The Awakening

Everyone strives to find where they belong in this world. They try to find a group to fit in with in elementary, middle, and high school and have a chance to explore more of themselves as they find more freedom in college. There are changes in the body, the mind, and scenery throughout those years on the journey from teenager to young adult. Then, as though the world is in fast forward, they’re being slammed out into the real world. No more books, no more classrooms, and it’s time to learn how the real world works. Emergency Sex recounts the transition of three humanitarian workers – Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson – from their post-college young adulthood at the beginning of the 1990’s through their thirties in the early 2000’s. They detail the journey that led them to join the United Nations (UN). They share their experiences of excitement, love, loss, life, death, and their awakenings to the real world.

The path that led these three into humanitarian aid work was all different, but they all ended up in the same place, with the UN. Ken, the most intriguing of the three characters, came from Harvard law school and was the least likely to be involved with humanitarian aid work. He did have a different goal in life than that of many of his fellow peers at Harvard, which was to avoid corporate law. However, it was only after a while of being unemployed and a call off of a napkin that he landed on a plane to be a lawyer for the UN in Cambodia. Heidi was recently divorced and in search of herself as a single woman and only relying on herself for support. She got a job at the UN with the help of her ex-sister-in-law and only applied for fieldwork to help get back on track financially. Andrew, the doctor, was already involved in the field with the Red Cross in Cambodia before Ken or Heidi even thought about the UN. He transitioned to the UN as the Red Cross was leaving Cambodia and the UN was staying on. He had felt he could still make a difference in Cambodia.

They all started with a naïve sense of how the world worked and the impact they had on it. Their first mission in Cambodia had been successful. Cambodia was the place where these three first meet. Ken, the rookie, Andrew, the doctor, and Heidi, the secretary, all got fulfillment out of the feeling they made a difference as the election was successfully held. The fulfillment would lead each of them to embarking on a new mission of changing the world. This single feeling of success and ability to change the world leads them all on the journey of discovery.

Somehow we form an unlikely triangle I want to try to keep intact. I’m going to miss them, but Cambodia’s just the beginning (Emergency 90). Andrew, the most experienced in the field of the three, finds closure on Cambodia after the successful election. It’s time for him to move on and help another nation in need. He’s on a plane to Haiti, without Ken and Heidi, to begin his next mission. This mission does not go successfully and leads him to the Dominican Republic, to UN headquarters in New York, Bosnia, Rwanda, and back to Bosnia. He learns a lot about the true evil in the world with the genocide attempts in Bosnia and Rwanda as he sifts through mass graves in an attempt to identify bodies and begins to question if they could have been avoided with intervention by the UN or US military. His faith is tested through these tough times and he questions the fact God let these atrocities happen. He contemplates suicide, as these memories flood in, after his time in field is done. He’s still uneasy and deeply burdened by his experiences down his path of discovery.

There must be another election or landslide or war somewhere where UN secretaries are needed (Emergency 88). Heidi had just began to discover herself and decided there was more of the world she could impact. The initial job to help fund her financially had turned into something that filled a void that was missing when she was back home. The attempt to continue to fill this void leads her to Somalia & Haiti. She finds empowerment in Somalia as she is given the title of watch officer. She finds herself in the line of danger, embraces the insider look into these cultures, coins the term emergency sex, and finds her true love in Haiti. She grows from a lonely wife to a young, naïve first-time fieldworker works her way through self-discovery and casual sexual relationships to finding true love and settling down. This all gets taken away from her in November of 1998, when her true love in Haiti, Marc, dies. Soon after, she also loses her mother. The strength from her experiences in humanitarian aid work, and the friendships she formed during those times, allow her to recover from these tragic events and live a happy life.

This is the chance of a lifetime. I finally found my moment in history (Emergency 89). Ken, looking to prove himself to Andrew, embarked on his next mission to Somalia. The chance to make a difference is pumping through his veins and the need for approval leads him into deadly situations. In the face of death, Ken remains calm and keeps his cool. His status as naïve, uninformed rookie is immediately upgraded to experienced veteran. His relationship with Heidi, strictly platonic, continues to grow stronger and he’s beginning to learn more about himself, as well as the true workings of the UN. The loss of a fellow aid worker, leads him to a re-connection with his father. His next missions cover Rwanda, Haiti, & Liberia. He continues the discovery of the true evils in this world and becomes fed up with the handling of many situations by the UN. The Harvard graduate turned aid worker grows from a naïve rookie to a poised leader.

Andrew, Heidi, and Ken provide their stories from different perspectives. Andrew, the least likeable or approachable, manages to barely hang on at the end and goes from savvy veteran to an equal in the eyes of Heidi and Ken. Heidi, who is probably the most likeable, isn’t scared of her sexuality. She outwardly appears confident and is comfortable in her own skin, but it isn’t until the end, after all she has endured, that she shows her true strength. Ken proves himself on every mission. At any point he could have simply gone back to the easy life and relied on his Harvard education to get him to a successful position, but he didn’t. He continued to believe that good could fight evil and that he was on the right side. He embraced his experiences, good or bad, and learned from them. This positive growth comes directly from his experiences while with the UN. The corporate world would not have allowed this awakening to happen in Ken and it would not have led him to be the man he is today.

cainHundreds of green coffins with remains of Bosnian Muslims found in mass graves are prepared for a funeral

Works Cited:

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson. Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures: A True Story From Hell on Earth. New York: Hyperion, 2004. Print.

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