Oddity Log: Somewhere in February

So it’s February, nearly the end of February in fact, but it feels like New Year’s Day was just a moment ago. Things are moving fast in the field. No longer am I sweating in the head office of my current response, instead now I am sweating in the middle of nowhere and living in a house made of plastic sheeting. Moving into said plastic house was a moment of great joy after spending a few weeks in a tent, sharing one half of it with another colleague. Don’t get me wrong, there are no ill feelings, but my new plastic cube is mine and mine alone. That means I can snore, fart, and scratch where ever I want during the evenings without fear of mentally scarring a team mate. As we moved into our new tarpaulin des-res, my colleague commented that now we were pretty much copying the IDPs in the camp where we work, who are also sleeping under tarpaulin, except we have electricity and access to WiFi, so I guess that makes us IDP+.

I have two weeks left before I go on a break and I’m definitely starting to feel the impact of running at full pelt for the last eight weeks. I sometimes think my productivity on each deployment is bell-curved in shape. When I’m on holiday, my brain is like a little old lady that you see pottering around town, stuck in third gear with a trail of frustrated motorists behind her. It’s in no hurry you see. But coming back into a deployment, I need to shift into top gear again, convincing that granny to put on a Stig-style helmet and jumpsuit, and thrash the living day lights out of a Kia Sportage (which, come to think of it, is probably also a fitting metaphor for my own rather average and non-descript physique).  As a result, the curve starts low, compounded perhaps by the fact that on average I spent my first two weeks just cleaning up the shit of whoever covered for me or my teams well intentioned but inappropriate budget choices. That and I usually can’t remember how to actually do my job…

bell-curve

The scientifically verified Bell Curve of Humanitarian Effectiveness. 

After a week or two, productivity starts picking up; you’re back in the swing of things and starting again to move things forward. The bell curve is starting to reach its peak, and when it does, oh boy, you can tell that I am cranking out project activities with the same frequency as Kim Kardashian posting naked selfies (does she still do that? Please replace with another, more appropriate simile if she’s started to wear more clothes).  At this point in the deployment I am feeling like a fucking rockstar, nothing can bring me down. Except severe exhaustion from being such a fucking rockstar. It’s at that point that the curve starts to fall back down again; as a holiday appears – at first like a mirage – on the work planner horizon, my internal Stig starts taking off his helmet and jumpsuit and reaching for the twinset and slippers instead. It’s also the point at which I will start calling all my team mates the wrong names, mix up dates, say things like, ‘who is travelling in the carrots today?’ when I mean cars, it just happens I was thinking about my lunch whilst trying to form sentences.

I’m at that point now, but my break is so tantalisingly close. I just have to convince my inner Stig to keep his helmet on for just a few more weeks. Until then, apologies in advance if your name for the next fortnight is Teapot.

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Humanitarian Resolutions

I took a break from my current deployment over Christmas and New Year. As I enjoyed celebrating the arrival of 2017 in that most traditional of ways – falling asleep in front of Jules Holland’s Hootenany – I decided that this year was going to be the one in which I finally became a professional, consummate humanitarian, rather than the rambling ball of confusion I have been to date. Having reached the last day of the first month of the year (which in itself is depressing considering my sum total lack of work/weight loss/fitness improvements/fabulous hair/meditation/non stop sexathons with Ryan Gosling achievements to date) I thought I would review those resolutions I have already managed to break so thoroughly, Humpty Dumpty would look like a child’s jigsaw in comparison:

1. Staying calm when dealing with Logistics

Ah logistics. I know you are busy, my friends. I know you have four programme teams demanding on your time. I know you have less staff than you would like at the moment. But that still doesn’t explain why my procurement request for mobile phones – which I see everyday being sold in the local market- has been sent to Holland for review by an underpaid intern who will need to ask seven managers that prioritise their lunch breaks before it can be approved. I’m also at a loss why I seem to be covered in dust and blanket fluff within 5 minutes of starting work each day having lugged bales of stock into pick up trucks, whilst you nod at me from behind a clipboard wearing a Ralph Lauren shirt.

2. Staying calm in coordination meetings

I was doing relatively well with this one, until MSF starting shouting about a lack of action by partners on a particular issue at a coordination meeting early in the month. In my current deployment, I love MSF and I hadn’t shouted at anyone in at least three hours so it just felt right to join in. It was even more rewarding that our collective shouting was targeted at UNICEF, who are nearly always fair game for a bit of shouting at. So I broke that resolution, but I blame MSF for it. And then OCHA called me as I was travelling home to recommend completing the 5Ws (yes that’s right, there’s bloody 5 of them now) as the solution to the said issue. I mean, when someone is offering it to you on a plate, it would be just rude not to take the shouty opportunity.

I had also wanted to remain a neutral, calm, figure of serenity and wisdom at such meetings, however during the first five minutes I rolled my eyes so violently during an update from WHO that I lost a contact lens.

resolutions

Just the thought of resolutions brings on my rage… (credit: Calvin and Hobbes)

3. Staying calm… just generally

I would estimate around 80% of my waking hours this year have been spent in some form of rage.

4. Getting a solid 8 hours

Of sleep would be great. Of sex would be better. Of absolutely nobody talking to me would be heaven.

5. Not using alcohol/ smoking/ recreational drugs/ other forms of mild substance abuse as a coping mechanism

During January, me and my housemate have consumed 6 crates of beer, two bottles of whiskey, 4 bottles of wine and 2 bottles of vodka. So much for dry January. I have drank so many coke zeros that the town I am working in actually had a shortage that the vendor said was caused by my twice a day habit. During a training this month, I sniffed a permanent marker when I thought no one was looking.

6. Cook more healthy food and don’t rely on the cook’s limited menu

I’m writing this whilst digging into my 24th plate of Indomie instant noodles from the hotel kitchen. I cooked once in January; it was a chilli made with re-hydrated soya pieces. It was as delicious as it sounds.

So it looks like I’ve not been too successful in becoming a paragon of zen humanitarian effectiveness so far this year, but hey, at least I didn’t start my year by cutting funding to support women’s reproductive rights, banning ‘bad dudes’ from entering the US, or building oil pipelines and walls… so I’m one up. I did attempt a terrible fake tan though so perhaps it is a draw.

Oddity Log: Somewhere in October

It’s been an interesting old week. And I mean interesting in the British use of the word.

Technically, its week two of a new deployment, but since I spent the first week stuck in the capital reading and preparing for one donor meeting, I don’t really think that counts. In the end it turned out that the donor representative was a guy that I had met previously in Sudan, and upon meeting each other at 2pm in a coffee shop, we rapidly concluded that the meeting would have been much better scheduled for 7pm in a pub.

This week, I travelled to my ‘nearly’ field base. I say nearly because it’s the nearest current field base to an area that I am going to assess and try to set up another. But really, the first one is not actually functional. My assessment was delayed because there were no cars, then there was no money, and now it appears we’re not even sure whether the place I am going to work is actually safe for anyone to work in at all. Coupled with that the office has run out of every possible useful thing like paper, printer ink, wifi and oh, I already said money, right? So things are frustratingly slow.

It’s really bloody hot. I am really annoyed about this because when I was last home, I met up with a friend who I’ve only ever seen on deployments before. His reaction on seeing me was, ‘Wow! You look great! It’s so nice to see you in your normal clothes!’ When I jokingly asked if that meant I always looked like shit on deployments, he responded, ‘Well… yes.’ So after that, I tried extra hard to pack a wardrobe that walked that narrow line between ‘field-practical’ and ‘Banana Republic model’. But now, it’s so bloody hot that I want to discard any notion of clothes and sit naked, preferably in some kind of wind tunnel constructed from standing fans, in an homage to a Britney Spears video circa 2003.

Add to that I’ve been on my period and this week it’s been a particularly nasty little fucker. Every so often my reproductive system likes to remind me that my perceived control of my own body is an illusion and that in fact, she’s the boss, by smacking me about with a god-awful one. So I have been enjoying the delights of trying to rapidly, noiselessly sort myself out in the poorly soundproofed toilet attached to the WASH office, without the aid of toilet paper or a bin. Yes, I said next to a WASH office (cue face palm emoji). In fact, me and my manager brainstormed a wish list of things we needed for the office, and toilet paper only came in at number 6 because we are such dedicated humanitarians items for programme function come higher than items for personal hygiene… When I wasn’t running to the loo every two minutes, worried that the inordinate amount of sweat off my arse was in fact leakage, I was sat trying to be nice to people whilst feeling like the Highways Agency was building a new motorway bypass on my lower spine.

I got some bad news this week. A friend and old time flame of mine from some years back had passed away, and although I wasn’t very close to him anymore, it shocked me to think of someone so young and full of life ceasing to be. It made me think a lot about my life and what I’m doing…. would I really look back at this week and think, ‘yeah, I was rocking that shit, I was living my dream’? I feel like for the last month or so I have been treading a line close to a full on breakdown… or at least several prolonged biscuit binge eating sessions. I’m so near tipping over into hiding under duvet territory that I’m not sure how much yoga, meditation or ‘positivity themed’ memes are going to right me up again.

nhs-positivity

Not the kind of positivity I was looking for, NHS. 

Alongside my 99 other problems, a boy adds one. There is a guy I like, who also likes me, but it’s just not happening. It might be the 6000 miles separating us. It might be the lack of internet connectivity to have a decent conversation and then again, it might be that he’s not actually bothered to ask me how I’m doing in my new post. The answer – in case you are wondering – is ‘not as well as I would be doing if you were actually bothered/interested/at the same stage as me in the relationship forming stakes’. So I am also dealing with my own disappointment that its auf wiedersehen to another eX-Factor hopeful, and hello to the temporary – possibly reproductive system driven – low state that comes with wondering whether you will ever actually have a meaningful relationship when you don’t stay in one location for more than three months.

It’s weeks like this, I’m reminded of the part in one of the Harry Potter’s where Ron claims, ‘One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode’, and Hermione quips, ‘Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have’. In this scenario I like to think that Mr. eX-Factor is the emotional-intelligence-deficient teaspoon. I need to give myself a bit of credit, I haven’t exploded yet. To be honest I feel more like on the edge of melting into a sweaty puddle. And as for all of the other nagging stuff that tinkers with my brain when I’m trying to sleep on a mattress on the floor of my Funding Manager’s hotel room… I’m sure it will quieten when I get busy, and instead find another, completely unrelated circumstance in which to reappear, making me look like an utter lunatic. Oh, I do look forward to that day. Until then, I might have to keep a stock of biscuits nearby, just in case.