Sunday, May 22, 2011

summers abroad: Zambia and Costa Rica

Petra and I are going abroad this summer for internships. We've worked for months to arrange these opportunities, but they've only become solidified very recently. I'm leaving on Wednesday, and Petra's leaving in a week. Many of you are asking: Where the heck are you going, and what they heck is it you'll be doing? Good questions!

Where Erika is going: Costa Rica. More specifically, the very rural ranch lodge at the Caletas-Ario Nature Reserve near Playa Ario on the Nicoya Peninsula on the western coast of the Central American peninsula. The property ranges from the dry plains to jungley forests to mangrove swamps to the beach, has myriad wildlife like monkeys and parrots and sloths and bats, and has very limited electricity and other modern amenities. Photo of the property above.

With whom: CIRENAS, Centro de Investigacion de Recursos Naturales y Sociales. The organization is a few years old, and is focused on making the best use of the plot of land which they donated to begin the large wildlife refuge. They have hosted a number of groups of academic researchers as well as American high school students who want to learn more about Costa Rica. CIRENAS is dedicated to protecting the land and using it as an environmental teaching tool. The Grew family, the driving force behind the preserve, seem utterly delightful and deeply in love with the land, and I truly look forward to working with them.

What Erika will be doing: Environmental Education NGO management consulting. More specifically, helping organize and make more efficient the administrative and managerial functions of a thriving new NGO, hoping to achieve things like an organizational chart, codified job descriptions, improved organizational communications logistics and website, a fundraising plan, etc.

Where Petra is going: Zambia, in the center of Africa. More specifically, she will be based in the modern fairly-developed capital city Lusaka (depicted above), and will travel to other districts where her host organization is currently running programs. She’ll be surrounded by quintessentially-African contemporary urban and traditional rural scenery, gorgeous fabrics, safari-worthy wildlife and the incomparable Victoria Falls.

With whom: FINCA. Founded in 1984, FINCA International is a recognized leader in microfinance and the pioneer of the village banking methodology. Microfinance is a sector within international development that provides financial services to disempowered people, usually women, who don’t have access to traditional financial tools and institutions. FINCA currently operates a network of 20 country programs in Latin America, Eurasia, the Greater Middle East and Africa, serving hundreds of thousands of clients.

What Petra will be doing: Microfinance program monitoring and evaluation. Prior to her work in the field, Petra will attend one week of training in Washington, D.C. Together with two local staff, she will spend 10 weeks conducting research and client interviews in Zambia. She will analyze the response data to determine poverty levels, program impact, and why clients join, remain with or exit the program. She will then present her findings to local management and produce a written report.


Yes, we're going to different places, and yes we'll miss each other terribly and will eagerly count down the minutes til we can be together again, but we wanted to be able to do what was best for each of us professionally, and it's only two months, so we can deal.

We'll do our best to post stories and pictures here, but no promises on frequency, since we'll both be somewhat disconnected from communications infrastructure. So don't worry if you don't hear from us. We promise full updates upon our return. Hope you all enjoy your summers!

sublet our NYC apartment!

Sublet our spacious furnished $1550/month 2-bedroom NYC apartment for the summer!

My wife and I will be abroad for June and July, and are looking for a responsible, tidy person/people to stay in our apartment for those two months, from June 1 to July 31. If you need, we might be amenable to starting as early as May 29th and/or extending through the first week of August.

Our apartment is at West 107th and Central Park West, just seconds to Central Park. It is a three minute walk to the 110th St B/C subway stop, a seven minute walk to the 110th St 1-line subway stop, a ten minute walk to the Columbia campus, and just minutes to groceries, gyms, laundromats, and other necessary amenities, as well as just minutes to perks like the famous Hungarian Pastry Shop and other cafes, bars, and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It’s a quiet, safe residential block in a homey, active neighborhood.

The apartment has windows in each room, a fire escape we use as a tiny balcony, and a lot of light, fresh breezes, and quietness. It has two bedrooms, one of which is set up fully as a bedroom with a double-sized bed, the other of which is set up mostly as a study but which does have a very comfortable twin-sized futon bed. There is also a living/dining room with a twin-sized couch and dining table that can comfortably sit six. There is a small kitchen with big sink, 4-burner stove and oven, microwave, toaster oven, full-sized fridge, and a full complement of nice dishes and cutlery, pots, pans, and anything else a good cook might want to use. The bathroom is small, in NYC fashion, but quite useable: shower, tub, toilet, sink, etc all in good working order, with lovely hot water pressure. There’s a friendly live-in superintendent in the building who is very responsive to any maintenance needs. We also have our own reliable high-speed wireless internet. Children are welcome. GLBTQ folks and people of all races, ethnicities, religions, etc. are welcomed. Sadly, no pets allowed. We currently have no pets so folks with allergies would be comfortable here, and we also don’t have any bedbugs, roaches, or any other nasties. A maximum of two people can live here.

So what’s the catch, you might ask, since this price is a steal for this size and location? Nothing much, and nothing bad. The place was unlovely when we moved in, but we’ve put in a lot of work making it quite pretty now. The linoleum tiles on the floors have a few cracked places, but is just an aesthetic concern you’ll hardly notice. When you bake something in the oven, you have to use the exhaust fan or else the smoke detector beeps. There’s not a lot of counter space. We have two bikes hung on the wall in the big bedroom (and you’re welcome to keep yours there too). The tub needs to be re-grouted, but works fine. There is not laundry in the building, nor a doorman or elevator, though it’s quite safe and secure. It’s a fourth floor walk-up. Other than that, it’s perfect by anyone’s standards.

The apartment would be best for a couple, and could also work for two separate tenants. Our neighbors include lots of families with small children, so we’re looking for people who aren’t loud night-owls or big partiers. We’re also obviously looking for people who are responsible, won’t trash our stuff, and will keep the place clean. We will need to interview any potential subletters, and have you sign an official subletting agreement. We will need the entire summer’s rent and utilities up front: the cost for the two months will be 3290: (1550 for rent, times two) plus (55 for electricity, times two) plus (40 for internet, times two). Any additional weeks at the beginning or end would be the same rate, pro-rated per day. Photos of the apartment are available at

If you would like to view the apartment, please call Petra at 781-472-9293 or email her at We are available most days at most times from early morning through early evening. We will need to have a 100% commitment by May 29th at the absolute latest.