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#69 Hardship Living

July 1, 2011

'My guard gets paid way more than the neighbors' guard' (Representative image - Photo from

submitted by Rose

Having to move around a lot is one of the serious downsides of being an EAW. It can be rough having to carry your belongings across the world every 2-3 years and setting up a home that is 12 to 15 times nicer than the one you would occupy in your country of origin. The mansion of a certain level of  employee from a certain type of bi- or multi-lateral agency in a family duty station in the capital of a nice and calm African country like Ghana is really just a small compensation that only partly makes up for the hardship living and displacement that the EAW faces on a regular basis.

The fancy living arrangement enjoyed by EAWs from certain agencies makes up for the hardship of being stationed away from their own culture, and is fairly standard across most countries where you find EAWs.

When you arrive at the gate protecting the EAWs home from the locals, there will be a security guard. It’s always the same guard for the day and one for the night, 7 days a week. Holidays, weekends off, a lunch break or other excessive luxury you will hardly ever find. The guard is always sleeping while on duty so you will need to honk your horn a few times before he will open the gate.

Those darn house staff, always sleeping on the job!

Your host will come and greet you at the porch, complaining that her guards always sleep and that she has had to fire a few of them because of that. Eventually she gave up and got a dog shipped from the home country to help her feel safe. Proudly she will announce that her guards get paid way more than the guards of the neighbours who work for the French Embassy. She pays 40 dollars a month and covers the school fees of all the guards’ children too! But watch out, because you give them one finger and they take the whole hand, she warns. For the love of God, one now even asked for money for his wife to go to the hospital. The guards sell phone credit on the street for the other 12 hours of the day or night that they are off to be able to make a proper living. Hence the always sleeping while on duty. The kitchen staff seem to have the same problem, even though they really don’t work very much, she will tell you.

Once you enter the compound, you’ll notice that the house looks like it comes straight out of MTV cribs. It’s huge, with 6 bedrooms and at least 3 bathrooms, maybe more. Our host can even teach her expat yoga classes at night inside as the living room is a ballroom and easily fits 20 people on a yoga mat. It’s nice and cool inside as the ACs are on 24/7 because she likes the house cool when she gets back from work and her husband is from Sweden so he likes the cold too.

Entering the door you nearly knock over a huge wooden statue of a Buddha. From her time in Lao she explains. In the hall 10 scary looking masks are staring at you. From her time in Zimbabwe she explains, without you asking. The next wooden object is from Yemen and so on. The house is like a trip down memory lane. All furniture (except some Billy bookcases from IKEA) is from different countries and all have long stories attached to them, where they are from and how much she bargained off the original price.

The house, even though it’s enormous, is surprisingly stuffed. There 2 full Billies with photo albums covering her and her family’s whole life. There are yearbooks from high school. There are Swedish winter clothes, snowboards and other useful supplies for a country on the equator as well as 5 boxes with nativity scenes and Christmas decorations. One room is completely stuffed with groceries. Washing powder for 4 years, salsa in big jars of 5 litres, and more cereal than you could possibly eat in your whole life. All shipped from the home country of course as there is no proper washing powder in Africa. And this subgroup of Expat Aid Workers doesn’t like the funny taste of a different sauce on their Doritos. And they do like to carry their whole life around where-ever they go or live. You never know when you want to put that woollen sweater on with the AC being so cold, right?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Tyche permalink
    July 1, 2011 12:16 pm

    So funny! I do recognise myself, apart from the salsa! But it is not all fun and games… internet connections are crap, there are no other expats in the village, and thus stuck at home alone watching b-movies and drinking expensive wine…. thank God it is Friday and I can go and do that for the next 2 days!

  2. Eivor permalink
    July 1, 2011 12:43 pm

    I love how you present the Swedish husband as if he was just another luxorious prop… :)

  3. July 2, 2011 10:28 am

    So true, and sickly hilariousness delusional. Met many like this, and truly feel that they have lost the plot or the reason for living where they are, they are so entrapped by that life they find it very hard to integrate into their own society, sometime its a crutch of importance, and have adopted an acceptance of the ‘problems’ of the lifestyle, in turn becoming part of the problem, a truly vicious circle. I have seen this transpire is a relatively shot time 2-3 years, the worst part is this ex-pat type feels they are a pillar of the community, not only that a voice and without them the fabric of this bubble will collapse into disarray if they left, its a form of lunacy.

    One prominent point that pisses me off, is the security guard aspect. Such a risk, many guards are paid less than the cost of living, and this will lead to theft,and could open the doors to turning a blind eye for kidnapping, rape, home invasions (With both previous crimes), allow fraud, corrupt practice. The complacency of the sleeping aspect is equally damming, and yes the reasons are long hours, two or more jobs, undernourished, lack of medical treatment, but more importantly ‘lack of training’, poor regulation, the attitude of we pay them more then ‘X’, the most ignorant and blatant short sighted justification, and as a feel good factor proves they and the system has failed.

    Good write-up, and those that feel that this just like they are, wake-up, because you are part of the problem…

  4. DevWonk70 permalink
    July 8, 2011 11:09 pm

    A most excellent summary although I’m disappointed it didn’t include a description of what’s in the driveway – one large Toyota Land Cruiser running with a driver inside with the AC on, one Toyota Camry sans driver and leaking oil everywhere, 3 bicycles – permanently locked and never used because it wouldn’t be safe and lots of dusty sports gear.

  5. July 9, 2011 10:06 am

    Dev – Ditto on that…

  6. Kelti permalink
    August 20, 2011 5:57 pm

    No sorry, my hardship living was a year in a village hours away from the city with no electricity or running water, no guard, no other muzungus, nobody who spoke English…we don’t all live in cushy compounds with 5 servants and a toyota parked in front.


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