Thursday, May 6, 2010

Guest House Life

Sociologically, the life of an NGO worker is fascinating. If any TV producers ever come across this blog, here's my recommendation for the next hit TV drama: Humanitarian Life.

We all spend so much time sitting around listening to each others' crazy stories, some of which truly are crazy, that you could create a TV show that is both action-packed attention-grabbing AND realistic. How incredible would that be?!

Yesterday's most memorable story for me was the following:
There once was an aid worker in a little village in a small African country. She lived in a hut and slept under a mosquito net. Her mosquito net was a canopy over her bed, covering her completely from floorboard to headboard. Every night she'd crawl under her mosquito net in her dark little hut, curl herself into a little ball as far away from the mosquito net as possible, and fall asleep. If she didn't sleep, this is what she heard: hundreds of rats climbing on her mosquito net. She could look up and see the rats, she could look toward her feet and there they were. If she made the mistake of spreading her limbs, the rats would start biting at her toes. One day someone sent her some mousetraps and she set them out in her room, just to see what would happen. In one day she caught 11 rats, but there were still enough there that night to populate her mosquito net.

I'm enjoying living in my guest house with coworkers who have become temporary roommates. I miss living in the hotel where I was previously, because I miss the company there with other colleagues. They are all fun and intriguing people and, try as we all might to do the contrary, we end up spending a whole lot more time with each other than we do with the people we came to serve. Meanwhile, we feel we need our bottles of wine or beer, consumed while sprawling on lounge chairs under candles and rain, and the occasional karaoke night, to keep us sane as we realise we can't internalise the tragedies we hear of during the day.

How can I even start to process the thought that in the ruins of the hospital we support, an estimated 70 bodies of nurses and patients, many of whom were babies on the pediatric ward, are still buried in the rubble? If one of them were my family member, I'd dedicate my life to processing that fact. Because I'm here to help manage the recovery services, I have to move forward without coming to grips with it.

At the guest house, we all have stories to share. Many more stories like the one about the rats than stories like the one about the hospital. Sharing them helps us process, helps the nights pass faster, helps us feel normal - one of the crowd.

I'm sorry I don't have more thoughts on the Haiti tragedy to share. Much of what I've seen is shocking, but it's only as shocking as the hundreds of news articles that have already been written about it. The personal stories I've heard are tragic, but no more tragic than the stories already shared so far and wide.

So by day I try to get things done and by night I learn from the guest house.

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