Indonesia yesterday. It was serious. There have, sadly, been some deaths. There has been a lot of structural damage too.
There has been no appeal yet for international help but a couple of international aid workers asked for help. They happen to be there anyway, working on another project. It has come to a standstill while damage is being assessed.
These two individuals, a couple, have the good sense to know that they can be either a genuine help or a nuisance. They have a limited knowledge of Indonesian. They can communicate politely, do their shopping and so on. They cannot hold a serious conversation - yet.
But yes, the local team leader told them, they could help please. Tasks were handed out. There was an urgent plea to me. Was there anything in the files that might help them?
I found things that I thought might be useful and emailed them. There were some more emails backwards and forwards during the day. Late last night they were travelling back into the area they have been working in and I know I won't hear from them again - unless they need help.
I was telling someone this while I was waiting for one of the library staff to access something for me.
"So all you really do is supply people with lists of words?" he asked me, "That can't be a very satisfying sort of job."
Thankfully the member of the library staff returned at that moment and I didn't have to try and explain. Instead I just told him,
"There's more to it than that and actually it is very satisfying."
Later in the day there was a string of comments on social media about people who work from home, particularly those of us who write anything.
I thought of the man in the library and his "all you really do" and his "lists of words". Of course he has no idea. He might know about VOCAs (voice output communication aids) because Stephen Hawking has made them famous but he has almost certainly never met anyone who needs to use one. I know he has never been overseas and experienced being surrounded by a foreign language.
He has no idea how terrifying it is to be in the midst of an emergency if you don't speak the language.
More than that though he apparently has no idea about vocabulary, about not having the right words at the right time and in the right place. I wondered how he would feel about that.
A close friend of mine is in the very early stages of Alzheimer's. I don't know whether she has been told this or not. It is very obvious to me because she is "losing" her words, particularly nouns. Finding the right word is sometimes a problem. More than once she has said, "I don't know. Words these days... " She is not the fluent public speaker she once was. She no longer grasps ideas instantly. It is making her less tolerant, a little more tetchy. I wonder how much longer she will cope alone in a big house.
I also know it must be very frightening to be losing the capacity to communicate. Aid workers tell me this constantly. It isn't always in so many words but I can "hear" their relief when they have something which will help them communicate - even if it just a little. They want those "lists of words". They need them to get things done and perhaps save lives or places.
Perhaps "all" I do is supply lists of words - but, as far as possible, they have to be the right words in the right places. Losing the capacity to do that would be terrifying.