It’s been nearly a week. Excited countdowns like, “wow, next Tuesday we’ll be in Luanda!!!” have turned into wistful, “ohhh…. remember a week ago, we were in New Orleans at M’s beautiful little sanctuary?”

My God. What a world of difference. I imagine this will be an informative post for aspiring FSOs to read. I wish I could have read something like what I’m about to write last year around this time when we were beginning this journey. I am so painfully naive.

When our social sponsors told us that we should lower any expectation we may be coming in with, my radar should have let off a beep. Perhaps when they told us to prepare ourselves for a VERY hard life, that should’ve been the warning. I kept thinking, sure, I get it, it’s Africa, not America. I don’t expect a coffee shop on ANY corner or a Trader Joe’s in the burbs. I didn’t expect much of anything actually. I knew things would be very expensive (besides fresh fruit, veg, and dairy, the food prices seem comparable to DC, NYC, Paris). I knew the housing was not very nice. I suppose what disappoints me the most is my lack of imagination, that things really could be this “challenging”.

I should start by saying that I have been informed that I am not allowed to take any pictures. I’ve been told it’s for my own safety (getting jumped for my camera, a very real threat) and also that the local government frowns on it and have been known to confiscate cameras if the mood should strike.  When we go on outings, I am allowed to snap photos inconspicuously from behind the tinted windows of the motorpool van.

We are in temporary housing. I’d happily take pictures of our place, but it’s absolutely nothing to look at. Similar in many ways to a motel 6. Tile linoleum floors, the infamous FS furniture, a mind boggling amount of boxy pine book cases, tables, dressers and armoires, generic African prints of various safari animals. If I didn’t so highly value the few lamps and their kind, diffuse lighting I’d comment about their aesthetic, shades still wrapped in crinkly plastic. As it is, they are such welcome pieces when considering the alternative, the single naked lightbulb which dangles from a long wire in the center of each room. The layout is long and thin, like a trailer. Each room has a window which is covered by one of two window treatments: filthy powder blue mini blinds or a sheet tacked over (acting as a “sheer”?) then long brown drapes. Open any window to reveal a grimy glass pane with burglar bars attached, then about 3-10 feet of “wide open space” to a 10 foot cement wall adorned with razor wire. Needless to say it’s dark in here. The paved in “yard” is actually the embassy’s motorpool lounge, so 3-7 guys are out there all day and night, washing cars and carrying on.

And what a complete jackass I am. These quarters have running water (through the walls even, when it rains), air conditioning (it’s been in the 90s and very humid) and electricity  (we were only without power 4-5 times yesterday until the generator kicked on, lending power to the half of our house which did not, sadly, include our fridge…). And look! I try to be all full of gratitude for what we are so generously given, and I can’t even do it without sounding like an ingrate. This makes me so angry with myself, on top of everything else.  I am so sorry, my fellow Americans.

People here (appx 6-8 million of them) live in COMPLETE squalor. It’s no wonder I’m pushing the upper bracket of their life-expectancy. The shanty towns on the perimeter of downtown stretch on further than the eye can see. The royalties from the booming oil and diamond industry don’t seem to trickle down to social programs (a republican’s dream!!) or infrastructure that I can see. We were out of town Saturday afternoon to visit the Slave Museum, it rained and washed most of the roads out.

Our “permanent” housing isn’t ready yet. We were supposed to visit this past weekend but according to our facilities guy, “it’s pretty torn up”. They told us it’d be ready in around a week or so, just requiring a fresh coat of paint and some patches to the screens. I suspect we’ll be moving in 2-3 months. On a positive note, at least we won’t have much to move since our things aren’t expected for another 6 months from now. (Right around the time I arrive with a newborn.) The guy who was living in the house before cut his tour in Luanda short preferring instead to sign on for a year long hardship tour in Iraq. He’d prefer a summer in Baghdad to living here for another year. Wow. That give you a little perspective? Did me.

okay…. Positive stuff:  (fake it til you make it? I can do this!)

1. The swimming pool at the embassy.

2. We found decent lettuce (!!) at the market. I still need to soak it in bleach before eating it, but we were led to believe that it wasn’t available here for less than the price of our first born.

3. Dogs are happy and healthy. Lazy as ever but clearly very adaptable, surviving the 20+ hour journey from Houston. (would only have been 16 hours in crates but a mechanical failure while taxiing down the runway forced us back to the terminal to deplane and wait for a replacement 747.) Walking them is pretty much okay, though today I did run into a formidable pack of 6-7 scurvy street dogs. We were luckily separated by a lane of traffic. Got my heart racing, but I guess that’s good, considering there’s no where to exercise. (arg! negative again…)

3. Snakes enjoys the job so far at the embassy. He is in his obligatory consular rotation, processing visas and helping oil workers (and other Americans, of course) out of jams. He’s a little anxious, but nothing out of the ordinary. New job jitters.

4. His colleagues. Everyone we’ve met so far has been really lovely. Incredibly helpful, welcoming and kind. Invitations to do things all the time. It’s a very generous and warm group. I am hoping their positive attitudes rub off on me.

It takes a special sort of person to make it through a post like this in one piece.  I only hope I’ve got what it takes.


24 thoughts on “here.

  1. Welcome to Africa! Deep breath. One day at a time. You will find your rhythm and things will fall into place. You may learn to love your new location. And you may not – that’s ok, too. We are looking forward to hearing more about your insights and adventures! Do take care and enjoy all the little blessings that come your way.

    1. the biggest blessing kicking away at my belly! The dust will settle and I’ll be fine I’m sure! Just writing this was a catharsis. So thankful for this blogging community.

  2. Eve! You are an amazingly strong adaptable woman! If ANYONE can make it through this, YOU can!! I’m sure it is quite a shock all around right now but knowing you, you will grow to love and embrace Africa! The positives will begin to outweigh the negatives for you. Just give it time 🙂 Thinking of you and David.

  3. I know you are going to adapt just fine. Try to stay positive and once you are in your permanent place, you will make it a very comfortable home for all of you. Please let me know when you have a physical address so that we can send something.

    Thinking and praying for you every day!

    Tania, Matt, Darius & Frances :o)

  4. i read over this one twice and spent a bit of time reading up on angola. i’ve also been reading julia child’s my life in france. it’s sounding like your experience might be a little different from her and paul’s. i know you to be a strong person, and you will be fine. sure tough times will abound, but i know you will come out stronger in the end. and just think of the stories you will be able to tell for the rest of your life. you will be an even bigger life of the party. looking forward to more posts.

  5. It’s great to see you back at the blog! Have been thinking of you and Snakes every single minute. Your health and that of the baby is my biggest concern. Don’t know about that disinfected lettuce…Love the quaint custom of saving the lamp shades in their crinkly.The look has a certain j’en sais pas! Be careful walking those dogs. I hope they are very prtective of you. They’re both such cupcakes; I find myself wishing for vicious.Nice views from your pied~a~terre! And safari pics,oh my! Leave me not go on. Recent email says it all! LYTP mommie

  6. I’m sorry things are off to a rough start… =/ At least you have a few months in South Africa to look forward to, right? Not that that’s much consolation right now, I’m sure…

  7. Hang in there! The thing about moving is that no matter how prepared you think you are, it’s always challenging in a way you don’t expect. I’m sure you’ll figure out how to make the best of it! And I agree with the comment above … you don’t actually have to *like* where you’re posted. You can still meet great friends and have fun.

    Take a big stick (or a rock) along when you walk the dogs, just in case.

  8. So glad to hear you all made it safe and sound! It sounds like you all have a good set of colleagues there. I hope these will be friendships that will last a life time. I’m really glad you have an Internet connection, so maybe you won’t feel so far away from home. We’re sending love and positive thoughts from Arlington!

  9. Oh Eve, I have been at the edge of my seat waiting for this post!!! The adjustments sound big, and I know you will find a way to make your space special. I’m glad to hear that your FSO community sounds so welcoming, I’m sure you’ll all come up with some creative activities to keep smiles on your faces. Now, if I remember correctly your nearing your last trimester, right? Time may seem like it’s standing still now but trust me, suddenly you’ll be holding that beautiful little bundle of joy in your arms. So don’t fret my friend because once your baby does come there will be nothing more that you’ll want to do but gaze longingly into the eyes of your little newborn. Then the whole following year will be filled with days spent cuddling, napping, cooing and playing and not much desire to leave the confines of your blissful baby bubble! Ohhhhh and TRUST ME you will be taking photos daily!!!!!!
    Lots of Love to you, baby, Snakes and those cuddly hams you have as dogs.
    PS. any word on the gender of that sweet little baby in your belly?

    1. OMG!!! you must have missed it, I posted on facebook weeks ago! I guess I just overlooked putting it here too (next post…) oops.
      It’s a baby girl causing such a gymnastic ruckus in my belly! 22 weeks now. Just had a check up in the embassy med unit, all is well.
      BTW- I posted on “fall off point”! step up to the plate birthday girl. Let’s get back on this thing. Love you to pieces! Or as my mom always says (her personal computer abbreviation…)LYTP!

  10. didn’t realize you were there already! just hang in there, one day at a time. Africa is a shock at first, no doubt about it, but I really think it will grow on you. Will be thinking of you. take care of you and baby.

  11. Oh girl. I think this has already been pointed out, but the silver-ish lining is that you’re going to be so occupied and busy with your baby girl that most activities you would miss otherwise won’t even cross your mind. I wouldn’t go so far as to say you should be grateful for such a difficult post while you’re homebound with a little one, but at least you aren’t in Paris thinking “I really should be getting out to the Louvre daily, but I’m a zombie who hasn’t slept in 3 months and can’t find the energy to get out of this spit up covered track suit.” (At least that’s me, I’m sure you’ll manage to be a much more glamorous and put together mommy!) Then the two years will pass and you will have earned the cushy post you’ll undoubtedly get next and Eve Jr. will be so much fun by that time, ready for bike rides around Amsterdam or beach excursions in Lisbon!

    In the meantime, what can we do for you? Anything you’ve been craving that you absolutely can not find for love or money? Also, I’m making a little baby gift, how does one go about sending you things?

    1. Wow. Thanks for that vote of elegance and glamour. If only you could see me now… if it weren’t for walking the dogs, I’d have no reason to get out of my jams. You are so extra thoughtful! I wish you could ship me a thick and creamy milk shake with hot fudge swirled around the inside of the glass. (Black & White from the Good stuff eatery on Penn, blocks from our old place) Thank you for the offer, but I think we’re covered. Just waiting for the ice cream machine to arrive. I will send a FB message with our pouch address. Thank you so much Sarah!!! BTW, Btw your recent etsy postings are making me wonder if I could dress this little girl in some plaid blazers and sailor suits…. You find the best stuff.

      1. Just wanted to add that I am really grateful that we’ve had our “stuck in the house can’t walk down the street” post now when our kids were small. It’s not like we could go a zillion places anyway. So I don’t feel like we’re missing a ton. Still cheering for you!

  12. 1. It’s ok to complain and be realistic. I’ve found if I do so with my closest of friends or spouse it is best.

    2. Just think of the poor people who get New Zealand or London as their first tour. Seriously. Not only will you likely have your relationships strengthened by the adversity you face, but you will be amazed at how nice future posts are.

    3. The best part is that you’ve got your husband, and soon will have a daughter! Revert to that fact on the worst of days. And don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself being negative at times and you were generally a positive person.

    Good luck, will look forward to reading more about your adventure!

    1. brian- 2. is a topic that resurfaces frequently among the embassy crowd. After this, seriously, ANYTHING will be a breeze. A veteran specialist told me last night that of his 8+tours, this is the worst he’s ever seen. Housing, quality of life, furnishings etc. I guess that made me feel a little better. Like I’m not a princess complainer after all.
      Thanks for checking in, hope you and your family are thriving in Quito!

  13. While I’m pretty sure Chengdu would feel like Paris compared to Luanda, I know what you mean about not being able to internalize exactly what “challenging” means until you are actually there. I’m a firm believer that spouses always end up experiencing “more” of any post because they are usually the ones actually out tackling the market, dealing with maintenance people, interacting with the local community on their own turf, finding out where the heck to buy fill-in-the-blank. Remember to give yourself credit for the little victories and, like other people have said, you don’t have to like a place to find things to like about it. In fact, for me, accepting that I really don’t like China weirdly freed me up to actually enjoy and focus on the little things I do like about our lives here. Stay strong! You sound like you are proverbially kicking a** given the circumstances!

  14. This is an amazing post. I am a bit giddy at anticipation at getting to post and have to stop and remind myself to get expectations under wraps. I keep telling myself that I can handle it because I grew up overseas but Seoul does not equal Guyana (in anyway shape or form.) Thanks for the reality check and congrats on the baby girl coming!

  15. Eve –

    Oh! You can do this girl! I suspect that you are made of pretty strong stuff and that you guys will thrive. Keep on blogging and take care!


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