The Seventh Year

How on earth is it September again already? Last I looked it was March.

September 1st seven years ago we began our little adventure over here in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the time, we thought we might stay a year or two. I remember telling a friend we might even be back within six months, because the company’s contract was currently being renegotiated with the government and nobody could predict how that was going to turn out. Signs weren’t altogether positive as there had been a little skirmish nearby and the spouses had been evacuated while we were packing up our things in Tucson, delaying our departure by a couple of days.

That event passed, the spouses came back just in time to welcome a new one, and seven years later — one signed contract, a couple more evacuations, one global ebola scare (plus lots of local ones that no one abroad ever hears of), seven rainy seasons, zero cases of cholera/yellow fever/typhoid/malaria between us (but numerous giardia flare-ups, two entirely self-inflicted salmonella incidents and one self-diagnosed case of trichinosis), one cancelled presidential election, and one major change in company ownership later — here we still are. It turns out, we’ve not once regretted it. Giardia included.

What do we like about it so much?? Well, for starters, Seb loves his job. He and the other geologists here speak often about getting to work in one of the most exciting copper deposits in the world. Apparently there’s no other place quite like it. He also gets to manage one of the largest exploration programs in terms of workforce and budget. Not too shabby for his résumé. Eight years ago he was stuck in a windowless office all day, managing repetitive stress injuries in fingers, wrists and elbows while staring at a computer, nostalgic for the days he got to roam the northern extremes of Québec looking for outcroppings and dodging bears. When one day they tapped him on the shoulder for this job, he was ready for the change of pace but wondered if without an MBA or enough authority at the time to order a pencil eraser that they might be making a big mistake. Would they send him to some classes first, he asked? Nah, you’ll learn on the job, they said. And if I screw up, he asked? Then we’ll send you somewhere else, they said.

I’m aware of my bias here but also pretty confident in my opinion that Seb has exceeded both his own and the company’s expectations. His hair may have turned almost completely gray in these seven years, but he never comes home late, he never tosses and turns at night from stress, and he’s always ready for the mornings we leave on vacation, instead of saying “wait, one more thing!” as I would. He makes it look easy.

Speaking of vacations, that’s another thing we love about living here. We try not to make the trek to North America more than once or twice a year — it’s costly in both airfare and time, and the jetlag is significant — and instead try to focus on places in this hemisphere that will be harder to reach when we’re no longer living here. Places like Southeast Asia, Europe (same time zone as us and LOTS of flights), and, of course, Africa. This year our first excursion in five months (well, five for Seb and four for me) was a safari in Zimbabwe. Our fourth safari, and our eleventh African country. And you know what? It never gets old. Every country is unique and beautiful, and every safari is both exciting and fulfilling in a way that’s easy to forget can exist. It’s a chance to connect with nature and experience the most profound quiet and dark — experiences that are impossible in cities, or even small towns. Or even a remote compound in DRC, except when the electricity cuts out! While there we made a list of more safaris we want to take and more countries we want to see before we’re through. This Christmas we’re hoping to add a few countries in West Africa to our passports.

Another reason we love living here is the quality of life. Now, this is a bit of a tricky subject… I’m going to try to think of the positives here! Because yes, I miss my homeland, friends and family; yes I miss my Arizona hikes and scenery and my cat and my car; yes I whine about not having access to malls and movie theaters and HBO and super-stocked grocery stores; and NO this is not a life for everyone. BUT it has incredible benefits, too. It’s peaceful, so peaceful — an ironic statement for a country that is basically still at war in certain faraway places. Seriously, I’m sitting in my “office” right now looking out a sunny window at green trees and hearing NOTHING but birds… well before I started the washing machine, anyway. And hello, we have a washing machine! And a dryer! Both luxuries here. Not to mention a sturdy house itself. With a private, enclosed yard that my adopted African cat can play in. The peace and quiet gives me a luxurious chance to dive deep into personal goals. Things I SHOULD be spending the bulk of my time on, anyway, and WILL one day soon when I finally wrest myself from the distractions of the daily news (thanks to our new internet plan which almost always works well, both a blessing and curse) and the housework that never seems to be done.

Housework, ugh. When we moved to this house a year ago we also said goodbye to Viviane, whose company and help I miss more and more every day. Housework, or rather the discipline for it, has never been my strong suit, and now I have no excuse. I think often of my grandmother, who raised four kids by herself while working full-time AND putting herself through university at night. On top of all that, her house was always so clean that her nickname was “the white tornado.” (White not for skin color, I feel the need to point out, but because she leaves only cleanliness in her wake, rather than the dust and chaos tornadoes are known for. Yes, she lived and still lives in Kansas.)

Sigh. I wither in comparison. I have no kids, no job, and no school, yet keeping on top of dishes and laundry seems too complex a challenge for me. I’m sure it has something to do with the illusion of having nothing but time, therefore simple and repetitive tasks take longer than when one feels the pressure of not having enough time, but still. Annoying.

Wait — I said I would focus on positive things! Ahem. Quality of life. Ok, YES — this lifestyle has changed us forever. I hope so anyway. It’s taught us many lessons about lots of things I’m not sure I can adequately put into words. Things like our over-reliance on consumerism and material goods. Things like the importance of building relationships, sharing meals and bonfires with friends, watching the sunset instead of TV. Things like appreciation, open-mindedness, curiosity, and suspended judgment when it comes to new and unfamiliar things. Or quicker judgment, in certain cases. We are wiser than we were before. And yet awed and humbled with every new friend, every new experience.

People ask us often how much longer we’ll stay. We sometimes joke that we’ve made it seven years already, might as well go for ten! If that turns out to be true, I guess I’ll have lots of time to master this housekeeping and multitasking thing. Grandma — I’m all ears. And happy Grandparents’ Day, you two. 🙂

7 comments

  1. It’s Grandparents’ Day today, but I’m also thinking of my Mom – another white tornado, by the way – who is facing down Hurricane Irma at this moment. Stay safe, you guys.

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    1. Did you get a medal? I tell you, I’ll be looking for one soon!! Our neighbors (R&L) are coming up on 6 years in November! Thank god for them, or we’d probably be long gone. Xxx

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  2. Well!!! I don’t think the house was as clean as you remember since the boys were always bringing home dirty football uniforms for me to wash and bringing friends after school! I wouldn’t change anything about it. I have wonderful kids and grandkids and you are the top of the list (our first grandchild). Love the letter but miss you badly!! Love Grandma & Grandpa

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