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ToonsEAWL: Not really giving a damn about the NSA

July 4, 2013


#215 Being Hipsters

June 21, 2013

EAWs, regardless of generation, love being hipsters.


Follow the hashtag before it’s no longer cool. 

#214 Writing their own job descriptions

June 17, 2013

Submitted by JDW

You are not a true EAW until you have written your own job description at least once. In the real world, this is generally unheard of, but in the land of EAWs this is a well-established norm. The only place where someone advises you to write your own job description in developed countries is in visualization games in self-help books.

EAW offices are very busy places. People are knuckling down fighting poverty and building resilience and capacity.  This can mean there is a terrible strain on staff to get mundane tasks completed… such as actually developing a well-thought-out job description.

There are a number of scenarios where you get to write your own job description. You might be an intern or volunteer and have proven yourself in some way. It could be that you slept with someone, sucked up a lot or astonishingly actually did a good job. Anyhow, you are put to work at developing some terms of reference for yourself and someone looks under couches to scrape the money together to pay you more than a top national civil servant in the country you now find yourself in.

You may be a consultant or freelancer and you know an office has some money that they need to spend. So, yes, they come up with something for you to do. It is important to approach organisations at the end of their fiscal year. You can prepare the job description before the meeting. What you actually do may not even be needed, but it will keep you in a faraway land on your tourist visa and get you paid– and that’s what really counts.

On occasion you may get the big paid job with the allowances and the over-inflated prestige with the dark side of the UN or with an actual donor. Normally this process will take as long as the gestation period of a blue whale, so by the time you actually get the letter offering you the job, the original position is no longer relevant. First day, first task …… “update” the job description.

Since there is so much capacity to be built and gender to be mainstreamed, the EAW manager is generally too busy to have any concept of the actual role or name of anybody in the human resources section. They must always feign shock that such a simple administrative task (i.e., hiring someone) should take so long, roll their eyes at the administrative deficiencies of the organization and beg to push this new job description through immediately.

Of course, many EAWs believe that because local staff are often the ones responsible for admin, it can’t help but be inefficient – the poor dears don’t understand the urgency in hiring this new person. Let’s not consider that local staff know full well that 47 of their colleagues have been bypassed for pay increases for the last four years and rushing that job description stinks more than an EAW riddled with giardia.

Of course, if the job description ever hits the internet, it is imperative to: give it the absolute minimum amount of allowed time to be displayed on a website that no one checks; have a start date that is ridiculous and could only be fulfilled by someone who already sits at the desk; have qualification requirements that exactly match that of the person who wrote it; and, importantly, include a section on upholding the ethical principles of the organization that you are about to work in.

#213 Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit

June 3, 2013

Soccer moms have Fifty Shades of Grey. Adolescent girls have the Twilight series. The security manager has more than twenty “Dirk Pitt” books.

But what do Expat Aid Workers have?

Sadly, while most other romanticize-able professions have their own associated literary pop-culture associations, humanitarian fiction remains a literary genre as yet not fully fledged. Beyond a few attempts at novels about aid workers, there is just not much out there specifically for EAWs.

That is until now!

“Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit combines the passion and intensity of Jeff Sachs with the wit and charisma of Bill Easterly. I couldn’t put it down.” –Laura Seay, Texas in Africa

It started with Disastrous Passion: A Humanitarian Romance Novel, a Barbancourt-fueled lark that was naturally birthed during the Haiti earthquake response (e-book edition here, print version here) by SEAWL’s very own J. He thought it would just be a one-off, but so many of you loved it, that he decided to write more. And here it is, another humanitarian novel, just for you, Expat Aid Workers:

M4 Version 5

Will the heart-wrenching plight of an endless supply of refugees stretch Mary-Anne to the breaking point? Or will she rise beyond the challenges? And what will become of Jean-Philippe? Will prolonged separation cause their hearts to grow fonder? Or will she find comfort in the arms of the mysterious, brooding Jonathon Langstrom? Will she take a job at HQ? Or will she continue to answer the humanitarian call from a dusty refugee camp on the border of Somalia?

Through it all, just how close will Mary-Anne come to crossing the lines from missionary to mercenary, and from mystic to misfit?

Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit is a story about humanitarian aid, written by a real aid worker, using the language of humanitarian aid, addressing issues that aid workers face. This is not some satirical romance novel. Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit will make you think. About what you’ve done (if you’re an old hand). Or about what you’re about to do (if you’re just starting out). It’s also available for download as an e-book exclusively from Buy it here. Now.

Then you can spend the summer blogging about it for the folks back home, and updating Facebook with your favorite scenes and quotes. You can get all righteously indignant about it, or discuss its deeper meanings in authoritative tones at the expat bar. Any way you look at it, Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit is a total EAW win-win.

“Sandblasts away the illusion that humanitarian aid work is a straightforward and consistent act of selflessness… A grimly realistic portrayal.” – Avril Benoit, Médecins Sans Frontières

There will be a print version available eventually, too. Follow the Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit Facebook page for this an other urgent humanitarian fiction updates.

Don’t miss out. Buy Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit now. Blog about it. Tweet about it using the #MMMM hashtag. Leave a review on Amazon.

Special Offer: For a limited time, J. will provide a free .PDF version of Missionary, Mercenary, Mystic, Misfit to any blogger who promises to read it and publish a review. Simply send an email, including a link to your blog, to… with “#MMMM” in the message header.

ToonsEAWL: Emphasizing that there is no panacea

May 3, 2013


#212 Sexploits

May 1, 2013

Submitted by an anonymous aid worker in Lusaka

As we know, EAWs love to gossip.  They also love sex.  But most of all, EAWs love to gossip about each other’s sexploits.  Fortunately for those wishing to indulge in their favourite hobby, there is a steady stream of raw material to fuel the gossip mill.  Barely a week will pass by without a brand-spanking new sexploit being unearthed and circulated in all its gory detail.  Once in possession of a new piece of gossip, the EAW can comfortably discuss it ad nauseum with everyone she or he meets, confident that before the subject becomes tired, a new sexploit will be on the horizon to sate the EAW scene’s omnipresent hunger for scandal.

The grapevine is an important indicator of social standing within the expat world. How quickly you find out the latest juicy titbit is testament to how connected you are to the scene.  When recounting your sexploit to others, be sure to accompany the story with details of how quickly you found out. This ensures that your social standing in the hierarchy is given the requisite credit.  If someone confides a piece of information to which you were already privy, a head-shake and a sigh of “yes, shocking isn’t it?” is appropriate, before letting the person know exactly how much more connected you are: “I heard it at lunch the next day”. This will ensure that your confider is left in no doubt that you are ahead of him or her on the social ladder and will encourage him or her to buy into your confidence with information at the next available opportunity.

The chain of information is also of high import.  You should always endeavour to understand the linking chain of whisperers which led to the gossip reaching your trusted ear.  The shorter the chain is to the horse’s mouth the more reliable the information is (note: this is of minor relevance), and the closer you are to the epicentre of the gossip mill.  Being “in the know” is a sought-after position of power.  Your ability to find out things quickly means that others will want to be part of your trusted inner circle, and their best means of buying into this is by sharing gossip with you in the hopes of reciprocation.  Cleverly managed, this can result in you ascending through the hierarchy apace.  Climbing up the greasy gossip pole, however, is a finely-balanced exercise.  One cannot gain a reputation as a “gossip” as this will diminish some of your access among the more cautious EAWs.  Your strategy should be to cultivate an impression of being a very discreet, yet highly plugged-in, person.  Think Varys in Game of Thrones.

Trading gossip is the main means of gaining currency in the sexploit market.  Higher credit is earned if the dishing onwards is presented as if you are reluctantly divulging to a trusted confidante. Emphasize the exclusivity by saying things like: “you are the first / only person I’ve told”.  You may wish to attempt to protect your position as a source of the gossip by swearing others to secrecy first (“I’ll only tell you this if you don’t say you heard it from me”).  This is a wise precaution to take to avoid being tarred as a gossip, but of course be mindful that this strategy will only mitigate, not completely vitiate, others becoming aware of your position in the chain.  When coming into possession of details of a sexploit which you wish to circulate as widely as possible, tell one person.  That will ensure that everyone knows by 2pm the following Friday.

Top tip: create a spider diagram with names and connecting lines to indicate hook-ups.  This will help you navigate the perilous world of the sexploit / gossip market.  It will also be a handy go-to reference tool in the event of a STI breakout.

ToonsEAWL: Theories of Change

April 26, 2013


#17 Links Expat Aid Workers Like

April 23, 2013

It’s been a while since we did a “LEAWL” but a couple of film suggestions this week spurred a rebirth….

Check out this music video parody of “American Boy” done by the student comedy group “SIPA Follies” from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) in New York City. (Submitted by A Fine Young Economist)


And look out for The Ambassador, a film by the Danish film maker Mads Brügger (Submitted by Tobias in Vienna)


ToonsEAWL: Bitching about Thatcher (or “Maggie”)

April 10, 2013


#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.