Looking After Your Mental Health Abroad

One thing I can tell you from living in parts of the world that are considered ‘developing’ there are many challenges you don’t have to face in a First World country. All of us expats agree that it’s not for the faint hearted.

mental

Lack of freedom would be the biggest loss you face. Not traveling far when it gets dark. Locking your car doors and not putting your windows down. Security checks for bombs and weapons to get into a mall, mosque, government office. Not to forget getting your bags checked several times a day. It’s a hassle but it’s life here and there are other places that are way more strict than Kenya.

The separation from family is a daily challenge. We’ve got it lucky though because of technology. But when you’re reminded how many birthdays and Christmases you miss, milestones in your grandkids and the fact that they only know you through a computer. It is 8 years since we have had Christmas with our kids. A few years ago we made the decision that 2018 we would get together and after much saving and scrimping, it is only a few weeks away.

christmas

One thing people aren’t aware of is the loneliness that can eat away at you. I’ve got expat friends who move every few years because of their spouses work. It’s hard for them to connect with people as they know they’ll be gone soon. It’s also hard to find info about basic things like where to buy stuff and how the system works here. It’s okay if you’ve got kids and work but what if you’re the trailing spouse?

It’s expensive. There’s the assumption that Africa is cheap to live in. Sure, the local fruit and veges are a good price but pretty much everything is as expensive as in Aussie, but mostly twice the price. For us our funds come from New Zealand and Australia and we lose about one third of our income because of the exchange rate. Some expats who are employed here get bonus packages (housing, travel, insurance etc) which makes it very attractive for them. Not in our case as development workers.

Some companies send out their expats every 3 months on a 6 day paid holiday. We saw that and totally understand why. The pressure of being a foreigner and the daily living conditions put on you a pressure you that you don’t have to face in your home country. A few times a year we try to get out of Nairobi, grab our tent and get among the wildlife. It’s really good therapy.

wild

A really big challenge is not having someone to talk to about the issues you face within your marriage, family or life. A local doesn’t understand what it’s like for foreigners and have those pressures. I’ve come to the thought that the challenges you might have in your home country and you get through them, become really big cracks when you are in a developing country. We’ve had good friends who didn’t really have issues until they went to another culture but through the pressure of having to come up with the finances of putting their kids through international schools (super expensive), trying to set up their work in a place where people didn’t understand English too well and struggling to get an income, was just too much for them. Some returned to their home country pretty quickly, while others separated.

Broken Relationship

Looking after your mental health is really important, anywhere in the world. So, if you’re out on foreign soil for a long time, here’s some of my suggestions to help you last the distance:

 

  • There’s nothing wrong with taking time out! Our Christmas break is actually an investment into our mental health. I’m calling it my mental health break after a really challenging year.

 

  • It’s okay to get out and have some fun every now and then. A missionary over here said to us ‘Don’t let people see you’re out having a coffee or people will think you’re mis-using their donation’. That’s ridiculous! You have to have an out. I go to the movies a few times a year (only $4 here) and Pete indulges in a bought coffee. Anywhere there’s nothing wrong with that. You have to live a real life.

 

  • Enjoy the journey, don’t endure it. You are in a unique part of the world so go and experience the things you can only do there. A few years ago I went white water rafting on the Nile. Who else says they’ve done that? We have got to know some absolutely amazing people that we wouldn’t have if we’d stayed back in Aussie.

 

  • Mostly, remember why you’re here. I say to Pete when he gets over something ‘We chose to live here and have to put up with the crap that comes with it’. Stay focused on why you chose to come here and remember that no one forced you to do it.

 

Have you lived in a developing country before? What we’re some of your challenges?

 

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The Unseen World

The online world of social media is a one sided, glimpse of a moment kind of thing. None of us want to put the real us out there, just the smiley, it’s all awesome picture.

So I thought I’d share what goes on behind the scenes to get what people see about us and the work we do.

 

  1. Motorbike

bike

Actually this was one of the many frustrating moments in Kenya. The mechanic had promised to have our car repaired by the Thursday as we had planned out of town trips to do project work.  And of course, he didn’t deliver on time. In fact, it wasn’t ready to get picked up until the Monday.

Hence, we had to take our motorbike out to Isinya, which is a 90 minute ride. Doesn’t sound like much but the seat is harder than concrete. Mix that with lots of potholes, huge speed humps and crazy drivers. I had to get off twice each way just to stretch my legs and butt. While we are smiling, I never want to get on that bike again – but of course, I’ll have to.

 

  1. Eldoret

build

What people see is the nice finish of the first stage of a block of toilets. What they don’t see is the 4 days of Pete and Lucian trying to communicate with a non-English speaking team led by a guy who didn’t want to build the way we wanted. In fact, the labourers refused to unload a truckload of building material because they didn’t get paid extra. Hello, aren’t you getting paid by the day no matter what you do???

 

  1. Smiling Sharon

fam

I hate being in front of the camera but do so occasionally because we need it for our newsletter. What you don’t see is me with a frozen shoulder which aches 24/7 and especially when I’m trying to sleep, but can’t. Of course, we’ve always got to be smiling! Actually this was on a really bright day and I was dreading jumping on the motorbike for a trip home. We’ve been working non stop for weeks without a break but committed to the weekend of meetings for our friends. I don’t regret it, but knowing we haven’t had a day off for over 2 months is a bit much for my brain.

 

  1. Kids

me

Nothing gets raving reviews like a photo with kiddies. This one was done at a primary school in Kenya. What you don’t see is the little autistic boy in the green sweatshirt who kept running his greasy and dirty hands through my hair. And of course, we were staying at a place where it had a run around shower so couldn’t wash my hair – and I left the dry shampoo at home in Nairobi. He came alive when I brought my phone out, which meant it too was covered in goodness know what.

 

  1. Alice

alice

Here’s a nice photo of Alice, our Kiwi visitor with Scholar and her mum. When people see a photo like this, they usually go ‘oh that’s nice’. What they don’t see is the team walking through a slum area literally over a rubbish heap, with people shouting for the items we’re carrying in bags ‘You should give me the sugar’, going through alleyways not much wider than your body, having to watch you don’t whack your head on a sheet of metal. What you also don’t see is the hours young Scholar has put into preparing a meal for the four of us in her 3 by 3 metre home. Or meeting her mum who is super quiet because she thinks her English isn’t acceptable.

 

  1. Tonya

tonya

Tonya is a doctor who lives in a very remote area of Kenya. We see this awesome photo and go ‘Oh, so cute’. What we don’t understand that Tonya has been awake straight for 38 hours. She doesn’t get a day off unless she is away from the clinic. Her friend Linda who runs in a school in a Masai area, are the only white people in the area. They have lived for 10 years without electricity, running water and some of the most unreliable internet in the country. It is only this year that they had an x-ray machine. We don’t see the hardship, the times they’ve been robbed at gunpoint nor the loneliness that comes with being on the mission field.

 

Every photo has a story, both good and bad. However somehow in our minds we take that moment and don’t realise that there is so much more to the situation. We don’t understand the hours, the sacrifice, the loss, the struggle with mental health, the days when you want to be invisible.

Let’s just be careful to remember there is more to a person than what we see online. They have feelings, bad and awesome days.

 

 

Don’t judge your life by the snapshot, but by the movie.

The Hustle

One thing I’ve learned from my Kenyan friends is how to hustle. Hustling involves trying to make ends meet and bring in extra income. Kenyans are very clever at finding ways to have several small streams of incomes. Some of our friends started out by renting a tuk tuk while at college, then owning one, then renting it out and finally selling it. Other sell rice and soap on the side. One sells sweets and biscuits, while having a part time job and learning to sew so that she can put herself through uni. Another mate when he is driving 8 hours to his village will stop at a bus park and offer a seat at a reduced price, that way his petrol is covered.

tuk

You’ll see very few beggars compared to other countries because people get it that asking for money doesn’t really work – but doing something, even if it’s small, makes a difference. There’s no social welfare here so you work or you don’t eat.

We live on a very small budget. In fact a usual missionary/development worker the average budget is $45,000, we’re on half of that. A huge influence is the exchange rate and over the last year we’ve seen the Aussie and Kiwi dollar go down the toilet. So if there’s anything extra that comes our way, well, we have to trust God to get us through. As things are so expensive here, we make sure we buy items when we travel as they are WAY cheaper overseas. But for dental and optical needs it’s cheaper in Kenya, so we get that done here.

However, it’s not just about praying and hoping, it’s using your brain to see where you can ‘hustle’.

So we started thinking about how could we bring in money when we couldn’t hold down employment in another country. We are now kid free so have two bedrooms and a spare bathroom available. While it can be a hassle having extra people at home, the monetary benefits are worth it – most of the time. We’ve met some great people from lots of countries, with some of them still keeping in touch years later.

air

This has enabled us to pay for extras like car repairs and travel. We have a bunch of supporters from New Zealand and Australia that help us get buy each month but there’s always things we can’t budget for. Our car is a big one because the roads are so rough. Every three years we need to cover our visas to stay in country and you can kiss goodbye $1,500 on that one.

When we head back to New Zealand and Australia (which has been way more often than we ever intended). People often ask Pete to do some painting of their house. He always gives a really cheap rate but the same people also put us up at their house and feed us.  Pete started his handyman business when we lived in Sydney and he is really good at what he does. He won’t compromise on quality and always does his best. It’s helped us to buy tickets home. It will also help us have a family holiday together for the first time in 8 years.

8 years ago there was no son-in-law nor grandkids!

And there’s the occasional time that people give us extra money to hire cars or buy tickets. It doesn’t happen a lot but when it does its mega awesome. When Pete’s dad passed away, it was a couple of people who stepped up and covered both of our flights. Trust me, it was really expensive in January. It’s always very humbling when people partner up with us because we know it’s a huge sacrifice for them. They could be spending it on their own holiday but they give it to us, with no strings attached.

Everything we have in our home is because people have generously donated towards us. From the TV to the beds to the microwave to every other piece of furniture in our house.

The time is coming soon when our car, which is costing us more in repairs than every before, will need replacing. We’re not sure how that will happen and we’re not stressing about it (not right now anyway) but Pete does have his eye on another one.

car.jpg

We’re also working with our team on how our organisation can raise more funds for projects and office costs. So we’ve been all learning how to make such things as hand made soaps, candles and bracelets to possibly sell at markets both here and overseas. It costs around $500 a month just to pay our staff and run the office, so we need to find that extra.

Here’s a couple of questions to ask yourself:

  • What can I do in my situation to bring in a few extra dollars?
  • Can I cut back some areas in my spending?
  • Do I really need those new clothes, shoes, car right now or can I save it and wait?
  • Do I have some painting that Pete can do for me in 2019?

 

 

A Visit to the Nairobi National Park

The Nairobi National Park is one of 54 national parks and game reserves within Kenya.

One of the best things about living in Nairobi is being able to visit the Nairobi National Park to hunt the wild animals with a camera. Its only a 30 minute drive from our place to the park and we often leave at 5.30am. The reason being is that it can take up to half an hour to get through the gate.

buzzard 2

The entry has gone totally cashless so you need to be prepared with either a credit card or Mpesa. For a foreigner it will cost you $43 USD entry, while a local is much cheaper. Be prepared to pay for your car as well.

We always take an esky/chilly bin/cooler box with us so we can snack after a few hours of being on safari. Also remember that there are only a couple of toilet stops within the park but there are toilets at the gate.

ant looking

A bonus of being inside the park is that you don’t have to lock the doors, you can keep the windows down and you don’t even have to wear your seatbelt. The park has speed limits and when you’re looking for animals the slower you go the better. The park is great if you’ve only got a few hours or a whole day to spare.

zebra drinking

These are wild animals. It’s not a zoo so be prepared to have maybe even up to an hour before spotting animals. It seems that you see lots and then nothing for a while. Make sure your radio is off or at least turned down. This is a great opportunity to detach from your phone and social media, breath in the fresh air and take your mind off work.

jackal 6

The Nairobi National Park has a great variety of animals. You’ll see:

  • Hippo
  • Lion
  • Rhino
  • Antelope
  • Crocodile
  • Giraffe
  • Zebra

There’s also a huge variety of bird life to look at. Getting a good photo of them is a real challenge as the small, colorful ones flit around.

lion

Unfortunately last week we didn’t see the rhino that we’ve been following for the past 6 years. I was pretty disappointed, but we had guests with us who had another appointment. If it was just us, we would’ve kept looking for another couple of hours.

If you’re a visitor to the area, seeing the rail going through the park probably won’t shock you. However, if you’re a local, you’ll be horrified with how it has changed things. It’s been a year since we’ve been to the park and we were so shocked at how intruding it is on the wildlife. We could see the real difference human intervention had on the animals. It also threw us off in what direction to go because roads had been changed. We were so disappointed with the Kenyan Government because this was another stupid idea that they could’ve easily been changed.

hippos 5

Be prepared for some really horrendous roads. One would think that keeping the roads in good condition in a national park would make sense – but then lots of things here don’t necessarily make sense. Another reason to go slow.

giraffe 2

While the other parks and reserves are much larger than the one in Nairobi, non are as close or convenient. I highly suggest you come on over and have a look for yourself.

eagle 2Interested in visiting? Drop us a line – thewildcreanberries@gmail.com

 

Cairo in a Day

Recently we had a 15 hour layover in Cairo on our way from Torotnto to Nairobi. I had booked a one way ticket and going via Cairo served a couple of purposes:

 

  1. It was the least amount of stopping.
  2. The baggage allowance was awesome.
  3. Going to Egypt was on my bucket list.

top

 

My grandfather, like thousands of other ANZAC’s spent time in North Africa for training before they were sent on to fight in the Second World War. I remember seeing this old black and white photo with my grandfather standing in front of a pyramid. At that stage I didn’t know that he wasn’t in many photos because he was actually a photographer. I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt and this fueled that desire.

 

It was a bit tricky booking a flight on the Egypt Air website, especially since I found out that Westpac in Australia blocked me from making the booking. Apparently they thought it was fraudulent until I called them about it. One thing I did note is that they didn’t offer a gluten free option.

city

Egypt Air have their own tour company (Karnak). You can choose a variety of ready made tours, or like in our case, they got us into the things we really wanted to see. For $90 USD each they said they would take us on a 9 hour tour of the Sphinx, Giza Pyramid, Museum, boat ride on the Nile and the Mosque. It sounded good, but wasn’t sure how it would work out.

 

What happened is that we waited 90 minutes for a transit visa (free) that was organized on arrival. They told us that they were booking us into a hotel before the tour, which freaked me out because we didn’t have the funds for it. Considering women are pretty invisible there, the nicest customer service guy told me ‘Madam, we have to look after you, you are here for a very long time’. After a 5 minute walk we ended up at the Le Meridien, one of the flashiest hotels I’ve seen for a long time.

us

When we got to our room I kind of wished that we weren’t going on tour. After an overnight flight where we hardly slept, the bed felt so luxurious and clean. But, we didn’t have time to  relax. After a quick shower we headed downstairs to a full on buffet breakfast – all taken care of by the airline. At 10am sharp, our driver picked us up just as we were told.

 

 

I had been forewarned about both the traffic and the dirtiness of Cairo – and it’s true. Both Pete and I agreed that we would never drive there. There’s no lanes, people weave in and out, and pretty much all the cars are dented. I never felt afraid, but I’m glad we were sitting in the back seat – if only my seatbelt worked!. After picking up our tour guide, as you do from the side of the road, we headed towards the pyramids. It was so cool when we approached the area which was full of security. Lots of people were walking in, which would’ve been faster. Unfortunately we didn’t get to touch the pyramids, which you can do. I think it was because there was nowhere for the car to park. Next we saw the sphinx, which was massive. I’m definitely going back there.

sphynx

We also visited a couple of other stores. One was a perfume store where you could buy the real deal (apparently) of lots of oils. We only bought one, 100ml of oil for $50USD. Now, I kick myself as we should’ve bought more. Another reason to return.

 

Like other tour companies, I’m sure the guides get a kickback from sales at places. They insisted on us going to a papyrus picture store. While they paintings were a good price, there wasn’t anything I wanted in my house – which they were disappointed with.

water

The boat ride was so calm that Pete nodded off during it. It was 43 degrees outside which we didn’t mind but the cool breeze off the river was appreciated. There were two more stops on what would only be a 5 hour tour. The first was at the museum. This was where we spent a little bit too much time, but our guide was so knowledgeable on what was in there. You could take some photos but definitely not in the room where King Tut’s coffin was. There’s a new museum being built where a lot of the artifacts would be transferred to which is good because this one was pretty crowded.

The last stop was the mosque. We’ve done a few mosques in the past in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and this was the least glamourous. We did get a fantastic view of the city and when you understand how old the surrounding buildings are, it puts things into perspective. Egypt is 90% Muslim and 10% Christian. According to our tour guide there’s never any problems between the two faith groups. Interesting considering the latest report from Open Doors reports that Egypt is the 17th top country in the world that it is dangerous to be a Christian.

mosque

Once we were dropped off it was time for lunch. Even as it approached 2.30pm they allowed us to have buffet lunch. The great thing about the hotel is that we could check out just before we needed to be at the airport. This meant we could go for a swim if we wanted, or in our case, catch a few hours sleep.

 

The Cairo International Airport is nothing to rave about. Not that we needed food, but there isn’t much to choose from. One thing that does stick out is the smell of cigarette smoke. Sure, there are smoking rooms, but they keep the doors wide open – what’s the point?

 

Pretty much, that was our day in Cairo. I’d definitely go back again but travel down to Luxor or Alexandria. Our Egypt Air plane stayed in the sky, so that’s always good. Their service was great, the Cairo airport crappy but I’d do it all again.

me

What about you, what are your experiences with Egypt Air?

 

 

What a Year

It’s been an interesting year in Kenya that’s for sure. It’s never dull and boring here anyway but this was a year we were all dreading in a way. Pretty much business went downhill, people weren’t paying their bills and no roadwork got done. Usually in an election year there’s plenty of roadworks going on to convince people that a party is worth voting for.

 

That meant our roads were in the worse state possible for a whole year. Last year we spent $3,000 on repairs and tyres alone. In one day two new tyres burst just coming back from the airport.

 

Earlier in the year I spent a few weeks in New Zealand with our daughter’s little family. Poor Pete had to stay behind and in the end I only spent 3 days without meetings. Not exactly great family time. It would be nice to actually go somewhere for an actual holiday and not have to mix meetings with it.

 

Before we came to Kenya I thought our travel days were over. What a joke, we’ve traveled more than ever before. In fact, sometimes I wonder if people think all we do is travel. But, if we’re not out there fundraising, then pretty much no money comes in for projects. Hence, we took a 6 week trip to the US. It’s an emerging market but will probably be at least a couple of years before we start making any money there.

 

We stayed in country for the 2017 Elections just in case it all went down the toilet. We ended up with another family staying with us who felt unsafe in the Kibera Slum. While it wasn’t as bad as in previous elections, there were still plenty of people rioting and burning buildings. One of our team told us how her neighbor was killed simply because her kids were hungry so she went to the market and was shot in the crossfire. After all that, they reheld the elections which didn’t change anything. Lots of money spent, lives lost and a low economy.

 

Our beautiful grandson was born in October and this time I was smart. I traveled to Australia for 10 days of fundraising and did nothing but be a grandmother in NZ. This time we all went. Pete worked for a good six weeks painting my cousins house but at least he got to see his family too.

 

Our biggest shock of the year was to find out that our daughter Liz was told she had to return to Australia or New Zealand to keep her Disability Pension. We were all so stunned because for the past 5 years we’ve had no problems and had no indication things were about to change. Thankfully my sister who lives in New Zealand was able to take her in but it’s not really the solution. For most people it’s a chance to ‘grow up’ by being thrown in the deep end. However, for someone with a mental disability they cope but don’t have the ability to grow. Thankfully we will see her in March when we go over.

 

So it’s a terribly quiet Christmas for us. We had all these grand plans to drive down to Tanzania as a family and then go on to Zanzibar. Without Liz though we threw that idea out of the window. Pretty much all of Nairobi empties out and it becomes a ghost town for a few days. Boring would be an understatement to describe Nairobi over this time. Thankfully we’ve been rescued by our friend Lucy who is like our daughter, who invited us to her university graduation celebration on Christmas Day.

 

2017 has been a full on year. While most people when they retire want to travel, I dream of staying at home! 2018 doesn’t look like things are going to slow down but at least I can’t complain that I’m bored!

I’ve a Split Personality

I’ve been away from our African home for 3 weeks now and I’ve suddenly realized that I’ve got what used to be called a split personality, now it’s known as having a Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Here’s one definition:

‘dissociative identity disorder is a severe form of dissociation, a mental process which produces a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of identity’ (webmd.com)

Most of us turn towards Hollywood on this issue where we see someone suddenly transform into a totally different person and go ‘Oh, they have a split personality’.

Why on Earth would I confess to this?

It’s quite easy really. I was in the car with Pete and we agreed that we felt like fish out of water in a country that we call our ‘other home’. Sure, we hold an NZ passport but it doesn’t make us Kiwis. We are a mixed breed – born in New Zealand, spent a good number of years in Australia but Kenya feels more home than any other place.

tea 2

This does not taste like Kenyan tea.

We literally have to speak a different language, dress differently and act differently. I still get shocked that there is no place in cafes to wash your hands before you eat. It rains here A LOT and it’s the coldest we’ve been in a long time. Temperature wise it’s not that cold but it’s a chill that goes to the bones.

It’s almost like we have to put away our ‘Africa lifestyle’ and pretend that we belong here.

But there’s this tugging of a war inside of me. I’ve adapted and become someone else who doesn’t fit in here, I’m just pretending. I feel like the real me is waiting back in Nairobi.

It’s not that I’m not making the most of it, it just feels weird. I’m loving time with family and the food here is phenomenal, there’s no doubt about that. When I’m skyping my team back home I can slide back into my comfort zone. Even after a few weeks of being away, I feel like there’s a strong pull to East Africa while here I am not connected to much Kiwiana at all.

So what’s the answer?

I think I will embrace my very different ‘mes’, while I’m full on Kiwi on the outside, on the inside I’m very Kenyan. I’ll keep speaking English out loud and Swahili in my head. I’ll use knife and fork with my chicken here but gladly use fingers in Kenya.  I’ll get to understand how this new country of mine (for 2 months) works and then miss the simplicity of it when I return home.

sevens

And yes, the Kenyans beat the Kiwis in the sevens.

When you see me, feel free to say ‘habari za asubuhi’ (good morning) and you will make my day, but I warn you, my Kenyan side might come out in full swing!