In Which I Hold a Ten Trillion Dollar Bill| June 3, 2011
Today is Ascension Day, a Swiss national holiday during which the shops close, churches open, and I get to sleep in late. So I find myself off work with plenty of time to dedicate to you, my avid readers.
This past weekend, I took a train along the lake (Lake Leman) to Montreux, Switzerland. Montreux is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The city/town is built into the mountains, with stairs taking you from one level of the city to the next. Despite the steep terrain, vineyards are common, the planters have built giant stairs into the mountain giving them plots of flat land on which to plant their vines. (The people here must be in very good shape with all those stairs). I initially chose to visit because, 1) it was only an hour away by train, and 2) because it is the home of the Chateau de Chillon. The Chateau is an historic castle jutting over the lake against a backdrop of Mont Blanc (enormous snowy mountains). There is a tram that takes you directly to the castle, but I decided to walk along the lakeside path. Hundreds of people were out rollerblading, bicycling, and swimming.Walking in Montreux
The walk to the castle took me a little over an hour because I kept stopping to take pictures - mostly of flowers. There must be a silent competition amongst the property owners to determine who has the most beautiful gardens. I walked through a hotel garden with every color rose that I had ever seen and others I hadn't. After about a half an hour, I could see the Chateau in the distance. The castle is at the very tip of the lake over a drawbridge that has now been occupied by a ticket sales hut. The inside was enormous, representing several centuries of development: from the 12th Century AD to the 20th. The lowest rooms are roughly carved out of the rock, while the upper rooms vary in decoration and design. The ceilings are panelled wood or frescoed stone. I climbed up several dangerously steep wooden ladders/stairways to the sentry walkway and climbed down spiral stone stairways to the torture room and dungeons. I love historical buildings and cool architecture so the Chateau was so much fun. After my visit to the Chateau, I wandered back, stopping for extremely expensive but extremely delicious Italian food.
Chateau de Chillon and Mont Blanc in the distance
View from Chateau de Chillon Tower
Sunday was more of a restful day. I wandered aimlessly into the central part of Geneva, ate ice cream and walked along the jetty to the Jet d'Eau (it appears much much taller up close). And then it was Monday and back to work.
IBJ is currently trying to update the eLearning system they made to educate defense lawyers all over the world. This means that I am spending hours gathering together our research into each country's legal systems and the educational presentations we created in the past so that we can begin to tie it altogether into a real curriculum. The project is colossal, but I'll be only one of many interns who will work on it for the next few years. The work is probably more like education than "work." Since the IBJ works in 32 developing countries, I'm learning so much about the legal systems and history of places that I've barely heard of, much less ever studied - like Tanzania and Burundi. Certain facts about other countries, like India and China, about which I thought I was reasonably knowledgeable, have surprised me. What's most shocking is the amount of torture that still goes on in countries that I had once thought of as relatively modern. So many of the countries we deal with suffer from a serious lack of defense lawyers and court resources. In India, for example, there are prisoners who spend longer in jail waiting to be tried, than they would if they were found guilty. One of the staff at IBJ recently sent out a video on Burundi prisons and the children who are incarcerated with adults, left to probable abuse or worse.
Even though my research and work on the defensewiki.ibj.org cite won't touch many of these people for years, if at all, I find it satisfying to know that I am at least working toward the end goal of providing a better legal system for these people. I met our head boss and IBJ's creator, Karen e, an American lawyer who is so full of energy and optimism that you can easily imagine how she built such a vast organization. She and her assistant had just returned from Egypt, where they had met with lawyers to talk about IBJ's work. Another two managers had just returned from Zimbabwe. (One of them had some of the old currency which came in bills of "ten trillion dollars" and "one hundred trillion dollars" - he also had pocket change in the form of a "fifty billion dollar" bill).
I'm so happy that I'm here and doing work that might effect people hundreds of miles away.