In 2005, I was on deployment in the western pacific and I got to be part of a multi-national military effort providing disaster relief to Pakistan. Devastating earthquakes had rocked the country, and the US was tasked with leading the relief effort. As a very junior officer at the time, this was quite an opportunity for me not only to travel to another country, but to spend about four months living with a group of people who hadn’t had Americans in their country for a few decades.
People who lived a very different way of life than my cushy American upbringing.
Not only did the joint efforts help with food, supplies, temporary housing (many homes in northern Pakistan were built in to the hillsides and thus destroyed), but we also brought out and deployed Army and Marine hospital units. We even had one or two full-blown MASH units that provided surgical care, trauma centers, dental care, and more.
I remember at one point people bringing reports and commentary back from those field hospitals. Many of the people they were seeing and treating said they had NEVER received care like this. Nor even had the option for care like this.
Before these MASH hospitals…before the world’s disaster relief efforts came to town…before the earthquake, many of these Pakistanis had never even seen a dentist, a pediatrician, or a doctor period.
This earthquake was estimated to have killed over 70,000 people and left close to 4 million homeless.
Think about that. And we have these MASH units ready to go in our backyard.
The Big Picture
Step back and take a look at your house, community, city, state, country…compared to other parts of the world. Don’t just look at other “advanced” countries. Remember there are “emerging” and “developing” countries as well.
For this report we grouped countries into three economic categories: “advanced,” “emerging” and “developing.” These categories are fairly common in specialized and popular discussions and are helpful for analyzing how public attitudes vary with economic circumstances. However, no single, agreed upon scheme exists for placing countries into these three categories. For example, even the World Bank and International Monetary Fund do not always agree on how to categorize economies.
Take a quick look at this 2019 report from the United Nations. It lists the various country classifications with slightly different terms but the same concepts. There are large parts of this world that aren’t worried about the local store running out of toilet paper.
They just want to be able to eat with a roof over their head.
Or get paid to scoop shit out of a port-a-john.
Back to that Deployment
I wasn’t exaggerating about that. The local contractors that were hired when I first showed up outside of Islamabad, helped with some basic facility support. We were essentially camping out for a few months next to an ad hoc airport. We had the military tents, gear, and people…and they provided things like port-a-johns, water supply, some transportation, etc.
One day I was sitting, eating an MRE, and saw a gentlemen with a large ladle looking thing…almost like a shovel but the end was larger, flatter, rounder. Then I saw him start scooping shit…out of the portable outhouses we had been using.
This contractor didn’t have large trucks that could suck all that stuff up in to the back to later dispose of it at a treatment facility. These guys had to scoop the shit out before they got all the rest of the blackwater out!
Needless to say I lost my appetite for that MRE.
That give you a different outlook on your toilet paper tensions?
I have always appreciated the perspective that being in the military gives me. For some reason, I don’t talk much about my work here. Most likely because I normally see this site (and my past websites) as an avenue for me to express myself and my interests outside of work.
However, I would be doing a disservice to those who read this to pretend that my work is not a big part of who I am. I got to college, met my wife, and have a career…all because of the US Navy.
I have taken courses on leadership, ethics, thermodynamics (unfortunately), constitutional law, engineering, joint military operations, and national security. Leaders throughout my career have taught me humility, selfless service, hard work, sacrifice, harder work, and core values of “honor, courage, and commitment”.
Take Comfort in Your Leadership
I am writing to my fellow Americans, but I hope that this can speak to those beyond our nation’s boarders. Yesterday I wrote about companies that are closing up but still paying employees, three days ago there was an Italian opera singer who serenaded his neighbors, professional photographers are giving away their paid courses for free, and so much more!
I can only assume that if you a re reading this, you probably don’t have it that bad.
YES – doing what you can to prevent further COVID 19 spread is important.
YES – take your local authorities seriously
YES – do your part
But please, step back….look at the big picture….and know that you are ok.
I trust our leaders have our best interests at heart and I know (for a fact) that they are working around the clock to make sure that people are taken care of. Those leaders that taught me how to lead, to serve, to be a man of honor…many of them are retired and work in government now. As a collective, our representatives and leaders will help us through this and we will be ok.
And please, don’t sweat the toilet paper.
At least you’re not scooping shit out of a port-a-john.