How to get a job working in Africa.

Hello my dearest friends!

Yes, it’s been a fabulously long time since you heard from me personally, but here I am, fresh faced and ready to dispense some sage advice to anyone who has ever considered, is considering, or might ever, possibly, probably, maybe consider working in Africa in the near future.

Who am I to give advice? I spent almost nine months working in Africa as a conservation biologist. Post-Africa, I’ve founded an exponentially growing and successful charitable organization that works to advance education and healthcare across the dark continent.

And…who are you to take advice? YOU are probably a bright-eyed, college-educated young sprite of a thing. YOU are rearing to change the world. YOU need some guidance, as you probably found your way to this blog post by googling the big question: “How can I get a job working in Africa?”

Working in Africa is bloody difficult. Therefore, getting a job to work in Africa (truly work, I might add) is also bloody difficult.

Why? Well, let me dispel some myths for you right off the bat:

1) Nonprofits will NOT pay for you to traipse over to Africa just because you have a big heart and an even bigger drive. Most of the time, you will make no money or will even have to pay for the first work experience, simply because no one in their right mind will ever hire someone who hasn’t had to literally walk through shit-covered roads in a developing country.

2) You will NOT get a paying job if you do not have experience working in Africa. Yes, I understand I just repeated myself, but if you’re anything like me, you read the first piece of advice and promptly moved on after telling yourself, “yes, but I’m different.” I hate to break it to you: No, you are not different. Why? Because nonprofits in Africa need every penny they can get their hands on, and no amount of resume action words will make a cash-strapped organization take unnecessary risk. For example, I once worked for a conservation group which had hired on eight interns at once. Four hated living in Africa so much that they actually quit before their contracts came to an end. In sum, the organization wasted thousands upon thousands of dollars in training costs and flights on people who left after a few months.

3) You are now thinking to yourself: “Yes, but I don’t want to work for a nonprofit! Surely a business will hire me!”
You’re slightly correct. There are, indeed, corporations who will hire expats to work in Africa without prior international experience . However, these positions are often highly technical and require a great deal of investment and education. For example, oil companies often send engineers on rotating shifts to work on their oil compounds. Or, large companies will hire you IF you have a highly sought after skill set, such as a fluency in three languages and an expert knowledge of GIS systems. Yes, my friends, IF you fall into this category, you probably should just stop reading right now and go and apply for a job, as the only advice you will need, is how to best negotiate your benefits.

However, if you don’t fall into this group of highly trained professionals, do not despair: there is still hope.

Jobs in Africa positively abound. In fact, after just eight months of work experience, I was offered two full-time positions, one of which was for the position of Program Director. How did I get there?

1) I got experience. This is done by either paying the cost for a legitimate organization to take you in and train you and/or to offer your services for free. My first job, only a three month stint, actually only cost me my plane ticket to the country. The rest of my in-country expenses? Paid!

You might be asking yourself where you can find these opportunities. Look no further than the following websites: – A clearing house for non-profit jobs. – A great non-profit and environment-focused job board. – Jobs posted by research groups looking for short-term assistants.

There are dozens of other directories out there, but if you want my honest opinion: don’t look at them.

The jobs listed at the above websites are vetted (to a certain degree) and you will likely avoid scams or annoyingly overpriced short-term volunteer vacation package.

One more word of advice: use your brain! If the internship is asking for $4000 a month, it’s probably a for-profit business making money on getting you a placement. If that’s the kind of security you’d like, go for it. However, just know that you don’t have to pay so much money. There are tons of nonprofits who would happily train you at cost (no more than $1500 per month, depending on the location/city…and can even be as cheap as $500 a month) – this means, that the organization will help you organize local accommodation and food for a small fee, make no money out of your presence, and be paid in kind by your service to their cause.

2) I impressed my African-based boss. As an intern (paying or not) in Africa, your skills will be utilized. If you ever find an organization that doesn’t have anything for you to do, you were either hired as a money maker OR the nonprofit simply isn’t running very efficiently. That being said, this is the rare scenario and 9 out of 10 times, you will find that not only is there enough work for you to do…there’s TOO much work!

However, instead of whining, realize that this is exactly the kind of situation you want to be in. Use the opportunity to impress your bosses! When you’re stranded in the middle of the work day in a rural village because your taxi driver abandoned you? Keep your cool! When your entire project crumbles down on itself because the school you were supposed to be teaching in, suddenly closes for summer vacation? Innovate a new outreach program!

Yes, all of these things happened to me, and instead of hating the work I was doing (even if it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea)…I worked to be the best employee I could be.

3) I networked!

There are a ridiculous number of job positions just waiting to be filled in Africa…but you have to be THERE to find them. For example, while living in Madagascar, I visited the local university and was offered a teaching position on the spot because of my English speaking skills. This position, never advertised online, will only become available to you if you are in the right place at the right time. Obviously the “right place” is not your faux leather couch in South-West Florida.

So, to re-cap:

1) When an organization asks that you pay your costs, they are not scamming you and you should be respectful of the fact that it is very difficult to spare the money to bring on extra staff, especially if they are untrained.

2) Work hard to get your job placement. Due to the distance, you may have to spend hours upon hours searching for openings and applying. When people ask me how I got my positions? The only answer I can give them is: Time and effort.

3) If you can’t put in the effort to find the job, you probably will not be able to survive long in Africa. I repeat: working in Africa is very hard.

4) If you’ve read all of this, and you’re still super excited to work overseas…that’s fantastic! I wish you all the best, and have full faith that you will go far. If you can read the “harsh” truth of this post, you will have no problem working and living overseas!

Questions? Email me ([email protected]) – I’m always happy to help guide people looking for a way to get to Africa and start working to make a difference.

How could I forget?

Yesterday, I realized how close I came to transforming back into a my past self. A self whose life revolved around my credit score and the cleanliness of my office desk. What I was like thirteen months ago.

Thirteen months ago, I embarked on a journey which took me through seven countries, three of which I called home. During this time, I witnessed poverty, death, post-colonialism, and racism. But I also experienced love, joy, friendship, and laughter, and I shared this with locals and expats, the rich and the poor, the black and the white.

It is a vast understatement and an injustice to these cultures to claim that I was “changed forever”; the truth is, I was ripped from my comfortable, western ideals and thrust into a conflicted understanding of life that I have yet to fully understand. I don’t really think I have the writing skills to explain the full range of emotions I worked through, but I suppose you understand.

I did attempt to convey these feelings to my readers, but the fact remains: how could I explain the vastness of emotion to an outsider, when the deepest of thoughts were barely understood by the active participants…namely, me.

In any case, I returned to America more wise and knowlegeable than ever before, intent on changing the world. I know, the thick layer of cliche smeared on that previous statement makes me want to cringe; I’m sure it wasn’t easier to swallow by my state-side friends and family. In their eyes, I left as a normal college graduate and returned with nothing but two bags of dirty, hole-ridden clothing and, thanks to my housing in Madagascar, a weird phobia of rats.

As the months passed, I worked tirelessly on my two African-themed novels (still a work in progress, by the way); reliving snapshots of my past over and over again. Reminding myself of why I was driven to write these books in the first place…to show what I had not been able to tell. To write, free of censorship, and imbue people with a sense of wonder for the world and a feeling of global civic duty.

Writing late into the night, I would think in French, breathe African air, and yearn to be back in Malabo, side-stepping potholes to visit with friends and lunching on plantains and chicken. But dreams don’t pay the bills, and so I accepted a fantastic job offer. A massive career boost, the wave of which carried me away from Africa and back into America. Not that America is bad. I love it here.

But I forgot. I forgot what it was like in Africa. I forgot all the lessons I had learned.

And then, I watched the movie “Biutiful”. I had no idea I was signing up for a 148 minute heart wrenching, soul beating, journey where I would see harsh reminders of the friends I left behind. The movie, which touches on everything from gay relationships to illegal African workers in Mexico, prostitution, cancer, child abuse, and alcoholism, is an expertly crafted piece of film history that is nothing short of miraculous.

A club scene filled with prostitutes and rich expats echoed of Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. A police chase and subsequent story-line involving illegal Senegalese workers reminded me of the Africans hawking goods just a few minutes from my home in Paris, France. The dialogue between the main, cancer-ridden character and an inept nurse holding a possibly contaminated needle tugged at my heart and I remembered the deplorable health care in Equatorial Guinea, and my five week illness in Madagascar.

Driving home, I was strangely quiet. I couldn’t stop thinking about why I’d traveled in the first place, and moreover, why I’d ever stopped. Obviously travel takes money, money takes work, and well-paid work appeared in America; but, why did I stop remembering Africa, why did I stop reading travel blogs, or stop seeking out like-minded friends?

The answer? I think I felt a little stupid talking about something that so few people could relate to. And so I just stopped! I re-focused my energies on thoughts that other people could understand, and lost track of a part of myself which was only just developing.

So, here I am. I’m back…I’m really back. I started writing this travel blog two years ago, so that I could connect with like-minded individuals intent of traveling the world. On helping the world. On opening lines of communication between cultures to facilitate understanding and cross-cultural interest. And now…I’ve made a full 360, and I’m back for more.

I’m sorry I’ve been gone for so long. I just needed a reminder of what I was missing, and why I left in the first place.

Gay in Africa: Where is the closet and who is in it?

Last night I listened to an awesome techno version of one of my all-time favorite songs; the Amelie soundtrack…and I watched a very attractive transvestite dance along to it as well. Leaning against the bar, I was so happy to see a small, but enthusiastic crowd cheering and dancing along in this organized gay pride event. These girls were hot; I’m ashamed to say that they had better fashion sense than me!

As a side note, I will take this moment to throw out there that I was very proud of my outfit last night: this super cute jumpsuit thing, AMAZING heels that are really my work shoes…but needed to be showed off, and a pair of bright blue earrings. Before you judge me for wearing a jumpsuit, you should know that I was complimented on it by one of the more fashionable event participants. Awesome? I think so.

Anyway, somewhere after a quick salsa number and before a tear-jerker Celine Dion rendition, I fished an ant out of my caipirinha (only the second one in my whole life!), and thought about how long it’s been since I’ve seen anything resembling a gay, lesbian, or transgendered person.

In Equatorial Guinea, I was surprised to find out that being gay is not even a choice that people can make. In their culture (or at least I how I perceived their culture to be), it is literally unfathomable that someone would be gay; you’re either straight…or a monk. Questioning my EG peeps, not one person could name a gay friend. Nor could they remember the last time they had even heard of anything gay or lesbian related. One of my friends even remarked that he couldn’t tell me how many gay people there were in EG, because he didn’t know “what a gay person looked like”.

This attitude sort of pervades so many aspects of EG culture:

1)      You will sometimes see men holding hands; when you are in conversation with someone, holding their hand is a way to keep their attention (or so it was explained to me). Of course this isn’t considered gay; I don’t think it would even cross their minds that this contact is considered “gay” in the United States.

2)      Lesbianism is not considered attractive to many Equatoguinean men (or so they told me!). I believe this is very different from the United States; in EG it is almost viewed as being unnatural and simply unnecessary.

3)      Having children is very important to a lot of people in EG. Every person I met could not understand why I, personally, do not necessarily want to have kids. Upon hearing that I wouldn’t mind remaining childless, one of my friends got quite excited and said, “but what does your father think about that?”. I came to realize that there were many different cultural, societal, and social factors influencing people towards having children. If a culture views childbearing and rearing as an important goal of adulthood, I think it follows that it the culture might also be less open to gay and lesbian relationships.

4)      Being affectionate in public is taboo to begin with; gay or straight, you don’t see people touching or kissing in EG. Even if a person were gay, you would really have no way of knowing they are; I’m sure this doesn’t help unite the underground gay and lesbian community…if there is such a thing.

Here in Madagascar being homosexual is actually a lifestyle option (at least in Diego, which is the fifth largest city on the island), albeit not a popular one. That being said, my roommates, who have been here for several months, were flabbergasted when I told them about last night’s alternative talent show. In a city where gay pride stickers are unthinkable, it just seems so out of place to have an organized get-together.

I have to say, it was good for the soul to be a spectator to last night’s event. Sometimes it’s easy to get disheartened by the lack of open-mindedness or freedom both at home and abroad; seeing people proudly and openly celebrating who they are reminds me that progress is being made in communities worldwide.

And if nothing else, I at least felt like I was super stylin’ last night :-)

The shoes.

I went shopping in Africa for a cocktail dress and shoes. Ten stores later I found them. The dress came easy, the shoes came hard. Apparently African women have tiny feet because a women’s size ten was nowhere to be found. One shopkeeper literally laughed at me – that’s OK though :-)

The shoes I eventually bought actually still had a “Ross” sticker on them, which is a cheap outlet store in Florida. I guess that the shopkeeper got them very cheap (for $19.95, in fact!) and I paid…way more than that. Such is life.

So, as promised in previous blog-post, I’m posting pics of the buys. For your viewing pleasure, I’ve uploaded them here.

Thanks to a water shortage in the city, my hotel room became the showering place for a family that I became very close with. One such night, the kiddies passed the time playing dress up with my new clothes.

The shoes…and some hot models! :-)

Calvin Klein Dress: $100.

Shoes: Way too much money (my little secret…smart women never report real prices!).

Dressing up for the first time in four months in clothes that do not smell perpetually like a camping bonfire and that haven’t been washed on rocks and in hotel sinks: Priceless.

The dress. :-)

Music: Soundtrack to my life?

A wildebeest in the Loskop Dam Reserve, South Africa

It is high time for a short list of songs that I´m listening to  and which describe, to some extent, the person that I am becoming because of my travels…or are just fun songs I like to dance to around my hotel room. I really like the videos for “We Are the World”, “Waving Flag”, and I think the “Africa” music video is just hilarious. What´s with the hair, dudes? Also, the song “Rotterdam” by The Beautiful South is my new go-to, feel-good song.

And without further ado:

1) Africa by Toto

2) Come Away With Me by Norah Jones

3) Hold My Hand by Michael Jackson and Akon

4) Life in a Northern Town by Dream Academy

5) Banana Pancakes by Jack Johnson

6) We Are the World by everyone who is awesome…love this.

7) Waving Flag by K´naan (This song really gets to me…don´t know why!)

8 ) Rotterdam by The Beautiful South (really good “feel-good” song. You know what I´m talking about.)

I love my camera.

Reality: Life as a Woman.

The last few days have been akin to a roller coaster ride. I recently had my first negative experience being a solo, female traveler…which has taken some getting used to and more than a few beers. Thanks to the wonderful friends I have here, I’ve been able to talk about the incident and feel much better; you know who you are, and I am thankful! For more information on this event, as well as my thoughts on personal safety during my travels, check out an article I wrote for the Naples Daily News. Rest assured I’m going forward with my trip plans….I just love Africa too much to leave!

Aside from that event, I’ve been working on a very exciting project, which will hopefully be ready to “reveal” next week! Stand by for more information :-)

 Finally, I would like to say that I continue to have amazing experiences everyday. Had a tarantula in my room two nights ago. A tarantula! Thankfully some friends helped me take care of it; unfortunately my conservation instinct flies out of the window when something with eight hairy legs is hiding in my bathroom. I also got to visit the city’s orphanage today – once again, I am made aware of how lucky I am! Truly.

Pictures coming soon…in four days I’ll be in Germany and will be catching up on work there :-)

Loving life, growing as a person, and eating way too much food…in Africa.

With Love,

-Yours Truly

Home Sweet Home. I mean…Tent Sweet Tent.

I been asked over and over again what it was like for me to live in the forest, and it occured to me how unbelievable it might be to some people that, along with three other people, I lived without electricity (well, we had a generator that we were able to use about once a week), running water, or regular contact with the outside world. We lived in tents, cooked over a fire, bathed and washed dishes and clothes in nearby freshwater sources, and used ‘latrines’ (AKA holes in the ground).

Despite all of these inconveniences, life in the forest was freaking amazing. We were surrounded by wildlife everyday; one of our camps had a semi-resident group of Pogonias monkeys that, on one morning, decided they would jump around in the trees over our camp.

During our time in the forest, we basically had two on-trail camps that we stayed in, one after the other.

The first was christened ‘Etepo Beta’, and sat on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean. The camp was pretty awesome, but definitely had some unique topographical issues. For instance, our freshwater source was at the bottom of a soul-crushing ravine that involved a fair amount of controlled butt sliding to get down. It was literally sheer at some points, and I swear I had to use all available handholds to get back up again. Bathing here gave a new meaning to the word clean; by the time we got back to camp we were usually sweating again, so when we said that we were ‘clean‘, what we usually meant was that we had bathed at one point during the day.

Etepo beta bathing area. What you don’t see are the thousands of little crayfish that liked to nip at our feet and seemed to have exponential population growth during the time we were there.

Living in a tent was also not bad at all – I actually slept really, really well. Yes, when it rained incessantly (which it did…a lot), the tarp under my tent usually held some water, which made sleeping on it something akin to a waterbed. But, all in all, it was like a little haven of privacy for all of us.

My tent is the one all the way to the left!

Our kitchen/living room/hang out area. Our bubi porters built us the awesome shelf thing under the tarp.

Hanging out in our ‘kitchen’ on a early evening.

My boss found this plastic chair on the beach, and hiked it back up to our camp…the first of several good beach finds.

At any given point in time, at least 50% of my belongings were soaked or wet. Usually 95% of my belongings were at least damp. Drying out shoes was a losing battle…but I still gave it a go whenever I could, because there is nothing worse in the morning than a wet pair of boots!

After days and days of rain, I would just wake up hoping that enough sunshine would make it through the trees to dry my clothes. Fortunately, at the next camp we could use hot beach rocks to dry our clothes much faster.

Our second camp was like paradise. Really, it was. It was right on the beach and directly next to a nice river – one that did not involve a somewhat dangerous climb. Named ‘seven caves camp’, for the seven caves that were found along the coastline at that point, it was my favorite place during my time out there.

Boss and Seth doing laundry in the river right by our camp.

The kitchen/living area at our second camp was way bigger; Seth is sitting on a plastic chair (different from the first one…this was like a patio chair) that we rescued from the beach trash and sat on in camp.

When we did take days off from doing census we often worked on data entry or doing camp chores. This is me trying to sit away from the generator fumes :-)

Washing dishes was so much easier now that the water was close by.

The last night on the beaches, we had to hike to a different location that was easier pick up point for our boat ride out. We took about two hours to set up camp on a tidal beach that was basically surrounded on all sides by cliffs, ocean, and a river. This involved cutting a camping area in a narrow, densely vegetated piece of land.

Me with a machete…

Me actually using the machete.

For what it’s worth – I would go back in second.

All in a day’s work; yep, this is definitely not sexy.

Want to know what it’s like to start off a work day with a 1.5 hour hike on a rainforest trail involving several ravines and a small mountain?

Until I visited Bioko, I always thought that the cliche “dripping with sweat” statements were simply literary exaggerations. Well, I’m here to let you know that it is most definitely possible to sweat that much. Just moving around camp was enough to get a nice glisten (as my sisters would say). At the risk of forever eliminating myself from being on a reality TV dating show, I’m posting some pictures just to illustrate my point.

I rest my case.

Trail hiking…but without the trail.

During my time working for the BBPP, the objective of our work was basically to census a long coastal trail that stretched through long areas of unexplored Bioko Island habitat. Although we were technically on a trail, I would have to say that the use of the word “trail” became more and more loosely used as we worked our way deeper and deeper into the forest. I would often walk off the trail, at which point, I would have to backtrack to the last marker and try to find my way again.

The trail alternated between running along the beach, veering inland into the forest, going down into ravines, along riverbeds, and around fallen trees. It was marked every twenty meters (sixty feet) with pink flagging tape; it was often easy to see the next marker, but I would sometimes find myself spinning in circles trying to figure out where to go next.

If everything else failed, I usually stopped to look for machete marks. A machete cut is unmistakable, and was my last resort to try and re-find the trail I had lost.

When the trail went along the beach, or along a small bay, we had to hope that we weren’t catching the beach during high tide. Often, our “trail” (AKA the beach) was underwater, so we had to dodge the incoming surf as best we could. Even so, the beaches offered amazing views and were fantastic lunch spots. We would just strip our clothes wet off, hang them to dry on the beach boulders, and just soak up the sun.

Sometimes we would get fantastic glimpses of the coast; enough to literally stop us in our tracks and breathe in the sweet, fresh, ocean air. Other afternoons found us clambering up rock faces and narrowly escaping twisted ankles and bruised knees.

Sunrise on the beach.

Where’s Polly?

Posing in front of a dried waterfall drop-off, below which was a small pool of clear, clean freshwater.

All smiles during an afternoon swim.

Looking for monkeys.

Polly almost hidden by the trees, on an inland part of our trail.

Yep, we hiked up the equivalent of this multiple times every day.

Breathtaking view.

Seth trying to keep dry during a river crossing.

Trying to battle both high tide and the aftermath of a torrential downpour.

A quick check in :-)

Hello readers far and wide!

Just doin’ one of my usual check-ins…writing from Africa, and life is good here! I’m writing post-lunch and am too lazy to do anything other than bullet format, so here it goes:

1) The food here is amazing. Seriously. Considering that food is my vice, I am having such a hard time sticking to any kind of reasonable intake. I’m talking fish, chicken, rice, delicious desserts…I’m getting hungry just thinking about it again! Moral or this bullet point? All you picky American eaters would be perfectly fine here :-) Yes, I’m talking about you Ms. Ashley!

2) I took out my fake hair after only one week. It is wayyy too hot here for that….not to mention it was SO itchy. So I’m back to my Victoria Beckham inspired “do”. I have been told it makes me look German…I wonder why? :-)

3) My friends here have been amazing. I am really seeing this area through the eyes of the local, and not just as tourist. Or at least it feels like it.

4) Watched the el clasico football game here. It was crazy. Me, perhaps two othe women, and at least a couple hundred guys…all stuffed into an auditorium watching the game on a projector. Soccer truly is an international sport! A few comments on the experience in general: Ronaldo is very attractive, but Messi is the true star of the game. Obviously he has an incredible talent. To the barcelona player that is rockin’ the 1980’s hairdo…you go on with your bad self! To the madrid defensive player that had a white headband – you not only play dirty but you also look just a little bit evil.

5) I finally hung up a mosquito net in my room…and it fell down. So I’m back to having a million mosquito bites.

6) My Spanish is getting better…mission accomplished! I’m actually also getting to know people in the community. Yesterday I walked onto the university campus and saw six people I knew within thirty minutes, which was a nice feeling.

7) I have some very exciting news…but as usual, it is better left unsaid until things are really set in stone.

I think that’s all for now. Basically I’m having a wonderful time, I’m super excited that I came here, and I’m gathering my energy together for the next big developments!