I’m working my way through an advance copy of a book entitled Chasing Misery. It’s an anthology of essays written by women aid workers about the humanitarian life. I’m thrilled to be a contributor.
The essays are good, really good, and I can’t wait until I can tell you all to get a copy for yourselves. They really do capture what it is like to be a woman do-gooder, the type of woman who doesn’t really stop to think about social conventions or whether it’s prudent to go to a certain place. The type of woman who goes where there’s a need and, if we’re completely honest about it, thrives on the adventure. We’re an odd bunch, in some ways. In other ways, we’re more normal than you think.
But reading the essays is bringing a lot of memories to life. I’ve worked in many places, difficult places, fun places. I’ve lived in so many countries that I might consider “the most beautiful place on earth” that I would be at a complete loss to choose a winner. None of them are anyone’s top-ten-tourist destination list (unless that someone was an aid worker, or a bit crazy)… Competing for top ranks include Timor Leste, Kosovo, Syria, Darfur. I’ve woken up to mountain landscapes, and ended my days to sunsets that snatch my breath away. And each of those precious moments was all the more precious because I felt so privileged to be there. Not everyone gets to live in the Balkan Mountains or in Southeast Asian rice fields. I could do it because of how awful life was in those places.
I saw evil. Always it was at arm’s length, never did it invade my personal space. But it was always just an arm’s reach away. Genuine, perverse, pure, nasty evil. Hatred, abuse, torture, disdain for humanity – these took the shape of a wide array of expressions which were nothing if not evil.
And all this darkness made the natural beauty of the places where I lived all the more beautiful.
Now, I know there’s plenty of evil surrounding me here in cozy little London. Evil is far from the sole property of the developing world and conflict zones. But it was most certainly more in – your – face.
And after a day of talking to people who have suffered, writing reports about poverty, witnessing injustice in everyday encounters, the grandeur of the desert would fill me with a sense of awe that will never be matched in London, where life is just a tad more respectable.