Expat Aid Workers always have the utmost respect for the natives of the country they are in. EAWs understand them. EAWs know what they have been through, and more importantly, EAWs always know what they need. EAWs are more than happy to listen to the locals’ opinions and “give them a voice.” Well, that is until they disagree with what EAWs know about them already, based on experience and/or evidence (eg., survey data or input from a key informant such as a local taxi driver). Sometimes, the locals just don’t know themselves, and need to be told. Luckily, the EAWs are there to provide this service.
EAWs also treat the locals as peers and equals – until the maid is late. That is just unprofessional, even if her son got sick and she had to find someone to watch him when she is working for the EAW, cleaning homes and cooking for 10 hours a day, 6-7 days a week, for which the EAWs pay her around $3/day. That’s the local going rate for domestic help (according to other expats), and besides – it’s still over the international poverty line! EAWs also love their drivers, or “fixers”, and will tell everyone how great their driver is, how the EAW knows everything about his life, his family and his past. In fact, the driver just invited the EAW to dinner, because that is how close the EAW is with his/her driver! EAWs love to tell friends back home how wonderful the locals are – they are so inspiring, so committed to making their lives better, so imaginative and creative, so strong and brave! The EAW is so lucky to have met them, and their presence has changed the EAW forever and inspired the EAW to be a better person.
However, when the EAWs are amongst each other and sharing experiences and thoughts over a few beers, suddenly the locals aren’t so brave and inspiring any more. Now they have become lazy moochers. They are also unreliable – you just can’t trust them. They always try to get something out of you. They are so backwards, so uneducated, so patriarchal, and they really don’t want to help themselves, just expect to get everything for free. The maid keeps asking for time off, the driver honks his horn too much and his driving style is actually really annoying and erratic, the cook just can’t figure out how to make proper pasta al dente and the delivery guys in the restaurant around the corner keep getting the order wrong – because they just do not speak proper English! And talk about the locals’ sense of time – they are always late! Always! It is just so disrespectful towards the EAW – after all, the EAW’s schedule is very packed with important things like coming up with programs that promote participation, building up the capacity of the support staff and visiting villages to get some new material for the Facebook albums. Seriously, locals – can’t you just get a watch that runs on Western time – after all, hellooo, that is what the civilized world goes by.
It is hard being an EAW. All the locals are always asking for something, they always have an angle, and all the EAW wants to do is help! After all, the EAWs are there because they know what the locals need, and they know what is the best approach for empowering them and supporting their participation and promoting social inclusion and equality and freedom and rights and all the rest. The EAWs are experts in all of this, and still the locals have the nerve to question the EAWs approach and methods and priorities. Sometimes, the EAW just wants to shout off the top of his or her lungs: “I AM HERE TO EMPOWER YOU!! WHY CAN’T YOU JUST BE EMPOWERED ALREADY!”
Locals. Sometimes they are just so ungrateful.
Submitted by Laurence Cameron
With its often bizarre assortment of characters and potential to gain huge levels of street cred (not to mention cash of often varying denominations, sorry chaps, I hope Swedish Kroner and Philippine Peso will do) the weekly poker night is an important staple in many an EAW’s social calendar.
It’s the perfect place to sit in a fog of cigar and cigarette smoke, share a fresh bottle of imported whisky, and win or lose the equivalent monthly salary of your local driver in 3 minutes.
Although money is a definite draw, it is unlikely that any inexperienced players will walk away with much at the end of the night thanks to a committed central cabal of players, who have inevitably been ‘in country’ longer than most and effectively earn a second income from baffling younger, more inexperienced players with the intricacies of the game.
The players will be predominantly male, although it’s not unknown for a young femme fatale to turn up and hustle the old guard, perhaps by distracting them from play with her other assets. The older players will grin to themselves at the arrival of a pretty new face ripe for the picking, only to find themselves despondent and broke at the end of the night.
A big win at poker will often leave the EAW with a swagger in their step for the rest of the week, and the benefits can often be felt by others. A crisp new dollar bill for the cute little street kid selling scarves, an extra large tip for the waiter. Inversely, a big loss will induce a miserly effect, and the EAW will be sure to count every penny and avoid unnecessary purchases.
Spending winnings is also something that comes naturally to EAWs, after all, they spend most of their time spending other people’s money in benevolent ways, so if anyone knows how to splash some extra cash it should be them.
The thrill that comes with gambling is heightened by the surroundings, bonus points for a war zone, which helps EAWs get over any stigmas involved. After all, by being in such a dangerous place an EAW is already ‘gambling’ with his life, why not take it the next step?
At the end of the night, players will divvy up the cash and say their goodbyes. Win or lose, there’s always the potential to do better next week, and maybe, just maybe, that cutie sitting across the table and giving you ‘the eye’ will return.
You could certainly do with getting your $200 back from her.
It’s aid-school 101. They’re not beneficiaries, they are partners. Actors in their own development. Nothing will happen if they aren’t fully involved. Communities know best.
While the casual observer may think that the battle for the heart and soul of aid is between the randomistas and the, erm, other ones, aid workers know that the real bun fight is over the fact that their participation is better than everyone else’s. Everyone else is imposing their aims. Or if they aren’t doing that, they’re just raising awareness. They’re merely consulting. They’re facipulating. They’re poor-washing, by decorating head office with huge high-res pictures of an empowered-looking programme participant. They’re extracting information that will get written up into a tidy peer-reviewed article that the cattle-herder in rural Amhara really deserved to be a named author on too. Their version of putting the community in the driver’s seat is to talk to servers they bump into in the hotel; to claim “I always talk to the taxi drivers. You’d be amazed what you can pick up from taxi drivers about what’s really going on in the country.”
You on the other hand, you always put the community in charge. You always let them spend the money on exactly what they wanted to spend it on. You accepted their account of what they did, and asked for no more. You definitely never spent hours begging them to throw you a bone, you know, some lessons learned or a photograph or something. You involved them in the governance of your international NGO. They took to logframes and spreadsheets and sequentially numbering receipts like a duck takes to water. Your donors always understood, and positively encouraged your approach, even though you gave them stories but not the numbers of people reached by the alchemy of the multiplier effect.
In fact you’ve become so good at this that, over time, you’ve gained a pretty good sense of what people are going to say. Slowly but surely you realise that you can anticipate what you are going to hear. That’s great – shortcuts. Efficiency! You can replicate stuff much more quickly, fairly safe in the knowledge that you’re hitting the mark. Of course, you keep yourself up to date by doing the odd transect walk and diploma ceremony, but you’re also awfully busy trying to convince the new donors about the importance of participation. And how your participation is better than everyone else’s.
Submitted by Brian Harding who blogs a little bit at ANairobic Inspiration
You are a few weeks into your new duty station and you have made a few friends. These friends will be your friends for the rest of their time in the duty station. This is because EAWs don’t like to mix up chronologies.
If you arrived in June 2010 in your new war-torn country, then your friends will principally include those people from plus or minus three months of your arrival. These are your friends. You will most likely not hang out with people who arrived in 2008. They have their own friends that arrived then.
There is only one way to get access to people in different chronologies. This is simply if you are vouched for. It could happen that you got to strike up a conversation at the cluster meeting or the house party and you did not make a complete fool of yourself. Like the young kid who joins the older guys, Red, Andy Dufrain, Floyd and Ernie at the dining table in Shawshank Prison, fundamentally, you better have something to offer fast. (Do remember he ended up dead and the other guys ended up at the beach.).
Making a complete fool of yourself is easy however. If you do not know the name of the president, his party (it’s generally a man), what FGM stands for, the local name for transport (e.g matatu), have some local words, the location of anything, the head of such and such an agency etc or if you make the mistake of possessing any degree of idealism, you’re doomed. The list of potential errors is long and not clearly defined and if you mess up, you are out, before you even have a chance.
An important part of being new and meeting people from outside your chronology (even if you have made a complete fool of yourself) is to say that you are staying a long time. “I have a 90 day contract but I’m planning on staying for 2 years”. This is appreciated by all EAWs and some day you will appreciate hearing it too.
If you do meet people from earlier chronologies, you will find that indeed many of their friends are from around the same time that they arrived but initially they didn’t like all of the people in their group. “when I first met him, I thought s/he was a complete [alcoholic, womanizer, A-hole, etc] and didn’t want to be near him, but then we ended up on a weekend away and now s/he is like one of my best friends”. Yes, “like one of my best friends” …..but certainly not my best friend.
EAWs learn fast that first impressions count for nothing when your friends from the duty station begin to leave. It’s always better to hang out with people who you don’t like but are from the same chronology than with the newbies.