Trying to juggle a "normal" life while serving as an aid-worker is not only challenging, it may leave you feeling as though you have dual lives and, in some cases, dual personalities.
Back home, you may be a partner, a family member, a friend, and - perhaps most importantly - the admired humanitarian. In the field, however, you may not be seen as having any of those roles. The local community may not perceive you as particularly "humanitarian", especially if you roll in weekly earnings that dwarf an entire local family's annual salary, and enjoy the privileged royalties of your own private nanny, maid, cook, and driver.
Depending on your lifestyle, your colleagues may not associate you at all with your life back home and view you instead as a teeth-clinching, cigarette-dragging, work-obsessed freak. They may not be aware of your life beyond the office and, instead, perceive you as a drab, mundane expat whose time is committed to nothing but work. Or, on the flip side - thanks to the frat party lifestyle of many deep field locations - it could be that they think of you as someone who guzzles shots of whisky from your office cupboard by day and cuddles with a local lover by night.
Then, there's a week-long meeting called at some exotic resort in Thailand, and you suddenly morph into the business-suit-wearing, corporate star, sipping on cocktails, while you discuss an annual report that is now costing tens of thousands of dollars.
You may be abruptly forced to ask yourself how you can merge all of these realities and personas into one and somehow remain sane. The answer is: You can't.This all before you slip back into your country-of-assignment, where - seeing begging street children with bellies distended and a dark hue masking their eyes - you will instantly be reminded of the world's gross disparities and be abruptly forced to ask yourself how you can merge all of these realities, all of these personas into one and somehow remain sane.
The answer is: You simply can't.
That's when the greatest challenge arises. This challenge is compounded, of course, if the intrusion of these thoughts and conflicting "personas" happens to coincide with a departure from the field and re-entry into the so-called "developed" world. After all, wouldn't it be easier to drown the knowledge you have of the realities of the world with a few shots of whisky or by denying your life back home by starting anew locally? Sure, it would! That's part of the reason so many people struggle to ever leave the field.
But, since when have you been one to take the easy way out? Sit with this discomfort and try to learn something about what it has to teach you. It is telling you something critical about the world in which we live. It's not so abnormal for you to want to deny it. It is, after all, a rather disheartening reality to come to recognize. But, as an aid worker, isn't it your job to seek greater clarity on these issues? Well, that means looking at the issues from the other side too!
Go on! Give it a try! And, when we say "try", we don't mean one week. We mean: Sit with it for a year or two or three....