It’s been awhile since I’ve sat down and poured my thoughts onto the keyboard. With Canadian Expat Dad now on his way back to Congo, I find myself sitting here in France, sipping my morning coffee, and suddenly frantically trying to savour the last little bit of summer and our time here in the beautiful land of wine and cheese.
A Recap of Summer:
I will be the first to admit that I may have underestimated the travel from The Republic of Congo to Calgary, Canada. I have travelled internationally with my kids since they were tiny babies, and usually I do it alone. It’s not that my husband doesn’t travel with us; it’s just that I try to get a bit more time in with family back home, so I always leave a little earlier and stay a little later.
My husband says I have traveller’s amnesia because last year, when the girls were two and four years old, I flew by myself with them from Indonesia to Calgary with a stop in France. The flights weren’t as bad as getting the girls adjusted to a fifteen hour time change. The lack of sleep nearly killed me. I swore it was the last time I did it alone….Until a year later when I forgot about the lack of sleep. I thought it wouldn’t be so bad because the girls were a bit older, so I packed us up and we headed to Canada early. That eight hour flight out of Africa to get to Paris is overnight and we generally arrive in Europe feeling like we’ve been hit by a bus. This time was no different. Except that instead of almost being home in France, we weren’t even half way through our journey.
We pushed on and marched through another flight to Amsterdam and then another (technically) overnight flight to Canada(because it was night in Canada, where we were headed.) The eight hour time change was manageable but the tummy bug I picked up somewhere along the way was not! You’d think I’d catch a stomach virus in Africa, but I got mine on arrival in Canada. It was a rough one and when I finally went to the doctor, the shock on their faces, paired with a shifty eyed glances when I said we lived in Congo, had me momentarily concerned I would be put in quarantine. Two weeks later, I was cured and at least one dress size smaller. #silverlining
The clichés are true! People often joke about stereotypes of different countries and cultures. I’m here to say that although it may be exaggerated, generally, they tend to hold some truth.The contrast was so great coming from Congo, that for the first time I saw ‘my people’ the way the we’re spoken of: hyper-friendly, overly polite, always smiling, speaking very excitedly, with perfectly straight and extremely white teeth. Women’s eyebrow game was on point and every other guy I passed on the street looked like he spent his lunch hour in the gym or doing crossfit…likely because he had. Now, my sample size may have been skewed because I was downtown Calgary, but that was the population I had before me.
The day after I landed I met my girlfriends downtown for dinner and I felt like I was in New York City. I wore heels without worrying about sinking in the sand or potholes. I didn’t have to wear any Deet or be concerned about Malaria. Everything was SO new and modern.
I was overstimulated. I felt like I had landed on a new planet. I was experiencing a full blown case of reverse culture shock.
Africa really did feel like a world away. Suddenly I appreciated every little thing. I was Canadian, but part of me felt like such a foreigner. People had NO IDEA how lucky they were. I couldn’t help noting the extreme difference everywhere I went. I’ve always known we were blessed with a beautiful country in Canada, but now I was noticing everything: the postal system, the sidewalks, the selection and low cost in the grocery stores, the traffic lights, crosswalks, non-corrupt police, paved roads, the orderliness about everything, the lack of garbage, the big sky. Things that were completely normal, I was now seeing as gifts that were no longer taken for granted.
Three weeks later when I arrived in France the shock of life in the first world was starting to wear off. I somehow went from appreciating the fact that there was a stop light, to being slightly irritated that it was taking so long to turn green, just like everybody else who was tapping their steering wheel while waiting for the light to change. It was like I had never left. Funny how quickly I had slid right back in to first world problems.
The France portion of our vacation was mainly consumed by enjoying all the things we love here: bread, cheese, wine and simply wandering the cobblestone. We got out into nature a bit.Top that all off with having a pool in the backyard and we were pretty much in full relaxation mode.
As you may have gathered from my above reflecting, there was a lot of ‘noticing’ going on this summer. Canadian Expat Dad went back to Congo today and as we were packing his suitcases with ‘supplies’ last night, nobody needed to discuss the mood in the house. It hung heavy in the air.
On the bright side. There’s been some take away from all this thinking. We’ve decided this will very likely be our last year in Congo. Life is short. We’ve learned a lot by seeing that part of the world, but there is a very big difference between visiting somewhere and living there.
Last year I asked an American friend who loves living in Congo, what exactly she loves about it, and her reply was that it’s sorta like ‘The Wild West’. And that suddenly made things clear for me. We’re more drawn to apéro in European squares than gun-slinging on dusty roads. Different strokes for different folks.
Going back now seems a bit easier knowing that we’re on the home stretch. It’s time to appreciate; not take for granted how much we have. Help those we can while we’re there. Enjoy having so much family time together. Volunteer at my kid’s school. Soak up the heat while living a stone’s throw away from the equator. Write. Exercise. Savour the fact that one of my biggest problems is that I don’t have a lot to do, because I know it won’t always be that way. A year goes by quickly and a then new chapter will begin.
So, in a strange turn of events, in some ways I’m actually excited to head to Congo and get the ball rolling. I’m looking forward to finding out how the upcoming year will unfold for us.
Only time will tell. Until then, I’ve got one more week of fabulous summer in the South of France and there’s a bottle of rosé calling my name.