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by Jessica Alexander

Download Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid fb2, epub

ISBN: 0770436919
Author: Jessica Alexander
Language: English
Publisher: Broadway Books; 9/15/13 edition (October 15, 2013)
Pages: 400
Category: Politics & Government
Subcategory: Politics
Rating: 4.8
Votes: 453
Size Fb2: 1475 kb
Size ePub: 1995 kb
Size Djvu: 1354 kb
Other formats: mbr lrf rtf txt


In Chasing Chaos, Alexander takes us to a place where few outsiders can go, cracking open the rarefied world of humanitarianism to bare its contradictions-and her own-with boldness and humor.

In Chasing Chaos, Alexander takes us to a place where few outsiders can go, cracking open the rarefied world of humanitarianism to bare its contradictions-and her own-with boldness and humor. The result is an immensely valuable field guide to the mind of that uniquely powerful and vulnerable of beasts: the international aid worker. Jonathan M. Katz, author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster.

Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Start by marking Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid as Want to Read: Want to Read savin. ant to Read.

You’re like a young Mother Teresa, a family friend-a corporate lawyer, a doctor-will say, cooing over me and telling me what amazing work I do. You’re just like Angelina Jolie, they tell me.

world needs more people like you, a friend will remark while looking through my pictures. I am a humanitarian aid worker. I’ve organized food and shelter distributions for tens of thousands of people displaced by conflict.

In Chasing Chaos, Alexander takes us to a place where few outsiders can go, cracking open the rarefied world of humanitarianism to bare its contradictions-and her own-with boldness and humor

My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid. My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid. By Jessica Alexander. In Chasing Chaos, Alexander takes us to a place where few outsiders can go, cracking open the rarefied world of humanitarianism to bare its contradictions-and her own-with boldness and humor.

Jessica Alexander arrived in Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide as an idealistic intern, eager to contribute to the work of the international humanitarian aid community. But the world that she encountered in the field was dramatically different than anything she could have imagined. It was messy, chaotic, and difficult-but she was hooked. In this honest and irreverent memoir, she introduces readers to the realities of life as an aid worker

Jessica Alexander discusses & signs Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Ai. .In this honest and irreverent memoir, Jessica Alexander introduces readers to the realities of life as an aid worker.

Jessica Alexander discusses & signs Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Ai. Jessica Alexander - Author.

You're using an out-of-date version of Internet Explorer. edu and the wider internet faster and more securely, please take a few seconds to upgrade your browser. Jessica Alexander: Chasing Chaos-My decade in and out of humanitarian aid. Download. Tobias Denskus.

In Chasing Chaos, Alexander takes us to a place where few outsiders can go, cracking open the rarefied world of humanitarianism to bare its contradictions - and her own .

In Chasing Chaos, Alexander takes us to a place where few outsiders can go, cracking open the rarefied world of humanitarianism to bare its contradictions - and her own - with boldness and humor.

Jessica Alexander arrived in Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide as an idealistic intern, eager to contribute to the work of the international humanitarian aid community. But the world that she encountered in the field was dramatically different than anything she could have imagined. It was messy, chaotic, and difficult—but she was hooked.    In this honest and irreverent memoir, she introduces readers to the realities of life as an aid worker. We watch as she manages a 24,000-person camp in Darfur, collects evidence for the Charles Taylor trial in Sierra Leone, and contributes to the massive aid effort to clean up a shattered Haiti. But we also see the alcohol-fueled parties and fleeting romances, the burnouts and self-doubt, and the struggle to do good in places that have long endured suffering.     Tracing her personal journey from wide-eyed and naïve newcomer to hardened cynic and, ultimately, to hopeful but critical realist, Alexander transports readers to some of the most troubled locations around the world and shows us not only the seemingly impossible challenges, but also the moments of resilience and recovery.

Comments:

Envias
It’s 2005 in Darfur, western Sudan. Jessica Alexander, a young American aid worker, is woken at 5.30am by the call to prayer. The night before she put a wet towel on her forehead and soaked her pajamas so that they would keep her cool. Now she gets out of bed to face the heat again and go to one of the camps for the internally displaced. Brought to Darfur to do something else, Alexander has suddenly found herself needed to manage Al Salam, a camp of about 20,000 people. She is just 27. She now spends her days trying to ensure that new arrivals are registered and that the kids don’t drown in the sewage pits. (Not that those kids are always appealing. The African Union peacekeepers have corrupted them: “It wasn’t uncommon for them to yell ‘suck my c***’ or ‘big t****’ when white women passed,” she reports.)

Was Alexander doing any good? If not, why not, and what should we do about it? In this thoughtful book, Alexander tries to answer these questions, and I think she sort of succeeds.

Alexander hadn’t originally planned to be an aid worker. On graduation she joined a New York ad agency, thrilled with her new briefcase, a gift from her mother, and the sound of her high heels clacking as she crosses the floor of the hall. Disillusion sets in as she finds herself working on a frozen pizza account. “When I wasn’t stuffing my face with our own soggy, salty brand or comparing the fat content ...to that of our competitors, I was watching their ads,” she says. Then her mother dies. “If I could die at age fifty, I wanted a more meaningful profession than the one provided by Hot Pockets and Sunny Delight.” Alexander decides she’d like to work in aid and development. She joins the New York office of an NGO, but quickly becomes frustrated that she has never been to any of the places her colleagues are talking about. She decides to do a Masters in development, and winds up doing a summer internship with the UN in Rwanda.

It is at that point that this book takes off. Alexander finds herself transcribing people’s interviews for refugee status. She finds out that these take a long time to process, being approved in Kigali and Nairobi and going eventually to Geneva. She is also less than impressed with her fellow-expats. “Most expats lived ...in spacious houses situated behind high walls, some with barbed wire at the top ...At dinner parties like these we drank alcohol from Italy and ate cheese from France. The expats sat around, complaining that their guard was caught sleeping again....” This needs a pinch of salt. Not all expats in aid live like that, especially if they work for NGOs. Still, some do. And as Alexander’s career progresses, she finds the aid worker’s expat way of life bizarre. “It wasn’t out of the ordinary when in any humanitarian setting to get an e-mail with the subject line “War Children Party— Thursday Night— Festive Attire Required!” or “Center for Survivors of Torture— Fancy Dress Night Friday.”

Alexander went on to do research in Sierra Leone (she is more positive about this) and eventually to help evaluate the responses to the 2004 tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. In Colombo, she hears that post-tsunami that there is actually too much money, chasing too few projects; NGOs building child centres, for example, and then competing for the children. There are also economic distortions from the influx of aid, and she meets a teacher and a judge who work for local NGOs because there’s more money in it. Meanwhile in Darfur there was too little money, and northern Uganda and Congo got no attention. In Haiti, where more than 220,000 people were killed and approximately 180,000 homes were wrecked, she finds that cars bound for aid agencies are held up in customs because (it is said) officials are getting kickbacks from car rental companies.

Working at New York HQ is no better, as she must confront the language of bureaucratic obfuscation. “Complementarity of processes, sectoral coverage, evaluability of impact, operationalization of the concept— eventually enough of these invented phrases were dropped in documents or e-mails that people stopped wondering if they held actual meaning. “Modalities are in place” was the response you got almost every time you asked how a project was progressing.” As an editor in one of the big aid organizations, I have to weed this noxious self-serving rubbish out of reports (I have banned the word modality). So I can confirm that Alexander has a point.

It sounds from the above as if this book telling us that all aid is a waste. In fact, Alexander is more nuanced that that. She points out that while aid may be an unregulated industry, it is a self-critical one, and it is considering its failures and increasing its transparency. She is right about this; one wishes the banks could do the same. She finishes by talking about innovations like cash transfers and mobile technology – again, this is true; UNICEF, for instance, is putting a lot of effort into innovation. Alexander also puts the aid “biz” in perspective. The sums spent are large ($ 17.9 billion on humanitarian crises worldwide in 2012) but are dwarfed by the $ 114 billion for Katrina relief, the $ 50 billion for Storm Sandy, and the $ 13.7 billion spent on the 2012 London Olympics. Neither does Alexander ever say that humanitarian aid is a waste of time. What she wants readers to understand is that aid cannot fix the world. Good government is needed too.

I did have reservations about this book. It’s a bit longer than it needs to be, and occasionally repetitive. At times Alexander is too negative about the people who work in aid. In fact some of them are profoundly committed and do lose their lives, as seven – four from UNICEF – did in a bomb explosion in Somalia in 2015. I wondered, too, if everyone in this book would really have wanted to be. Some deserve Alexander’s scrutiny, but perhaps not all. In particular, staying with a local family in Kigali, she records there was often someone’s turd floating in the toilet bowl; did she need to tell us that? I also found Alexander a little privileged at times. When she first decides she wants to do aid work, she is told to go into the Peace Corps to get some ‘field cred’. But: “I wasn’t exactly prepared to commit to living in a remote village in Burkina Faso or Guatemala for a whole two years. Not at this point, anyway.” I started as a volunteer and served for nearly five years. I also wondered whether she realised how lucky she was to get her student internship in Rwanda.

Still, she made good use of it, and has clearly not been afraid of hardship. Few people would live and work somewhere like Darfur by choice. Also, while Chasing Chaos has no literary pretensions, it’s well-written. The beginning was immediately evocative for me, as I began my own international career in Sudan, albeit many years before. I could feel the extreme heat and hear the scraping of the zinc doors, and taste the very sweet tea and imagine the bleached-white sky at midday.

And in general, I did like this book. Alexander is clear about the frustrations, and clear about their causes. She appears to be someone with values and common sense. She also accepts that while her business should not exist, it also cannot not exist, at least for now; and she is responsible and practical. Chasing Chaos is an honest and readable book about life at the sharp end of humanitarian aid. Despite some reservations, I strongly recommend it.
Neol
This is a great exposé of the international development industry/community. It does have a few annoyances to it, but I suppose any kind of memoir like this would. And to be fair, some of these annoyances are contextually important. Some reviewers have claimed that Alexander shouldn't have mentioned her love affairs. This is, however, a big deal for people who spend years and years overseas. We often find ourselves falling into a lot of short-term relationships that get rather steamy. And the parties that NGOs throw paralleled with the poverty around them is also an important revelation that she dwells on. I currently work in South Sudan and have been to some outrageously lavish NGO parties where I actually left in disgust - but I'm at the stage in my career where I'm a bit older than most of my colleagues (and manage some of them). I'll leave that part alone for the rest of the review.

What she does get right, she gets right in a fantastic way. I appreciate this book for not being an all-out assault on the international development community. In my own blog, afterdevelopment.blogspot.com, I explore a lot of these issues. NGOs generally lack coordination, and Alexander goes into great detail about this when she discusses the tsunami response. There are a lot of duplications of efforts, distributions of unhelpful donations, and jobs given to international staff that would be better handled by host country nationals. The "do no harm" approach that NGOs swear to is often inadvertently broken.

I would have appreciated it if she had explored the differences between emergency, recovery, and development a bit more thoroughly. This is a kind of emerging theme in the international development world, and I think an important one. Some NGOs are concerned with simply responding to humanitarian crises, while others try to establish or facilitate long-term resilience within communities and countries. In a way, her chapter on Sierra Leone talks about this in a social sense. But in terms of sweeping issues like food security, public health, and other more long-term issues, there is no real discussion here.

I loved the book and couldn't put it down. I've been wanting to write a book like this myself, but I think I'll wait until I have a few more years of experience (even though I just hit the 10 year mark working in Ghana, Ethiopia, and South Sudan).

Most of all, I want to say a big thank you to Alexander and to all humanitarian workers who sacrifice their time (and sometimes their lives) to make this world a better place. Because I know that we do, even though we are some of the most self-critical people in the world. Society at large doesn't show humanitarians enough respect or thank us enough. Cheers.
Xor
If you've ever wanted to save the world and wondered how (and how not) to do it, Chasing Chaos is the book to read. Chasing Chaos is neither an academic treatise nor a muckraking expose, and readers should not expect to find either prescriptions for or blanket condemnations of the current aid effort. The book is an extremely readable and engaging personal memoir that charts one young woman's education in the challenging, maddening, and ultimately heartbreaking world of humanitarian aid.

The reader will learn a great deal about the ways that valiant aid workers like Jessica Alexander strive to confront some of the most difficult humanitarian situations of our time. In her years of work in the field, Alexander experienced a wide range of different aid scenarios and the book does an excellent job of revealing the particular complexities and challenges of each, giving the reader a compelling and thought-stimulating overview of the significant challenges that "doing good" poses for everyone concerned, and it does so in a way that is engrossing, sympathetic, and often quite funny.

Readers will be drawn in by Alexander's personality and the way she vividly writes about her own development in the developing world, from wide-eyed ingénue to someone who is critical of many aspects of the aid effort, but also deeply hopeful about the difference that coordinated aid can make in people's lives. There will always be disasters, both natural and man-made, so you can read this book and be thankful that people like Jessica Alexander are willing to go to places that most of us would not want to visit, much less live, and marshal their intelligence, financial resources, and empathy in humanitarian service to some of the most dispossessed people on our fraught planet.

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