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ToonsEAWL: Steve Jobs

October 7, 2011


#97 Trainings

October 5, 2011

Submitted by Scott Bohlinger, a shameless facilitator.  Scott blogs here and tweets @scottbohlinger

Training!! Certificates! (Photo from

The days of dumping piles of fish on beneficiaries’ table are over, so EAWs tell themselves.  NGOs of today teach people how to fish.  In the world of the EAW, the practice of teaching others to fish has become encapsulated in an easy to swallow and highly hallucinogenic pill known as the training.  Just take two in the morning and instant capacity building!

Thanks to trainings we have actual things to show for that capacity building, since that actual capacity is oh-so-elusive.  Trainings produce a multitude of deliverables in the form of time spent, certificates, and the perception of accomplishment.  The training nurtures the idea that people at heart want to be creative and proactive while making use of the fact that people are actually unimaginative and lazy.

A good training takes up time, and lots of it.  You, the EAW, have an excuse not to work because your local staff is having their capacity built.  Meanwhile you can revel in the sadistic pleasure of seeing your staff get the knowledge they say they want while being forced to work longer, harder, and more tediously in the training than they do for you.  After three to five days of discussing their feelings, breaking off into groups, and doing flipchart presentations, they’ll silently return to your office with a new appreciation of how difficult the EAW has it with all their advanced cognitive tasks (such as Facebook and Urban Dictionary browsing).

A training produces a certificate.  The certificate mollifies the local staff while giving the INGO a metric for just how much capacity is built.  The INGO locked its local staff in a room for three days and for all of that they must have learned something while the EAWs relaxed with whiskey Wednesdays.  The local staff, meanwhile, determined to have something to show for this obscene waste of time, cling to their certificates.  Because the EAW recently had to slog through 55 poorly written resumes for their latest hire, each with a 5-cm-high stack of training certificates attached to them, they want to pass on the abuse.  The EAW grins at the thought of the HR person in the next INGO who takes your local from you trying to make sense of this training.

In the big picture, the training validates NGOs and their existence by further enmeshing all of the competent and talented locals in the culture of aid.  The local, having learned that much more jargon in the last training not only cannot get a real job, they can’t even function in normal society.  When the transformation is complete they too might become aid workers going from their third world country to the next, perpetuating a cycle.

It’s also important to realize that the same training need not happen only once.  The same person can be trained multiple times in the exact same thing, thereby creating more deliverables for your donors.  Three, four times?  It’s fine; your staff can always use a refresher.  The facilitator is well aware that participants giving the exact right answers in the exact right vocabulary is not the result of them having memorized the last four instances of the training, but rather is a sign of the facilitator’s prowess in their much-needed profession.  The training itself is commoditized so that the EAWs can feel good about having made a contribution without ever having to check to see if it mattered.

Like working groups that involve facipulation with local partners and malleable SLoNGOs, the training is one of the lynchpins of the EAW experience of management.  The payback comes when the EAW finds themselves at the business end of a training.  Where wars, lack of hot showers, and personal drama have failed to incapacitate the ever-intrepid EAW, the triple-threat of flipchart, magic marker, and PowerPoint has brought many to tears.  After sitting in the hot and stuffy/cold and carbon-monoxide-filled room for days on end, some of them are tempted to repent of their ways.  Until they realize it can go on their CV too.

#96 Hair Cut Horror Stories

October 3, 2011

Submitted by Colleen 

Before venturing overseas, Expat Aid Workers are warned and advised to get a hair cut.  This is partly to appear presentable for your first day of work.  It is also to avoid the task of having to find a hair salon or barber shop that is able to cut expat hair.

Very few local barbers or hair dressers will admit to being unsure of how or where to start, but when you’re sitting in the chair with the razor poised above your head and the attendant has a worried and confused look on his or her face, you might start to wonder about the logic of your choice.  Some might at least be smart enough to provide the barber with some guidance or a photo of what they want, but there is no guarantee that will help.

You might experience this once.  Very few expats will be brave (or silly) enough to try it a second time.  Luckily, there are generally salons around in the capital cities to which one can retreat to fix the disaster or choose the second time around.  However, these fancier salons don’t facilitate the trading of war-stories about bad haircutting experiences that are a staple of expat conversation at some point or another.

So if you are not too concerned about the appearance or style of your hair (or by chance luck out and find a local salon that knows how to cut a variety of hair types), then by all means go find your closest barber or hair dresser.  The laughs and stories later will be well worth it.

ToonEAWL: Doing a Ph.D. on the side

September 30, 2011

ToonsEAWL: Public Service Announcement

September 28, 2011

#95 Talking about all the places they’ve been

September 26, 2011

by Colleen

Expats Aid Workers love love LOVE talking about all the places they’ve been. All the better if talking about the places they’ve been involves harrowing tales or funny anecdotes shared over a drink or dinner, typically in a suitably Western environment.

We all know the routine: Your friend takes a dramatically lazy sip of his gin & tonic, gets a faraway look in his eyes, and then sighs, “well, when I was in Nepal living with a family in their one bedroom mud hut…”


“I remember when I was in Sudan, back before CNN had heard of Darfur…”


“Oh, let me tell you about the time when I was in Afghanistan…”

The stories are usually cute and funny, and best if delivered in a deadpan/bored tone.  They generally provoke gasps or nods from around the table.  Veteran EAWs who’ve heard it all before (and probably done most of it themselves) may roll their eyes.   (It’s very posh, by the way, to have got to the point where you can roll your eyes because you’ve been around and travelled so much that you don’t need to hear yet another story from an idealistic hipster.  Clearly such young newbies have not collected enough passports to know the way the world really works.)

Related to the desire to talk about the places that they’ve been is the unending truism that EAWs all fall in love with the first place they’ve been. (Editor’s note: think, Feels Like the First Time by Foreigner).

For example, if someone had their first volunteering or work experience in the Phillipines, then no matter the hardships they went through, they will always have a soft spot in their heart for it and any place they go after that, ever, will always be compared to the Philippines (and will probably not measure up). Or Ghana. Or Nicaragua. Or Uzbekistan…

They say “Africa gets in your blood” or “Asia gets in your blood.”  Maybe it should be “development gets in your blood and nothing gets it stronger than your first culture shock.”

#94 Moaning about their servants

September 23, 2011

P Diddy could so be an EAW. Photo from

Submitted by Leila

Presented with a big, fat housing allowance by their employers, many Expat Aid Workers start to search for a suitable home. In many countries, this involves opting for a house complete with swimming pool, tennis/squash court, 4+ bed- and bathrooms and a decent electric fence. Never mind if you’re a single man who only receives visitors once a year – a perk of the job is occupying the kind of place P Diddy would choose to live in if he unexpectedly upped sticks and moved to southern Africa.

But herein starts the perennial dilemma. How on earth to maintain such a spacious residence when you are so busy fighting poverty in your day job? How to keep one’s lawn looking verdant, even during dry season? How to keep those pesky parasites out of the swimming pool? Find a more modest, manageable residence, perhaps? Don’t be silly! Why would you do that when you could just as easily employ a maid. And while you’re at it, why not get a gardener/cook/houseboy? You’d be doing it for the good of the country, right? This is employment creation, after all!

And yet, despite the Beverly Hills-esque house, and a full complement of staff to rival Jennifer Lopez’s entourage, a surprising number of EAWs just love to moan about their servants.

Common complaints voiced at dinner parties include:

1)      “Magdalena doesn’t hang up my blouses properly, no matter how many times I tell her.”

2)      The cook can only cook two decent dishes. I don’t know WHY I employ him. And he insists on using so much OIL. It’s as if cholesterol doesn’t exist…

3)      I swear the maid is stealing sugar and flour from our pantry. I mean, I know she has a big family of her own to feed, but still…

4)      The nanny simply doesn’t interact properly with baby James. I came home the other day and she’d plonked him in front of the TV. He was watching a soap opera, can you imagine!

It is very tempting to respond to each complaint with the following retorts:

1)      We hope Magdalena is doing this on purpose just to annoy you. We also hope she irons a big crease down the front of your jeans next and throws a red sock in with your white suit next time she washes it.

2)      Considering that back in your home country, you lived off a diet of takeaway kebabs, burgers and greasy Chinese food, and the last time you actually used your kitchen yourself, Reagan was in power, I really don’t think you’re in a position to complain.

3)      In a way it’s both apt and ironic that your maid steals food from you. After all, aren’t you the head of Food Security Programmes at a big donor agency?

4)      Yes it is strange how your nanny isn’t au fait with the latest Montessori child-rearing techniques. But then again, perhaps there’s a teeny-tiny chance she wasn’t exposed to Mary Poppins and Nanny McPhee in rural Burkina Faso, where she grew up.