|Family photo, May 2019|
It has been so long since I have blogged. Since I last wrote, I have lived in Botswana for five more years (almost 6 total), had three little girls, and experienced a life very different from the one I had before. I have learned what it is like to not have the expectations and benefits we first-world people rarely even realize, deeper than “first world problems.” I’ve lived abroad before, but never married to a local, living on a local salary, figuring out how to provide for a family.
And I only know what that’s like when your husband is a highly educated professional who also happens to be an extremely hard worker, and especially gifted in business. I’m still white, and often treated with a special level of respect because of that (a topic for another time). I still have a family who would have helped us if we ever couldn’t have figured things out on our own. I still have a US passport and credit card. And we live in one of the most stable countries in Africa, and most peaceful in the world.
It’s different than I imagined. I was pretty naive to many of the struggles people from other places face. I was pretty naive about many luxuries I take for granted. In some ways, I have come to treasure, and in other ways despise, the first-world assumptions I grew up with.
A moment that stands out most to me was when we had been here for about six months. KG was still doing his pharmacy internship and was working at the main government hospital as a pharmacist. He had a terrible, debilitating toothache, and decided to see one of the hospital dentists.
The dentist explained that all of the dental imaging equipment had been sent away for maintenance, and they didn’t expect it back for months. ALL of the equipment. At one time. Based on the pain of his tooth, she decided she should remove it, and he agreed. He would do anything to get rid of that pain.
He was not given pain killers and they pulled that tooth out of his head. He says it was excruciating. When the tooth finally was out, she looked at it and said, “Oh, that’s a shame, this tooth is healthy. It probably just had a minor cavity.”
Guys, when he got home and told me that story, I seriously wept. I know it’s just a tooth, but it was the principle of the matter. This would never, ever happen in my world. If it did, heads would roll. But it wouldn’t happen. It was over five years ago, and it still bothers me.
KG, on the other hand, was never very bothered about it. He could not understand the grief it inspired in me. His expectations are just different.
Living abroad is such a rich experience, but it can also be disorienting and confusing. I’ve experienced so much change these last five years it’s sometimes hard to know where to start. In some ways, I am really different. In others, I am very much the same. Similarly, when I look at the States, I see lots of differences and similarities from the country I grew up in.
And all of this feels really important, because we are moving to the States in less than a month. I’m now a wife of an immigrant and mother to three Batswana-American children. I am learning a whole new role in life, and I’m aware of how much I don’t even know I don’t know.
I hope there is some of the “me” that I left behind still there, and that I can rediscover parts of myself. I hope that I will be quicker at understanding jokes and have to think a little less about day-to-day interactions — I’ll be back with people who grew up like I did. I hope I will feel more free to step out on a limb, inspire change, and lead, than I have here.
I hope I’ll also be more mature, that the lessons I have learned in the nine years since I was primarily living in the States will have given me wisdom and grace. I hope I’ll be humble, and remember that the experiences I have had are not shared with most of my peers. They have answers and experiences I don’t have, and I hope I can reenter my culture as a learner.
Even with all of these hopes it is probably obvious that I am scared. I realized a few weeks ago that I feel a little like someone who wakes up from a coma, only to realize that it has been ten years since they interacted with society. Now, suddenly, there are self-driving cars, different political and social perspectives, new products and new norms that may have been heard about through the fog of the coma, but not with much actual understanding.
At the same time, I’ve had a very full, busy, different, interesting life during these nine years. Now I’m mommy. Now I’m a website designer and marketing professional. Now I’m a permanent resident of Botswana, with a whole family who I love very much here. The transition feels big.