#79 Long Distance Relationships
This guest post is from Max Baldwin
There is no real specific training beyond a generic masters degree for Expat Aid Workers, but a number of initiation rituals have been established so that the EAW can achieve true professional status. These rituals include the long-distance relationship.
Inevitably, during his or her first post abroad, the EAW will be leaving someone special back home, like a young soldier heading off to war: “Sorry darling, I know you can’t understand, but the poor people of Bundustan need me.”
Indeed most friends, family, and even local staff from the office that the freshly minted EAW is travelling to will fail completely to understand the logic, but this is because they don’t get the nomadic spirit which is at the core of the true EAW.
EAWs like long-distance relationships.
Upon arrival in the new country, the long-distance relationship serves as one of the most useful tools for establishing field cred. Having had no previous technical experience or visited other developing countries can be counterbalanced during those awkward first weeks with the repeated statement that you left the love of your life back at home (along with listing your volunteering positions, publications, and motivating factors to become an EAW).
There is no faster introduction to the cruel world of EAWs than the standard reaction during that time, when everyone nods understandingly and then tells you that after 3 months you’ll split up. They’ve all been there before.
For a male EAW, the long-distance relationship has other practical uses, such as in countries where liaisons with commercial sex workers is common amongst regular, married family guys. You could be on a work night out with the Operations Team, say in Vietnam, and have it suggested that you join them for a “massage”. Of course you’d love to — you’re one of the team — but you have a partner back at home.
Female EAWs often take it further and wear fake wedding rings as a totem to ward away the worst of the macho attention lavished on them every day.
Inevitably the long-distance relationship will reduce to e mails that are shorter and more infrequent, and impossible Skype calls in which it sounds like you’re speaking to a cross between R2D2 and Cher, inevitably at 7am on a Sunday morning (which is probably 9pm Saturday night back at home, and so your soon to be ex-partner doesn’t want to be on the phone either). This is the only time that you can find that you’re both available across such distant time-zones.
Time goes on and even Skype becomes too awkward or stressful. Your life is too different from life back home and the energy to explain it all disappears. Your soon to be ex- doesn’t understand your new values and perspectives quite as well as that chick you met a few weeks ago at the EAW house party, or perhaps she’s not quite as pliable as the local woman who’s orienting you to local culture and helping you ease entirely into a new form of male-female hierarchy.
Eventually, you find yourself having a beer with the new guy who just arrived off the plane, telling you about his masters thesis, his commitment to being the new volunteer reporting assistant and his girlfriend back at home.
You find yourself giving him three months, tops.