The end of the 4-day HEAT (Hostile Environment Awareness Training) involved a 3-hour simulation where our team was detained in 2 checkpoints by folks from a Muslim country, forced to go on a field trip in a country affected by every known disaster (flooding, mines, rebel insurgency, government corruption, helpless and manipulative refugees, and then hostage taking). The training was provided by ex UN folks, ex British military and some consultants. I was already quite resisting the training in my mind - and not because I don't want to be trained in practical approaches to safety and security but I knew it was going to be loaded - I was not surprised by the careless remarks made by the trainers. For instance, one of our trainers explained: "This may sound racist but the African male ego is truly the worst or something to reckon with." A fellow trainee quipped "but that is the male ego everywhere." Then, a lady who had spent 3 years in Pakistan said, "men's favourite pastime in Pakistan is ogling at women and this is accepted." At this I couldn't stay quiet and, said, no, it's not accepted. After all, Pakistani women bear the brunt of the ogling and, some men must be equally offended. There were of course harmless jokes about how poor the systems are everywhere except in the modern Western world. There were harmless jokes about how poor countries are just basket cases. It wasn't the quips as much as how poor and rich countries are framed. That the British or American military were stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan was glossed over for their invasions but emphasised for their humanitarian work and for fighting extreme groups. And, the careless and inappropriate remarks shape the minds of young, impressionable aid workers who hail from the UK surely because one encounters these folks in Liberia who are there to "save it." I couldn't help but feel this was a training for a Western audience. Folks have to be taught 'cultural context,' reminded about different and challenging conditions, and to be always careful. There is a methodological, logical, rationale approach to the work in poor countries riddled with violence and conflict: that if we provide solutions in a planned and organised way, things will eventually turn around. And thinking about security - around the phenomenon of violent Islamic groups - prepares these interventions. One of my fellow trainees was rolling the same types of eyes like me and, said Western NGOs are really cleaning up the mess of Western governments, hand in hand. I was then astonished to see how deeply linked the British military is to aid organisations. He was a little annoyed at how our trainer casually mentioned being in Belfast and he was reminded of how he and his father were stopped and humiliated by the Army. The most appalling moment of the training was when one scenario involved Arab looking people shooting at each other and uttering Arabic-like gibberish and, we were then to provide first aid to the casualties. The second appalling moment was when during the debrief one trainee said she would have left the peasant women to die and rather jump in the car than provide first aid, to which the trainers said that was also a legitimate response. In the end, I learned a lot. (no pun intended) My favourite parts were the first aid trainings. And, it was good to know what kind of security challenges aid work is concerned with and how it approaches them.
This photograph is at a check point. While our team was being detained and questioned, the soldiers went through our bags in the car, brought out my camera and then, they took this photo. They really acted their roles in the simulation.