It’s still sinking in that we do, indeed live on the continent of AFRICA, in the country of TANZANIA, just outside the city of DAR ES SALAAM. To be honest, it really doesn’t feel like I would have imagined living in Africa would feel like. I believe there are a few reasons for this odd disconnect between perception and reality.
The Internet. We’ve had pretty regular connection with folks back home thanks to the worldwide web. I’ve iMessaged and Tweeted at my brother-in-law just about as much as I did back in the States. It leaves me to wonder how folks did this sort of thing back 10, 20, or 50 years ago. Having no, very little, or “snail-mail” contact with friends and family would have made this transition much, much more difficult.
The Community. Depending on which reputable journal you Google, Dar es Salaam is regularly on the Top 10 Lists of “Fastest Growing Global Cities.” We live in the suburbs and while there are obvious, real differences to our suburban life in the States, it’s not desolate, it’s not remote, creature comforts can be found and had. As well, the city is really a global city. There are places I’ve gone and been the only Caucasian; there are other places where you can hear most of the world’s largest languages in one sitting; still other places look, feel, and sound just like back home. We’ve gotten to know several other Americans that are at or around HOPAC. The real danger is, in our opinion, living in Africa without actually living in Africa. We could live here and never really experience or be apart of the real life that happens around us. It is very possible and very easy to miss a huge cultural experience. But being and feeling like you're part of a larger group of expatriates and not the only one brings a certain comfort. And it also makes me wonder how all these other people ended up here!
The Distance. It is just absolutely impossible to wrap your mind around just how far away we are from where we used to be. Look at a world map. Find Dar es Salaam. Yeah, that’s a looooong ways from home! But that spatial distance is just impossible to compute mentally. And couple this with a reasonably developed city and the Internet, and at times, it feels like another state, not another continent.
The Trip. My trip here over Spring Break, I believe, paid HUGE dividends as far as getting adjusted and feeling comfortable quickly. I already had most of the quirks of the house down pat (a MAJOR THANK-YOU to Gil and Amy!), several significant landmarks (grocery stores, gas station, etc.), and just on-the-ground knowledge of the area. It made everything just so much less stressful. It greatly lessened fears, stresses, and that initial culture shock.
The Peace. Things in Africa certainly are different! There is adjustment, there is uncomfortableness, there is still anxiety. But there is also peace, a comfort, a relaxation in knowing we’re doing God’s will. We’re just where we’re supposed to be. And it is a mind-boggling distance from where we were. So far away, yet so close.