Friday, July 08, 2011

A day in the life of the worst aid worker in the world.

Check out this incredibly long blogpost about perception vs. reality of being an aid worker. I want to focus on the reality part, where the guy goes through his day in a very whiny, arrogant and incompetent manner, winning my nomination for worst aid worker in the world.

Here's the beginning of "the reality"

6.00 am. The alarm goes off. I open my eyes and I stare at a ceiling I swear I’ve never seen before. I hear the sound of excessively honking traffic and gridlock and recognize the stark-white detailing of some mid-range hotel in yet another third-world city, virtually indistinguishable from the last. I’m feeling a rough. Probably the combination of a little too much cheap local beer without a confirmed % Vol. rating, and the dodgy sushi restaurant we tried last night around the back of the block. There’s something about raw fish when you’re several hours’ journey from the nearest seaport.

So the guy is some combo of stupid and irresponsible, drinking too much and eating dangerously on a work night. Not a good start. I'm going to go on a limb and assume that aid workers are not actually required to do this.

6.35 am. I’m in the shower. All lathered up with generic hotel-room shampoo that oozes out of the little bottle like that slimey thing from Ghostbusters. I’m standing beneath the spout when the water suddenly runs cold. I don’t react, because it’s happened so many times before, but the little pulse of revulsion it sends through my gut is unavoidable, as I attempt to finish my wash as quickly as possible. I tell myself I really ought to speak to reception about getting my room changed, but I know it won’t make any difference, so I don’t bother.

OMG, the hot water ran out. Let the revulsion flag fly. Oh the unimaginable horror! Plus I love the assumption of the worst about the hotel management.

7.05 am. The hotel has a buffet breakfast. Dry turkey-bacon, watery scrambled eggs, stale bread for toasting, salty baked beans, fresh buns with little packets of Anchor butter and bowls of jam you never know if you can trust or not. It’s open-air and mild, but the flies aren’t out yet. It’s early, so the clientelle are all professional. There’s a bunch of despondant-looking aid-worker types mixed in with Chinese businessmen and the occasional wizened long-termer, generally white with greying hair, wrinkles, and a red veiny nose. I try and decide which group I least want to sit close to and work through my tea and toast in peace.

Every piece of food gets it’s own scornful adjective (dry, watery, stale, salty), and our hero, seeing no one of his high level in the dining room breakfasts alone.

7.30 am. My teeth are brushed (I’ve risked using tap-water this morning) and I’m waiting by the front entrance to the hotel for the office driver to pick me up, laptop, notepad and file in the backpack slung over one shoulder.

7.55 am. My driver arrives

OMG again. His DRIVER is late. Let’s flog him as a lesson for next time.

8.25 am. We’re still in traffic. It’s rush hour, and there’s four lanes of moving metal slowly extricating itself through a narrow two-lane intersection. A bus the size of a small ocean-going liner is sitting directly above our rear-bumper, sounding its air-horn and telling us in no uncertain terms that if we don’t move forwards it will turn us into fine and somewhat stained aluminium foil. Two taxi cabs are trying to usurp the two square feet of space in front of us between a produce lorry and an expensive Mercedez sedan with tinted windows. A street vendor is banging on my window and trying to sell me my choice of cell-phone cards or a pack of cigarettes. The driver has the air-con cranked way too high and my finger-tips are actually hurting from the cold, but I’m frightened that if I crack the windows, we’ll both die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Hey Genius. Rush hour = traffic. If you don’t want to be stuck in traffic, don’t start your commute during rush hour. Mrs. Angus and I lived in Mexico City for 2+ years and had to do exactly that. We made sure to leave the house (driving ourselves by the way) by 7:00 to ensure that our 20 minute commute didn’t turn into a 90 minute nightmare. Take some responsibility for yourself, dude. (Notice that he’s complaining about the cold. That will change)

8.40 am. The office elevator is out of order again, so I climb the three underlit flights of stained, grimy stairs that reek of cheap cologne and stale spicy food until I reach the right floor. In the humidity, I’m already sweating and my shirt is clinging to my back, my sides, and the cleft below my neck. I tell myself I need to spend more time in the hotel gym if I can’t handle three measly flights of stairs. I walk in on the morning operations briefing ten minutes late and cop a dirty look from the Office Manager.

OMG yet again. The elevator is out! How this guy has the courage to keep soldiering on in the face of these epic adversities is beyond me. Plus, now he's too hot!

In the course of the rest of the day, he gets reamed out at a meeting and does nothing to defend himself, eats a communal lunch with everyone else at the office and later claims that the lunch made him ill (not the beers or the sushi, or the brushing teeth with tapwater, but the lunch that no one else is complaining about), gets mad because the office won't reimburse his expenses without receipts, and turns his phone off for two hours, mightily pissing off a donor that wants to give his agency $4 million.

He also has nothing but scorn for local government officials. Check this part:

1.45 pm. We’re sitting on a sunken brown couch in a hallway in some minor government administration building. It has no springs left and is the sort of thing that my buddies might put in their basement den after finding it at a yard sale, cover with an old bedsheet, and drink beer while watching the hockey. In front of us, men in suits are striding up and down the corridors trying to look important, their footfalls echoing between the bare walls. Cheap wooden doors have brass nameplates on them. There’s no air-conditioning and the place smells vaguely of detergent and cigarette smoke.

1.55 pm. The Humanitarian Coordinator knows we’re out here. We know he’s in there. We know he’s in there alone, and that he’s not doing anything useful, except maybe putting some purple ink-stamps on various pieces of superfluous paperwork so that he can justify drawing a salary in the name of frustrating the international community’s efforts to help his people. But he’s going to keep us sitting out here for, ooh, another five minutes I reckon. Just because he can.

Busted furniture, "cheap" doors, the employees are "trying to look important" and the official they came to see is "not doing anything useful" which our hero can divine right through the closed door (it must be very flimsy indeed). The evil local guy is apparently actually trying to hurt his own people by "frustrating" the westerners with his bad sofa and no air conditioning.

I can just imagine the local official telling the purchasing department. "no don't give me any of that designer furniture or aircon units. Let's make it real nasty up in here so we can frustrate the bejeesus out of those damn do-gooder westerners.

This guy is just the worst. His post should have been titled "how not to be an aid worker".


Hasdrubal said...

Too bad Easterly stopped doing Aid Watch, I'd absolutely love his take on this.

Gerardo said...

Probably not the response he expected when he posted that.

Anonymous said...

Com'on guys, this is post is clearly satire. If you stopped and looked at anything else the guy has written on his blog you'd know that.
Or would you think that this-

is real too?

Raehan said...

Perhaps you should consider posting something about your world - inspire your readers instead of just bagging out some stranger for his negative take on something. At the very least it makes u no better. He judges his situation, you judge him. Who is sitting on the higher horse?

Angus said...

And now you judge me, eh Raehan?

morealtitude said...

Satire (noun): A technique in which vices, follies, abuses and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, often in a manner involving humour such as parody, exaggeration, juxtaposition, irony and sarcasm, and often seeming to approve of the very thing the author wishes to attack.

Hyperbole (noun): Literary device using extreme exaggeration or overstatement, often used to evoke strong feelings but not meant to be taken literally.

Reading Comprehension (noun): The level of one's ability to proficiently recognize and understand words and sentences as part of a structured body of writing, with the inference that the reader can also understand the meaning behind what has been written. The teaching of reading comprehension skills typically begins in Kindergarten.

Anonymous said...

Hyperbole, yes, of course. Satire, no, at least not intentional. Maybe two years later you have come to the point in your life that you realize how ridiculous and self-absorbed you used to be. Congratulations on your growth.

Cute little "reading comprehension" quip, though.

Anonymous said...

So what they say about the passive-aggressiveness (or just plain aggressiveness) of the development field is true.

I think the best way to approach this discussion is with empathy. Who hasn't had a day of work that was irrationally upsetting? Especially if you've worked in developing country settings.

That's not to say aid workers are heroes.