2 April 2014

From the Heart of Africa to the Big Apple

Thanks everyone, for your sweet comments and well wishes.  Luckily, in health, my memories of the experience are funny.  Just imagine Sarah leading me (more than a little delirious, wearing a sexy eye patch to protect my absurdly painful corneal ulcer and high on a very old Percocet we scrounged up on campus) through African airports while getting us through customs in record time by mentioning the magical words: "medical evacuation."  She's got serious skills, that friend of mine.

As Sarah mentioned, we're also leaving Kinshasa in June.  Because we thrive on stress, we decided to leave our fate hanging until the last possible moment through a process called "applying to grad school."


The results are finally in and come summer, we will be residents of New York City!

I snapped this as we wistfully drove out of the city last summer, wondering when we'd be back.

Johan and I have almost moved to NYC about 50 times over the past 15 years.  When we were 18, we drove to Brooklyn together to visit his aunt and uncle, romantically taking turns reading Les Misérables aloud in the car.  Aunt Mary made fudge with quality NY chocolate, we rented "Psycho" from the local public library, bought a Tom Waits CD in St. Marks Place and slow danced to the perfect combination of Nick Drake and traffic noise in the artist's loft after everyone else had gone to bed.

I have been enamored ever since.

Little Loulou.  Obviously also enamored.  She loves a good chain-link fence.

However, I applied to seven different public health programs and Johan applied to an equal amount of alternative teacher certification programs...all over the United States.  We thought that if NYC worked, it would be fun, but after a two year prep process (including getting statistics textbooks shipped to AfricaGRE-inspired summer panic attacks, and other anxieties), we really wanted to move for the program versus the city.  Happily, the best programs for us *happened* to be located in New York.

Elias, observing circa 2010 Brooklyn construction and contemplating his return as an 8 year old.

So, what exactly will we be doing?  We have no real concept of what our daily life will look like, but here's the basic rundown:

  • Johan was selected as a NYC Teaching Fellow and will be teaching full-time math to middle schoolers in a yet-to-be-determined NYC public school while also going to night classes to get a master's degree in education.  He wouldn't ever mention this, so I will:  this program only accepts 10-15% of it's applicants, indicating that Johan is...well...awesome.  
  • Elias and Loulou?  Well...I'm kind of hoping that some of you might have some tips and ideas for all of the kid-related plans we need to make.  The whole registering for NYC public school process (and Pre K?!?) is way more complicated than living in the Congo...especially if you start throwing in wishes like a dual-language program.  I'm secretly relieved that there's no planning we can do until we have a NYC address.
  • We're looking to live in Washington Heights/Inwood and again, welcome (beg) for any wise suggestions, hookups, or ideas regarding the neighborhood.  Anyone have an affordable-esque 2-3 bedroom and looking for great renters?  (ha.) Where should we eat our weight in Dominican food?  Any District 6 public school shout-outs?  Gulp.

This is where I pause and am grateful for three years of Kinshasa cost of living.  I think that cereal in New York will be less than $20.77 a box.  And the milk, though expensive, is not exclusively UHT and is thankfully kept in the refrigerator, not the cabinet.  

My current cabinet: milk goes next to the cereal and above the pasta.
Each one of these lukewarm babies costs around $3.

Someone once described living in NYC like "going every morning to your window, opening it, and throwing handfuls of one-hundred dollar bills out the window before shutting it and getting on with your day."  I am well acquainted with the fleeting Ben Franklin after expat life.

That said, I'm scared that our daily schedules will be hellish and we'll all hate each other after six months in our inevitable 300 sq foot apartment.  I know that I'll be terribly jealous of Sarah, Adam, Charlotte and Ani, still living in Africa.  I will cry as my children lose their French (as although there are public French/English immersion schools in NYC, the chances of my brood getting a spot seem little to none).  I'm worried about money.  I'm worried about stress.  (Why did I just decide to read this book?)

Bad pre-move read.  Find it here...unless you're planning to move to NYC.

However, I'm desperately relieved to be going to a huge metropolis after three years in Kinshasa.  I can't imagine moving to a place where English is the only language I hear all day long. I am trying to remember how it feels to speak Spanish.  I now crave a certain amount of stress and uncertainty in my daily life.  I sleep best to loud music and traffic outside my bedroom window.  I have gained a lifetime immunity to caring about cockroaches.  

Mostly, I want my kids to continue to understand that the world is big and everyone has a story.  I think that the subway itself is enough to teach that lesson.  NYC, here we come.


  1. Hi Jill! As an avid reader of your blog and a current Upper West Side resident of NYC, I'm excited for your family's journey! I don't have any tips for school, but I work as a real estate attorney in the City. Definitely check out the "Hudson Heights" area of Washington Heights/Inwood. It's gorgeous and right on the Hudson River (Fort Tryon Park houses The Cloisters, a branch of the MET dedicated to medieval art) and despite it's beauty still reasonably priced (for the City anyway). Streeteasy.com and nakedapartments.com both have searches you can create (neighborhood, apartment size, pets allowed, in a certain school district, etc) and you can tailor the searches so that you get emailed listings. It can be pretty great! Best of luck with your travels and keep blogging! This blog is a great read!

    1. Thanks, Katie! This is great info - I so appreciate it as the process (especially from my computer screen in Kinshasa) is a bit overwhelming...

    2. Hi Katie-
      Any chance you have some good suggestions for researching a building/landlord before signing a lease? If you'd be willing to share, I think we could all benefit!

  2. Wow - this all sounds very exciting. I hope you'll keep us updated on how the transition goes and how this new chapter unfolds.

    1. Suzanne - It is exciting...and scary. As for keeping you updated...we're trying to figure out what that will look like. Stay tuned for more...

  3. The Teachers fellow program is awesome, congrats to Johan and congrats to you for pursuing your MPH!

  4. french immersion school in carrol gardens, brooklyn...might be a far commute for your husband but it could be worthi t!

    1. Thanks! We are really going to try to find a French dual-language program. I can't quite fathom French being gone from our lives...

  5. Hi Jill, my wife and I have been following your blog for some time and wish you and your family nothing but the best and a smooth transition. Three months ago we made just the opposite transition: going from New York to Tanzania in East Africa. We have been in language school for the past several months learning Kiswahili and will soon begin working. Like you and Sarah, we too keep a blog on our experiences with weekly updates. http://leenhome.blogspot.com/

    1. Hi Michael! Thanks for the link to your blog - very nice! I'm especially impressed with the graphics, because Sarah and I get overwhelmed just trying to insert pink arrows into photos. How long will you be in Tanzania?

  6. Hello Jill! I moved to the Bronx with my husband almost 2 years ago and we are expecting our first in November. As a former French teacher & French immersion kindergarten teacher, I hope to raise our kids bilingual (or tri-lingual as my husband's family is Puerto Rican)... and then hopefully get back into the classroom. As NYC is a big place, it's always nice to connect to people with similar interests. Let me know if you would ever like to meet up, catch a children's program at the Alliance Francaise, or need a French-speaking babysitter. :)

  7. HI, I just found your site and started reading...very interesting! Anyway, I'm commenting because I live in Inwood, and it's wonderful up here. There are many more spanish immersion programs in this neighborhood than french immersion. However, there are some french immersion ones that aren't too far away. In case you haven't seen it, I recommend the website www.insideschools.org You can search for schools based on your criteria, and figure out where to apply. If you want more info (I've been dealing with Kindergarten applications this year), you can message me at missionista at yahoo.


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