Status anxiety

I met up with a guy called Ian, who’s travelling the circumference of Africa, when he passed through Dar on Friday. I was intrigued as to how someone could spend a whole year, alone, on public transport. He said he was happy to meet up with someone who wouldn’t end a friendly conversation by trying to sell him something or by asking for money.

That’s one of the saddest things about being here. You go from being a normal nobody back home to someone important: someone with money. And you’re aware of it all the time: In the expat neighbourhoods, where the waiting staff, the guards, the cleaners, the taxi drivers are all Africans and who, we happily tell ourselves, earn a good wage from us as customers or employers. In the poorer parts of town, where a white person is more of a novelty, and where kids with bad teeth or polio cripples ask for money and market sellers give you extra attention because you’ll be spending big bucks.I was impressed by Ian’s expedition. But he told me that the longer he went on, the more he realised it wasn’t such a big deal. Anyone could do it. The way of life he lives has become normal, and I suppose that’s what living in a different place does to you, if you give it enough time. You redefine normality, and for me that now means never drinking tap water and always assuming you’ll be stuck in traffic.

But what if the status of wealthy superior becomes my normal?

The ugly irony of it is that most of us come here to try to make this country less poor. But part of the reason many of us stay is because we enjoy too much the lifestyle we can afford: cleaners, nannies, drivers; dining out and sailing at weekends. If that becomes my normal, please make sure I leave.

To end on a slightly lighter note, read what the folk over at Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like have to say. Though actually, their attempt at irony doesn’t quite work, because most of it is pretty damn accurate.

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