Looking backward, looking forward

My favorite posts from 2008:

1) Why health matters. My best friends’ daughter died, and in the terrible misery that followed, I did my best to take a lesson from it. My grieving friends liked the post, and people are still linking to it, so maybe it’s a useful lesson. I hope I never have to write a post again informed by such personal pain.

2) Things I believe in: Oral Rehydration Salts. I love talking about ORS. I think everyone needs to know about them.

3) Development 2.0 – more than jargon? This post is still being tossed about on Twitter. Thinking about Development 2.0, writing the post, and talking to others about the contents helped me to finally get a grip on the concept. It was a really valuable process for me; I hope the result is valuable to others.

4) When do non-profits do more harm than good? A reader favorite, this post got amazing comments that enlightened me.

5) Things that do damage. My screed against thoughtlessness and poor planning.

6) Why I hate the word sustainability. Another post that helped me think things through, this generated a whole dialogue that I was proud to be part of.

7) Keep your banana to yourself. I love that I finally wrote something with a snappy title, and I think I said something important about the difference between street-corner charity and development work. Also, it got the best comment ever “Good grief. Such control! That’s like potty-training your kids at gun point.”

8 ) Suffering does not make you special. Apparently I like to rant. This time, about how poverty doesn’t ennoble the human spirit, it grinds it down.

9) Ethics and International Development. Just a few more ways that doing good is very hard.

10) Humbling Hospitality Experiences. You can always find a way to give, if you want to.

Bonus Post: A semi-definite guide to my volunteer work and my consulting. I felt like a total jerk writing that post, but based on the feedback it has helped a lot of people set boundaries in their own lives. (And it got me a consulting gig. I’m listing it here just in case it gets me more.)

And here is my thought for 2009:

We’re all in this together. We’re not in this line of work because we want to help far-away strangers. We’re in it because, in the end, we’re one big blob of people on one scarred messy planet, and no one is truly healthy when others are bleeding. We are connected; there’s no way around it. It’s time to make that connectedness a source of strength.

Happy New Year!

(photo credit: NASA/Goddard Space Center, via woodleywonderworks)

Humbling Hospitality Experiences

1) I once did a focus group with women in rural Tajikistan, talking about increasing hunger and food insecurity. The women told terrible, desperate stories, of burning fruit trees for warmth and watching their kitchen gardens wash away in heavy spring rains. At the end of our discussion, three different women invited me to come home with them for a meal. They did realize the irony; one woman said, shyly, “I don’t have any fruit or sweets, but I have bread and tea.”

2) In 1997, I went to Jerusalem for Thanksgiving. My wallet was stolen. I told a Palestinian shopkeeper in the old city what had happened to me, and he took me into my shop and made me a cup of tea. Then he told the managers of the shops around me what had happened. Shop employees came, and brought me money. Small amounts – 5 or 6 shekels (about $2) each, but these were not people who had a lot of money. They brought me, a rich American by any standard, money, because I was alone in their country and needed help.

3) When my husband and I lived in Turkmenistan, we had a good friend, Katrina, who was a Peace Corps volunteer. Her host family treated her as a true daughter, and she reciprocated their affection. When the government marked their house for demolition, she helped them as they packed their things and got ready to move to the apartment they were being given in return. In the same period, I was re-posted to Tashkent. Katrina’s host family was determined to have us over for a meal before we left, since we’d never eaten there. We would be leaving before they moved into their new place, so they had us over to their house.

They had us over for dinner as their house was being torn down. The house had been two stories, but was down to one. It was raining that night, and the roof in the living room leaked, since it wasn’t really a roof; it was just the floor to the second story. Katrina’s host mom moved us to the kitchen, and sat us at the kitchen table while she made lamb pilaf and salad for us. We ate, all together, in the corner of the warm damp kitchen.

You can always find a way to give, if you want to.

Photo Credit: Turkmen soda pop, taken by me