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 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

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

The Extended Gratitude section

Afraid_of_nobody

“Afraid of nobody”. Source: McLean’s optical illusions. T. McLean. 1833. 11 lithographs on discs that, when spun & observed in a mirror, create the illusion of movement.

This post is the second in a two-part series written by Trayle Kulshan (read the first post here). Trayle recently finished her memoir, “Revolutions”: 99 lyrical, 99-word stories from her travels as an aid worker. You can find it on Amazon and read samples on her website

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A single page at the end of my book spells out “Gratitude,” but the generosity of strangers, of women, of friends cannot be contained on a page. I asked for a lot of help. And I got it. And it made me a better writer and a better person.

Asking for and getting feedback on my book was a way of making connections with people and building a community around myself when I was feeling lonely and isolated. I’d moved to a new city, I was a new mommy, I was not working, and I missed “my people.” Connecting with like-minded artsy-fartsy folks kept me sane. So while feedback served an important role for my book, it also played a bigger role in my life. The feedback mechanisms I talk about here don’t have to be used for a project. They can just be used.

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My previous post may not have made it explicit, but as someone who was very insecure and has trouble making decisions, feedback was priceless to me. It helped me figure out exactly what it was I was trying to create. I wanted to publish and I wanted magic. I needed help.

Feedback wasn’t about making me more confident, it was about Continue reading

Writing stories otherwise untold

This post is the first in a two-part series by Trayle Kulshan. Trayle recently finished her memoir, “Revolutions”: 99 lyrical, 99-word stories from her travels as an aid worker. You can find it on Amazon and read samples on her website

Optical_illusion_disc_with_birds,_butterflies,_and_a_man_jumping

Source: “McLean’s optical illusions.” T. McLean. 1833. 1 portfolio: 11 lithographs on discs, hand-colored, discs are to be spun on a spindle, and observed in a mirror, to create the illusion of a moving image, 25 x 25 cm. As seen on the cover of “Revolutions”. Animated GIFs from Wikimedia users Trialsanderrors & Racconish. 

Just before their eyes glaze over. That’s the point when someone usually tosses out the well-worn phrase, “Oh, you’ve been to so many interesting places, you should write a book.”

So, I did.

Indeed, like most aid workers I have enjoyed working in “many interesting places”: Guinea, DRC, Kenya, Afghanistan, Egypt. I was a WASH specialist for more than 10 years, during which I met my Syrian husband who introduced me to the Middle East, and—after many exciting exploits together—parenthood. We had a baby and settled in Dubai, where he took a good HQ-type job. So here I was, being a full-time mommy, missing the action-packed field I figured it was time to write the book.

But a funny thing happened… it ended up not really being about aid work adventures at all. It ended up being about me. It ended up being about gaining perspective, and about Continue reading

Two weeks

This week’s post is written by J, a humanitarian aid worker, novelist and prolific blogger whose sites include Tales from the Hood, AidSpeak, and co-creating Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like. To stay up-to-date with J’s aid-related writing, commentary, and fiction, check out his Evil Genius websitefacebook and twitter pages. 

empty-desk

Source: Waters True Value wants you to know how to organize your desk

Two weeks. That’s how long it takes, on average, for the so-called high performing and indispensable aid worker to be forgotten. You know, the one who knew the local language and culture so well they were “practically local”? Or the one who threw the fabulous parties, or the one who always knew who in the host government to ask for what. Or maybe it was the one who—by sheer force of will or expertise—managed to accomplish what no one else had prior.

Everyone else was certain this person was irreplaceable, that the office or programme just could not go on without him or her. And you know what? Within ten working days – just two weeks – their old office or cubicle had already been reassigned, IT had reformatted their old computer, and their old position had either been refilled or their responsibilities divvied up among those left behind.

I once knew a guy who got blindsided by a downsize dressed up as a restructure. It was a shitty way for the organization to move him along, and everyone felt it. Staff were incensed and outraged in the coffee room. He’d had a long and illustrious career. He had Continue reading