So reading a book written by other women-like-me has had me reflecting on the things I’ve seen and lived in these past years. The way in which it has shaped my outlook on the world.
As I read these essays, two things seem to creep their way into each woman’s story: tears and alcohol. And yes, hand raised, my essay includes both tears and alcohol. I guess I’m not all that unique after all, at least not in the company of humanitarian aid workers!
Why the tears? All women cry, well, almost all women cry. But the things that we cry about are probably not the things we imagine women are expected to cry about. We cry out of an accumulation of emotion. Our hearts fill, fill, fill and eventually they are full. Then we cry. Maybe that’s not unusual, but it sure seems like my heart has done its fair share of filling over the years. The everyday in my world is held at a level of intensity that I do not yet have the words to capture.
And that’s where the alcohol comes in, I suppose. This intensity of emotion, this depth of human experience which I struggle to describe, is not something we can live with on a daily basis. It’s really too much. The world is too much, and our voluntarily inserting ourselves into that world makes it all the more so. So that’s probably one of the reasons why alcohol is so popular. Some of the essays talk about the legendary aid worker parties, where people drink some awful poisonous local brew with no redeeming quality except for the fact that it makes them forget. Yes, I’ve been to those parties. Never been much of a drinker myself (she says to reassure her mother), but I’m so familiar with the need to forget. There are other ways we try to give our brains a break from reality… running, yoga, downloaded tv shows, and – well – all kinds of other stuff.
So not only have I witnessed evil, but perversion. Not just party-hard. That doesn’t have to be all that perverted. But I’ve had colleagues accused of sexually assaulting other colleagues. I would struggle to count the number of men I’ve met on the field who conveniently forget to mention their wives and kids waiting for them back home. Drunk driving, hookups in really-not-so-appropriate places, constantly shifting sexualities, bar fights… these are the things of everyday life. And it’s not just aid workers. I couldn’t tell you why, but I’m fascinated at how the few tourists who show up in our forgotten corners of the world put our own perversion to shame.
What’s their excuse? Do they just somehow think that this is a place where they can get away with it all?
And for that matter, what is our excuse? Yes, we’ve chosen a hard job in a hard posting where we hear hard, hard stories. But some things are, just simply perverted.
There are certain countries in my not-too-distant past that are coated with this layer of perversion in my memory. My appreciation for the natural beauty and my compassion for the poor and disenfranchised of those places is obscured by a sense of filth and guilt. Not because I feel I’ve done wrong, not per se. But because I went out of a desire to be a part of something good, and instead feel like we, collectively, gave life to something ugly. Something that I’m just not really too proud of. Beautiful, gorgeous places. Ugly, detestable memories.
I’m beginning to think I want to go back to these places again with no agenda except to be pure and seek out the best in people in a way I didn’t do before.