When not out there saving the world, the batik and khaki-clad expats and their English-speaking local colleagues are often found at pubs, talking about anything but poverty. A veteran aid worker shares a list of what to look out for in an aid worker.
You bottom up your drink, from whisky to rice wine.
You smoke because cigarettes are men’s best friend and the best icebreaker.
You bar hop and pub crawl, and stay hopping and crawling till dawn.
You know to leave poverty with the people, and not to bring it to the beer table.
You talk smart in English, preferably with an American accent.
You read The Economist and Foreign Affairs, because that’s the thing to do. And the BBC is cool, but not CNN.
You give the donors what they want without asking questions.
You know not to burn bridges, because you’ll always end up bumping into the same people.
You have a hobby—even Kabul has a golf course.
You carry around an SLR camera with big lenses to earn big respect. Size does matter.
Like high school, you know who the players are in the world of aid business, with the disaster junkie being the quarterback, the gender queen the cheerleading captain, and the Monitoring & Evaluation person the valedictorian,
You work in places that have just flashed on breaking news headlines on your TV. The hotter the spot or conflict area, the hotter you are.
Flexi-time and business trips to exotic places are the best perks of your work, but hardship allowance tops it all.
You spend money wisely: a six-month contract will only feed you for the next 3 months (unless you call Asia home).
You moonlight as a consultant during your annual leaves.
This is how you decide on the language issue in the new posting: - 1-3 months post: English only - 6-12 months post: bargain in local language won’t get you any discount and will only make you look ugly when you have to twist your tongue and lips, though it may impress that cute guy in cargo pants or hippy chick with ethnic bracelets. - 12-36 month post: Dude, even babies start to talk properly around this time, so get your ass in a language course and start talking like a native!
You are well aware that heroism and adventures belong to Indiana Jones (who, by the way, is not a real person), so when the office tells you to work from home because unfriendly and armed people are seen roaming the city, you just do what they say.
You quit the business after 10-20 years of career to establish your own organization.
Ardita is a polyglot and has been aid-worker, who spent years in college trying to understand international relations and applied sociology, but ended up writing situation reports and articles for humanitarian projects in Indonesia long before aid worker became ubercool in the aftermath of Asia's tsunami in 2004. She’s had her days of getting flanked by male friends for a short trip to a local market in Pakistan, getting questioned by soldiers in the boonies of Aceh while trying to find distribution points, and hiding in the backseat to avoid raising suspicions at military checkpoints in Myanmar. At present, she's baking vegan muffins.