Karen and I have now been here for just over 18 months. We have generally settled well into our new surroundings and any challenges have been met with a degree of humor, pragmatism, and occasionally frustration. The job with the UN has had its challenges but has not been technically demanding. The work ethic is, how shall I say, “less intense” than what I am used to but pleasingly a number of new ideas that I have brought to UNRWA have been appreciated by my team and they have done really well to think about work differently. For example, they now know they can come up with ideas of their own, measure their performance, make changes where necessary, and generally look at the work in a way that allows them to understand their important role in assisting our beneficiaries. I’ve invested a lot of time in my team because they deserve the opportunity to shine and be excellent at what they do. The feed back I have received from them has been one of the most inspiring parts of my role.
During my time here, a few senior members of management have actively encouraged me to think about moving up. Recently, an opportunity arose for a role as the Deputy Director in Lebanon. I applied, but knew I was up against it, as I really need more time to understand the overall nuances of the organization. I was surprised to make it all the way though the recruitment process, including the video interview, psychometric testing, psychological interview, and face-to-face in Beirut. It was a fascinating journey, but in the end I was not successful due to my lack of overall time (as originally suspected). Still, the interview panel were very encouraging and signaled a bright future for me in the UN, which was great to hear.
One of my shortcomings is the lack of formal educational qualifications. Generally, to move ahead in the organization you need a Masters Degree. For reasons various, I was not able to attend the NZDF Staff College during my Naval Career and therefore missed an opportunity to gain two thirds of a Masters (most attendees go on to complete the Masters in their spare time), but I was posted to Australia for the large ship building project our Navy entered into in 2004. I was on that project for 5 years, then returned to manage the Navy’s Supply Chain, so I did not get this opportunity. However, I gained much more than a Masters in that I met Karen, falling hugely in love with her, and returned to NZ with an amazing amount of Project Management experience. Still, the lack of a Masters is one of the things that will hold me back in the future.
With all of this in mind Karen and I have done some serious soul searching. She is still not working, and Jerusalem is not an easy place to live for a professional, out of work, woman. There are demands living and working in an occupied country where the anger of day to day occupation, from both sides, boils over into violence that can be occasionally frightening and often stressful. I enjoy the challenge, generally, but the stress level is only really understood when we go away on holiday. It is like the lifting of a ship’s safety valves when we fully relax, usually after a couple of days on holiday, and we both let out a huge sigh of relief to be away for the constant, bubbling, pressure of Jerusalem.
Overall, life is very good, but we have had to make a joint decision to support Karen and to give me an opportunity to move ahead in the UN in the future. We need to “future-proof” by investing in ourselves.
Karen will commence studying towards a Masters in Technology (Business Systems) through Swinburne University and I will start an MBA through the Australian Institute of Business. Both can be done via distance learning, online. I have applied for 9 months Special Leave and we will move to Cyprus sometime in mid December. I will not be able to renew my Visa for Israel, even though I do not technically work there, they insist on a Visa as the occupying force of the West Bank, and we can only enter and Leave Palestine through Israeli Borders. Also, Cyprus is the only country that will take Nessie and Ned without a period of quarantine. It also means that after 6 months, they can both travel to Europe or back to NZ with us, if this is what we end up doing.
There is no assurance that UNRWA will have a job for me at the end of 2014 and a colleague from another Field has expressed an interest in taking my job. Leaving, even temporarily like this, has its risks, and the thought of no income for nine months, and possibly longer worries me, but on the positive side, we are giving ourselves a better opportunity for future work, we have saved hard, and budgeted wisely, so we should be able to achieve this. Some people have suggested I should work and study part time, but the MBA takes about 25 hours per week and I am already working around 55 hours now and I really need to balance work and relaxation just to remain sane. We think the best option is to move away from our current environment, get on and study, then return back to the UN in 2015, or late 2014, if there is work and if there isn’t… then we’ll have to make some tough calls.
One idea is to change direction completely and study Psychology, for me, and I can become a counsellor. It is an idea, based on some experiences, that has developed over the last ten years and I have found that I enjoy working with people to help them realise their full potential. Another plan, is to move on to the UK and look for work. Karen has a European Passport and is able to work but I have to apply for a Visa and that can only be done in New Zealand, and Karen has to be already established with a job, house, etc. This will take a bit of juggling, but is worth considering. The other plan is to return to NZ to our place in Paraparaumu and commence our business as Project Managers. It was a good little business and Karen was well employed, but to me it seems like taking a step back a bit. I definitely haven’t ruled it out but it’s not my preference.
So, in a few short months, after two full-on years of managing a UN Supply Chain, we are recalibrating, working on our future, and bidding farewell to East Jerusalem. I will miss my team, but I will not miss dealing with the hostility of the Occupation. We will find a nice place to study in Cyprus where Ned and Ness can run around, in wet grass, and be proper cats again. Karen and I will breathe easy, but we will think fondly of the remarkable Palestinians I have worked with, the few decent Israelis who have tried to make a positive difference, and the wonderful Internationals who have become firm, lifelong friends. Shukran to you all.