Needless to say, the elevator ride up to the UNDO office occurred in complete silence. Not a word was spoken in a country generally regarded as populated by lift talkers. Lift talkers who in the Commonwealth are given the evil eye, but who in America freely exchange information on sporting events, children, and commutes unhindered. It was the kind of eerie silence one hears after a particularly powerful detonation. Not only could one hear a pin drop, one could just as easily hear a hair drop onto thick carpeting.
That same silence permeated most of the morning as Beaconsfield-Outremont and I were shown around the UNDO office, given standard office supplies, and marshalled to our desks. The particularly acute listener could have heard the sizzle from the back of the Montrealer’s head from the heated vengeful stare I directed towards him. Of course, if they were not distracted but the fact that I wore the Mont Blanc belt with such distinction and grace.
Just as my eyes were starting to redden from the sustained staring, I was ushered into Mr. Ducale’s office. The purpose was to give me an overview of the work I would do during my internship.
His office was very luminous, with a window framing a view of the Chrysler Building. The view was marred only by an office building in which the staff had affixed colourful paper to the windows to spell out slogans.
The current slogan invited a particular politician to contort himself in such a way that anatomist could surely prove to be impossible.
Mr. Ducale’s office was furnished in a way that left no doubt that its interior design had been left to a centralised bureaucratic committee. The sort of committee that focuses more energy on being a committee than on achieving any tangible results. The office was not as nice as Uncle Edward’s London HQ.
Mr. Ducale greeted me with a smile and asked me to take a seat.
“No thank you, Mr. Ducale. I had a large breakfast.”
An air of confusion swept across his face.
“I hope you are adjusting well to your new task.”
“Well, one would not want to boast about oneself, but I think I am doing rather well. Of course, I have only been here for a few hours.”
“A lot can be determined in a few hours. You would be surprised. And please call me Pietro.”
“My apologies, Mr. Ducale.”
“I have called you into my office, Vanessa, to give you an overview of UNDO’s work. I trust you have read the introduction packet provided before your arrival in New York.”
“My assistant Ypres has read through it and provided me with a delightful executive summary. She is my lady’s assistant.”
“She is your consigliere?”
“I will have to ask her about that, but judging by the panache with which you said it, I am sure she would agree.”
As a true bureaucrat, Pietro Ducale carefully formulated his words. He also displayed his talent for speaking in paragraphs. Long paragraphs. This is incidentally a talent that Uncle George likes to deploy with understated fanfare in Whitehall.
“As I am sure you are aware, the United Nations Development Organisation is focused on long-term development. Our mandate falls within the development pillar of the UN, the three pillars being human rights, peace and security, and, as expected, development. We are currently supporting Member States in their achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This is in contrast to our smaller sister organisation, the United Nations Development Institute Directorate, UNDID.
UNDO’s headquarters are in Geneva. The New York Office is a liaison office. We have a very small staff. We provide information on consultations taking place between agencies within the UN system at the Secretariat, and between Member States. We also work closely on a bilateral and multilateral basis with the Permanent Missions here in New York. A lot of what you will do here, as an intern, is attend meetings and provide reports and analyses.
As your immediate supervisor, I will review these reports and analyses. After review, they will be compiled with those of your colleagues and send to HQ in Geneva, and, if relevant, to our country offices.
Do you have any questions?”
I did have questions. After all, each individual word made sense, but put together they became an enigma. A confabulation that is comprehensible only to fellow bureaucratic aficionados. I may even have been that the jargon masked the fact that the speaker himself did not know what he was talking about. I braced myself to deliver the killer line.
“No, you were very clear, Mr. Ducale.” I paused for gravity, not that there was no gravity in the room. I am sure Newton could have conducted his experiments without any hindrance. Perhaps gravitas is the word I am looking for. In any case, I paused. “I do, however, want to clarify an issue. It is about my pay.”
“Yes. The internship is unpaid.”
“I see. So that was not a typing mistake. Surely you have discretion to have some sort of stipends delivered to interns.”
“Unfortunately not. You see Vanessa, UNDO’s work is in development. Therefore, we provide development and capacity building to the most vulnerable. The most vulnerable are, almost exclusively in our case, the global poor. By providing any form of payment to interns, we would be employing individuals that work for remuneration. Those that work for pay can be seen, by some, as being part of the poor. Of course, we cannot have the poor working to help the poor. That would be a terrible conflict of interest. This concept is applied throughout the UN system. All interns at the UN are unpaid. It is the best way to alleviate poverty.”
I may not always be the fastest horse out of the gate, but I am fairly certain that the logic for unpaid interns was flawed. The thought troubled me for the rest of the day.
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