Dim Sum Diaries

Lost In The Wilderness...

The State Department is a huge labyrinth of offices. All of the hallways are stark white and look disconcertingly similar. I spent a half hour every morning for a week meandering around until I located my office. This annoyance aside, everyone in my department was friendly and helpful. I enthusiastically got to work researching and writing fact sheets about our many projects concerning economic reform in the former Soviet Union. When I was on the phone with my boyfriend, I blathered endlessly about how great everything was there. "Oh my god Jeff," I gushed, "the Caesar Salad at the State Department cafeteria is the shit!"

Apart from the internship, I was enlisted in a study program (which was in no way associated with any government institution) run by a coalition of conservative Protestants. They offered classes in foreign and domestic policy with an emphasis on social justice. The premise sounded reasonable enough. I shared a one-bedroom apartment with three other girls from the program. Hopes of a close friendship with my roommates were quickly dashed when two of them recorded our apartment answering machine message as, "Hello, you have reached the home of the last two American virgins..."

In the foreign policy class, Cyndi (the instructor) directed us to write a paper regarding a relevant foreign policy issue. "I want biblical analysis in this essay, people!" she barked emphatically. This essay would be a cakewalk, I thought. All the research I had done at work would come in handy. It was certainly relevant. In fact, my boss had already commented on what a great job I had done writing the fact sheets. I focused on the plight of Kazakhstan, including much of the verbiage from my research. But I still had to incorporate some biblical principles analysis. But there were so many to choose from! I took out my bible and decided that any page I opened at random must surely have something of value...which turned out to be the book of Leviticus. Ah, the Jubilee principle! Essentially my "analysis" was: like the Israelites, Kazakhstan had been going through the wilderness (by not being a democracy). However, if they embraced the biblical principle of Jubilee, that is, social renewal and a turn towards Christianity, they should move successfully towards democratization. I hoped Cyndi wouldn't take my biblical analysis too seriously. The nation of Kazakhstan was 44% Muslim and 43% Russian-Orthodox. What were the chances of the entire nation of Kazakhstan embracing evangelical Christianity in my lifetime?

I turned my essay in. A few days later, my essay was returned with a less then ideal grade. By the jubilee section, Cyndi had scribbled "Excellent!". In the section where I discussed political and economic reform she had written, "Not enough biblical analysis."

"How did you do?" asked my friend Deanna. She was one of the few people I bonded with there.

"Not that great," I said disconsolately. "If my boss at USAID read this, she'd laugh her ass off."

I was angry. Yet the irony of the situation was almost laughable. Superficial judgments couched in religious jargon merited praise whereas serious analysis seemed to be glossed over. Yet Cyndi kept insisting we write our essays as if we were a think tank someone took seriously. As much as I loved my internship and Washington D.C. itself, I began to harbor a growing sense of resentment.