Thursday, October 27, 2005

Adventures of an Aid Worker

It's probably surprising to some people how non-adventurous the aid worker lifestyle tends to be. Sure, there are moments in the field that are pretty cool - zipping through the jungle on a motorbike, being trailed by kids who rarely see white people, chopping down trees that have fallen across the road. But really, most of us just have office jobs like anyone else. There's water-cooler chat, even if we don't have a water-cooler. If anything, we have more office politics because we tend to hang out with our colleagues outside of work. I spend most of my time following up on budgets, reports, and managing a staff. I guess what makes my job unique is that I don't go home to running water. This is pretty rare too. Most any post, outside of rural ones, will have all the amenities that americans are used to. I think that my experiences - plane accident, medically evacuated for malaria, stupid intestinal parasites...well, this isn't the norm. Will be great material for my memoirs though.

For someone glancing at this blog it might appear that my animal photos are from Congo. Unfortunately, not the case. Africa isn't generally about spotting zebras and giraffes...you usually have to go to special parks for that. There's a famous animal in the Congo called an Okapi. Like most everything else, they've basically been hunted to the point of near extinction.

Another stereotype is that just because we are here to help means that people will like and appreciate us. Indeed, not the case. It is in many areas, but the Congo isnt one of them. What people see is not that I am working for their country but that I drive a car and they don't. They know I have money and wonder why I don't give it to them when they ask. They think that since I am here I should share my stuff with them. They think we should be doing more, and above all, helping them personally. I get at least a couple of nasty looks from guys every time I drive. Women never do. Kids and women tend to smile at me. I guess in general have not run into this direct hostility before I focus on it, even though it's very much in the minority. But I never had this problem in Niger. I think a lot of it has to do with the war...on the one hand, it's caused a lot of wounds in communities. On the other, people think they are owed something to compensate for their suffering. I don't blame them for that, but I wish they would see that they need to work among themselves to move forward.

5 Comments:

Blogger Louis said...

Looks like I missed you in Goma, but if you happen to come back in the next month or so, please join me and my crew for dinner or drinks ( I have discovered Goma nightlife). And I think it's not you, it IS the Congo. The Congolese ethos is specifically rapacious-- must be the history (Mobutu preceded by the Belgians, theives all). I have my coping strategy, which is shrugging, smiling, saying "I'll try," "Kesho," "Baadaye," etc. No one wants to hear a straight up refusal. And the sense of humor and the absurd is nice. Oh well. I'd love to visit Kindu!

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!

I have a **Make Big Money**blog. It pretty much covers Make Big Money articles related stuff.

Come and check it out if you get time :-)

8:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!

I have a **Make Big Money**blog. It pretty much covers Make Big Money articles related stuff.

Come and check it out if you get time :-)

8:03 PM  
Blogger Black River Eagle said...

I think that it will take generations to fix what is broken down in the Congo (DRC) and what you and 007 and the many other people are trying to do is just a "drop in the sea" of misery and neglect and downright ignorance.

Nonetheless, I and surely many other people appreciate the dedication and courage (and madness) it must take to work under the conditions and difficulties you face in the DRC everyday. It is a very different job than the one MONUC troops do for example, and 99.5% of the people back home couldn't handle even a week down there. Your writing and photos and those of your fellow blogger colleagues down in the DRC blows away any silly stereotypes one might have about the life of a humanitarian, aid, or development professional working in equatorial Africa.

The tough guys who give you the mean looks when you are working and driving around don't understand anything beyond their noses and their "you know whats". The kids and the women who give you the smiles seem to understand and appreciate infinitely more about life. Stick with the latter.

Good to see that Louis Ableman of the Telegraphe Congolais blog is in the neighborhood (Goma). Try to hookup with him and his crew if at all possible and cast for a cameo role in his new documentary.

Congrats to you and 007 for the "Hat Tip" from Global Voices Online (see the GVO Nov. 1st post: Voices from Zimbabwe Plus).

BTW. That wooden buffalo in your last photo set is not a fake. It's the real McCoy! Seen one just like at Saks Fifth Ave. Sehr Teuer.

5:49 PM  
Anonymous Kim said...

In this post, you state that the okapi is facing exctinction. Not quite. Like most of the animals in DRC, they face diificulties, but we don't know yet how much are left. Last census of okapis say that *maybe* 15 000 are around, and have been spotted even in Maiko NP.

Another example: the gorillas in kahuzi Biega (Bukavu) are growing in numbers. Not bad for a country that's struggling.

All in all, I enjoy the blog.

3:59 AM  

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