UN - Real (By Cathy Solano)
My first view of the UN was on a Monday afternoon and I wasn’t that impressed. The 63rd GA had just finished, the metal barricades were still (untidily) in place at the front, the flags of most nations hung limply on the poles and there was a small, dispirited demonstration by a group of Tibetans calling on Ban Ki-moon to do more to stop the torture of their people by the Chinese. It didn’t feel particularly welcoming and there weren’t the crowds of interested tourists that I expected. Even the guards didn’t seem bothered with much. However, after being escorted by Joy, PBVM, to the Mercy Global Concern office and seeing the UN and the whole view from the 6th floor of the Church Centre Building my impression was completely reversed. I received a very warm and enthusiastic welcome by Deirdre and once she got talking (!) I couldn’t help but get caught up in her passion and energy and in the excitement of just being here at the UN!!! In fact Deirdre claims that I’ve said either UNREAL or UNBELIEVABLE at least 20 times a day since I started working on the 1st October. The very first thing we did was to go over and get my special ECOSOC status card that enables me to walk into any of the UN buildings and attend most of the meetings that are held there. All the people I met couldn’t believe that I was barely a day old and already had my pass.
Another intern was so obviously green with envy because he’d been here since August and his director had yet to organize a pass! So…what have I learned so far, and what stands out for me after “surviving” the first ten days?!
First: the language. I have stopped trying to work out the subtle differences between conventions and conferences, commissions and committees, working parties and task forces, high-level events and summits, resolutions and agreements, informal discussions, closed meetings, etc, etc. Second, the acronyms, (and I thought I had a good grip on more than just the basics like UNICEF, UNHCR, UNDP, UNESCO, OAU, WFO, WHO, NGO, RUN, GA, SG) but the following were also being thrown around: CSD, CSW, CEDAW, FfD, ICERD, WGG, OHCHR, UDHR, GFMD, PRS, MDGs, JMP, ECOSOC…Then there are the buildings. The Ba’hai Centre (I refuse to spell it center!), the Church Centre (as distinct from the Episcopal Church Centre), one that is just called “211”, Leo House, the ECOSOC Chamber, the many UN Conference Rooms…how was I ever going to remember where they all were? Then there are even the addresses like our own MGC office: the 6th Floor, of 777 UN Plaza on the corner of East 44th Street and 1st Avenue. Thank God numbers don’t scare me too much!!! And, finally, of course, the many different people who I am being introduced to by Deirdre, some just on the street as we walk along, or in the cafeterias or at the meetings and briefings we attend. There are the supportive and helpful staff and maintenance workers of our buildings, and the members of the NGOs who occupy neighbouring offices: Amnesty International, The Burma Office, Women for Peace... And it was lovely to meet the only other Aussie around so far: Kevin Dance who is representing the Passionists.
Getting around New York City is much easier than I imagined and I praise God for the common sense minds that planned its streets and avenues and subway because even a directionally-challenged klutz like me has yet to get really lost here. Thankfully, New Yorkers are very friendly and don’t mind pointing visitors in the right direction. Deirdre thoughtfully provided me with a small laminated map of Manhattan and once I understood ‘uptown’ and ‘downtown’ and the numbering of the ‘east’ and ‘west’ streets and their perpendicular avenues I was able to feel at ease in just wondering around and looking at all the amazing sights that are just around each corner and further down a block. The subway is a fantastic system and I have never had to wait more than five minutes for a train. When I went to see Ground Zero (very haunting and moving) last weekend I used the red, yellow, green and blue lines to get there and back home again! I easily walked 55 blocks that Sunday and must have climbed or descended hundreds of stairs.