"You Can't Say Anything Anymore!" by Diversifying Group

Rethinking humanitarianism work with Masashi Tsudaka

November 25, 2021 Diversifying.io Season 1 Episode 15
"You Can't Say Anything Anymore!" by Diversifying Group
Rethinking humanitarianism work with Masashi Tsudaka
Show Notes Transcript

Podcast host Naomi sits down with Masashi Tsudaka on his journey working abroad in the humanitarian sector in some of the world's most difficult crisies. He talks openly about his struggles with adapting to new cultures and difficulties in finding representation for himself as a Japanese man in the humanitarian sector.

About our guest:

Masashi Tsudaka works on the coordination of various conferences in the environmental fora, including knowledge management, public relations and logistics support as a member of Strategic Management Office.
 
Prior to this,  he worked as a humanitarian worker for various organisations for a decade. His professional field experiences include humanitarian responses to Israel/Palestine Conflict (2009-11), Japan Tsunami (2011), Philippines Super Typhoon Haiyan (2013), Afghanistan Conflict (2015), South Sudan Conflict (2016) and Myanmar Conflict (2018-20). His area of expertise is not only in management of various humanitarian interventions (e.g. health, protection, economic security, water and habitat) at the field level, but also in fundraising, public relations, communications, advocacy, conference/event management, administration, monitoring and evaluation at the headquarters' level.

This podcast is produced by Diversifying.io - Keep up to date on how we're changing hearts and minds on Instagram: @diversifyingio or via our website: www.diversifying.io 

Naomi:

Diversifying.io presents "You Can't Say Anything Anymore", the podcast where we bring you the latest diversity news, and in-depth meaningful conversations about how we can make a future better for all. Everyone, welcome to the podcast. My name is Naomi, and I'm the host of this podcast. And we've got a very special episode today, I have a very special guest with a really, really interesting story. So if you just want to introduce yourself and tell me a little about yourself and your story, please.

Masashi:

Okay. Hi, everyone. My name is Masashi Tsudaka. I'm a Japanese national, who has been working in the humanitarian sector for years. And yeah, well, I'm happy to be part of this podcast today.

Naomi:

Thank you. We're very, very lucky to have you today. So we just want to delve a little bit into your story about what what motivated you initially to start working in the humanitarian sector?

Masashi:

Okay, maybe to begin with, I need to explain a little bit about the humanitarian sector itself, because this sector doesn't really exist in Japan. I mean, aside from some back office functions. Well, usually, when that's normally happened here, it was a bit different, but okay. So, maybe beginning you know, with my childhood, I was just a normal Japanese, you know, boy, who was born here, raised here. And I was, at the age of 17, or 18, I was hoping to work abroad, particularly for those who are suffering from poverty or conflict or natural disasters in a country outside Japan. So that was my image of becoming a humanitarian sector. And, yeah, this dream came true in a bit I guess of a different way than I expected, because I thought that, you know, okay, I can just go there and, work for the people. And that was like, my image of my entire profession, but it was not that easy in from the beginning, because, I mean, it's really difficult for a Japanese national like me to learn a foreign language as good as other European colleagues or American colleagues, because the language itself is really difficult. I mean, very different from Japanese, and there's language barriers a lot. And also, the humanitarian sector is quite Western, I must say, as a culture and that was really difficult to overcome in the beginning years. I didn't have much of an international childhood experience and it was hard for me to mingle with people by using English, or sometimes French, sometimes Arabic. So those were really kind of barriers and also kind of the hardest to get over to begin with, studying business as a as a humanitarian anywhere in the world. And you asked me about the motivation. This is quite a long

story, but making it short:

I was studying in the university in Tokyo and I felt that okay, so this country is pretty okay, you know, in terms of economy and, well, there are some social programmes, but not in a conflict. And also, I mean, there are like plenty of talented people who can really like sustain this country and that was the impression I got throughout my study here. And also, I was quite good at language, especially in English at the time, so I felt that okay, so maybe, you know, I can do something more tangible, more worthwhile abroad, rather than staying in Japan. So that was the beginning. But I mean, I can just go to US or Europe, you know, to work, and then that was a contribution to the world, but I didn't take it that way. I mean, as I said, In the beginning, I really wanted to become a humanitarian and wanted to work in particularly developing countries. And I don't know, I thought that this is something, you know, difficult and very helpful. I studied in the Netherlands eventually to get a Master's degree. And I learned that, you know, well, we can just say that, you know, these are developing countries, but they're much diverse part of the world, which is almost, yeah, like a majority and which is so neglected, in a way because most of the international news here in Japan, are really related to Europe and North America. So, that's the reason why okay, so, you know, if I dedicate my part of my life, you know, to a workforce, to somebody who is suffering, then, you know, developing countries, particularly in the context of conflict, is the way to go. So, that was, yeah, my motivation in general.

Naomi:

Thank you, honestly, sounds like such an interesting story about how you explained from your childhood and your desire to go abroad, and then your difficulties of working with colleagues from different places, and then talking about how you wanted to give and you wanted to really help a lot of people and, you know, working in developing countries really seemed to fit with that as well. Could you just give us an example about some of the highlights of the experiences that you had when you were working abroad?

Masashi:

Sure. I started my career as a humanitarian in Palestine, Israel in 2009, 10, 11. I spent almost three years there and then my life moved on to the Philippines and Afghanistan and South Sudan. Then I spent some time in Myanmar as well, so that's the kind of overall picture of my career as a humanitarian. And there are so many highlights in this long career, almost 10 years, so it's difficult to say everything but of course you know, each country has really stayed in my mind and with good memories, bad memories, ups and downs. But speaking about maybe the highest or maybe the strongest experience, stays in Palestine I think. Because, just like your first love, you know, it's the first cut is always the deepest and it was a really, really tough mission almost psychologically, I must say, because this conflict has been ongoing for maybe the longest on Earth and then all the hatred and violence and progression of the conflict, the weird way of interpretation of religion, society, economy, everything was just so strong personally to me, and it affected, I think it's it has changed all my life even. Just giving you some examples, in Jerusalem where I was based, like, you know, stone throwing, you know, these like, small things, you know, like daily life, you know, you just have to deal with it. But at the same time, if you go around the corner, you don't see them. So, that means you know, some bits and pieces which can represent as kind of a conflict can be unseen, or you can kind of just let them go, you know, almost like hiding your eyes and you don't see them. But you can feel the air in Jerusalem, that is really, sometimes, disgusting. You're just seeing Israeli police stopping Palestinians' prayers, and they're just stopping them to enter the holy place for them. And the shouts and, you know, the glance of eyes, you know, with lots of lots of hatred and disgust and very negative images of images of mankind's feelings in front of my eyes, you know, that can really affect my mentality and also the, the understanding of the situation. And also, it was really strong because I came like, really, outside from this whole, you know, Jerusalem community. I'm not part of well, Israel, Palestine, first and foremost, but also not part of the Middle East, not part of the western part of the Eurasian continent. Well, actually, Japan is detached from the Eurasian continent itself, so it's really far away. So, it was really strong, like all the scenes now that I've seen.

Naomi:

Yeah, I can really hear that with you about how these experiences really changed you. I mean, I imagine for anybody seeing stone throwing, and everything on a daily basis, and it becoming part of mundane life, really having a big effect on someone. And what I'm hearing from you is about your experiences with the intergenerational conflict that has been going on forever, it feels like the hatred and the complexities of that and coming in, from a world where you'd never seen that before. And you hadn't been exposed to that, or you said you had a different exposure. And then coming straight into this, I can imagine it was a very, very intense, you know, first love of working abroad in this very, very intense emotions all at once, really. If we just talk a little bit about... So you spoke a bit about your childhood growing up in Japan, when you were working, you know, especially working abroad, what did you learn about your own culture, you know, with your own reflections about your life? And, you know, because I imagine that comes up quite a lot when you when you're confronted with completely different cultures, completely different religions, completely different backgrounds? Yeah, if you just wanna share a bit about that.

Masashi:

That's an interesting question, actually. Because, well, there are many cultural shocks, but sometimes, you know, it can be not entirely related to culture itself. Because when we talk about the Palestinian community, for example, there's a refugee community which has a different status than other Palestinians. Then, of course, you know, the shocks that I get from refugee camps can be different from Palestine itself. And when we talk about Palestine, for example, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, those are totally - I wouldn't say totally different, but there are differences in the people's feelings towards the international community, towards Asia in general, towards Japan, towards anything, actually. By the time I finished my mission in Palestine, I started to talk in Arabic as well. So that element can really help me to often, like, merge with the Palestinian community. When we speak the local language, you know, the whole new stage, you know, you can get the culture shock there is very different from the culture shock initially, I felt, you know, in the beginning, you know, without talking in their language. So, there are many different layers, different levels, different stages. Yeah, sorry, I'm talking about in a bit of an abstract way but in the beginning, I would say that the shock was to see how shabby their houses are, like, you know, how difficult their life is and how destroyed their houses are, particularly in the Gaza Strip. So that was the kind of initial shock, but not necessarily in-depth discussion with the local people, because I don't speak the language. But by the time I could really enter someone's house in the remote area in the Gaza Strip, for example, and I was doing like a chicken project, you know, raising chickens with them, and providing some fresh eggs, you know, to the children. So, that was part of my nutrition project for the malnourished children. So at that stage, I was invited by the father, you know, the head of household of this house, and, you know, we talked about their situation, and I see that the reason why I'm talking with this person is that he wants to really, you know, warmly welcome the foreigner, maybe for the first time in his life to his house. And there's a gender power relation, you know, in the house, of course, because my female colleague was invited by his wife, not vice versa, of course, that's a cultural difference. And, yeah, so I see, like, loads of different perspectives to their culture. And some of them, you know, start to convert me like, from, I mean, I don't have a particular religious background, but like, converting me to Muslim culture, or religion. And that was another interesting element, you know, in their life, you know, well, they welcome me, but while they tried to convert me, which is not really welcoming, but you know, for them, you know, it's just hospitality, to some extent, and that was also a culture shock, you know, okay, so, "What is he talking about?" and I start to realise that, okay, it's something, you know, they really want to impress me, in a way. And when I went to, for example, to the refugee campaign in the West Bank, I really didn't know like, how they're suffering from the arbitrary arrest of their boys. Because often, you know, they throw stones, and then you know, they get arrested for ages, and how the entire family is emotionally affected by this. And so those things are really like cultural shocks. Which, in reflection, the reason why I was shocked was because these realities that they face don't really exist in Japan, and not even exist as a story. You know, nobody told me about this through newspapers, and, you know, any media. Maybe I was a bit ignorant in that way, but I mean, maybe, you know, reading the story is a totally different experience as going there and talking with people. So that was the culture shock elements of my experience.

Naomi:

Yeah, absolutely. I think the lived experience is so different from just seeing a picture in the newspaper or even just watching a video. I'm just curious, do you think that anyone that you met had a culture shock with you or learned something about you and your culture?

Masashi:

Yes, I think so. When I was in Afghanistan, as I told you earlier, this humanitarian sector is quite Western. So, my international professional colleagues tend to be Swiss or Italian, French, British, they could be American... Then you know, like, we work as the same or similar function, you know, as management position or in a protection or economic security. You know, like we do all sorts of work to help people economically and socially to sustain their life. But of course, in order to be effective, as an international worker, we definitely need to collaborate with local colleagues that are actually a majority in the office. And, of course, the interpretation of their culture is based on my own culture, their own culture. So the Western way of thinking is different from my perspective, my interpretation, and also how I treated local colleagues could be quite different. Because Japanese culture is really polite, and we don't really criticise openly or even argue openly, you know, with foreigners, we are trained for that. So we cannot really change that, you know, even if I go as an international worker. But on the other hand, Western education is more concentrated on, you know, solving problems, with arguing, with a debate, and they tend to kind of backup, you know, their argument with different scientific knowledge, or, you know, several reasons and historical backgrounds, etc. And, well, Afghanistan is still in Asia, and they tend to be quite quiet, you know, in front of these backed up arguments. And when they become silent, then, of course, you know, they really cannot defend their arguments. So, yeah, internationals can kind of direct them into their direction. And that was a bit different in my case, because, well, I mean, we tend to kind of find the common understanding first, without arguing. And in Afghanistan, people also highly valued politeness. And that was the same as me. So they could really understand my body language, and in the beginning of the conversation, we exchanged some greetings, maybe longer than European people maybe. And so that kind of icebreaking, like, harmonious session before the argument was quite helpful, I noticed. And yeah, finding common ground was maybe, yeah, a bit easier for me to do in these countries like Palestine. Afghanistan... No, not maybe in Palestine. Afghanistan, Philippines, for sure, and in Myanmar, for sure. Maybe not so much in the Middle East and Africa.

Naomi:

Yeah, that's really interesting about how you said there's a lot more common ground with countries that have more similar lives modification within society with your own. And then there's a lot more common ground and, like you said, about body language and greeting people, all of those customs are different to every single country, you know, even the way that we think about power dynamics, or how you work. It's all completely different. And I fully hear that when you're confronted with one that is more similar to your own, there's more common ground there and looking for those similarities helps a lot. I'm just curious as well, so all of these experiences that you've had, do you feel that you could have learned what you have learned across your career without going abroad?

Masashi:

Well, I would say no. Well, firstly, Japanese society is really not international, it's quite domestic, even compared to any European countries I have ever experienced. And this kind of, we say, like, island spirit - I guess we cannot really relate to foreign people in foreign languages, in the same cultural understanding of the situation, and that's the kind of, I mean, it's hard to describe, but like, that's the kind of presumption to begin any relationship with any foreign people. And that's a shame actually. Because, I mean, there we have Tokyo, which is maybe, I don't know, one of the largest cities in the world, and I mean, comparing London or New York or, you know, Paris, any other global cities? Well, the only element Tokyo lacks is internationality. Like, it's not really international, it's just a big Japanese city. I mean, now, you know, things are a bit changing, but still, I mean, not to the level of any European cities I've seen. So even, like, born and raised, I was not going to Tokyo. But, you know, if I was born in Tokyo, and raised there, I think things would have been the same, you know, I think international experience is really difficult to get, I mean, now with remote access to much of the information and also maybe interaction with global citizens. I think Japanese education is not designed for that. And yeah, we tend to be much more domestic, in terms of personality and also language skills. As I said, you know, this is maybe the biggest barrier. So, yeah, it will be difficult. But maybe, well, there, I mean, I have many friends, you know, who studied abroad, which means Western countries. So, many Japanese people can deal with this binary concept of East and West or, you know, Japan versus, you know, UK or US. And they can really understand, you know, how things can be different in the world, but not to the extent that comparing continents, like the Middle East and Africa and North America and Europe. So if you get over this binary concept of "Japan versus abroad", but you know, diversity level, I think you can get a much better understanding of the world. And this is a level, you cannot really reach in Japan, I think. So a binary level can be possible, but I would say, without going, even to the US, it's very difficult.

Naomi:

It's really interesting, you say about the binary. And I mean, you know, Japan is an island nation, you know, has had a long history of isolation from other cultures. And a lot of people in the West believe it's what has made Japan so unique, and such a rich culture. But then, as you said, about the binary, about the perception that it's Japan, and then everywhere else. And getting beyond that, and widening the perspective to there's all these different countries, different continents, as you mentioned, each with unique differences, but similarities as well. And I can imagine it being very difficult in a country, which is more domestic focused, which kind of prioritises that, to kind of think beyond that, and if you're saying that there's not much exposure, even when schools as well, I mean, you know, we're the same here in different places in the UK, obviously, London is very international, but outside of London not so much. Yeah, it's, I guess, in addition, as well. I'm sure there's a lot of internationals who are working in Tokyo, but how much interaction do they have with local friends? Well, and getting that information about you said about judging local friends. That's a very important point as well. I definitely want to move on to a little bit about some of the challenges obviously, we spoke a little bit about the culture shock as well, and the difficulties mentally on seeing such vast differences. Were there any other challenges at all that you experienced in your time?

Masashi:

Yes, just looking back, you know, on all the experiences, I think, as a rare Asian in the humanitarian sector... I mean, okay, so there are plenty of Asian local colleagues, but among the international humanitarians, I was really a rare animal, you know. So it was very difficult to find myself surrounded by like minded people, because if I go to the office, okay, many local colleagues and they have a different culture, and when, you know, the work finishes and then we go back to the base, I mean, the compound, you know, the residence, then it's quite a European culture quite often. And then, okay, so I need to adjust all the time, to the local and to the international. And I usually don't have anyone to talk in Japanese, unless, you know, I call my friends and family in Japan. So my Japanese really goes bad. And I learned like more English times than Japanese proficiency. And that's, that was kind of a sad reality that I needed to face. And that is considered to be quite a big challenge. And also in my humanitarian organisation I worked for, the official language was French and English. So, of course, you know, there is no Asian language. I mean, it would have been quite funny if Chinese was one of them, but that can really, you know, make the changes the dynamic. Yeah, it's, it's sad to say, you know, having experienced so many countries and cultures, still, language is a barrier, but for me, it remains a barrier. Yeah, it's again, how to explain my challenge without mentioning the language.

Naomi:

I mean, that makes a lot of sense about how language is, as you said, once you start speaking, the whole new level opens up. And if you're always, you know, you could describe your experience how you were, you were going out, and then you're experiencing all this sort of non familiarity, and you go back home as well. And in your free time, you're also faced with unfamiliarity. And then I guess it kind of leaves you in a position where, you know, I can imagine, it has tended to feel quite isolated as well, because there's there's no familiarity, you know, the food, the colleagues as well, there's no kind of rest. And obviously, for most of many people's lives, they are surrounded by people who do have a similar commonality to them. And there is that kind of rest and when there's no rest, it can be quite tiring, I imagine, and you're saying that your Japanese got worse.

Masashi:

Oh, speaking about challenges, I just recalled... I mean, personally, I have Japanese culture or, you know, each individual has their own culture, but organisational culture is also like standing by itself. And that is to be learned by the local colleagues, especially young colleagues, for example, you know, who just joined the organisation, then we need to really teach them, okay, so how you need to function as a humanitarian, which is often very demanding, you know, it's like, you have to do this, do this, do this, at the same time, and then it's almost like the army. It's a command, you know, you do this and then by when, and if you can't do that, and then you know, report back and we say, green light and red light. So sometimes they face some situations on the ground and then they report to us and international colleagues say "okay, yes, you can do it" or, you know, "no, it's too dangerous to do it, it's better to come back here". So these are really like blunt commands, you know, that they really need to follow like, without even thinking about cultural differences or anything, you know, it's just an order that, you know, they need to follow. And that kind of culture, if they're not trained to do so, it's very difficult. And also, how can I say, if they really find some dangers on the ground, then they need to kind of argue back and convince us, you know, don't let me do this. And that kind of a strong narrative, the local colleagues need to learn, and we need to teach, you know, if it's dangerous, then we wouldn't do it, and then that's, like, period. And so, and all the decision making's really quick and it can change over time. So this kind of organisational culture was quite difficult to kind of spread, you know, to the colleagues in the office, that was also a challenge.

Naomi:

Yeah, this, I'm hearing a lot of layers, like you said before, there's the wider cultural context, the wider culture, and then there's the, as you described here, the specifics of what the organisation requires from you, individually, and the mentality that is required for that. That sounds really challenging.

Masashi:

But it has a good effect as well, you know, if we are really trained, not only me, but also other colleagues are trained in that way. And then we communicate with external stakeholders, like, I don't know, the state governor, or the warden of the prison, for example, we represent ourselves as that cultural people, you know, that really demanding humanitarian, straightforward people, then that can help empowering the local colleagues to face these officials. And sometimes, you know, arms carriers, for example. So, when they really get to the point that okay, so "real" humanitarians should act like this in front of, you know, even like really powerful persons, then that can really empower them to function as humanitarian, regardless what kind of background, what kind of skin colour, what kind of languages we speak, and that's something good about being a humanitarian, I found. So the more I learned how to be a humanitarian, the less problems I faced with the external stakeholders, because they know us, and I kind of pretend, or act like a humanitarian, then they would understand, okay, so this is not just Japanese.

Naomi:

It's really interesting, how you just said it. There's, when you have the certain protocol and you know how to act in these situations, that transcends nation culture. It moves it towards the goal. I'm just curious as well about how, so, you speak a lot about being a humanitarian and your work there. Were there any challenges at all when you came back to Japan permanently?

Masashi:

Oh, yeah, there's counter-culture shocks I experienced in Japan. Well, I mean, of course, you know, some environmental factors like I don't hear any guns shooting. Explosions regularly can really mentally affect my psychological wellbeing and health, and everything. And I kind of realised that I speak slower in Japan, I speak much faster in the field in conflict zones, because of the demands and also the speed of the changes of environment is very drastic and really quick. So, I need to respond to that all the time. Yeah, and also the products, you know, if I go to the supermarket, I see so many products everywhere in Japan, and that really makes me stop and think, "how come?", you know, there is so many stuff in this country, and on the other side of the world, there are nothing. And it just makes me wonder like, okay, so how unequal is this world shaped? And also how, you know, I can respond to that? Of course, professionally, that's exactly what I'm doing maybe because, logistically, I move food and non food items to the refugee camps in Afghanistan elsewhere. Yeah, but still okay. So that is not changing the tendency or ratio of stuff unequally distributed. So, I just become speechless, you know, when I come back to Japan. Okay, wow, you know, this is so much wealth. I feel like I'm watching a movie or something. And I just, you know, get into the movie as a protagonist. That's the kind of impression I get in Japan. It takes weeks or sometimes months to get used to it.

Naomi:

Yeah, I can imagine that that is such a hard call back to reality and what was once normality for you, and you're looking at it in a totally different way now. And also the things that you've seen, it's a completely different meaning. Yeah. The part about the protagonist.

Masashi:

Yeah. And also, relationship wise. You know, for example, coming back from a country like Afghanistan, I don't literally see the women because they're all covered, or they're just isolated from my kind of living space. Let's say, you know, I really had limited space for exchanging idea with women in general. I mean, of course, not internationals or... I mean, there are some barriers to interacting with female local colleagues as well and they're visible and you know, what we need to really interact with them but not to the extent that is similar to my female friends in Japan, for example. So when I come back to Japan, I had a hard time, like, how to interact with females. I almost forget about it and when I come back, okay, so firstly, I mean, should I say hello? And, you know, in Japanese we say "san" after calling somebody, it's like a Mr. and Mrs. or Miss, it's like a title. And I was like, I mean, there are several titles for females, "san" and "chan", and you know, so I was like, okay, so which did I used to use? For even, like, close friends, I forget! So from what point, you know, I should start with? And also, like, females in this country are not covered, you know, like in Afghanistan, so I tend to, like, kind of stare on the first or second day of arriving to Japan, and that's kind of a biological reaction you know, from my body, it is really astonishing.

Naomi:

Like, as you hadn't seen anyone's face for a long time. And you've been used to just seeing people that are covered?

Masashi:

Faces, maybe yes, but body shape for example. Yes, or skins, like someone's skin.

Naomi:

And not knowing which "san" or "chan", which one to use is very confusing. And I guess it's, you explained the difficulty about trying to remember what you used to do and try to fit back into that way before, but not really knowing how or remembering how or feeling slightly unfamiliar, I guess.

Masashi:

Yeah, exactly.

Naomi:

Did you reflect at all about then, people, for example, from another perspective, did you feel at all like somebody coming to Japan as a foreigner? In a sense? Did it make you reflect on that at all about how somebody might have similar thoughts about coming to Japan and thinking, oh, which name do I use after the, the name?

Masashi:

Oh, yeah, of course. I think if a foreign person comes to Japan, like, particularly from Europe or Western countries, they would be quite surprised, like how much we use surnames rather than names. I mean, we almost never use names in a business or study environment. So that must be quite different from their own cultures. And then yeah, that can really confuse them, because, yeah, it's like, totally opposite.

Naomi:

We just want to talk a little bit about... I know you've written books as well, and one that you sent me as well, how much of that was sort of influenced by your experiences working abroad?

Masashi:

Okay, yeah, maybe I should explain a bit about my book. I have been writing some books about countries like Afghanistan of Palestine, or South Sudan, just in the form of novel, it's fiction. And I meant to make it that way because, well, as humanitarians we deal with lots of sensitive issues, and I cannot really expose, for example, refugees' names, or, you know, the names of persons and villages, and all these places. Well, for the respect as well, but also, it can really affect the international relations with neighbouring countries. So those are really sensitive, particularly, I worked with arms carriers as well as a client. And so there are some situations that I cannot really narrate as nonfiction. So that's why I use fiction to kind of shed some light on the common people in countries like Afghanistan, from their point of view. I first tried to do from an international point of view, like myself, but it didn't really work out because, again, you know, this is fiction so I don't have to be a hero in this story. And also, the perspective from the local people is more powerful to the readers, particularly because I'm writing in Japanese and the audience would be Japanese people. So yeah, a local point of view is quite crucial for me to write about, and it has been successful in delivering these local messages to, particularly, my friends, my close friends, who know my experience, and sometimes, you know, they asked me, "how did you feel?", you know, "I cannot really imagine, you know, Masashi, you in this situation. I really cannot imagine...", you know, this kind of comments, you know, I received a lot, so, I just wrote down my interpretation of my experience in a fictional way. And then I just, you know, give them and then, okay, you couldn't imagine, so far, but here's the story. And now you can imagine. So, one step, you know, from inability to imagine, to ability to imagine is really big, actually, actually a really big step and, and short stories like the ones I'm writing can really make it possible. And that's what I really like about writing.

Naomi:

That's so cool. I like how you've channelled your experiences in that. And that way, that then your friends and colleagues are able to understand more in depth, the scope of the experiences and the impact that has had on you. And it sounds really interesting. Where can people find the book?

Masashi:

Yes, I've written three books so far. And all of them are sold on Amazon. But those are in Japanese. So I translated one of the books into English and then that is available in Amazon, UK, EU, US... In these countries, at least available.

Naomi:

I will put that in the description of the podcast.

Masashi:

Okay, cool.

Naomi:

So just before we come to, the end bit, which is the misconceptions bit, I've got one more question for you, which is about - so obviously, knowing all the things that you've learned, what advice would you give for others starting out in a similar position or others that are thinking about going into this very challenging industry?

Masashi:

Okay, otherwise? Well, first and foremost, if you like this kind of work, or this kind of experience, you should definitely go ahead, you know, for this path, which is quite challenging, but, I mean, I really don't want to stop anybody who would like to pursue a humanitarian career, because we are in constant shortage of personnel. And also we need talented people in, in many, many languages, and also cultural backgrounds as well. So particularly for Japanese people, they are really encouraged to apply any position in humanitarian sector. So I just really like to encourage anybody. And also, I mean, of course, you know, maybe I might have focused on, you know, challenges a bit too strongly. But, I mean, there are many good things that I experienced in my career, and very touching moments that, you know, these, for example, beneficiaries, who didn't even believe that, you know, humanitarians exist, or you know, somebody who can help, themselves there, they really appreciate, you know, my or my colleagues' support and assistance. And also this, like, heart by heart in person by person, how can I say, like, empathy, and also, yeah, the human touch, you know, that this work has is something different from just, you know, exchange programming to study, or just going to do business, you know, it's a very different experience. And you really need to use your heart rather than brain or body. So, I really recommend to go this path because your life will be really enriched.

Naomi:

I think that's, I mean, it sounds fantastic. I want to start right now. I think it's something you said about the fullness of life is expanded. And I think that's, so, how to put it, it's something about life expanding beyond what you thought it was, experiencing so much more, which sounds very fulfilling. And on that note, I think now is a good time to take a break so listeners will be back after the break.

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Naomi:

We are back after the break. But yeah, we just want to move on a little bit to the reoccurring segment on this podcast, which is the quick fire about the misconceptions. Yeah, so I've just got a little list here about some of the misconceptions about living abroad, working abroad. I'm just going to go through them very quickly. So I guess the number one that people think about a lot, is that living abroad is quite lonely. I don't know what your thoughts are on about that?

Masashi:

Okay, so we go one by one. Yeah, life abroad is lonely. To some extent it is, yes, but maybe living abroad is not the only reason why it's lonely, I think. I guess, because I studied abroad as well in the Netherlands and that was not lonely. Because I was surrounded by many study friends. And, yeah, they are, you know, from totally different backgrounds, different countries, but I was not lonely. But in the humanitarian sector, I think the chances you feel loneliness is much more, because of the fact that you need to reach to the last mile to the affected population from the conflict, which means that it's a really isolated condition. You don't imagine, like, how remote an area you have to go, you know, to help people. And often, like, you need to form a really small team and just drive myself, or maybe drive the interpreter and myself, and then, you know, go to a totally deserted area, forgotten for a long time, and then you need to reach them. And then, you know, you feel that, okay, so how far did I come, you know, I mean, of course, for the purpose, so it makes sense. But at the same time, like how, you know, lonely I wanted to be, it's a bit sarcastic, but you really tend to feel in that way, when you go to a really isolated area.

Naomi:

That makes a lot of sense. And like a contrast to the idea about studying abroad. And then working in a remote area, there's a lot more factors in it than just "being abroad equals loneliness". So another point we've got here is, you have to speak the language of the country that you are in. You shared a little bit earlier about how when you arrived, you didn't speak Arabic? Want to share a little bit more about your thoughts about that one?

Masashi:

Okay, if you could learn how to speak in the local language, that's a big, big advantage. But you don't have to. I mean, as a humanitarian, you always, you know, work with local colleagues who can understand English. So you don't have to, but at the same time, it's a kind of shame that, you know, you spend one year, two years in one country and you don't know more than "How are you? I'm fine, thank you", that kind of conversation. And that's a big loss, actually. I mean, you're losing chances to enlarge your views. Maybe chances to mingle with local people. And that is, well, a big shame and a loss. So yeah, but it's kind of, I mean, the excuse from the humanitarian side is that we hop always, you know, from one conflict or natural disaster to the other. So, you know, if I want to learn all the languages in every country I spent, then, you know, I should be fluent in Dinka and Dari and Pashto, I mean, those, you know, very unpopular languages that are not used elsewhere. So, that means, you know, I only speak a year or even less sometimes. So, investing you know, lots of time and effort for these little languages can be quite tough for humanitarians.

Naomi:

Yeah, definitely, imagine adding a lot to the roster. I mean, it is fantastic, obviously, how much a new world opens up when you speak a new language, but equally, I understand that there's a lot of time and effort that goes into that. And with the unpredictability of moving a lot, it can be difficult to know, when to invest. The next one is about, it's hard to make real connections. I know you spoke a lot about connecting with colleagues and challenges, but what do you think about this one?

Masashi:

This is maybe a misconception, I can say, because even without language, without, how can I say, without conversation, I could really relate myself to some people abroad. And that was actually the moments I really cherish. For example, in some cases, families could be felt - could be, how can I say, left apart, I mean, the family members became lost contact. And, well, there is a function of the humanitarian community to restore these family links, and we sometimes deliver letters, you know, by tracing the family member who lost contact, and when I delivered this letter to one of the family members, I mean, just by not even reading it, just by seeing the handwriting of the family member, you know, made them cry and also made them really thankful for our service. And that was a kind of moment, like we really connected by heart, you know, it's beyond like a humanitarian and a beneficiary, but just a human, you know, in front of me is delivering, you know, some important message of their family member. And that is really a strong, emotional moment that can connect human beings, you know. I can understand, you know, if I lost my family member, and then I get reconnected, then of course, I feel the same and then they understand how I feel, I understand how they feel. So, you know, that is like really mutual understanding.

Naomi:

It honestly sounds like very cherished moments, and I can understand the rawness. And the impact of that. Just the last one we got here, which is, this one makes me laugh a little bit, actually. So, moving abroad is good for escaping your problems.

Masashi:

Okay. You know, some people think that humanitarians are super heroes, and, you know, they really want to help the people in a difficult situation, so that's why they go. On one hand, it's true, but sometimes, you know, you get divorced or, you know, you lost your children. You had really tragedies, you know, back home, and then, you know, they wanted to escape from these realities. I mean, that could be not the only reason to become a human humanitarian, but sometimes it's combined, you know, for the zeal to help people and also the tragedies back home. So to some extent it can be true, but that cannot solve the problem and that's a misconception, I think, because even if, you know, you lost your children, you go to Afghanistan, but this fact that you lost your children doesn't change. So you have to kind of deal, emotionally deal with the fact and the situation you're in, and personal life can really affect our professionalism as well. Because, I mean, you need to go there alone, and you cannot really sustain your motivation for work and also functionality as a humanitarian without personal help. And often personal help will come from the persons back home, and families, friends, those are the resources, you know, for the emotional help, that you can really function as a humanitarian, so you cannot really leave them behind or, you know, leave only the negative things behind, you need to rely on them as well.

Naomi:

I think you saying that, it's certainly a good point that your personal life affects your professional life. It's sort of integral in a way to your performance and your perception of things, so escape isn't really an option, especially in the humanitarian sector, it's inevitable that these things will have an impact on each other, and affects your experience and your perception of things. Yeah, so I think we're coming to the end of the podcast, I just want to thank you very much again for your time. And for sharing about your experiences. And your story, honestly, is very, very interesting. And all the different nuances that you experienced, I think are just very fascinating. So just wondering, where can people find you? You mentioned about your books at all? Where can people find your work? Because I know you've written some papers as well.

Masashi:

Okay. I'm not really sure. I mean, my name is really searchable. I mean, it's quite distinct and independent. So yeah, I think if you type my name, something will come out from the internet. It's a bit scary, but yeah, maybe my past experiences. Maybe not so much available in English, but yeah.

Naomi:

Okay. Fine. Thank you very much. Appreciate your time.

Masashi:

Yeah. Thank you very much as well for your time. And yeah, I don't know, like, how listeners will enjoy this. I hope so.

Naomi:

I'm sure they will. Well, anyway, thank you very much for listening, and I will speak to you on the next podcast.

Bame Recruitment:

Thanks for listening to "You Can't Say Anything Anymore", a podcast by Diversifying.io. If you like our show and want to know more, check out our website and sign up for our newsletter@diversifying.io, or please leave us a review on iTunes. Join us next time as we explore more diversity news.