From the dust jacket:
“Chasing Misery is a collection of different experiences, perspectives, and voices of women involved in humanitarian aid work. This book provides a glimpse into the humor and heart-break faced by women working in some of the most complex and challenging environments of the past decades.”
These are women with whom you wouldn’t want to tangle. Tough cookies who have learned to shield their tender hearts because otherwise they’d be crushed. Women who, like all women, struggle with relationships, mother wounds, and mixed motives. Women who ponder the distinction between courage and a death wish, between the desire to alleviate suffering and the desire to escape. Women who ask the question we all ask, all the time: Does anything I do ever, really, help? Is “helping” even the goal?
Women who have been on the front lines in, among other places, Haiti, Katrina FEMA camps, the South Sudan, Pakistan, Syria, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Afghanistan.
The title essay, by Kelsey Hoppe, begins:
“I like to smoke here. The smoke wafts and curls and hangs indecisively in the humid air. Horrid clove cigarettes he calls them. This man who is not in love with me but thinks he is.
There’ll be another earthquake, I say.
How do you know? he asks.
I just know, I shrug.
What else do you know? he asks.
I know that he is not in love with me. I know that this is how life is, that you can sit on a roof in desperate tropical heat talking about earthquakes and fathers and religion and think that you are in love with someone that you are not.”
So right away we know this book that is ostensibly about humanitarian aid is really about humanity.
This is from “Answers Found in Harm’s Way: From Congo to Afghanistan,” by Emilie J. Greenhalgh:
“That is when I realized, despite the possibility that I would die without having had a family, that I did not want to die before going to Afghanistan and putting myself through a different kind of hell. I did not want to leave so many of my questions unanswered. I was just getting started. If I could get out of this, I vowed that I would go to Afghanistan and, that from here on out, I would call my mother before I got on the plane to remind her that I loved her.”
Lucy O’Donoghue is my friend, so I may be biased, but her “Relationships” was one of my favorites.
“Where do we start to try and get closer to authentic encounters in the face of such transient work? It’s not always big things. To me it’s the simple things, like spending evenings at the bedside of my administrative assistant in Congo for the weeks after she miscarried her baby. Or knowing that by keeping that older man on as a guard I can help him feed his orphaned granddaughter. It’s seeing a junior guard conducting the choir with flair at the tiny mud-brick church in the village on a Sunday morning. It’s being able to give our housekeeper a job as well as a chance to learn to read and write. It’s being able to recognise someone else’s talent and effort and reward them for it. It’s celebrating when the fleet manager becomes a dad for the first time. It’s being told, “Lucy, you’re the only boss we’ve had who seems to care about who we are—who cares about the whole lot of us.” It’s building trust, having that trust betrayed, and building that trust again. It’s about recognizing that we’re not completely autonomous, no matter how much Western culture may idolize this notion. We’re social beings, and I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re looking for authentic social encounters…
There isn’t some shortcut, be it an institution, a brand, technology, efficiency, or medicine to relieving human suffering on a grand scale that doesn’t involve taking a good hard look at how we interact with each other on a small scale—with honesty, integrity, clarity, humour, compassion, gentleness and fairness. Sincere human relations keep us real and grounded. Relieving human suffering starts by recognising each one of us is an end in ourselves. The stock count is only a means to an end. Let’s keep the priorities straight.”