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#76 Rock in Hard Places

July 25, 2011

submitted by Daniel J Gerstle from HELO Magazine

White City in Afghanistan. Photo by David Gill

Rocketing through the desert, crossing war fronts (of course pausing a moment to take some pictures with war junk), building clinics and schools in the mountains, and suffering everything from home sickness to tropical diseases and parasites…. For the hard-core Expat Aid Worker, it all goes better with loud, cathartic rock and roll, punk, and rap music.

It’s the soundtrack of the memory of the EAW’s life out there. It allows the EAW to cope with the stress of working halfway around the world from home.  It provides opportunities for blow-by-blow recounting of adrenaline stoked stories and incidents…. Oh man, this song reminds me of this one time in Kandahar when….  It makes for real EAW bonding.

Yes, the real EAW loves rock in hard places. Unfortunately, however, beyond the aid sphere, the humanitarian cause music scene both on the grand world stage and in the local cafe bars in the bush is consistently, and perversely, hijacked by panzies.

The story of a nomad’s break-neck, sand-blasted hike across broken desert landscape with a smelly, fickle camel is somehow transformed into a new age martini bar serenade… “Love, for the children for the desert for love…”

The tale of a parent’s blood and sweat-blinded struggle to hold off a rebel onslaught while their family escapes is mysteriously morphed into a world music guilt-alleviation party… “We must stand together for the peace in the war for the children, for love…”

Worse still is the local friend who keeps blasting candy pop golden poodle music on the radio while you’re trying to get psyched up for the latest round of cholera. No, no, no, brothers, you’ve got the whole scene wrong.

For the EAW who’s worked in crisis and poverty zones, blasting everything from The Who to Rage to Smashing Pumpkins to Misfits or to Tupaq on head phones is the new sufism. Moshing with buddies in the compound courtyard is the new whirling dervishism. And cranking up the amplifier is the 21st century communion with the great big everything.

Why does the EAW love it – need it – so much?

Part of it is remembering those early days of adolescence when we realized that no matter how trapped we were in that old house that we had power over our lives. Another part of it is being able, in perhaps the most passive aggressive way possible (EAWs love passive aggressiveness), to flip a big middle finger at the conservative extremists wrecking the country the EAW’s found him or herself in.

At the bottom of it all, that loud, sweet, roaring, thundering, epic sound represents the force field the EAW can turn on at any minute to create our own private world where the  Taliban, the Shabab, the dictators, the rebels, the starving children, and, yes, the panzies are all just figures knocking on the window trying to get in, but we can’t hear them and that’s just fine. This is our time. And, for now at least, we’re having a blast.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 25, 2011 7:34 am

    Even better, playing rock in hard places. See the following for expat aid workers in Cambodia living the dream.

  2. seb permalink
    August 1, 2011 12:36 pm

    rock the casbah!

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