*I wrote this post a few weeks ago following my field visits to teknaf and khagrachari, during a commercial break on American Idol. (I know… bad tv and I get along though). But I’ve held off on posting it worried it’s too emotional and silly. But I’m going to post it anyway, and hope I don’t come off as a depressive whinger*
when you work for msf, you are told to watch out for signs of stress and burnout. symptoms include a sense of hopelessness, a deterioration of world view, numbness and even callousness towards suffering.
So let’s check: 15 months with msf… am I becoming hard and jaded? barely. i think all that's happened is that i'm more sensitive to what I’ve seen. a few days ago i was sent an email from a friend who had a horrible day but instead of moaning about it, she wrote a letter entitled ‘dear darfur’ where she placed her bad day into perspective, knowing that it paled in comparison to the reality of people living through that crisis. In the preface, she wrote that whenever things seem rough for her, she reminds herself of how truly blessed she is, and how much others are suffering. and each time i read the email i just start crying because it's so amazing to know that a woman in canada cares. it's not that its a surprise, because she is a very aware woman, and there are many aware and thoughtful people in my life who care about things going on worldwide, but i couldn't help wonder what it meant that she thought of darfur. I wondered if i could somehow communicate this to a woman living in Kalma camp, struggling to get by and survive, to let her know that someone as far away as Canada simply holds her existence and struggles in mind?
and now i'm trying to watch american idol, the fundraiser episode, and I’m crying again. and despite the number of ways this show has been annoying, (ie. constantly saying 'when we were in Africa' like it was a small town near houston...) the stories of suffering that they have told between each act have affected me.
i know that fundraising efforts often play on emotions as much as they can, attempting to break through the walls of disbelief and disconnection. back when i was in high school my friends and i handled the remembrance day ceremony for a few years, and when we did a slide show (along to guns and roses 'civil war' – classy eh?) we deliberately picked photos that would shock and awe our classmates into caring, following the idea that if you want to make people open their wallets, you’ve got to pry open their hearts and make them hurt so that they will care.
But for me when i see these images and hear the stories, i have no problem knowing they are real. there is no doubt in my mind as to the suffering they are showing on the videos. All I can think about is the little girl who held my hand while I walked through tal camp. i don't have to suspend belief to understand that people really suffer. i know they do, and it hurts. (and for me when it hurts, that often leads to a bit of a cry, which considering my current state of dehydration really isn't a good idea.)
so i think it is safe to say i am not becoming the quintessential burnt out aid worker, all hard and cynical and perhaps even twitchy eyed. This work makes the world so much clearer to me; it makes people who were far away realer. And although this work makes me cry on occasion, this work gives me so much hope. Because while I know that little girl is in tal camp, and I know we are doing the best we can for her.