Everyone can handle the expat lifestyle when it’s all famous international landmarks, breathtaking cultural experiences, and charming local children giving you presents. But what to do when your day hits the skids and you’re far from home? Last month I had the chance to find out (not once, but four times), which inspired me to come up with today’s list: the Top 10 Troubles you will face overseas and how to deal with them. I’ve faced every single one of them myself. 1. Car accidents I used to consider myself a good driver. Then I moved to Africa and promptly crashed my car into inanimate objects four different times in two years. My most recent crash involved a tree, a hungry preschooler in the backseat crying for pizza, and my least favorite gear: reverse. The quote to repair the bashed rear of the car seemed enough to cover the entire cost of a new car, but everything car-related is more expensive in Botswana and there aren’t many budget repair options.
Next time you find yourself pregnant and unable to easily return to your home country to have the baby (yeah, okay, not super likely), I highly recommend Cape Town as an alternate destination. The very air here has a pleasing and soothing effect: and the fact that every time you look out of any window you see either the sea or a gorgeous green mountain doesn’t hurt. It’s also a great place to indulge pregnancy cravings.
4 days, 3 guest houses, 1500 kilometers, 12 energy drinks, 10 episodes of Daniel Tiger, 6 gas stations, 4 Magnum ice cream bars, 2 toddler meltdowns, many bags of trash, car songs, tickles, and one big hole in the ground: all in all I will declare our roadtrip a success. It is amazing how much the landscape changed in less than 20 total hours of driving: from the barren flat dry tumbleweed zone of Botswana (no actual tumbleweeds but you get the idea) to striking green gorgeous mountains like something you would imagine after the evil witch’s winter spell in the Chronicles of Narnia is broken. The best thing about arriving in Cape Town (besides the dark blue ocean, the amazing restaurants, and the gorgeous cool sunny weather) is that we are now safely ensconced in the city where we will have our baby. No longer do I have to stress over every twinge, thinking pre-term labor is upon me while picturing being airlifted out of Gaborone by emergency helicopter.
What’s the last thing you want to do four weeks before your due date in the heat of an African summer when you are slow and lumbering as a beached whale and only want to lie on the couch under a fan eating squares of cooling dark chocolate? Get in the car and drive for 20 hours across the desert! Too bad: we don’t have a choice. And so today begins the grand adventure, a roadtrip from land-locked Botswana to the salty beaches of Cape Town, South Africa, 1,500 kilometers away, so we can usher Baby #2 into the world with style.
It is spring in Gaborone, so the animals are out on the streets. During the winter, you could be fooled into thinking you were in a normal suburban town or small city in the United States: clear wide roads, shiny office buildings, commuters in Toyotas and Nissans making their way through red lights to work. But the blossoms and new green growth of spring have brought the animals out of the woodwork. Driving to lunch you’ll need to slow down while a herd of cows lumbers across the highway in front of you. On the way to the gym you’ll have to pick you way through a dozen lazy goats sleeping in the grass. And little armies of chickens strut without fear in front of your car as you make your way home. Inevitably I am thinking about what’s on the dinner menu for the evening when I pass them.
I was pulled over by the police this morning. I was running late to work as usual (Lila’s various peanut butter incidents and unattended water bucket emergencies always expertly timed to coincide with my departures) when I almost whizzed past the police checkpoint strategically placed between Marina Hospital and Gaborone Secondary School. The checkpoint had gotten me once before: two weeks ago I had to pull over, open my trunk and dig around in my purse to show the officer my driver’s license, which gave him enough time to notice that my registration tags were expired. When he said he had to impound the car (“It is like you are stealing the road”), I shamelessly played the pregnant lady card, imploring “How do you want me to get to work then, walk?” while pointing to my already huge belly.
The most African thing about my life every day is my commute home from work. Because of a large concrete road divider on the main road to my house (see photo above), you can’t turn directly from the street to get to my place. Instead, you have to turn off the road 1/2 mile earlier, wend your way through rutted back roads full of children and chickens, and make about three unmarked left turns and four right ones to finally get to my driveway. I realize this makes no sense in print and I really need to draw a diagram. But this forced detour from the slick highway and exposure to a real middle-income African neighborhood reminds me that I’m not living in Phoenix or a downmarket Californian suburb, which is what most of the small capital city of Gaborone looks like. Long ago the town made a conscious choice to implement “mixed housing” in Gaborone rather than class-segregated neighborhoods, so the nicer, bigger houses (of which mine is one, even though the rent is only a $1,800 a month) are just one street over from modest shacks and a few hovels. Gated houses with electric fences are a stone’s throw from dusty compounds with four or five tiny houses on one plot.
I’ve been waiting to post until I have time to sit down and write a proper update, but if I wait for that it may never happen. So, I’ll just give you a quick snapshot of my Monday instead. Today was like any other start to a normal work week, except my 8 a.m. meeting was at the Islamabad Gun Club. The Gun Club sounds like a scary bunker shooting range kind of deal, but it’s actually a lovely spot just outside of town with rolling green lawns, stretched skins of leopards adorning the door jams, and a very civilized breakfast buffet. Once there I watched a PowerPoint presentation. That part is probably not very different from your day. While watching the presentation, I had my choice of coffee, tea, or a tall glass of unfiltered apple juice to go along with a breakfast that included chickpeas in tomato sauce. That’s probably a little different from your day (except for the coffee thing). After the Gun Club, my favorite driver, Abdulrahman, drove me back to the office in a car with screens over the windows so I could get back to work designing a plan for my next six months of work. Everything there sounds pretty normal except for having someone designated to drive you around at all times, although in New York they just call that a “cab.” So maybe…not that different. After eating lunch at my desk (not different), I went to the US Embassy (different) for a meeting that went on a little too long until I started getting sleepy and my stomach started growling with hunger (not different). I drank a […] Read More