December 08, 2013
Chasing Chaos by Jessica Alexander
It's easy to glamorize Aid work. I mean, you're out there helping people, pretty selfless work right? Well, yes and no. As Alexander describes it, Aid work is like any other, you get paid for doing a job, the setting is just a little different and the stresses are different.
Originally in advertizing, Alexander goes back to school after the death of her mother and begins work in the Aid field. During her decade of working she goes to places like Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Darfur. While there her jobs range from managing a camp, researching demobilized child soldiers, and taking interviews. She also takes time to describe the personal lives of Aid workers and what they do in their off hours. The frustrations that they have and the good that they do find in their work.
Alexander is a straight forward narrator. She doesn't pull punches and she doesn't sugar coat things. In fact, she almost makes the life of an Aid worker sound downright dreary. A job that no one but the insane would want to do. Or at least, that's how her descriptions come across to me. The people she work with all seem stressed out and eager for vacation, and don't seem to find much joy in their work. There are a few that do, but honestly, it was hard to tell what drew these people to the field in the first place.
I actually enjoyed most of the stories that she had that were about the work itself. There were a lot of varied things and I learned way more than I ever knew before about Humanitarian Aid. But the tone was certainly not upbeat or approachable. I'm not saying it should have been, after all, some horrible things are discussed in this book. But the amount of disdain Alexander and other Aid Workers have for the other relief groups out there (the non-professional ones) is kind of disheartening. You'd think if they were doing such a bad job or making things worse it would be better to organize something to share that kind of information with them rather than being disgusted with them. I don't know, it just sort of put me off the book. Luckily though the pace of the book is relatively fast and you don't have time to dwell on any one topic.
This was interesting but not what I expected. I'm not sure who I'd recommend it to other than people who are interested in Humanitarian Aid.