Sea Change

SeaChange-Image-1

Source: MIT Water Club 

My father taught us very early on to respect the sea. As young girls, my sister and I would go into the water with him on an inflatable raft and learn to “catch” waves, to ride them into the shore. If we started paddling too late, we would miss the wave entirely; too soon, and it would break on top of us and sometimes throw us off the raft. We would go tumbling along on the sand under the water, forced to hold our breath until the wave let us come up for air again (getting “rolled”, as he called it). It was scary, but exhilarating.

Our most important lesson came on calm days, when he taught us not to mistake the smooth surface of the water and absence of waves for a lack of action underneath. Even when they are barely visible on the surface, there are always currents and sometimes a strong undertow. These powerful forces can carry us very far — in a direction that we may or may not want to go. And sometimes they act stealthily, taking us a ways down the shore before we even realize that we are being redirected.

When I first took a break from aid work, I felt burnt out and alone.  I started this blog in part to confront that stereotype, to respond to the many whispered conversations and questions of, “I feel like that too” and “But how did you do it?” and “Aren’t you scared you’ll never be able to go back?” I had seen a close colleague and friend, someone who I had long admired in the field, leave her job in a sudden and heartbreaking way. I supported her as best I could during her last few months at work, when she felt abandoned by the very entity that she had given so much to over the years. She eventually took the difficult and Continue reading

Hot water

People are like tea bags.
You find out how strong
they are when you put
them in hot water.
-Anonymous

This tea-bag approach to what some might call resilience reminds me of what an old boss, the head of our agency’s programs in Darfur, called the problem of the “frog in boiling water.” He said that a frog can be immersed in a pot of water, and if that pot is put on a stove and the burner turned on, the frog won’t notice the gradual increase in temperature until it is too late; until she literally boils.

The metaphor may jump out (no pun intended) for some faster than others: when working in insecure environments, this was used to explain how at first something like a carjacking may cause all aid agencies to halt operations. As the frequency of such incidents increases, they become normalized to the point where a carjacking occurs and… activities go on as planned. Perhaps the incident is a footnote at the security briefing. Conversation fodder at Continue reading