Author Jo Patti brought stories of escaping danger in conflict zones to a writers’ group and community members at an Ignacio Community Library book event Thursday.
Patti, who specializes in health and education, has traveled to over 20 countries practicing medicine and monitoring or evaluating programs for major international agencies. She shared some of those experiences, as well as insights into the writing profession, while presenting her first nonfiction book, “Getting of the X.”
“This book is somewhat a cautionary tale, giving some warnings ... about some of the things that can happen,” said Patti, about “Getting Off the X.” “It’s not things you would normally be told.”
“Getting off the X” is a military term for getting out of the line of fire or targeted area. Since the end of 2006, Patti has worked in conflict zones around the world for agencies like the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Defense, USAID and United Nations. She provides monitoring, evaluation, research and training for education and health-focused programs.
In the book, she compiled stories focused on the moments when people have to make a decision to evade physical, emotional or spiritual dangers.
The stories embody the risks Patti and others face in conflict areas. American organizations have sent her to places that are dangerous, that no American has recently visited. But where she goes, her colleagues and interpreters are also in danger – something she has had to remind the organizations.
“People get killed,” she said. “Lots of really, very serious things happen with trying to push programs on places that are not ready.”
Her work doesn’t stop with evaluating programs. As a medical practitioner in traditional Chinese medicine, specializing in trauma, Patti worked with refugees from various countries, including Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Somalia.
She has worked with Aboriginal, tribal and Indigenous communities in New Zealand, New South Wales, Australia and the United States. She has been a Sundancer and pipe carrier, ceremonial positions of honor, on Lakota and Menominee reservations.
She never has a regular day at her job. She works at least 12 hours a day, at least six days a week, she said.
“You’re never really off duty,” she said.
Her daughter encouraged her to write about her experiences. When she looked for books about people who worked in conflict zones, they were mainly by journalists, soldiers or novelists. She couldn’t find very many that shared the perspective of a health and education professional.
“I thought, yes, okay, I will start writing a series of books,” Patti said.
She also presented “Kismet,” a book of poetry, and “Zen and the Art of Skiing,” a project by her son, Denali Schmidt. Schmidt and his father, Patti’s ex-husband, died in 2013 while climbing K2 in Pakistan, the second tallest mountain in the world.
Patti has found catharsis through poetry, especially while processing her grief.
“We had a lot of deaths in our family and with people that I work with, so sometimes, for me, writing poetry is a way to express that,” she said.
For the more experienced writer who wants to be published, she said other authors can connect writers to publishers. Asking authors who are successful in a genre to read your work can help forge those connections, she said.
One tip for amateur writers, she said, was to focus on the genre in which you want to write.
“Read the writers you think are the best,” she said. “Just keep reading, reading, reading.”