Tag Archives: Oxfam

Sacrificial Lamb

“I have to stop at Raeburns to order for the summer party,” Lynn said.  So we drove down a street I hadn’t seen, passing a bakery and confectioners that didn’t look as though it had sold anything since 1968.

There was a lovely vacant building built in 1907; apparently the last failed business to give it a go there had been appropriately named Bygones.

The one bustling business was this one.  At first I thought it was a mobile e-cigs vendor, but then I realized there was a tobacconist storefront and the owner had slapped this sign onto his van out front to ensure no one missed it.

Then we were at Raeburn, the family butchers.  That doesn’t sound right.  It’s a family-owned business.  Lynn asked what meats she could order in quantity for BBQing at the summer party, and the lad behind the counter answered her.  Or at least I assumed he was answering her, because I couldn’t understand a word due to his accent.

Thanks to Richard being a mighty hunter, the freezers at Dunrovin were full of carcasses so we had no need for these.

I gazed into the cold case.  I haven’t eaten pork in 40 years, but I appreciate the time and skill it takes to produce things with “home” in the name.  You know what bacon is.  In case you aren’t familiar with black pudding, it has nothing to do with dessert.  I find pudding to be one of the most confusing words in the British Isles. Black pudding is a sausage made of congealed pig’s blood.  Mealies aren’t worms; they are some kind of sausage.

Lynn placed her order and bought some steaks and chops and hamburgers for the three of us for a BBQ whenever the weather cooperated.  “Not sure what I ordered—I couldn’t understand a word he said!” she exclaimed.

“How are the charity shops here?” I asked as we drove past a couple on our way out of town.  This was Minnesota-speak for, “Let’s stop and shop!”  But Lynn is good at not getting my Minnesota hints.  It had been a long day, there would be another time.

As I write about my idyll in the UK, Oxfam is being slaughtered. Unless you live under a self-imposed news blackout (I wouldn’t blame you), you will have heard that Oxfam, Britain’s 4th-largest charity and one of the biggest international development organizations, has been under fire for employee sexual misconduct in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.  220,000 people died in that quake.  People were desperate, homeless, hungry.  It was the perfect set up for relatively wealthy aid workers to buy sex.  Disgusting. From what I understand, Oxfam investigated and allowed the ringleader to resign in exchange for testifying against his peers. It’s unclear to me, but it seems they issued an internal report but not an external one.  The creep went on to work for a French charity and behaved badly there, too.

Depending on the newspaper, this was a cover up or a standard way of addressing a problem that occurs in many, if not all, workplaces that employ men. Sorry, men, but this is on you.

A detail I have not seen reported widely is from a Guardian interview with Oxfam’s chief exec in which he explained, “Had the [French] charity been familiar with British employment law, it would have understood that, when Oxfam would only confirm the employee had worked for them, this wasn’t a reference but an alarm bell.”

Yes.  That’s how it works.  I can only imagine the excruciating tradeoffs Oxfam had to make at that time. Fire the lead perpetrator?  Then we won’t get testimony and be able to root out all of them.  Let him resign, which makes it look like he was unhappy with us—but in exchange we get names and dates and details?

Oxfam has lost access to British government funding and 7,000 sustaining donors cancelled their direct debits in one week.  Friends who work there are stunned and angry.

The only good that could come of this is if all charities “drain the swamp”—if not for ethical reasons then at least to avoid bad publicity.

Happy Christmas, 10 Years On

This is a reprise post from last year.  Merry Christmas, ya’ll!

In keeping with my gradual transition to writing about unconventional travel and living abroad adventures, I’m looking back on the first Christmas I spent in the UK, 10 years ago.

I had learned a lot since arriving in October. Searching for housing, I had finally figured out that address numbers sometimes went up one side of a block and down the other. Also, many buildings just had names instead of numbers. The Oxfam head office was called John Smith House.

“House” was a misnomer because it was a modern, three-storey building in an industrial park across the motorway from the Mini Cooper factory, and 750 people worked there.

John Smith Houseatriumlobby

I could usually remember that the first floor was the “ground floor” and the second floor was the first floor. I had figured out that when my coworkers asked, “You awl right?” they weren’t concerned about my health; it was the same as someone in Minnesota asking, “How ya doin?” I was avoiding “creeping Americanisms” in my writing, as cautioned in the Oxfam writing manual, so was careful to write “storey” and “tonne” instead of “story” and “ton.” I was no longer taken aback when introduced to a 20-something coworker named Harriet, Richard, or Jane.

Most important, I had learned to avoid any references to my pants, as in, “I got my pants wet biking to work in the rain.” Trousers were pants, and pants were underwear. I loved the expression, “That’s just pants!” which meant something like “that’s insane!”

Everyone spoke in a low murmur. This was partly due to the open plan office, where six people shared one big desk, but I think it was also the culture. A few weeks after my arrival, a new Canadian employee came through for her induction (orientation), and her braying, Minnesota-like accent filled the whole building. One of those moments when I realized, “Ah, that’s what we sound like.”

At Oxfam, everyone walked fast. It was as if, by striding vigorously, they would personally Save the World.  My tall, ginger-haired colleague, Adele, was selling Palestinian olive oil out of her desk drawer. I enjoyed a daily fair-trade, organic chocolate bar from the cafeteria.  Oxfam had a Christmas bazaar in the atrium featuring beaded jewelry made by Masai woman who used the proceeds to buy goats.  Everyone was very earnest.

To be fair, the “Boxing Day”, or Indian Ocean, Earthquake and Tsunami (caution: upsetting video) had happened one year before, killing 230,000 people and leaving millions more without homes or livelihoods. Then, suicide bombers had struck the London transport system in July, killing 56 people and injuring over 700. The week I arrived in Oxford, an earthquake took 80,000 lives in Pakistan. People were reeling, but responding generously. Oxfam had received a tsunami of donations, internally referred to as the “Cat Fund”—for Catastrophe Fund—and rumour had it that they were struggling to do enough, fast enough, to respond.

But for now, Oxfam was abuzz with Christmas cheer. I look in my diary (date book) from that time, and I was busy meeting colleagues after work at pubs named The Marsh Harrier, the Eagle and Child, The Bear, Angel and Greyhound, and Jude the Obscure.

They called Christmas Crimbo, and presents pressies. There were crimbo crackers for sale, too, which are not a crunchy, salty snack, but shiny cardboard tubs “cracked” open at the festive table and containing a Christmas crown and trinkets.

C&CCrackers and CrownsC&C2

There was a panto in the Oxfam atrium, so to use all my new words in a sentence: “Are you going to the crimbo panto or shopping for pressies and crackers after work?”

And what is a panto? It’s slang for pantomime, an extravaganza that takes weeks of planning and involves elaborate costumes, jokes, dancing and singing, skits, and slapstick. Apparently it’s also done by families and in theatres but the only one I’ve ever seen was in the Oxfam atrium. Our usually-serious employees were dressed up as fairytale characters and making fun of themselves, our bosses, and our work. Very healthy, I thought. Take life seriously most of the time, then go all-out silly for a week.

The Queen’s Christmas Message that year was beautiful, in my opinion, and more relevant than ever.

queen

Happy Christmas, Ten Years On

In keeping with my gradual transition to writing about unconventional travel and living abroad adventures, I’m looking back on the first Christmas I spent in the UK, 10 years ago.

I had learned a lot since arriving in October. Searching for housing, I had finally figured out that address numbers sometimes went up one side of a block and down the other. Also, many buildings just had names instead of numbers. The Oxfam head office was called John Smith House.

“House” was a misnomer because it was a modern, three-storey building in an industrial park across the motorway from the Mini Cooper factory, and 750 people worked there.

John Smith Houseatriumlobby

I could usually remember that the first floor was the “ground floor” and the second floor was the first floor. I had figured out that when my coworkers asked, “You awl right?” they weren’t concerned about my health; it was the same as someone in Minnesota asking, “How ya doin?” I was avoiding “creeping Americanisms” in my writing, as cautioned in the Oxfam writing manual, so was careful to write “storey” and “tonne” instead of “story” and “ton.” I was no longer taken aback when introduced to a 20-something coworker named Harriet, Richard, or Jane.

Most important, I had learned to avoid any references to my pants, as in, “I got my pants wet biking to work in the rain.” Trousers were pants, and pants were underwear. I loved the expression, “That’s just pants!” which meant something like “that’s insane!”

Everyone spoke in a low murmur. This was partly due to the open plan office, where six people shared one big desk, but I think it was also the culture. A few weeks after my arrival, a new Canadian employee came through for her induction (orientation), and her braying, Minnesota-like accent filled the whole building. One of those moments when I realized, “Ah, that’s what we sound like.”

At Oxfam, everyone walked fast. It was as if, by striding vigorously, they would personally Save the World.  My tall, ginger-haired colleague, Adele, was selling Palestinian olive oil out of her desk drawer. I enjoyed a daily fair-trade, organic chocolate bar from the cafeteria.  Oxfam had a Christmas bazaar in the atrium featuring beaded jewelry made by Masai woman who used the proceeds to buy goats.  Everyone was very earnest.

To be fair, the “Boxing Day”, or Indian Ocean, Earthquake and Tsunami (caution: upsetting video) had happened one year before, killing 230,000 people and leaving millions more without homes or livelihoods. Then, suicide bombers had struck the London transport system in July, killing 56 people and injuring over 700. The week I arrived in Oxford, an earthquake took 80,000 lives in Pakistan. People were reeling, but responding generously. Oxfam had received a tsunami of donations, internally referred to as the “Cat Fund”—for Catastrophe Fund—and rumour had it that they were struggling to do enough, fast enough, to respond.

But for now, Oxfam was abuzz with Christmas cheer. I look in my diary (date book) from that time, and I was busy meeting colleagues after work at pubs named The Marsh Harrier, the Eagle and Child, The Bear, Angel and Greyhound, and Jude the Obscure.

They called Christmas Crimbo, and presents pressies. There were crimbo crackers for sale, too, which are not a crunchy, salty snack, but shiny cardboard tubs “cracked” open at the festive table and containing a Christmas crown and trinkets.

C&CCrackers and CrownsC&C2

There was a panto in the Oxfam atrium, so to use all my new words in a sentence: “Are you going to the crimbo panto or shopping for pressies and crackers after work?”

And what is a panto? It’s slang for pantomime, an extravaganza that takes weeks of planning and involves elaborate costumes, jokes, dancing and singing, skits, and slapstick. Apparently it’s also done by families and in theatres but the only one I’ve ever seen was in the Oxfam atrium. Our usually-serious employees were dressed up as fairytale characters and making fun of themselves, our bosses, and our work. Very healthy, I thought. Take life seriously most of the time, then go all-out silly for a week.

The Queen’s Christmas Message that year was beautiful, in my opinion, and more relevant than ever.

queen