A whole bunch of luck, certainly not planning, means I do quite a bit of work with aid organisations. Well, one in particular, but it’s so large and diverse, it may as well be a number of smaller organisations. I have no illusions. I’m not an aid worker, or a humanitarian professional. I hang out on the edges of their profession, occasionally bumping up against aid workers (figuratively, not literally – and never in the back of a Land Cruiser returning from Bur Amina!) I like aid workers (mostly) – their mixture of cynicism, and BS-metre straightforwardness, their humour and willingness to share bits of their world with outsiders like me.
Most of what I have really learnt about their work has been in bars or at breakfast in conference venues from Thailand to Armenia. Stories. They tell lots of stories. One of the best storytellers is J. author of two humanitarian novels: Disastrous Passion, and his latest, Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit.
Despite the jargon and acronyms (which give a certain sense of authenticity), it’s a good read. J. makes the dilemmas of aid work accessible, explaining the paradoxes (or is that paradoxi?), the compromises, the camaraderie, the occasional danger, and the isolation (no matter where on the planet aid workers happen to be – in the field or at ‘home’, wherever home is).
If your understanding of the aid world is only through occasional TV footage, fundraising campaigns or righteous indignation at how ‘aid’ money is spent, then read this book. It will throw you headfirst into the moral dilemmas – both personal and political – that are part and parcel of this profession.