Nearly five years of living overseas.
The list of things we miss from America has changed and will continue to change over our years in missions.
Some things will be added because I don’t realize I miss them yet, some things will fall off the list as I find new ways of doing things and our priorities continue to change with our new lives.
But this is a list of things I miss in this moment… things I’m learning I should have packed or things that are really hitting me that I won’t have for a long time.
Our home is wonderful and we can find most things that we need in West Africa. Having French grocery stores is very helpful.
We are learning, though, that just because you can find it here, doesn’t mean it is the same as what you can buy in America.
We are also learning that most things we miss can’t be bought anyway. They are truly American things. The kinds of things that make America special, that make America home.
Here is my “five years” list of things we miss from home.
1. My Van – We LOVE our Speed-the-Light truck. It gets us into far away villages through sandy paths and dirt roads. Our truck is an incredible blessing to the work here in West Africa. BUT… It’s manual. It’s big. There are animals, kids, people selling things, motos, taxis, more animals and more kids filling the roadways. Traffic is insane. For Jeremy, he thrives and loves it. For me? Not so much. I miss my van. I miss freedom. I miss calm, easy drives to run errands or go grocery shopping or drive through for coffee. I deeply miss the freedom that comes with driving myself somewhere. What would it feel like to get in a car and go do something? To have access to my own car again every single day?
2. Open, Clean, Green Spaces – We live in the desert. We can find small pieces of green and some tropical flowers but nothing like America. We are surrounded by sand, mud, rocks, trash, thorns, crumbling cement, walls, bars, waste and crazy high pollution levels. We miss fresh air, pretty yards, city parks, clean side walks, clear roads, houses without walls, windows without bars, and beautiful places to roam. Just being outside is a treat in America.
3. Coffee – From the moment we landed in France 5 years ago until today in West Africa, coffee is something very valuable and very precious to us. It is not easily found nor is it affordable to buy. Every ground of coffee is cherished by coffee-loving expats overseas. You’d be shocked at how often the topic of good coffee comes up in our conversations with friends. Where they get it, how they get it, how they keep it fresh, how they conserve it and how they love it. It might be the number one asked for thing among overseas workers.
4. American Sized Everything. America really is big. And, America makes everything big. All-you-can-eat buffets, extra-large burgers, wide roads, king-size candy bars, Venti coffee, and free refills. The rest of the world doesn’t have that and it is the one thing that people notice right away about America. Americans like big things! And lots of them! From sheet cakes to 2 liters to movie popcorn… American sized life is something we miss and hear other nationalities talk about when they mention having traveled to the states.
Just an FYI – this is also something we don’t miss. Honestly, we have really learned to enjoy smaller things. Smaller portions, smaller spaces, smaller living have become normal for us.
Until I order coffee and it’s smaller than a tea cup. Or, ask for ice and they only bring me 3 pieces. Then, I feel 100% American. And I miss American sized things.
5. Communicating. I miss being able to communicate with everyone around me. Imagine leaving your children with someone and not be able to talk to them? Or, having to buy something and not be able to ask questions? To go out anywhere and not have a clue what is being said around you? Or, to think you understand… and then realize that you totally missed it. To feel judged because you don’t know enough of a language yet or feel the pressure of needing more vocabulary or totally botch something simple in a language you’ve been learning for 5 years. To want to make a joke but knowing it won’t be understood. Yeah. Communication is crazy hard. Not being able to communicate makes you feel pretty awful. Add in that we live in a country where we can hear 4 or 5 languages happening around us in a matter of minutes. That will exhaust your brain very quickly.
6. Church. Of course we have church here. Every week. Beautiful, amazing African church. Yet, I greatly miss American church. All of it. From the greeters to the worship to the preaching to a full altar call. I miss it all. I miss worshiping in English. I miss talking to friends after church in English. I miss pastoring and being with kids and all the church activities that we used to run and be a part of. I miss girls’ nights out with other moms. I miss it so very much.
7. Cooking Spray – and other miscellaneous house/kitchen things. Cooking sprays like Pam don’t exist here. Nor do some American seasonings, lunch meat that comes in more than 4 pieces at a time. FOUR pieces in a package here. That doesn’t even feed our family for 1 lunch. Those 4 pieces of meat will cost about the same as a lb of lunch meat at home! The rice will have bugs, the noodles might be stale, the cereal could have worms, the flour needs to be frozen/sifted to kill/remove bug eggs, the cheese may have melted and re-hardened. The ice cream costs $10. Missing Kroger and Target happens a lot over here.
8. Climate Controlled Homes. All that expensive food and imported coffee? It will go bad in minutes during rainy season if it isn’t bagged up or put in air-tight containers. We have mosquitoes inside the house and dust on everything because the windows aren’t sealed at all. I miss that precious little box that hangs on the wall with buttons that I can adjust to whatever temperature I want the WHOLE house to be. That doesn’t exist here. What is outside is also inside. It’s like never-ending camping. Mold grows on clothing, dust invades every crevice, ants are everywhere and flies freely fly inside the house.
9. Running/Walking Outside. Living in the desert really puts a damper on running outside. Some workers here do it. They can handle the sand and heat like troopers. But, I miss running trails, green parks, country roads, bike paths and open space to just run outside. To run in a place where it is culturally ok to run in workout clothing. To run where I can have my headphones in and not worry. To just run.
10. Home and Friends and Family. I deeply miss people who know us. We’ve made new friendships and have our worker family here. But I miss people who know us. Who have history with us. Who understand us, love us, challenge us and encourage us. I miss our friends and our families. Being in a room full of people can feel very lonely when know one knows much about you. Make that the experience every time you leave your door and the loneliness of life overseas can just grow.
That is just 10 things. I could add access to good health care, clean water out of the tap, and more. There are so many things we miss.
Now, for the disclaimer. Nothing in this is a complaint. Seriously. Not one of them would send me running from this overseas journey.
There are things we are finding that we absolutely love too.
I just want to write down the things we miss, the things that make us pause and remember.
The things that were a big part of our lives that are now very different.
What do you think you would miss on this list?