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What do you dream about when you’re far from home?
After volunteering for two years in Togo, I was ready to come home. Yet as my departure approached, the anxieties set in – with whom would I practice my French? Where would I eat plantains with rice and peanut sauce? Who would express as much excitement about my daily front door exit as the Togolese children?
I had no desire to extend my time, but the thought of malls, Fox News and the job search almost made me want to run screaming back to village.
Then I arrived and rediscovered some of the joys that I’ll probably start taking for granted in two months. But for now, I’ll continue reveling in:
At home, there’s cheese on everything! Cheesy fries, extra cheese on pizza and a Parmesan shaker on the table, cheese fondue, free cheese at art openings, cheese enchiladas – how I missed you, cheese.
And while I’m on the topic of food, let’s talk about fruit. Apples are available for sale in the streets of big West African cities, but one costs the same price as two hard-boiled eggs or four small bags of plantain chips. I’ll sorely miss the mangos and pineapples of West Africa, but try finding fresh berries or peaches at an open-air market in Togo.
Togo’s hot season, rainy season, and the windy season, called harmattan, are not the same as the standard winter, spring, summer, fall cycle. I usually run from cold weather, but now that I’ve experienced heat rash and hot season,
I’m ready to watch the leaves change, snuggle under a down comforter, don a scarf and make a snowman. Or at least watch the snow fall while drinking hot tea inside a heated house.
Living near the equator means nightfall comes around 6 PM all year long. Sure, the day isn’t really longer at home, but when the sun sets at 9, it feels like I just got a gift certificate for extra hours. I’ll use my extra hours to go for an after-dinner walk, or read at an outdoor café until I have to start squinting around 8:45.
After two years of bathing from buckets and cold showers, I get excited every time it’s shower time. In Africa, I planned to save water when I returned by keeping my showers short, but my deep appreciation for hot water constantly flowing from the shower head has made this challenging.
Is there more waste in running the water or turning it on and off between shampooing and conditioning? Until I know for certain, I’ll have to let the hot water run.
Great for running to when the cheese, fresh berries and Wendy’s Frosty with fries give you digestion difficulties. In Togo, you can go just about anywhere if nature’s call is too loud and you’re not shy. If you’re well-prepared, you’ll have remembered to pack your paper handkerchiefs (for sale almost everywhere for about 20 cents).
Not so in the States. I haven’t tried it, but I think dropping my pants in the park or in an alley would get me arrested. But losing the freedom to go outside has been replaced with the knowledge that no matter where I am – on a road trip, in the park, at the store – a toilet is nearby. A flush toilet with toilet paper, a sink and paper towels or a hand drier. But I’ll take my paper handkerchiefs, just in case.
Expat life is a complicated mixture of emotions and experiences. Check out some of the the little things that make it worthwhile and read up on the expat conundrum and expat/tourist relationships.