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Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid    by Jessica Alexander order for
Chasing Chaos
by Jessica Alexander
Order:  USA  Can
Broadway, 2013 (2013)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Chasing Chaos is a memoir written by Jessica Alexander, about the years she spent working in the international humanitarian aid community. This was a paid profession for Alexander, who over the years earned both a master's degree and a doctorate. She didn't start out to work in this field, but the marketing jobs that she found after college graduation were so stultifying that even though she was earning a good salary, she never felt at home in this career. When her mother died at age fifty, Alexander was just twenty-two, and suddenly 'what once had seemed important no longer mattered at all.' She realized that 'if I could die at age fifty, I wanted a more meaningful profession than the one provided by Hot Pockets and Sunny Delight.'

Her first posting was a summer graduate school internship in Rwanda working for a UN organization that was attempting to protect 'close to thirty-five thousand camp-based refugees, the majority of whom were Congolese and the rest Burundians.' She had originally assumed that she would be working with Rwandan refugees and didn't learn otherwise until she actually started work. All her preconceived notions about what doing humanitarian work in Africa would be like were quickly dismissed during that summer, and although working in Kigali was somewhat of a culture shock for her, she was almost overwhelmed by the situation in the camps. Once she finished her master's degree, though, she couldn't wait to get back to Africa, and she worked in two areas of Darfur until she reached a point where she could no longer deal with the constant heat, lack of dependable electricity, or shortage of water.

During her almost ten years working in humanitarian aid, Alexander went from registering refugees in camps set up for those who were fleeing wars to various kinds of work in camps for people displaced by horrible earthquakes, and then she 'was awarded a Fulbright Grant to study child soldiers in Sierra Leone.' What she found in that country were people who were eager and willing to put the past troubles of their country behind them and move forward into a brighter future. She was impressed by the positive attitudes of people who were so poor and had gone through terrible experiences and hardship, sometimes losing limbs or loved ones during the civil war. To a certain extent this experience encouraged her to continue in her career, and she went on to finish her master's and doctorate degrees.

Although the book primarily relates one woman's experience in the field of humanitarian aid, it is also an attempt by the author to explain this field to a public who remain basically clueless as to what sort of aid is needed during crises involving thousands of people in far-off countries. Alexander wants people to understand the reality of camps in Africa or Haiti, where so many people who have lost control of their lives need help. I believe she succeeds in this effort in this amazing book. Not only did I learn a lot, but she is such an excellent writer that this memoir reads more like an exciting novel.

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