As I’ve written previously, one of the most amazing aspects of working at the Tribunal has been the opportunity to meet and interact with people from all over the world. Seemingly each day is its own cultural immersion experience, an experience that often times involves food. In general, I’m not particularly adventurous when it comes to eating out; my palate is fairly unsophisticated, especially on an international level. Sure, I’ll eat Mexican food any day of the week, and the odd bit of sushi isn’t bad either, but I must confess that I’m not very familiar with Indian, Thai, or African cuisines, to name a few. But while in The Hague, my gastronomical repertoire has broadened, if ever so slightly. For example, in the past couple weeks, I’ve eaten goat at an African restaurant (personal verdict: not my favorite), eaten several Turkish dishes (verdict: excellent), and tried some Dutch sweets (verdict: pretty good).
In continuing with this food motif, I’d like to explain how the ICTY is like a big bowl of candy beans. In the past 10 days, I’ve talked to people from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, Ireland, Kenya, The Netherlands, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, South Africa, Tanzania, and the UK. I’ve come into contact with people in so many different situations, by staying with a host family, participating in a mock trial, eating at new restaurants, sharing a couple beers with the IT guys, or even in the office. It’s a neat experience because you get to meet, if only for a short while, a representative for another country, and what makes it even better is that, for the most part, they’re normal everyday individuals to whom you can relate. You get to learn a little bit about their culture, their (sometimes foul) language, their legal education system, and so much else, sometimes within a span of maybe 10 minutes. Each conversation with someone new is a brief educational opportunity, one that I’ve yet to grow tired of.
They call the U.S. the melting pot largely because of our immigrant past; new peoples brought with them different cultures, languages, and cuisines, and they influence, and were influenced by, the larger “American” culture. This melding of cultures, this unique process of assimilation on both sides of the equation, is what makes the melting pot metaphor so apposite. Eventually we melt into a gooey delicious homogenous concoction (man, I want a quesadilla so badly right now) where you can’t really taste the difference between all the elements that went into the mixture; sure, you can taste highlights, exceptional notes, but otherwise it’s pretty much all the same. But working at the ICTY is different. While the myriad interns, staff members, counsel, and judges that operate within the ICTY influence its day to day flavor, the individuals themselves don’t really assimilate, or at least not in the same way. Rather, these differences have often been integral in making the ICTY what it is today: a renown international criminal tribunal. Speaking with counsel and judges, you learn how different legal systems have influenced the tribunal over the years. Because the ICTY was really the first international criminal tribunal since Nuremburg, and for a host of other reasons, international legal principles have shaped this ad hoc tribunal. Therefore, rather than using the “melting pot” metaphor to describe the ICTY, it would be more appropriate to analogize the experience to perusing a bowl of candy beans. The ICTY is a heterogeneous mixture of individuals, each with their own unique personality and flavor. And much in the same way that you can dig through a jar of candy beans and pick out a specific flavor, working at the ICTY allows you to experience short bursts of insight into the cultures of other regions around the world. In the past couple weeks I have been able to sit for drinks or a meal with colleagues and new friends, and I feel tremendously blessed that, regardless of how good (or bad) the food tastes, the company is always better. I can only hope that I’m a good candy bean.