Monday, 3 August 2015

Aidworker Choices

Life is full of choices. In aidworkerlife, they're particularly stark

The big one: 'field' or 'HQ'.

HQ means a normal life, with friends and a partner and a home and the ability to plan more than six months ahead. It's pretty awesome.

But on the other hand, the work is pretty dull and bureaucratic, you're living on an NGO salary in the UK, which means that you're always skint, and you spend your day telling field people to do things that waste their time when you know they're working 24-7

'Field' in this context means 'not HQ'*.

'Field' has advantages: you don't spend any money, you get per diems, so suddenly you feel rich. You get to interact with beneficiaries and see your own impact. It feels adventurous.

But on the other hand, you rarely see your friends, you can forget about normal relationships, you work all the time, you live in a weird bubble with coworkers that might or might not be health, you might get kidnapped, and eventually you crave a dust-free room, wifi, and sushi.

There isn't really any in-between. It's one or the other. And every time you apply for a job, you have to choose.

I made my choice in February 2014. I was living in Libya and had an offer for a job in DRC. It was the job I'd always wanted – running a cash programme in a district. I turned it down to move back to the UK – to invest in a normal life and a partner.

A secondary motive** was that there was an election on: aid and politics aren't compatible.

Tonight I had dinner with two friends, one from Mali and one from Libya. The Libya friend has made the same choice and lives in Brixton with her partner while working for an INGO in London. The Mali friend is still living the old carefree life.

I knew then and I know now that I made the right choice. But I'm homesick for the field, and I think I probably always will be.

*In reality, 'field' means 'one step closer to the beneficiaries than wherever you're standing'. From HQ, a country office looks like the field. From a country office, HQ people coming in and refering to you as the field is about the most patronising thing in the world. To you, the field is the Sub-office. From the sub-office, the field is the village. The village might actually be the field, but as the closest I've been is the sub-office, I'll never know.

** Fine, a primary motive!

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