Monday, 14 November 2011

The Quest for Holy Grails

Hello readers! The Blonde Bombshell in Crisis is back on the blog after a little bit of a break. Not that I have gone far really, just a little safari around Namibia in search of the wild side, followed by a short illness and then manically catching up on a backlog of aidwork. Of course us aidworkers like to go on and on about how much work we have to do don't we? Its almost like a religion.

And talking of which, here's a topic that I find amusing in the humanitarian world. The Quest for Holy Grails.


Say what? OK I suppose I should try to de-construct this before reconstructing it into something that vaguely resembles sense. Here goes, according to the trusty Oxford Dictionary online :-

holy - is described as morally and spiritually excellent and
grail - is a thing which is eagerly pursued or sought after

So putting them together we get "a morally or spiritually excellent thing which is eagerly pursued or sought after".

And like the long-suffering knights of Arthurian Legend, aidworkers valiantly and fearlessly approach the Bridge of Death to answer riddles, in the hope that they shall be the ones to cross the gorge unscathed to continue their quest and bring said grails back home triumphant and not be cast into the pit of eternal peril.

"And pray, Sir Knight, what are the holy grails you mention? " I hear you cry incredulously. There are two which easily spring to mind. The first is the holy grail of development (and even wikipedia gets it all totally wrong) which is bandied about in many a development framework, poverty reduction strategy, conference and seminar as if it is some weird rite of passage to the higher echelons of devenlightenment.....can you tell what it is yet? Go on take a wild guess! No? Give up? You surprise me! It's that old chestnut....sustainability. Wake up people! It does not exist. The world is changing, people change, situations change, we are all evolving (like it or not creationists....) so how can anything be truly sustainable? The only thing that is sustainable is change itself. Here is David Mitchell on his soapbox about sustainability, with a delightful table analogy.

And so the aidworker knights gallop forward, faster than you can say "MDF flat pack", leaving a trail of limbless Black Knights in their wake crying "come back, its only a fleshwound!"....and on to the next Quest for the second holy grail.

This one is long sought after in many emergencies. Can you guess this one? Come on! It's right under your nose, all the time.....yup, it's coordination. Getting a bunch of flag-waving, mandate toting, testosterone/or oestrogen (and no doubt nicotine and coffee) fueled, willy wobblers (steady on gender specialists, before you get the gender score card out, its only a metaphor!) to collaborate and work effectively together while running around like headless chickens on speed at the height of a crisis? You must be joking! That's pretty much a near impossibility. But we all like to think we can do it don't we? As if we have some amazing, invincible superhero underpants over our tights, squeezing just a teensy bit too tight as we swagger into the next 'coordination' meeting...sigh......when we are, in fact, as naked as the Emperor in his new clothes.

I'm sure these cowboys have it easier......

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Disasterjunkie DJ's emergency ipod - on the riot track

Thousands of miles away from home, I was gobsmacked to watch the recent events in UK cities and towns unfold.....the rioting, needless violence and looting (and that was David Cameron as a young lad) and then I was tremendously encouraged by the community outpouring of the 'keep calm and carry on' spirit during clean up and repair of our communities....

What soundtrack could possibly accompany this real-life unfolding drama?

Well in my own way of coming to terms with the crisis, here's my top ten:

I predict a riot - Kaiser Chiefs 
I'm the leader of the gang - Gary Glitter
Breaking glass - Hazel O'Connor
My generation - The Who
London calling - The Clash
Money for nothing - Dire Straits
Ghost town - The Specials
Every breath you take (I'll be watching you) - The Police
One step beyond - Madness
The wombling song - The Wombles of Wimbledon

An alternative way of letting of steam in the same vein as the 'keep calm and carry on' spirit is to say (and for those of you with sensitive demeanors please shut your eyes or turn away now) ......

Monday, 22 August 2011

Disasterjunkie jargonbuster 4 - Humanitarian space

Humanitarian space.......the final frontier. Another little gem from the aid bablefish that needs a teensy bit of jargonbusting...

According to the Oxford online dictionary, as mentioned in disasterjunkie's jargonbuster 3,  a

humanitarian - is a person or groups concerned with or seeking to promote human welfare


space - the dimensions of height, depth, and width within which all things exist and move; the physical universe beyond the earth's atmosphere

so if we put them together we might come up with something like this

"humanitarian space is the physical universe beyond the earth's atmosphere within which humanitarians exist and move"

Imagine that, humanitarians moving about in outer space delivering inter-galactic aid without any national, international, or planetary borders, where flash appeal means "Flash, aaah....aaah......saviour of the universe"

Flash Gordon on the Planet Mongo.....hmmmm Planet Mongo, sounds like a new NGO doesn't it? Not to be confused with mango, the fruit. Maybe it is the Martian Organisation for Neighouring Galaxy Outreach.  After all there are a lot of aliens that might need protection and assistance or durable solutions to help them return home or resettle elsewhere. The Men in Black have been doing that since the late 1990s....

Just think of the rights of vulnerable aliens, like the Daleks, for example, who are often discriminated against and excluded and might require special measures in place for them to be able to access aid.

And what about those creatures, humanoid, android or other that might require a little bit of tlc and psychosocial support after many years travelling a the speed of light, getting sucked into worm holes or caught in the cross fire of star wars? Well Red Dwarf has been providing that service for years too. Just take a look at a clip from one of their counselling sessions.

So I do believe we have plenty of opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and support to help us to prepare for multi-dimensional missions.  As one of my favourite inter-galactic logisticians, Mr Spock, said "It's life, Captain, but not as we know it", we must be ready to save lives wherever and whenever we are needed.

If you are feeling kind of Kevin at the moment (oh come on people, work it out, you are an intelligent life form are you not?)

As I said, if you are feeling a little bit Kevin these days and in need of  a new mission that is out of this world, don't klingon to the past, do the Timewarp instead.

Switch to warp drive and get ready to meet a Star man! And with that I'll leave you with the wise words of Ziggy Stardust

"There's a starman waiting in the sky
He'd like to come and meet us 
but he thinks he'd blow our minds.
There' a starman waiting in the sky
He's told us not to blow it
Cause he knows its all worthwhile.
He told me:
Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie"

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Disasterjunkie jargonbuster 3 - Humanitarian reform

Hello readers! It's time for another round of jargon busting. Humanitarian reform has become quite a buzzword in aidspeak but what does this actually mean? Let's break this down into its constituent parts for a greater understanding. According to the Oxford online dictionary:

Humanitarian ....person or groups concerned with or seeking to promote human welfare

Reform ... cause (someone) to relinquish an immoral, criminal, or self-destructive lifestyle

So putting them together this means "causing a person or group concerned with or seeking to promote human welfare to relinquish immoral, criminal or self-destructive lifestyle". I detect a paradox there. Immoral, criminal or self-destructive humanitarians? Are there such things? Surely not! Our organisational codes of conduct keep us reigned in and tightly bound as the paragons of virtue we all like to promote, especially in front of the cameras, don't they?  After all, I mean sex, drugs and rock and roll are only ways to self-medicate in order to preserve one's sanity under extreme circumstances aren't they? 

Firstly, take emergency sex for example, "ooohh yes please I hear you cry", "oh, if only I had the opportunity, another sighs" as common mitigation measure to reduce stress.  Here are some case studies from the field

Be aware of the risks and if you have to do it, practice safe sex. No I don't think you understand...neither...

nor a quickie during an evacuation, while throwing yourself onto your team mate to avoid a hail of bullets overhead. 

And secondly take drugs, for example, er, no I don't mean "go take drugs" because that would be immoral and criminal wouldn't it? Well apart from things like your doctor prescribes for you like anti-malarials or those nasty tasting pills that you can't take with alcohol to flush out intestinal parasites (I'm sure you've had those).  The side effects could take you places where you don't need recreational drugs. I mean I've heard that lariam can be trippy (and far from recreational) as many years ago a colleague of mine took it and flipped out for 6 weeks in a war zone......not pretty. One has to be careful of side effects. Seek the advice of your  doctor. Your local team of doctors without no, cough, borders, that's it, doctors without borders should be able to assist. 

And lastly rock n roll. Raise your hand if you've been to an NGO party and survived? You must have survived to be here reading this blog, but anyway. Remember those heady nights, a frenzied writhing and gyrating to crackly transistor radio/beatboxes under the moon and stars or in a godforsaken sweaty shack somewhere in the middle of nowhere until dawn comes up? Yes I can see it all now, while peering through the fog of too many deadly local fags lit up all at once (fags = ciggies, just in case you were wondering), hanging from the lips of fellow aidworkers, their hands thrust high clutching at bottles of some dubious and lethal brew masquerading as local light beer, bodies a riot of colour in oversized African print shirts or de-rigeur ripped NGO-bossed T-shirts...ahh happy daze.  

So what is the solution? How does one reform a humanitarian? It would be no mean feat.  Are these examples illustrations of an immoral, criminal or self-destructive lifestyle or simply coping strategies? You decide!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Humanitarian Haute Couture - 3

Talking of Gok Wan and "How to look good naked" in the last post reminded me of how essential it is for a humanitarian to look good in the Buff, anytime, any place, anywhere.  One has to always be ready for anything and this little inspirational garment will keep you ahead of the game and the envy of your colleagues and counterparts.  Hippy chic meets surfer/biker/skateboarder cool in multiple colours and fabrics for all weathers and climes, ideal for that photo opportunity or media interview when you want to be taken seriously. Never again will you be a vision in beige or suffer a bad hair-field-day.

And speaking from a risk reduction point of view, just in case you are puzzling over how on earth to wear it without strangling or suffocating yourself or even knocking yourself out take a look at this handy video manual.


Saturday, 16 July 2011

Humanitarian Haute Couture - 2

Hello readers!

You know you've made it in the humanitarian world when you are given a United Nations safari waistcoat, that's it,  the one with all the pockets you can hide BP5 biscuits in? (see top ten aidworker essentials). Oh the sheer thrill of wearing an item of clothing that is almost an anorak but not quite because it is completely armless. Harmless it is not. Usually it is a size or two too big, in colours resembling the uniform of a safari drive hunting possey or a some local popular defence force militia that is far from popular owing to terrible taste in military clothing - like that is going to help an aidworker 'blend in' and endear oneself to the locals. No, instead one sticks out like a thumb trapped in the door of a Toyota landcruiser, rendering the sorry aidworker a potential bomb target or at the very least the butt of many a joke in numerous foreign languages. Furthermore the pockets can catch on various protruding objects slowing down a potential rapid response. Not to mention, under stress, it is quite possible to forget in which pocket one left the radio, or mobile phone, or leatherman, or petzl torch, or GPS causing further distress. And imagine if you actually had all of these vital aidworker pieces of equipment safely zipped away and then tried to escape from an imminent threat. At a distance and at relative speed the bulging mass could be mistaken for a suicide-bomber's jacket and then you are surely in trouble, watch out for 'friendly fire' that isn't so friendly... I wouldn't wear one in Afghanistan or Libya right now if I were you.  I bet George Clooney would not be seen dead in such a waistcoat....Oh wait...

Can George still be considered gorgeous in this garment? Personally I prefer Angelina Jolie's style, very chic for a UN Goodwill Ambassador...

I think it's time for aidworkers to have a make over. Bring on Gok Wan is what I say. Instead of "How to Look Good Naked" which would not go down too well in many a disaster zone in conservative countries, Gok could do "How to look good fully dressed in culturally appropriate but functional clothing".   And while Gok is waxing lyrical over the Burberry trench coat, enter Vivienne Westwood, stage left, now she knows a thing or two about waistcoats. Try this little number on for size.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Things to do at airports 1

Hello readers! Ever had an interminably long wait at an uninteresting airport where duty free shopping consists of a run down kiosk full of unnecessary plastic objects and the VIP lounge is a minimalist room containing a few hard plastic chairs? Wondered how to pass the time? Try this...

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Washing in Wilderness 1

Living and working in remote locations can present many challenges, not least finding ways and means to wash clothes and particularly those delicate 'smalls' to keep oneself clean and fresh and ready for anything. Detergents vary from country to country. In E Africa, for example, I'm sure many of you have come across this little tub of dynamite....

Do not let the word 'gentle' put you off. Noooo. Guaranteed to strip the skin off your hands as well as removing stains from your clothes and leaving a blue hue behind. Giving a Toss can never be easier.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Disasterjunkie DJ's emergency ipod

Hello readers! I'm here again. Did you miss me? I've just begun a new mission and you can read about my exploits on a fellow blogspot called Tall Tales from Windy Corner if you like.

Meanwhile I thought I'd introduce to you a new concept - Disasterjunkie DJ's emergency ipod. You know how you can look back over your life's experiences and remember things vividly when a song is played which reminds you of a certain time, a certain place and situation?

Well I wondered what songs a disaster soundtrack might include.

Here's a starter for 10.

  1. Rescue me - Fontella Bass
  2. I will survive - Gloria Gaynor
  3. Somethings happening here - Buffalo Springfield
  4. Fire with fire - Scissor Sisters
  5. Mothers of the disappeared - U2
  6. S.O.S - ABBA
  7. Help! - The Beatles
  8. Stayin' alive - The Bee Gees
  9. Stand and deliver - Adam and the Ants
  10. Bridge over troubled water - Simon and Garfunkel
What would your choices be?

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Damzel in De-stress

Hello readers!

I have been reflecting on the process of preparing for missions, the times in between and why it is so hard for me to relax. Also I wonder why it is that after years and years of traipsing from one mission to another I still manage to leave packing to the eleventh hour? Maybe packing items and clothing into a suitcase is symbolic of making order out of chaos...resist...resist...resist...

Anyway I then started reflecting on the good old concept of R&R - that elusive but all important rest and recuperation or rock and roll (I prefer the latter) many of us humanitarians are urged to take but hardly ever do until we are almost on the brink of leaping of the cliff of sanity like unsuspecting lemmings into the watery depths.

How do you chillax? Do spill the beans. And I thought to myself, wouldn't it be great if we could crack managing stress in the field during our missions instead of teetering on the edge of said cliff? Perhaps we could get some help.  Like from masseurs sans frontiers (m.s.f), now they would come in very handy...

.... or from the International Rescue-remedy Corporation (i.r.c) or Scented Candles UK (s.c. uk) or Action Contre la Fatigue (a.c.f)..... Guaranteed to reach the parts other agencies can't reach. Get the picture? We could introduce a separate CERF to resource a pilot project - the Common Emergency-worker's Relaxation Fund as a risk reduction measure to prevent a one way trip to burn out street. Or we could have less of the 'flash' appeal and more of a 'flow' appeal as in a universal plea to 'go with the', but hey, it's just a dream for now......mmmm dream interpretation.....another thought...
I'd like to hear from you so feel free to comment below or on the Blondebombshell in Crises Facebook page here or Twitter here.

For now, thanks for reading and if you liked this, pass it on....

Peace, love and light,

Bravo, Bravo, Charlie...out...(for now) xxx

Sunday, 5 June 2011

A new business model

Hello readers,

In the last few years there has been a lot of talk (and some action) on reforming the way the humanitarian world works under the umbrella 'humanitarian reform'. Some say humanitarianism has become a business and beneficiaries can be thought of as clients. Baroness Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator is keen to usher in a new business model to ensure that we change the way in which aid is delivered as we prepare for and adapt to increasingly dangerous disaster environments while ensuring efficiency, quality and accountability. This is indeed a commendable aspiration to work towards. And I welcome this.  But where does one start?  I'm sure you will join with me in saying "Won't you come on over and stop making a fool out of me, Valerie......" and show us how its done? Here's a little Ode to Val.

But, I ask you, can humanitarians themselves be reformed? This is no mean feat.  Aren't we all too soft to be business sharks? I remember attending a Peace Support Operations workshop a few years ago along with a few other humanitarians and officers of the army, navy and air force who called us "a load of bunny huggers" . This concept puzzled me somewhat as I struggled to see the relevance of bunny hugging as I have never caught site of a rabbit in any disaster zone I have ever worked in. Conflict tends to wipe out local wildlife or, alternatively, animals regarded as domestic pets in one country could well end up as street food in another....alas I digress.

Talking of Barons (or rather Baroness to be gender sensitive), I wonder what the mogul Baron Alan Sugar would make of budding humanitarian apprentices trying to compete in the cut-throat world of business?

Imagine having to present a new business model for humanitarian aid on The Apprentice.  No doubt a successful business case will need to be original, meet demand in the market, outrun competitors and produce a healthy profit margin.

Perhaps something like this startling example of downward accountability!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Top ten aidworker essentials

Hello readers! 

I posted this chart run down list on an aid workers web forum many many moons ago but I think it could be still relevant today.

10. Extra toilet paper - you never know when you might need it. 

9. NGO T-shirt - to facilitate bonding between clones of aidworkers. 

8. Desert boots or Teva sandals - soooo fashionable in the bush. 

7. Maglite torch - to throw light on any crisis including a midnight dash to the pit latrine. 

6. That waistcoat - you know, the one with all the pockets (making anoraks look hip). 

5. Cargo pants - more pockets in case you don't have enough to hide BP5 biscuits in above waistcoat. 

4. Leatherman or Swiss Army knife - something to fiddle with when stressed out. (Which type are you?)

3. Handheld VHF radio and corresponding call sign - the must-have accessory to make you feel important, (remember to keep it on even in meetings). 

2. Shades - the all round reflective kind so that nobody sees you dozing off in coordination meetings. 

1. Aid-workers arm - one arm a slightly darker tan than the other due to hanging it out of the window of your Toyota or Nissan 4 by 4 in the sunshine.

If you have any interesting updates I would like to hear from you.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Disasterjunkie jargonbuster 2 - Camp coordination

Here we have another term that is used a lot in the field, camp coordination. But what does it mean? There could be several meanings but here is my favourite. Let's break it down.  According to the Oxford online English Dictionary

Camp - ... (of a man or his manner) ostentatiously and extravagantly effeminate

Coordination - the organisation of the different elements of a complex body or activity so as to enable them to work together effectively: an important managerial task is the control and coordination of activities

So putting them together we get extravagantly ostentatious and effeminate organisation and control of activities.

Ta Da!!

And who better to explain to us exactly what this entails but technical experts Julian Clary and Eddie Izzard?

For a start we all know that effective coordination requires strong leadership skills. In this video Julian points out the key characteristics of leadership that he thinks are particularly attractive.

And here we have Eddie Izzard regaling us with the lessons learnt, from a historical perspective, on how not to organise food distributions. 

So I hope these snippets will be of use to you on the ground. Carry on 'camping' !

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Humanitarian Haute Couture - 1

A month on from the Royal Wedding and tongues are still wagging about the right Royal haute couture that graced the aisle of Westminster Abbey. Who could forget Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, promoting fine, if eccentric British specimens on their heads?

Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice
In a recent TV news debate I heard one cruel reporter referring to Princess Beatrice's hat as a, and I quote, 'portable loo seat' or, shock, horror 'a pair of falopian tubes'. After getting back on my chair, I started to think about humanitarian fashion and wondered if it is possible to have multi-purpose clothing and accessories that look chic, (cough cough), stylish, (splutter) and yet serviceable. What do you think?

Princess Beatrice flogged her hat on e-bay for charity for at least £80k and I wonder who bought it? A humanitarian agency could have made use of it I suppose, one never knows when one needs to have a portable loo seat on long journeys into the bush which could also double up as a handy visual aid for reproductive health education!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Only use steady hands...

Hello readers!

In the spirit of Disasterjunkie DJ's emergency ipod, I thought this song "I'm a bomb" by Natasha Bedingfield might be a suitable theme tune for this blog (health and freedom warning - probably best not to hum or sing this tune at airport security or checkpoints...just sayin').

Here it is accompanied by a video montage containing some classy pieces from Dr Who (no not the World Health Organisation, sigh,  the Time Lord).

Look out for the nifty device in the boardroom, could come in handy in field coordination meetings or at HQ for that matter.....strategic planning anyone? Anyone?

Enjoy, oh yeah and stay safe people!