Recently and very suddenly, I had to say goodbye to two dear friends. You think I would get used to it living the life that I live, constantly on the move, continually saying goodbye. But it doesn’t get any easier. The first friend had to leave within 48 hours for security reasons. I came out it feeling sad and angry, frustrated that such a rotten situation put my friend and her family in danger and turned her world upside down. As I sat in her apartment in total chaos with her, she was trying to pull it together enough to know what to pack and what to just let go of. So many people she never got to say goodbye to, so much connection to this country in which we live and call home. And then my second dear pal left also rather suddenly for personal reasons. It never starts to hurt any less, saying goodbye to dear friends. Saying goodbye to my family hurts even more. Even at 40 years old, I still cry when I have to leave my parents and my sister.
When I think about my children and their eminent goodbyes in each country we leave, it’s even worse. As much as I love this global vagabonding lifestyle that we lead, I still question it all the time-Are we doing the right thing for my kids, are they going to resent us for moving them around so much, are they going to meet close friends at our next post, are they going to adapt okay, are they going to BE all right?
And where would I be without humor to get me through all of this? Well, I am not sure. Perhaps under the table. With a cocktail in my hand. And chocolate smeared all over my face. In my granny p.j.’s. Legs not shaved. Hair frizzy. No bra. You get the idea.
So I decided to write a list of all things positive and negative in regards to living this country-bouncing that we tend to do. My list (because if you know me, you know that I am a tad bit obsessed with lists) of pro’s and con’s for being a “third world family”, the term used today to describe what we do. A wee bit tongue-in-cheek, a tad bit nostalgic, occasionally serious, and pure therapy for me.
1. Pass The Refried Beans-My kids know what a koshari is, as well as poulet yassa, kofta, kushari, and everything in between. They don’t get squeamish when their lunch box contains hummus and pita bread or pupusas.
2. Nanga Def? My girls can say hello in a handful of languages as well as hold a pretty decent conversation in several idioms. They are bilingual in French and English and they understand and can hold a conversation in Spanish, too. And they can always find a “secret” language if they don’t want anyone else to understand.
3. Who’s That Weird Lady? If I am talking to myself in English in a parking lot or in a grocery store, most folks won’t understand me. They will just think I am a crazy foreigner making conversation with myself. I can happily ponder and lament the lack of cheese selection aloud.
4. Move Over, M’am-I pretty much have defensive driving skills even though I have never officially taken the official crash course in W. Va. It’s called driving in Cairo.
5. Kitchen Goddess-I have found a way to pretty much create a substitute for every cooking need I may have but cannot get. From tortilla chips to sour cream, you name it, I can make it.
6. Pampered Mama-Manis and pedis are usually cheap, cheap, cheap in the countries in which we live. Massages and facials too. And they are usually right around the corner from my house.
7. Fish Folks-Most of our posts, we can swim every day, year-round. Just wait till the day they send us to Moscow and my girls have to wear closed-toe shoes.
8. Don’t Step On The Lizard-We don’t need pets. We have enough lizards in our house and other exotic creatures. Or at least that’s what I keep telling my kids.
9. Mumu Mama-Funky, cool fabrics are bountiful and you can always find a tailor to copy a fabulous dress.
10. It’s Raining Water! My kids get excited when it rains. Because we often find ourselves living in the desert. I often wonder what they will do when they see snow.
11. Guaca-Mummy-Avocados are usually plentiful wherever we live. Mangos too. My kids don’t bat an eye when I serve mango mousse.
12. Toothy Grins-Smiles are universal, right? We always find friends in this crazy life called the Foreign Service. And I love that my girls don’t see skin color in their friends. They just see them as friends.
13. Say What?!? Kids can play in any language.
14. Queen Of The Court-I can always seem to find a tennis court wherever we go. And with that comes tennis girlfriends!
15. American Excess-My girls don’t know that there is an American Girl Doll Store. Shhhhh!!!!!
16. Pass The Coco Puffs-They also don’t watch American tv, so they are unaware, for the most part, of American commercials. Apart from one day a couple months ago when I showed them Saturday morning cartoons in a moment of insanity. It opened a bit of a floodgate. I might have scarred myself seeing the ad for the “Princess Goes To College Gear”.
17. Ex-squeeze Me, But Can You Pass The Perrier? My daughters think that soda water/sparkling water is a treat.
18. Fast Food Frenzy. My kids have been mostly sheltered from fast food restaurants and drive-thru’s. The one time we went to a McDonalds, I got kind of stuck in the drive-thru. Peals of laughter ensued from our car as the cars behind me started honking.
19. If All Else Fails, Make A Pizza-Most countries we live in have access to ingredients to making homemade pizzas. Sometimes we have to improvise and sometimes we have to hoard mozzarella cheese, but we make do.
20. OMG, It’s A Dunkin’ Donuts! Coming home to the US is like arriving in Disneyland for my kiddos. Even the airports are thrilling.
21. Please Shade The Nuts-Pool rash guards or swim tee-shirts. For my super sensitive, pale, freckled skin nuts.
22. American Girl Adventurer-My girls are learning and discovering the world. I am so grateful for having the pyramids in our backyard (almost), Mayan ruins and volcanoes at our fingertips, African jungles and beaches within our reach.
23. Mind The Sand-The beach is often just a hop, skip and a jump away from us.
24. Hold Onto Your Britches! Pot holes in the street are our version of a roller coaster ride.
25. Happy Pupusa Day! There is always some sort of local holiday we can celebrate. Throw in American, British, and Belgian holidays and we could pretty much be celebrating every day of the year.
26. House Calls-Depending on where we live, we often have doctors who make house visits and nurses who go out of their way to help us.
27. What Should She Name Our Camel? Although good playgrounds are hard to find, we can go camping in the African desert or swimming in the Dead Sea. Ancient history and science lessons on the spot! Amazing.
28. Cooking For Kids! My girls are curious and confident in the kitchen. Mia can make everything from cookies to salsa. I love that they living in such an open and interesting world culturally. That means awesome local food, wherever we are.
29. Pass The Pen-Good old-fashioned pen pals. Mia has several and Zoë is working on a few, too. I love that my kids have friends and family all over the globe. There is nothing better than getting a letter in the mail. My kids just love it. And my Mum is the best pen-pal ever! She always sends post cards to all of her six grandchildren without fail. We keep them all.
30. I Heart Junk-Garage Sales. I love a good old-fashioned garage sale. And Americans do it best. I love having garage sales and I love going to garage sales. And I find that it’s very theraputic to purge once a year and get rid of the junk. We often sell to give the profits to a charity and then we donate what’s left over. And then everyone is happy-I feel more sane because I no longer have 6 garlic presses, we feel like we have done something to contribute to helping folks, and my kids learn a valuable lesson about finance and volunteerism.
31. Tootsie Mama-Flip-flops. My toes are not meant for covered shoes. And thank goodness, we continue to live in warm weather climates. I am not meant for Uggs!
32. Call Me Boss-I can work from home. And continue to eat my bonbons and drink my apperatif from my hammock.
33. Sweet Me-Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. I can always find chocolate wherever I am.
34. Can We All Fit In The Shopping Cart? Grocery stores in the US and in Europe are a serious fascination for my family. Everyone wants to take a trip to the store when we are on vacation. Starbucks, food samples, endless isles of yummies. My kids walk out with the same high as if they had just eaten a pound of sugar. Don’t even get me started on Target.
35. Isn’t Chocolate Considered A Food Group? Have I Mentioned Chocolate? Seriously, have I? Most every country we travel to has their own specialty chocolate. Well, maybe not Egypt. However, we can still pretty much get good chocolate wherever we end up. I might have to sell my car to afford it (good chocolate in Senegal is expensive!) but it’s all worth it in the end.
36. Skype. We are so lucky! We can Skype friends in Senegal and then Skype my parents in the UK 5 minutes later. Seeing everyone’s smiling faces around the world, again, I am grateful. And we can always find someone to Skype because someone is always awake somewhere in the world.
- Home, James-My kids think it’s normal to have their own school bus and driver. I don’t like them to feel entitled but there are not a lot of options here for transportation.
- Oops, I Ran Into A Cow-It’s not unheard of to hear this conversation in our house-“Ummmm, Honey, I hit a donkey cart today. Just a little tap on the rear of the cart. Do you think our insurance will cover that?”
- I Love Pork Products-Bacon is often unavailable in our host countries. And we LOVE bacon. My Mum brings frozen organic farm sausages when we see her and we go home with a full suitcase of treats.
- Pass The Off-Bugs, bugs, and more bugs-African cockroaches can fly, ants are huge and spiders are often gargantuan and hairy. And there is always a risk of scorpions or frogs in the house. Check your shoes!
- Gimme The Glass Slipper-I never know what size my kids feet truly are. I just kind of guess and roll with it.
- Uhhhh, Where Do I Live? I never know my billing address. Let alone my phone number. Talking to insurance on the phone goes something like this-My address is uhhhhhhh, hmmmmm…….Can you try this one? How about this one? Nope? Okay, let’s see, one more?
- Berries In A Crumble-No berries. Apart from strawberries. No blueberries or raspberries. Boo hoo.
- Hot House Homies-We are heading to Qatar next. As in, the desert. And I have 2 out of 3 VERY pale children.
- African Beasts-Mosquitoes. They get their own number. They are huge, quick, and vicious. And if there is one mosquito in the house, it will find Sacha and my girls.
- Where On Earth Am I?? No street signs (and often street lights) make driving a challenge. Throw in some cows and goats and stray pigs as well as well as lingering pedestrians and voilà, you have driving in many of our posts. Sacha has always said that he wants to create a third world driving video game complete with crazy livestock and insane traffic circles with no stop signs or stop lights.
- Humble Christmas Pie-We always end up with a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. And usually Sacha ends up getting an electric shock plugging something into the wall. When we lived in Senegal, he literally was thrown across the room when he announced “Ta DAH!!!”, trying to plug in our lights and tree.
- Lightning Strikes-Speaking of electric shocks, our kitchens overseas are often not grounded and we usually find out the bad way.
- Always A Family Girl-I miss my family. It never gets any easier to say goodbye, especially now that my parents are older. I hate not being close to them. Some days, I would trade all of my travels and adventures to be close to my Mum and Dad. My girls and I didn’t see my sister and her kids for almost two and a half years and it just about killed me.
- Wash Your Hands!! Germs, odd and funky infectious diseases, dengue fever, malaria, the list goes on-we are always on alert when the kids have a fever and we are always washing our hands. Stomach bugs are more lethal, it seems, overseas, and “I think it’s something I ate” is a daily occurrence for us.
- Nasty Funky Junk-Mold. Rainy seasons here are fast and furious and fuzzy things grow when it rains on and off every day for three months.
- Don’t Touch Anything And That’s An Order-African airports, delayed flights, lost bags, 24+hour travel with several layovers, all with little nuts=no fun!!!!
- Where’s The Grass? Being a normal kid can be hard-grass is hard to come by, playgrounds are often old and rusty and hazardous, it’s difficult to learn how to ride a bike, and you typically can’t let your kids run loose around the neighborhood. I remember Zoë being terrified of grass around the age of two because she had no idea what it was.
- What Time Is It? Time zones stink. When the girl’s grandparents live in the UK and DC and their adoptive big sister lives in China and their cousins live in Europe and the US and friends live in Africa, it makes talking difficult. We have to deal with anything from an hour to 14 hours difference in time zones. Birthdays are interesting, in this respect.
- Hand’s Off My Piggy Bank-My kids’ piggy banks have about 10 different random currencies and it’s hard to explain to my six year-old that she can’t buy a teddy bear with Central African Francs.
- Word Blips-Raising bilingual kids can be thoroughly amusing, especially when they get their words mixed up. Z was trying to use the computer the other day and she said that she could not squirrel down the page. I realized after a few minutes of scratching my head that she was talking about scrolling down the page.
- Third World Cans-We have seen our share of gross toilets around the world. And the worst of it is having to take a toddler (or even an eight-year old, for that matter) to the bathroom in crappy (heh) conditions. Let’s just say that little bums can get almost lost in those gnarly toilets. And let’s just say that I have the willies just thinking about those times.
- Hold On Tight-Earthquakes. When everything starts to shake at 10 pm and all three of your kids are in bed, your tummy turns upside down. There is no time for “Well, let’s all just meander here under the dining room table” like they tell you to do in an earthquake.
- “Kith Me”, You Fool-Kisses. French, Salvadoran, Belgian-one kiss, two kisses, three kisses? There is always a question of how many kisses to give when greeting or meeting people. My girls have to keep track of any given country’s greetings and it often gets confusing. And a little sloppy.
- Funky Tummy-We are always thinking about weird and odd diseases in our family. I mean, who usually has to worry about dingue fever? And malaria? Ugh.