Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Living Common Good
It's funny how things sometimes come full-circle.
My job placement is in the Dar. The Dar, as I like to call it, is famous for being very troubled. After having lived there, I can also say that it is probably the closest thing to the 'end of the world' you will ever find. The town I lived in was a state capital which boasted a grand total of 2 paved roads. Surrounded by desert and wide open spaces on all sides, the only way to get there was by plane, helicopter or a 2 day drive. And, I repeat, it is the state capital. My house was nice as far as local accommodation went - we had tiled floors and that is saying a lot! Nonetheless, the rats and hedgehogs were our constant companions, the electricity was on and off and on and off, the Internet was slow as molasses (I might wait as much as an hour to load up an Imperfect Prose blog and could rarely check out photos of my nephew online). For a bathroom we had cold water, except at the end of the afternoon when the water tank was sun-heated, dry pit latrines, and outdoor sinks.
Guest House Four, my home in the Dar, was comfortable enough. We had nice mattresses, a TV and decent food. And floors. This is much more than our neighbours had.
Then something bad happened. I've written on this blog about my emotions when it happened but I can't tell you what happened, not on this blog at least. But because of what happened I had to leave the Dar. Several months of waiting brought me to a new short-term assignment. I'm in Egypt right now doing a new project. And I'm staying at a five-star hotel.
The other night I was brushing my teeth in my marbled bathroom, looking into the backlit mirror and thinking about the contrast between where I am and where I was supposed to be right now. From Guest House Four to Five Star Hotel... because something bad happened. Oh the irony, the unfairness of it all.
But I took comfort in the fact that I am working hard, very hard, here in Egypt. "At least I'm working for it", I thought. And then I immediately was struck by the fact that so many people work as hard as, harder than, me. Fifteen hours a day of breaking their backs kind of work. And they go home to a house in a slum which makes Guest House Four seem palatial at the very least. So effort has nothing to do with it.
Today with some colleagues we had a discussion about what it means to work towards the "common good". Theoretically that is a main goal of my career, and yet how do I reconcile the common good with the strange surreal life that I live?