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#77 Food

July 27, 2011

Is some real cereal too much to ask for around here? Geez.

Submitted by Mamajosh

Expat aid workers like food. More specifically, they like talking about all the trouble they go through to get it. Items that had very little value in their pre-EAW life now get elevated to the same level of importance as, for example, oxygen. Get a few EAWs together and sooner or later the conversation will migrate to cereal. “I’ve got to get some corn flakes. Know any shops that have them?” one might say. This lets everyone know that a) you know the local situation well enough to know which essential items are in short supply and b) emphasizes your suffering because it can’t be found.

Another EAW must respond in turn “Can you believe I had to pay fourteen thousand shillings for a box of raisin bran?? That’s highway robbery!” EAWs make a lot of sacrifices to save humanity. EAWs who are feeling generous will let their colleagues know when certain unexpected items can be found (after they’ve bought all they need). They might send their friends an SMS message: “Just saw cream cheese at the store. Send your driver to get some before it’s gone.

EAWs who spend time in the field should be sure to let everyone know about their culinary experiences there. “Once we were out in the bush conducting a workshop and all we had to eat for five days was ugali and kale. I thought I was going to die.” Facebook is a great way to share these little tidbits as well: “Just back from nine days in the field. Car broke down but some locals shared their fried termites with us.

Some lucky EAWs get a consumable grocery shipment (as part of their hardship benefits); they love to talk about it. They want everyone to know that despite being allowed to fly in 2,500 pounds of groceries every six months, it still is a tremendous burden to have to buy all that food and then wait for someone else to pack and ship it. One kindly Expat Aid Worker might try to assist a colleague with critical supplies (while making sure everyone knows that they aren’t the poor lowly aid worker who doesn’t get a shipment). “Gosh, are you low on instant oatmeal again? I’ve got 16 cases coming in my next shipment if you need some. Of course, it might take a few weeks to get here.” Additionally, the EAW likes to ship in things that are available locally. “I know Tanzania’s main cash crop is coffee but all the good stuff is exported so I have to get it shipped to me from stateside.

EAW: (sheepish smile) I'm just home from Africa for a couple weeks and we can't get Saltines there. Have to stock up.... Large Box Store clerk and customers: (looks of awe and pity) Wow. Africa. That must be so hard. (Photo:

EAWs love warehouse stores. If the EAW is on annual “home leave” (something they also like) then it is critical for them to purchase huge quantities of food at one of these stores. At a minimum the EAW should fill up at least three large carts and spend over $1,500. This will spark a conversation with curious onlookers and give the EAW the opportunity to tell people how they live overseas and are forced to buy so much food because “you just can’t get anything over there”.

If the aid worker is doing a tour stateside, then the reverse situation is true. As a part of continuing to establish their field cred, they go to great lengths to get random food from overseas. They must let everyone know about these searches too—either at the office or on Facebook “I’m looking for boerwors. Does anyone know where I can get them here?” Locating and serving obscure local beer is also a great way to let everyone know about the places you’ve been. Nothing says “field work” like serving a cold Primus beer at your backyard cookout.

The EAW should be sure to use alternative names when asking for products at home. At a restaurant they should order Coke Light because they can then say “Oops, I mean Diet Coke. I get so used to saying Coke Light in [random country]”. When eating out, EAWs prefer sketchy street food. (“Once I was in [random city] and I had the best roasted goat. And it only cost 12 cents!”). In a restaurant that serves both foreigners and locals, the EAW will always insist on ordering from the local menu “It’s so much better than the junk they serve to tourists.

Lest our readers think EAW only eat at restaurants—not the case at all. EAW love their cooks. In fact they frequently wonder how they ever managed without one. Their big important work makes it so very hard to get dinner prepared that a cook really is essential. Cooks are handy because they can prepare food for events as well. Have a bake sale at your child’s school? No problem, the cook can make awesome cookies. Hosting a dinner party? No problem, the cook can make everything, serve the food, and clean up at 2 AM. Eating at a friend’s house and have something particularly great? No problem, my cook can teach your cook. There are challenges, of course. Finding a good cook can be hard. Imagine the suffering an EAW faces when their cook prepares Lobster Thermidor for a weeknight family dinner. Don’t they remember that little Suzy hates seafood??

12 Comments leave one →
  1. July 27, 2011 8:12 am

    For me it’s twisties, Vegemite, and Coopers Beer!

  2. ExpatWoerker (No Aid Involved) permalink
    July 27, 2011 9:16 am

    Bitter much?

  3. nicojah permalink
    July 28, 2011 1:08 pm

    she (EAW) filled her shipment with cases of Better ‘N Peanut Butter to a country in africa where real Peanut Butter is $1 per bottle… sometimes lifestyle and development work follow the same assbackward logic.

  4. rick permalink
    July 28, 2011 5:48 pm

    my colleague brought two years use of tampons to Nairobi because she had heard they weren’t available in Africa…

    • July 29, 2011 9:49 am

      rick… many a woman brings a full supply of her favourite feminine hygiene products because honestly not all feminine hygiene products are created equal (even when the box looks the same as the ones at “home”). And yeah, I’m guilty of this, too and I don’t blame your colleague in the least!

      • August 1, 2011 6:55 am

        Correct! I came to Cambodia without any and promptly asked my husband to bring as many boxes as possible with him on his first visit. Tampons are not the same the world over.

  5. July 29, 2011 9:47 am

    I am somehow reminded of a certain consultant who arrived for a 3 week job and was to stay with me… when I explained the breakfast choices at my house she said, “uh, do you have any cereal?” Cereal cost about USD20/box if you knew where to find it.

    • Jaded permalink
      August 20, 2012 4:56 pm

      You actually let a short-termer stay at your digs? Said person should have been grateful for eggs (any style) and fresh fruit. The only thing I could virtually never find was plain, unfruited, uncolored, unsweetened yogurt. I hope you explained to her that she could buy her own cereal. . . and milk.

  6. July 31, 2011 12:18 pm

    Totally guilty. For me it’s Muesli!

  7. August 10, 2011 4:29 am

    Forget tampons, use a Diva Cup!!! It is heaven sent (in feminine product form).

    • Rosie permalink
      April 24, 2012 10:11 am

      Not sure what a diva cup is, but if it’s anything like a mooncup, a friend of mine had to get her boyfriend to fish it out (no pun intended) when the string broke and it got stuck inside. Not a pleasant experience all round I suspect and not a situation you’d want to be in in the back end of beyond.


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