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#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.

#210 Poker

March 29, 2013

Submitted by Laurence Cameron

poker nightOnce a week, a group of EAWs will assemble at someone’s guesthouse or compound to take part in a ritual that has become, for many, an almost spiritual substitute for religion.

With its often bizarre assortment of characters and potential to gain huge levels of street cred (not to mention cash of often varying denominations, sorry chaps, I hope Swedish Kroner and Philippine Peso will do)  the weekly poker night is an important staple in many an EAW’s social calendar.

It’s the perfect place to sit in a fog of cigar and cigarette smoke, share a fresh bottle of imported whisky, and win or lose the equivalent monthly salary of your local driver in 3 minutes.

Although money is a definite draw, it is unlikely that any inexperienced players will walk away with much at the end of the night thanks to a committed central cabal of players, who have inevitably been ‘in country’ longer than most and effectively earn a second income from baffling younger, more inexperienced players with the intricacies of the game.

The players will be predominantly male, although it’s not unknown for a young femme fatale to turn up and hustle the old guard, perhaps by distracting them from play with her other assets. The older players will grin to themselves at the arrival of a pretty new face ripe for the picking, only to find themselves despondent and broke at the end of the night.

A big win at poker will often leave the EAW with a swagger in their step for the rest of the week, and the benefits can often be felt by others. A crisp new dollar bill for the cute little street kid selling scarves, an extra large tip for the waiter. Inversely, a big loss will induce a miserly effect, and the EAW will be sure to count every penny and avoid unnecessary purchases.

Spending winnings is also something that comes naturally to EAWs, after all, they spend most of their time spending other people’s money in benevolent ways, so if anyone knows how to splash some extra cash it should be them.

The thrill that comes with gambling is heightened by the surroundings, bonus points for a war zone, which helps EAWs get over any stigmas involved. After all, by being in such a dangerous place an EAW is already ‘gambling’ with his life, why not take it the next step?

At the end of the night, players will divvy up the cash and say their goodbyes. Win or lose, there’s always the potential to do better next week, and maybe, just maybe, that cutie sitting across the table and giving you ‘the eye’ will return.

You could certainly do with getting your $200 back from her.

#209 Having better participation than you

March 25, 2013


submitted by Matthew Greenall who tweets here: @mngreenall and blogs here: Epidreamiology

It’s aid-school 101.  They’re not beneficiaries, they are partners.  Actors in their own development.  Nothing will happen if they aren’t fully involved.  Communities know best.

While the casual observer may think that the battle for the heart and soul of aid is between the randomistas and the, erm, other ones, aid workers know that the real bun fight is over the fact that their participation is better than everyone else’s.  Everyone else is imposing their aims. Or if they aren’t doing that, they’re just raising awareness. They’re merely consulting. They’re facipulating.  They’re poor-washing, by decorating head office with huge high-res pictures of an empowered-looking programme participant.  They’re extracting information that will get written up into a tidy peer-reviewed article that the cattle-herder in rural Amhara really deserved to be a named author on too.  Their version of putting the community in the driver’s seat is to talk to servers they bump into in the hotel; to claim “I always talk to the taxi drivers. You’d be amazed what you can pick up from taxi drivers about what’s  really going on in the country.”

You on the other hand, you always put the community in charge. You always let them spend the money on exactly what they wanted to spend it on.  You accepted their account of what they did, and asked for no more. You definitely never spent hours begging them to throw you a bone, you know, some lessons learned or a photograph or something. You involved them in the governance of your international NGO. They took to logframes and spreadsheets and sequentially numbering receipts like a duck takes to water. Your donors always understood, and positively encouraged your approach, even though you gave them stories but not the numbers of people reached by the alchemy of the multiplier effect.

In fact you’ve become so good at this that, over time, you’ve gained a pretty good sense of what people are going to say.  Slowly but surely you realise that you can anticipate what you are going to hear. That’s great – shortcuts. Efficiency! You can replicate stuff much more quickly, fairly safe in the knowledge that you’re hitting the mark. Of course, you keep yourself up to date by doing the odd transect walk and diploma ceremony, but you’re also awfully busy trying to convince the new donors about the importance of participation.  And how your participation is better than everyone else’s.

#208 Hanging with people from the same chronology

March 13, 2013

Submitted by Brian Harding who blogs a little bit at ANairobic Inspiration

You are a few weeks into your new duty station and you have made a few friends. These friends will be your friends for the rest of their time in the duty station. This is because EAWs don’t like to mix up chronologies.

If you arrived in June 2010 in your new war-torn country, then your friends will principally include those people from plus or minus three months of your arrival. These are your friends. You will most likely not hang out with people who arrived in 2008. They have their own friends that arrived then.

There is only one way to get access to people in different chronologies. This is simply if you are vouched for. It could happen that you got to strike up a conversation at the cluster meeting or the house party and you did not make a complete fool of yourself. Like the young kid who joins the older guys, Red, Andy Dufrain, Floyd and Ernie at the dining table in Shawshank Prison, fundamentally, you better have something to offer fast. (Do remember he ended up dead and the other guys ended up at the beach.).

Making a complete fool of yourself is easy however. If you do not know the name of the president, his party (it’s generally a man), what FGM stands for, the local name for transport (e.g matatu), have some local words, the location of anything, the head of such and such an agency etc or if you make the mistake of possessing any degree of idealism, you’re doomed. The list of potential errors is long and not clearly defined and if you mess up, you are out, before you even have a chance.

An important part of being new and meeting people from outside your chronology (even if you have made a complete fool of yourself) is to say that you are staying a long time. “I have a 90 day contract but I’m planning on staying for 2 years”. This is appreciated by all EAWs and some day you will appreciate hearing it too.

If you do meet people from earlier chronologies, you will find that indeed many of their friends are from around the same time that they arrived but initially they didn’t like all of the people in their group. “when I first met him, I thought s/he was a complete [alcoholic, womanizer, A-hole, etc] and didn’t want to be near him, but then we ended up on a weekend away and now s/he is like one of my best friends”. Yes, “like one of my best friends” …..but certainly not my best friend.

EAWs learn fast that first impressions count for nothing when your friends from the duty station begin to leave. It’s always better to hang out with people who you don’t like but are from the same chronology than with the newbies.

#207 Zombies… *Aid* Zombies

March 1, 2013

Disclaimer: Originally posted  here.

J.’s got some new thing going. Humanitarian Fiction (#humfiction) and something called “Evil Genius Publishing.”

* * *

Okay, so with the exception of (of course) Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like, and possibly one or two others, the aid blogosphere has been painfully slow of late. We don’t know why, exactly, but there’s just not much going on.

Time to MIX. IT. UP.

It’s time for a writing contest.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Humanitarian Zombie Fiction.


Spend the weekend cranking out your best humanitarian aid zombie fiction and then send it to me:

Will Mike and Rupert be able to distribute all the NFIs and make it back to the warehouse before they’re overrun by zombies?


As Ashley sits alone at the expat bar she can’t help but notice that the air outside has grown suddenly quiet… 


“NO!” Tristan shouted. ”KEEP THEM BACK!”

The battery icon on his small laptop computer was flashing red, and the wifi signal icon showed only one bar. “I have to get the SF424 submitted before the mission office in Maputo closes… have to submit the SF424…”

Tristan heard his own voice repeating, now, as if out of body. He looked over at Steve barricading the door, the shrieking outside intensifying with every passing second. “I only need two minutes…”


Raoul’s head felt like it was splitting apart. He couldn’t remember where he was. Kuching? La Paz? 

All he knew was that the proposal had to go into DFID by 11:00 AM. He glanced at his watch. Only three hours…

At that moment he became acutely aware of the craving. For… brains

Right. You get the picture.

So give it your best shot. 500 – 50,000 words. Aid workers. Impossible deadlines. Romance. Mayhem. Above all, Zombies.

Then either:

– Post it on your aid blog or Facebook page or Google+ and add the link to the comments thread below this post.

– send it to J. via his Evil Genius address (evilgenius.main@gmail…).

No deadline.

#206 Replying to “all”

February 28, 2013

One of the most damning things you can ever say about an Expat Aid Worker is that she/he “works in silos.”

Like a black mark on a 3rd-grader’s report card in the “Plays well with others” box, “works in silos”, “doesn’t coordinate“, “never shares information“, and a thousand poignant variants thereof are the ultimate take-down of any EAW or NGO employee so foolish as to believe that simply buckling down and focusing on ones’ own tasks was sufficient. No, in a universe where multiple stakeholder management and internal client focus and cross-functional intra-team integration is assumed to be synonymous with “impact”, today’s EAW who wishes to avoid being tarred with a very black brush understands that no decision, no task is too small or inconsequential to necessitate involving the broadest possible range of interested parties, irrespective of their respective degrees of legitimate business interest in the issue under discussion.

Thankfully, (as is so frequently the case) modern technology has a solution: “Reply All.”


With a few simple mouse clicks, today’s EAW can achieve maximum synergy while simultaneously enhancing broad-based ownership in any discussion. It’s easier than it seems, actually. All one has to do is:

Click “reply all.”

No need to exercise judgement over who in the 50+ long distribution is actually relevant to the discussion at hand. Similarly, no need to restrict circulation: if the original author saw fit to cc. 107 people, then the EAW’s response can be assumed to be of urgent interest to all of them. Which leads to the final point that no response is too mundane: the corollary of “everyone’s important” is “I’m always important.” So when the EAW receives an obviously mistaken email, it is of great importance that she/he “reply all” so that all 300 (+/-) of the original recipients know that she/he is “out of office”, or “agrees that this is a hugely important discussion”, or  “doesn’t know anything about this.”

Just as it is important to include the broadest possible range of email recipients in a given context, so it is similarly important to self-actualize oneself to the stage where one realizes that one’s response is always needed. If the email comes to your box, it is specifically because the sender wanted your response. Your colleagues desperately want to know what you think, particularly if you’re so busy that your response can be only a few pithy phrases. Regardless of the issue, your input is of value by definition.

For the good of humanity, as a means of adding value to a dialogic, participatory process, or simply so as to remain an empowered co-stakeholder…

(Naturally you’ll reply [not replying would never do].)

Just be sure to reply to “all.”

#205 Scarves

February 22, 2013

Ingrid knows where her scarf is, for sure. (Photo:

Submitted by Sci-Fi Nomad

A scarf is about the most massively useful thing an Expat Aid Worker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the Šar Mountains of Kosovo; you can lie on it during an emergency mapping and market assessment trip to Lido Beach, Somalia; drape it round your head to ward off the fumes during a Jakarta slum tour; wave it during sudden-onset emergencies as a distress signal; and of course cover your head with it whether it still seems to be clean enough or not.

Truly, you can’t consider yourself to be an actual EAW without multiple scarves from sustainable, locally-produced, women artisans engaged in public-private, civil society partnerships. Whether you decide on wearing a keffiya, or a hand-embroidered Huipil, men and women alike know that for the EAW, donning a scarf is more than just dressing like the locals or creating your own fashion — it is as essential as your sat phone or ID badge. (During an evacuation it is unlikely that you will even be allowed on a UN helicopter unless you are wrapped in indigenous, fair-trade, fiber art.)

More importantly, a scarf has immense psychological value. With its multiple uses and adaptability, it demonstrate resiliency. And donors love resiliency. A scarf also imparts immediate field cred. Because if you can provide life-saving emergency interventions and facipulate stakeholder learning workshops across the length and breadth of the developing world, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible proposal deadlines, win awards, and still know where your scarf is, you are clearly an aid worker to be reckoned with. You may even hear someone comment,  “Hey, you flip-chart that nomad EAW? There’s a doer who really knows where her scarf is!”

#204 Sexit Strategies

February 18, 2013


Submitted by HB.

You’ve been looking across the room at him or her in that coordination meeting for months, have spotted them at the expat bar and nodded politely to them at the house party. But in truth you have a burning desire to be in bed with this person. Making sweet passionate love would never be better in your head, and you clearly have over-thought sexual angst on the issue. This person has even come up on one of your Top Five Hottest EAW Lists (the ones you make but can never justify laminating because of the high turnover).

There is a point in time when this love simply cannot be. Not because you are Capulet and the other a Montague or because it would mean infidelity, but simply because they are a donor and you are applying for funding from them, or they are the head of the cluster meetings, or they are from the UN and it would be very uncool to deal with the dark side, or your house sucks and their hardship allowance means they have a nice pad. There are 10 small reasons why you should be together and 1000 small ones why you shouldn’t.

But then a miraculous thing happens. For once it is not you interpreting staff departure announcements. Instead, it’s you who gets the call that you have finally been noticed and you’ve got that job in headquarters or a new duty station, or you’ve been accepted onto that masters programme (and will be able to actually stop lying about that fake masters on your CV — the one you bought on the Koh San Road when you went for  that regional meeting in Bangkok).

It is now time to decide when to tell people that you are leaving. If the opportunity is a few months away, it is important to hold it under your hat for a bit. If it a quick move, then you must act fast. You are now in charge of your sexit strategy.

The sexit strategy is the time when an EAW hooks up with that person (or persons) that they have not been “allowed” to because of unwritten rules of engagement in their duty station or mission.

After months of not engaging – it is now time to strike up that conversation. “Hey, have you heard I’m leaving?” Follow up with a vague idea of how important you are and how you’ll be a good contact forever. “Yeah, yeah… I’m needed in headquarters to carry out oversight for the development of the global resource mobilization strategy for our M&E activities in the implementation of our regional programme…. You know the way it is.”

At this point it is important to emphasize to your target that you were always sorry that you didn’t get to know them better during your time here, and how you normally try and keep out of personal drama in the field. It is also important to point out that you were really impressed with how they acted at that [insert inanely titled] meeting, and how that really made such and such listen, and that it changed how your organisation implemented something. (This can be made up.)

On occasion this may be enough to seal the deal for the successful completion of one of the key activities within your sexit strategy. If not, always use the line “Well, we should definitely catch up for a drink before I go.” If you do not receive a “Yes, definitely!” take this as a positive sign that your sexit strategy will not be implementable with this person and move on quickly.

Sexit time is very precious and must not be wasted.