Champagne, disappointment, and dilemmas: I’m starting to realise my life unfolds like a trilogy. Like most trilogies, with the exception of Empire Strikes Back, the middle one is usually disappointing. I don’t like disappointment; it seems a rather stupid emotion with no productive outcome insight.
Every time I am disappointed I get the inevitable lecture about picking my battles. I am a humanitarian not a military strategist. I think every battle I fight is worth fighting, I wouldn’t be fighting it if I didn’t it. Losing a battle, no matter how painful it can be, doesn’t in any way mean it wasn’t worth the effort. People are worth effort. And even in defeat, knowing that someone stood beside you in the fight is often enough to make a difference.
When facing defeat I turn to a few select people for guidance. I like to call them my sanity pillars. These are people whose intelligence, integrity and humour help bring me back to what it is all about. One of my sanity pillars is moving to Ethiopia in a couple of weeks. After his farewell filled with cocktails and travel stories I started thinking about my visit to Ethiopia earlier this year. I don’t even have to read over my notes to remember the people I met and the stories I heard. I see their faces and hear their voices each night before I go to sleep.
When I think of fighting battles I think often of these people, specifically the women I met. This trip was investigating and gathering stories about food insecurity and the impact this has on communities. Many people in the north of Ethiopia face food insecurity. The land is dry and rocky, the heat extreme and the water scarce.
Many people see no alternative but to leave the area and hope the streets of Addis Ababa will be more generous. They rarely are. Too many end up begging on the streets, scourging for food scraps, in abusive labour or worse. The women I spoke with had lived on these streets and eventually returned to their villages. They weren’t proud of their deeds in Addis but they were defiant in their fight for their family’s survival. One woman stared at me with a set jaw and steely glance and said the abuse she suffered in Addis, the defeat and hopelessness she felt, makes her fight now for all children. She is now a volunteer community worker in her village, training, educating and protecting child’s rights.
My weekly battles aren’t always so meaningful. This week I won the battle with a stubborn Champagne cork. I lost the battle of self-control and ordered a pizza. I won the fight against my credit card debt. I lost the fight against keeping my mouth shut. This week though someone who thought no one cared thanked me, I felt the appreciation of another who didn’t think they could face something on their own and I received the warmth of a hug from someone who saw it all unfold.
Great things, small or big, can come out of defeats. If we pick our battles too carefully, if we pick only those we think we will win, what are we at risk of losing?