8 Sep

This post is no longer available on this blog.

This post is now part of J.’s book, Letters Left Unsent, available on Amazon (click the image below to visit the Amazon purchase page).


8 Responses to “Testify”

  1. maria 8 September, 2011 at 5:30 am #


    This is useful. I suppose one needs to feel these three aspects in order to continue. I suppose to tick just the first answer (and the urgent need for a salary) is not a reason good enough then.

    Do you think if I can tick only the first answer, while I apply for the current Horn of Africa Circus positions, I’m doomed to depression and anxiety? I would hate to survive in PaP between office, jeep and guesthouse, but I still a psoition there will allow ne to understand and help somehow….am I right? am I fantasizing in a mary anne kind of way?

    is it legitimate to apply again (after months of trying to divorce form the industry) just because one cant find an intellectually challenging and creative position elsewehere?

    is it legitimate to want to go back to Darfur (first mission!!) just because I literally dreamed of this place several times after, and have wondered since 6 years what happenned to my staff, to the women, what life they have now, are they still under the tents, did they build a family, …? is it acceptable? dangerous? is it ok to want to go back becasue I want to tell their story through film since the first time I got to know them? I suppose no.

    Did I enjoy humanitarian work? yes, in the sense of what you say. the thrill of feeling part of this world, of being where important things happen, and you’re there, you’re part of it. you get to know, you cross behind the looking glass of the TV screen to actually BE there on that reality and change it for the better. But this feeling was becasue I was younger and idealistic? probably…

    No enjoyment in the sense of not having a life of my own, not building anyhting, not having a private life, intimacy and space. living with colleagues, working with colleagues. no physiscal space to GO, to walk. no space for the mind to create, to unwind, submerged by constraints, extreme heat, extreme violence around. no place for thinking, really, or you’re sanctioned. power abuses, incompetence, arrogance, opacity, harassment, abandonement of HQ, lack of funds, lack of will, hidden personal agendas of top managers. This is the humanitarian scene I know.

    Its a 24h job that eats you little by little. cumulative stress. a sense of being completely out of this world when coming “back”. terrible void when you realise there is no “back”, cos little by little you have come to lack all relation to it at all, and you start becoming an alien, irritated by your entourage dinner conversations about house decoration or the next car to buy, while they ask for stories from the “field”, you are the exotic element, the one thats always travelling doing good and risking life, but please just a sentence or two, not more, it could ruin the dinner to really listen to reality what humanitarian work is about, we dont really want to know about the brown babies.

    Do I still believe in it? emergency yes,,,save the brown baby today even if he’ll die tomorrow. yes. Im up for it anyway. lost causes are the important ones for me.

    development: no…useless mess, I’ve worked for the EC, monitored WB, saw a bit of the whole picture briefly, dont want to put any efforts into it anymore, and anyway nobody needs an anthropologist to criticise, the aid industry would not accept any ideas that could threaten its very existence.

    so, my reasons:

    a) I can do it, b) all other work sectors (mainly for-profit) seem meaningless and boring/depressing to me given my values and experience, and c) I need money: Are these reasons enough to apply again? your opinion is very important to me

    How does one manage the cynicism and the bitterness? how does one manage a sisyphus-like job and life….? a¡I have become a mis-fit….

    • s. 8 September, 2011 at 10:19 am #

      i appreciated reading your honest comment about the life you have lived in the humanitarian world. I also have the same dreams you had before you got into working in the field, but I sincerely hope I don’t end up coming out as defeated you sound.

    • jytc 15 September, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

      Wow. Reading that was brutal. Having no experience myself, my advice is purely theoretical.

      a) keep the job -> perhaps you will find meaning and hope in it again. Or perhaps you won’t and you will end up performing poorly

      b) find another job -> might not make a “difference” but you might find enjoyment in life eventually. Or you might end up hating the new career you are in.

      It’s a minefield.

  2. Zehra 29 September, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    I was considering writing to you since now, in my 6th year of aid work, it’s not that I am looking back…I’ve loved it….I’m looking forward. I am in fact learning a new skill that may take me away from humanitarian work. I am doing it cuz i want to (it’s something else I love) but also…i want to know i have the option to walk away from aid work. I want to know I do it cuz it’s not like i have no other options but rather, because despite the absolute dumbassery that I am confronted with…and there is more and more of it the more experience I get, i want to know I do it because there is nothing else I want to do more.


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