The mo(u)rning after

This post is written by an anonymous contributor.

abstract bruise

“Cosmic Bruise” by artist Ivy Michelle Berg, available at: ArtbyIvy

Like many who work in humanitarian aid, when I am asked about why I do it, I dissemble and misdirect, I make a joke or change the subject without actually answering. Sometimes I tell the truth as a joke, and hide it in plain sight. “World Peace” is such a reliable cliché to raise a smirk and avoid the question. To say out loud why I really do it, to put those words into the air, is too hard. I am afraid of the look I will see in the other person’s eyes, and afraid of their judgement. I am afraid that if I am honest, I will have to say it through the medium of a jaunty pop song, possibly from the 80’s. Because the truth is, I do it because I believe in love and I believe love can make the world a better place. Saying it out loud sounds so adolescently idealistic, so sentimentally naïve at best, self-righteous, arrogant and sanctimonious at worst.

I left my job at the end of last year in a maelstrom of mess; stretched out to the point of coming unravelled, shattered by too many emergencies, and a level of hostility within the organisation that I was entirely ill-equipped to withstand, profoundly disillusioned. I felt like the worst kind of fool for believing in any of it, and no longer had any faith in my own judgement. In the months since then, I have been trying to work out what happened, to parse out what it was all about, and to find my way back to myself.

I know about fear, as so many of us do. I know about those moments of absolute clarity when we think we may actually die, today, now. I know about the exquisitely heightened alertness of being in a moment that could go either way; a checkpoint guard toying with Continue reading


Hamster on a wheel


Familiar feeling?

I told my colleague today about starting this blog. She asked about how much time I’d taken off, what I’d done, when I’d started working again. We’ll get into that later. She also commented on how hard it is to change pace when one is used to working in high-adrenaline contexts: Before I left my country program, there were so many things to do each day I could never fit them all in–but if I didn’t get them done, there would be serious consequences. Now I look at my planner and it’s not even full.  I nodded. It reminded me of the hamster wheel.

When I first decided to leave work, someone who knew what they were talking about told me, Adrenaline is like a drug. You’ll need to wean your body off of it, because it’s addicted to adrenaline now. Your body will resist. But you’ll get through it.

She was right.

Six months later I was away from work, sitting on my couch, in the middle of winter, and I could FEEL my brain RUNNING. It felt like someone had opened my head, inserted a shiny metal wheel and then introduced a very fit and energetic hamster onto it. I wanted to fuel the hamster, I wanted to fill it up on news from Syria (my last deployment) and reports about ISIS taking Ar-Raqqah (near one of our health clinics) and ‘marching’ towards Iraq (the newest unfolding crisis in a long list of crises there) and long commentaries on the origins of ‘extremist groups’ and Facebook feeds from friends still working and living in the region and… you get the idea.

The hamster was burning up the wheel, running so fast that flames were practically Continue reading

Back from the borderlands

AM photo 1

This post is written by an anonymous contributor.

It is difficult to write about ending a mission while on mission. It is difficult to write about taking a break when the breaks one is able to take are too short to notice, too quick to be able to unwind. Working in isolated and dangerous locations takes a toll on a person’s body and mind. We come here to help people, but forget about taking care of ourselves.

I am guilty of this, of not making time to rest and re-energise. I think this is important, even in the midst of a demanding mission. It makes it easier for us to re-enter “normal” society after the mission is over, to meaningfully reconnect with those we love and who love us. I have been continuously working in so-called “deep field” locations for the pastseven years, with fluctuating levels of remoteness and insecurity. I count myself fortunate that only one person I care about was killed. I have had several friends kidnapped for Continue reading