By Shotgun Shack
Facebook is one thing: it’s a great place for hip status updates and posting a ton of pictures. But there’s an even better option for the first-time volunteer or the Expat Aid Worker on a first deployment…starting a blog.
Blogging for the folks back home (not to be confused with blogging to display your superior thinking) allows parents, friends, former classmates and advisors, the public in general even, to follow along and experience your new life at almost the same pace you do.
When setting up a blog for the folks back home, you’ll want to make the title some clever variation of your name and the place where you are posted during this first overseas EAW-type job or experience. Good words to include are “stories from” or “my life in” or “chronicle” or “Africa” or “nomadic” or “odyssey” or “adventures in…” or “from [your home town/state] to [the country you are now working/volunteering]” or “[Slang word for people from your home town/state] in [place you are now living/working]“. Another good choice is a title that includes a term for foreigners (gringo, mzungu, blan, farang) in the local language, or a common colloquialism or phrase from where you’re stationed.
Your blog is where you post that first set of photos that you take upon arrival: ”Here’s where I’ll be living for the next 2 years!” or “Met the neighbor kids – they love hanging out in our compound! Look at those brown eyes!” or “Yep, this is where I’ll be showering” or “OMG the spiders here are ginormous!”
It’s where the first of many photos of you and “the locals” goes up. It’s where you post that shot of you grinning and ironically sporting the traditional outfit that the women from the under-5 feeding and weighing project gave you. It’s where your earnest face, windswept hair and Chaco tan lines come out full force as you become one with the people.
When blogging for the folks back home, the important thing is to prove you areblending in well with your new surroundings. You also want to reassure worried parents that you are fine and that yes, you are in Africa, but no, you’re not living in range of Somali pirates and that Ivory Coast is actually on the other side of the continent, so you’re not at risk from the conflict there (if anyone’s actually heard that there is a conflict there… if not, just skip over that, it will needlessly worry them).
Your blog is where show all your friends that you are bad ass and you ride around the capital city sometimes in tuk tuks or matatus or chapas or tap taps or on the backs of motorcycles or in the beds of pick up trucks. It’s where you display your fake prowess at carrying water (or something else) on your head like the locals and the pictures of yourself standing next to war junk.
Blogging for the folks back home allows you to vent about the cultural differences while at the same time being magnanimously accepting of them. It’s where you do your virtual eye-rolling about how many marriage proposals you get each week from the local guys; where you moast about the number of mothers who offer their daughters to you. It’s an especially helpful platform for complaining about immigration officials, local government incapacity, inefficiency, and bribery; and for expounding on your unique and intimate experiences attending local weddings in Asia or beybi chowers in Latin America. It’s where you air your homesickness and disappointment at missing cultural activities and events back home.
Your blog is where you show the pictures of the broken down bus and how you totally took it all in stride despite the fact that you stood in the sun for 7 hours trying to hitch the next ride. And how it was really horrible, but gosh, looking back now, it was all in good fun. And you got to meet some local people while you waited and they were so sweet and they gave you some mangoes [insert pictures of cute brown babies and kind mothers].
Your blog is where you subliminally work to convince the long-distance partner you left behind that you are still faithful. Or maybe you talk about how everyone at the market thought your local boyfriend was just there to carry your bags, or that your local female friend was your maid, or maybe you yourself were mistaken for a local by someone. Your blog is where you go into some detail about getting sick and navigating the local health system. It’s where you share your dismay at your first attempt at getting a haircut, or going for a Thai massage, or trying to buy a pair of shoes or underwear. It displays your photos of the food at the local market (Wow, look at all the fresh fruit! or OMG they eat [insert name of insect, part of an animal, or household pet] here.). Your blog is where you rail against the gender discrimination you find around you.
It’s where you chuckle or ruminate about the local customs, especially those having to do with local healers, cures, superstitions and other beliefs that you find humorous, ridiculous, fascinating or shocking. And then maybe you explain that you’re not really making fun of those customs, you’re just pointing out how contradictory they are to the main religions in the country or how they go against common Western knowledge about good health practices. Or you might ponder the anthropological richness and the fact that people here actually know more than people at home. You might post some shots of local healer posters, and some photos of churches, mosques, temples, palaces, sacred religious places, statues and monuments.
There will be lots of pictures of beautiful natural spots, or the ex-pat bar, or the nice place you stayed at while on break. There will be shots of bad English phrases on t-shirts, signs, menus and the backs of buses and taxis. There may be photos you took on the sly, knowing that it was inappropriate to take them. You will assume that none of your local co-workers or friends or anyone from the country where you are working will ever read your blog, so you will feel free to tell it like it is, without worrying about someone finding your observations offensive….
Over time, your blog will change in tone, or perhaps you’ll stop blogging for the folks back home altogether, as culture shock ebbs and you go about your normal business and things don’t stand out as strange anymore. [Note: you may need to pick up blogging again when you make your first visit home and discover “reverse culture shock.”]
Since blogging for the folks back home normally takes the form of a diary or journal rather than an analytical discussion on development methodologies or aid work theory and practice, it may become a liability when later you become a snarky aid blogger (after you’ve snagged a real aid job) and a large part of your spare time is spent making fun of people who resemble your old self. (See Destroying Idealism).
So it’s wise to use an assumed name when blogging for the folks back home. Later in your career you definitely won’t want anyone forwarding around that blog that you wrote back in the early days when you had no idea. Your field cred will seriously suffer.