For the NGO worker living abroad, it is very important that they establish cred with the locals as someone who “understands their culture.” Expat aid workers can’t help but feel a little smug when they get a surprised look from a local co-worker after demonstrating their intimate knowledge of local politics/cuisine/language (this last method, language, is least often used, since it requires actual effort. Much easier to check the daily paper once in a while than to actually study a language).
While I’m partially tongue-in-cheek here, I do think that NGO workers feel a little pride upon being embraced by a local as someone who legitimately knows something about the country/town beyond the name of the capital city and president. And more seriously speaking, I am a big believer in the idea that if you are going to live in another country, or even proffer your “expertise” on a given topic within the country, you ought to know a little bit about it. Doing so has intrinsic value, and is a way to demonstrate your credibility.
I’ve discovered that one of the easiest ways to demonstrate local knowledge and “cred” is through embracing the local music scene. I still recall very clearly when I was in Argentina, and I told one of my Argentine buddies that I had spent my weekend going to see some group called Onda Vaga. “You saw Onda Vaga? They are awesome. They are a really cool band.” And while I enjoyed the band for the sake of enjoying the band, I had to admit, his being so impressed was a cool feeling. Since then, whenever I’ve been about to head to a country, I’ve done some Googling, and as a way of mentally getting pumped up to go, have blared music in my room from my newest destination. And without fail, I’ve found that an added benefit is seeing the surprise on my new friends’ faces. Most recently, it was a trip up to Northern Kenya where I got to demonstrate my cred. When my colleagues asked what I was listening to, and I “innocently” responded, “Oh just some Sauti Sol,” the whole car got excited and took turns listening to my music, and singing it loudly to each other.
To conclude, here’s a link to a music video by the aforementioned Kenyan group Sauti Sol. It’s about corrupt police officers asking for bribes, which seems appropriate, seeing as my co-worker and I spent the better part of an hour at a police station today, because our car didn’t have triangle reflectors in it, in case our car breaks down alongside the road. Yes, we were stopped, for no ostensible reason, just so the policeman could inquire as to whether or not we had the triangle reflectors. To quote Sauti Sol, “Hey youuuu, in the blue unifoooorm, if I have wronged youuuuu, I will refoooorm.”
Seriously though, check them out, they’re cool:
And if you ever move to Kenya, it’ll get you mad cred.