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Jessica Alexander arrived in Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide as an idealistic intern, eager to contribute to the work of the international humanitarian aid community. The world that Alexander encountered in the field was dramatically different than anything she could have imagined. It was messy, chaotic, and difficult–but she was fascinated. This honest and compelling memoir introduces readers to the realities of life as an aid worker.
Chasing Chaos takes readers along as Alexander manages a 24,000-person camp in Darfur and collects evidence for the Charles Taylor trial in Sierra Leone. In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami that ravaged South Asia and Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010, Alexander is on the front lines, contributing to the massive, international aid efforts. We also see the alcohol-fueled parties and fleeting romances, the burnouts and self-doubt, and the struggle to do good in places that have long endured suffering. Chasing Chaos chronicles Alexander’s battles against corruption and inefficiency, but also her small and large victories in the field.
Tracing her personal journey from wide-eyed and naïve newcomer to hardened cynic–and, ultimately, to hopeful but critical realist, Alexander transports readers to some of the most troubled locations around the world and shows us not only the seemingly impossible challenges, but also the moments of resilience and recovery.
“A fresh, very readable, highly personal account of the trials and tribulations of a young aid worker as she confronts the daily realities– the good ,the bad and the very uncomfortable–of life dealing with some of the most important humanitarian challenges of the last decade.” –Ross Mountain, Former Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General and Humanitarian Coordinator, United Nations
“Not only is Jessica Alexander a wonderful writer–her clear, evocative prose transported me into refugee camps in Darfur, war-trials in Sierra Leone and post-earthquake Haiti–but she is honest about the complexity of ‘doing good,’ without being defeatist. Funny, touching, and impossible to put down, this book should be required reading for anyone contemplating a career in aid, and for all of us who wonder how we can make a useful contribution to a better world, wherever we are.” –Marianne Elliott, author of Zen Under Fire: How I Found Peace in the Midst of War
“You'll start Chasing Chaos because you are interested in humanitarian aid. You'll finish because of Jessica Alexander's irresistible story telling: her honesty, her humanity, her wackadoodle colleagues, her dad. I loved it.” –Kenneth Cain, author of Emergency Sex: and Other Desperate Measures
“In Chasing Chaos, Alexander takes us to a place where few outsiders can go, cracking open the rarefied world of humanitarianism to bare its contradictions–and her own–with boldness and humor. The result is an immensely valuable field guide to the mind of that uniquely powerful and vulnerable of beasts: the international aid worker.” –Jonathan M. Katz, author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster
“A no-holds-barred description of what it is like to travel to world disaster sites and engage in the complex, challenging, nitty-gritty work of making a difference across lines of culture, class, age, gender, and perspective. In telling the story of her decade as a young and passionate humanitarian aid worker Jessica Alexander also manages to tell us the best and the worst of what this work is like and to speculate on the aid establishment–how it has changed, where it works and what its limits are. A must read for anyone with global interests–and that should be all of us.” –Ruth Messinger, President, American Jewish World Service
“Chasing Chaos examines the lives that aid workers lead and the work which aid workers do with honesty, clarity, and warmth. While the book is peppered with hilarious anecdotes–it is also salted with tears. Honest, genuine, heartfelt tears. This life and this work that aid and development workers embark upon so often oscillates wildly between stomach bursting laughter and shoulder seizing weeping–Chasing Chaos captures these oscillations, and the doldrums in between the ends of the spectrum, perfectly.” –Casey Kuhlman, New York Times bestselling author of Shooter
“During ten years of working with the sick, the hungry, and the injured, Jessica Alexander touches and is touched by victims of genocide, earthquakes, tsunamis, and bombs. The compelling quality of this book is Alexander’s honesty, sharp observations, and conversational prose. With humor and insight, she shares the intimate details of her everyday life. Even if you’re a seasoned traveler, this entry into the world of humanitarian aid organizations –the good, the bad, and the frustrating–is fascinating.” –Rita Golden Gelman, author of Tales of a Female Nomad
“A hardened idealist's challenging look at the contradictions, complications, and enduring importance of humanitarian aid.”–Robert Calderisi, author of The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn't Working