After a five-month absence, parts of Port-au-Prince looked marginally better than when I had last seen the city in February. At least some debris from the January 12 earthquake had been removed. But generally, the city seemed at a standstill.
What does it take to be a humanitarian worker? Idealism and commitment, surely, but also a gift for improvisation. An assignment in a disaster or war zone is by definition chaotic, and those who succeed are those who can solve problems quickly and move on.
At a center in Kabul for children affected by violence, a mother of one of the children cut through the niceties of the meeting—and the tradition of Afghan women being self-effacing—by declaring bitterly, “We hate this country and want to leave. There are no jobs here.” That angry declaration came amid growing concerns about Afghanistan’s insecurity and inadequate infrastructure.
When I left the developed world of Israel at the Erez border crossing, I instantly entered the Third World—a crowded, tense and anxious Gaza Strip. What was surprising, however, was discovering that in this “hot house” crisis environment, one of the ways Gaza residents are coping is by spending their afternoons watching Dr. Phil and Oprah Winfrey.
Tsunami survivor Marzuki Arsyad, 34, was luckier than some in Banda Aceh—his wife was unharmed because she was working outside the city. Even so, on December 26, 2004, this pedicab driver and fisherman lost 13 relatives as well as his home. The death toll in Indonesia’s Aceh province was 170,000; 500,000 became homeless.
The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America plans to leave the National Council of Churches, saying it is unhappy with policies and statements some member denominations have made supporting gay and lesbian church members.
On my last night in Nyala, in southern Darfur, convoys of combat-ready security forces circled the streets of the city, which has become part fortress, part camp for the displaced, and part home for dozens of international humanitarian groups.
Getting to Iraq requires a flight from neighboring Jordan that ends with a hair-raising flourish: a 60-degree “corkscrew” turn into the former Saddam International Airport. “We have a slight missile problem,” said the impish pilot, a white South African, explaining that the tricky maneuver is necessary to avoid getting hit by a ground-launched rocket.
In a country where the absurd and surreal routinely intersect with everyday life, it was hardly a surprise to find the staff of the Liberia Council of Churches meeting in a room shorn of everything from pencils to wall hangings. Only days earlier, a council employee had found bills and memos from the office being used to wrap fish in the markets of Monrovia.
You don’t have to knock before entering Shkiba’s flat in the southern section of Kabul. Just walk up three flights of poorly aligned stairs in a vacated school building, and avoid the rubble and large holes caused by rocket explosions. Shkiba lives in what was once a classroom; the space is large, but the windows are without glass.
Though it is hard to imagine the situation in Colombia getting much worse, church leaders and human rights groups are warning that the violence is in fact increasing, and that a “dirty war” like the one in El Salvador in the 1980s and in Chile and Argentina in the 1970s is likely to erupt.