J from Tales from the Hood posted his “why I do this” story recently, and reading it started me thinking why I do this work myself. There’s a lot of twisted up stuff in my explanation – about wanting adventure, and doing what you’re good at, and the things my parents expected of me. But it really comes down to this:
It’s an awful fucking world out there. We are wrecking our planet, from Lake Erie to the Niger Delta. We’re killing each other with bullets and machetes and pollution and indifference to the needs of others. Humans are devastating machines that decimate each other and everything around us.
I can’t stand still while that happens. I don’t honestly think I am going to do much good. What can one person actually do? But the only way to avoid despair is to take action. If I didn’t try to do something I would never get out of bed. I took the action that struck me as most needed and – truly – most fun. International development. I like living overseas. I like learning other cultures. I like facing the weird problems of this life and knowing how to open a metal can with a paring knife. And I believe that poverty in most of the world is far worse than what we have in the US. (Even taking into account Mississippi and Appalachia.)
And I turned out to be good at it. Going to grad school for global health was like being a fish who finally found water. After flailing my way through Georgetown, fighting and bleeding for a GPA that rounded up to 3, I sailed right through my graduate degree and finished with a GPA of 3.97. And it wasn’t even hard. It was a lot of work, but it was joy.
Once I do something, I don’t do it badly. If I am going to work in international development I am going to do the best possible job of it that I can. That’s why I have this blog – to help me figure out how to do it better. That’s why I read so much (I link to most of it on my Twitter feed).
So I work in development because I have to do something, and this is the something I like best. I do it as well as I can because I’m an obsessed perfectionist. It’s not enough. It’s never enough. But it’s what I’ve got.
If you’re looking for the career-type info on how I ended up doing this, it’s very calculated. Here’s the short version, which leaves out all the embarrassing detours:
I have wanted to be an aid worker for literally as long as I can remember. When I was 16 I decided to go to Georgetown because it had a good reputation for international relations. I choose my work-study job to be internationally focused. I interned with a small international NGO. My first job out of school was a disaster, but the second was an internship with the American University in Cairo that let me live in Egypt for a year. While at AUC, I figured out I needed grad school, and an MPH, for all the jobs I really wanted. So I went to grad school, and interned and networked and studied foreign language while I was there. Then I finished school and networked my way into an unpaid internship in Uzbekistan. I got a paying job in Tashkent after that and the rest has been pretty standard.
(Photo credit: me. I took it out my windshield while driving the other day. It’s the tallest flagpole in the world, shown next to the president of Tajikistan’s palace.)