Rest and Relaxation (R&R) is often a topic for conversation amongst aid workers. It is a bit like how we are talking about the weather in the Netherlands. If you meet someone, the way to start a conversation is making a comment about the weather. This is how you come closer to each other. Whether it is stating that it is sunny, or complaining that it is too windy, you will always get a reaction. You talk about the weather with strangers if you are waiting for the bus. You talk about the weather when you are making plans for the weekend. You talk about how the weather has been in your last holiday. And you talk about the weather when you are calling with your parents from South Sudan. We just can’t stop talking about the weather. Maybe because we have different seasons and the weather can even have the four seasons in one day.
Some ‘outsiders’ might say that it is always raining in the Netherlands; this is not true, on average it is 93% of the time dry. We do however distinguish between different types of rain, to describe accurately whether it ‘miezert’ or ‘stormt’ or ‘stortregent’ or ‘hoost’ or ‘plenst’ or ‘motregent’. We even have an app called ‘Buienrader’ which is used frequently nowadays before you go outside, to see whether it is raining. I see it more as an app to mentally prepare yourself for something. Because obviously when I look outside I can see whether it is raining or not, and even if I am too lazy to walk to the window the rain will not prevent me from going outside anyway. It is just mentally good to know if the rain will pass by quickly or if there is a very serious storm coming up.
Before I will go to the R&R topic, I cannot skip my obligation now to talk about the weather in South Sudan. Well, I can tell you, I only need two words to describe this weather and that is that it is ‘very hot’. And especially when you are in the field without any air conditioning, except for the warm wind blowing in your face, this can be very hard. And it is everyday the same, I don’t need different words to describe the intense sun rays on my face. In this tropical climate it is now the hottest period of the year (Feb-April), before the summer rains are coming. It easily reaches 40°C, with peaks of 45°C on a day. Always being sweaty, and always feeling hot, that is what it’s like. You can imagine I would have loved to be in the Netherlands when everyone got crazy about the freezing weather a few weeks ago, which made it possible to ice-skate on the frozen lakes and canals. In the Netherlands when it is raining really hard and people are complaining we use to say: ‘you are not made out of sugar’. Maybe what I need to say to myself right now is ‘I am not made out of ice cubes’. So don’t complain about being in the heat. Just face it.
So R&R is the topic you cannot skip when you are talking to other humanitarians. You can start with asking about their last R&R experiences, or discuss great places to go to for your next R&R. Then another thing is to tell how crazy long your last rotation has been (a rotation is the period of working between two R&Rs), or how many weeks you still need to go before you can leave the country. You can even discuss the whereabouts of your other colleague to another colleague; where you think he went to on R&R and when he is probably coming back. And then if you are talking to someone from another organisation it is always interesting to know what their R&R policies are and how long their rotations. Talking about R&R is how you start your conversation. It is how we are connected.
The idea behind Rest and Relaxation is that you are granted for leave because the working and living conditions do not allow you to rest and relax after work. We are living in a stressful working environment, in isolated and insecure locations with lack of basic facilities and privacy. So this regular time away is needed to recover mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually to prevent exhaustion, burn out and other related symptoms.
So besides all the excitements about R&R’s, that we are truly blessed to be able to visit a lot of new places and countries in such a short time, it is quite a serious thing. And I know it. And I feel that I need it. My body feels exactly in which week of my rotation I am currently in, physically and mentally. But do I fulfill the expectations that ‘the Medair worker fills this R&R time with restful activities’?
Because to be honoust: in our recent R&Rs we completely went crazy when setting foot in another country after coming from South Sudan. The freedom to walk around, and to eat whatever you like. The excitement about visiting new places. Our energy and adrenaline was just unstopable. In South Africa we drove more than 4,000 kilometers within 2 weeks time, while doing a lot of crazy activities. In the Netherlands we visited so many friends and family that sometimes we had 4 appointments in different places on one day. In Ethiopia we started hiking an intense trail at an altitude of 4,000 meter one day after we arrived. In Egypt we stept in the most uncomfortable and cheapest train, normally for poor people, bringing us to our next destination after more than 12 hours.
A question I have been asking myself a lot recently is: ‘How do I recover from my work environment’? Can you only do that by laying on the beach and doing nothing? Because already the thought about resting for a whole day (which I translate in doing nothing, going nowhere and sitting on the same place) makes me panic. I do need time on my own, to think. But I think I am actually overthinking my whole life already too much. And actually while sitting in that crazy overloaded train I was able to process my mind and put things in perspective. Also, I gain a lot of energy when having the freedom to do a lot of things.
But I know that my pitfalls are that I always go on, I don’t know my own limits. I will continue until I fall down. So with that knowledge and the reflection on our R&R habits, I start to feel guilty. Because maybe I am doing the wrong thing? Although feeling guilty is also something I need to stop doing. Because I am not perfect, although I often want to be.
You see how I am struggling with my thoughts and actions. I do think that how you travel, or how you spend your R&Rs, is in a lot of ways a metaphor for your own life. When you have the freedom to do whatever you want, you will do whatever you feel comfortable in doing at that moment.
I always like to encourage people to step out of their comfort zones, to do things they have never done, to do things differently then they normally do. I remember a friend saying to me ‘but maybe your comfort zone, is stepping out of your comfort zone all the time’. And maybe it is true. Maybe I need to find myself again, by sitting on the beach and do nothing. Luckily I am not made out of ice-cubes.
Disclaimer: The views expressed on this blog are solely ours and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any organisation.