16 October 2014

I'm Never Leaving Burkina Faso...and not because I like it.

This is the third international move for Adam and me, and let me tell you, that does not make it easier. (Remember last month's jubilous declaration that we'd returned to blogging...and then no more posts until now. Transition is a royal pain in the rear.)

I wish we could have stepped off the plane, unpacked the suitcases and called it a day. But here we are, two months later, still arguing over where to hang the pictures. This is not a joke, I had to give myself a timeout last weekend after Adam spaced pictures on the wall in a way I would have never, ever approved. 

"No, Adam, they're fine. I'm just always going to look at that awkward space between them and grit my teeth, but whatever. It's fine. I'm letting go. I need to leave the room now."  

This, of course, if after he's cursed up a blue streak hammering concrete nails into the wall, which crumble the wall away if you're not careful. He was careful, but he still took out a good chunk of wall. You can't see it, but I know it's there, hidden behind the pictures that are spaced all wrong. 

American drywall, I miss you. Always have.

Remember this photo from the time I gave sage advice for How to settle after your move abroad? "All you need are concrete nails and a good attitude!" Yeah, easy for me to say during my 6th year in Congo. In retrospect, transition is a bit like childbirth. The only reason you think you're ready to do it again, is because you've forgotten the pain.
Sidenote, check out those beautifully spaced photos from the wall of our home in Kinshasa. These are the very ones that caused marital dispute #2,648 during our current transition. 

So somewhere between hanging pictures on crumbling concrete walls, scrubbing previous renters' filth from my bathroom so I can replace it with my own filth, and rearranging our furniture over and over and still not getting the feng shui right, I declared, "Welp, that's it. We can never leave Burkina Faso, cause I ain't doing all this again." No siree, this is it. We're never leaving.

I want a real life and a routine again. I don't want to have to leave work to micromanage the plumber because I'm convinced I know more about hooking up a washing machine than he does. 

We have become obsessive and compulsive expats in transition.

But we've been here before. I know the obsession over the tedium and the trivia is an attempt to control our lives because there's so much going on out there that we can't control. And by "out there" that I mean the culture out there. 

We are still at the cultural transition stage where it drives me absolutely nuts that I am expected to return greetings to each and every single person I pass on my bike on the way to work. I'm on a bike, for Pete's sake. In the seconds that I whiz by, I can't possibly answer how I'm doing and then also ask you how you're doing. And repeat that exchange dozens more times all the way down the street. I am a grumpy American in transition, leave me alone friendly people. 

And so, what we cannot control on the street, we attempt to control at home.

Exhibit A: We have two very lovely people who work at our house everyday. Anastasie takes wonderful, loving care of our children and Mamadou, bless his soul, cooks and cleans for us. Let me preface by saying, we are more grateful to these two than anyone else in this entire country.

However. Each morning when they arrive we are culturally obligated to engage in pleasantries answering and asking1. How our evening/weekend/time since we last saw them has been. 2. How our morning thus far has transpired. 3. A report on the state of our family here and at home. And 4. An inquiry about our own health. All in French, mind you.

Because we are ugly Americans in transition, we merely endure the exchange. Adam put his finger on it during breakfast last week, "They show up right when we've reached peak momentum getting the kids ready with the tooth brushing, the hair brushing, the potty routines. Then I have to stop and deliver a report. In a second language. I can't do culture before I've had coffee."

There's also handshaking involved and I can't touch anyone that early.

We thought of asking them to come a bit later, after the morning routine, just so we could preserve the momentum and respect the exchange afterward. But then Adam wouldn't get his breakfast baguette on time from Mamadou (bless his soul) who picks it up fresh on his way to work.

These are the serious dilemmas one has to work through when adapting to a new culture.

The solution to this completely imagined quandary - which would not bother us if we weren't crazy people right now - is to exert control where we can, for example in our own home over those within our impatient reach.

So Adam worked out a plan for the night guard to go get the baguette from the bakery each morning. He leaves it on our porch without looking us in the eye. Then Mamadou passes by the bakery, a bit later, on his way to work and pays for it. Done. Adam gets baguette, we manipulate, postpone and control the morning greeting routine. I tie the girls' pigtails up in peace. We don't have to touch, talk or be grumpy with anyone until we have finished doing those things with each other.

I promise we love it here. The people are helpful and understanding, despite our angst. We're slowly crawling out of hole of transition. I've started waving and smiling more on my way to work. And it's only partially because I imagine getting hit by a car and everyone standing around saying, "Serves her right, she's the white lady who never responded to ça va." 

We will soon release control over the little things. We will trust the plumber and gladly shake all the hands. For now we fight about hanging pictures and trust that the day we take them down we'll forget who knocked the hole in the wall behind them. (Except, not really. It was Adam.)


  1. I could never do all that socializing first thing in the morning either! Mornings are for being grumpy. Everyone knows that.

    1. Thank you. This makes me feel so much better.

    2. Yes and amen. My favorite morning coffee mug of all time belongs to a friend of mine, it features the UC Santa Cruz mascot: a bespectacled cartoon banana slug. Why is it my fave? Because mornings are for moving at a slugs pace, drinking coffee, and squinting.

  2. I'm soooo glad you're writing again.

    Also, is an "exhibit b" forthcoming?

  3. Haha! I know what you mean! Since college I've lived in Louisiana, Morocco, New Hampshire, Oregon, and now Minnesota. That's about one new place every two years. Anyway... when we got to Oregon I declared to my husband that I didn't actually want to make friends with anyone. I was tired of new people. I got over that, of course, but for a while... it felt so hard to do anything social! Moving is such a pain.

  4. okay, yes. exactly. 100 percent yes. each time i move, i forget about this phase, and go through a period of time when i feel like i'm totally bonkers crazy and everyone around me is a nosey jerk who is unreasonably asking about my every single movement, oh where are you going? where is your daughter? where is your baby? I'M GOING TO THE SUPERMARKET THE KIDS ARE AT HOME WITH THEIR FATHER AND WHAT BUSINESS IS IT OF YOURS ANYWAY?????? Yeah. Transition. Sneeks up on me every time. Funny in hindsight. Miserable when you're stuck in it.


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