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#95 Talking about all the places they’ve been

September 26, 2011

by Colleen

Expats Aid Workers love love LOVE talking about all the places they’ve been. All the better if talking about the places they’ve been involves harrowing tales or funny anecdotes shared over a drink or dinner, typically in a suitably Western environment.

We all know the routine: Your friend takes a dramatically lazy sip of his gin & tonic, gets a faraway look in his eyes, and then sighs, “well, when I was in Nepal living with a family in their one bedroom mud hut…”


“I remember when I was in Sudan, back before CNN had heard of Darfur…”


“Oh, let me tell you about the time when I was in Afghanistan…”

The stories are usually cute and funny, and best if delivered in a deadpan/bored tone.  They generally provoke gasps or nods from around the table.  Veteran EAWs who’ve heard it all before (and probably done most of it themselves) may roll their eyes.   (It’s very posh, by the way, to have got to the point where you can roll your eyes because you’ve been around and travelled so much that you don’t need to hear yet another story from an idealistic hipster.  Clearly such young newbies have not collected enough passports to know the way the world really works.)

Related to the desire to talk about the places that they’ve been is the unending truism that EAWs all fall in love with the first place they’ve been. (Editor’s note: think, Feels Like the First Time by Foreigner).

For example, if someone had their first volunteering or work experience in the Phillipines, then no matter the hardships they went through, they will always have a soft spot in their heart for it and any place they go after that, ever, will always be compared to the Philippines (and will probably not measure up). Or Ghana. Or Nicaragua. Or Uzbekistan…

They say “Africa gets in your blood” or “Asia gets in your blood.”  Maybe it should be “development gets in your blood and nothing gets it stronger than your first culture shock.”

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Lynsey permalink
    September 26, 2011 5:19 am

    We play “when I…….”….which really does get you through some quite dull NGO gatherings.

    Whenever one of your new best friends in the field starts a story with these, ever so fascinating words, quietly reward yourself with one glorious point.

    BUT, if you find yourself starting a story like this, you have to lose ten points.
    I am on about minus 43 due to being drunk and suddenly finding myself far too fascinating.

    Thankfully I haven’t been to Somalia. After that happens I’m expecting my score to plummet quite rapidly.

    PS The same applies to starting sentences with “there was this one time” FYI our American friends…….or any other variations on the same theme.

  2. September 26, 2011 11:25 am

    Ouch. I’m uncomfortable with the accuracy of this post.

    I remember one time when I was in Djibouti….

  3. September 26, 2011 7:11 pm

    I disagree. Haiti 2010 was my first deployment and there ain’t no soft spot.

  4. September 28, 2011 12:23 am

    I thought I agreed. My first field posting was Colombia and no other posting or country had managed to get me so interested in the different levels, the history, the politics. Nothing seemed as interesting. so I assumed it was due to the fact that it had been my first. About a year ago I had a job in Palestine…. it was love at first sight.

  5. TiKa permalink
    September 29, 2011 5:14 am

    I am just discovering this blog… most of the posts are so~ accurate – cynical but accurate!
    I think, for me, the worst is in French, when expats are asked about places they’ve been to, they often start with a “J’ai ‘fait’… l’Afghanistan, le Congo, etc..”. “J’ai fait” translates into “i’ve made”… .I know i shouldn’t take it literally but it still irritates my ears when i hear this. To be honest, I did use that expression before until a colleague of mine made me realize that, conceptually, “to make a country”, especially as an EAW, is far from reflecting any humbleness at all…

  6. Cornelia permalink
    September 30, 2011 9:10 am

    @TiKa: I believe that “j’ai fait” is an abbreviation from “j’ai fait un stage, un projet,….” in which both of you are supposed to know what has been left in this sentence. It’s not arrogant at all. I think it’s arrogant to translate it the way you did without really knowing French or caring about the exact meaning.
    In your stupid way of thinking “j’ai fait la fac” would mean that i created a university, while it just means that i finished my studies (and am currently looking for a job or working).
    I think it’s the same in colloquial English “i’ve made it”, means “i finished it, i finally reached/got it” and it doesn’t mean i claim to be a big creator.

  7. Heather permalink
    October 3, 2011 3:53 pm

    colleen, i’m sorry for the togo stories. you are so right though. i sometimes hear myself wax poetic about “when i was in togo…” and i cringe. i can’t help it, i’m obsessed. the lady at the bank of america call center heard about togo yesterday (granted she was of nigerian origin, but still). i need help.

  8. October 5, 2011 7:00 am

    I knew when I started reading this post that there will be a mention of “Nepal” . If a EAW doesn’t have Nepal on their resume, its not quite the same :)

  9. stilloptimistic permalink
    October 15, 2011 5:34 am

    Sometimes they break you in with a relatively nicer place for a posting and when you have more ‘experience’ you get the more ‘challenging’ postings till you finally have done enough time to get back to a nicer place again!! I think that is why I look back so fondly on my first posting cos what came after!!!

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