Accountability in the disaster-relief world

The Daily Life Text

Hello from Dubai, where I’m on a long layover on my way home from my 13th deployment for ShelterBox. I want to take some time to tell you a little bit about something I don’t think a lot of folks consider when they think of disaster relief: How this agency works to continuously refine both what we deliver to families in need and how we deliver it, so we can be sure we’re doing the best we can.

A large part of this responsibility rests with our MEAL team.

This has nothing to do with the fact that I need feeding every two hours. This has to do with Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability, and Learning. After a decade at ShelterBox, I think this is one of my favorite parts of working with the agency. In theory, it’s about making sure we gain knowledge to improve every time we deploy aid and resources. I’ve had the great privilege of being a part of putting it into practice three times now, and I think I’m ready to share some of its most salient points with you.

First: Post-distribution monitoring (PDM) can start happening as early as a few weeks after we give families in need our aid, and, in fact, can go on while distribution of aid is still taking place. Some of this is due to our desire to see that the families we helped can use and understand our aid. So we go back and do things like making sure tents are set up properly; tarps have been installed correctly; solar lights are functioning properly and optimally (we might remind a family that using the solar light at full power will drain its battery faster, for instance). This helps us to check up on two things: 1., that the training we helped to provide was accurate and useful; 2., that the family is moving forward from the disaster they’ve experienced.

Second: Another phase of PDM involves longer surveys and focus groups. In the past, this has taken place about six months after we deploy the aid, but we are always trying new things, and this methodology may change. We spend somewhere from half an hour to an hour with randomly chosen families who have received our aid, and walk them through how hey felt about both the distribution process and the actual aid package itself. Since the families have had more time with the kit by the time we reach this stage, we are able to get more in-depth answers from them.

Focus groups are one of my favorite parts of the MEAL process. Since the beneficiaries are in the focus groups with their friends and fellow community members, this is a bubbly, lively event. The MEAL team works really hard to come up with topics that will help us to respond to each disaster, and each region’s, more specific needs. We then work together as a team to come up with questions revolving around the topics, which might touch on things like the potential for cash aid packages, how aid affects larger families, and other relevant issues that affect the communities we worked with.

In a focus group, recipients of ShelterBox aid selected which of the items they received was their favorite by attaching stickers to pictures of each aid item. Photo: Josephine Mendoza, Calbayog Journal


The MEAL team might opt for focus groups comprising all men, all women, or mixed. Any way you slice it, we get such valuable information–and such wonderful stories, the likes of which we don’t always hear if the families are just being interviewed by themselves. The air of discussion really loans some focus group participants bravery, and the backing to speak up.

Third: This is another one of my favorite parts of MEAL: The interviews we undertake do not happen without some help from locals. I mean the invaluable interpreters we engage in order to ensure we are understanding the families accurately. Several times we’ve leaned on our drivers, who sometimes do double duty as interpreters, and I’ve twice had the experience of working with students recruited from the local high school or university. These people come to help us as volunteers. These volunteers are amazing. They spend a lot of time being walked through the survey. And they also spend time learning about the software we use so they can use smartphone or tablet versions of the survey if they want.

Sometimes the interviewers are workers from the local government, or community health workers. Sometimes they are Rotarians. Either way, what ends up happening is a collaboration of a most remarkable sort, where people get to make connections to people they might otherwise have ever been able to meet. Another neat side effect: We’ve also heard from some volunteers that the skills they learn, and the experiences they gain, as volunteers for us end up encouraging them in different life directions.

An initial setup for a focus group at Bayho Barangay, in the Lope de Vega municipality of Northern Samar, in the Philippines. Things didn’t stay this way for long.


When I was younger, I loved the urgency of disaster relief. Part of me hungered for the drive involved in its immediacy. I thought delivering aid by hand to a family in need was the pinnacle of responsibility. But I’ve seen a lot more since then, and I’ve often wondered how people are after we leave them. Ultimately, our MEAL team and processes allow us to see these families again, which fulfills a certain emotional urge, but it also gives us the tools to improve, so that we can keep on getting better at providing our aid to families who need it the most.



When Your People are Hurting: Part II

The Daily Life Text

Part II: Far

In 2012, I went to Peru with ShelterBox. In the state we were working in, pocket communities needed shelter after their homes had come down in mudslides. And in 2011, in Arkansas, a community needed help after tornados came through their region. In Malawi in 2015, big floods wiped out farmlands and grass huts.

In each of these disasters, before I deployed, friends asked, “What’s going on there?”

I never get tired of answering this question, for a specific, singular reason: People always care.

Even in these terrible, fractured times, folks are always concerned when we tell them what we’re working on. Perversely, they are even more concerned if it’s a disaster they’ve not heard of happening, or if there’s something else happening closer by that’s been taking over the news cycle.

Here’s the hard, horrible truth about refugee or displaced persons situations, whether manmade or natural: Our attention is demanded by so much else, our world so much smaller now, that the suffering of people both near and far can slip off your radar screen before you even know it existed. So when I get a chance to let people know about things that are going on that they may not have been aware of, I see it another way to help.

It’s easy to forget that people still care. While we can’t deny that humanitarian plights are too often used as political action points, we should also remember that everyone deserves an equal chance at life, especially if they’ve been through things the lucky among us can’t even fathom having to experience.

While eyes are on the damage Hurricane Harvey has caused right now, ShelterBox is operational in eight other locations and monitoring several other crises. My teammates are working in Nepal and we’re positioning a team for Bangladesh; our partners are busy working in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, and our work with the Syrian refugee crisis is in its 6th year.

The New York Times‘ Neediest Cases fund runs a campaign that costs nearly bupkus. Throughout the year, you’ll see a boldfaced phrase at the bottom of columns or scattered in other places across the paper; it reads, “Remember the Neediest!” Whenever I see this, I think of people far away from areas of terrible disaster and displacement, thinking of those who are the neediest.

Thank you for your support. Every donation helps agencies who respond to crises to be ever ready.


When Your People Are Hurting: Part I

The Daily Life Text

Part I: Near

In the summer of 1999, I was living in New York and pursuing the beginnings of a dream career. That same summer, a magnitude 7.7 earthquake jilted my home country of Taiwan. It was big enough to rattle the neighboring county to the epicenter, where both my mother and my father’s families are from.

My family and I had moved to the United States many years prior, but we still visited every one or two years; my favorite aunt lives there; I have never quite been able to extricate the image of my maternal grandparents’ house, the big house in the country, built around a lush central courtyard, from the thought of “home.” (It makes a major appearance in my novel, published 38 long years after we left.)

At my paternal grandparents’ house in the city, I learned to use chopsticks and never forgot the cool cement floor, nor the rosewood bureau at which I sat and opened every lotion bottle of my grandmother’s, smelling what it was like to be grown-up. In the front of the building, where it met the street, was my father’s surgery. Then there was a small courtyard, and then there was my grandparents’ house. We could hear murmurs of street noise, and I could go through the surgery and around the corner to the breakfast bar. When I very young, I did such things.

But when the earthquake hit, I was far away from both of those places. Later, I’d find out that the great front hall of the country house had collapsed. The house would never have the same facade, although the family salvaged as much as it could, and the local university’s architectural department came by to study the pieces and the construction of the place. The city house, farther from the epicenter, seemed to be okay.

Taiwan house, post earthquake
Taiwan house, post earthquake

All our people were safe. The dogs who live at the country house and guard its many courtyards and connecting pathways must have made horrible racket, that night.

It is genuinely awful to be so far away and not be near when these things happen.

A decade later, a typhoon struck Taiwan, and this time, I was better equipped: I’d just passed the rigorous training required to become a member of the ShelterBox Response Team, and we were deployed to help with emergency shelter. We did what we could, in as rapid fashion as we could, and I was able to come home feeling like maybe I had done something.

Two years later, tornados made their destructive ways through Missouri and Oklahoma, and we got a phone call from the leadership of a Rotary district in Arkansas. Arkansas, they said, had been completely overlooked in the national relief effort. Could we come have a look? We went, me from New York and another teammate flying the even shorter distance from his home in Austin, Texas.


Today is the Tuesday after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. The same team member who went with me to Arkansas is keeping a close eye on the relief situation as it develops down there, along with another team member based out of Dallas. If all the pieces come together to spell out a story in which our aid is needed, the team will begin the task of deploying aid and helping families.

There’s something unique about responding to a disaster in which people just like you are suffering. When you land on the ground, you speak the same language; the landmarks look familiar to you; you understand the customs and the people. It is a uniquely heartbreaking experience.

And yet–and yet. We should all want for such a time, when we can do good by the people closest to us, by the people who share our cultures and our aspirations. We should all aspire to be ready to loan a hand where we can, especially in those places we frequent, among the people in our neighborhoods.

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

A friend once wrote that she was delighted to have been able to participate fully in the jury duty process: She was selected to serve on a jury, and got to see the trial all the way through. She came away, she said, enlightened, grateful to have had the opportunity to serve.

Service can be like this. It can be leveraged on us by our state, or we can choose it for ourselves. But sometimes, it lands smack on your doorstep, and then you can’t help but answer its insistent ring. Today, I’m thinking of my teammates, and how close this disaster is to them, and how glad I am that they are there to answer the calls of the people who need them.

For more on ShelterBox’s response to #HurricaneHarvey, please click here:




I have missed you guys. Well. I have not really been gone. I have been dutifully sending out a monthly newsletter. You can see a sample and sign up to get it here.

But I actually do have something NEW to tell you. Some of you may know that I volunteer for ShelterBox USA, a disaster-relief agency. Last October, I went on my 10th deployment for them, and I made something to commemorate it. It is this tiny little book:


It is a book of 10 short stories, one for each of my deployments, and they are accompanied by hand-drawn maps, like so:


They are meant to be a fundraiser for ShelterBox USA. More importantly, they are meant to be a front-row seat to what it’s like to be in a disaster zone. It tells stories of the people we meet there, of what it’s like to be a witness, of the ways this experience has changed me.

So many of you have played a part in supporting our work at ShelterBox. This book, I hope, will help you to tell our story to others. In some ways, it’s meant to be a way for you to share your commitment to being a humanitarian.

The books are $15 each. Shipping and handling is $5 extra. ShelterBox USA gets $7.50 for each book sold. So far I’ve printed 100 copies, but there may be more if demand, uh, demands it. Write to me directly: yishun(at)thegooddirt(dot)org to arrange for a book of your own. And then share these stories, which are yours, too, because you have helped to make this, and the work we do, happen.

Thanks very much.

Shelter, Warmth, Dignity–and Education

The Daily Life Text


Two Fridays ago I returned from Haiti, where ShelterBox, the disaster-relief agency I volunteer for, is helping the nation to recover from Hurricane Matthew.

As always, there are many different things I saw and people I met that left me feeling richer and better rounded, but I want to take some time and space today to reflect on something that sometimes gets overlooked in our normal understanding of relief efforts.

So let’s picture what people think of when they think of disaster relief: Food. Medicine. Shelter. Yes. All good, necessary things. But what happens in the immediate days after a disaster? Depending on where you live, you’ve probably encountered a sign like this somewhere in your neighborhood:


Where do you usually see them? Civic buildings, generally: Stadiums, churches, sometimes–and schools. Schools are well-built; it’s the place to which parents will naturally turn if a natural disaster strikes during school hours, since they’ll want to see if their kids are okay.

But quite often, places of education get turned into shelters that may serve a population for weeks on end if families have no place to turn.

When we arrived in Haiti, a few days after Hurricane Matthew came through, schools had already been pressed into service. One chalkboard I saw had its last lesson on it, from September 28. When we left Les Cayes, there was no news as to when schools could go back into service.

The problem is, when schools are housing families, serving as places to stay safe and out of the elements, they can’t be used for their original purposes. In the Haitian earthquake of 2010, schools only started to reopen after a few months. And in Malawi, where I was last year, even after schools opened to regular classes, classrooms were still serving as shelters, so families had no place to go during the day, while school was in session; and school staff and communities had to work every morning and every afternoon to effect the change from classroom to shelter and back again.

The classrooms in this school in Malawi were doing double duty when we showed up: They were serving both as shelters for families while they rebuilt their homes and as proper classrooms. You can see the kids in their school uniforms with my teammate here.

The effect of natural disaster on a society goes far beyond the more acute needs of food, medicine, and shelter. It’s one of the reasons aid agencies like ours work so hard to get families back onto their home sites, so life can go on.

For more of our work in Haiti and worldwide, visit And for more detailed information on what effects disaster can have on education, see this paper from the Brookings Institute.



#45daysof, or Adam Kimble in Claremont

The Daily Life Text

This weekend we had visitors.

They were unexpected and joyous and dashed about our house, a little group of sleek-headed, very effective, very friendly otters. (I have established this week that otters are not naturally friendly. They are cute for the sake of survival. But that is another post.)

Well, three of them were sleek. The last, standing head and shoulders above me, was one Adam Kimble, and he was not sleek. He is bearded and bushy and grinny, all teeth and goodwill, and he is, even as we speak, running across America in an attempt to break the current Guinness World Record.

This is Adam at the Gobi March last year.
This is Adam at the Gobi March last year. (photo: Adam Kimble)

Adam is not an ultramarathoner, historically. He only came onto the scene two years ago, but since then, he’s placed in the top ten several times, and last year, he won the famed Gobi March. He’ll take 45 days to run across the U.S., and if he does it, he’ll be the the first person ever to break the GWR, besting the current record by a day and a third. (That record has stood for 36 years, and it’s been challenged a handful of times.)

Here is where we marvel at the fortitude of a guy who’s setting out to break a world record. And then we marvel at the fact that Adam will have to average 68 miles a day in order to make his preferred time. And then we think about the organizational skills of Adam’s core team of five people, who will manage everything from his nutritional intake to his social media presence.

But really, as I look back on our weekend with Team Bearded Sole, three things strike me:

1. I have cool friends. We got to hang out with Adam and his mates this weekend because Josh, one of their crew, is a friend of mine from ShelterBox. Although I’m never surprised by how awesome my friends are, I am always pleased to discover more great people because of them. Josh will be with Adam the entire trip. You can read more about him here.

2. Niceness is underrated. So many times when we meet people, we look for different things to say about them: “She’s sharp!” “What a striking look about him.” “Interesting background,” we might say. I don’t think I’ve heard someone say, for a long time, anyway, that someone they’ve just met is nice. I love nice. We should all be nicer. Team Bearded Sole is definitively, fantastically, nice peeps, from conversational skills to manners to all-around greatness to be around.

3. Forty-five days is a long-ass time. When I was training for Ironman, I thought to myself, what am I going to think about for those 16 hours they allow me on the course? And when we were training (I think Ironman is my biggest commitment yet), I always knew there would be a day off in the training schedule coming soon. I have never done anything hard for 45 days in a row.

So I’m signing up to “follow” Adam on his 45-day quest. Every day, today and for the next 44 days, I will produce a watercolor drawing of some sort. (Look for the hashtag, #45daysof, at Instagram and Twitter.)

I think Adam is after living the best life he can. He wants to inspire others to do the same. I also think that, in order to reach this best life, you sometimes have to do things that are a little bit hard, even if you naturally love to do them. So I will try my hand at this, and see what outs.

For Adam, it may be the besting of a Guinness World Record. For me, it may be a pile of 45 crap drawings. Or, it might be some gained watercolor skills. Either way, it’ll be fun.

Which, incidentally, seems to be the other part of this trek across the United States. Just in case, you know, you were wondering what it would be like to spend 45 days, doing something you love, with some close friends in an RV, mucking across a great, wide-open country.

Run, Adam, run. We’re with you.

Would you like to join me in #45daysof? Pick something you’d like to do for 45 whole days. Make it a goal. Tell me in the comments below. 

This is Adam's route. You can live-track him from his web site.
This is Adam’s route. You can live-track him from his web site.

All Your Creature Comforts are Relative

The Daily Life Text

Last month we went back to Malawi, for a check-up on how beneficiaries of ShelterBox’s kit are doing, and for an overview of how the country is recovering.

I appreciate the ShelterBox deployments in part because they give me perspectives on other countries and cultures that I wouldn’t get as a normal tourist. I get to meet folks on their ground, witness what their lives used to be like, the lives they’re striving for. All disaster-landscapes look the same, but it’s often in these hard times that you really get to meet a culture, see how they interact with each other. We’re definitely not meeting them in their normal lives, but we are meeting them in their communities.

It wasn’t until this last deployment that I had it thrown into sharp focus what it might really mean to live their lives.


In the first place, I got giardia when I got home. I mean, I probably got it in Africa someplace. But those little flagellated protozoa didn’t make themselves known until four or five days after I landed, when I was busily trying to do real-life things like writing jacket-copy for my forthcoming novel (that’s not real life, is it? Is it?) and paying bills and done with immediate deployment-aftermath things, like a lot of sleep, and sushi and salad, and laundry. Very very annoying.

I was laid up on the couch for five days. I toughed it out for two days before my body got sick of Kaiser-helmeted parasites ramming into each other and into the walls of my guts, and I finally caved to antibiotics. (I’m well on the mend now, thanks.)

In the second place, we spent three days in a place where it was up to 111° F (that’s 44° C) in the shade. And then, when we got back to our very poorly ventilated rooms, it was maybe a skosh cooler, but not by much. It was so hot that for part of the time I slept sitting up, so as to minimize contact of myself with, well, anything. It was so hot that I became irrationally annoyed at the silicone hair tie around my wrist, convinced that it was blocking pores that would otherwise be making everything cooler.

And that’s when I started thinking about my Creature Comforts kit. It’s a little pouch I take with me on every airplane ride, mostly because I’m lazy as sin and can’t be arsed to stand up and dig in my overhead baggage compartment. When I board the plane, I immediately unpack this little pouch, a litre bottle of water, and some food, and then I don’t have to mess with my bag for the rest of the flight. Here’s what’s in it.



These are some of the things that make my life a little better when I’m traveling. (Not pictured: Wet Wipes, because I used them all, and who needs to see a photo of Wet Wipes, anyway?)

But then, when I was lying there in my room, so hot I couldn’t sleep and practically gasping for air flow; and again when I was lying on the couch, moaning out loud to myself and imagining a Satanic game of bumper cars with parasites in my gut, I realized, damn it all to hell, this is life for some people. This is permanence for nearly everyone we meet whilst we’re on deployment. And when we go back home, to clean water out of the tap and air conditioning and fresh fruit and veg every single day, they still go on, getting sick from drinking river water, or living in mud-brick houses that, while staying cool, don’t change the fact that you still have to go outside and work in the fields, in 111° temperatures, every damn day. Every. Damn. Day.

We help a little bit. We provide water filters, so people can stop getting sick from the drinking water. (Families who live near boreholes can use chlorine dispensers that purify the water.) And our kit comes with solar lights, so folks can actually see what they’re doing inside their windowless homes (so made because it’s hard to make windows in a rush-grass home, and also, windows let in heat), and when they walk out to their latrine or bathroom at night. Our kit comes with blankets, fuzzy groundsheets, kitchen sets. Mosquito nets, so your family doesn’t get chewed up by mosquitos and then get sick with malaria.

You know. Things that make life a little bit better. Every damn day.

This isn’t one of those posts that’s all like, Oh, I feel so guilty that I’m so privileged, because it’s not like that. Some of us are lucky to have been born into better circumstances, places with more opportunity, or different standards of living. We can’t change that; no sense in regretting it.

But every once in awhile, you get floored by something like extreme heat, or giardia, and you realize just how much bigger our world really is. And, more importantly, how little we really know, and experience, in our limited lives. And then, on the heels of that, how lucky we really are, and how nice it is to be able to hope for more, for others and for ourselves.

That, too, is a creature comfort.

Tell me, what are your creature comforts? Let me know in the comments below. 



Humanitarian Work: Why We Do It, and Why That Matters

The Daily Life Text


In the waiting room of the Blantyre airport, a man asked what I was doing in Malawi.

I told him, briefly, and then returned the favor: What is he doing in Malawi? Ah, he says, he’s helping a friend to staff a local church network with some preachers. Interesting, I said, and left it, but  he continued on. “So are you religious, or what? Why do you think you do the work you do?”

This is always a trap for me. I love people, and I love to explore the reasons we do the things we do. Plus, I was already down in the dumps from the post-deployment blues, thinking about all the work I’d have loved to continue on with in Malawi, so I answered him. Something about hard-wiring, and how my weeks working with ShelterBox comprise the times I feel truly complete, as if I’m using most of what I’ve learned in my 40 years.

Later, as the plane reached cruising altitude on its way to Jo’Burg, he came over to my seat and asked if he could show me something. Sure, I said, and followed him to his seat, where I received a





















**this is apparently the only viable reason for doing good.

I was too tired to protest, and therefore polite. I made vaguely interested noises, trying to avoid the terrible halitosis and not read into the psycho high-lighting in fifteen different colors all over his bible text, and then he made me read two passages, which I actually tried really hard to comprehend, but at the end of the day, it was like this:

My good sir, please get your nosy ass out of my motivation.

Anyway. I went back to my seat. And damned if the guy didn’t come back to me. He said, “I hope I didn’t scare you. The work you’re doing is good.”

I was utterly flummoxed. I didn’t want to get into an argument with this guy, so I just said, “Not at all. Thank you.”

What I really wanted to do was laugh, in a bewildered, confused way, because we don’t do this work to impress anyone. Sometimes, the end result is all that really matters, and here’s why:

In Malawi, families moved into evacuation centers like churches and schools January 13 or 14. By six to eight weeks after a disaster, we like to see families either moving back onto their home sites or safely making use of some kind of shelter aid. But in week 7, when my teammates and I were asked to explore three as-yet-unserved centers to try and assess what their needs were, we found, respectively, 75, 65, and 121 families living in rural churches*** barely 25 meters long by 6 meters wide. Some of the pregnant and lactating women were living with their families (9 families at a time) in tunnel tents that had been provided by a well-meaning country who wanted to send some help. But these tents are barely larger, overall, than two of our family tents, so the space issue still existed. And these families have no privacy within the large tunnel tents…there are no room dividers.

***There is some kind of deep irony here, but I don’t know what it is yet.

We could not provide for all of the families at any of the sites we visited. In many cases, the community didn’t have the land we needed to build to that extent, and our stock, as always, is tight.

But here’s what we can  do. We can return to these families a modicum of dignity. We can alleviate the pressure in some of these evacuation centers. (We ask the community to identify the absolute most vulnerable families, and then we verify with a face-to-face interview.)

I think you will be happy to know that the families living in these places comported themselves with such grace. They sat quietly, waiting for us to complete our evaluations. They didn’t clamor around us when we went to go inspect the sites they hoped we could build tents on. They didn’t beg.

Some might say that they were just too damn tired to say anything. They probably were. But I’ll tell you what, when I am tired and cranky, it does not look and sound like dignity. It basically sounds like a howling tantrum.

This is why we do the work we do. We do it because, at the end of the day, we all can understand the need for dignity. We all can understand the desire for a space of one’s own.

I’m not about to bash God and country as perfectly valid motivators. But for me, there is no greater motivation than giving someone else a little bit of their own back.



 Do you have questions about the work ShelterBox is undertaking in Malawi? Feel free to e-mail me. 

Smugness is ugly. And useless.

The Daily Life Text

There’s a BMW spot out there that chaps my hide every time I hear it. The guy’s voice is rich, and vaguely cultured, but also incredibly self-satisfied. It talks about how BMW has been “first” in bla bla bla etcetera etcetera.

It goes on like this for an excruciating 35 seconds. Clearly it is catering to the kind of person who wants to have the number-one thing in his or her garage, to look at and pat every once in awhile. “My precious,” so on. You get the drift.

This is on my mind because last week, I went to shadow the assessment course for the ShelterBox Response Team, and I think I finally figured out why this kind of advertising irritates me so much. (Those of you who don’t know, ShelterBox is a disaster-relief agency. I’m a member of the volunteer team that goes in to assess needs and deliver our bespoke disaster-relief goods, and our candidates go through a rigorous testing process before we can deploy them to disaster areas, for obvious reasons.)


The testing is hard, but one of the candidates this weekend nailed it when we were all sitting around chatting after the course had ended. I asked what he thought. He considered for awhile, and then said, “A lot of the pressure was internal, and not from external sources.”

People. I have never wanted to slow-clap so badly in my life, and not in an ironic way, either. When push comes to shove, we don’t really care where you got your degrees, or even what you got them in. We don’t really care what you did in your past life. We don’t even care what you do for your career currently. (Unless, obviously, it affects your availability to deploy for us.) We care about who you are, at your very core, and about the stuff you’re made of.

In short, it’s about what’s under the hood, and not about the stupid bling you have all over your walls. For BMW, and advertisers like them, it should be about building a better car, or product, just like we’re out to build the best ShelterBox Response Team we can possibly build.

I’m so honored to have been a shadow for the course this past week. We trainers can learn a lot about ourselves over the course of the four days we have the candidates, so it’s a doubly-rewarding experience, even despite the sweltering heat, danger plants, bugs, and navigational mistakes. (*cough*.) I hope everyone out there gets an experience like this once in their lives.



hodge-podge brain dump

The Daily Life Text

1. I just had a brainfart and tried to go to the blogger platform to add this post. As much as I love the flexibility this platform allows me, I think I really miss the user interface of blogger. Hm. Points to ponder. Weirdly, I last used blogger something like years ago–Peter turned me on to Posterous, which I really really loved, and then Ed helped me to move over to this site. I don’t know. Maybe WordPress just needs more orange.

2. Here are some things Sprocket has been compared to:

A piece of licorice

See for yourself:

Hamster butt:


Witness it!

An ottoman

Those first two comparisons are courtesy of Jen Flowers, by the way.

3. People always ask how long it takes to get over a deployment. That answer is highly individual. Because I am a wuss, I suspect it takes me longer than others. I like to Ponder Implications. I like to explore the things we did, and the way that those things might have affected me.

Today I finally feel some sense of normalcy. I no longer shy away from using tap water, and I don’t feel the urge to force myself to lie on the couch and Not Worry.

Perhaps most telling, I am starting on a new physical project that is very exciting, but I’m not going to tell you about it yet. You will have to be patient.

And the corollary to that, of course, is that I am finally ready to start work again on my thesis, which is being re-written in diary form.

So. It feels as if all gears, mental and physical, are turning. Here is a brief list of the things I do in the weeks after deployment. This is only after five deployments’ worth of experience, so I am curious to see how this list will change as I gain more experience.

  • Mope
  • Drift aimlessly from room to room
  • Eat. Anything. Buckets of popcorn; bushels of fresh fruit and veg; massive luxurious sandwiches. Those are the primary culprits.
  • Hide out. I almost never want to see anyone in the weeks after a deployment.
  • Watch TV. Loads and loads of old movies, or episode after episode of something like Miss Marple, Poirot, Frost, Lewis…(This may be because we almost always deploy with a Brit on the team, since there are more of them than there are of us. I’m probably just missing the accent.)
  • Lie on the couch.
  • Make a mess of the house, which inevitably is a clean slate for my mess, since Jim is nice enough to clean it just before I get home.
  • Stare at art. This goes back to the whole “hide out” thing. If you’re staring at art, people don’t usually approach you.

I think two weeks is about right. Weirdly, I never write about the deployment, and I don’t usually talk about it. And I usually get back on a weekend, so this one was weird in that I got back on a weekday and had to dive headlong into the workweek. I cancelled a trip to Philadelphia almost at the last minute cos I was feeling sick, but I really did think I was going to be Just Fine. What a dweeb.

Anyway. The day beckons. Hope it’s a good Monday for everyone!