It’s okay to be imperfect. On the other hand, we should not allow perceived success or praise for perceived success affect our ego. Someone cycling Road X is no better or worse than someone walking Road Z.
In the field of humanitarian work it’s easy to find people willing to shower you with praise. This sits uneasily with me as I’m well aware that I am living the life I want to live, because it suits me. I don’t believe there is a humanitarian anywhere with entirely selfless motivations. Living as a nurse in a place like Cambodia is really not so different to living as a nurse in Australia. The challenges are different and there are difficulties that don’t exist in the wealthy world, but ultimately I’m using the same skill set to do similar work, only for a different population and with different resources.
Yet it could be easy to believe the praise. Which I guess is why it is not so difficult to find people working in the so-called humanitarian world, who are driven by ego and power. Thankfully my current assignment has no such characters among the expatriate team. My first assignment was a mixed bag, as I made firm friends but I also struggled enormously with one or two conceited narcissists. Some of my Khmer friends with a long history working in international NGOs such as MSF confirm that it can be extremely difficult to work with “the people from the sky” (they fly in, dominate with an air of aggrandized importance then fly out again).
It’s very true, that you find all sorts in all places. It’s also true that there are different motivations towards pursuits which are seen generally as altruistic. The best example I have is a French doctor some years ago who, in criticising MSF for not approving an extra day off, declared “They should be grateful to have me! I don’t have to be here! I am not a local staff who has no choice! I am a Ewe-Manit-Eerian! So are you! We are both ewe-manit-eerians, ‘Elen!”. Never had I wanted the ground to swallow me up so badly! Being ewe-manit-eerian is a running joke within my current team who appreciate the farce of over-inflated ego.
The definition of what makes a humanitarian is also an interesting question. MSF focuses on emergency relief so that many of our expatriates have experienced war zones, famines, disease outbreaks and natural disasters. Some of these field workers, after multiple assignments, move into the ranks of management based in first world cities such as Paris, Tokyo and New York. One recent such visitor from London suggested that “you should not stay too long in one place, because it becomes something other than a humanitarian action if you end up staying for your own reasons”.
With a deep love of Cambodia, I’ve ruminated on this statement greatly. It is dangerous to be poor in this world – you will be forced to live in varying degrees of peril. If you are incapacitated there will be almost no assistance outside of your own unqualified and un-resourced family or village. If you die prematurely, it will likely be as an invisible non-statistic who was never counted anyway. The billions of dollars going towards medical research in first world institutions across the globe generally don’t benefit anyone but those living in the wealthy world, so that preventable illness, injury and death is a common theme in the poor world. I have loved realising the experience of making small differences to lives which ultimately, to the powers that be in their own higher society and levels of government but also to most of us in the world, hold little to no value. Stay or go, like all of us with a choice, I’ll choose what suits me most. Whether here or elsewhere, my main hope is to avoid becoming one of the “People from the Sky”.
Meanwhile, The Excruciating Fundraiser has surpassed it’s goal and our friend can have surgery with a safe and more comfortable recovery than would otherwise have been possible. We took the family swimming today at a local resort with a small water park. It was their first time at a swimming pool and a very happy day was had. On the way home we crossed a bridge over the mud brown river, where a bunch of children were playing on a black tyre in the muddy water lapping at the doors and floors of their little wood and tin shacks. The contrast with where we were coming from was stark.
This 4 minute video, which I think I’ve shared before, explains why this stark contrast exists.