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#211 Treating locals as peers

April 8, 2013

Submitted by Ems, who tweet at @emmasalor and blogs at On Foreign Ground.

maidExpat Aid Workers always have the utmost respect for the natives of the country they are in. EAWs understand them. EAWs know what they have been through, and more importantly, EAWs always know what they need. EAWs are more than happy to listen to the locals’ opinions and “give them a voice.” Well, that is until they disagree with what EAWs know about them already, based on experience and/or evidence (eg., survey data or input from a key informant such as a local taxi driver). Sometimes, the locals just don’t know themselves, and need to be told. Luckily, the EAWs are there to provide this service.

EAWs also treat the locals as peers and equals – until the maid is late. That is just unprofessional, even if her son got sick and she had to find someone to watch him when she is working for the EAW, cleaning homes and cooking for 10 hours a day, 6-7 days a week, for which the EAWs pay her around $3/day. That’s the local going rate for domestic help (according to other expats), and besides – it’s still over the international poverty line! EAWs also love their drivers, or “fixers”, and will tell everyone how great their driver is, how the EAW knows everything about his life, his family and his past. In fact, the driver just invited the EAW to dinner, because that is how close the EAW is with his/her driver! EAWs love to tell friends back home how wonderful the locals are – they are so inspiring, so committed to making their lives better, so imaginative and creative, so strong and brave! The EAW is so lucky to have met them, and their presence has changed the EAW forever and inspired the EAW to be a better person.

However, when the EAWs are amongst each other and sharing experiences and thoughts over a few beers, suddenly the locals aren’t so brave and inspiring any more. Now they have become lazy moochers. They are also unreliable – you just can’t trust them. They always try to get something out of you. They are so backwards, so uneducated, so patriarchal, and they really don’t want to help themselves, just expect to get everything for free. The maid keeps asking for time off, the driver honks his horn too much and his driving style is actually really annoying and erratic, the cook just can’t figure out how to make proper pasta al dente and the delivery guys in the restaurant around the corner keep getting the order wrong – because they just do not speak proper English! And talk about the locals’ sense of time – they are always late! Always! It is just so disrespectful towards the EAW – after all, the EAW’s schedule is very packed with important things like coming up with programs that promote participation, building up the capacity of the support staff and visiting villages to get some new material for the Facebook albums.  Seriously, locals – can’t you just get a watch that runs on Western time – after all, hellooo, that is what the civilized world goes by.

It is hard being an EAW. All the locals are always asking for something, they always have an angle, and all the EAW wants to do is help! After all, the EAWs are there because they know what the locals need, and they know what is the best approach for empowering them and supporting their participation and promoting social inclusion and equality and freedom and rights and all the rest. The EAWs are experts in all of this, and still the locals have the nerve to question the EAWs approach and methods and priorities. Sometimes, the EAW just wants to shout off the top of his or her lungs: “I AM HERE TO EMPOWER YOU!! WHY CAN’T YOU JUST BE EMPOWERED ALREADY!”

Locals. Sometimes they are just so ungrateful.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2013 10:05 pm

    This left me and my friend laughing so hard. “WHY CAN’T YOU BE EMPOWERED ALREADY??”

  2. June 22, 2013 7:06 am

    excellent – love your blog! keep on posting.

  3. June 26, 2013 7:44 am

    This applies to western expatriates living anywhere in the developing world, not merely to aid workers.

  4. June 27, 2013 3:08 pm

    Hey. My driver WAS awesome! ;)

  5. Lilly permalink
    January 16, 2014 3:48 am

    The expats here in Nairobi are the most pretentious, idiotic ignorant people I have ever met. Here are some of the things I have been asked (I am from Nairobi, have lived in Europe for quite a while and work in an international setting)

    – By any chance, do you know of a maid who can cook French food?
    – You must be the daughter of a prominent politician. To have actually studied in Europe and speak 2 European languages fluently (I get this from experts who are intimidated by the fact that I can see through their bullshit, don’t need their advice and I am able to do a better job than they can and yet I am Kenyan) FYI I am not a daughter of a prominent politician, just a hard working girl.
    – My work permit is expiring and my contract will not be extended. Anyone I can pay high up who can extend my work permit without a work contract? Anyone you many know? Right…why don’t you just tell me one more time how Kenyans are corrupt and the country will never change
    – Overheard one of my “expat” colleagues telling her maid I have already taught you how to make lasagna!!!! Why cant you do it right. Right. Because Lasagna is a staple food in Kenya and all the maids here can make it perfectly.
    – Hey do you mind accompanying me to the field. You speak Swahili. I’m like sure why not. I end up writing the report…guess who takes all the credit…the intelligent, here to save us from ourselves expat.

    All I do is shake my head. Cant wait for them to leave and “go save themselves” Kenyans are very welcoming and kind unfortunately we tolerate too much of their bullshit.


  1. Send them to the field! | Land of the Blind
  2. Send them to the field! |

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