Noble Savages

28 Jun

This post is no longer available on this blog.

This post is now part of J.’s book, Letters Left Unsent, available on Amazon.


17 Responses to “Noble Savages”

  1. @tomafg 28 June, 2010 at 11:54 am #

    An excellent, thoughtful piece. So much of this rings true.
    I gotta say though, I normally get a third kind of reaction – something along the lines of ‘oh, I’d like to volunteer in Africa too’, or ‘do you get paid for what you’re doing in Afghanistan?’.

  2. James BonTempo 28 June, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    Huh… I like that lying bit @ the end. I might try that out.

  3. Agyarek 28 June, 2010 at 2:03 pm #

    Thoughtful and thought-inspiring – this needs to be read by more people. I have long been skeptical – perhaps overly so – of the motives and mindsets of people who volunteer to do aid work in impoverished countries such as the one I am from (Ghana, West Africa), but reading your piece helps me understand many of the complex issues you face in making this decision. I used to think that most, if not all aid workers who volunteered for these thankless jobs did so in a misguided attempt to convince themselves that they were morally superior to those who opted not to, but this piece makes me rethink that. Checking and rechecking your motives and actions in this manner is what convinces me that people like you are not passing out implied moral judgement on those who choose not to volunteer, but are in fact bettering yourselves as you make a change in the lives of others.

  4. Mo-ha-med 28 June, 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    Great piece, J.
    You want noble professions? Okay, teachers. Doctors. Don’t those qualify for nobility too? And hey, your recipients – the kids, or the patients, don’t directly pay for your services either; your “organization” is funded indirectly. Buy you’re compensated for your effort, commensurately with your skills.

    Why do we think of working in aid as being any different? We have ‘clients’. (recipients, students, patients, etc.) We work; get paid for our work. Clients receive service we’re paid to provide. Full stop.

    It just seems more noble when the recipients are a) poor and b) aren’t the ones paying. But one kindergarten pupils don’t exactly pay (directly) for the teacher’s salary either. But KG teachers don’t get a pat on the back in the subway…

    Aid workers aren’t noble. And I’ll suggest that most don’t do their job for the nobility, but because they like it and are good at it. (not exactly an aid worker here but I surely do what i do because I enjoy it).

    Luckily, not being noble also means that they’re allowed to like or dislike the food, they’re allowed to spend their money and have no obligation to live like their clients do. Actually I don’t think doing so actually helps anybody…

  5. Meg 28 June, 2010 at 6:54 pm #

    Thanks for a thoughtful and challenging post, as always. I love opening my reader to see “Tales from the Hood (1)”!

  6. terence 28 June, 2010 at 7:32 pm #

    Thanks. Great post – as always.

  7. Rachel 29 June, 2010 at 3:10 am #

    I definitely have lied about where I live while at Christmas cocktail parties/weddings back in the States…

    Great post, thanks for the wonderful stories.

  8. John 29 June, 2010 at 7:27 am #

    Wonderful post. Thank you. I’ll go out on a limb and say that most aid workers would live at local standards if that was required to better do their jobs. Ask the same of a country director and I wonder if the same willingness to give up the Hilux and comfortable digs would hold true…

  9. Claire 29 June, 2010 at 12:31 pm #

    What a great post, thanks a lot for how you captured this!

  10. Ian 29 June, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

    Just spent a weekend chillin’ in the rainforest with the family. A rather high-end resort, but hard to get to, so the clientelle seemed generally well-travelled. After explaining what I do for the 10th time at the ‘family style’ dinners, I was rather tempted to switch to the “I’m a proctologist” line which has stopped all inquiries dead in the past.

    Good post as always. Am with you on “no-logo” thing, and am also guilty of the bag carousel white lie, if guilt is the right word.

  11. Marianna 3 July, 2010 at 1:24 am #

    If there was a “like” option I would click it 100 times! (…there is no “like” option..right?!)!!!

    On another note, are you (coming back to) in Haiti? I still really want to put a face on the blog (remember when we tried to “meet” at the shelter cluster back in February? I failed miserably as I missed that meeting!).

    • J. 4 July, 2010 at 12:23 am #

      Hey Marianna – slim chance of me going back to Haiti. I’m sure we’ll do a face-to-face in another disaster zone somewhere, though. Take care!

  12. Carla Murphy 4 July, 2010 at 8:48 am #

    Your example re: the woman cook who saved the leftovers for her children is exactly why I want to hurry up and learn kreyól while here in Haiti. Thanks for, again, humanizing your work.


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