STORIES FROM THE FIELD
Personal stories from my life in the humanitarian space.
NEGOTIATION IN THE CAUCASUS
As you would expect the Minister for Education in this far flung part of Russian Federation was a charming, urbane, intelligent gentleman. A tall, handsome ,middle aged man, dressed in an expensive suit that suited his position in the Ingush Government .In a past meeting he had gallantly taken my arm to offer his assistance down a new winding staircase without a handrail.
Past meetings had been productive so I did not expect the ambush that awaited me in the meeting he had requested. Not one to waste any time he got straight down to business. He wanted Care to build a new school and in the course of the conversation let me know that our continued presence in Ingushetia could depend on our agreement to his “request”.
Of course an outright “no” was not an option so I explained the conditions of donor funding and if we were to do so we would need to develop a proposal for various donors, wait for the next funding period etc etc. All this of course would take time.
He countered by informing me that in the spirit of give and take that a prominent international right Wing Saudi humanitarian organization which incidentally was a proscribed terrorist organization by some western governments had agreed to supply food items to the Russian military. This was news to me but a lot of strange things happen in the Caucasus so it may have been true.
I explained again my agreement with him there certainly was a need for more schools and I would try to develop a proposal and repeated the time constraints, subject to donor approval etc.
The minister then told me a story. He asked if I had noticed that some of the good roads in the area had German names. I said I had and kept to myself my thoughts of the rather appalling record of the German Army and SS Death Squads in the area during the Second World War. His next words however floored me when he told me that the roads were named for the German Prisoners of War who had actually built them post WW2.
“So “he said. “Build us a school and we will name it after you”. That was too much and I burst out laughing. He joined me and I replied that his story was certainly a great incentive for me to be successful in locating funding opportunities.
Russians have a great sense of humour which has embedded in it an ability to laugh at themselves. We finally settled on a small CARE funded project to supply equipment to an existing school immediately.
DARFUR - A POEM
The men of Darfur strut through the soft red dust
In long white robes that swirl around their feet
Lords of the desert with harsh beaked profiles
They resemble the Sahel falcons they so admire.
Some take their ease from the harsh desert sun
To share coffee blended and brewed by women
Who toil from dawn to sunset in the dust and heat
Whose thoughts are ever hidden from men in long white robes.
Sad dark eyed women with dry skin and roughened hands
They are valued less than donkeys
By men whose snow white robes are washed by women
Who go without water to keep them so.
Women who walk afar to collect the precious water
That place their lives in danger from groups of other men
Named Janjaweed who rape and murder and carry modern weapons
Supplied by Oil hungry men in the name of foreign aid.
It is said that oil and water never shall they mix
But here in this harsh desert land of warriors
It is women who have the heart of falcons
In a world made by hard and selfish men.
THE BASEBALL BAT
The Baseball Bat
I walked in to the DFAC Baseball bat in hand
400 curious eyes watched and wondered at the purpose of the bat.
Up loped a brave young soldier a question in his eyes.
Excuse me Maam, the boys and me are wondering, why the baseball bat?
At loss to explain the meaning behind this valued gift
I gave a short and simple answer
A gift from the division psychiatrist
I said and pointed to the colleague at my side..
No further explanation necessary, he nodded to his friends.
Witches, warlocks and wizards are strange at best
And he recalled the wise words of the Brigade Sergeant Major
Who advised , Don’t mess with the mind fuckers, son!