour and many other Iraqi students, waking up in the morning and getting ready for school was not simply just putting on your make up. Her mission was to escape the sniper that was posted at the only opening of her neighborhood to make sure no one left or entered it. Many women, men and children had been shot by this sniper. To get to school, the plan was to ride in the car driven by her brother and drive as fast as possible to avoid the sniper's shots to get to school. This is not the typical risk that most students would ever have to go through to get to school let alone to take a final. This was the peak of the sectarian violence in 2007. Nour and other students were willing to risk their lives daily just to take a test.

She told me that while I was trying to decide what social event I was going to attend that day or night, she was trying to figure out how she was going to survive her journey to class. Nour is a pretty amazing person. She experienced the Saddam regime and she also experienced the 2003 invasion. Nour has also lived through the reconstruction and the sectarian violence.

Thus, I know there are always moments in your life that you feel grateful for what you have, but after hearing this story I was so thankful for the safe and simple walk I have to Harrison Hall everyday.