My flatmate is a high school teacher and one of my favourite things is to listen to her recount her days. She often ends her rather hilarious stories by looking at me, her head tilted to the side and saying “It’s not ok.” The first time she did this I laughed. Her delivery is usually a combination of humour, bewilderment and annoyance at some of her student’s behaviours. As is often the case when you live with someone you start to pick up their habits. More and more I find myself listening to stories from my colleagues in the field, reading industry reports or seeing things with my own eyes and just shaking my head and saying, “It’s not ok!”
And right now, there are a lot of things that I feel are not ok.
I’ve been stewing on this blog post for a while now and was really unsure of how and what to write down. Now having written it I am not sure I really want to post it. This is not a happy blog. There are no jokes and I haven’t even been able to spin a hopeful ending which is something I always try to do. It is not that there isn’t hope because there always is but I guess for me the hope in this blog is that when you read it you too will shake your head and say “this is not ok!”
In my last trip, I took a few days off and visited with a friend that I had not seen for a very long time. Her and her husband are living through a rather intricate and volatile social movement in perhaps one of the most fascinating and beautiful cities in the world. I was only in Turkey for a few days and I was overjoyed to be spending time with such wonderful friends but at the same time scared. Not scared for physical safety but scared of what this unrest could lead to and equally as scared of what would happen if there were not people in that society rising up in protest. I wasn’t witness to events but talking with friend living through this made it incredibly personal and intimate. And I felt useless, paralyzed and powerless to do anything but listen. I keep trying to talk myself out of how I was feeling, just pour myself another drink, shake my head and tell myself I am just being a drama queen. Clearly my study into fragile and post conflicts states coupled with working for a humanitarian agency is making me a tad bonkers. Clearly I need to up my chocolate intake and watch more mindless kid’s cartoons.
But this was not to be. After three days with my friends I flew to Hong Kong for a simulation exercise. Sim ex are a lot of fun and I have done quite a few over the years. But they are a lot of work, especially if you are a facilitator or observer. We arrived at the sim ex site early in the morning and left late at night, some of us would then return to our motel rooms and work a few more hours till exhaustion forced us to bed. On the very last day we went for dinner and as always the conversations were a mix of war stories, inappropriate jokes and a lot of laughter. One story told at that dinner kept me awake all night. It was a simple story of children going to school with an armed escort. The story ended with a quote from the principle who stood at the gate and counted the children entering the school grounds. “Sometimes not all the children make it.”
I just kept thinking this is not ok. I felt my head move from side to side in disbelief and heard my flatmates voice in ears. “It’s not ok.” It is not ok for children to need an armed escort to go to school. It is not ok for a group of people, no matter how wronged they have been in the past to dehumanise another group. It is not ok to use religion as a justification to hit women (or men). It is not ok for police to spray protesters with acid. It is not ok for journalists to be arrested because they report on what is happening in their society. It is not ok that so many people in the world don’t even know or care that this is happening. It is not ok.