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#139 Pre-Deployment Shopping

February 27, 2012

Submitted by Peter Blair

Nothing brings joy to the heart of an EAW like the shopping spree that precedes an overseas deployment.  Not only does this give EAWs a chance to start mentally preparing for the mission (picturing themselves handing out sacks of WFP rice in that dashing blue Oxford button down) but it also lets them ‘be enigmatic’ to complete strangers and show off their field cred to lay-people.

Pre-deployment shopping gives EAWs an excuse to buy any piece of technology or kit that they’ve secretly been pining after during the last few months of pre-pre-deployment (i.e. when they are ‘between jobs‘).

This is the perfect time for the EAW to buy that 12″ combat knife or to convince herself that a tattered old copy of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ doesn’t scream development worker in quite the same way that a brand new Kindle or iPad might.  All of these expenditures can easily be totted up in terms of how quickly they can be written off (‘Well it only really costs four days of per diem’) and measured in terms of how much an EAW’s quality of life will be improved in the field with the product.

The wildest dreams of EAW contingency planning can also be indulged, as scenarios involving saving the entire mission staff with 16m of bungee cord and duct tape run riot.  It becomes criminal not to make that crucial mission purchase because if you don’t, someone might die.

While actually shopping for deployment-wares EAWs will have ample opportunity to display to complete strangers just how serious and uncompromising their aid-worker lifestyle is.  Something as mundane as shopping for socks can quickly be elevated to extreme importance with a few questions such as ‘But can you guarantee these socks will survive sub-zero temperatures and be suitable for protracted desert hiking?’ or ‘Do you know anyone who’s worn these to Somalia?’

None of this is boasting, it is simply a demonstration that because of the hard lives EAWs live, they need clothes and items that mere civilians can’t comprehend.  The unique needs of an EAW can be further demonstrated with stories of how previous purchases held up on the last deployment overseas.  This will help the store clerk deal with any other future EAW inquiries, and potentially swing a sweet discount.

Seasoned EAWs will always be refining and culling their deployment wardrobe – each deployment will see old pairs of boots or technical trousers falling by the wayside  to be replaced with the spangliest, newest equipment.  But the ultimate goal of any EAW is to get all their combined deployment possessions down to the size of a 15kg go-bag.  This means they are ready to either deploy or evacuate from any situation at a moment’s notice.  Nothing is more intimidating to a rookie EAW than arriving in-country dragging three suitcases only to see a seasoned EAW step off 22 hours of connecting flights with nothing more than a small hold-all and a pair of Ray-Ban aviators.

So the next time you come back from a shopping trip looking like The North Face catalogue threw up on you, spare a nostalgic thought for what you took with you on your first overseas deployment.  Chances are you managed to cope pretty well with just a pair of old flip-flops, a roll of duct tape and a few cotton t-shirts.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2012 4:25 am

    Before my first every “deployment” to Honduras in 2004, I bought a LW radio so that I could listen to the BBC World Service… (a purchase based on reading too much Graham Greene). I carried it across Central America, and whilst the guesthouse didn’t have a tv, I used it once: the reception was awful, and there was always the internet cafe 20 minutes walk away. To come to Myanmar last year I bought a kindle. It has changed my life.

  2. Poacher permalink
    February 27, 2012 5:16 am

    That’s very amusing, and totally unwelcome, I now feel guilty about my growing collection of GPS (and one electronic compass that I thought was a GPS) and will need counselling before my next deployment.

  3. Poacher permalink
    February 27, 2012 5:20 am

    “Nothing is more intimidating to a rookie EAW than arriving in-country dragging three suitcases only to see a seasoned EAW step off 22 hours of connecting flights with nothing more than a small hold-all and a pair of Ray-Ban aviators”.

    Although the admiration of the rookie soon fades when he begins to link the socks, shirts and underwear that go missing from his laundry with the remarkably similar items being worn by his more experienced colleague ….

  4. Karzo permalink
    February 27, 2012 11:52 am

    Guilty. $300 of “essential kit” from an expedition shop now lies in my bedside drawer, looking vaguely ridiculous (and silently mocking). Coffee grinder was a genius move though.

  5. Ms. P permalink
    February 27, 2012 2:23 pm

    Hilarious! I just hung up from a friend deployed in Kosovo – speaking about a major house refurbishment, saying that an item would cost “4 days per diem” ! Who else speaks this language but us?!?!?

  6. February 27, 2012 6:05 pm

    @morealitude (pictured, above right) wears: Totto sunglasses (bought duty-free in Honduras because he liked the idea of wearing Colombian shades); a M*A*S*H t-shirt (because nothing says frontline EAW like a psuedo-military t-shirt with a red-cross on it, and plus, weren’t those M*A*S*H medics the original snarky EAWs?), Lowe Alpine trekking pants (lightweight, quickdry, flexible and warm, but no good in a flash-burn situation like a car-bombing because they’ll melt to your skin, so for recreational purposes only), La Sportiva Makalu mountaineering boots (physically pick up a pair when you’re next in an outdoors store and you’ll be able to feel just how hardcore they are), and a cap from an international humanitarian assistance course (because it’s important that even when you’re on vacation, everybody should know that you’re really an EAW, not just a backpacker).

    Not pictured: Lowe Alpine Liberty 75+20L backpack & Deuter 30L Snowpack, both stuffed with awesome gear.

    *sigh* Am I really that much of a cliche that now my photo appears to represent EAW cliches…? :P

    Location: Not on deployment, in the Annapurna Sanctuary, Annapurna South (7,219m) in background.

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