Excerpt of Another Day In Paradise by Carol Bergman
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This book began over dinner at a small Italian trattoria in Manhattan, far
away from the world's continuing conflicts and natural disasters. Sitting
opposite me was Iain Levine, a lithe and gentle man, who was Amnesty
International's Representative to the United Nations. My plan was to interview
Iain for a magazine article about humanitarian workers. Several had turned up in
my writing workshops over the years, and I had met others socially. I found them
compelling, and complicated.
Iain is a nurse whose first job in the field was with Mother Theresa in
Calcutta. The son of Orthodox Jews, he grew up in the north of England, and
speaks with a lilting drawl. Philosophical musings and stories spill out of him
rapidly. Then he will fall silent and listen attentively, or ask questions about
the New York Yankees, his adopted team.
One of Iain's stories was about Foday Sankoh, the butcher of Sierra Leone. Iain
had just returned from that war-torn country, still in the throes of a ten-year
tyranny. He had sat with Foday Sankoh in a hut and attempted to negotiate the
release of children press-ganged into Sankoh's ragtag guerilla army. Outside the
door were scores of machete-hacked victims. "The conversation was
deceptively civilized and the ambience inside the hut was congenial," Iain
said. "It was decorated with framed sentimental aphorisms copied by hand
from Hallmark greeting cards."
This was one of many telling details Iain recorded in his journal, and repeated
to friends and colleagues during countless de-briefings and e-mails.
Transforming the execrable lived experience into a narrative is one of Iain's
tools for staying sane, a device that enables him to keep working, to feel that
his efforts have meaning, and results. It is also a témoignage, a witnessing,
for the historical record.
For months before we met, Iain was taking his writing a step further. He had
enrolled in a one-day writing workshop, and was inspired to begin a book about
his twenty years in the field. An avid reader, he admires the Polish journalist,
Ryszard Kapuscinski, and wanted to use his personal kind of story-telling as a
paradigm. Did I think this was a good idea? I did, and wanted to see what he had
already written. He pulled "Another Day in Paradise" out of his
briefcase. My own intention--journalist writing about humanitarian workers--felt
like an appropriation, and evaporated. Iain's manuscript was a gift; I would
compile and edit an anthology of stories by the workers themselves.
This has never been done before, and the reasons are self-evident; the logistics
alone are daunting. Humanitarian workers are scattered all over the world, often
in remote and catastrophic landscapes. Satellite phones and e-mail connections
are possible, but not always secure. A story from the Sudan had to be abandoned
for fear of endangering a clinic; the only available e-mail service was via a
radio link, easily accessed by the Khartoum government. Whether the workers are
in the midst of emergency rescue/relief operations or in quieter
development-oriented postings, they are hard to reach, and they are very busy.
There were also other problems: some aid agencies were reluctant to cooperate.
Others understood that to allow their humanitarian workers a voice was an
opportunity to reach potential donors who are weary of mail solicitations and
soft focus photographs of starving children. But, in return, they wanted to
maintain control of the text. My powers of persuasion were severely tested.
Oxfam (US) was the first NGO (non-governmental agency) to compile a list of
workers to contact who might be willing to write stories, no strings attached.
Others followed, others continued to have doubts about security issues, or
public image. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), headquartered
in Geneva, was unusually cooperative. I had caught them at the right moment,
just as they were rethinking their relationship with the media. They invited me
to attend four days of a training sequence for new recruits, and those already
in the field.
From Another Day In Paradise edited by Carol Bergman. No part of
this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher or