Old Contenders

This post is by Adam Tousley, who recently worked for an INGO in northern Iraq. Adam previously wrote about his work in Northern Rakhine State in this post.
A. Tousley (2019) Flying Man Pic (I took this picture of the Flying Man Statue outside Baghdad International Airport)

Statue of Abbas ibn Firnas, the first man to fly in 875 BC. The statue is located outside of Baghdad International Airport, Iraq. Photo by Adam Tousley.

“Must you have battle in your heart forever? The bloody toil of combat? Old contender…”

– Odyssey 12:132f, Fitzgerald

Homer’s Odyssey, written around 750 BC, is one of the first known written works that tells of the “psychologically injured” veteran who returns from war and fails to adapt to society. A man named Odysseus, which means “man of enmity”, endures both Trojan War and a decade of grueling travel before finding his way home.  If you’ve read this story, you’re aware his homecoming was anything but peaceful.  This perception of the psychologically wounded veteran permeates into today’s society.  Millions of government dollars and countless non-profits exist to provide counseling and pharmaceuticals to help veterans re-integrate.

Some international humanitarian organizations buy into this perception by denying jobs to applicants who are qualified candidates with military backgrounds, due to the humanitarian principle of neutrality. I, a veteran of the U.S. Army, have been turned down three times because of my military background.  On this Veteran’s Day holiday in the U.S., I want to challenge the perception of the veteran written by Homer in the 8th century, and make the case that veterans returning to places of conflict is healing for themselves and for the citizens of the conflict-affected countries in which they are working.

Dave Hansen is a U.S. veteran of the war between the U.S. and Vietnam, having served as a med-evac pilot in the Khe Sanh Combat Base. On June 4, 1971, Dave was called to emergency evacuate a team of U.S. Army Special Forces from Hill 950 (just N. of Khe Sanh Airfield).  Amidst an intense firefight within an enclosed area being overrun by Continue reading

A World Refugee Day Reading List

We’ve written in the past about how much writing and writers can nourish and sustain us. As Anne Lamott put it, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. … It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.

Singing in the storm is all too apt an analogy to use on June 20th, which has been marked as World Refugee Day since the beginning of this millennium. This year, UNHCR’s official statistics tell a shocking story: 70.8 million people forced from there homes, among them almost 26 million refugees, over half of whom are children.

Many of us know what this looks like all too well: we have worked alongside people fleeing; we have known them as friends, family, neighbors, colleagues; we have advocated for and defended their rights. We have celebrated the hospitality of those that open their homes and businesses and borders; raged against the hostility of those who want to build literal or figurative walls; and despaired the apathy of those who don’t seem to care. Some of us are refugees ourselves.

Every person has a story to tell. Those who, at some point in their lives, find themselves living as refugees are no exception. Some have written down their stories, and shared them with the world–even if that meant sending them via text message from Manus Island.

This #WorldRefugeeDay, we have put together a list of six great books authored by women and men who, among many other identities, are or were refugees. Read on for our recommendations and  Continue reading

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers. Postscript.

This post is written by Rachel Unkovic, an aid worker, artist and oral historian. This is the final post in a serial, to follow along read:

…the first post here

…the second post here

…and the third post here.

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A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers.

Postscript.

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35.) Edith Wharton was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for literature for The Age of Innocence. She was the first woman in the history of the prize to win one. Continue reading

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers. Part III.

This post is written by Rachel Unkovic, an aid worker, artist and oral historian. This is the third post in a serial, you can read the first post here and the second one here.

Edith_Wharton_with_soldiers

Edith Wharton with WWI soldiers. Source: The US WWI Centennial Commission website

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers.

Part III

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27.)  I read The Age of Innocence in the summer of 2013, while working at the AkçakaleTal Abyad border crossing.

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28.) The Age of Innocence is not about war, yet Edith wrote it after experiencing a war.

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29.) The Age of Innocence is not violent or cruel, like its predecessor, The House of Mirth, yet Edith wrote it after witnessing violence. She wrote it after seeing the impact of human cruelty on the bodies of women, men and children. From the war, Edith—an expat, always more privileged, always safer—didn’t shrink into cynicism but grew her own capacity for generosity.

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30.) One day in late August 2013, I was curled up with the book in a dusty plastic chair in no-man’s-land between Turkey and Syria, waiting for a drug shipment to clear the crossing, bound for three health centers. Gunshots shattered the air. They were close as fuck. Surrounding me, security men whipped out their Nokias, texting furiously to Continue reading

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers. Part II.

This post is written by Rachel Unkovic, an aid worker, artist and oral historian. This is the second post in a serial, you can read the first post here.

800px-Edith_Newbold_Jones_Wharton

Photograph of Edith Wharton, taken by E. F. Cooper, at Newport, Rhode Island. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University. Source: Wikimedia Commons

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers.

Part II

16.) Edith published The House of Mirth in 1905. Picture it: 1890s New York City. Lily Bart, 29 years old and beautiful, becomes embroiled in romantic scandal. She spirals into a tailspin, descending from New York City elite to the margins of society, where she dies, impoverished, in a delirium of drugs, suicidal, clutching an imaginary child to her breast—drowned by beauty and cruelty.

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17.) The House of Mirth has been called “a vicious indictment of a morally corrupt upper class”. It was the world that Edith had been born into. Her rage flashed and scorched.

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18.) The House of Mirth was very successful.

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19.) Edith divorced her husband in 1913. She left for Europe to wash him off her skin.

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20.) June 1914. World War I erupted. As other Americans fled, Edith stayed in Paris. She joined up, first as a funder, later as an organizer, with a group of aid workers. In August, they opened up a house where war-affected women could access food, work and cash.

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21.) Towards Christmas, as refugees poured into the Paris, Edith and her friends Continue reading

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers. Part I.

This post is written by Rachel Unkovic, an aid worker, artist and oral historian. This is the first post in a serial–stay tuned for more.

The Age of Innocence ?1788 by Sir Joshua Reynolds 1723-1792

“The Age of Innocence” from which Edith Wharton derived the title of one of her books. Painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, it was commissioned as a character study or ‘fancy picture’. Source: Tate (check out their website for more interesting stories about the painting itself)

A Series of Facts about Edith Wharton, for Aid Workers.

Part I

1.) Edith Newbold Jones was born on 24 January 1862 in New York City to a mother, a father, and two much older brothers.

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2.) The Civil War was raging. It depreciated American currency. Her mother and father whisked their three children off to Europe where their money meant more.

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3.) Edith was privileged as fuck. If you have heard the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses” and wondered to whom it refers, allow me to introduce to you Edith’s father, George Fredric Jones, and her mother, Lucretia.

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4.) Toddler Edith would hold a book in her hands and pretend to read it out loud, making up stories, flipping pages periodically as if the stories were there on the ink and not just in her mind.

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5.) She was admonished that reading was fine, but writing was certainly not the occupation of a proper young lady.

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6.) In Europe, Edith learned to read English, French, German and Italian fluently.

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7.) Age 11, finally back in Continue reading

Impossible Decisions

This post is by Adam Tousley, who currently works for an INGO in northern Iraq.

Buddhist protests_crop

Photo provided by author; source unknown.

On 25 August 2017 in Maungdaw Town, Northern Rakhine State (NRS), Burma, I was planning to go for a run at 6:00 AM.  The day before, the United Nations Department of Safety & Security, who were a three-hour boat ride away, stated that despite the heightened tension between the Rohingya and Rakhine communities there was nothing overly concerning. Instead I woke up at 3:00 AM to a large exchange of gunfire outside my INGO guest house.

There is a common nightmare for some people finding themselves naked in public places.  Take it from me; waking up semi-naked in a gunfight in Burma is far worse, especially if you’re a bearded pasty white dude.  Our buildings were targeted by small arms gunfire, and my organization was singled out for attack on social media (thanks Facebook).  After two days in hibernation my colleagues and I were directed to evacuate.

No one can be fully prepared to lead a base through evacuation in a rapid onset emergency.  For those who have, you may remember the frustration in finding a carefully developed evacuation plan was not as developed as you had envisioned (at least I hope I’m not the only one).  What had been the worst-case scenario on your risk assessment yesterday was the reality today.  The road you could run on yesterday is now Continue reading