During my three-month long internship with a small-scale HIV/AIDS non-profit in South Africa, I visited a friend working in Mozambique with an HIV/AIDS activism organization as part of her Peace Corps placement. Beyond the entirely new experience of traveling to Mozambique, I met a very interesting crew of international development/ aid workers who gave me some great insights into who I might want to become if I entered the international development/aid arena. From working on a small operation in East Darfur, Sudan with a religious relief agency, to a technology focused firm constructing health curriculums funded by PEPFAR, to those doing backend all office-based, administrative work for USAID and the Clinton Foundation, they were all at various stages in their lives and working in very different aspects of development/ aid work. Some of the volunteers were in their 40s, others just out of college in Peace Corps, some had just come from extremely stressful environments where “guns were like sticks,” while others had just come to complete an internship for their Princeton graduate degree, all in all it was a motley group that gave a compelling snapshot of aid workers and the many directions they can come from and be headed towards.
4 August 2008
After walking from our hotel, my friend and I stopped at a “local” bar named Pirata (Pirate) to meet up with the motley crew of aid workers. We then headed into downtown Maputo for dinner at a restaurant recommended by one of the aid workers who had spent the longest time in and around Maputo (he had serious Mozambique cred). I had a supposedly traditional Mozambican dish of beans, rice, and shrimp which was very delicious or I was just supremely hungry from the day’s 8 hour bus ride from Johannesburg.
The Maputo based aid worker then took us to an odd sort of carnival hidden in what seemed like the middle of Maputo. It was randomly placed and not very large, but took me back to days of my earlier youth when we would visit the noise, lights, and crowds of the church carnival. We all were initially a bit shy about expressing our joy at the sight of children’s carnival games, but soon we were all reveling in the freedom from our assigned professional roles.
As we were the only ones at the carnival late in the evening, we had the whole place to ourselves. We all lined up and filled the bumper cars (carrenhos de chocque). The crackle of the electric wires, childish shouts of aid workers, and huge grins of pure joy made me realize that this should be a required exercise for all aid workers no matter if they are in the USA or based in a foreign country. We all need to take a step back every once in a while and just let ourselves enjoy being uninhibited by things as unimportant as bumper cars so that we can focus on important work.
A note for the future:
We all have to find what it is that helps us keep sharp and focused while also reducing stress, physical and emotional. The best thing to do is to schedule time when you can be unfocused, let loose, and enjoy time unencumbered by tasks, to-do lists, or responsibilities. My current job has a lot of frustrating client cancellations (currently the reason that I can sit and write this), long commutes with driving stress, and odd hours. As individuals who work in the field of aid, global health, and community development, we all want to love what we do, but the reality is that it is often a grind with harsh and far reaching social consequences that can cause us to resent a job. We all need to find those coping mechanisms that allow us to vent and rejuvenate our passions.