A friend and I were chatting on the phone the other day and we both were sharing some of the funny things we’d noticed about ourselves or our new lives living in Africa.
I told her that I’d been mentally making a “you know you live overseas” list and I was going to add her thoughts to the ever-growing hilarity of things we face each day.
As expats, we ALL have one thing in common.
We live this crazy overseas life and it has deeply, greatly, unbelievably changed us in drastic ways.
To compensate for the seriousness of those changes, we must laugh.
And laugh often.
I wrote one of these type posts back when we were traveling to raise support.
I also wrote one of these specifically to missionary moms.
I also wrote a post about being a traveling techy family.
This post is just a general, “wow. I live overseas.” post.
1} Every season means brand new jobs. Dry season? Fight ants coming in the house looking for water and have your guard water the electrical ground line outside your house… that you’ve also dropped down into your septic tank so that it has enough moisture to keep your outlets from shocking everyone when they plug something in. Rainy season? Fight worms coming in under doors and snails crawling up your walls and frogs hopping across the patio and through the hole in your screen door. Or push flooding water that is pooling on your balcony down the rain spouts which makes waterfalls in your yard. Each season has a battle.
2} You process a lot of meat yourself. Or make your husband do it. You separate it all out so you have chicken breasts when you need them or wings collected and frozen in a bag for a wing night. You make soup stock and store it in ice cream containers in your freezer.
3} You get to serve people American things and watch them taste it for the very first time. Here is our painter eating homemade chicken soup and sourdough bread.
4} You’ve decided that dryers are optional and hanging laundry isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, it makes your yard look homey.
5} You desperately miss shredded bags of cheese. Shredding your own, slightly moldy and very expensive cheese is dangerous, hard, sweaty work. In fact, you desperately miss all sorts of pre-packaged foods.
6} You wear a ton of skirts. When you gather with friends, though… you all literally drop your skirts. As in you say something like, “Hold on… let me take my skirt off.” and proceed to take your skirt off, set it on your purse and then greet everyone. And you all know that means you wore capris or shorts UNDER your skirt which made dropping your skirt a little more of an appropriate thing to do.
7} You carry a wrap at all times. A wrap can be a seat, a blanket, another way of covering your shorts when going out… a bathroom if needed… yep. Wraps.
8} When recommending a restaurant you say something like, “They aren’t too expensive and they have nice bathrooms.” And your friend understands that a restaurant even having a bathroom, let a lone a nice one, is a valuable thing.
9} You judge the humidity levels by what kitchen cabinets will close and how hard your wood door is to reopen in the morning.
10} You are so used to moving, packing and storing bins, you can guess the weight nearly to the pound. But still use a scale because showing up at the airport and needing to repack a suitcase or bin is about as dreadful as a restaurant with no bathroom.
11} You celebrate holidays and birthdays and anniversaries at fun, little ocean-side places.
12} You eat fresh produce from your yard. Things like coconuts and bananas.
13} You grab a wrap to answer your gate and don’t even pay attention to if the wrap matches your shirt or not. And you wear flip flops in the house just so you don’t have to walk on the hard tile all day. Tile, tile and MORE tile. #zerocarpet
14} You pay very close attention to what goes in your trash bags. No addresses, account numbers or important information. You know that any and all of it will be sorted, resold, reused, eaten, fed to animals, or worn by your guard or trash guy. You might even purposefully throw away things so that they CAN be reused.
15} You listen to your kids compare malaria meds and times to take their meds with other overseas kids.
16} Hats and water bottles travel everywhere with you. And you have a very pretty collection of water bottle carriers for just that purpose. Color-coded of course, so we know who’s is who’s. (grammar people… I have no idea which to use for that… whose or who’s?)
17} You understand that a trip to the ATM isn’t just a trip to the ATM. It could take 5 stops, a lot of long lines and walking away with no money at all.
18} You sit with your friends and dream of going through a drive through to get a quick dinner for your family. The days of “quick” anything seem long gone.
19} You look around your kitchen during rainy season and see clumpy spices, wet salt, and rock hard powdered sugar… even with your best attempts at keeping it all in air tight containers. And you cook with it anyway.
20} You know a lot of new words and speak a few different languages all mixed together because the people around you speak 3-4 different languages so you know terms in them all… sometimes not even knowing which language you are speaking.
21} You have used Madar soap or Maggi cubes.
22} You drop calls or can’t send texts because you’ve once again run out of phone credit. And you actually know how to reload your phone with credit, buy data or pay a bill with your phone. You also understand getting an automated text from a friend asking you to call them because THEY ran out of credit!
23} You walk up to a local store and the guard at the front greets you and tells you that your friends are already inside the store. And they actually are… and at the next store, the guard asks where your husband is and that he hasn’t seen him in a while. And the guard at the next store asks if you speak Wolof yet… which you and he both know you don’t. And he tells you that your friend does speak Wolof already and you have to tell him yes, she does but she’s lived here 8 years and I’ve only lived here 1 year. And the next guard… you get the idea.
24} Your kids say things like, “Uncle so and so let us ride on top of the land cruiser through the salt flats!” and “Aunt so and so let us hang on the side of the truck while we drove such and such a road!” and “Uncle so and so let me and my friend ride in the back of the truck on the highway. And we were sitting on top of all the suitcases!” and “Daddy let me drive the Hilux on the salt flats!” and you thank all the new aunts and uncles and your own husband for giving your kids a great TCK experience… while you cringe at how dangerous it all is.
25} You don’t even blink at a family style meal where you all eat from the same bowl… in fact, your kids get excited about Yassa and Maffe and Thieb.
26} You also don’t even blink at unisex bathrooms. Men’s and Women’s stalls right next to each other with a shared sink is the norm. You even continue going to the bathroom when there are huge holes in between the wall slats and there is a guard sitting not that far away. You take advantage of having a bathroom with semi-privacy and even feel grateful that it has a small roll of toilet paper. and soap at the sink.
27} You sit on your roof and watch the storms roll in from across the desert.
28} You sit in traffic and shop at roadside vendors… and don’t hesitate to hand 1,000cfa out the window for a remade Chick-Fil-A tank top.
29} You think things like a box of pop tarts or a can of root beer is the best present ever. And your kids think so too.
30} You can take a bucket bath with the best of them, have hooked up a gas generator to recharge your house battery back up during a power cut and know when the fans slow down that a power surge is coming so you should unplug your laptop.
31} You collect random pictures on your phone of dresses you like so you can show your tailor.
32} You even have a tailor to make your clothes.
33} You buy dirty water for your water tanks and fresh water for your fridge. And you can tell by the taste of water when it is time to clean the filter on your Berkey or when your ice is making rings in your ice trays.
34} Your kids cool themselves down by laying on the tile, eating ice or taking a shower. and you know that 85 degrees in Detroit is NOT the same as 85 degrees in Dakar.
35} You attend a school function for your kids and hear Portuguese, Spanish, French, British English, Dutch, Korean… 18 different languages, countries and people represented… amazing. And you feel proud because you can speak Franglish with a little bit of Wolof and British thrown in for good measure. Really well.
36} You have a new country-specific name and have decided it is way easier to use than your American one. Hello, my name is Jeniba Faye (pronounced f-eye). and my husband… Wally Faye. #notjoking
37} You are forced to plan years in advance. Knowing it will probably change 10 times and you don’t even have all the information but you need to plan anyway.
38} You must constantly clarify which “home” you are talking about.
39} Your kids say things like, “Mom… I can’t remember anymore names of new people!” and you completely understand what they mean. They also worry they’ve forgotten important names… and it makes them sad.
40} You are afraid of re-entering life where you have climate control (can we say freezing cold?) and your own vehicle (uhmm… will I even be ABLE to drive after taking 3 years off the road?) and too many food choices (will I be able to run off all that Chipotle and Cold Stone?).
Things that remind you, “Yes, friend… you live overseas.”
And there are more… hundreds more… please add one in the comments!
And ask your expat friends to come join the conversation. I can’t wait to hear how you know you live overseas!