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#45 Blogging to Display Their Superior Thinking

April 13, 2011

Submitted by Kim, who (every now and then) also blogs at Kim, Colin and Caleb in Kenya.

We’ve previously established that a good part of the allure of the EAW lifestyle is the bragging rights afforded by far flung humanitarian adventures.  But bragging rights imply an audience. Facebook helps bridge that gap, but only superficially.  A blog platform allows the experienced EAW to more fully expound upon his or her sensitivity and savvy in the face of cross-cultural predicaments, moast about enduring exotic tropical disease and illustrate a profound depth of insight on international development theories.  Blogging is, most importantly, the EAW bullhorn of self righteousness.

Development and aid blogging [not to be confused with blogging for the folks back home] is typically full of snark and quick to criticize.  How better to demonstrate your insider field cred than to lambast the naïve?  The more popular, catchy, trendy, or yes, misguided, the anti-poverty solution, the bigger target it is for blogging snark.

Microlending?  Oversold uncritically as a silver bullet and only your Kiva-donating grandma still thinks this is a cure-all.  Girl Effect? Undoes its own message with its objectionable messaging.  Advocacy? You mean, “badvocacy?” Perilously reductionist and, anyway, spearheaded by way too many celebrities, neo-hippies and naive idealists for it to do any real good.  In-kind donations?  Logistical nightmare and destroyer of local markets.  Popular journalists on the developing country beat (and Nicolas Kristof in particular)?  Dangerously oversimplify complex global issues that only the real EAW bloggers truly understand.

The secret and deep hope of the EAW blogger is to get the blessing of the aid blog patriarch, Bill Easterly, and any of his disciples, and get a shout out or, better yet, featured on his blogroll.

Because the EAW’s insights are just too important or ground-breaking not to share with the world, he or she will always find a clever way to express them.  The EAW is likely overqualified for his or her paper-pushing field job, leaving the luxury of time and mental space to expound on any of the issues studied in whatever elite east coast institution he or she attended.

EAW bloggers know that the climate of intellectual sparring in the aid blogosphere sharpens mental acuity.  Each time the aid blogger makes what he or she thinks is a snappy retort in the comment section of an intellectual rival, it only serves to fuel that growing sense of smug self-satisfaction. But, no worry, the hubris is usually tempered by some humiliating misstep in field or some frustrating bureaucratic hurdle that we’re sure to hear about it in a future post….

ToonsEAWL: My Day Working from Home

April 12, 2011

from Manu.

#44 Blogging for the Folks Back Home

April 11, 2011

It's where you post you photos of 'bad English'

Facebook is one thing: it’s a great place for hip status updates and posting a ton of pictures. But there’s an even better option for the first-time volunteer or the Expat Aid Worker on a first deployment…starting a blog.

Blogging for the folks back home (not to be confused with blogging to display your superior thinking) allows parents, friends, former classmates and advisors, the public in general even, to follow along and experience your new life at almost the same pace you do.

When setting up a blog for the folks back home, you’ll want to make the title some clever variation of your name and the place where you are posted during this first overseas EAW-type job or experience. Good words to include are “stories from” or “my life in” or “chronicle” or “Africa” or “nomadic” or “odyssey” or “adventures in…”  or “from [your home town/state] to [the country you are now working/volunteering]” or “[Slang word for people from your home town/state] in [place you are now living/working]”. Another good choice is a title that includes a term for foreigners (gringo, mzungu, blan, farang) in the local language, or a common colloquialism or phrase from where you’re stationed.

Your blog is where you post that first set of photos that you take upon arrival: “Here’s where I’ll be living for the next 2 years!” or “Met the neighbor kids – they love hanging out in our compound! Look at those brown eyes!” or “Yep, this is where I’ll be showering” or “OMG the spiders here are ginormous!”

And those pics of you with "the locals"

It’s where the first of many photos of you and “the locals” goes up. It’s where you post that shot of you grinning and ironically sporting the traditional outfit that the women from the under-5 feeding and weighing project gave you. It’s where your earnest face, windswept hair and Chaco tan lines come out full force as you become one with the people.

When blogging for the folks back home, the important thing is to prove you are blending in well with your new surroundings. You also want to reassure worried parents that you are fine and that yes, you are in Africa, but no, you’re not living in range of Somali pirates and that Ivory Coast is actually on the other side of the continent, so you’re not at risk from the conflict there (if anyone’s actually heard that there is a conflict there… if not, just skip over that, it will needlessly worry them).

Your blog is where show all your friends that you are bad ass and you ride around the capital city sometimes in tuk tuks or matatus or chapas or tap taps or on the backs of motorcycles or in the beds of pick up trucks. It’s where you display your fake prowess at carrying water (or something else) on your head like the locals and the pictures of yourself standing next to war junk.

Blogging for the folks back home allows you to vent about the cultural differences while at the same time being magnanimously accepting of them. It’s where you do your virtual eye-rolling about how many marriage proposals you get each week from the local guys; where you moast about the number of mothers who offer their daughters to you. It’s an especially helpful platform for complaining about immigration officials, local government incapacity, inefficiency, and bribery; and for expounding on your unique and intimate experiences attending local weddings in Asia or beybi chowers in Latin America. It’s where you air your homesickness and disappointment at missing cultural activities and events back home.

Carrying things on your head!

Your blog is where you show the pictures of the broken down bus and how you totally took it all in stride despite the fact that you stood in the sun for 7 hours trying to hitch the next ride. And how it was really horrible, but gosh, looking back now, it was all in good fun. And you got to meet some local people while you waited and they were so sweet and they gave you some mangoes [insert pictures of cute brown babies and kind mothers].

Your blog is where you subliminally work to convince the long-distance partner you left behind that you are still faithful. Or maybe you talk about how everyone at the market thought your local boyfriend was just there to carry your bags, or that your local female friend was your maid, or maybe you yourself were mistaken for a local by someone. Your blog is where you go into some detail about getting sick and navigating the local health system. It’s where you share your dismay at your first attempt at getting a haircut, or going for a Thai massage, or trying to buy a pair of shoes or underwear. It displays your photos of the food at the local market (Wow, look at all the fresh fruit! or OMG they eat [insert name of insect, part of an animal, or household pet] here.). Your blog is where you rail against the gender discrimination you find around you.

Anthropologically rich, your advisors would say....

It’s where you chuckle or ruminate about the local customs, especially those having to do with local healers, cures, superstitions and other beliefs that you find humorous, ridiculous, fascinating or shocking. And then maybe you explain that you’re not really making fun of those customs, you’re just pointing out how contradictory they are to the main religions in the country or how they go against common Western knowledge about good health practices. Or you might ponder the anthropological richness and the fact that people here actually know more than people at home. You might post some shots of local healer posters, and some photos of churches, mosques, temples, palaces, sacred religious places, statues and monuments.

There will be lots of pictures of beautiful natural spots, or the ex-pat bar, or the nice place you stayed at while on break. There will be shots of bad English phrases on t-shirts, signs, menus and the backs of buses and taxis. There may be photos you took on the sly, knowing that it was inappropriate to take them. You will assume that none of your local co-workers or friends or anyone from the country where you are working will ever read your blog, so you will feel free to tell it like it is, without worrying about someone finding your observations offensive….

Over time, your blog will change in tone, or perhaps you’ll stop blogging for the folks back home altogether, as culture shock ebbs and you go about your normal business and things don’t stand out as strange anymore. [Note: you may need to pick up blogging again when you make your first visit home and discover “reverse culture shock.”]

Since blogging for the folks back home normally takes the form of a diary or journal rather than an analytical discussion on development methodologies or aid work theory and practice, it may become a liability when later you become a snarky aid blogger (after you’ve snagged a real aid job) and a large part of your spare time is spent making fun of people who resemble your old self. (See Destroying Idealism).

So it’s wise to use an assumed name when blogging for the folks back home. Later in your career you definitely won’t want anyone forwarding around that blog that you wrote back in the early days when you had no idea. Your field cred will seriously suffer.

#43 Pretending to Like Disaster Mitigation

April 8, 2011

Submitted by MoreAltitude who blogs at Wanderlust: Notes from a Global Nomad. Follow him on Twitter: @morealtitude

Illustration by Manu -

Share coordination meetings with a bunch of Expat Aid Workers long enough, and sooner or later the conversation will swing around to Disaster Mitigation. It can be called a bunch of things- disaster preparedness, community resilience, disaster risk management… the EAW will be fluent in the lingo and know what you’re talking about, and will probably be able to drop in their own organization’s patois.

Any EAW worth their weight in local beer and/or ethnic jewellery will, of course, voice immediate enthusiasm for disaster mitigation. A dollar spent on mitigation saves ten dollars in response funding, one will say. Think of the needless deaths you can prevent, another adds with passion. Some will use it to show how much of a bridge they’re trying to build between short-term relief workers and the mob of long-term development professionals all baying about ‘dependency’ and ‘sustainability’.

Others will explain with righteous indignation that if only those self-same development workers would do their job properly and incorporate disaster mitigation into their work, disasters wouldn’t keep being such a big deal and all the disaster relief Expat Aid Workers wouldn’t have to keep rushing in to clear up a mess that should have been prevented in the first place [insert theatrical sigh here].

This is, of course, about as honest as a Burmese ballot box. The disaster relief EAW doesn’t give two billion Zim Dollars about disaster mitigation. It’s just that, until plied with sufficient ‘social lubricant,’ EAWs won’t admit to it for fear of making themselves a target of slurs by development colleagues consisting of nouns such as ‘junkie’, ‘cowboy’ and ‘adrenaline’.

Illustration by Manu

The disaster relief EAW understands that disaster mitigation is BORING. It involves sitting around with villagers for days and weeks on end, talking about something that may happen at some distant point in the future, but probably won’t. While it’s a great opportunity to practice facipulation, spend long hours driving to communities in shiny white Land Cruisers, and go native, when you compare it to the fun of handling food aid distributions, armed escorts, and EAW house-parties, disaster mitigation just doesn’t cut the durian.

Secretly, the disaster relief EAW likes nothing better than to rush in and clear up someone else’s mess. So much the better if she or he can go in and blame somebody for not doing their job properly- that’s all part of the fun too. Getting called a ‘relief cowboy’ or ‘adrenaline junkie’ is, deep down, one of the highest compliments in the EAW lexicon, and will leave the EAW with a warm fuzzy feeling seconded only to taking part in personally offloading GIK shipments from the back of a C-130. In a dark and rarely-trod place, the disaster relief EAW quietly believes that development is just a waste of time anyway.

After all, if development EAWs did their job properly and there were no more disasters, the disaster relief EAW would be out of a job. She or he would become one of those seedy travellers you see on 3rd-world street-sides, selling handicrafts they’ve taught themselves to make so they can keep funding their travels at the expense of local crafts-people. Or worse, they might become a development worker.

So go ahead. Next time you’re in that OCHA meeting with a bunch of disaster relief EAWs, try bringing up the topic of disaster mitigation, and see how many eyes drop quickly and awkwardly to their Motorola Handsets before the enthusing takes off.

#42 Sleep Aids

April 6, 2011

Illustration by Manu...

The Expat Aid Worker is a nomadic jet setter, often taking long flights through several time zones and making lengthy or frequent stopovers along the way.

Adapting to this sort of routine might be a difficult feat for a mere mortal, causing negative physical and mental effects. But as EAWs get more and more experienced with travel, their need for a few days’ rest or recovery in between traveling and work actually seems to diminish. Their strong minds and bodies easily adapt to the unnatural habit of timezone shifts.

Real EAWs arrive late on Sunday and are at work on Monday morning. They’ll even fly for 36 hours and show up right to that life-saving meeting trailing their carry-on (Nah, it’s fine, I’ll just check in during the coffee break) or hop into the Land Cruiser and head straight from the airport to the disaster zone.

Keeping up this pace can be slightly more challenging for the EAW who does not work at one of the top-of-the-line agencies that fly business class (you know who you are — the rest of us are publicly indignant yet secretly envious). This is where the lowly economy class EAW pulls out another of the tools that help make EAW life easier: the sleeping pill. A god-send for those long economy class flights, pop down an Ambien (or its generic equivalent) with a bottle (or was it 3?) of airplane wine, add earphones, and put on a sleep mask or Jennifer Aniston’s latest light romantic comedy, and you are good to go for 6-7 hours of in-flight sleep heaven. Just be sure not to swallow that pill before take-off in case take-off never happens. Re-routing your flight while narcoleptic can hamper your travel agent skills.

The sleeping pill,  or it’s OTC substitutes (Dramamine, Tylenol PM, a handful of antihistamine…) for those that consider prescription medications unseemly or distasteful or possibly addictive, is also helpful for adjusting to a new time zone or sending stress levels on hiatus for a few hours when the disaster zone is getting to you, the stray dogs won’t shut up, the team house has become a late night party zone and/or the regional representative and his/her entourage is visiting tomorrow.

One EAW’s insomnia is another EAW’s sleep aid in the perfect ecosystem that is the aid-industrial complex.  In those dire moments when sleep aids of the chemical variety are not available, the EAW can always pick up the latest Operational Handbook on Lessons Learned and Best Practices. That volume that kept a colleague in Geneva awake for several nights in a row (‘Best Practices’ or ‘Good Practices’? ‘Capacity Strengthening’ or ‘Capacity Building’? Need to remember to schedule that meeting to discuss terms: ‘Lessons Learned’ vs ‘Challenges Overcome’) can be just the thing….

ToonsEAWL: Manucartoons

April 5, 2011

We’re thrilled to announce that Manu, of B.U.L.S.H.I.T. fame (see below), has offered his cartooning talents to the SEAWL effort.

Stay tuned for some killer Toons Expat Aid Workers Like….

#41 Personal Drama

April 4, 2011

One of the most difficult things about being an Expat Aid Worker is that almost by definition it seems you cannot really identify with your beneficiaries. You know what I  mean…. What does someone with a Master’s Degree in “International Development” (you had a partial scholarship) from an Ivy League school (you wrote your thesis on something way sexy, like, say, “post-conflict economic recovery” or “integrating ICT-based crowd-sourcing in local civil society capacity building initiatives”, and presented said thesis at a bunch of academic conferences) really have in common with inner-Favela women entrepreneurs recovering from addiction? Or with semi-nomadic herders in the Gobi desert trying to maintain subsistence in the context of global climate change?

Your instinctive answer: Nothing.

But wait. Don’t sell yourself too short, too soon…

Thankfully personal drama has the potential to even out those pesky disparities and put the sensitive Expat Aid Worker in touch with her or his beneficiaries on a much deeper level.

... just because you're HOT, doesn't mean you can't understand what it's like to be a refugee...

Did your dog just die? See, that’s loss. Be sure to bring that up in the focus group discussion with Iraqi refugee widows. They’ll know that you feel their pain. Did your girlfriend of – oh – seven months just dump you for some lower-Manhattan-based twat who choreographs performance art about the disenfranchisement of horticulturalist clans in the Amazon River Basin? Dude, that’s betrayal. You totally get what those Vietnamese 13-year-olds trafficked into Phnom Penh brothels are going through. Tell them your story. Feel the solidarity. Or maybe you feel trapped? Are you stuck in a warren of dead-end cubicle-based jobs, falling behind on your cable TV bill, and gaining weight from emotional eating? All those earthquake survivors need someone with your level of insight – someone who really understands what they’re going through – to just come there and hold them.

So next time you make one of those life-saving field monitoring visits, or maybe get deployed to the scene of a mega-disaster, remember: This is about you, too. Personal healing is a perfectly legitimate reason for wanting to help the poor. Let people know about your struggles to get the tailor in town to understand how you want that cust0m-fitted cocktail dress cut. Or about how pissed you got when that dude from [INGO X] totally cut you off mid-comment in the last advocacy cluster meeting. These are the things that make you human. Like them. The differences between us all are really differences of degree, rather than actual substance.

Embrace the personal drama.

#40 Jargon

March 31, 2011

Jargon (not to be confused with acronyms) is a staple of Expat Aid Worker communication.

EAWs live in a complex world. They don’t just work on development programs or write grants. No, no. They mobilize resources to reach their organization’s aspirational goals via multifaceted poverty reduction strategies. They support core interventions that aim to achieve social protection and address issues of multidimensional poverty. They establish partnerships with national counterparts and engage local change agents at the bottom of the pyramid to build capacity for social accountability and inclusive local and national governance within a rights-based framework. They work with rights holders and duty bearers to overcome the inherent difficulties resulting from the  intersectionality of discrimination and vulnerability overlaid with compounding gender-based exclusion. They conduct research on the gender implications of biofuels expansion in low-income and land-abundant countries.

Proper language management is critical for the EAW. It demonstrates thought leadership and exemplifies a robust capacity to join in the global conversation on poverty alleviation in a compelling, meaningful and impactful way.

Capacity strengthening workshops and working groups are good places for EAWs to stay up-to-date on the ever-changing and increasingly complex network of phrases required to engage effectively with their interest area. However, RCTs have shown that it is challenging to remember the multitude of words and phrases available,  so we’ve developed an innovative approach for learning by doing (based on educational strategies employed by primary level educators in institutional learning facilities with target groups of adolescent learners) to help EAWs stay au courant on this year’s development discourse.

Click on the image to download a readable, printable version, and the list of jargon to look for. Words may be horizontal or vertical, forwards or backwards.

We challenge you to find all 75 words and phrases… (answer sheet available on request).

#39 Chaco Tanlines

March 28, 2011

This post comes to us from Cissy, a former Peace Corps Volunteer who now works for Kiva.


Chaco tanlines. The true mark of a hardcore expat field worker. With a 50% discount given to Peace Corps Volunteers, owning a pair of Chacos is practically a requirement for those based in tropical climates. A Chaco tanline separates the Expat Aid Workers that sit in air conditioned offices in the country capital from those that are out in the community getting dirty with the locals.

When community-based EAWs congregate, it is natural for them to compare and judge each other’s level of commitment to helping the poor by each others’ Chaco tanlines. Along with depth of contrast in the tanlines, another way to determine how hard an Expat Aid Worker works is the condition of their Chacos and feet. If an EAW has a deep tanline, but spotless Chacos and no dirt stuck under their toenails, this raises a red flag. They may be spending a lot of time outside, but not necessarily getting dirty at the farm and in the market with the locals. The more pairs of Chacos you go through, the stronger your devotion to poverty alleviation.

Chalk up some field cred with Chaco tan lines...

Along with the tanline badge of courage, Chacos also provide a way to be “fashionable” in the field. The numerous models and designs provide Expat Aid Workers with conversations that leave room for moasting, such as, “Wow – haven’t seen that pattern yet – are those new?” Response: “Yeah, I wore through my old pair in only 3 months – can you believe it?! The 4 hour roundtrip treks on my mountain bike to the farms to help the villagers plant seeds really takes its toll. This style and design just came out – not many people have them yet.”

#38 Claiming to Love Local Food

March 25, 2011

Photo from

Submitted by Blair Reeves

Assuming the trappings of assimilation into the local culture is very important for any Expat Aid Worker. Indeed, the degree to which one can be taken as a legit member of the “I’ve been there” club is often directly proportional to the number of pagne print dresses and/or shirts one owns (or colorful headscarves, depending on where you work), tropical disease episodes and local languages spoken. But nothing says “Real McCoy” like loving the local cuisine. Or at least pretending to.

Is your HCN staff chowing down on crocodile liver? Is doula, millet meal or fufu on the menu? When in the presence of other foreigners, ordering one of these items, and then making conspicuous sounds of enjoyment while you quaff it, will earn you great regard by those who don’t know better.

Has the village headman offered you a bowl of blackish soup from which only a fatty lump of meat and a fish head protrude? Your expat fellow travelers will go wide-eyed with admiration as you gleefully exclaim that yes, you would love a bowl of mongo chobie, in fact it’s been a while since you had a really good serving, and looking expectantly at your friends as you accept his offering.

You know, of course, that they will refuse, claiming upset stomachs to avoid offending the locals. The real reason, you know, is that the bowl of  stew that you’re about to gulp down looks pretty disgusting. But you’re just that in touch with the country, aren’t you?