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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Church in Kenya

There seems to be a church one every corner here in Nairobi. They go from a little tin shack to the huge 5,000 seat auditorium. Some are in huge marquees, others in buildings without windows to the tabernacles that you can see from miles away. There’s some that have short names, others like ‘The Church of the Deliverance of the Holy Ghost in XYZ’. I kid you not.

Worship at Frontrunnerz

Labels and titles are so over rated here. If you’re a ‘bishop’ you almost have to treat them like a king. A Deacon is a church leader and not someone who helps physically set up the service. On the other hand you will see people in top jobs who are happy to be in the car park making sure everyone gets in. Only a few have services online but one thing they all have in common is that they like their music loud.

Dance Moves

The thing that Kenyans know how to do is praise and pray. Some church services go for 3 hours, then they have other programs in the afternoon. As far as I know there are no night services in Nairobi. Probably because people have been in church all day, but also it’s a security risk getting home when it is dark (around 6.45pm).

We decided before we came that we would got to the International Christian Centre (ICC) where I visited in 2007. One mistake people make when moving to a new place is to try every church out in town for one that suits them. Sometimes you just have to make a decision and stick with it. It’s and English speaking church with mostly Kenyans in it. Some songs are in Swahili so it’s good practise to figure out what is being sung.

Pete, Liz and I go to the 10.30am service which is aimed at young professionals, it’s called Frontrunnerz and led by Pastor Gibson (meet him below). They have 2 services in the morning, with about 600 going to the second service. They do have a Saturday night service but we work most weekends so it’s not always easy to get there.

Meet Gibson

Some people might say it’s a happy clappy church. I figure it’s much better than attending a service that is like a funeral. Sure, there’s time for reflection and quietness, I’m all into that but sometimes it’s just great to enjoy the good things that God has done. Here in Kenya things like getting a job, being able to study, making safely through the week or having food on the table is something to get super happy about.

Not a funeral service

We’ve been to some African churches where they get so excited they lift up the plastic chairs and do a dance with it. There’s been some where all the women get up and do a special dance (a good opportunity to hide behind a camera). I’ve been in ones where Pete gets to sit up the front and me way back (being just a woman of course!).

Dancing up the aisle

What I love about Frontrunnerz and ICC is that they present a relevant message in a relevant way. Sure, it’s not perfect but neither are we!!

It wasn’t our goal to come to Kenya to start a church but it is part of our DNA to be a part of a local church. We’ve all heard how no person is an island but it’s so easy to do. It’s easy to look at ‘The Church’ and point the finger, look at all the deficiencies and things that are done wrong and decide not to be a part of it. That’s the thing though, no one nor any organisation is perfect. We’re a work in progress.

Everyone getting into it

I remember Pastor Simon McIntyre who was with us when we were at C3 Oxford Falls (Sydney) saying ‘This church might not suit you, but there is a church for you, a church for everyone’.

If we stopped complaining about ‘The Church’ and decided to be a part of it, we would see some of the great things that are happening. We would meet some different people, some who would drive us up the wall. We would be challenged to get out of our comfort zones. We might even find a place we can call home and a family that accepts us, warts and all.

Worship at Frontrunnerz