Adapting.

I arrived in Liberia one month ago.  For the first three weeks that I was here, the sun shone almost constantly with partly-cloudy skies offering their benevolent form of relief from the heat and intensity of direct sunlight.  

In fact, I noticed that there are days when I would come home from my daily afternoon walk around town when my shoulders would be a little more golden brown than they were that morning, and the freckles on the bridge of my nose were slightly more prominent.

For the past week, however, the days stay mostly overcast and the nights have been scored by the percussion of rain storms that move quickly and resemble sounds produced by a music class of toddlers who are discovering instruments for the first time.

“sshhhhhhhhh, ssssshhhhhh. SSSSSHHHhhh,” the raindrops splatter against the tin roof.

“Bang! Bang! Whomp! Bang!” the wind makes a loose corner of the tin roof bang.

“SSSSSHHH! SSSSSHHH! SSSSSHHH!” the rush and roar of the storm blows heavy against the windows and pounds on the roof.  The sound — like my husband described to me before I moved here, but I didn’t quite believe — is sometimes so loud that we have to almost shout to hear each other speak.

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When it isn’t raining, one of my favorite things to do in the morning is to sit on the couch by the window that faces southeast so I can get my hit of warmth and light as I watch the sunrise.  Andrew usually keeps the house a chilly 17-19 degrees Celsius/62-66 Fahrenheit (I thought I was hot natured, …and then met this guy!), so I sit perched in my spot like a cat blinking out at the world through the sliding, wide-rectangular panes of glass while he catches up on the morning’s news from his spot on the couch.  Our mornings are quiet and peaceful over breakfast and coffee as we ease into the day. 

This week’s post is about adapting: adapting to life abroad as an expat, adapting to life alongside my husband, and adapting to life in foreign service.

IMG_20170902_152954I have definitely had to learn how to do some things differently here — like carrying two of certain items.  For instance, I carry two wallets now: one for my Liberian dollars (LDs) and one for my US dollars (USDs).  I purchase my street items (mostly fruits and veggies) with my LDs, so I like to have a separate holder for those so I don’t have to show my USDs when I’m trying to pay in LDs.  I am also now part of the “two cell phones club.”  Since my cell phone network doesn’t provide service in Liberia, I can only use my US phone on WiFi.  To make sure I am able to call the Embassy’s Marine Post One in cases of emergency, check in with Andrew while I’m away from home, or call local connections for work/research purposes, I now have a basic phone with a local number.  From what I can tell, most US expats here have a US phone and a Liberian phone.

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This phone took me back about 12 years.  Can’t wait to show my former students who use to make fun of my iPhone 5C. 🙂

I have also had to become accustomed to not using tap water for drinking or brushing my teeth.  During my first week here, I had my evaluation with the Embassy clinic, and the doctor mentioned not using tap water for brushing or drinking.  I told him that my husband uses it to brush his teeth and it doesn’t seem to bother him.  “Well, you can use it if you want to try it out, but most people get diarrhea from doing that,” he replied.
Being hard headed as I am, I tried it.  Having the delicate system that I do <slaps forehead>, I did end up having intestinal cramping and diarrhea.  
The first time (Yes, the first time. I’ve my stubborn streak, right?), my husband was out of town, and I got worried that my symptoms would get worse, so I decided to be proactive.  I remembered the BRAT rule for these situations: bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.  So, I walked to the market and bought bananas from my favorite street vendor along the way, rice cakes (no salt), and Imodium.  I didn’t want applesauce, and we already had bread at home for toast.  Luckily, this was all very helpful, and I learned my lesson about the tap water…after experimenting one more time, that is.  Now, I keep a large bottle of distilled water in the bathroom. <nods wisely>

Something else I’m learning is an ear for the Liberian dialect.  Just as English is spoken in other countries in local accents with variations created through dialect and slang, the Liberian dialect of English takes some practice to get used to.  Sometimes it’s a matter of the Liberian speaker slowing down his rate of speech.  Sometimes the Liberian speaker must choose more familiar diction for the American/European English listener.  And sometimes the American/European listener must ask two or three times for the Liberian to repeat himself before he is understood. Always, the Liberian speakers are very patient! 

So, far, my favorite part of Liberian English is adding -o to the end of a word or phrase to show exclamation or emphasis.  When spoken, you don’t necessarily have to change inflection to; you just add the -o.  For instance: It is my friend Melvin’s birthday today o!  So, I baked him a cake and was so happy to help him celebrate yesterday o! 😀

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By far, the biggest adaptation has not been moving to the other side of the world into a different culture.  It has been moving into my husband’s house and trying to make a home here with very few of my own belongings.  I’ve only had what clothes and toiletries that I fit into my two pieces of luggage when we left for our honeymoon.  

It is difficult to all of a sudden be part of someone’s world and space without having pieces of your own existence to help you settle in and feel permanence in the place where you now live.  Truth be told, I do have moments when it feels like I am just a guest here — you know that feeling when you have to be careful not to make a nuisance of yourself because you don’t want to take advantage of your host’s good graces?  I know I shouldn’t feel that way, but (through no fault of Andrew’s) there are times when I do.

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Fortunately, my UAB (unaccompanied baggage) parcel finally arrived a couple of days ago.  However, as much as I have been looking forward to having some of my own things around me, I was surprised at how I felt when I picked up a couple of the items that are individually wrapped and taped in brown packing paper.  It occurred to me that seeing these things made me anxious because of the emotions they might stir.  I don’t even remember what is packed away in this box versus what is coming in my HHE (household effects), but I know I’ve been missing my family and friends pretty hard this past week.  And this would be the kind of thing that would hit me hard, thinking about time with my son, my sister, my best friend, my closest ladies, and things I miss about where I used to live.  That all sounds very dramatic, but that’s how I operate — I need a dramatic moment to feel all the feels, then I process and evaluate the event, and then I make a plan and move forward.  It happens in big situations and small, and some times are faster than others, but I’m pretty predictable in that sense.

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Talking about where I used to live, I had a funny moment last week when I was walking down Sekou Toure Avenue.  I found myself behind a man wearing a t-shirt from My Cousin Vinny’s Restaurant in metro-Atlanta, my hometown.  When I posted it to my Instagram account, I asked, “How did I end up behind the one guy in Monrovia wearing a shirt from Atlanta?!”  The serendipity of it made me smile.

This got me thinking about the idea of “home.”  My husband has said that it’s difficult for him to answer the question of “Where are you from?” these days because he’s lived in so many places and because our story together started in Atlanta.  So, it has become easier to say, “We met when we were both living in Atlanta.”  I have started to catch myself in saying things like, “Back home I used to…” because that word home carries so much weight.  I feel like my home is wherever my husband is.  Even if I haven’t yet found “my groove” in the physical space of our house, I am at home when I am with him.

There are, however, things I am missing about life in the US:  

  • Brushing teeth with tap water without worries 😉
  • Mexican food
  • Consistent and reliable supply of sliced turkey breast
  • Going for walks on trails in the many different parks
  • Riding my bike outside
  • My favorite breakfast/brunch places (Flying Biscuit, West Egg, Waffle House)
  • Cruising down the highway in my car
  • Autumn weather

Then there are things that I am really enjoying about life in Liberia:

  • Meeting so many new people, hearing their stories, and connecting in person with individuals who I otherwise would have only been able to reach out to over the internet
  • The sense of hospitality here reminds me of how we do things in The South, and often feels more genuine than what’s given in Atlanta (not throwing shade, just keeping it real)
  • Hearing the ocean when I wake up
  • Being able to walk to the supermarket
  • Constant access to fruit and vegetable stands a few blocks from my door
  • Learning more about and participating in foreign service/expat life
  • Learning more about Liberian dialect o!
  • Being in walking distance to the Old Embassy Compound where our fitness center and recreation center are

When Andrew and I started thinking about a life together, he said he had to find out first if I would be able to handle life in a difficult place since foreign service would demand this of us.  So, he took me on a trip to Morocco for our first date to give it a test-run, and we found out that it’s really not so difficult when you’re in it as a team, as partners.  As I stated in last week’s post, I think the most difficult thing about being posted in Liberia is the lack of access to entertainment and physical activity.  That said, however, I’m determined to find ways around that challenge.  I’m eager to make more local friends, discover more places, and get more involved with the community.  So, for now, I need to go finish some school work (research papers o!) so I can go outside and play later today! 🙂

 

2 thoughts on “Adapting.”

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