Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The perils of personal blogging.

Blogging is mostly fun. Writing down my thoughts and ideas and opinions helps me remember a place or an experience far more than photos - but sharing them, rather than just putting them in a private journal, helps me connect with other travelers and various interesting people. I learn things I never would have otherwise, through their comments. And it seems selfish not to share the great places I see and experience - shouldn't others get to learn about these places as well? Likewise, I like sharing when things don't go so well, because I hope it helps someone avoid something I had the bad luck to have to deal with.  

I like reading other people's experiences, particularly about traveling. I like being enticed to visit somewhere I've never been, or to get ideas for my next time traveling somewhere. But it can be hard when I read a blog by someone about a place I love and find they had just the opposite experience. That said, I don't question that they had that experience, even if I think it was an exception, or was misinterpreted. That's their experience, honestly told. I only get angry only when they make a factual error that could so obviously could have been avoided with just a little more observation or research, or when they have an obvious agenda in their writing - I shall not like Mexico, from the moment I get on the plane to go there, and my blog will reflect that. Those people drive me batty.

I blog both professionally and personally. The blog you're reading now is personal. It's not a very widely-read blog, and that's by design - it's not something I link from professional posts, though it can be found if someone does lots of click-throughs, from social media status updates to photos and then, maybe, to here. I write for a very particular audience - my own friends and family. Some of them all but demanded I blog, and so I do. But it's the Internet, and other folks do find it and comment - just as I do regarding other people's blogs. That's fine.

Do I worry about offending? Sure. But I also know that no matter what I write, at least one person will disagree with it. In fact, I regularly offend people with my professional blog, much more than this one, often when writing about something I think is the most benign thing in the world. For instance, I've deeply offended people for saying that people often volunteer for reasons that have nothing to do with having a good heart - many primarily want skills and networking to get a paid job - and such alternative motivations have nothing to do with whether or not they are a "good" volunteer or not. Oh, the outrage!

I do have people that write me to disagree with what I've written about traveling in various places. I had one person write me about how unfair I'd been regarding this blog about sexual harassment in the field, how it showed that, obviously, I'm a huge racist, and even though I've had more than a dozen women write me to thank me, specifically, for this piece, that ONE guy still hurt very much with his criticism and accusations. I almost took it down because of that outraged guy - and then had to remind myself how helpful it's been to so many people, and how two women from a country I never mention in the article, but is the home country of the guy that made my life hell and inspired that blog, said they really appreciated the piece. But still… the criticism hurt and made me second guess.

It can seem flip to write a travel blog from a country where there is either war or extreme poverty or post-war strife or all of the above. Often, I'm in those countries for work - very serious work. Sometimes, I really am just a tourist in such a country - like Bosnia. What I'm trying to do in my blogging about those travels is to show you the very human side of being there - this is a real place, not just a list of statistics on the nightly news, not just photos of violence or poverty. People in these countries, laugh, sing, cry, eat, hate, enjoy, watch movies, belittle, compliment, offend, have favorite TV shows, inspire and live, just like anywhere, even amid the war or extreme poverty or post-war strife. Because - people. That's what they do. I want you to read these and think, well that particularly thing is just like Kentucky or California or Vermont or wherever. The standard of living may be jaw-dropping, the plight of women may be horrific, but ultimately, the people are people. You could be them, if circumstances and history and luck were a bit different. They could be you.

I'm in Ukraine. It's a country at war. People are being killed. Human rights are being violated. Homes and entire cities are being destroyed. National sovereignty is threatened. There are profound prejudices between different sections of the country that are fuel for people that want violence. While I may write about the fun I'm having, I never, ever forget any of that. My work day is consumed with that. My morning ritual is reading Reliefweb updates about Ukraine and social media by various aid agencies here, and then checking out the news links on Google about the country. Even when I'm not writing about that most of the time here on my personal blog, it's all very much on my mind and a part of my daily life. It's almost absurd to experience the incredibly beautiful, vibrant, now-very-peaceful city of Kyiv, a city that could not be in more contrast to the realities elsewhere in this country. But that's my reality.

I've posted a version of this disclaimer a few times on my blog over the years, but I've posted it twice in the last three weeks (and now three times), because I remember where I am, and just how strong feelings are here in Ukraine:

A reminder: this is a personal blog of personal reflections and opinions. It's not journalism. I'm making no effort whatsoever to be fair or balanced. My observations will not necessarily be someone else's - you may disagree with how I have observed and interpreted something. How I interpret what I see won't be how someone standing right next to me might see it. All I hope is that I am never reckless with comments, and that I come from a place of honesty and sincerity in my observations - but I make no claims here to being impartial or even kind here. It's all perspective. My perspective. Only mine.

Keep that in mind as you read any blog, not just my personal one. By all means, write me if I get a fact wrong - I will get facts wrong, even when I'm trying to be journalistic, which I'm not trying to be here. Because - people. That's what they do. And I'll correct any fact I get wrong. Comment on the blog with your disagreement - I'll approve the comment, so everyone can see it. That's only fair. It's a blog - that means it can become a conversation. And conversations, shared with everyone, can lead to a lot of new understandings. And that's my favorite thing about people - when they engage with each other in order to understand.

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