Tales of friendship, sorrow in UNThe United Nations was extremely displeased when “Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures,” a joint memoir of three UN workers, came out last summer. The book lives up to its title, recounting romantic encounters with locals and other UN staff (although not among the three authors), as well as drug use and parties, but that wasn’t what upset the United Nations.
Their book is a tribute to the strong friendship of Americans Kenneth Cain and Heidi Postlewait and New Zealander Andrew Thomson, but it’s also a pointed critique of the United Nations’ failures in its peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti and Bosnia, and of the corruption within the organization. They became witnesses to the destruction that resulted in the United States’ and United Nations’ inability, or lack of will, to protect those being slaughtered in both Rwanda and Srebrenica, and they make their frustration and anger clear.
The three met in Cambodia in 1993 while they were monitoring the nation’s first free election. Cain, a Harvard Law School graduate, Thomson, a doctor, and Postlewait, a UN secretary, had joined the United Nations for different reasons, out of a desire to do good, to make a difference in the world, to get away from a suffocating life back home.
Despite some violence, the election is a success, and from there, they fly off to various parts of the world on UN missions, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends.
Cain and Postlewait were working in Somalia and Thomson in Haiti in October 1993 when 18 U.S. Rangers were killed in a gun battle, prompting the United States to announce that its soldiers would leave the area. Soon after the Somalian firefight, the United States withdrew from Haiti, where it had sent troops to restore democracy, and the United Nations decided to follow shortly afterward.
As Thomson prepared to evacuate the mission in Port-au-Prince, he reflected on the implications of the United Nations’ withdrawal: “We just showed the Haitians that our lives are more valuable than theirs. ‘Tell us the truth and we will seek justice’ was our idea. ‘It’s too dangerous and we must evacuate’ is our privilege. Neither applies to the Haitians.”
Danger is a constant on many of their missions, especially from groups hostile to the United Nations and its work, and in Postlewait’s case, it brings out a primal need for human contact.
After one harrowing brush with sniper gunfire in Mogadishu, Postlewait runs with an attractive Somali interpreter to safety. “And then the strangest thing happens,” she recalls. “I want to rip my clothes off, rip Yusuf’s clothes off ... It has to be right now, not in 10 minutes, not in five. Now. An emergency. Emergency sex.”
The United Nations is currently suffering from image problems, with the oil-for-food scandal investigations, and its actions after the book was published don’t help. Postlewait and Thomson, who are still with the United Nations, received a letter of reprimand, and Thomson’s contract wasn’t renewed late last year. An appeals board granted an extension to March 6 while it reviews the case.
Emergency Sex and Other
By Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thomson
Miramax Books, 320 pages,
$16.35 on Amazon.com
by Sei Chong