Paul Currion at White Review:
There were official trips, and there were unofficial trips. The official trips were faintly ridiculous, ‘assessment’ visits to the ‘field’ – in reality, twenty minute convoys to Sadr City, the Shi’ite district notorious for its poverty, to be surrounded by people as soon as we stepped out of those big white SUVs, and to step back in twenty minutes later when we realised we weren’t going to be able to assess a damn thing.
An old woman plucked at my sleeve and begged me to help her son find medical help, to help him get better, but I knew from looking at him that it wasn’t medical help that he needed. I recognised the look in his eyes, the stutter in his walk, the slump in his shoulders, from when I had worked with children with severe learning difficulties. He would never get better, and I didn’t know which – if any – of the NGOs descending on Iraq could offer that kind of help; it seemed unlikely that this poor boy and his mother would be a priority in this collapsing country.
The unofficial trips were paradoxically more rewarding: reminders that this was a country with a culture that went beyond the slums of Sadr City. That was easy to forget when you were skim-reading situation reports on the inbound flight from Amman, painfully aware of your own ignorance in the face of what you were being asked to do.