Monthly Archives: August 2012

In the space of 24 hours I was a solider, militia, refugee, UN aid worker…

I gave birth four times in an hour.  Don’t worry they weren’t real babies, just a rather oddly packed bag I had hidden under my costume.  Volunteering for the RedR Australia Personal Security and Communications (PSC) training course was almost as educational and challenging as when I participated in the training last year.  In the space of 24 hours I was a soldier, militia, refugee, UN aid worker and then just regular old me at the bar with a glass of red wine.  Best 24 hours I have spent in a long time.

I am not going to tell you about the course.  I am not going to share details of what happens during the training.  Not because I don’t want to, in fact I really do want to talk about it but this is a course that you need to go into unsuspectingly in order to get the most out of it.  I will say that when I did this course last year I walked out knowing it was the most beneficial thing I had done to prepare myself to be an emergency aid worker.  PSC put me through my paces, made me face up to some fears and doubts, essentially it helped me to be more physically, emotionally and psychologically prepared to work in an emergency.

What I am going to talk about is how playing a refugee affected me.  For no more than an hour and half I played the role of a refugee.  I spoke only in French, well bad French, and was pregnant with a very heavy bag.  I was cold, my feet were wet from the mud and grass, my hands numb, my back sore and my hair dirty from leaning against a tree.  Being the drama queen that I am I may have become a little too attached to the role but I started to feel scared and very alone.  No one could understand me, no one could talk to me and after while people gave up.  They looked at me and then turned away to talk to each other.  I found myself becoming more and more distressed as I went into my fake labour and noticed how most of my cries went unheard.

When my time as a pregnant refugee was over I mentally started to review my times in the field.  Did I ever talk over someone because I couldn’t understand their language?  Did I focus more on my translator than I did the person whose story I was listening to?  I did I ever not hear the cries of someone I was there to help?

I initially decided to volunteer for the PSC course because I thought it would be a laugh.   And it was, I had a great time.  I also learnt that little bit more about myself.   I’ve stopped being worried that the empathy (and tears) I have in the field is a lack of resilience.  In fact empathy it is exactly what I need to be an emergency communicator.

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I am so going to end up on some ASIO or MI5 watch list

The past three weeks have been filled with Google searches on terrorism and downloads of the BBC series Spooks.  Don’t worry I am not planning a radical career change, merely doing a university assignment.

It is odd to be sitting in a warm Queenstown pub, drinking local New Zealand apple cider, looking out at the snow-capped Remarkables thinking about terrorism.  I had promised myself eight days of actual holidays.   But my over developed skills of procrastination means I now find myself studying.

I’ve learnt two major things from my readings and of course my studious watching of Spooks: 1) I could never control my facial expressions enough to be a good spy and 2) articles on terrorism should not be read before bedtime.

My assignment focuses on an incident involving an American military officer who opened fire on his fellow officers back in 2009. My task is to determine if he was a terrorist or simply a very troubled individual.  I don’t mean to leave you hanging but my answer isn’t due for another seven days.  Not sure if this is another manifestation of procrastination but this assignment has made me think a lot about what this means as an emergency communicator.

Last semester I researched the increase in attacks targeted at emergency aid workers.  I won’t bog the blog with lots of academic terms, essentially what you need to know is that if you are going to work in emergency response security is something you have to consider and consider seriously.  I loved doing the compulsory personal security training course but that coupled with all of the research I am doing at the moment gives cause for pause.  I’ve had my moments where I have really questioned how much I am willing to personally risk in being an emergency communicator.

At the emergency communications training I attended a couple of months ago a colleague recounted some of his security experiences.  He had that soft-spoken eloquence that immediately silences a room.  He didn’t give copious details.  He didn’t dramatise.  He didn’t joke or laugh it off.  He just spoke in a quiet matter of fact style.  He suddenly made the academic literature I had read and the statistics I had reviewed and questioned seem very distant and the reality of what you can be face with felt real and very personal.

This coming weekend I will be volunteering at the same personal security course I attended last year.  Even though I won’t be the one crawling through the mud I am really looking forward to experiencing this training again with slightly more opened eyes.

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An impractical approach to packing

There is an over obsession with practicality when it comes to packing.  When on the job they talk about us having ‘grab’ or ‘run’ bags.  These bags, as their names suggest are for when you have to run from an escalating situation.  These bags must be practical; I get that.  They are full of practical things like travel documents, water, medical kits, snacks, etc.  Sometimes though I just really want to be impractical.

I’m sitting on my bed amidst a mild explosion of clothes as I prepare to pack not for a deployment to an emergency but for a long overdue holiday.  My friends and I are going for one week to Queenstown, they are planning to ski, I am planning to indulge in red wine and cheese.  So I have one week, it will be cold, the roads potentially slippery and wet and I will be walking a lot. Logic tells me I should be practical in my packing.  My instincts, or perhaps it is my inner diva is telling to misplace my practical walking shoes and take my high heels instead.

I like to travel light and after two passports, three backpacks, six continents and thousands of photos here’s my recently remodeled and refined list of feminine essentials that can fit neatly amongst the practical.

#1 Heels.  Stuff practicality, on every trip there is an occasion requiring you to look fantastic; an unexpected dinner invitation, a formal work thingy no one told you about, or simply that you need to feel human after four days hiking. Whatever the unknown reason take the heels.

#2 Lace not cotton.   Time at a laundrette or use of hotel laundry services is rarely an option, or at least it wasn’t in the places I’ve been.  I can’t remember the number of times I’ve simultaneously washed my hair and underwear in the shower. I do recall that cotton takes a long time to dry.  Lace will dry over night with the added bonus of making your feel like a lady despite the layers of travel grime clinging to your skin.

#3 Perfume.  Seem indulgent?  I can tell you from experience that there are some climates where it doesn’t matter how much deodorant you apply or how many times you use body wipes you’re going to…well I don’t need to smell it out for you.  A little squirt of perfume here and there will make you and your nose feel a lot better.

#4 One decent top.  It can be a t-shirt, shirt, jumper, jacket, it doesn’t matter but it’s important you look good in it.  There are going to be days when you don’t care how you look and more often than not I don’t.  I’ve been a communicator for over a decade and am pretty skilled at keeping myself behind the camera but when every one around you is a potential photojournalist things can get tricky.  Do yourself a favour and have a decent top on the ready or be prepared to spend hours un-tagging yourself from FaceBook photos.  Oh and if anyone has any advice on how to avoid triple chin-dom please share.

#5 Scarves.  I love scarves.  I have three draws full of scarves, winter scarves, summer scarves, going out scarves, and my newest addition travel scarves.  Forget diamonds, scarves are a girl’s best friend.  They can dress you up, cover you up, warm you up and if we want to side-step back into practicality they can not only wipe the sweat of your face when in ridiculously hot climates they can also be impromptu bandages for those Bear Grylls first aid moments.
#6 Eyelash tint.  OK, this isn’t so much an item to pack as something to do before travelling.  I’m not great with make-up and nothing is more embarrassing than wiping your face and seeing smears of foundation on your sleeves.  Having your eyelashes tinted makes you look made-up with out the daily hassle.  Add a touch of lip balm and you’re good to go.

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