One of my first memories in a foreign environment to the city I grew up in was on a farm where a goat ate the buttons from my favourite jacket. There was no knowing the instant dislike of this formidable creature would give way to the animal I now most easily identify myself with – in yet another place I am very much foreign in: Afghanistan.
The goat was one of the first animals to be domesticated. Little reflection of domestication will ever be observed in my ability to cook or care for household plants. The sheer fact I am able to obtain the perfect milk-to-cereal ratio deserves a medal (preferably magnetic for the fridge). Though perhaps my ideas of domestication are more instilled in the ability to survive, function and maintain normality in some of the most un-normal of places.
Past ‘normality’ includes: monkeys breaking into my office – during work hours; travelling in overcrowded buses holding random chickens with a goat beneath the seat; balancing on a narrow sewage pipe in pouring rain, poking at sludge with a stick offering 500 rupees to anyone who can find the mobile phone I just lost/dropped in the open sewer during monsoon season; being targeted by street sellers with goods that include dentures and x-rays; being ‘sweetened’ with pick-up lines that include ‘do you play the (wait for it) harp?’ from a Russian man who claims he cannot go home until he completes his band; practicing a dance routine in a nuclear bunker; self-treating illnesses such as tonsillitis by gargling vodka (to kill the germs); waiting for cows to cross city intersections so I could get to work; duct-taping a fog horn (with a 3-mile sound radius at sea) to my bicycle handle to fend off London buses; sleeping on airport x-ray scanners, in mud huts and various security huts of border police and security watchmen.
What will never become ‘normal’ is injustice, extreme poverty, the denial of human rights and general suffering. This is what has led me to here, now. I have seen it before, but in each instance I have insisted on seeing it for myself – I observe everything – draw my own conclusions and in turn spur the empowerment with the responsibility to act, inspire – steering my passion towards the most influential mechanisms of change I am capable of. In my head are never-ending ideas, questions and curiosities. I wake up several times a night, always thinking and processing.
What really fascinates me is the way people live, their day-to-day, their ambitions, their culture and perspectives on the same ideas and issues that cross all of our minds – it keeps me wanting to know more. I know about the projects I am about to assist on, I know about the areas they are located, I know about the process of running humanitarian aid projects. But that is not enough. I need context – we need context – to really start to understand the real impacts. The context may be trails of dust from under the sandal-clad feet of a young girl running to school under a white veil that she holds on with one hand, shielding her face from the cold November winds that turn her cheeks a rose hew and leaves her mouth dry. Later she shivers from lack of appropriate clothing and is hungry from a lack of sufficient food. Yet she will be the first female in her family to be educated on the importance of good hygiene and clean water, potentially saving the lives of her children to come. The context may be a dense and yet random organization of pastel-colored, oversized energy-saving bulbs projecting from the ceiling of a bakery. They flicker and pulse with surges from an unstable diesel generator humming louder than the blurred vibrations of its black exterior lets on, filling the air, and the lungs of occupants, with fumes that choke and slowly poison – all the while illuminating round naan breads sold through a sliding glass window front to passerbys. The income generated paying for a family of 10, displaced from their agricultural community recently devastated by flooding.
Humanity is found in the details. While the details often get lost when push comes to pull – when the events are extreme, when deadlines are short, when compassion fatigue sets in and the un-normal becomes all too normal. This blog is my attempt to recognize the people behind the projects – beneficiaries and humanitarian aid workers alike: the ‘behind the scenes’ so to say. I was reminded today that just like the goat I am resilient against the odds – ‘goats have horns, they butt right back.’ My voice and blog are the horns butting back against global misunderstanding and the uninformed on issues that are not confined to one country or another. And while I may never achieve ultimate domestication, I hope to achieve a normality that lets me sleep better at night, for the sake of those who have yet to experience it.