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#92 House Parties

September 14, 2011

submitted by V Stanski who blogs at Waves of Transition with some input on themed parties by Colleen…

When not putting aid work first or doing RCTs, there’s nothing Expat Aid Workers enjoy more than letting loose in social setting.  EAWs are naturally social creatures, so after-hours mingling is mandatory behavior.  In order to facilitate these informal interactions, EAWs frequently hold house parties.  Not uncommon in their land of origin, house parties in developing and conflict-affected countries take on a unique dynamic.

Parties are held in private EAW houses because they offer a certain amount of privacy to allow the EAW to act freely and without consideration for the local culture.  While sensitive to the indigenous customs, EAWs crave some safe space to resort to their innate ways – ways which can often offend locals in both behavior and music selection.  For those outside the capital city located in a rural setting, there is a lack of social venues like restaurants or dance clubs, so EAWs must rely on their personal houses for social activity.  In conflict-affected countries, EAW movement is often restricted and certain venues are “off limits”, so houses are the only venue for parties.  For EAWs that live in teamhouses, these houses often take on a university dorm-like atmosphere, so with so many EAWs in one place, the space becomes the automatic party venue.

All sorts of people come out of the woodwork whenever there’s an EAW houseparty.  While specific people are invited, EAWs always assume that they can bring other people; the new co-worker, consultant, headquarters colleague, or prostitute.  They are usually motivated by a sense of guilt, knowing the out-of-towner will be alone at the guest house watching pirated DVDs on Friday night.  The more the merrier!

House parties typically bring together a wide range of people from various organizations and sectors, and so can take on a surreal coordination meeting feel where a typical introductory conversation, the primary purpose of which is to establish field cred, goes like this:

“Hi, my name is XX.  Where do you work?”

“Hi, my name is XX and I work with XX.  Where do you work?”

“I work with XX.  So, you must know XX because we used to work together in XX country.”

Based on this conversation, the EAW understands how this new EAW fits within their context.  The most important point of reference is organizational affiliation because it means one understands their type of humanitarian work and who they know.  This is fundamental to EAW interactions at house parties where EAWs identify each other based on their professional association and activities.  There is an inherent rank or categorization that EAWs apply to inform how they should interact.  It allows them to raise specific topics within the conversation to appear informed and work to impress the newly met EAW.

While the environment is casual and friendly, people most often spend the majority of their after-hour discussions talking about humanitarian work.  “Last week, I was up north to negotiate access with the rebels again.  They are so annoying!”  “Those action points from the cluster meeting are ridiculous.  How does she expect us to do that?”  In post-conflict settings, EAWs usually spend considerable time debating the political situation and evaluating the possibly of a danger pay increase or evacuation.  “Well, I heard that program X moved all their non-essential staff out today, so maybe our boss will decide we should go too.”  EAWs like to appear informed and aware of the fluid security situation, while simultaneously casual about the fact that they may be abducted or fired on the next day.

At EAW house parties, attendees make every effort to mark the special occasion.  EAWs “dress up” by putting on fresh and clean clothing.  If they are really trying hard to impress, EAWs will iron their clothing to appear more put together.  If the EAW really really wants to impress, there is usually a reserved pair of zip-off pants and T-shirts, or chunky jewelry and a scarf with sequins, which are saved for special occasions.  While to the EAW considers this clothing fancy, it is really just the same clothing they wear every other day, only it has fewer holes or dirt stains.

Music is an essential component to EAW’s house parties because it marks the special occasion.  Most often, EAWs rely on a computer with iTunes and hook up small speakers to project the music.  Not always a prime sound system, EAWs make the most of the situation because it is a house party in a developing country after all.  The beauty (or downfall) of this music set-up is that anyone can change the music; if the designated DJ leaves his/her post, it means any EAW can change the song, which may generate a reaction from the attendees if it was a unpopular selection.  The crowd really groans when the electricity cuts and the house loses power—hope that laptop is charged!

Since one thing EAWs love is being out of touch with pop culture, the music at a house party is typically the top 40 from the previous year.  Don’t be surprised if you hear the same songs at each party because EAWs don’t mind.  In fact, they are just happy if the music is familiar and it sounds like it is cool.  Dancing is occasionally a part of the house party activities.  Given most EAWs interact with each other a work-setting; it takes a lot of confidence (or alcohol) to encourage dancing.  When a senior EAW dances, it is always a cause to laugh and joke.   Or when EAWs attempt to copy the local dance moves, it is another cause to snicker.

An integral component to any EAW house party is alcohol.  Often referred to as a “social lubricant”, booze makes the house party more… interesting.  Given EAWs are interacting with co-workers and the occasional supervisor from headquarters, the house party usually starts with good intentions and usually ends with inappropriate dancing and stumbling out the door.  In many post-conflict, especially predominantly Muslim countries, obtaining alcohol beverages requires some serious diplomat or bootlegger connections.  EAWs are very comfortable drinking room temperature drinks because the tiny sized ice cube trays combined with the small freezers and the lack of consistent electricity warrants a serious lack of substantial ice.

House parties can be entertaining for both the participant and observer, but just remember that no matter what anyone says, what happens at house parties does not stay at house parties.  If you rip off your top and dance on the tables or shamelessly hit on someone, be assured that EVERYONE will know by the next day.

You’ve been warned!

10 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2011 9:06 pm

    For a while from Darfur to Lebanon to Haiti, every house party I went to played Aisha…. it still makes me think of my favorite tank top that I wore to such parties.

  2. September 16, 2011 6:46 am

    I’m surprised not to see mention of sneaking back home past curfew, bribing the guard, and trying to smuggle whoever you picked up back out again in the morning without your colleagues/roommates seeing her/him!

  3. fish permalink
    September 16, 2011 9:56 pm

    This sure brings back fond memories!

  4. September 20, 2011 3:59 am

    So true. It’s also important for there to be non-English but non-local music. Spanish songs in Bangladesh and Bollywood in Madagascar, etc. After all, the DJ needs to prove that s/he’s got field cred and is more local than the locals in other locales visited.

  5. congo bongo permalink
    September 23, 2011 1:04 pm

    1. If it is an MSF house party you can be sure that Manu Chao will be playing. It is like a rule with them. (actually pretty much any French NGO party)
    2. Shakira will be playing at all houseparties ad nauseam and Colombian men will get out there and salsa with the self-hating German women that worship them.
    3.All women will wear either a) reimagined local fabric ironic outfit OR b) flowy gauzey batiky printy coconutshell buttony idreamagenie-y get ups. Also a rule
    4. Drugs drugs drugs drugs
    5. Drunk and restless driving OR staining the night driver’s ear on the way home “Eh Papa, ehhh mon frere” and buddy buddy slaps on the back with self-satisfaction at how much we think the driver adores us.

  6. nicole permalink
    September 26, 2011 1:51 am

    This is just scarey because most of it is true.

  7. January 28, 2012 1:03 pm

    This is painful reading, like some newspeak bullshit. Who may I ask is paying for this party? And who gets to go on the gravy train?

  8. Marie permalink
    October 17, 2012 1:35 pm

    No home parties in the bush^^


  1. » Ex-Pat House Parties
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