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#7 Describing themselves as “Nomads”

December 17, 2010

Image is very important to Expat Aid Workers.

Whether they’re changing their Facebook profile pic to the one of where they’re standing next to George Clooney in Juba or regaling the interns with stories of that time when they had a tapeworm, they’re essentially managing image. And no Expat Aid Worker’s image is really complete without a pithy word or phrase that gets across their exotic lives on the road. A word like “nomad.” Or “wanderer.”

THIS dude is a nomad...

It doesn’t matter that their culture has been sedentary for millenia, or that quite unlike real nomads Expat Aid Workers do not herd animals. The point they’re trying making is that they are out seeing the world. Expat Aid Workers a’re not sitting in a suburb somewhere watching the grass grow: they’re out there flying by the seats of their pants, never planning farther ahead than the end of their current contract, going to places that their parents probably cannot find on the map, and mingling with the bottom billion. Describing themselves as “Nomads”  gives their non-aid worker friends a context for understanding what the Expat Aid Worker life is all about.

It’s important for Expat Aid Workers to use these key terms in Facebook and twitter profiles to draw attention to their nomad status (they may also set their location as “global”, rather than the city where they actually spend most of their time). Those who blog typically make “nomad”, “wanderer” or “global” part of the title. These days, though, it can really be tough to find an available URL that includes some permutation, it’s so popular among Expat Aid Workers.

Expat Aid Workers who have been in the game for some time are also good at finding occasions to very casually drop nomadic references into conversation:

“… I guess I’m really a bit of a cultural nomad…”

“…and so I’ve mainly been wandering most of my life…”

“Where am I based? Well, globally, really…”

I could go on, I suppose, but you’re getting the point. And anyway, I have a plane to catch…

34 Comments leave one →
  1. December 17, 2010 9:00 pm

    Umm… Do derivatives of ‘travel’ make the list? :)

    • December 17, 2010 10:28 pm

      You’re good :)

    • September 6, 2011 2:44 pm

      nope. EAWs might be “attending” conferences (better, meetings), “being based” in Joburg, “being around” east Africa quite often, “hanging out” in India once in a while, “flying out or in”, but they never, ever travel. they’re here with a purpose!

      btw, guilty ;-)

  2. Jody permalink
    December 19, 2010 7:57 am


  3. December 20, 2010 8:51 pm

    Shit. I got my ‘nomad’ (in Arabic) tattoo before I became an Expat Aid Worker… does that make it any less cliche? I fear not…

  4. December 21, 2010 3:42 am

    Guilty as charged… my blog title is “Adventures in Nomad’s Land.” At least I stayed away from George when he came to grace us with his presence in Juba a couple months ago. When people ask me where home is, I tend to say “home is where I hang my hat” or “wherever I happen to be at that exact moment, whether it’s a city or a bus or an airport.”

    Great blog!

  5. December 21, 2010 5:57 pm

    i must take umbrage with your suggeston that “Expat Aid Workers do not herd animals”.

    this is blatantly not true. ive been in haiti, sri lanka, aceh, png etc and most of my work there was in fact herding cats.

    The local cats with their malnourished, diseased outlooks focusing them away from the real troubles of harmonisation and coordination. the government ones with their clear focus on how their brother in law can best get access to all that filthy lucre that is flowing in, the local staff who are always complaining about the fact we are just meeting and not actually delivering any of the aid that is piling up in our warehouses. the most troublesome of all though are of course the EAWs themselves who constantly focus on the lack of cold beer, the state of the toilets and their desperate need for a trip to bali/st kitts/goa etc.

    shame on you!


  6. December 30, 2010 12:51 pm

    Interesting and humorous site.

    But “Nomad” doesn’t only refer to pastoralism as you mentioned even if the word come Greek and latin. Humankind have been living nomad lifestyle since the dawns of time. Hunter-gatherers, pastoralism, crafters and traders, all have been traveling as a way of life. The traveling men were the true forces of innovation and creation to the source of all the empires, from China in Rome, Egypt to the American empire of today as wrote the french scholar, Jacques Attali.

    Here in Canada, some of my own ancestors (Algonquin) were also living a nomadic life.

    But otherwise I understand your POV which I red tongue-in-cheek.


  7. January 10, 2011 3:32 am

    i just changed my fb picture to one w/clooney in juba this past weekend. facepalm.

    is it a little less cliche if i didnt seek him out, but if one of his… handlers(?) asked if i wanted a picture when he appeared at the bar we were at. i didnt want to be rude and refuse ;)

  8. David Fox permalink
    January 14, 2011 3:07 am

    so i’m at a party thrown by an expat in amman (and filled mostly by expat aid workers), and i walk by these people talking and this girl is like “i’m kind of a nomad,” and i’m like, “you’re totally parodying right?” and she was like, “what the fuck is that?” and i’m like “HA!” and walk away.

  9. February 11, 2011 3:00 am

    haha! Good post.

    I’ve always thought as a nomad as someone that lives in a tent. Not sure why.

    The majority of aid workers I see these days are in plush a/c’ed restaurants tapping away on their iPhones.

    I guess that makes them ‘Digital Nomads’!

  10. George permalink
    March 5, 2011 3:54 am

    here is another catchy one that I use: Roma or gypsy (please dont tell me gypsy is not politically correct)

  11. Fred permalink
    March 8, 2011 10:13 am

    Clever humour aside, I am not sure that there is not a reason in all of this.

    I don’t use the term but after 30 years as an expat on four continents, I genuinely don’t know where I live or come from. I use my country of nationality mostly, and then cringe when I can’t answer simple questions about the place of my birth or am told by compatriots that I don’t sound right. When sprung I say I am a Third Culture Kid (5 international schools plus this work), but this is the easy way out.

    A friend of the same genre had cards printed that said “travelling” and some contact details; a little pretentious, perhaps, but…

    Any ideas for a non-wanker descriptive?

    Any not pretentious options for the truely lost?

    • HQgal permalink
      March 16, 2011 10:07 am

      I use the word professional expat to describe a certain type of EAW. You know the type – not a lot of real skills but good at living overseas.

  12. March 20, 2011 7:49 am

    Most expats are rally looking for a place they can call home. I think that all the ‘nomad’, ‘global’, ‘home is where I am’, ‘wanderer’ kind of things hide a longing for home. Hence the disillusion, cynicism, attempt to go native, lack of idealism that you discuss in your blog, which by the way is really good!

  13. July 18, 2011 2:54 am

    I am very guilty of this! One of my blogs is called Tales of a nomad.

  14. September 5, 2012 8:10 am

    Your the best

  15. @vagabondamu permalink
    September 6, 2012 10:35 pm

    i had my profile name as vagabond for sometime :) guilty as charged


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