Thursday, January 17, 2013

Aversion Therapy

Way back when …long before I became the global superstar of international development that you know today; the saviour of the poor and vulnerable everywhere; the wondrous hero of philanthropic virtue; long before the keys to the cities, interviews with my good friend Oprah, Nobel nominations and all that guff, I was but a young, lowly, anonymous Donkey trying desperately to break into the industry.

I tried all the usual tricks to get noticed: hanging around after lectures and sucking-up to my tutors; signing-up to be an usher at international conferences in the hope that some Global Fund Exec would be impressed by how well I wielded my torch; writing hundreds of donor reports while on work experience at high profile NGOs while managers enjoyed three hour lunches; giving hand jobs to tipsy managers after their three hour lunches … but I never got much traction from these methods.  So desperate was I to get out there and do good for the poor people, that eventually I knew I was just going to have to suck it up and devote a couple of years of my life living in poverty as an international volunteer.

After about a year of negotiating the multi-step selection process, getting accepted into the volunteer program and then stewing in my diminishing self-confidence for six months while not a single assignment came my way, the call finally arrived.  “Donkey,” whined the nasal bureaucrat down the line, “I have the perfect position for you in exciting Sri Lanka”.  Wow, I thought.  Awesome!. “You’re going to start-up Sri Lanka’s first ever quit smoking campaign”.

My heart sank.  Firstly, what I knew about health promotion at that time could have fit on the side of a very, very, very small grain of stunted Sri Lankan rice.  Secondly, I had at that time recently returned from travelling around India where I had learned that a pack of ciggies on the subcontinent costs less than seven cents (AUD).  As it happens, despite never having smoked a day in my life, I had taken up the habit for the period of my travels just to enjoy the warm feeling one gets from sourcing a bargain (in fact, I love a bargain so much, I was averaging about four-and-a-half packs a week!). 

With economics like that at play, I knew the Sri Lanka job was going to be a tough gig, and added to that, I was philosophically opposed to any process with the potential of reducing the number of posters and general advertising featuring hot women in white bikinis taking a cool dip in the turquoise waters of a tropical paradise.  So on this occasion, despite my desperation to help the poor people of the world, I declined the offer, and some months later, I was lucky enough to start on my successful journey towards international development in the turquoise waters of another tropical paradise … albeit sans the white bikini (hang-on, that sounds like I was nude … I wasn’t nude … I was wearing shorts … most of time, anyway).

As the years went by and I came to learn a thing or two about health promotion in developing countries, I remained content with my decision of the time; I would have completely ballsed it up, and quite possibly could have walked away from the experience scarred, never again to return to the field.  But fate has a funny way of catching up with you, and just the other day I unwillingly got to participate in what I can only assume to have been one of your more successful quit smoking interventions.

It happens that while en route from holiday back to Vanuatu to re-commence my life-saving development work, I became stranded in the transit lounge of Brisbane International Airport for seven hours.  Like most such lounges around the post-September 11 world, Brissie’s transit stop is a hermetically sealed affair, however it humours the dubious, ‘physiological needs’ of nicotine addicts via a small balcony out the back of the sub-standard café, with comfortable outdoor chairs and tables overlooking the enormous car park.  It’s certainly nothing special, but as smoking lounges go, it’s open, airy and seems to get cleaned every once in a while.

Certainly, in contrast to the nicotine-stained glass ‘smoking rooms’ which are pretty common in Asian airports, this place is actually quite nice.  And even in comparison with the so called ‘outdoor bar’ at Sydney airport, where twitchy travellers suck back on three of four Winnie Reds in the howling gale of the terminal’s aircon exhaust engines before throwing their butts on the filthy, un-serviced floor to join the queue for Immigration, this spot is like a penthouse apartment balcony in a luxurious holiday resort … apart from one small, architecturally overlooked flaw in the terminal’s design.

It was about five hours into my static ordeal, and by this time Donkey had done his best to squeeze as much as he could from the airline’s compensatory refreshment vouchers over the terminal bar.  I ran into the men’s lavvy in considerable desperation and didn’t take much notice of the décor and fittings as I dropped my strides and relieved myself at the sparkling urinal.  Moments later, with an empty bladder and a much clearer head, I took advantage of my solitude to turn around for a look at the facilities as I lifted my strides.  Only after having completed a 180 degree turn did I notice the large, untinted window looking out over the enormous car park … the very same car park one can see from the smokers’ balcony … as the penny dropped, so did my jaw.  There I was, standing for all to see, my pants in one hand and my hairy, ever-apologetic penis in the other, while the assembled, horrified smokers desperately butted out their ciggies to join the frenzied crush at the balcony exit.

So there it is.  Many years later, and quite by accident, I (or at least my hairy, spotty arse and unattractive member) have now done my very own, small bit (no pun intended) for the anti-smoking lobby.  Strangely, while this methodology is certainly bound to be effective for male smokers, perhaps this helps to better explain why young women continue to take-up smoking at a higher rate than their male counterparts.  Clearly there is still some thinking to be done on this.

What I really wanted to post  here was a pic of the old ‘Fresh is Alpine’ ciggie ads from Australia in the 80s.  Each one featured a birds-eye shot of a bronzed woman in a white bikini lying on a boat/board/whatever over turquoise water (sometimes with, but not always, a male version in white shorts).  But it seems that these things are no longer on the internet … I find that amazing.  The anti-smoking lobby is clearly as powerful these days as its nemesis.  Instead, here’s one of the poor guys I could/should have helped.  Pic:


Ms Vanuatu said...

This just made my MONDAY! Way to go Donkey! Lol

Ann O'Dyne said...

oh god.

recovering my wits to add that of course those fresh alpine people were chucking their butts in the snow and the turquoise ocean ...

good thing you weren't sent to stop China smoking.