I was at the Big Bookshop in Atria in June last year searching for bargain books when I came across Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures. Yes, I noticed the title first but glancing the back cover I thought it would be a good read. It is. I should have started on it right after I bought it but at least I finished the book before 2007 ended.
The book chronicles the adventures of the three co-authors – Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait and Andrew Thomson – in the 1990’s when they worked with the UN in various missions in countries including Cambodia, Somalia, Haiti and Rwanda.
New Zealander Andrew was earlier working with the Red Cross in Cambodia before he signed up with the UN, Heidi was a social worker in New York City while Ken was figuring out whether corporate law is the thing for him after Harvard. The book is written like a journal, with the authors taking turns with their entries. Honest and candid, the entries told of their experiences in dealing with UN beaureucracy, with their fears and frustrations and how they coped with so many things during the course of their involvement with the UN.
Ken’s were a lot about idealistic beliefs and how he got over them after a colleague was killed while in Somalia. His entries were also critical of the UN’s actions when dealing with certain issues such as the killings in Rwanda and Haiti.
I’m supposed to use sanitized diplomatic jargon in my report. ‘UN officials have accumulated evidence of twenty-three gross violations of human rights including the right to be protected from arbitrary and extrajudicial execution.’ But fuck it, I’m tired, and I don’t care about protocol anymore. In Cambodia I believed passionately in work I didn’t understand; now I understand it all too well but don’t believe a word of it.
All the entries were written almost seamlessly that you won’t get too confused about who is where doing what. Although it covered a lot of serious stuff, there are light moments, comic even. Like Andrew’s adventure with a surf board on the Mekong River and Ken’s first night in Jerusalem with a girl he was half scared of, half fascinated with.
Reading the earlier parts of the book brought back dreams of going off to warzones and living on the edge, of being optimistic about democracy. It then turned into deeper understanding of how UN, as an organisation, had dealt with many international issues and how it is not so different with any other government at times.
Emergency Sex made headlines when it first came out, and Heidi and Dr. Thomson, who were still with the UN at the time, even waited to be fired. Do check out their photos here. Oh, according to Kudo-san’s favourite reference site, the book was made into a play and had won an award last year.