“Watch out for the seven-month dip”, warned my Canadian colleague, a seasoned expat who’s lived in French Guiana and Malawi before coming to Tanzania a few years ago. It’s just enough time, he says, to have got over the shock of the new, but not long enough to have made real friends (though I disagree with that) or to have achieved enough at work to make you see the value of sticking around.
We’d been told something similar during training back in Europe: things go great for the first few weeks or months, until the novelty wears off – expect it to go something like this, they said:
So I’m all prepared for the big dip… except that right now I don’t even think I’m on that chart, just floating around somewhere. “What do you like about living there?”, someone back home asked me recently. I couldn’t think of a single thing. It’s not that I don’t like it – though my list of things I could do without is fairly clear (heat, insects, restricted freedom to go where I want). It’s just that everything – still! – feels surreal and most things I do are new or at least complicated enough so that I’m just relieved I managed to do them. Dealing with my flooded apartment; setting up meetings and figuring out how to get to them; even going to the pub or wondering what I can eat without getting sick – likes and dislikes just don’t come into it much.
For now, things are simply categorising themselves into what feels like Africa and what doesn’t. Watching Tintin in 3D in the “BIGGEST CINEMA SCREEN IN EAST AFRICA!” or eating pasta carbonara food on an airy terrace, and you could be anywhere; but then the thick, dusty traffic jams to get there, or the infuriatingly unconcerned lethargy of bar staff, or the crater-sized potholes on the “good” roads, or the sense that things might happen when they say they will – or might not… there’s enough of Africa here to keep me confused a while longer.
Come to think of it, that confusion, that newness – that’s exactly what’s exciting about being here. Most of the expats I’ve met have either been here some time, or have lived in other African countries. I envy their confidence in one respect, but for now I’ll happily take the bewilderment of the first-timer over the cynicism and nonchalance of those who’ve seen it all before.