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#55 Outdoorswear

May 13, 2011

Submitted by Kim who blogs (intermittently) at Kim, Colin and Caleb in Kenya

When Expat Aid Workers are not donning traditional dress – dashikis, saris, hijabs and the like – they can most often be found in a range of blandly colored, high-tech outdoorswear.  From their rugged Keen Newport sandals to their sensible convertible adventure pants to their waterproof safari hats, these EAWs look just as at ease addressing Gender-Based Violence in Afghanistan as they do hiking the Appalachian trail.  REI has developed a line of “travel wear” with the EAW squarely in mind.

photo courtesy of

This attire serves multiple purposes.

First, it reminds the EAW that she is in fact living in a part of the world that requires sturdy performance shoes and copious amounts of emergency pockets.  It reinforces her sense of adventure and daring.

Second, despite the fact that most EAW spend their days behind a desk at an office, this attire reminds them, and any onlooker, that they could, at a moments notice, be called to the dusty, treacherous and action-packed “field.”

Third, and stay with me here, the washed-out almost non-color of their garments serve as a visual symbolic reminder of the value they place in humbly “blending in,” of turning the spotlight away from themselves and shining it on the real heroes: the locals, whose wisdom (again, at least symbolically) is incorporated into all their planning.


Last, and most prosaically, these breathable, water-resistant and quick drying garments offer a refuge of comfort when the EAW realizes the intense discomfort of sweating through a hijab in desert heat and comes to terms with their inability to gracefully navigate muddy paths in lengthy salwar kameez.

Despite the fact that their local co-workers show up to the office in sport jackets and polished dress shoes, these EAW are confident that a button down shirt raises their wash-and-wear khakis and sports sandals to the business formal category.  The deference shown by the local staff proves these instincts correct.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Boomer permalink
    May 13, 2011 7:39 am

    Amazing…just found this site yesterday and I love it!

  2. May 13, 2011 9:46 am

    …and that reminds me of that dear colleague who gave his almost complete collection of synthetic outdoor trousers and shirts to his Darfuri cleaning lady, to discover at the end of the day that she had tried hard to iron them all… He was down to one trouser and one shirt!

    What’s the slogan again..? “Pack less, carry less, do more”! ;-)

  3. Darkwing Duck permalink
    May 13, 2011 2:57 pm

    Hah hah hah! I can’t wear those pale colors at all, they make me look even whiter than I actually am. Additionally, my local counterparts find them utterly repugnant and admonish me about how much “more fresh and nice” I would look if I just wore the region’s traditional dress. Since ‘traditional dress’ involves rather a lot of flesh, I joked that if I wore it, they would go blind from the reflection of my skin. Our mutually agreed-upon solution is that I wear trad. dress with tank tops under it if I am in the community. In the office they are willing to accept jeans and a t-shirt although there are sometimes “kidnappings” when I am bundled into a taxi for a trip to the dressmaker…

  4. May 14, 2011 5:36 am

    There’s always the additional reason that that’s what the dear travel medicine personnel told me to do. “These mosquitos like bright colored clothing … Those like dark colors. So your best bet is to wear bland.” … I don’t have anything bland! … and bland is not the first word that comes to mind when I think about traditional clothing…


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