On Motherhood & Sanity

Monday, May 11, 2015

Today I realised I was once again, and without my knowledge, living in a conflict zone

I’m a humanitarian worker and I’ve been working on protracted conflict for the last 13 years. A protracted conflict is generally defined as a long-term, low intensity conflict. It is not all out war, also known as violent conflict, although  it is considered a pre-condition for it. Colombia, Somalia and Israel are often viewed as textbook examples of protracted conflicts.

The concept stems from a theory initially developed by Edward E Azar who described Protracted social conflict as conflicts that occur, “when communities are deprived of (the) satisfaction of their basic needs on the basis of the communal identity.” Azar continues by highlighting that “the deprivation is the result of a complex causal chain involving the role of the state and the pattern of international linkages. Furthermore, initial conditions (colonial legacy, domestic historical setting, and the multi-communal nature of the society) play important roles in shaping the genesis of protracted social conflict.”[1]

In 2002 I moved to Colombia to work with a UN agency. One of the first things that struck me was the general sense of normalcy in a country that from the outside was perceived as highly dangerous. On arrival most of my colleagues were quick to highlight that soon I would see how things were not as bad as the international media portrayed them, followed by advice such as: “don't take a cab from the street, or you might end up in the bush being sold to the guerrilla”. With nearly three thousand kidnappings and nearly 70 homicides per 100,000 a year and at the time[2], this advice was not to be taken lightly.  People go about their daily lives accepting the status quo as normal.

The Life Peace Institute on its issue on protracted conflict asked Can you get used to living with war?” Sadly, I quickly learned that the answer  to this question is yes. The article continues “Probably, in the same way that you can somehow get used to living with physical pain, with constant stress, with disturbing noises. You get used to it, you bear with it in silence, because you have no other choice. You don’t know of any alternative.[3]” One of my first “field missions” in Colombia was to visit IDPs, aka, internally displaced persons. Displaced by the conflict. There was a small group of wooden houses that particular stuck out to me. Having run out of available land, these houses were built on man-made islands of rubbish over swamplands and connected by planks of wood. What most people don't realize is that many of the IDPs in Colombia come from some of the most fertile regions. For the most part they were, previous to the displacement, farmers who owned land and animals, now reduced to living in planks of wood. 

The full obscenity of this only hit me back at the hotel, going over my pictures, and partly this was because while I was there the children were playing and laughing, the ‘homes’, while bare, proudly showcased photographs and other valued mementos on their walls. Everyone went about their business, as if living on fake rubbish islands was normal.  Which brings me to my second realization at the time: not only can a person get used to living with war, it is surprisingly easy for the surrounding world to get used to it and protracted conflict, where there are no massive explosions and massacres to show for it, are particularly easy to get used to. What once seemed unthinkable becomes normal. I once counted over 50 soldiers standing on the sides of the road on my thirty minute ride from home to the office. Move on people, nothing to see here.

Humans adjust. It is for this reason that protracted conflicts easily become the forgotten wars. Unless there are international interests involved, such as is the case of Israel or Colombia, these conflicts become the backdrop hardly ever making headlines. The Western Sahara conflict comes to mind.

Since I had kids I’ve tried to stay out of trouble spots. The fact that aidwork is no longer perceived as neutral has made working in these “hot spots” more complex and ultimately dangerous.  So it was with much surprise that I realised, watching the 8 o’clock news on my sofa, that I am –once again, and without my knowledge- living in a protracted conflict country.

You might wonder how this could happen. How can you not-know that you are living in a conflict. And while you do that, you are probably reviewing in your mind mental pictures of the news that you have seen. All I can tell you is what I was seeing: recent footage from Baltimore, which until last week was nicknamed (by me) yawn city.

[1] Azar, E., The Management of Protracted Social Conflict: Theory & Cases, Aldershot, Dartmouth, 1990 p12.
[2] http://www.bigtravelweb.com/travel/2008/10/27/kidnapping-statistics-mexico-brazil-ecuador-venezuela-more-prone-than-colombia/
[3]Life and Peace Institute, April 2010,  New Routes Volume 15 http://www.life-peace.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/nr_2011_03.pdf

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Calm before the storm, #Nepal Photo post

There is an old Colombia saying that after God created Colombia, with its wonderful nature, its incredibly rich fauna and flora, one of the angels highlighted that he was being unfair blessing it with so many riches. To which God responded: "wait until you see the people". 

This was told to me by a Colombian friend.

A similar thing can be said for Nepal: wonderful country, stunning nature, drenched in culture and wonder, kind warm people... 
"wait until you see where I put it"

All the experts say it was a matter of time. My heart is with the people of this beautiful country. Remembering my time there with them felt like the least I could to do. Especially as many of these sites have suffered significant damage and only god knows the fate of these kind people.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Should I stay or should I go?

It’s that time again.
We have been here for three and a half years. That is the longest we have lived anywhere in the last…. thirteen years. And we are getting that itch again.
Itching for something new. Something warmer. Something… different.

We want to give the kids stability, but we also want them to share our life experiences, and being a nomad is an intrinsic part of who we are.

we love New York.

We love our home, the one we bought in an attempt to set up roots. Even if we knew we would not always live in it, just having it means we “have a home”.
If only literally.

It’s that time again.
We’ve been here long enough to have started growing timid roots. We have begun to find a tribe of our own. Like treasures in a thrift shop, we have foraged through the rubble and found  unique pieces, here and there, people who make us laugh, who make us think, who make us wonder and remember parts of ourselves that often fall dormant. I can begin to envision those roots flourishing. I can begin to see how these timid friendships could blossom.


We can’t have both.

It’s either roots or wings.

It's that time again.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

February family self portrait- Forged


Molten and Forged
out of the first frost of spring-
I is you is we

In case you are wondering what this is: it's a face made from our different parts: G's face, trouble's hair, the princess' eyes and my lips

The family self portrait  project started in January 2011. 
I take one portrait of the whole family, myself included, once a month.  
In late 2013 a "ghost" writer joined the initiative and now each photo is accompanied by a poem.
In 2015 the kids started collaborating and introducing their own ideas
...the project has a life of its own

Every family should do this. It's an amazing record of the little things that matter

To see previous months click on the links below:


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

it's still there

Close your eyes, say a prayer and blow out the candle. 
Watch the smoke raise slowly in a secret dance and melt away into  eternity.  
We can't see her, but she's still there. 
Every particle that defined her is still there. 
Transformed beyond the reach of our senses and our limited comprehension. 

She is forever there. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

January family portrait, a new beggining

I always knew the family portrait project would end when the kids where done with having their picture taken by their mother. For the last few months it increasingly looked like we had reached the end, with both rolling  their eyes every time I suggested we do it. I'd almost given up, and then this happened......

in collaboration with Mila and Mario Bassu

These are based on photos I took for the February self portrait. The princess decided to join in the fun and made these by using each other's faces. Trouble did himself (supersonic pirate of sorts). And so begins a new era of the family portrait, one of collaboration where object becomes subject and subject object. After the introduction of the poems it continues to change and grow, proving that more than  four years on,  it's still alive.