Submitted by No Longer At Ease who currently works for an NGO in Madagascar, does some serious blogging at Youth Development Voice (@youthdevelvoice) and just starting some more satirical blogging over at Ino Vaovao Fort Dauphin?
Expat Aid Workers try really hard to blend in. Unfortunately, they are still undeniably conspicuous. This, combined with the insularity of the EAW lifestyle, produces a fantastic breeding ground for gossip.
EAWs will not be surprised in the least come Monday morning when everybody in the office is talking about that drunken misdemeanor down at the expat bar on Friday night or discussing who got with whom at the debauched house party on Saturday.
Stuck in compounds with colleagues or living in small towns in the middle of nowhere, EAWs are unable to avoid the blurring of personal and professional lives. In addition, they tend to live under high levels of surveillance by other EAWs and locals alike, including community members.
The severely limited choice in terms of people to hook up with, gives rise to shocking incestuous liaisons, providing excellent fodder for lunchtime conversations in the canteen or during evening drinking sessions (though things can get ugly when one of those liaisons is discussed in the framework of someone getting a promotion).
The boredom of the EAW lifestyle is useful for keeping the rumor mill running. Once a group of EAWs has discussed the scintillating local literature they are reading, exchanged advice about which shops in town currently have nice cheese in stock, and talked about all the places they’ve been, attention invariably turns to the latest (and much more interesting) scandal.
What’s going to happen next in the ongoing drama surrounding the hot bilateral development agency guy’s increasingly fractious long-distance relationship with his overprotective girlfriend? Has the student volunteer finally gone for it with that cute local Rasta she’s been flirting with since she arrived? Does Bob actually have a heart, and does the fact that he was at lunch with a local semi-hottie during his most recent field visit mean that it is actually beating?
Saving the world, attending important international conferences and facipulating meetings with local partners is exhausting and EAWs sometimes need to let go. The age-old practice of gossip serves as a mechanism for hard-working, socially accepting and peace-building EAWs to handle stress and ensure that social hierarchies are observed and managed by the wider community.