Monday, April 11, 2005

Another Week In Banda

This last week was something special—I had three delegations and my replacement come into the office to be entertained, toured, and trained. There was Save-Netherlands, with their CEO and their senior information officer, Save-Japan with their program director, PR staff, and proposal writers, Save-US with their “star photographer”, and my replacement for the end of the month, a Ms. Abbie Wilson.

There is an name for the infamous people who come to disasters for a couple of days to see what their money has done, or what needs to be done in the future. They are the disaster tourists, and they are some of the hardest people to deal with. They are the people who want to be taken to see the destruction, and then ask me to translate their questions to kids, asking how many members of a child’s family were killed by the tsunami. Of course, not all of them are that bad. And actually, these ones were not that bad. But it was a week of tours of the affected areas (“disaster tours”) and field visits.

One of the best things about taking new people out on these trips is getting to see people’s reactions to the situations that were so shocking when I first came into Banda Aceh. It is awful to realize that you have become blasé about seeing the destroyed areas of Banda Aceh. It is true—you can become used to anything. I am still surprised when I hear people talk comfortably about seeing the bodies that littered the city, or even about losing their family members. I suppose when you live with the reality every day it becomes normal. But it is good to see the reactions of these foreign visitors, for whom this is the first time that they have seen the destruction outside of the television. Their shock helps keep things in perspective.

But the best part of visits is finally getting to the field. Visiting the field with these groups convinces me once again that this is where I really need to be. I love talking to the kids in the classes, and getting them to ask questions to the foreigners. In one class, the kids got the Dutch and the Japanese to sing them songs in their own language. That was lovely- to get the kids to get something out of these visits, more than just the foreigners getting something from the trip. It makes me really happy to be out there in the field and working with actual people-- even if it is not the work I am doing now, it is good to know that there is work I would be happy doing out there, and that I am getting closer to it.

Finally, having Abbie, the woman who will be replacing me, here has made my imminent departure much more real. I still have about two and a half weeks here, but the time is coming quickly. It brings about a lot of different feelings—I am happy to be leaving the time behind the desk; too much more of this and I think I might go nuts. I would still like to be in Aceh. I think I would be perfectly happy doing programming work—work with real people—here in Aceh. But the options that I have are still exciting. They are still the options that I wrote about in the last post—working with bears in Kalimantan or working with CIFOR on collective action to avoid resource capture by elites in Sumatra—but both have become closer to realities than they were before.

Still, I miss home, and all of you… just not quite enough to actually come home yet.


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