#141 Furnishing the House
Submitted by Catherine
After many years of harassing work in hazard duty stations where the Expat Aid Worker had to spend days and nights working and sleeping with ten colleagues in the same shipping container, the time has come to move to a family duty station where the EAW has to confront the challenge of a lifetime: find proper lodgings and furnishing them.
Many people underestimate the trauma inflicted on the EAW who has to move his belongings from a 10m2 room in a Somali guest house to a 200m2 house with a garden. The task is especially difficult for single Expat Aid Workers as sadly, most family duty stations do not offer one-bedrooms, forcing the EAW to move to a palatial four-bedroom which could easily contain five Somali families with 10 children each. The EAW quickly finds himself facing two existential problems: first, it’s difficult not to feel lonely in a 200 square meter flat when you only own two suitcases and a laptop; second, after living for several years with a curfew at 6pm and no other hobby than drinking bottles of whiskey, the urge to do something with your free time is difficult to repress. Happily, the solution to these two plights can be summed in one word: shopping.
Since Ikea has not moved to Africa and Asia yet, the EAW is confronted with the delicate task of having to shop for antiques which will give his or her house enough flair and exoticism to feel able to invite 200 fellow EAWs for monthly housewarming parties without being told that “your place is kind of nice but, errr, lacks personality.” The positive side is that the EAW will no longer feel bored and lonely, since he or she will be extremely busy trying to buy fancier antiques than those other EAWs who tend to organize housewarming parties every other week.
The quest for the perfect home decor is happily made easier by the personal souvenirs that some wiser EAWs have already shopped for around the world. Provided the storage where you left your prized possessions has not been looted by the rebels, and the ship transporting them to your new duty station has not been hijacked by pirates, you should be able to greatly improve your inner space with some real exotic flair.
There is no doubt your guests will be impressed by the beautiful one-meter tall sculpture of an Hindu temple realized entirely with coke bottle caps by little deaf children sold into prostitution by their alcoholic parents in a slum located over India’s biggest garbage dump. Friends should also enjoy relaxing in a 100-year-old Swahili bed which may be impractical but brings fond memories of how you bargained for two weeks before the seller agreed to a fifty-dollar discount on the 1000 dollar piece. You should also be able to find a soul mate for the night once you’ve explained how you rescued all the Kaddafi memorabilia hanging on your walls from the hands of angry rebels at Tripoli’s airport last month – sadly, rebels don’t really understand the need for home decor.
Of course, a major goal will be to feature prominently the endless collection of lovely items you were offered by lovely colleagues at the end of countless missions, the world over. No doubt you’ll find a hook to hang together that lovely camel bell, this beautiful felt necklace made by children of drug-addict parents in a favela in Rio, or this particularly flattering dress cut out of mud cloth in size XXXL.
All these possessions that instantly define your inner self as a fearless Expat Aid Worker will nicely stand out against no small amount of antiques you will have shopped in various boutiques specialized in selling old junk to EAWs for ten times the price. Nothing feels better than recalling how you rescued this lovely table cut out of a 600-year-old tree from the hands of angry custom officers who tried to explain it is now forbidden to export those out of Ethiopia. Happily, after having generously contributed 100USD to the custom officer’s family, you were able to convince him that the table would be happy traveling with you since after all you’re not just any expat, you’re an Expat Aid Worker. It should also be heartwarming for your friends to listen for the 100th time to the story of how you traded your chicken sandwich for a beautiful antique wooden chest used as a seat by some follower of Afghan commander Massoud – sadly, rebels don’t really understand the need for home decor.
Finally, you will be able to enjoy a well-deserved rest in an atmospheric home which immediately sets you apart from the ordinary crowd of expatriates and poor NGO workers. Not only will this relaxing home decor help you chill out after all these hazard duty stations, but it will also prepare you for the even bigger challenge lying ahead: how to fit your collection of Swahili beds, olive wood tables and antique wooden chests into a 30-square meter studio the day you go back home.