where I have been
The wind was blowing just the right way this morning, so that I woke up to the call of prayer from the mosque a kilometer or two away from here. A few minutes later, the monks started their morning chanting, and after an hour, the choir began practicing for Mass. Today’s celebration is special; it marks eleven years of the Prefecture in Battambang since Khmer Rouge.
There are so many reasons I have neglected my writing recently, not just here on the blog, but also on my own. My best friend from home was here for several months, my workload has more than doubled in the two months, and honestly, I’m just exhausted. Work’s tiring me out, but what drains me is the constant stream of news that seems to be almost uniformly discouraging and upsetting. From a war in Libya to violence in Syria, the release of Oscar Grant’s murderer after only 72 days in prison to the unrelenting attacks on women’s reproductive rights (and lives) across the U.S…. it’s a lot.
I was at a big aid and development conference here in Cambodia last week, and it tapped into a lot of my frustrations — and a few of my joys — about the aid industry. The notion of creating frameworks that can be practically applied to organizations of varied size, purpose, budget, and political ideology around the world and the idea that a human rights language is universally useful for development — these premises went virtually unquestioned. It reminded me of papers I would write in college. I used to joke with older friends that I had the luxury of being allowed, maybe even encouraged, to make wildly impractical arguments and recommendations about the ethics and implementation of development and aid, as long as I could defend them with strong analysis and a respected theoretical framework. No one was actually going to listen to my recommendations; they were exercises in critical thinking, application of new theories to case studies, and unbridled idealism.
But I was surrounded by some incredibly smart and powerful people last week, people who control millions of dollars of aid funding and will contribute to the direction and priorities of international aid over the next decade. Their work is much more than term papers that will be critiqued, graded, returned and then thrown into a bin to be used for grocery lists and notes to roommates. It was, and remains, scary and a little bit heartbreaking to see the gap between theory and practice, all carried out with the best of intentions (and funding).
So yeah, I’m exhausted, but not nearly as much by life here in Battambang as by everything beyond it. I’m sitting on my bed now, listening to a monk chanting at a nearby funeral and a soccer game right outside my window. I have a nasty cold, so I skipped Mass this morning, but I can hear everyone applauding from inside the church right now, as they celebrate their anniversary here together.