Field Notes

Memories and experiences from a year at IDEO.org

Intense noise. People everywhere. Skype chats. Text updates. Moments of solitude. Letting people down. Laughing until I cry. Food cooking, the call to prayer, bikes, tea all day, exhaust fumes, instant coffee, horns, open sewers, dogs, kids, mothers and babies, men lining up looking for work, fans humming, guards, guns, security checks, glances, gestures, a sell, curiosity, tobacco, chat, throbbing music, and on and on and on and on. Random meetings in strange cities. Some deity or other protecting the back of a bus. English football jerseys. People staring. Staring back. Big, beaming smiles. Pulsating, amped, calm and in the middle of everything.

3 full weeks on planes. Countless more hours transferring, connecting, or waiting to board. Half a dozen 50+ hour transits. Kenya endless times, Myanmar twice, Tanzania, Ghana, Japan, Zambia, South Africa, Indonesia four times, the DRC, more. Going the long way round. Hours on end spent in the back of a car staring at the driver’s seat, looking out the window as the world passes by. Cities. Watching my niece and nephew grow up through a photo stream.

Cutting a trail through Golden Gai. Seeking out the bars where they don’t speak English. Making it home. Early morning at the fish market. Skipping the line for sushi by accident. Izakaya. Eating where old Japanese men eat. Five courses of eel on the side of the street. That old fella in the cap singing. Shimokitazawa. A morning coffee adventure. Day beers, fried things. Endless cuts of meat on the hot plate. Ordering what they’re having. Flaming fried rice. Sushi at Gate 33.

Soaked through with rain and sweat. Cross legged on the concrete, eating jackfruit and samosas, being told off by that lady in the women’s group. Drink the water! Roll the dice. It was fine. Well, pretty much fine. Standing in the rain taking selfies with the local kids and having uncontrollable laughter as our event gets washed out. Squeezing into the upstairs room of a house built for the Indonesian frame, taking notes and interviewing, wiping the sweat from my eyes. Meeting the whole family and the neighbors and their families. That old lady holding my hands and singing Que Sera to me. The bright flowers in clay pots outside her house. Spending hours lost in the back streets and warrens of working class neighborhoods in Jakarta. Knowing that neighborhood the next day. Being welcomed back.

Drinking water through a straw from a bag. Drinking 10 waters through a straw from a bag. Jennifer buying bobblehead dogs at traffic lights. Being forced to listen to Garth Brooks. Wandering around hardware stores. Pints in weird expat bars, watching matches from home. Staring at people over breakfast. Making up stories about them. Double double espressos. Laughing with Jennifer and Jessa and letting out a deep exhale when it was all done. Dory Fish. Too much wine. Leading Jessa astray. Bumping through Bali en route to Ubud. Knowing that we’re at the start of something.

Drunk taxi drivers. Shitty transfers. Chicago for the holidays, catch ups, hiding out. All the cooking. Roses, scrabble, tea with Ma and Ruth. Jars with the old man. New Years Night with Jay at the Huettenbar. Watching Sesame Street with James in the morning.

San Francisco in the winter time. For a few weeks anyway. Dublin in February with the lads. Perfect pints in Ryans. Ireland thumping France. Sitting with my dad at a match. Shouting more than him. Heading home early. More scrabble. Sunday dinner rituals. Quiet. More months lost to Indonesia. Cooking for the whole team on Paddy’s Day. Beef and Guinness stew after cheese and beers on the deck.

The Myanmar postit. Agriculture chats and reconnecting with it. Pushing hard. Planning, booking, going. Yangon, straight to 19th St, chicken, rice, fried mystery meat, horns, bikes, cars, beers, noise, temples, fish paste, fried chili, tea strong medium sweet, cigarettes everywhere, smiles. Dinner with Jim and Debbie and spending two hours just listening to them talk. Could have spent hours more. Driving all day. Houses on stilts, one plank bridges over tiny rivers with impossible step ups. Wondering how anyone could use them. Duck farms, betel, food behind glass, sweets, tiny furniture, eating peanuts, colored plastic seats, stares. Red mouths. Rice paddies. The dead python on a stick and the worlds oldest man who’d speared it. Irrigation canals. Pumps and diesel fumes. A delta town at night. That old man with his hand on my arm. Showing him photos from home. Listening to his plans for his grandson.

Tourist hotels, bugs, iridescent bulbs, plastic sheets, stolen toilet paper, pink sinks, hose showers, buckets, thinking the fan blade might fly off. Sweat. Waking early and walking in the street. Fried rice, fried egg, fried chili flakes, tea, water, coffee. Bobo. Cheap hats. Intense heat. Dodgy internal flights. The meticulously branded in-flight meal on Air KBZ. The Dry Zone. An open pickup truck for 8 people. Creedence, sand, heat, frozen water bottles, dry river beds. Leaves in the sand for tracks. Bumping around in the back of the truck for hours and hours, day after day. Driving too fast. Your man smoking the largest rolled cigarette in the world. Being the first white people that old couple had ever met.

Trekking through the desert to find perfect drip irrigation. Super farmer, a destitute family, the monk on a cell phone. A hierarchy and social structure becoming apparent. Welcome meals, sweet drinks, fruit, sponge cake, chatting for hours, escaping a sandstorm, watching branches fall down, lightning strikes. Knowing the way in a no name dustbowl town. Motorbikes parked in front of us. Drawing a map of the world to show them where home is. Beers with Barry in a street-side bar watching the monsoon rains roll in.

The approach to Dublin that morning after a 53 hour transfer. The howaya and the welcome home son at passport control. Driving straight to Kerry. Tayto, tea, and a Twirl on the way down. Laughing at the auld fella. Listening to them natter and laugh at each other. Spillane’s for dinner. Taking pictures of the sunset over the Maharees. Having two pints and falling asleep listening to John Creedon on the radio. Diving into the sea first thing in the morning. Freezing water. Staying in too long and staring at Caherconree in the sun over Andrew’s fields. Prawns, crab, wild salmon, fresh mackerel, vegetables from the garden, butter, wine. Cooking with my ma. The perfect pint of Guinness outside Murphy’s in Brandon. Driving around Slea Head. Ice cream in Dingle and laughing at the tourists. Walking down to dip my feet in the tide at Coumeenoole. Watching my dad dig the first of the season’s new potatoes.