Let me be honest: after the initial adreneline of arriving wore off, life here got tough. For a while I was beating myself up about that. I’ve lived in Africa before. I’ve worked demanding jobs before. What’s the big deal? Why should it feel more difficult this time?

Here’s why it’s more difficult. As a fellow Benin transplant wisely pointed out to me, I’ve never made so many changes simultaneously. Sure, I’ve changed jobs, but when I did that I had the stability of living in the same city and same apartment. Sure, I moved to new apartments, but I had the stability of having the same job in the same city. Sure, I traveled to Africa, but I had the stability of being comfortable in my role as a student.

Here, everything is new. The job is new. The coworkers and bosses are new. Being a boss myself is new. The city is new. The culture is new. The language is new. The house is new. Plus, being a parent is still pretty new too. And those are the big things. There are so many little ones, too. Like, where do you keep your cell phone and blackberry at the end of the day when your house is big enough that you won’t necessarily hear when they ring? Seriously, I can’t tell you how stressful it’s been to keep constant track of those things so as not to miss some crucial call.

I consider myself a fairly flexible person, but, like anyone, I get a sense of security from routines, and I’m having to recalibrate all of mine all at once. It’s tiring. And hard.

But one thing that’s made it a bit easier is hearing that what I’m experiencing is normal. In addition to that very helpful conversation, I reached out to some of my A-100 colleages who’ve spent more time at post than I have. I asked if they felt similarly overwhelmed in the beginning. The responses I got went along these lines: “You’re worried because it’s hard three weeks in? Ha! That’s funny. Listen, it takes at least three months to even start to feel settled, and a full six months before you kind of know what you’re doing.”

I also found myself thinking back to this handy diagram that’s been circulating the Foreign Service blogosphere for a while:

I think I’m probably on the upward swing to adaptation. Still, I would like to add a little footnote to this graph for those of us in the malaria belt. If the low period is especially low (and accompanied by sleeplessness, anxiety, etc.) then it might not just be the usual hiccups; it might also be partly chemical.

I started out on Mefloquine (aka larium) because it’s the only type of malaria meds State will pay for; however, it’s also known to make some people all kinds of crazy. Thankfully someone gave me the wise idea of switching to another. I did, and felt leaps and bounds better almost immediately. (We’ll see how I feel when I see my next bank statement, though. Yikes — that stuff is pricey.)

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6 Responses to recalibrating

  1. Linda says:

    You’ll do great Alex…..just give it time.

  2. Kate says:

    I have nothing terribly useful to say, save that I have solved the Blackberry problem.

    Our (new!) dog has a crazy hunting instinct, and he can’t figure out my work BB at all. I put it on vibrate on the table, and if it buzzes, he barks madly at it to make it stop.

    Instant BB alarm!

  3. caitlin says:

    All I can say when I read your most recent posts is: ME TOOOOOO!!!! I arrived at my first post exactly one month ago and feel exactly the same way you two do about language, job, adaptation, culture shock, excitement – everything. Such a relief to read your words here. We’ll all get through it!

  4. Tiffany B. says:

    Hi! I have only recently been following your posts, with pleasure! My husband is currently in the very beginnings of this process (we’re still waiting for my medical clearance and his security clearance). Side note: Interesting how “the very beginnings” actually began last December! Anyway, I’ve been following several blogs and one question that we’ve been wondering is about the “beautiful” furniture they supply you with. We are looking to replace a lot of our own furniture but hesitate to at the moment, in case we get The Call/Email from the DOS. Example: We want to replace our couch, coffee table, and entire bedroom suite. What pieces of furniture does the DOS supply you with? I would really appreciate any input you have on this measly subject, whenever you happen to find the time. Thank you and I look forward to your next blog post!

  5. eve says:

    been thinking about you a lot lately. So glad to read this and hear you’re starting to feel a little better. I hope that chemical switcheroo is all it is going to take. You make such a great point with the “EVERYTHING is new” bit. I find myself relying so heavily on the stability and strength of my marriage in those moments- Thank god you have that!! You, in particular, went through such an incredible amount of change and loss not so long ago. Take it easy on yourself. Try to relax (as much as new mommies can) and get in a little “me time”. I may still send you an email when things settle down (or…do they??) on my brand new mommy front. Know that I’m sending you good vibes from SA, wish we could get together for a glass of wine in CapeTown… Take good care of yourself, lady!

  6. Traci says:

    I hope things are on the upswing now – my heart goes out to you. Any one of the things you’ve done is overwhelming, and doing them all at the same time – it’s hard to imagine. I moved to a first world country (without a new baby) where everything is available and everyone speaks English, and it was still a little hard to adjust. Had a couple of crying bouts in my office before I reset and the world started looking sunny again. What you’re doing is so much harder, it will take some time. Hang on!!

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