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.)