It’s hard to write these days. What to say? Nothing exciting keeping me from my words. It’s partly that those moments of clarity that used to come quite regularly to me seem few, far between and nowhere near developed enough to formulate into essay format. I’ve hit a plateau on my journey of self-realisation. These days I’m just trying to remember all the lessons that sounded good when I wrote them down at the time. Not that I read myself. So cringe-inducing…like listening to a recording of your own voice. Give me nails on a chalkboard any day over reading something I wrote more than half an hour ago.
And of course not writing means slowly forgetting how to formulate a coherent post worth reading, and then the whole process of keeping this blog up-to-date seems silly. On the other hand, I know it’s good for me. And this is a day off during which I’ve decided to hole up in my flat doing things I know to be good for me because I’ve been neglecting those things a bit of late.
So if you’ll note and forgive the selfish motivation of this post, I’ll endeavour to write something worth reading.
This is such a very strange time in the world, isn’t it? Surely it isn’t just me feeling it’s all going to pot rather quickly, that the reigns are slipping from our sweaty, anxious palms, that the horses are mad and the carriage is falling to pieces and we’ve left our glasses on the night table and our near-sightedness is proving just one more debilitating factor in this journey gone awry, now seemingly destined for catastrophe.
The news seems bad all the damn time. I have to keep reading it: it’s partly my nature and partly my professional responsibility to try to understand what the hell is happening in the world. As previously mentioned, I’m limited in what I can discuss regarding the goings-on within the geopolitical boundaries in which I currently reside. And no matter how much I read, listen to podcasts, and read some more, I just can’t wrap my head around what’s happening in places beyond those boundaries I thought I understood a little better…Duterte in the Philippines…Brexit…this “election” in the United States. Like one of my Sociology professors used to say, “You can’t make this shit up.” Indeed.
So we immerse ourselves in our work, our lives, our day-to-day. I think I’m not an exception in that I find myself wondering from time to time how much difference I can actually make by turning up to work every day. Certainly impact is easier to feel in the field. Still, I like the model we adhere to – ensuring the work is carried out on all levels by local organisations, our role being to facilitate however we can to make sure things fall as much into place as possible. My friend O works for an organisation here in Istanbul, supporting via one of a few Community Centres the “urban refugees” – those who for any number of reasons are not living in camps. Their circumstances can sometimes be exponentially more difficult as basic services are less available, and as they’re left to navigate their way around a city in a country whose language they don’t speak, whose culture is strange, and whose inhabitants can be very resentful of the presence of large numbers of refugees in their communities. O shares pictures from psychosocial support sessions she runs with Syrian women. Sometimes she tells me their stories. As Turks don’t as a rule speak any Arabic, quite a lot of the staff – particularly translators – are refugees themselves. Their stories tend to be no less horrific than those of the beneficiaries. It’s the same with our own partner in Turkey – also running Community Centres and providing support in camps to Syrian Refugees all over the country. It’s the same for our partner in Iraqi Kurdistan. For our partners in Lebanon. In Jordan.
One of the important parts of my job is running a Learning Needs Assessment with our partners. It entails a very intensive workshop and meeting with the organisations’ directors and then a lengthy evaluation of the results. When I make first contact with the staff I sometimes feel this overwhelming urge to hug them and have a good cry together. Instead I just thank them for the work they do. I always tell them before we ever get started how meaningful the hours they put in are, how I feel personally that what they do is the most important work being carried out in the world. I mean that. I don’t feel that they’re always equipped to do it as well as it should be done. But they’re doing it. And it’s damn hard work.
Sometimes I’m overwhelmed when I try to wrap my head around the oceans of loss and hardship and pain being endured by people…yes, perhaps that’s everywhere, all the time. But it feels so pronounced here, now. There are so many stories. Stories of children who’ve watched their parents killed, parents who’ve watched their children killed. Young and old stranded in strange places, not sure whether their loved ones are alive or dead, in prison or en route to safety. There are so many players with their own interests engaged in some cruel game whose least important stakes are the lives of so many millions of innocents. And when I try to make sense of it, when I try to explain it to myself, I feel so ignorant to the true motivation in the belly of those making decisions that tear people down, tear them apart.
But morning comes, there is no limit to the work waiting to be done, and I’m surrounded by brilliant, driven and committed colleagues. There’s a terrible amount of turnover in this field: we live abroad, our lives get in the way, new opportunities present themselves, some cities are pleasant for one humanitarian worker and miserable for the next. As it happens, it’s quite likely that the next few months will bring a lot of changes to the group of people comprising the team to which I belong. Par for the course, and morning comes, and there is no limit to the work waiting to be done. Our situation in any country is dependent upon that country’s stability, and our ability to do what we need to do within its borders. Some of those things are in question here right now, and there’s the possibility that we’ll need to make a move elsewhere, but nothing is certain, so morning comes and there is no limit to the work waiting to be done.
I recently heard a hilarious podcast, the first part of which is voiced by a writer named Geoff Dyer in a period of tremendous indecision regarding many aspects of his life: where to live, what to write (he’s veering between a biography of DH Lawrence and his novel), what CD to listen to. “Let’s suppose for example,” he says, “that I decided to call it a day, to give up, to abandon any attempt not just at earning a living, but having a life. But what then? What would happen next?” Indeed. Giving up is always an option, but then what? The answer is that we simply cannot give up. This writer, whose word-whittling puts my own to shame, sums it up so much better than I ever could:
One way or another, we all have to write our studies of D.H. Lawrence even if they will never be published, even if we will never complete them, even if all we are left with after years and years of effort is an unfinished, unfinishable record of how we failed to live up to our own earlier ambitions. Still, we all have to try to make some progress with our books about D.H. Lawrence. The world over, from Taos to Taormina, from the places we have visited to countries we will never set foot in, the best we can do is to try to make some progress with our studies of D.H. Lawrence.
And so morning comes, and I’ve got my own study of D.H. Lawrence to get to, just like we all do.