Posted by: Aimee | 22 January 2010


It’s been a year and a half since I left Geneva. I’ve been back many times since then, and will love that city forever.  My three months as an intern at WHO were spectacular.  BEST. INTERNSHIP. EVER.  And having completed my internship, I earned my MSPH degree in Health Policy and Management from the Department of Health Policy and Management at the University of North Carolina in May 2009.  I’m working as a global health consultant in Durham, North Carolina … doing work that I love.

The time that I spent in Geneva, however, gave me much more than just a great internship and a summer full of warm memories.  For some time now, my internship preceptor has also been the special man in my life.  He has become my best friend, my great love, my daughter’s pal and, to some degree, her surrogate father.  He has brought new friends into my life, and has shared with me his amazing, wonderful family, who Caroline and I have both come to think of as our family, too.  I can’t imagine life without him.  And I can’t imagine what life would have been if I hadn’t taken off for Geneva on that lovely May day almost two years ago.   It’s amazing how one small decision – in my case, opting out of a South Africa internship and taking a last minute spot in Geneva – can change your life.  What an extraordinary change it has been.

Posted by: Aimee | 16 August 2008

Leaving Geneva…

Well, it’s officially over. I’m no longer an intern at WHO, and I’m not in Geneva as of about 1 p.m. today. Waaahhhhh. It was a difficult last week. I wrapped up as many things as I could, and had a great final meeting with the people at Patient Safety. I got great feedback, which was nice, but felt a real tug as I turned my project over to someone else to follow up on. I’ll have ongoing contact and work in patient safety, and would love to work there after I finish, but I was still sorry to leave. TDR was a different story. Although my preceptor left some weeks ago, my time at TDR continued, and I’ve built relationships with the people there that I will truly miss when I return to Chapel Hill. Yes, true, we will keep in touch … and will likely see one another again, but I am sorry that my time there is over.

I’ve had lots of other goodbyes, too … many WHO related, but people I know socially rather than because we work together. I am not so great at good-byes to begin with, not even when it’s just one person to say goodbye to, so saying goodbye to 20 or so people I’ve really come to care about was really awful. At least I got the big one out of the way a few weeks back.

So, here I sit in a hotel room near the Zurich Airport, returning to the US tomorrow. I am hopeful that I will find a job and make a life in Geneva next summer. But I’ve got two semesters of school to finish between now and then. So here I go… bound and determined to get as much as I can from my last year of school, to enjoy my Carolina friends for the time that we are together … and profoundly grateful for having had the chance to experience this wonderful summer in Geneva.

Posted by: Aimee | 5 August 2008

Next to the last week …

Well, I am now 0-for-2 in the preceptor department … with Steven now bound for Nairobi (a break from his vacation — wouldn’t want to get TOO relaxed all at once!) and Anne’s WHO tenure at an end so that she can return to Montreal and McGill University to resume her faculty position there and actually live in the same city as her new husband. So what’s an intern to do? Well, lots actually. I spent Monday in Patient Safety, well, some of Monday. We have a new intern as of last week, so I am helping to insure that she understands what is going on and what she is supposed to be doing. She’s a very bright young woman from Zimbabwe, by the name of Ruramayi Rukuni (Ru, for short), who is attending medical school in Briston, England. She will be following up on some of my patient safety research competencies work. Last week, Ru, Anne and I developed a survey questionnaire designed to elicit feedback on the contextual and prioritization issues associated with utilizing the competencies in developing and transitional countries. So, you can add to the list of things that I’ve applied from my first year of the MSPH program the survey methodologies and lessons that we covered in Tom Ricketts’ class. I had some issues with the format, length and content of the survey, and was able to articulate those concerns – thanks to Tom- in a way that made sense to Ru and Anne, so that the resulting instrument was, I think, something that will have a more accurate responses, more measurable responses, and a higher response rate. I had a long-ish break yesterday in mid-day to do a little socializing and networking. Coffee with a friend, and then lunch with some others, at the end of a very long walk to the next town along the lake, Chambesy. Fabulous lunch, wine, etc. … this is the life! But in the midst of it all, we were talking about really interesting stuff about how to build capacity in health metrics and informatics in developing countries. It is so interesting to have a chance to talk to, discuss with, and learn from people who are so knowledgeable, and who do such interesting work. By the end of lunch, we had talked about my working on a project that very well could form the basis of my master’s paper, basically designing a health system mapping application/matrix that could form the basis for a component- or module-based systems architecture for implementing health metrics networks in countries from the most to the least developed. Very cool. I know I have said it before, but it surprises me that so much is done in the area of capacity strengthening across a broad array of disciplines, but that we don’t really talk about it too much in our classes. While I know that we can’t learn everything in a two year stint at the SPH, there does seem to be room to expand the global health sphere just a bit to include something that is so important. Speaking of the SPH … it’s been going around in my head that there is a way to solve the horrendous state of affairs as it pertains to the 600-level classes. In every instance, I have heard scores of people complain about the time-wasting busy work nature of the intro classes that we all need to take to get a handle on the primary concepts associated with the other disciplines within public health. Both my BIOS and HBHE classes were excruciating, although for vastly different reasons. So … rather than having distribution requirements for 12 credits (four of the five from HBHE, HPAA, BIOS, EPID, and ENVR) why not make it so that you have to take a semester course comprised of two of those. And rather than using the recitations as a time to chat about concepts or engage in useless role plays or exercises, use four hours per week of lecture time, two credits per semester per course subject. Mid-term and final equally weighted, one for the first subject of the semester, one for the second. Hit the high points, leave out the extraneous stuff. Then, instead of 12 hours of credits, you only take 8 in the distribution requirements and have four more credits that you can use for the elective courses that are so hard to fit in otherwise. Just a thought, as I contemplate why I really need three hours of ENVR in the spring semester. :-) So… it wouldn’t my blog if I did not include some stuff about wonderful Geneva. This past few days, and the next few days we celebrate Les Fetes de Geneve, the festival surrounding the Swiss National Holiday over the course of about ten days. Music, food and really incredible rides all around the lakefront, and a gazillion people throughout the city. (This, I believe, is why so may people who live here take vacations now.) We have had a great time though. Caroline and I have been on so many rides, we’ve been to the fetes with my friend, Vinita, and Caroline goes with our nanny, Leigh. The incredibly opulent lakefront beauty of Geneva is, for a time, supplanted by ferris wheels and fun houses and food tents and the bright colors of a carnival. And fireworks, can’t forget the fireworks! Here are a couple of photos that show how especially lovely Geneva is right now …

Thursday brings another brief trip. (No preceptors, so what the heck!) This time, Caroline and I are headed to Barcelona to visit the woman who was my children’s au pair ten years ago. Eva was a very special part of our lives, but we have lost touch for the last number of years. How lucky that she found us while we were close enough for a visit. I am looking forward to seeing La Sagrada Familia, and enjoying a bit of the Catalan good life! I have heard nothing but great things about Barcelona, so I am excited for the trip, but especially excited to renew a friendship with someone so dear. That is all for now … maybe more later in the week, but surely more before I go. It is hard to believe that my departure is now so clearly in sight. Don’t quite know how to feel about that. :-) :-( ??? Well, I’m outta here. Ciao ciao.

Posted by: Aimee | 29 July 2008

The beginning of the end

With only three weeks to go in my internship, I am rather dreading that my time here in Geneva is nearly at an end.  Surely with three weeks left, I have a great deal still to do, but with the departure of Steve Wayling this weekend and Anne Andermann a few days from now, my own departure seems far more imminent now than it did only a week ago.   And that makes me sad.  Of course, that’s not to say that I don’t miss much about Chapel Hill … I do … but Geneva is different.  Maybe I can explain …

Geneva is an interesting place in a lot of ways.  I imagine that it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea … too slow for some people, too big for others, too conservative in some ways, difficult to adjust to in certain respects.  But for me, it has become like home.  Maybe that has something to do with the fact that I grew up in and around a city not too dissimilar from Geneva — Washington, DC — or maybe it has more to do with the fact that I have for a long time been enamoured of European attitudes and sensibilities about life.  I’m sure it has something to do with the charm of the city, the vibe.  But it also has a lot to do with the people – the diverse and fascinating people who live here, and the incredibly wonderful people who have come into my life since I came to the city, right from the very first day.  Whatever the case, as I begin to make plans to leave, I will simultaneously be charting a course in my mind for when I can return, maybe to stay.

I plan to blog a bit more about work in the next three weeks, but with a busy couple of weeks ahead, I didn’t want to give short shrift to reflecting a bit about the summer.  So these are my thoughts about my summer in Geneva …

Because I came here as an intern with WHO, I’ll start there.   WHO is an interesting place – quirky, different, fun, absorbing, intriguing, frustrating, and a bit odd in some ways.  There is a huge abstract painting that hangs in the main hall of the HQ main building … people call it the WHO org chart.  Yeah, really.  I didn’t quite get it when I came here.  Now I get it.  The other buildings that surround the main building are called the C, X, M and L buildings –not A, B, C, and D.   Roman numerals, go figure.  WHO just underwent (or is actually still undergoing) a shift to a new global management system for its IT.  Global Management System … GMS, right?  Wrong, acronym taken … so they call it GSM.  Just whisper “GSM” and eyes begin to roll, heads to shake.  It doesn’t work very well, and EVERYONE complains about it while the IT section sends out emails almost daily to say how well it’s working  … and they simultaneously moved IT support from Geneva to Kuala Lumpur.  Hmmmm…. are you starting to get the picture???  And then there is the other side of WHO.  My favourite part of the HQ campus is the life-size sculpture outside the main building … a young boy leading an old blind man by a long stick — once a common sight in Africa, where onchocerciasis is endemic.  But WHO (especially TDR) has promoted and facilitated widespread ivermectin treatment programs, especially in the context of community-directed intervention, and has saved the sight of millions of people.  That’s only a single example, but it’s emblematic of the countless good things that WHO does.  For all its quirks and idiosyncrasies, the World Health Organization and the people who do its work are an amazing and talented bunch of people who dedicate enormous amounts of time and talent to making the world a healthier place and who, on a daily basis, rise to the challenges presented in addressing the difficult health issues that face people who are poor and vulnerable.  I feel more fortunate than I can begin to describe for having had the opportunity to work here, and to contribute in some small measure to the good works that go on in this place.  It has truly been a joy and a privilege. 

Now the really tough part … how do I manage to reduce to words what it has meant for me to be here.    I came to Geneva as an intern, planning to ride out a three month stint with my daughter in a place I’d never been and hadn’t really given much thought to, truth be told.  But every day that I’ve spent here has given me new things to enjoy about Geneva, new experiences to appreciate, new reasons to think of it as home.  It isn’t that Geneva is perfect … surely it isn’t.  It just works for me.  I love this place.  So here’s my Geneva…

I live in a two bedroom flat in Pâquis, a vibrant and noisy section of Geneva – right by the lake on the Rive Droite. I live on the fourth floor (fifth, if you count floors like an American), with no elevator.  No air conditioning, but the weather isn’t that hot, so I’m surviving.  I have a small washing machine, but, as is mostly the case in Geneva, no dryer … so I hang my laundry to dry.  It takes some adjustment, and I’m not so sure I’ll ever get to the point where I don’t prefer to sleep with the A/C cranked and a blanket on, but life is good here at rue des  Pâquis 16.  Down the street is the local square, fountain and all, where people sit, meet, take their dogs, kids play and kick footballs and ride scooters.  It is so rich with the flavour of Pâquis.  There is a lot of singing in Pâquis — when the bars close at 2 a.m. there are always people singing, but people sing at other times, too.  There is a guy who rides his bike to work past my building every morning at 820, ipod on, singing at the top of his lungs and completely out of tune.  Football fans sing, and friends sing, and it seems that men tend to sing a lot more than women.  This weekend, I heard a bunch of guys singing songs in Spanish as they taunted their soon-to-be married friend as he walked through the neighbourhood in a chicken suit.  Seriously, a yellow, fuzzy chicken suit.  Noise notwithstanding, Pâquis has been a good and happy place for us to live. 

I walk to a bus stop near the train station each morning.  The way I walk takes me up through the red light district.  It isn’t like the ones you see in the US – not the nicest area, but hardly unsafe or unseemly.  Every morning, even at 815 or 830, there are prostitutes out on the corners and by the bars.  There are many more when I head home in the afternoons.  Prostitution is legal here, but pimping is not.  From what I understand, the prostitutes own the Thai restaurant just about 3 blocks from where I live, and they all “work” there, and have health insurance and pensions through the restaurant business.  How’s that for empowerment?  I wonder as I pass the by the same women on most mornings what their lives are like, and consider what a difference it makes to these women that sex work is treated differently here than in the contexts that are more familiar to me.   Of course, I also wonder how they walk in those 8-inch Lucite heels.   

I love the diversity of the people here.  While French certainly dominates as the primary language, and English is spoken abundantly as well, there are people from all over the place.  German and Italian are the next most frequently heard languages I think.  There are a fair number of eastern Europeans, with languages that are completely unrecognizable to me, except that I can usually pick out Russian.  There are lots and lots of Africans, and now, in the August holiday season, gazillions of Arabs.  I don’t think I had ever seen a woman entirely covered, either with only their eyes showing or not even that.  Here there are many.  There are very, very wealthy people here in the city of Rolex, with Maseratis and Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Bentleys everywhere.   And there are beggars on the street, mostly women and frequently barefoot, sometimes with small children.  There is an organ grinder on the rue du Mont Blanc, and there are topless sunbathers at the Bain de Pâquis, where I take Caroline to swim.  But as you walk by the lakefront and see teenagers rollerblading and laughing, couples strolling, people feeding pigeons or kids chasing them, parents warning their kids not to let their gelato drip on their clothes … it’s hard not to think of how very similar we are.

It’s nearly impossible to describe the beauty of this place — breathtaking, stops-you-in-your-tracks beauty.  A friend whose children are now grown and back in the US says that she always used to tell her kids when they were growing up to remember what a beautiful place they grew up in.  She’s right, but I can’t imagine how anyone who has been here could not carry with them how truly lovely it is. On a clear day, when Mont Blanc is visible, it’s hard to keep your eyes off it.  When it’s sunny and the breeze is blowing, sailboats dot the lake as far as the eye can see.  And on the rare occasions when I get to the Rive Gauche, I look across the lake to see the exquisite Rive Droite that I call home … and I feel so very lucky.  I take a little ribbing every now and then for my constant state of awe, but if you go back and look at the pictures I’ve taken, all un-retouched, how can you argue that this isn’t one of the most beautiful places in the world?

I love the flower boxes filled with geraniums and seeing the Swiss flag flying from the buildings in town, especially when the stark red and white is set off against an incredibly blue summer sky.  I love the sort of weirdly cut trees that line the lakefront and drinking tiny glasses of grotesquely overpriced wine at the Terasse on the lake.  I love that people take their dogs into department stores and on the bus and just about everywhere else you can think of.  I love the lake, and being by the lake at night when the lights shimmer on the water and the streets are filled with people.  I love being able to go to France at the drop of a hat.  I love that you have to buy a bus ticket, but that no one takes a ticket or checks to see if you have one.  I love that so much cool international stuff happens in Geneva.  I haven’t experienced the Fêtes de Genève yet, but I’m pretty sure that after next weekend, you can add that to the list. I love sitting outside at the local cafés for lunch or dinner, and being “a regular” at the places in my neighbourhood.   But all of that stuff is just the big picture stuff that makes Geneva so amazing.

There is other stuff, too … the stuff I just can’t explain, or don’t want to … but I can’t write of my summer in Geneva and not include something about the people who mattered most, the things that made all the difference, the moments and memories that I’ve come to love most dearly about my time in this place….

… fondue chinoise, Anne and Steve, lunchtime plats du jour, Annecy, the Grand Duke, Leigh, Centre Casai, gamay de Genève, tunnels through the Alps, the Splendide Royal, Flora and Madhavi and Gillian and Pauline, penne beurre, Mont Blanc, walking,  the intern room, Hashim,  wine by the deci, train rides, Itziar, cool rosé on a hot day, my Italian market, “Drillbit Taylor”, rue du Mont Blanc, Khalifa and Selam, Café du Soleil, June 10, new old friends, La Matze, Manor, filets de perche,  a boat ride in the rain, Bollywood … L u g a n o gelato stops, a Saturday in Bretigny, the tower of tapas, three kiss hellos and goodbyes, Yvoire … and a special little place on rue des Alpes.

So that’s it … my summer.  What an incredible summer it’s been.

Posted by: Aimee | 22 July 2008

This and that …

I really do hate to sound like Pollyanna, but as my internship winds down in some important respects, I have to say that this has been an amazing internship, that I have worked with some extraordinary people, and that I could not imagine a better summer or more incredible place to spend three months.  Okay, enough.

Since my last post …

We had the TDR picnic on Friday.   The pictures show only a few of the really great people I’ve gotten to know this summer … including my preceptor, Steve Wayling, and one of my favorites, Hashim Ghalib, who works on leishmaniasis.  We had a wonderful barbecue at a park on the lake, a beautiful day, and great food. 

Had a great weekend … went to Bretigny, France on Saturday for a party and to Yvoire (also in France, but on the other side of Geneva) on Sunday for sightseeing in a lovely old medieval village and filets de perche by the lake.   Oh la la, life is good here in Switzerland. :-)

On Monday, I presented my work on patient safety to some of the patient safety staff and several of the other interns.  It went pretty well and is a great way for all of us interns to share the work that we’ve been doing before we leave.  Because both of my preceptors are leaving soon, I did mine before my internshis is over, but at least it’s out of the way.   After a conference call with one of our project leads, it became clear that the project has more facets that need to be addressed before a final draft of competencies is completed.  Since pretty much all of the professional staff is on vacation for the next three weeks, they asked me if I would help to supervise the new intern who will be working on one of these new aspects of our project, which entails working on a survey methodology to solicit developing country input on the competency project.  That will be a new element of my internship, and is certainly something that will both broaden my own horizons and keep me sufficiently busy after my preceptors leave.   I had thought about returning to Chapel Hill a week early for fear of nothing to do, but this is a great opportunity to prove my mettle, so I am here for the duration.  There is also a possibility that I could continue doing some work on patient safety for WHO after I return to school, so I will be keeping my fingers crossed on that. 

Also on Monday, ADG Tim Evans met with the interns from the IER cluster (Information, Evidence and Research) … about 14 of us … in his office.   He told us a bit about the evolution of IER, that it was separated from health systems not so long ago, and about the organizational push for a more comprehensive research strategy.  Very nice guy, and quite interesting to get to have a meeting in a small group like that where we can talk to one of the higher-ups that we usually just hear about. 

Monday night, Anne, Steve, Caroline (my daughter Caroline, of course) and four of us interns went to a Spanish tapas restaurant on the Rive Gauche for a sort of goodbye feast.  We ordered the “Tower of Tapas” as Anne calls it, as opposed to the “Pile of Tapas” that went by us to the other table.  The restaurant actually calls them by Spanish names, but we like Tower of Tapas best.  Very yummy food … lamb and chicken and cheeses and shrimp and salad and chorizo … and frites, of course.  Great Monday.

So, that’s what’s up so far this week.  Finishing up the Gates proposal this week to get it submitted before Steve takes off for Canada.  More when there’s more to tell.  Bye for now.

Posted by: Aimee | 17 July 2008

Equal time…

After listening to a bit of grumbling (from a party who shall remain nameless) about not receiving as much virtual ink on my blog as patient safety, I though that maybe I should get on here and write a little more about TDR.

TDR … the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases … a joint venture of UNICEF, UNDP, World Bank and WHO to address the major infectious tropical diseases. Yes, that is a mouthful – but it doesn’t begin to describe the incredible work of this organization, or the dedicated and wonderful people who work here. (Okay, so not all of them are so wonderful, but the ones I get to work with are pretty stellar.) To think that I can give anything close to a complete picture of all that TDR does … well, I’m pretty sure that there are people who have worked here for YEARS who couldn’t even do that. But it certainly is worth telling you what I know.

TDR’s work centers around a portfolio of ten tropical diseases, some of which are widely known, others not so much. Malaria, TB, onchocerciasis, leishmaniasis, schistosomiasis, African trypanosomiasis … and some others. Obviously, the burden of these diseases falls primarily on poor people in the developing world, countries that in TDR shorthand are referred to as DECs … disease endemic countries. So what is it exactly that TDR does? In a nutshell, they facilitate and promote research and development for ways to deal with the diseases (prevention, control, treatment) and in training and strengthening so that DECs have the capacity to deal with the disease burden more appropriately and independently (empowerment is the word we use a lot around here.) TDR funds research and directs its support to high priority areas. It also funds training of DEC scientists (academic training at the masters and doctoral levels and more specific career development-oriented training), and builds and manages networks and partnerships that support scientific work, increase research and development, and strengthen research capacity in low resource countries and regions.

One of the best things about my summer is the people I’ve worked with at TDR. Many of the people who work in TDR (most, I expect) are MDs and/or PhDs, and much of the work they do is highly technical. They are a really bright group of people, in many cases brilliant. They come from all over the world – Brazil, Sudan, Tanzania, South Africa, Philippines, India, Thailand … and lots more. Interestingly, many of the people who are now at TDR with doctoral and post-doc credentials are people who were trained by TDR in the programs I mentioned above.

Of course, the main person who has shepherded me through my time at TDR and my transition to life in Geneva is my preceptor, Steven Wayling. As a fellow UNC-HPAA alumnus but not a Tarheel (okay, I am jumping the gun a bit, since I am not yet an alum … but whatever) Steve is the one who agreed to have me come here, and who has been a terrific person to work with and learn from throughout the summer. He has had a long (and dare I say “storied”) career at WHO, in the EURO region, in HIV/AIDS in the early days, and for a long while now at TDR. I have been fortunate that he has shared with me a great deal of his expertise with respect to the work I’ve been doing here at TDR, and has included me in much of the daily work that he does in managing the far-flung networks that do such important work. He’s even allowed me to continue working all summer in a desk at his office which looks out on the Alps and the Jura … a view that provides me with ample distraction from work when the day is clear and sunny. Probably the best part of working with Steve, however, has been the stories … lots and lots of stories … of people he’s known and things that he’s done in the course of his career, how WHO has changed over the years, what its quirks are (and there are plenty of them), and a fair bit of the inside baseball stuff that I think most interns never get to hear. I am one lucky intern.

Really, all of that barely scratches the surface. As someone whose interests lie in health systems policy in the developing world, it has been a real gift for me to be able to work at TDR and to gain some insights into the hands-on work that is going on every day to build and strengthen the health systems of poor countries. Even though my internship is weeks from being over, things will change substantially next week when Steve and Anne leave for the rest of my time here. I’ve already sung Anne’s praises a couple of times, but didn’t want to wait until he was gone to kiss up to my other preceptor, too.

That’s it for now…

Posted by: Aimee | 16 July 2008

This week in Geneva …

The view from the roof garden at WHO

The view from the roof garden at WHO

Yes, it’s true … this place does look like a postcard. And the view from the top of HQ is probably the best in Geneva. You can’t always tell there even are mountains out there, but when you can see Mont Blanc (the big white one, as the name might suggest) it is truly spectacular. But alas, work is getting done here as I’ve passed the midpoint of my internship and seem like I’m heading into the home stretch.

After having sent out our patient safety research competencies paper to our expert working group, I synthesized the comments we received and then worked on some changes with Anne Andermann. I have learned a lot as I’ve worked on this project, both substantively and in terms of process. Anne’s methodology and thoroughness are amazing, and have provided a great example to me of how to do a really top-notch job. I’ve also appreciated that she and I have had a constructive give-and-take, and that the product we have turned out is a collaborative effort that, I think, will be of great help as the competencies project moves forward after my tenure here ends. The next steps are that we will have a teleconference with out project leads in Canada, and that I will be presenting our work to the patient safety cluster (our part of it anyhow) on Monday in a PowerPoint and Q&A session. (On the 8th floor, with the exact view that you see above. :-)) So, one priority right now is to get my slides done for the presentation. I am so thankful for the drilling we got about how to make a good presentation … thanks, JP and Dr. Z! Anne leaves Geneva at the end of July to return to Canada. I may have some more PS work to do in my last couple of weeks, even after Anne leaves. It is likely that I will be helping the new intern to transition into the next phase of the project, which I think I will rather enjoy.

On the TDR front, not much has changed in terms of what I am working on. With my preceptor here also leaving in a week and a half … also for Canada, but not permanently … we have a lot of things to wrap up here. The number one priority is still getting the Gates proposal finished and submitted by the end of next week. It will be different here when Steve and Anne are gone … :-(

Well, that is about it for now. I’ll write more after my presentation next Monday … or sooner if there is something to tell.

Posted by: Aimee | 10 July 2008

Can it only be week 6???

Thursday of Week 6 … it doesn’t seem possible that I’ve only been here for six weeks! I have managed to get a lot done in that time, and have come to think of Geneva almost as another home. At work, I am making good progress on the strategic plan for our section of TDR, which deals with the networks that build research capacity in developing countries. I am happy that after review of our LOI, the people at Gates have asked us to submit a full proposal for expanding one of those programs, which places researchers from disease endemic countries into training slots with pharmaceutical companies so that they can run clinical trials and R&D in their home countries. My patient safety work is also picking back up, as we try to incorporate the feedback from our expert working group and move our patient safety research competencies project forward.

I had lunch yesterday with fellow Tarheel and SPH master’s student Vinita Goyal, who is working on the main campus. She just got to Geneva last weekend, and seems to like being here and working at WHO pretty well thus far. I had to find out where Building X was in order to find her, but managed to take the right turn in the tunnel and discovered a whole new part of WHO that I hadn’t seen before. We also had coffee on the 8th floor roof of the main building, which has the most extraordinary view of Geneva … and yesterday a truly stunning view of Mont Blanc as well.

Well, that is mostly it for now, except for a picture or two …

Bain de Paquis ... the beach near my flat.

Bain de Paquis ... the beach near my flat.The view across the lake

Posted by: Aimee | 4 July 2008

Friends in high places…

Okay, so she isn’t my friend … and there were like 80 other interns there, so it isn’t exactly as if we were hanging out over a cup of coffee … but today we had our very cool intern meeting and Q&A with WHO Director General Margaret Chan.  What an interesting woman, and what a huge job!  She talked a lot about WHO priorities, and specifically about research and how important it is to rejuvenate WHO’s efforts to engage in first rate research, particularly as we head into the big health research conference in Bamako in November.  She mentioned neglected tropical diseases a bunch of times as an important priority.  I suppose that both of these things bode well for TDR (tropical disease research) where I am spending most of my internship.  During both of the times when I have had the chance to be around Dr. Chan, I have been really surprised that she has such a sharp sense of humour and a tremendous  warmth that one wouldn’t ordinarily expect from someone with such a lofty (and bureaucracy-laden) position.  She answered questions from several interns, and really made an effort to connect with people from different countries and regions and to address their concerns. 

On the work front, I have had sort of a not-so-tough week.  Both of my preceptors are out of the office, so I took a couple of days to take my daughter to Germany to visit a friend of hers from pre-school whose family is living there.  It was really lovely, and great fun … but with very different flavor than Switzerland.  (I can understand better now how much Florian missed schnitzel while he was in the US!)  Now, finishing up a couple of loose ends here on Friday afternoon at the HQ.  I anticipate that the next three weeks will be pretty work intensive, as both of my preceptors will be leaving for extended periods after July 25.  Lots to do between now and then. 

It is hard, work or play, not to enjoy the wonderful city of Geneva.  It is a beautiful city, filled with interesting people and a diversity that I find incredibly appealing.  Unfortunately, it is exceedingly difficult for an American to get hired at WHO … but that sure is in my sights right now.  I can’t imagine a better job … quirks of the organization notwithstanding … than to work at WHO.  (At least not for someone like me whose interests are in health systems policy in developing countries.)  The weekend is coming up … Saturday is a shopping day in Geneva, since the stores are mostly closed after work.  But I’m trying to squeeze in a trip to the Montreux Jazz Festival on Sunday if the gorgeous weather holds.  Or maybe just a lazy day relaxing by the lake right here in Geneva.  Kind of a no-lose proposition.

Posted by: Aimee | 27 June 2008

Just thinking …

Some non-work-related thoughts on spending the summer in Geneva thus far … 

* One of the best things about Geneva is that there is so much cool stuff to do here and within just a short distance.  There are beaches on the lake, great museums, spa towns close by in France, glaciers, beautiful small towns and terrific weekend markets.  We’ve been to Paris and Annecy in France, and we are going to Germany next week to see one of Caroline’s friends.  Might even make it to Italy before the end of the summer.

 * It’s interesting to get on the bus … especially the #8 bus that goes from WHO, to ILO, and by the UN and ICRC and a bunch of the permanent missions … and to hear an incredible number of languages spoken – Russian, Arabic, various Eastern European, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and usually at least three accents of English.

* Euro2008 is so cool.

* Spain’s national anthem doesn’t have any words, so everyone just hums the tune.  (What a great idea!!!)

* Summers that aren’t filled with 95°+ days are really, really great.


* For a country with a whole lotta cows, they really don’t know how to cook a good steak.  (But the fondue makes up for it.)

* Switzerland has some interesting peculiarities, like …


– for a long time, it was a law that you couldn’t flush your toilet (or  make other  excessive noises) between 2200 and 0700

– when you name your child,  it has to be from a list of approved names or you have to get special permission in order to deviate

– almost no one has a dryer to dry clothes, so  you have to plan your laundry in advance to have time to dry it on a rack

– the shopping carts in grocery stores have all four wheels that spin, so you can move the cart easily in any direction much more easily than the ones that have two stationary wheels in the US

– the Canton of Geneva does not perform weddings on Saturdays or Sundays (and civil weddings are the only kind officially recognized in Switzerland)

– stores can only have sales twice a year, in January and July

– stores, including grocery stores, close on most nights by 7 p.m., but on “late shopping night” (Thursday) they’re open until 9 p.m. and EVERYONE shops … and mostly everything (except restaurants) is closed on Sundays

* I don’t know whether this is a Swiss thing or a European thing … but apparently, lane markers on roads are really only vague suggestions about where you might think about driving, and everyone really drives wherever they want on the road, in this lane or that, straddling both, whatever… and motorcycle drivers think the lane lines are their personal space.  Being on the roads here, even as a passenger, is a harrowing experience. 

* Living in a fourth floor walk-up (Euro 4th floor, which means 4 flights of stairs) ain’t easy, but it compensates for all the good food and wine that one could hypothetically consume while living in Geneva.  

That’s about it for now … I’m still working hard at TDR … and looking forward to my weekend, which comes about 6 hours earlier than it does for y’all.








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