Magazine article The Spectator

Another Day in Paradise: Front Line Stories from International Aid Workers

Magazine article The Spectator

Another Day in Paradise: Front Line Stories from International Aid Workers

Article excerpt

ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE: FRONT LINE STORIES FROM INTERNATIONAL AID WORKERS by Carol Bergman, with a foreword by John le Carre Earthscan, L17.99, pp. 256, ISBN 1844070344

A new breed of heroes

When aid workers, battling in distant places to bring some kind of comfort and safety to displaced and miserable people, are asked why they do what they do, many reply that it all comes down to the immediate and very simple satisfaction of giving a hungry person something to eat. 'There are,' notes David Snyder, a young American whose chapter on Sierra Leone appears in a new anthology of pieces by humanitarian workers, 'few such pure exchanges in life.' Something of this unaffected matter-of-factness marks much of Another Day in Paradise, the ironic title Carol Bergman has chosen for her collection of front-line stories from the aid world. If one was seeking a definition of all that is not paradise, one need do no more than read this book.

Good deeds are notoriously hard to write about. Digging wells, running refugee camps, feeding malnourished children, are not activities that lend themselves to eloquence. Even wars, of which this anthology is full, quickly lose their tension, as attack follows attack and casualties mount. But Another Day in Paradise, as John le Carre points out in a short foreword, is neither exactly about war nor even about those he dismisses for their phrases like 'collateral damage', when what they mean is civilians blasted to pieces. Rather it is a book about 'another country', the disaster areas of the world - societies collapsing under violence, famine, fear - as seen and experienced by those 'brave enough to visit life's hells on foot' rather than from behind a camera or a notebook. For this anthology is really a celebration of the newish breed of international aid workers, the doctors, nurses, nutritionists, logisticians and engineers, who build camps, dispense food, bring water, negotiate truces, interview prisoners and curb looters on behalf of such organisations as Oxfam, Medecins sans Frontieres and the International Rescue Committee.

The collection or articles, some in diary form, some written as memoirs or travel narratives, that make up Another Day in Paradise are patchy in quality. Patrick Dillon's breezy, moving account of life with a ten-year-old Somali bodyguard would alone justify the anthology, and others have written well about Rwanda, Afghanistan and Chad. But over and above the individual stories, what makes this volume come alive is the portrait that emerges of these modern humanitarian mercenaries and the world they inhabit, its mixture of altruism and big business, its technological sophistication and human frailty. …

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