Friday, 10 April 2009

Kacper works in the ‘disaster business’ – Post 3

Kacper thought it was so typical. He has just made a plan of his visit to one of the refugee camps, when GiGi, his Congolese colleague, responsible for security told him that it was not possible. Two weeks before, there was an attempt of rape of one of the French aid workers during the banditry attack on the compound of the French NGO, she worked for. Today, all non-governmental organisations (NGO) in the town decided to demonstrate their support with the aid worker and her NGO, by not performing any humanitarian operations. Kacper had no choice but stay in the office, though he was not convinced that decision of ‘non-delivering humanitarian services’ to people, who really needed it, was something that he supported and understood. He agreed however believed that security for the NGOs workers was appalling in Chad, and that something needed to be done urgently to make their work at least a bit safer.

So Kacper is working for a humanitarian organisation. He often refers to it as ‘disaster business’, although perhaps it is not considered to be politically correct. He has been doing his work for 12 years, and during his career, he served in Angola, Afghanistan, Sudan (north and south), Kenya, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and now here in Chad. Kacepr considered himself to be an experienced aid worker. After all, he has seen wars, displacement of people, minefields, famine, droughts, floods, tsunamis, kidnappings, child soldiers, corruption, and many other horrific situations, of which most people just read in newspapers, or books. Kacper loved his job, and was happy that he managed to resist developing this horrible cynicism that he disliked so much, but saw in other colleagues, who have done this job for a long time. Okey, perhaps at times, Kacper had his lows, and allowed himself to be cynical, but generally Kacepr believed in his work, and thought it was important to do it well, despite a fact that he understood why many people were very critical of the ‘aid industry’.

Kacper was convinced that what he was doing in his life, was mainly because of his childhood experiences with hospitals. It was Betty and Mark, who once helped him survive, when he was a kid that inspired him so much. As, he also always wanted to travel to the most unusual places on earth, becoming an aid worker was nearly inevitable, though not necessary the most natural, given living in a communist country, where just getting a passport was considered to be short of a miracle!

Things always worked for Kacper though, and he knew that there were going to be opportunities in life, he just needed to keep his eyes open. The first thing that really helped dramatically, was the collapse of communism in 1989. It is then, when things finally started changing, and created a window of opportunity for him. After his high school, Kacper went to the UK, where he semi-legally dish washed in one of the London’s hotels for a few months. It was an interesting experience, but not something that he was keen doing in his life too long. He therefore returned to Poland, and applied to a somehow unusual college in Denmark, to which he got admitted, and where he then followed the BA course in International Education. The course was so exciting to Kacper, as it involved study trips to Angola, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Canada!

Kacper will write about his unusual experiences in the Danish college some other time. At this moment, it is important to understand that it was the people that he met during his education that changed his life forever, and only made him convinced in his decision of becoming a humanitarian worker.

As soon as he received his degree, Kacper returned to Poland, to passionately involve himself with work with the disabled living in southern Poland. He loved it, and felt rather proud that he could help the others achieve their dreams. This is at least how he saw his job. As we remember, Kacper was disabled himself, and despite some practical difficulties that his disability brought along, he considered himself quite lucky. He thought that the other people in his own country had every right to feel similar, and feel fulfilled professionally regardless how able they were – something that was not necessarily a common attitude those days in Poland.

In the beginning of 90’ies, the Internet just started appearing in the country, including his little Nowy Sacz, where some first Internet Cafes sprung up. Kacper was a very devoted client of one of them, and spent his entire salary browsing and exploring the World Wide Web, by which he was fascinated. He also kept on writing, and sending emails to all organisations, he could possibly find on the net, asking for job opportunities.

He never really received any answers, or if he did, they all were some of these standard ones saying that they appreciated his interest, but there were no opportunities. This kept on happening, until once, an innocent looking email from New York appeared in his inbox. The title of this message read: ‘Please Contact Us’. Then, the email informed that the organisation liked Kacper’s CV, and invited him for an interview to New York (!!!)…Kacper decided to ignore it. Going to New York for an interview? Who, him, Kacper? Impossible! Firstly, he did not have means for such an extravagant trip, and then he did not have a visa to the United States – a document, he was sure he would never be granted. It is clear, he was not going for the interview, and he would just forget it!

Kacper nearly managed to erase New York from his mind, and engaged himself in his usual duties and search of the WWW. Two weeks later, the ‘Please Contact Us’ email came again! The undersigned lady obviously wondered when Kacper would appear, and underlined that she liked his CV. ‘That’s it!’ thought Kacper, ‘I am going to apply for the US visa, get it refused, so that I can tell them, I am not allowed to enter their country – they will then stop the emails.’ So he did. In a few days, Kacper made his way to the US Consulate in Krakow; told the US official, in an unconvincing manner about the reasons of his trip to the US, and… received his visa stamped in the passport! If this was not enough, the visa read, it was valid for 10 years, and entitled its holder, e.g. Kacper, to enter the United Stated as many times as he possibly wanted within next 10 years!

‘Bugger’ thought Kacper. What was he going to do now? He did not have to do much. Things just happened. Kacper’s boss – Dr. Wislawa (a lovely and helpful older lady) decided that he was going, and there was no way, he was missing THE opportunity to fulfil his dreams. ‘The money will be found’ she declared – Kacper was not supposed to worry of that, he just needed to prepare for his interview, so that she – Dr. Wislawa did not need to be ashamed of Kacper…

‘What brings you to the USA?’ heard tired Kacper after a long flight from Warsaw. He looked at the Immigration Officer, and answered: ‘eh… I am in business here’. Yes, he was entering the Big Apple…

To make it funnier, three weeks later (after returning to Poland and visiting France in between), he heard a somehow different welcome from an officer in the turban and long, thick beard: ‘Salamalekum! Welcome, welcome to our country! Which country you from?’ Kacper was being admitted to Afghanistan, to the Taliban ruled Afghanistan! As he was then making his first steps on Kabuli soil, the thought to himself: ‘I am finally a HUMANITARIAN WORKER!’

PS. Kacper has received an email from his mum saying that the Old Town of his native Nowy Sacz is impassable, as all the streets were undergoing reconstruction – something that did not make her happy, as she needed to drive around to do shopping for Easter!

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