Today on Gchat, I got a message from one of my friends and former colleagues that I hadn’t expected so early in the morning. She was working on a homework assignment focused around the question: What is the most important issue facing the international humanitarian community today?
Granted, this is a bit deep for 10 AM on a Wednesday, but I went with it. I ultimately answered her with the issue of public health - and its impact on all day-to-day life for the developing and developed world. Education, economic development, growth and sustainability - all can be aided or restricted based on the state of the healthcare system of any given country. Here in the developed world, we are concerned with the cost of health care and the war between universal health care for all and government expenditure. Many countries in the developing world - particularly in Africa - are still facing the most basic issues regarding service delivery. There aren’t enough doctors, there aren’t enough nurses, and there aren’t enough supplies continent-wide.
Working with public health organizations always opens my eyes to the breadth of the problem. Community by community, local milestones are reached. The problem does, however, seem overwhelming. Inspirational visionaries like Paul Farmer of Partners in Health are few among many. They provide sustainable ideas that carry healthcare into its next phase. But we need more.
Without health, we have very little. Wake up with the flu one morning and suddenly work, school, and other pressing concerns matter very little. The focus becomes on feeling better, and on immediate crisis. Economic development provides a future for developing nations, but we can’t forget the pressing needs of today - and how the world must keep on working to solve them.
This past week, amid some serious food poisoning, I finished the book I’ve been working on for a week - The Cleanest Race by B.R. Myers. Finished in mid-2011 before the recent news of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s death, the book details not the history of North Korea, but the propaganda, and why Westerners have a difficulty wrapping their heads around the country.
I must admit that as a Western observer, much of what has fascinated me about North Korea has been the unknown - were those people really sad when their leader died, or were they faking it? Do they genuinely hate Americans as much as they say they do? Are they really convinced that the rest of the world is out to get them?
According to B.R. Myers, I am among the masses who simply don’t get North Korea. Myers stresses the analysis of visual propaganda, art, as well as literature to get into the minds of North Korean people - and to recognize that the people who are giving legitimacy to the regime may in fact not be faking it. This is, of course, a dilemma for the international community. We toggle between being extremely nice to North Korea and taking a hard line stance against it. Either way, Myers says, things aren’t working.
I was most fascinated by the book because of the beautiful attention to detail without being overly academic (read: boring). The book read as a bit of a catalog of North Korean propagandist art - and Myers writes with a sense of humor about our collective ignorance. We want to label North Koreans as “crazy” so that we can deal with them however we like, but is this really international relations?
Regardless of how the U.S. moves forward - especially in an election season - I think Myers’ book is one of the most important studies of the state to date. And you can’t help but be enamored with the pictures…
Today I woke up to an email from one of my best friends with a link to this article: The 45 Places to go in 2012 in the New York Times. Every year, the Times does this type of article, featuring interesting places to visit in the New Year. One memorable choice of this year’s list was Myanmar (Burma), who haven’t made it on a travel list in a VERY long time.
I emailed my friend back and asked her why we don’t just spend all of our time traveling to see places?! American culture has a pretty stigmatized view of vacations. Vacations are meant to be short, with minimum effort and maximum “do nothing” time. But how long can we sustain this type of work-till-you-burn-out-and-need-to-lay-on-a-beach mentality?
I think I dream about travel daily, if not hourly. I know most people think I’m nuts, but the settling down-ness of regular life makes me restless. Sure, I like the Western comforts that traveling in the developing world doesn’t always allow for (running water, malaria-free mosquitoes), but I inevitably find myself dreaming of distant places.
Today, with the right amount of resources - and the right passport - the world is very small. Getting on a plane doesn’t have the pomp and circumstance, and for this reason I refuse to look at borders as limits. There are certainly financial and life limitations, but I am really convinced that they can be overcome.
I may not make it to all of these places in 2012, but it’s a process.