Thursday, June 30, 2011

Jumping the Shark/Dismounting the Camel … you decide

It’s tricky business, dismounting a camel. Not your usual, everyday, American experience. As the tall animal drops onto its front haunches, kneeling down, you have to lean way back in order to avoid going head over hump into the sand. It is a bit of an adjustment, a bit unsettling, a bit frightening. At least that is my experience.

So we are back in Mongolia. The newly named “Price Posse” has taken over the only operating room in the town of Arvaikheer, Mongolia. ‘Lonely Planet ‘says to skip this place unless you need petrol. We are here for two weeks.

Getting here was the hardest part … overnight to Beijing, layover, flight to Ulan Bataar, reunion with some dear friends from this far away land and then onto the van. Nine hours crammed into a van with our luggage and lots of snacks but no shock absorbers. We bounced through the desolate Mongolian countryside on relatively paved roads. The vistas were beautiful, the monotony quieting and the bouncing, mildly traumatic.

We stopped mid-way through at this mirage of a tourist trap know to locals as “Sandy Land.” And there for $5 US I learned about dismounting a camel. We were led around by enthusiastic young entrepreneurs (mine wearing a ‘Harvard’ hat) and soaked in the experience of being so far removed from what we know.

And now, we have dismounted the camel. Ice cold showers, nothing but mutton, rock hard beds, bring your own toilet paper, massive candy consumption and the laughter and love that come from working through all of it as a team. Adjusting the balance, stepping off gracefully, not toppling head over hump. It is just another grand adventure …

Allison and Suz in the Van ... 
Mongolian rest stop
"Price Posse" in "Sandy Land"

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Book Report: The Crisis Caravan by Linda Polman

An inspiring friend (who is mentioned in this blog more times than her humble self will ever admit) gave me this book to read a few months back. I don’t write many book reports but I thought this one was worth sharing on this blog. It is a pretty fascinating read and has provoked many conversations and email chatter amongst friends involved in service work.

I saw this book as a cautionary tale and also, a rallying call. It offered a wide perspective and global insight into issues and concerns that are often viewed at close range. The book has some harsh words for na├»ve, situationaly blind aid projects. The larger effects of even small generosities are exposed – sometimes as good and sometimes, as unintentionally harmful. The book does not dismiss or belittle the altruistic intentions in the face of human struggle, it simply points out that there is room for improvement.

The book encourages attempts to achieve a broader perspective, better communication (shocking I know!), and coordinated, goal driven efforts in situations where the scatter-shot approach is often the only approach. It asks us to be better at working with each other, defining clear obtainable objectives with measurable progress and outcomes. It asks us to help re-build crippled infra-structure, encourage sustainability and avoid areas of overlap. It asks us to concentrate on giving a hand up instead of a hand out. All of this is harder to do than to just throw money or physical aid at a situation but all of this is so much more empowering for people effected by natural and political disaster.

I invite comments on this book – and I understand it is an unbalanced viewpoint – but one worth examining and spending some time with. The world is smaller than we think, and the things that we do have an impact, ultimately on all of us.