As I’m cruising through the hours of endless forest, I stop to consider how crazy it is that one day I’m, for instance people watching in the affluence of Friendship Heights, DC, and then next in the heart of Africa. In both places just as comfortable, yet transformed like a chameleon between the two; different clothes, different language, different approach.
I realized that my life was very much like being an avatar, putting on a different persona depending on where it is that I’m working. Certainly, like as in avatars, there are many similarities, but unique in an of itself. Ask family who have visited me in the places where I have lived, and they will tell you that I’m a different version of myself. Still true to myself, but adapted to the circumstances and context.
In looking at the analogy of the movie Avatar, I realized how much more my life resembles that movie; and perhaps why it resonated more with me than I thought it would.
For those who haven’t seen the movie, the premise – without giving too much away – is that humans travel between two worlds, taking on characteristics of their host environment to adapt and integrate themselves. The ultimate goal of course, in the movie is to extract riches from beneath the soil of the forest dwelling society that lives in harmony with the earth. The humans of course, can’t understand why this society doesn’t want their roads and schools.
At first I consider, as I have plenty of time driving through the forest, that the people of Congo are different – at least at present time – in that they aren’t a peaceful earth loving society. They are at war with each other and lack basic human rights, an governmental, education, judicial, and civil society systems as a whole. So in that way, the parallel is a bit different.
While at first I considered that I, myself as an aid worker, am here to provide support and assistance, rather than the aim of extracting wealth. This again parallels the movie, in that I might be blindly going along my path thinking that I’m working with the best interest of this society in mind, but while at the same time inadvertently helping those who seek the wealth.
In reality though, whether I like it or not, I can’t recues myself of the atrocities that take place in DRC because of mineral extraction. As we speak, I’m charging my iPod, writing on my laptop, and have my cell phone available for calls; all of which use materials that come from here in DRC. Thus, while I’d like to absolve myself, that isn’t so easy in today’s world.
What to do with this analogy is the next hard question that I haven’t sorted out. For now I continue to live between two worlds and wonder how the two intersect. What will come of that is anyone’s guess.
Great posts! Please keep writing. The one on immunity is important, can’t be repeated too often. “Avatar” parallel is interesting (I also live in Congo) but as you said, the native inhabitants do not enjoy a lifestyle anywhere like that of the Na’vi of the film. Cell phones and digital cameras are a fact of our times, having one does NOT make you one of the bad guys. Working for development and relief of suffering DOES make you one of the good guys. Don’t let the film’s idealized message confuse you. Keep using the camera as an eyewitness to the misery, keep using the Internet to inform us, you’re doing a great job, you write well, and have original topics. Kudos!
Odile – Thanks for your comment. I believe that in my heart I am one of the goods guys trying to help, but I also think it is important in development to consider what is helping and what is imposing.
Working in health it is easier to see the difference. You can see a child wasting away who comes back to life because of your programs, or a mother who survives childbirth in the middle of the night, or a woman who starts to rebuild her life after having it destroyed. There are many times when I can really see that I make a difference, and for that I am thankful.
Thanks for reading and commenting!