Trouble Ahead: Dangerous Missions with Desperate People (2019)
Stories of a woman’s fifteen solo journeys to places that, for awhile, riveted public attention because of their terrifying and elaborate violence: Rwanda, Darfur, the slums of Kenya. Witness, enabler and critic, Susan worked just outside the corporate web of humanitarian aid. Her journals explore ‘what happens after’ a crisis – the grief, resilience, and astonishing aspirations of people struggling to recover. She reveals, through unblinking observations, the nuances of cultures and tragedies that have defined the world of humanitarian relief Out of these missions grew the author’s inspiration for Women’s Centers International, a movement to respond to the global wildfire of women’s needs.
REVIEWED BY C.E. Flores
Susan Burgess-Lent shared candid diary excerpts from her missions to Africa in Trouble Ahead: Dangerous Missions with Desperate People. She chronicled her time in Rwanda, Sudan, Kenya, and Darfur when she was moved to fight on behalf of the women and children she saw struggling in those areas from 1998 to 2011.
The large charity organizations already in place, designed to provide nourishment and support, were clogged by endless layers of bureaucracy and corruption. The author shares her experiences on fifteen different missions to Africa. Her adaptation from middle-class America to third-world (or more politically correct “developing”) nations was hard-learned. The size of the cockroaches alone would have had me scurrying for cover. The descriptions of the environment and people brought her adventures to life for me.
I enjoyed reading how the author made a sort of peace with the endless red-tape and bribery necessary to complete government transactions. She also found a way to deal with unreliable information, roads and transportation that were daily hurdles to jump.
She found inspiration in the unbroken spirits of the women who lived in the refugee camps. Despite the need to travel miles to bring clean water, enduring violence and rape by the men charged to protect them, the malnutrition, heat and flies, these women still found joy in the everyday.
In some areas, she set up a weaving cooperative. She picked up the baskets on her rounds and shipped them out to be sold internationally. In another area, she set up an educational center for women. There they were taught the basics of reading, writing and math which had been denied them in the war-torn country.
The hope she brought to these women was created by empowerment. Learning business skills, the women went on to manage their own micro-businesses. Not even the leveling of the marketplace by government officials deterred them.
While I was reading Susan’s accounts, I had some difficulty keeping track of the multitude of organizations that she dealt with. I can’t imagine how she managed. A glossary or list of all those organizations, what their intentions were and how Susan Burgess-Lent was involved with them would help the reader considerably in this regard.
I loved reading about the hardships she encountered even though they seemed endless: bandits, violence, ineptitude, greed, cultural and language differences. She did what she could even when her best wasn’t even a drop in the bucket in the huge ocean of need she encountered.
When the conditions in Africa no longer allowed for Susan’s aid trips, she turned her attention to Oakland, California where “women’s needs are every bit as urgent as in Africa.” Her continued efforts to assist women better themselves is admirable. May we all be as lucky as Susan in finding our life’s purpose.
Having worked for a variety of non-profit organizations over the years, and banged my head in frustration more than once, I could to relate of some of the trials and tribulations Susan endured. It’s a difficult road to travel, bringing aid to the most desperate in Africa, and Susan’s account isn’t a feel-good type of story so some may not enjoy the book as much as I did for that reason. It doesn’t skimp on the difficulties she encountered or the frustration she felt.
In the Borderlands (2000) by Susan Burgess-Lent
Enter the world of Dr. Nona Whitley: a border camp overflowing with refugees from the Rwanda genocide, a place where fear is the daily ration and survival requires an accomplice.
When All the Girls Stopped Singing (publication when I revise)
A brief synopsis: When her mother dies, Zora Monroe, a spokeswoman for a human rights organization, uncovers the secret of her adoption. The shock of discovery fuels her decision to find blood relatives. Her journey to the homeland with an experienced but duplicitous guide takes her inside a burgeoning genocide where she must decide the fate of a young girl.
Cast amid nation-shattering events, When All the Girls Stopped Singing is a deeply personal story of a woman’s struggle to redefine family and to navigate the confounding path of human responsibility.
Susan received the 2004 Maryland Writers’ Association First Place Prize for Mainstream Fiction for an early version of this novel.
Her short stories and essays have been published by World Press Institute Online, Wild Child Magazine, Pictures and Stories, MS magazine, and Global Women Magazine as well as included in several anthologies.
Hackles, published in the anthology Grace and Gravity, Fiction by Washington Area Women (Gargoyle Press, 2004)
Finding Jazz received the Sheila Smith Short Story Prize, 2002
A new collection of flash fiction due out in Spring 2022
- The Good News in Darfur: Women’s Work Global Woman Magazine, December 2010
- The Hope of Darfur MS Magazine, Fall 2007
- Sweet Sixteen: A Ritual for the New Age, Washington Woman, Spring 2005
- Kenya Kronicles published in the anthology Gargoyle 54, 2004
- Numb and Number: America’s Turbulent Affair with Denial, Pictures and Stories, 2003
- Bike Speed included in the anthology Bicycle Love, 2003
- Reports of Genocide, The World Press Institute, 2002
- Videography Magazine, a monthly column of essays on ethical and business issues for television professionals published from May 1998 to September 2001