A Macalester couple’s international jobs lead to an adventure in reality TV.

BY ELIZABETH FOY LARSEN

When you embark on a career in international development, you expect your future will involve intermittent power outages, intestinal parasites and the inevitable social faux pas that occur when you are working in a new culture. What you don’t plan on is a production team from a hit TV show following your housing search.

But that’s exactly what happened when Jedediah Fix ’05 and Cara Haberman ’06 relocated from New York City to Dakar, Senegal, and agreed to appear on House Hunters International, the HGTV series where English-speaking expats find a place to live in their new country. “We didn’t have the kinds of jobs where our employers found our housing,” says Haberman. “So I sent House Hunters International an email, thinking being on the show would help us get a nice apartment.”

The exhausting four-day shoot turned out to be not quite so straightforward. A “scripted reality show,” House Hunters International has been known to take creative license with the facts of the home searches they depict. For Fix and Haberman’s episode, “Walking Through the Doorway of Africa,” which first aired in February, a Senegalese actor flew in from New York City to play the role of the real estate agent. And the city apartment Haberman and Fix “chose” was the sunny yet modest rental they’d found on their own and had been living in for months. To create a storyline, the crew filmed the “after” scenes first—showing the apartment as it was decorated by Fix and Haberman—and then emptied it and filmed the couple touring it and two more upscale options.

Haberman and Fix moved to Dakar in 2013 for Fix’s job as a field coordinator for the World Bank, specializing in health initiatives. He’d already worked in Senegal as a Peace Corps volunteer and lived in the Philippines as a Fulbright fellow. Haberman, a Canadian citizen, left her job as the manager of institutional giving for the New York-based Tanenbaum Center and is now an institutional funding officer for Oxfam Novib, an affiliate of the global development nonprofit.

Both Haberman and Fix credit Macalester with nurturing their passion for global issues and single out Geography professor Bill Moseley and economics professor Vasant Sukhatme as mentors and role models. “I went to Mac because I already had an interest in international affairs,” says Haberman, who majored in political science and international studies and served as the vice president of the student government. Mac’s financial commitment to international students made it possible for her to afford a U.S. college degree. After graduation, she taught in Honduras and did a research internship in Bolivia before moving to New York City, where she and Fix, who knew each other at Mac, started dating.

Fix majored in economics and was active in the college’s Community Service Office’s off-campus student employment program. “I hadn’t been to many places before college,” he says. “But studying with people from all over the world made me curious about going to different countries.” That curiosity led to a semester in Mongolia. He’s been on the move ever since.

While the couple initially thought they’d be in Senegal for a year, the Ebola crisis in West Africa forced both the World Bank and Oxfam to shift their resources into managing the crisis, thus delaying the timetable for other initiatives. Their work is rewarding but life has the predictable challenges of the developing world, including water shortages and air conditioning that breaks down.

Still, the couple has soaked up all the benefits of Dakar, enjoying the tropical climate, afternoons at the beach, colleagues whose life experiences and perspectives have broadened theirs, and a more leisurely pace of life that includes lunches in restaurants instead of at their desks. “There isn’t the same emphasis on efficiency here,” says Haberman. “The first half hour and last half hour of each work day are spent socializing and asking how everyone’s families are doing.”

In fact, showcasing what’s positive about Dakar, which is one of the safest cities in Sub-Saharan Africa, was what Haberman and Fix say House Hunters International got right. “We wanted to do the show to help sell Senegal,” says Fix, who notes that while it’s not on the radar of most North Americans, there are 17,000 French expats who have relocated to the colonial city to work and retire. “The show did a great job delving into the daily life in Dakar.”

Fix and Haberman estimate that they’ll be in Senegal for another six months before returning to North America to regroup and get married. They say they will need to think carefully about their next move abroad. The Euro crisis has had a deep impact on funding for international development and assistance, and Fix says it’s better for the countries if the work can be done by locals.

In the meantime, they are part of a network of Macalester alumni in Dakar and host regular Mac in the City gatherings. “We are products of Macalester,” says Haberman. “We believe in it.”

ELIZABETH FOY LARSEN is the author of Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun and Unbored Games: Serious Fun for Everyone. She lives in Minneapolis.

August 19 2015

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