Photo Credit: Photo by Carille Guthrie
The Black Expat Sri Lanka: 'I Knew I Wanted A Career In International Aid'
Chicago native Carille Guthrie has been living abroad and working as an international aid contractor, since 2013. Every 2 years, she moves to a new country to do a job she is very passionate about.
“After I saw the devastation of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, I knew that I wanted a career in international aid,” Guthrie told Travel Noire. “I am now on my 8th international work contract. I essentially go wherever I’m needed. My previous assignments have taken me to Kenya, Laos, Kyrgyztan, Ethiopia, Liberia, South Sudan and Sierra Leone.”
Guthrie’s current assignment landed her in Colombo, Sri Lanka. She arrived in the country just two weeks before they went on full lockdown due to COVID-19.
She previously worked in Logistics and Construction for Doctors Without Borders. After completing seven assignments, she decided that professionally, it was best to transition to the private sector. She now works as a contractor for the US State Department building embassies abroad.
“The cost of living in Sri Lanka is fairly cheap and in the capital, I have all of the modern conveniences of a 1st world country.”
She explains that tuktuk rides (3 wheeled taxis) around the city cost about $0.50, a medium sized BigMac meal from McDonalds is $5.25, and there is no minimum order for delivery apps like Uber Eats. It’s so cheap that she once had a $0.50 cup of ice tea delivered. 1st run movies cost $2 at the theater, and you can go bowling for $3.50— both of which are considered luxury activities and are only really available in the capital.
As far as being a Black woman in Sri Lanka, she is still getting used to it all.
“Initially, as I walked the streets, I was increasingly annoyed at the stares that I received,” she said. “I am the same complexion as most Sri Lankans, so my skin tone is not an anomaly, and regardless of how I had my natural hair styled (in an afro or a tight bun), I received open mouthed stares.”
For her, Sri Lanka is second only to Kyrgyztan, for making her feel uncomfortable as a Black person abroad. That includes having traveled through virtually all of Southeast Asia.
She recalls on two separate occasions, men asked to take a picture with her and when she said no, one man tried to rub his hand down her side and the second man straight up asked for sex.
“My white American coworkers have had similar experiences with harassment, so I don’t specifically attribute this to my blackness.”
As the country has begun to ease its restrictions, things have gotten a little better. While there are still stares when she is in public, they don’t happen as often since people are now required to wear masks.
Despite the initial discomfort of adjusting to her latest home base, Guthrie is very thankful for being abroad during the height of the pandemic. Sri Lanka’s response has been great and they have registered only around 3,000 cases out of 20 million residents.
She is only 7 months into this latest 2-year assignment, but she is still very happy with her career. She won’t know where her next assignment is until its closer to that 2-year mark.