Submitted by C
Expat Aid Workers love romance. Nothing like a little relationship to add even more meaning to an already intense and selfless experience!
Leaving loves behind in various sophisticated cities and realizing fairly swiftly that the long distance relationship of any kind is pretty much a ‘dead end,’ (except for a few of our lucky commenters here….) the EAW begins the inevitable prowl amid the expat scene. This prowling urge leads to going native for some EAWs. Yet for others, romancing is done strictly within expat circles, where all previously known rules of engagement disappear*.
In an industry (or perhaps just a geographic location) where women outnumber men (and generally outdo them in both looks and brains… though not in top management positions) EAW men have it pretty damn good. Living in a town that is about the size of your street back home, date night options will likely include a dodgy Chinese place that doubles as a brothel and an Italian joint with the worst pizza ever (and where every date in the entire history of expat dating has taken place). Launching into a romantic evening requires nothing more than a penchant for good development chat casually littered with impressive field references, humour, a disregard for privacy and a lot of alcohol. Mainly a lot of alcohol.
A real EAW man will punch way above his weight and post the photos of his achievements on Facebook – the subtext directed at his mates back home who are still dating the same university girls and considering marriage and a mortgage. Our EAW wants to let the folks back home know (and does so explicitly in just one Facebook photo album entitled something clever like ‘Arty Shots’ or ‘Random Photos from [name of country]’) three things: 1) not only is he joining hands to save the world and being paid to do so, but 2) he gets on famously with the locals (especially with their kids!!) and 3) here’s the bonus… he is scoring hot European totty. Eg., ‘Eat your heart out pasty friend with same old girl in pasty Aberdeen where you have always been.’ NB – proportion of photos of local people to expats very important in album so as to ensure all viewers can witness genuine cultural integration and not hanging out with too many azungu.
But it’s all good. And such a mix – of nationalities, of languages, of ages, of marital statuses, of development jargon. And it’s nice, so damn nice… Our lowly EAW is so far away from home, and what’s better than someone to hug and ask how the day was? An atom of normalcy in a sea of chaos and unfamiliarity…. But the aid work bubble has taken away the usual sorting system and, well, these relationships… can they last? do they last? and could they ever translate back home?
Well now, it just depends… considering that one massive hurdle that inevitably rises with this type of romance and career.
Sooner or later (and usually rather sooner) the EAW mission causes havoc. One of our lovebirds has to leave. And this is something that neither can separate from the EAW destiny (EAWs are all martyrs to their trade!) No matter how many visa renewals, extensions and refusals, there still comes the flight onwards… Oh god! The heartache of losing the one they love, ignoring the fact that had they been in any other context they would have never even dated.
This romance then quickly turns to a passion as deep as something from Twilight. Our EAWs try, they really do, to make it last as long as they can, but after ‘a lot of serious consideration and discussion,’ they conclude that they must go their separate ways. Really, they have to… for their career… there is simply nothing to be done….
The leaver has the upper hand – he or she is going somewhere new, somewhere unknown and mysterious. The leaver has the advantage of mentally checking out, distancing him or herself, sneakily lining up new encounters in new danger zones through ex-pat websites or, if heading home for the mandatory Masters and Christmas mummy love (a hero return party awaits along with that rather nasty reverse culture shock), our EAW simply rekindles past histories via Facebook. Now an enigmatic exotic traveler and aid worker, in truth these histories never really ended, all the EAW has to do to ensure he or she is missed is make the odd crackling phone call or send a carefully timed text and that’s it: has cake, eats cake too…. though monitoring the tagging of photos and subsequent comments on FB here can be cause for a slight panic attack.
And what about the EAW left behind? It’s pants… that airport trip. The check-in queue never seems to move and almost every person in it is known and mournfully watching, The conversation runs dry along with the likelihood of seeing each other again. Then the kiss and high five…. Everything our happy couple had evaporates, lost in translation and out of location… a vague romantic promise of one day meeting again, down by the river..(?!) A sigh and a tear and the drive home from the airport… that feeling… like a death… the drama… everything so familiar yet so different… just like that… back on their tod with a bloody great 4 x 4 and a drunk houseboy – it’s just a bit, er, shite.
Until that bit of rotation. And they start again. A new arrival, a house party invite, a drunken kiss, even lower heights, one night together, a hoodie left… a friend request, another night, then more, then there’s no point in them each getting their own place is there?? and, well, it’s all ok… and phew… another nationality, another NGO, another love… it is absolutely, categorically, most definitely love.
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