Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

June 25, 2004 From my hotel window

Iíve been in Cairo a week now, but I might as well have been in a tunnel. It feels that way. Or maybe in an airport hotel in, say, Detroit - except for the lovely views of the Nile and the city out my window, of course. Until today, Iíve been on a shuttle between the hotel and the office and the cafť in the shopping mall. Always staring at a computer. Almost always, anyway - sometimes I did stop to point my camera out the window. I had to finish the copy edits on the book, so every night after work I took my computer to the cafť and worked steadily, two chapters a night, until the battery ran out in the computer. Sometimes till after the cafť closed. I think I could have stayed all night, they wouldnít have made me leave the table. Besides, the waiters all know me now, and they like me - the manager told me so. The book is done, though! And itís posted on the RFF publications website. I really will be a published author, of a genuine book, in October!

Okay, I realize that whoeverís out there reading this website, youíre probably not interested in environmental accounting even a little bit. But still, us authors, we have to have one chance to say ďbuy my book!Ē So if you actually want to know something about the subject, here's where you can find it.

Okay, no more blatant self-promotion! My work in Cairo is interesting. I may feel that Iím in a tunnel painted with scenery, but intellectually it is a complex and stimulating tunnel. Iím learning about things I didnít know before. Really nerdy things, but I am really a nerd, so itís okay. I mean, who but a nerd would find it really exciting to compare all the different mechanisms which by the structures of the national accounts could be disaggregated to identify tourist activity? Have a good time reading articles about the difficulties capturing tourist expenditure data from household consumption surveys? Enjoy building spreadsheets to test how two different methods for allocating lodging and food expenditures to tourism types would play out for visitors engaged in different activity patterns? And be happy that I can write it all up without having to leave out the complexity, because for once my readers are also techies like me!

It makes me feel rather schizophrenic. Since I went on the road, Iíve been trying to move further and further away from my professional self, get to know people who arenít like me and listen to them on their terms, not evaluate them from the perspective of the over-educated Hunter girl from New York. Now suddenly Iím thrown back in the professional world, where people call me Dr. Hecht and want to believe that I know things they donít and can give them useful advice. Where I always feel more dressed up than I want to be but less dressed up than I should be. I almost feel that Iím passing Ė not passing an exam, but passing for something Iím not. Passing for a proper working person who takes it all seriously and thinks itís important. Hiding Matilda and my Vanagon friends and my festival friends and my envy of everyone who knows how to repair cars. Iíve told some people here about my real life, and mostly they seem blank. They donít get it, not even enough to say that they donít get it. They just look blank and change the subject. Well, okay, they donít have to be interested in my life or understand it. But it does make me feel out of place.

Of course Iím still delighted to be here and doing this work. When I was in graduate school and decided to pursue a career in third world development, I never dreamed that I would be putting myself in a position where I could spend only a modest amount of time at work, and a lot of time doing other things that I find worthwhile. Iíve lucked out big time in choosing this path. I had no idea it would make it possible to travel with Matilda and travel for my work and have the flexibility I have. Well, thatís not totally true Ė of course I knew Iíd be able to travel for work, and I wonít pretend that didnít influence me at all. But back then I never thought Iíd want to be able to buy back so much of my time to do things like write accounting books, or run commissions in Arlington, or go on the road in a Vanagon. Iím incredibly lucky to have landed up here, donít think I donít know it! And it was luck, I would never pretend that it was wisdom or foresight that got me here.

And I do think this nerdy stuff I do is fun. I donít work on environmental accounting or wrap my brain around statistical policy or design survey questions because I think Iím helping the world and want to accomplish great things. I do hope it's useful, and I do have convictions about the importance of good data and of using information to make policy decisions. But thatís not why I do it. If I were really motivated by changing the world, I would have to be serious and do it all the time and make a commitment to stick it out, instead of flitting in on consulting assignments and then flitting out again. I do it because it amuses me. I find it stimulating and challenging. I donít think Iíd do the same work on the ďwrongĒ side of the issues, but itís not the ďcauseĒ that drives me, itís the intellectual amusement I derive from chewing over the thorny questions.

Which as far as I'm concerned is clear proof that I really am a nerd!

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