Sunday, September 26, 2010

International blackmail!

So, Pat is a Fulbright scholar. In 2004-2006 we went to Peru to complete his dissertation research project. Upon our return, things fell through during the analysis and write-up phases, and he eventually dropped out ABD ... following in my footsteps (except I wasn't yet ABD; I was in the dissertation proposal phase when my committee chair told me she was not interested in my project, and I decided I was not about to spend another five years trying to reconstitute my committee out of unwilling and laissez-faire profs, after waiting for her arrival and then for her help for, quite literally, years.) We are understandably a little bitter and sensitive about the outcome of so much invested time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears -- even though I mean it when I say "I regret nothing."

The co-director of Pat's project has serious problems with the National Institute of Culture in Peru. Because the INC keeps raising objections to the final project report (on account of analysis and write-up not being full, among other things, like the project design that they okayed in the first place!), Carmen cannot work in her designated field until they sign off this project. This is understandably a source of despair and stress in both hemispheres.

Carmen sends letters cryptically stating (some of) what the INC wants. Pat sends back revisions and data, and tries to call her at the (always dead, because stolen-or-sold-or-something) cell phone numbers she sometimes forwards. We have never reached her at a phone number she's given us. Three times, these revisions and data have been accompanied by money to meet Carmen's demands, because traveling to Lima and greasing the hands of bureaucrats doesn't come free. Then, there are months or years of silence, until, SURPRISE! A new and more plaintive letter, and/or rumors through colleagues who are still working in the field there, demanding different conditions be met.

Kafka had no notion of the dimension of frustration that this process has assumed. It is off the chart. We are afraid to travel to Peru because we honestly do not know if we'd be nabbed, right off the plane; it cannot be set right from afar by us, because the INC ignores all our correspondence; sporadic demands for information that Carmen KNOWS does not exist, and for more money, continue to fall upon us ... usually at the worst possible time.

A few months ago, Carmen got former colleagues to contact us on her behalf. Tired of this process or simply incompetent beyond belief, she has badmouthed Pat to every official and friend we know who works in the area; appalled friends contacted us, tried to distance themselves from our reputation, and asked us to please please for the love of God help poor innocent Carmen.

Pat submitted everything she asked (as he has done every time) and explained where and why information didn't conform with INC expectations (often having to do with Carmen's ... eccentric record-keeping or ... liberal interpretation of instructions, but even more often having to do with an approved research design that does not match regulations made after the fact.)

Months of silence.

Tonight, a demand for $1,300 with an itemized bill for some seriously inefficient bureaucratic costs and re-studies of the site involving graphic artists and topographers (no receipts, and we never agreed to any of this nonsense) with an implicit threat that "people [she] talked to at the INC" believe she could have been charging him a retainer all this time... but she's not asking for that, yet. But she can't work yet, she says, so she needs our help...

We don't want to keep shelling out. We can't. We don't have the money. We have a baby due in 2 months. And it's all such incredible bullshit. We are furious, alarmed, and depressed. When will this woman stop asking for money? Will she blackmail us forever? Is this, in fact, blackmail? Or what?

Anyway, yuck.

Life isn't all lemons. But oh, how I wish I knew how to make lemonade out of Carmen's predicament. I like her and I want her to be happy, free to work as she pleases, and prosperous ... but I can't be responsible for her forever. The money has definitively run out. What now, what now?

In more positive news:

1) I finished knitting that bloody annoying denim blue soaker which has been inhabiting my needles for, what, 2 months? and can get on to more interesting knitting. Yay!

2) Pat's building his guitar.

3) ... and he already built the crib that we bought for baby. :) OH MY GOD WE HAVE A CRIB!!!

Sending wishes for love, tranquility, and hopefully prosperity your way. Hope you don't have any nasty surprises waiting in the wings, as we always seem to.


Ducks said...

When I speak of eccentric book-keeping and itemized receipts, it should be understood with, perhaps, some rueful amusement that Carmen labels things "2 of 1," "2 of 1," and "2 of 1" when "1 of 3," "2 of 3," and "3 of 3" would be more orthodox. It's the tip of the iceberg, really, but it should give you some idea what we're dealing with. Also, you cannot flip grid coordinates and have them remain meaningful ... just a helpful note from an off-project bystander. :)

Anonymous said...

No, really. You totally have to write a book. I'm waiting.

Ducks said...

Haha Emily, you always make me feel better! Whatever would I write about? Latin American bureaucracy? Our adventures? Food? Diapers?

I DO have a non-fiction book in mind, and have for a couple years, but it'd be soooo eccentric. One of these days I'll start noodling at it. I do write fiction, but I've been idle a long time. If you want to read what I've got so far on the book-length one (which naturally needs a lot of editing as well as, well, to be finished) or any of my short stories, drop me an email and I'll send 'em. :)

Anonymous said...

I think all of the above? It all sounds intriguing and I'd read it :) I love reading other peoples' projects! For sure, feel free to send something my way!

Sam said...

Hey Linda!

We should talk more on email, but are you sure you are not being taken for a ride here?

Ducks said...

Hi Sam!

Sadly, we are pretty sure we're not being taken for a ride. Colleagues visiting Peru contacted us to let us know Carmen was "really upset she was being ignored" (she wasn't -- she had neglected to follow up on our request for more information), and we are hearing some nasty, poisonous rumors about what people at the INC are saying about us. We'd actually somewhat rather be taken for a ride. That said, there are exploitative elements in this that set off red flags in my head -- at every level. It's all sad, bewildering, and unfortunately typical. :( But yes, let's DO talk more via email! I miss you guys!

Heather said...

Ahh shoot. That sounds so miserable, so frustrating. Hoping the happy distractions fill your mind space until this other finds a resolution (and after as well)!