Since I have been living in conflict zones, nothing surprises me as much as the way that life goes on. From media and fictional references about the phenomenon of war, we tend to think of war as a break in space and time.
A moment when the bombing, shelling, death and confusion overwhelm normal life and stop all ordinary activities. However, in many current civil wars, asymmetric conflicts where fighting is not everywhere, parents are sending children to school, worried about their end-of-term exams, young people are searching for work and getting married, bakeries are producing daily bread, and every now and then in some places, these activities are temporarily halted by violent activities.
But most of the time the show must go on and a sense of normalcy is attained. Not only for the locals but for humanitarians as well. The system in place was created for the traditional setting where a humanitarian has a family back home (usually wife and children), sends them money and goes on R&R to see this family every now and then. However, for a significant number of humanitarians, their entire lives are out there in the field. All of their earthly possessions, as well as all of their significant relationships.
Many people think that when you are a humanitarian, suddenly your life stops and you spend all of your time feeding hungry children, carrying sacks of rice, registering refugees or building latrines in a jungle during a mission. However they forget that most humanitarian jobs are standard 9 to 5 office jobs, with only the occasional trip to a remote area. Even in some remote, chaotic areas, when the workday is over you retire to your guesthouse, tent or container and have your free time. That’s when people put on their best clothes, go to social events, watch movies, cook and life goes on.
This fragile sense of normalcy is what allows us to spend decades of our lives from conflict zone to conflict zone. Humanitarian work in the field is a chosen lifestyle made of many sacrifices but yet more rewards, but it has a number of unforeseen implications that you have to be prepared for.