Book Review: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow SunHalf of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am grateful for this book of history of a brave people, corrupt systems and powers that broke them, and the ongoing consequences of the Biafran war. I’m also grateful too for this accounting at a moment where so many in the world must react to the whistle of aerial bombings, the shock of a gunman, the trauma of choosing between a hopeless just cause and survival or love, and the interpersonal terror brought on by external circumstances (domestic violence, cruelty, abandonment). We should know what that’s like, if we don’t. We should know that we share this, if we do.

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L’ aide humanitaire: ressources, manuels, guides, cours, et certificats gratuits

J’étudie le sujet de l’aide humanitaire pendant mon travail et dans mon temps libre, donc je voudrais partager des ressources sans coûts que j’ ai trouvé outil avec les autres qui s’ intéressent dans le travail humanitaire international et pour ceux que offre soigne aux mouvement sociaux et répondre avec premier secours aux désastres et urgences chez eux. Je ferai des mises à jour de cette page du temps en temps.

Je suis une anglophone qui cherche pour la plupart les traductions des ressources avec lesquelles je suis familière, donc n’hésitez pas de m’orienter aux ressources francophones oubliées. SVP, ajoutez des autres idées et ressource dans les commentaires ici pour que je puisse les ajouter à la liste!

Cours en ligne qui donne des certificats :

Cours en ligne (sans certificats):

  • Prêt pour désastre – Plusieurs cours pour les bénévoles humanitaires sur la gestion des projets, les secteurs technique comme l’assainissement et l’éducation, la sécurité, etc.

Manuels, bibliothèques, et ressources par sujet:

Le trauma et le traumatisme secondaire (Prenons soigne de nous-mêmes pendant que nous prenions soignes des autres)

  • Institut Headington – Ressources excellents sur la stresse, la résilience mentale, et le traumatisme pour les humanitaires, y compris des cours en ligne jusqu’à des petites fiches à prêter, des vidéos, des auto-testes.
  • WHO premiers secours psychosocial pour les humanitaires – “Ce guide présente les premiers secours psychologiques, qui supposent l’apport d’une aide dans sa dimension à la fois humaine et concrète pour les personnes ayant vécu des situations de crise graves. Ce document est destiné aux personnes en mesure de secourir ceux qui ont vécu un événement extrêmement pénible. Il propose un cadre de référence pour aider ces personnes tout en respectant leur dignité, leur culture et
    leurs capacités.”
  • Guide de la fondation Antares sur la gestion de stresse des travailleurs humanitaires – Manuel au niveau de l’organisation pour la gestion de stresse et la traumatisme liée avec les incidents critiques et le stresses chroniques des travailleurs humanitaires
  • Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, “Travailler avec des contenus violents– Guide pour prendre soigne de la santé mentale pendant témoignage des images d’actes explicitement violents

Voyez aussi: Humanitarian Aid – Free Resources, Readings, Courses, and Certificates (plus des ressources en anglais) | Permaculture – Free Resources, Guides, & Tools


Big update!

My most popular post ever (by far), fully updated with tons new resources. Please share widely.

Humanitarian Aid – Free Resources, Manuals, Courses, and Certificates

Permaculture – Free Resources, Guides, & Tools

Permaculture is incredible. It’s a tool, a system, to grow food with no expensive and toxic inputs, to design living spaces and communities in a way that harmonizes with and strengthens eco and social systems. It’s both a set of specific how-to’s and a big epistemology, a way of understanding the world. So Permaculture is super useful in the immediate, practical sense of teaching skills for growing food and creating livable spaces with minimal cost and dependence, and also it’s a great analytical tool for approaching problems and questions. Hella useful.

Below I list some ways to learn about Permaculture besides an expensive on-site class. Not all of these are strictly Permaculture, and not all are strictly perfect, not all are strictly free– but there’s a lot to learn & self-evaluate & trial. Got more? Add them in the comments.

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See also: Humanitarian Aid – Free Resources, Readings, Courses, and Certificates

On Permaculture ethics

Permaculture is a design science for creating “cultivated ecosystems” or “human settlements” (farms and homes and villages and cities) that mimic natural ecosystems, meeting human needs while increasing (instead of extracting from) ecosystem health. This definition from, among others, Warren Brush & Rafter Sass Ferguson. It is a means for understanding and applying the complex science behind agro-ecology, sustainable indigenous cultural and agricultural systems, and other regenerative or resilient ways of living, to the design of a specific place. Pandora Thomas adds that Permaculture is a design science for creating places that increase the health of the human ecosystem, too: by understanding and applying an intersectional social and environmental justice lens to the design of our agriculture and homes and communities, we can increase the health of human bodies and relationships. In short, Permaculture is a guide or process for integrating all the deep & complex science of ecology and critical scholarship on social systems into whatever it is you are actually trying to do.

This is all be summed up by the 3 Permaculture Ethics:

  1. Care for People
  2. Care for the Earth
  3. Redistribute Surplus

Or in other words, “People care, earth care, fair share.”

Rafter Sass Ferguson worries that the ethics lack teeth:

If [Permaculture ethics] get reduced to a story about tending our garden, then sharing our kale with our friends, and then composting our “surplus” kitchen scraps back into the garden, then what does the movement really gain by having ethics at all? … The way I think about the Ethics – and the way I train future designers – revolves around the idea of putting some teeth in Ethics. “Care” is a tricky term, after all – it can refer to emotion alone. Like: “In my heart, I truly care for the Earth, and so I shed a single tear every time I turn the key and start up my Hummer.” I prefer to think that, as used in the Ethics, it refers to the action of caring – of taking care of something. So the question becomes, how do I know when I am taking care of the earth, of people?

This reminds me of David Graeber’s thoughts on the alienation of labor. It’s not about healing the workers’ relationship to production– no, we need to go deeper and question production as an end goal in itself:

“I’m thinking of a labor movement, but one very different than the kind we’ve already seen. A labor movement that manages to finally ditch all traces of the ideology that says that work is a value in itself, but rather redefines labor as caring for other people.”

Permaculture is a means to this end. It celebrates efficiencies that come from working with instead of against nature in one’s cultivation. It teaches us to “stack functions” so that no one thing does only one thing (while no one thing is done by only one thing… yaknow, insurance just in case something fails). By emphasizing polycultural food forests and slowly building water works that imitate healthy dryland water principles of slowing, spreading, and sinking water, Permaculture can help recharge rainwater clouds and groundwater aquifers. Yes: Permaculture design can make rain and increase groundwater. It’s a powerful paradigm shifter in agriculture, that instead of plowing&irrigating&spraying&fertilizing&geneticallymodifying to force the land and crop to fit a standard, mechanized monocrop method applied everywhere across the world, we can observe and adapt to differences in local landscapes and then build soil, increase availability of water, and cultivate biodiversity so we can grow food with no inputs, or fewer inputs on this, specific, land. Ask the land what it wants to provide and work with it to increase abundance and tweak it to feed people, while also increasing natural health from which other critters benefit too. Care for the earth.

And care for people. The Black Permaculture Network explicitly links care with justice, in a statement of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement:

Permaculture is a system of regenerative ecological design rooted in indigenous knowledge and wisdom. Its three core ethics, care for the earth, care for the people, care for the future lead us to call for accountability for police who currently target, harass and murder people in communities of color, and especially the black community, with impunity. We cannot care for the people unless we assure justice for all people and assert the value of every person’s life. … We see this current system is designed to benefit certain people at the expense of others and is part of the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few. Out of this comes an opportunity to redesign a truly restorative way of dealing with injustice, conflicts, competing needs, and past wounds. … Our economic, political and social systems can only find ecological balance when they are founded upon justice.

This active understanding of the ethics, grounded in the social reality of racism and other forms of oppression, resonates with me. You cannot sit still on a moving train: you cannot build an ecological utopia on stolen, colonized land (utopia for who?). You cannot build an ecological utopia if historical economic power structures have denied you inheritance, wealth, income, access to land. You cannot separate ecological utopia from your body: if home is in a food desert surrounded by polluting infrastructure, it may mean “being green for me is taking care of myself.”

I’ve been working and reworking with the Permaculture ethics for a decade or so, connecting them with anarchism, with support for survivors, with justice as both an “everybody wins” idea of building soil and community, and as a “zero-sum game” in which the rich and powerful are not going to let go of their power unless it’s taken from them. People care: support the most impacted, the survivors, through redistribution of power and wealth– center survivors & their choices, priorities, leadership; amplify their voices; help them meet their material and emotional needs. Earth care: create and regenerate prefigurative anarcho-ecological communities– build the new world from the ashes of the old.

And then, Fair Share: dismantle institutions of oppression, attack concentrations of power and wealth. Policy and protest and direct actions and sometimes revolution. Solidarity means support. But also: Solidarity means attack.

Semi-regular online & computer privacy check-up time

For keeping yr data safe from ID thieves & hackers: “DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity” |

For dealing w trolls: “Speak Up, Stay Safer: Guide to Protecting Yourself From Online Harassment” |

For “human rights defenders in hostile digital security environments” sharing & storing sensitive info |

For the everyday fight vs mass surveillance: “Reset the Net Privacy Pack” |

For protecting your electronics & data while traveling across borders | (1) From me: (2) Mostly referencing:…/defending-privacy-us-border-guide-tra…

Filter, organize, synthesize, analyze: How to be a research assistant

A few weeks ago a friend asked for advice on how to be a research assistant: “I know how to research, but how do you assist?” I decided to expand my reply into a blog post. I got to wear the hat of “assistant” a few times in my life: researching on a couple book projects, doing background for journalists, and as the not-lead writer on international development evaluations, among other stuff. Here are a few (hyper-organized) tricks and habits I used. I’m sure other research assistants (or the authors who have benefited from such assistance) have different experiences, advice, and best practices, which I’d love to hear about in the comments!

So, coming out of college or grad school doing your own principle investigating and lead authoring, what makes being a research assistant different? What exactly is the assistant’s role?

Research assistant jobs, as I understand them, are basically:

  • organizing and keeping track of source material and people,
  • filtering vast bodies of knowledge to pull out the relevant information, and
  • analyzing and writing– balancing your own thoughts paired with your interpretation of your author’s message to write out material that could be re-interpreted, paraphrased, or used verbatim in the author’s work.
  • Maybe a little copy-editing, too, depending on your author :)

I like to think of myself as a translator, translating my author’s message through the language of sources that back up (and shape) his or her arguments. This may mean we need to go back-and-forth to make sure I am interpreting that message correctly. I also have a responsibility to critique, refine, and counter that message when it doesn’t stand up to the evidence.

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[Book Review] Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story

Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love StoryIrritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story by Mac McClelland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great book. Important book. A “thank you for writing this” sort of book.

McClelland is a journalist who experienced trauma while reporting in Haiti, and was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. This book is a first-person memoir of the experience of having and healing PTSD, girded by research and resources on the science, psychology, and impact of PTSD in the world and how to heal it.

McClelland masters a delicate balance between wrenching, deeply personal experience and situating that experience within the context of other trauma survivors, particularly sexual assault survivors and soldiers. It’s a hard balance and I cringed often in the early pages of the book, which leans more heavily on the author’s personal history, but she does this purposefully. First she lays bear the trauma of experiencing trauma, as only a self-pillorying writer can do, critically examining and over-honestly recounting awful nuances of psychological pain. And crazy bitchiness. McClelland is brutal in her unveiling of the way PTSD can turn one into a crazy bitch– overwhelmed by or deadened to emotion, hypervigilance unveiling itself as anger and self-protective cruelty. I write as one who also has PTSD, whose experiences have embodied so many of the words McClelland was able to write down. Things I can apologize for or give heads up to lovers about, but cannot articulate. Like I said: Thank you for writing.

I embodied similar experiences of suffering and healing in my own PTSD journey that McClelland writes, right down to embracing the explicit consent of BDSM sex as a healing mechanism, testing physical boundaries with a loving partner to demonstrate to myself that no, it wasn’t the physical pain of my assault that was traumatizing– I can handle pain, can embrace good kinds of pain– it was the violation, the lack of control, the inability to protect myself. For me, BDSM play was a way to explore and differentiate assault and abuse from the act of sex, things that look very much alike but are so very very different. I remember reading the short essay she wrote soon into her recovery and the controversy that surrounded outting the use of violent sex as a healing mechanism– even as survivors of sexual assault have long explored consensual BDSM play as a means to physically take back ownership of sex perverted by assault. Controversy is intellectually good, and it’s worth reading the critiques of whose story is whose to tell, deeply considering the words to talk about the secondary trauma of witnesses and providers of support. But I am so thankful McClelland braved a world of shame and stigma to share her pain and process in all its mess. That’s how this shit is. It is messy and complicated, surprising and embarrassing and awful. That’s what McClelland captures– the whole of it.

This book is a treasure because it’s not a textbook but it is substantial. I have my list of psych resources I can list off when I have a new lover or am helping a friend. Those books can help someone learn the technical skills of coping. But what I appreciated about Irritable Hearts is that it tells a story of experiencing these textbook symptoms, and it shows the application of the healing process over time, in all its yo-yoing, layered complexity. It shows the difficulty and importance of growing relationships and love as a part of healing despite the ease with which trauma and abuse can transfer and replicate. This is one you can hand someone who cares but does not understand, one that is harsh and scary at times but shows with clarity and honesty the way that, yes, things can get better. It’s a lot of work! But you can heal.

One final thought. I understand that it was some legal and care issues that prevented McClelland from fully disclosing the traumatic incident she witnessed that she feels pushed her over into PTSD. That means the things she does share in detail were all sexual assault close calls. This absence was so important. It prevented the reader from comparing herself with McClelland or other survivors, underlining the point that traumatic stress comes about through complex interconnected lifelong experiences of trauma interacting with one or many traumatic incidents over time. It kept the book readable for triggered trauma survivors– I don’t think I could have handled graphic details of sexual violence at the same time I was absorbing all the descriptions of psychological pain. And finally, it pushed McClelland to focus on the “close calls” themselves: sexual terror, as she finally allows herself to call it late in the book.

If you’re trying to heal or understand PTSD, I also recommend:
Trauma and Recovery
Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma
The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World: A Guide for Activists and Their Allies
Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others

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Post-PTSD: A counter-offer

I have post-trauma symptoms from humanitarian aid work in CAR.

I had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from sexual assaults a decade ago. They never tell you this, but…. Well, what they tell you is that a PTSD diagnosis makes you much more vulnerable to trauma in the future. Once you have PTSD, you have a much higher likelihood of getting re-traumatized and developing post-trauma symptoms. I’m cautious about who and how I let know about my controlled and healed PTSD because of the potential stigma it could ignite in employers and co-workers. Aid work in conflict zones means exposure to trauma. People balk at the idea of working alongside someone suffering from it– with good reason, to some extent, since you want the people coming from afar to help to be capable of helping, and to make good decisions about security that are not rooted in either disproportional fear nor trauma-driven self-destructive martyrdom. You don’t want to be depending on someone else to save you or save lives when they experience terror and freeze, drop the ball, cannot handle the danger. The responsibility will fall on you then, to suck it up and handle it despite your own terror– how can you even be allowed to feel terror if the person next to you is subsumed by it? No. There is stigma against traumatized aidworkers.

I have a counter-offer.

A yoga podcast told me, while my forehead lay on the concrete ground of my CAR bedroom in child’s pose, “Responsibility is your capacity to respond.”

Healing trauma increases one’s capacity to respond to trauma. How do you heal PTSD? You take months or years to investigate what trauma does to your body and brain, and you learn active methods to address its symptoms in the moment and to reduce occurrence of symptoms in the long-term. You know, coping strategies. The process of healing PTSD– not just having PTSD, but actively working with a therapist or rape crisis counselor or self-study to learn to live with it and feel whole– teaches you to feel your body’s reaction to a trigger (a sub-conscious reminder of your trauma), to identify the trigger and your body’s physical and emotional response to it, and finally to react to reduce your body’s response or find safety from the trigger if need be. In healing post-trauma, you learn and practice essential skills for navigating trauma.

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[Borderlands] Drops in a sea of sand

The US/Mexico border falls on deserts. For the past few months, I have been walking along it in the Sonoran. My footsteps along National Park trails, rough wilderness roads, and through dry washes and prickly desert scrub intersect paths taken by people crossing the border on foot from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and other places, toward hope of safe havens, reunification with family, jobs, and other reasons. This part of the border is a Death Zone, one far from urban populations and their infrastructure: kind people, tap water, shelters, pro-bono lawyers, air conditioning, cell service, hospitals, road signs. This is a place where people cross because US policies and Border Patrol tactics have made crossing elsewhere too risky, so the mountainous desert seems safer, until it isn’t.

last an empty Mexican water jug

This is one of those projects that is as small and useless as it is huge and important; right place and time make all the difference: hauling gallon jugs of water and canned beans on human backs (how pitiable a means of transport is a human back! how weighty a gallon on water!) a mile or two at a time from parked 4×4 trucks to place in crossing points of migrant paths far from other sources of aid, near polluted water points, or in particularly dangerous areas because of heat and distance and ease-of-getting lost in the sharp turning hills and valleys of terrain cut by erosive downpours.

Thirst. The heat and stress makes you sweat, too much exertion and you puke precious liquid. Drinking water polluted by cows or wild animal shit makes yours runny diarrhea. Advice on the far side of the border often tells people it is a 3-day walk: but get injured, get lost, get scattered from your guide by a BP helicopter that “dusted” your group, get left behind because you move too slowly, get lied to about the length of your route–who can cross these mountains in 3 days? And who can carry enough weight for more than that? At some point you run out and trust your body to be strong but they just aren’t strong enough sometimes.

So people die here. So good samaritanos place meager offerings of agua pura where we hope they will be found and used, where we hope they will not be slashed and emptied by sadistic hunters, racist vigilante militiamen, murderous Border Patrol agents (humanitarian aid is not a crime). Often they are; we come upon knifed and stomped gallons and cans and have to debate: leave more in hopes someone in need will find it before vandals do, or leave the area as a lost cause?

Taking a break from brutal hikes laying down water, sometimes people write little messages on the bottles. Strength, courage, may God walk beside you. Where we leave this water, everyone still has a long long way to go before resting. What would you write on an ephemeral offering, a token drop of water in a vast desert that may or may not be on someone’s route when they need it, that may or may not be destroyed before it serves a purpose?

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