Day 8: June 22, 2009

The Humanitarians

mother and baby at water station We have all been quite active here in Goz Beida, Chad the last few days.  Anyone following the website is well aware of the World Refugee Day activities, and if you saw any of the videos, then you might have an idea of the extensive preparations that went into them as well.  This has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life, and we still have a few days left.  The thing that has been on my mind a lot is the intense humanitarian effort on the ground in Chad.  The people that work with the UNHCR are simply amazing. Before I got here, I had no idea what UNHCR stood for, now I am a beneficiary of their generosity and knowledge.  I can’t imagine working here everyday in the heat, dust, and lack of Starbucks.  It’s a thankless job.  In this arena, the world is focused on the genocide and how horrible it all is on one side, and on the other side, the UNHCR fields all the refugee’s complaints.  In reality, the UNHCR and all the satellite NGO’s here are providing the necessary amenities and infrastructure for people in the camps to survive.  Without them, the numbers of deceased would be dramatically higher. I keep thinking to myself, how in the world could anyone be down here for more than two weeks, let alone a year to year and half, which is the length of most contracts.  I have developed a sense of guilt about coming in for such a short time, while the refugees and the humanitarians here grind it out…day after day…in conditions that are extremely difficult, if not impossible. This leads me to think about some of the comments and correspondences I’ve had from friends and family over the last week.

washing clothes Many of my friends have written, sometimes in the same sentence, that they are very impressed with what I’m doing, while at the same time feeling it’s a reminder that they’re stuck in an office doing the same old job over and over, which isn’t that fulfilling. (I’m paraphrasing) I suppose it’s a positive thing to have these emotions of feeling stagnant arise, and begin to ask the questions of how to move beyond our own repetitive situation. If I’m the catalyst to that, then so be it. If the instinct is to move, then it’s probably the thing to do.  The level of action will most likely be different for everyone as well.  I don’t encourage everyone to quit their jobs and hit all the front lines of every conflict around the world, but you could do a humanitarian vacation to start. However, I think being a humanitarian starts on the most basic level, respecting others.  That is probably the hardest step of them all. At least for me it is.

look at the camera Even though I’m here in support of refugees, I almost lost my cool with a group of kids the other day in the camps. I needed them to back away from the person I was filming and keep silent. But instead, they kept on crowding me, grabbing at my “manpurse” and my arms, while repeating everything I said. I would make aggressive gestures with my arms to step away and sternly yell “back, back,” and immediately a chorus of ten kids would repeat “back back” and keep advancing.  Their laughter made me feel mocked and I wanted to smack those little f#@*!, but then I remembered they didn’t speak my language, (nor I their’s) and I had just spent the last few days encouraging them to repeat all my words and gestures, so in a sense, I created a monster. Not to mention, they had just survived genocide, so I cut them some slack. But I was still frustrated! Point is, if I’m going to get upset with those that might deserve more patience than anyone, it’s probable that every human being on earth is going to get under my skin at some point. So the challenge is there for me personally.  It’s a hell of a lot easier to be a humanitarian when you’re surrounded by them everyday, but how do I become a humanitarian in everyday life? That will remain to be seen.  But if we all crack that one, it could be contagious.

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