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

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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

Policy, practice, and poetry

This post is written by Jennifer Lentfer. Jennifer is the creator of the blog how-matters.org and Director of Communications at Thousand Currents. This week, she joins 21 other diverse speakers at Healing Solidarity, a free online conference posing critical questions about healing, inequity, exhaustion, and challenging power structures in international aid and development. Join the conversation at healingsolidarity.org and follow #HealingSolidarity.

Practice-Solidarity

People are waking up to big issues in international aid. Now what?  Image from the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) #PracticeSolidarity campaign 

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A journalist recently asked me, “Do you know anyone who would be willing to go on the record as resistant to change?”

“Good luck,” I thought. Institutional bodies are adept at portraying its leaders as on trend and non-controversial, and no self-respecting do-gooder is going to oppose more racial and gender diversity outright at this time in our history. However I constantly encounter “good people” who may or may not be aware of the white privilege and supremacy that runs through aid institutions, or who haven’t developed the personal resiliency to talk openly about the historical origins of our sector and the political and identity-driven realities that affect every aspect of our day-to-day work.

Policies that support diversity and inclusion are in place. What we now have to shift is the practice. For people with positional power and for those with privilege, this may  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

Listen.

Over the past few months, we’ve been listening. Deeply, actively listening. To the multitude of voices that have been silenced for far, far too long.

This International Women’s Day began with a headline from the Guardian that screamed: ‘You need to hear us’: over 1,000 female aid workers urge reform in open letterAlexia Pepper de Caires, one of the organizers of the letter alongside Sarah Martin, Danielle Spencer and Anne Quesney, sums up their motivation succinctly: “The whole point of the letter is, ‘You need to hear us, because we’re the ones who are telling you what’s happening.'” The letter calls for “fundamental reforms to shift the patriarchal bias in aid” and is signed by over a thousand women in 81 countries.

An easy ask? No. But if anyone is up for the task, these 1,000+ women spread around the globe are. I am. If gun rights activism in the US is anything to judge by, the next generation of aid workers surely is. The women you say hello to in the hallway, or grab drinks with after work, or report to, or that report to you, the women with whom you exchange all-knowing glances at the coordination meetings, definitely are.

As we wrote in 2015:

There is solidarity here. And a growing space in which people feel empowered to speak with louder and louder voices about practices that have, up to now, been considered “part of what you signed up for.” These are the words of a friend’s boss when employees asked, three times, about staff well-being during a global all-staff meeting.

My friend’s boss is wrong. He doesn’t yet realize that we have already been carried farther down along the shore than we realized. Not only by our own small strokes in the big blue sea, but also by the undercurrent of others’ actions and testimonies, which grow stronger and wider as they join with other currents. A sea change is underway.

Yes, it’s tempting to  Continue reading

Aid workers as authors? We ask an Evil Genius named J.

Once-upon-a-time-old-vintage-typewriter

Source: Typewriter or wallpaper?

“If actors can be aid workers, then aid workers can be authors.” Scrawled across the top of his Evil Genius Publishing website, this message describes two aspects in the life of J (his pseudonym). Humanitarian aid worker and prolific blogger – his sites include Tales from the Hood, AidSpeak, and being “half-owner of the über-awesome Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like” – J has also written aid worker fiction. His novels include Disastrous Passion: A Humanitarian Romance; Honor Among Thieves; Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit; and for the sci-fi lovers, Human. Then there’s his one (so far) work of non-fiction, Letters Left Unsent

As someone who struggles to write a blog post every few months while still working in the aid industry (Missing in the Mission started during a break!), it is pretty amazing to meet a person who has started three blogs, a self-publishing company (only one employee – himself – but still…), and written five books—all while keeping his day job. Thus, I asked J a few questions and he, of course, found the time to reply.

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Missing in the Mission: You mention having a personal life as a writer as “cathartic” alongside decades of responding to large-scale disasters… were you a writer or an aid worker first? Or did they grow together, each feeding and sustaining the other? 

J: I guess you could say they grew together, although I was an aid worker / career humanitarian for many years before I began to consider myself a writer. Not too long ago I reconnected with an old roommate who recalled that even back when we were undergrads I always seemed to write with ease. It’s funny – I don’t remember writing anything in college. Certainly nothing creative or “for fun.”

Since becoming an aid worker, writing of some kind has been a consistent task in every job I’ve held. The usual reports, briefs, advocacy materials. One of the longest jobs I’ve ever had, very early in my career, was over a four year period where my primary responsibility was to write USAID and PRM grants. I was so glad when I finally left that job, I vowed never to accept another position where grant acquisition was the main focus. But in retrospect, all those Child Survival and Food Security proposals were fantastic practice for eventually writing humanitarian fiction!

In all seriousness, though, despite the fact that after four years I was sick of proposals and ready to move on, that job was excellent training for an adult life of moonlighting as a writer. The discipline of turning rambling thoughts into coherent text on a screen; the mechanics of working with large and complex documents; the value of a robust editorial and review process, and as part of that the thick skin that comes with having your Continue reading