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A Cruel Paradise: Journals of an International Relief Worker Paperback – 1 Jan 1999


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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Insomniac Press (1 Jan. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1895837820
  • ISBN-13: 978-1895837827
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,161,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Synopsis

These are the journals of Leanne Olson, a Canadian nurse who for four years worked in war zones around the world, delivering medicine in Bosnia, supporting rural hospitals in Africa, providing aid to people in need. She was one of the first foreigners on the scene of the Mokoto massacre in Zaire, where more than a hundred people were killed by machete-wielding Hutus. She spent one Christmas pinned down by Serbian heavy artillery with a troop of Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers. She immunised thousands of children in rural Liberia. And she has witnessed the quick progress of ethnic cleansing, watching one village after another wiped off the face of the earth. More than a compendium of atrocity, this book is the story of one woman making a difference in people's lives and how these events changed her own life profoundly. This book horrifies, enthrals, and ultimately heartens. It is a story of an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances.

From the Publisher

The Introduction to "A Cruel Paradise"
It is the names I remember, even after this time. They roll off my tongue like pearls off a string: Gbalatuah, Gbarnga, Fenutoli, Sanniquellie, Ripac, Topusko, Doboj, Banja Luka, Bujumbura, Ngozi, Musema, Mweso, Birambizo, Mokoto. They are names I once knew well. The roads I travelled, the homes I lived in. Like cards from a deck, each one is different and each has its story to tell. The massacre in Mokoto, the incident in Birambizo where we were nearly killed, the checkpoint where we were stopped in Topusko, the afternoon in jail in Gbarnga.

The first time I came back from a war zone I had so many stories to tell, so much to express. The experience was all so new. Later, after a few more wars and a couple more years, I stopped talking so much. I could still tell a great story, but I stopped trying to explain what it was really like. There were things I had such strong opinions about, issues I could discuss for hours, but only to someone who'd been there, and so few people had been there. So few people could truly relate to the work I'd done.

I found out that my family and friends, for all their good intentions, shared little interest in what I had to say. They were unaware of the effects of early UN intervention in conflict areas, knew nothing about the unequal distribution of resources as a cause of famine, drew blank stares when I spoke of businesses and governments fuelling the war effort in Liberia, of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, or of massacres in Zaire. They liked a good story, but only the CNN headlines - not the truth behind the headlines.

To say that I was a bit naive when I first started working as an international relief worker would be an understatement of monumental proportions! I knew nothing. But I learned more in a few years than I ever could have imagined. I pushed myself to the limit in ways I had never expected. Life as an international relief worker changed me profoundly. For that kind of life one makes a sacrifice: friends disappear, family ties loosen, and the sense of home, of the place you belong, becomes the place you lay down a backpack - be it for days or weeks or months.

My work created a distance, distance of experiences, of time, of tragedy and of too many things I could never mention in all the letters I sent home over the years. It was a distance made of the real stories, sitting there between the lines of those letters, never acknowledged.

I would like to try to go back between those lines now and tell you the story of what it's really like to be a nurse working in a war zone and what it's really like to be an international aid worker. It's a job I held for nearly four years and a hell of a way to make a living. It was all the things one would imagine: a great adventure, an exotic life, an amazing challenge, a rewarding experience. It was also the hardest job I've ever done, the most frustrating and, at times, the most dangerous. This is my personal story, and every aid worker in the world has his or her own. I would not ask you to see this as ‘typical' of all relief workers' experiences. Nothing about this kind of work is typical.

This is not just a story of tragedy and sorrow. In every war, no matter how ugly or how cruel, there remains a part of the human spirit that will not be broken. A part that survives, grows strong, adapts and simply will not surrender. In my projects there was always laughter - even joy - friendship, love and hope. Strangers became friends, staff members became colleagues, students became teachers, and we all grew and changed in some way. Nobody ever comes away from a war unchanged, not those who perpetrate it, nor their victims, not those of us there to help. It was sometimes a dangerous job, but people worked with a passion and a belief in their work that one rarely sees in the ‘real' world. I met friends who became family and enemies who became friends. I worked with civilians and military, with rebels and combatants, with heros and fools. I worked in the cities, in the jungle and the bush, in hospitals, shacks, health centres, homes and schools. I remember times of utter boredom and times when the adrenaline rushed and everything seemed possible. It was terrifying, it was exciting, it was insane. We were living on the edge - and you should have seen the view!

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 13 April 2000
Format: Paperback
A Cruel Paradise records Leanne Olson's time with two humanitarian aid agencies ... Doctors Without Borders (Nobel Peace Prize 1999) and MERLIN. This book has three distinct styles: diary entries, letters home to a friend and her own bare narrative. This pushes the author into three voices. Her brief attempts to describe local political situations are simple but do set the context of the conflicts within each country. Much more interesting is the daily, moral battle to remain professionally neutral despite the obvious excesses of one side. Olson focuses on the frustrations of deals with corruption, warlords and petty bureaucrats, while trying to deliver aid to innocent human beings in immediate need. She describes short holidays away from the crowds and intense pressures. It's not surprising that the destination is always a remote island with isolated, beautiful beaches.
The most revealing scene takes place within the safety of the Nairobi airport. Weeks after witnessing the aftermath of a brutal massacre of civilians at a Trappist monastery in Zaire, alone she finally breaks down waiting for her connection to Amsterdam and is comforted by a complete stranger. The nurse is nursed. The irony is overwhelming. For years I've watched aid workers on TV standing in their T-shirts in those inevitable circles of refugees, but only after reading this book, did I finally begin to understand.
Olson freely admits she didn't have a clue what she was getting into on that first assignment. She is also honest enough not to sugar-coat what she considers occasional, poor operational decisions by Doctors Without Borders head office and country managers.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
I Begin To Understand 14 April 2000
By Doug McMahon - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A Cruel Paradise records Leanne Olson's time with two humanitarian aid agencies ... Doctors Without Borders (Nobel Peace Prize 1999) and MERLIN. This book has three distinct styles: diary entries, letters home to a friend and her own bare narrative. This pushes the author into three voices. Her brief attempts to describe local political situations are simple but do set the context of the conflicts within each country. Much more interesting is the daily, moral battle to remain professionally neutral despite the obvious excesses of one side, or the other the next day. Olson focuses on the frustrations of deals with corruption, warlords and petty bureaucrats, while trying to deliver aid to innocent human beings in immediate need. She describes short holidays away from the crowds and intense pressures. It's not surprising that the destination is always a remote island with isolated, beautiful beaches.
The most revealing scene takes place within the safety of the Nairobi airport. Weeks after witnessing the aftermath of a brutal massacre of civilians at a Trappist monastery in Zaire, alone she finally breaks down waiting for her connection to Amsterdam and is comforted by a complete stranger. The nurse is nursed. The irony is overwhelming. For years I've watched aid workers on TV standing in their T-shirts in those inevitable circles of refugees, but only after reading this book, did I finally begin to understand.
Olson freely admits she didn't have a clue what she was getting into on that first assignment. She is also honest enough not to sugar-coat what she considers occasional, poor operational decisions by Doctors Without Borders head office and country managers. From a recruit too shy to squat beside her first rural African bus to a woman implementing diverse programs for an entire country three years later, she writes a remarkable history of growth.
Shortly after reading the Canadian edition of this book, I also read Anthony Loyd's My War Gone By, I Miss It So. The two authors' times in Bosnia overlap. Although working under different ethnic controls, armies, random militiae and ballistics, they share the same war. As Olson and her team are evacuated when conditions become too dangerous, Loyd inches ever closer to the front-line. He watches the wound open. She tries to fix it. Perspectives differ but together they ride the exact excitement of being "on the edge", realizing the gradual, hard estrangement of family and friends at home who can't understand these new, formed worlds and motives. They share the grit and grime and blood-flows of violence. And the grace of a single humanity.
Although later brief chapters are snapshots of evaluations of possible projects in a number of countries (Albania, Angola), the earlier chapters are fully-formed portraits of specific missions (Liberia, Bosnia, Burundi, and Zaire after the trauma of Rwanda). Not one minute is easy or safe here.
The publisher should consider rudimentary maps in future editions.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A must! 13 April 2000
By Maaike Lammers - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A Cruel Paradise is one of the most moving books that I've ever read. A book that should be read by everyone who lives in a safe world, without war, without hunger and without despair. Leanne Olson takes you by the hand and leads you to places we only see on tv in documentaries and newsitems. But unlike the documentaries, Leanne Olsons story stays with you. The book is fast paced, reads like a dream and manages to give you a deep insight in what it is that doctors, nurses and logisticians do in these troubled wartorn countries and why they are doing it. Why she herself chose this path. And why we should support them. Always. Apart from that, this book is also a moving story about the authors personal growth, her coming to terms with things no one of us should ever have to see, let alone experience. Still, it is a story about hope and the sheer strength of people. And finally this book is a love story. About how she met (during the war in Bosnia), fell in love with and married the logistician that she worked with and has been working with ever since. This book made me evaluate my own life and very grateful that I live in a peaceful country. It also made me say a prayer every night for the reliefworkers who are out there, and yes, taking risks, because the work is getting more and more dangerous. Please Oprah, if you pick a book for your selection, pick this one.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A bravly dedicated nurse; one in a million! 23 Feb. 2001
By deborah skovron - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I will be forever amazed at the bravery of this young nursing professional. Leanne previously lived and worked in a prosperous, secure, Canadian city and hospital before deciding that she wanted to dedicate a portion of her life and nursing expertise to residents in devastatingly war torn nations, most of them developing African nations. I am a registered nurse who encounters the day to day nuisances of working in a big city hospital; having to wait short periods of time for back ordered supplies, waiting minutes!!!! for a delivery from pharmamcy for life saving intravenous meds., working "short" because of call-outs or because of unplanned admissions and so on. BUT.... never could I imagine needing to be equipped with a bullet proof vest, traveling 3 hours to a nutrition center (one way)to get to work, crossing a raging river alone in a Save the Children loaner raft to get to that work destination, and traveling home again the very same way at day's end. Leanne had essentially NO medical supplies, no IV fluids, no anibiotics, no dressing care supplies, few vaccinations, and rarely physicians. (at times she didn't have food for herself) Everyday she was stopped at road blocks and was harassed by rebels, soilders, etc.. She was routinely placed in harms way in nations that most of us can't find on a map. She put her life on the line everyday. She fell in love with the nationals, she gave so much, but she writes of receiving so much in return. I will never complain about running out of supplies again or having to walk a couple of blocks to get to work. Leanne has easily earned my respect and admiration. She is undoubtedly one of the bravest women I have read of. The book doesn't provide a lot of detail regarding clinical care and practice, diseases, or treatment modalities, but is a must read for any nurse!!!!! or anyone wanting to know the true nuts and bolts of international relief work. Much of the book is in journal, diary format!!!! GO GIRL!!!!! YOU ARE ONE IN A MILLION!
A good insight 15 April 2000
By Ed Vreeke - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A cruel paradise does a very good job presenting a day to day picture of the lives and activities of humanitarian aid workers. The picture the author paints is not trying to make her life more spectacular than it is, nor does it try to present humanitarian aid work as anything overly romantic or adventurous. What it does do is give an insight in the reasons and motivations, the problems and difficulties, as well as the joy, happiness, saddness and tears of humanitarian aid workers who with a healthy dose of idealism and enthusiasm, as well as professionalism and realism, try to contribute to improving the world that we live in.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Great topic, awful writing 5 Sept. 2008
By Global Citizen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was excited to read this book as it promised a real look at the world of international humanitarian relief. In that aspect, I was not disappointed. Having spent time in the field, this is one of the most honest accounts of what life is actually like working in a conflict zone. It discusses the frustrations as well as the rewards, and touches on aspects that often go overlooked such as the relationships between aid workers. Olson's non-chalance in describing security situations reflects someone who has spent an extended time in war environments, and her tone will be familiar for those who have experienced the same. If you are new to aid work, the book may be slightly overwhelming, however don't be discouraged (you'll likely relate to it after a few years). For something that really shows what life in relief work is like, this is a great book.

On the downside, calling the writing awful is being kind. Starting from the very beginning spelling problems and awkward punctuation (an excess of exclamation marks especially), make it nearly impossible to read. Because the book is centered on the author's work with Doctors without Borders (more commonly known as Medecins sans Frontieres), I had expected her to at least get the acronym for it right. On the very first page she writes "MFS" instead of "MSF," and continues to do so periodically throughout the book. I am not one who is normally distracted by silly grammar issues, however I was amazed that this even made it by an editor. I was ready to put it away after the first 20 pages, but the topic managed to keep me engaged.

If you are bothered by bad writing, don't read this. If, however, you want to know what life in relief work is really like, this is a very accurate account.
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