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#158 Security

July 13, 2012

submitted by Kabul Zoo

EAWs love (and hate) security.

On the one hand, being subject to restrictive security rules underlines just how hardcore the EAW’s posting is, and violating an organisation’s security rules is a standard method for establishing a place in the EAW badass hierarchy.

(The EAW faces a dilemma here: whether to oh-so-subtly drop security-related badass hints into conversation… eg, EAW: “Have you looked around Daralamun Palace? Fascinating place – full of mujahidin graffiti from the civil war….”  Colleague: “Oh, I didn’t think we were allowed to that part of Kabul….” and risk disciplinary action if a colleague is prone to gossip; or keep quiet about those daring adventures and lose out on those badass points. What to do, what to do?)

On the other hand, security restrictions can turn that dream posting in to a nightmare. All the interesting parts of town are out-of-bounds and trips to all those places mentioned in the pre-war 1990s guidebook require a level of covert planning that would impress Simon Mann.

The smart EAW will form a warm and loving relationship with his or her Security Advisor with the aim of encouraging said Advisor to become more flexible in deciding which activities are in and which are out. Complaining about the security advisor is standard EAW conversation fodder in fragile and conflict affected countries. (“I can’t believe it – he let Phil go to the Yemani camel racing festival last weekend, so why can’t I go boating on the lake that is right next door – it makes no sense at all!”)

Following the security rules and obeying curfew means having no crime and security war-stories to trade, and the EAW will come in is lower on hardcoreness ranking.  In general, EAWs love trading stories and one-upping each other and local colleagues with their badass selves.  (‘Back when I was in…’ or ‘Last night at the bar…’  or ‘Really? Once I had sex in/with…‘ or This one time I was so sick that…’ or ‘That’s nothing, we had to use these latrines that…‘ and on and on) Most of these are relatively harmless. However the ‘Remember that Danish diplomat who got robbed at knifepoint / carjacked and left naked in the street / woke up to find a gun pointed at him/her’ stories can have serious implications, in particular on newly arrived EAWs still trying to get a sense of how the land lies in the obscure capital they’ve just landed in.

Your friendly head of security, in particular if he works for an embassy or the UN, loves these stories.  Scaring the wits out of newly arrived EAWs makes his life soooo much easier – if only all the office staff would stay at home every night and watch bad satellite TV, his job would require even less effort.

The irony here is that many cities EAWs find themselves in are actually safer than the ‘first world’ cities they left behind. “Ah, but…” the security chief will say “…as a foreigner you stand out, you are a target…!” That the average EAW would stand out in south Chicago, the north African areas of Paris or certain parts of east London is beside the point.

‘Security’ as a concept goes against the egalitarian principles EAWs hold so dear and offers an unavoidable and externally imposed way to measure one’s importance within the hierarchy. At the top are embassy staff and employees of Washington-based institutions (who face the most rigorous of security protocols). Next come the contractors working for the former.  INGOs are further down the list. UN agencies (known for their extremely strict yet completely unenforced security rules) come next.  At the very bottom are volunteers, interns and backpackers about whom no one really cares.  This security hierarchy determines not only how important you are allowed to think you are, it lets you know how important those in power think you are. Obama is much more embarrassed at the untimely demise of an embassy employee than the death of a hapless NGO volunteer. There is no duty of care for an aid agency contractor as they are effectively expendable.  Such is the way of the EAW world.

The absurdity of this hierarchy is most evident when an EAW long-termer finally escapes the penury of a lowly NGO existence and graduates to the dizzy heights of an aid agency job.  The true price of this move only becomes clear after the first day ‘briefing’ with the security chief upon discovering that the house the EAW has been living in for the past 4 years is no longer safe.  Indeed the entire section of the city is now out-of-bounds.  An 11pm curfew is now mandatory, and the EAW can only go to restaurants that have air-lock entrance systems.

All of this does have consequences. EAWs become more and more out of touch with the folks they are purportedly there to ‘help’. In addition, we see economic impact: EAWs go out less, spend less money in bars and restaurants, travel less to different parts of the country, enjoy their posting less, complain more about how there is nothing to do, and lobby for higher salaries and hardship payments.  All of these higher costs naturally come out of the pockets of the global taxpayer (eg., you – unless you work for one of the above-mentioned institutions that offer you tax-exempt status).  The fortified houses, the armed security, the razor wire fences, the panic alarms, the safe rooms, the back up generators, the armoured Land Cruisers… it’s not unheard of for a house upkeep alone to cost more than the EAW’s salary.

The seasoned EAW, however, knows the score. Subtle eye rolling will ensue when the security chief is discussing in great detail how the number of bombings and kidnappings in Quetta have been increasing recently. The EAW will refrain from retorting “we never go to Quetta, we are in Islamabad, there hasn’t been a bombing here in 2 years.” Instead, he or she will nod, promise to follow the security guidelines, and promptly ignore them for the next two years….

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2012 9:16 am

    Great blog… should have mentioned “fraternizing” with security and its effects though :)

  2. Blueballs permalink
    July 13, 2012 3:54 pm

    There’s only one thing I love more than when said EAW has to come to me with an incident report to be reviewed and approved and I get to say “I told you so”… thats when I have to close an entire field programme down and fuck over a whole bunch of starving/disadvantaged folks because someone got themselves abducted/ stab/ raped/ threatened/ office touched/front gate shot up/fatwa’d because they stupidly thought everyone thinks an aid worker is a scared cow and that the organisation they work for is a quasi- safari outfitter… Its almost as much fun as telling their family once a day that the kidnappers are treating their son/daughter/etc well, given the circumstances.

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