Lessons on adapting to change
In 2007, my husband and I had an opportunity for a new beginning to live and work abroad. We were as excited as little children, about living abroad.
Abroad was the land of milk and honey. Where there were no power blackouts, no mud, no dust, no water shortages. In fact you could gulp water right out of the tap! The two years that I lived in Ireland gave me an experience that convinced me that I, like Sauti Sol, would rather ‘live and die in Africa.’
I love beginnings. Beginnings are an opportunity for a fresh new start. To think differently, act differently and live differently. It could be the beginning of a marriage, starting on a new job, moving to a new house, driving a new car or having another child. Living abroad is a new beginning.
The maternity hospital
My experience living abroad, in Ireland, was a process of continuous adjustment to change. And I left with some outcomes that I find applicable to any new start. The first outcome was an ability to accept change and adapt swiftly. Every new beginning brings along change. When we left for Dublin I was six months pregnant with our first born. I had expected that the maternity hospital would have a baby nursery for new borns just like maternity hospitals in Kenya. After a whole day of grueling labour I gave birth to my son at 8pm. The midwives served me with some toast and weak tea while the routine checks were being conducted on the baby. I wolfed down the tea and bread like a starving child. Just then as I was preparing to get some well deserved rest, the midwife brought my brand new baby back to me!
I spent the next two days in hospital anxious, uncertain and annoyed
I asked her to keep the baby in the nursery for a short while so that I could rest. And I was promptly informed that there were no baby nurseries at the hospital in order to promote mother and baby bonding from the earliest. I received my child back with a sigh. As a result i spent the next two days in hospital anxious, uncertain and annoyed at the turn of events, taking away precious time that I could have bonded with my baby. I always recall this time when I am feeling resistant to change because I lost precious bonding time, annoyed at the lack of this convenience. My recent experience in Kenya has been much more enjoyable. The hospital had a nursery and the baby came as clean as a whistle and fed. Already sleeping like an angel. I even had time to WhatsApp and Facebook. That is surely one reason why I will live and die in Africa. A reason to not favour living abroad.
Life became difficult and lonely
The second outcome from this process of continuous change was an ability to be my own rescue. My husband had returned to his work routine after the two week paternity leave. Life became difficult and lonely. I missed the monthly chama meetings, the weekly bible studies, and the random visits by my family. I also missed the odd coffee date with friends where we would laugh until our sides ached. Being away from my family and close friends was difficult. There was no one to consult on baby matters. Was he feeding enough? Should he sleep on his back or his stomach? Were his milestones matching those of an average baby?
During our first winter, after days and days on end indoors with an infant, I practically felt my sanity ebbing away. Therefore, I found the closest mother and child play group online. There it became our routine twice a week to trudge through gale force winds and beating rain to visit the play group. At the play group we sang “In The Jungle, The Mighty Jungle, The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. Yet the sheer irony of it was that we had left the real savannah jungle teeming with lions under the tropical sun in Kenya! At the end of two years, I understood that here was no one coming to get me, to help me, to sort me out or to fix me. I was in charge of my situation and taking initiative to adapt to this new life helped me keep my sanity.
We did not anticipate the economic recession
The third outcome was an ability to move on when nothing else can be done. It is said that the only constant thing in life is change. And sometimes you have to choose to hold on or to walk away. Sometimes it is necessary to look at a dead horse and to dismount in spite of being unsure of the next steps. When my husband opted for living abroad and I left for Ireland, all our hopes and dreams of endless opportunities were wound in this adventure. We were hard working professionals with decent jobs. We did not anticipate the economic recession that fell over Europe and America in the following months leading the economic crash in summer of 2008. Living abroad was supposed to be magical – not catastrophic.
It seemed that almost overnight the Republic of Ireland fell from being Europe’s fastest growing economy, the Celtic Tiger and fastest growing economy to being one of the most debt ridden in Europe. During this time the term PIGS was coined in reference to the most affected countries within the European Union – Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. During the recession, job unemployment rates rose. Having completed my online studies and with no longer any hope of formal employment I had to make the decision to either continue with a very routine life or come home and start over. As sober as a judge, I decided living abroad was not it – and came back home in 2009, and all has been well. This is Africa. The continent that as it is said – brings a glimpse of high hope to the unstable global economy.