I frequent a cafe on a quiet, busy street. That seems to be an oxymoron, but if you were here, you would understand. Cars and people are constantly coming and going, and yet the street is small and stays peaceful. This particular street has it’s own ecosystem of sorts- a bazar, shopping center, restaurants and lots of apartments. It’s the kind of street where you can expect to see the same people doing the same thing everyday. The same people pass by the cafe window, and the same patrons come everyday at the same time.
Most days, interesting things do not happen here but every once in a while, something unexpected or at least interesting may pass by. Today a little girl dressed in WWII garb (with the addition of bows in her pigtails) walked holding the arm of her mother. She couldn’t hold her hand because her mother was carrying a tiny cage, just big enough for the guinea pig that it carried. I have seen all kinds of pets here, but that was the first guinea pig.
I am still waiting for something extraordinary to pass by my cafe window, but until then, I will enjoy the quiet busyness that I can observe.
Lesson Learned: Find a familiar place, sit a while and see what there is to see.
Around the world, a lot of expats (people who live outside their native country) live in a wide variety of countries and cultures for a wide variety of reasons. If you have a loved one who is living abroad, here are some communication tips.
- Tell us that you miss us. We miss you too, and we understand that our leaving may have left a glaring hole in your sense of normalcy. In many ways, the separation is harder for you. Know that we left everything that we consider normal and have begun to build an adjacent set of normalcy. This means that for us, there are less glaring holes and more an overall feeling lostness (at times).
- Tell us about your day to day life and funny things that happen to you. Tell us about medical concerns or other important things that happen. Even though we can’t physically be there, we want to be involved.
- Come and visit if you can! Visas, plane travel, taking time off work can all be a pain, but we welcome the opportunity to introduce you to our adjacent life/home.
- Know that holidays won’t be the same. They aren’t the same for us either. Often, we are in places that have no idea what Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day are about, but they are still important to us. Also, gift giving will be different. We won’t always know the perfect present to order off of Amazon, but we try!
- Communicate through any means necessary. We love getting texts, e-mails, facebook messages or skype calls. As technology increases, the world becomes smaller, and we can communicate more easily. Can you believe that 30 years ago, the main way of communicating with someone living abroad was through snail mail?
- Keep asking when we are coming home. Believe me, there are days when we are so ready to hop on a plane and return to normal, but for some of us living abroad, we are setting up another, different home. We have made commitments to work, school or other responsibilities, and most days we want to fulfill them.
- Give a guilt trip. We absolutely hate that we can’t be there for you the way that we were before, and it hurts to be reminded of that fact.
- Assume the worst. Every culture and context is different, but in case you have never traveled, the rest of the world is not as bad as you imagine. There are dangers and stressors that come from living in America that we don’t have to live with, and each place has its own set of troubles. Additionally, even people in poor and remote areas have cell phones. We may not have all of the luxuries and conveniences that you have, but it doesn’t mean that we are living in a cave with a dirt floor.
Overall, stay in communication with your loved ones. Don’t forget us because we don’t forget you, and we can’t wait to be reunited with you.
For those of you living abroad, what do you think? Other tips?
Lesson Learned: Life abroad is rarely as romantic as we thought it would be, but it is the life we chose.
For those of you who live in countries where you have a thermostat in your home or apartment be grateful. For those of us who live in countries where the government controls when your radiator heat goes on and off, we too should be grateful. I know people around the world who do not have heat in the winter or ac in the summer. Knowing that I will be leaving behind my window ac unit to spend the summer delivering a baby in another city where ac of any kind unheard of, I am more grateful for what I have, even if it wasn’t what I was used to.
Lesson Learned: Unless you have screens in your windows, don’t be tempted to open them… no matter how pleasant the weather is on the other side. Mosquitos will always find you.
Being that this is my first time around and I was never pregnant in America, I have no personal experience to which I can compare my current situation. That being said, I don’t notice any differences save 2 things: 1) if I get a pregnancy craving here it is likely to be for something that I won’t be able to get… like Chick-fil-a, and 2) doing a job that I already know while exhausted and learning a new language while exhausted are 2 different things.
Outside of those, location doesn’t affect me too much. I am still learning about all of the unglamorous sides of pregnancy that happen no matter where you are. Nausea I expected but as of yet haven’t experienced. However, what I didn’t expect was sleeplessness, leg cramps, digestive issues, clumsiness, having a red face, and being hungry all of the time. None of these things are unmanageable, and I would gladly endure these and more to enjoy another day carrying my little man.
Lesson learned: Take each day in its turn and do not worry about tomorrow for each day has enough troubles of its own.
In Centra Asia, they don’t do a lot of fried food, but since I am from a Southern State, I definitely do fried food. And being an American, I like hot dogs, but since even in America hot dogs are a sketchy food, I have been hesitant to try them here. This week however, I tried some hot dogs that had the Canadian flag on the package and I turned them into homemade corndogs.
This was a favorite of mine in college. While I realize that most people in America would never have the need of making them “from scratch,” I thought that I might as well share the recipe. I ended up cutting them in half for easier frying and they turned into mini-corndogs.
Lesson Learned: Don’t wait so long to try things.
This is the first time in my “adult” life when I haven’t had a job. Even in high school, I worked after school, and I worked every summer in college. After college too, I worked full-time, and I worked during grad school. I worked after grad school and through my first year of marriage until we moved to Central Asia. Now because I am on a spousal visa, I really can’t work. Never mind the fact that my language level is not yet up to par, and I don’t want to be employed teaching English as a second language.
So what do I do with my days? Well, I try to study and practice language like a full time job, and outside of that, I am occupied with women’s work. There are some who would be bothered by that, but really, I love it. Not only that, I am happy to do it. My husband does a lot of jobs that I used to do myself as a single woman. He pays the bills, manages the budget, fixes things, arranges transportation and travel. And of course, he goes to work. He is not unwilling to help me out around the house, but he already does so much. I am happy to do the laundry, clean the apartment, be the main shopper and the in-house chef.
So, I’ll let Benjamin do the man’s work, as long as I can continue women’s work. I have few complaints.
Lesson Learned: Be content and whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.
Now that I am pregnant, eating healthy has become even more important. I am mindful that I am eating for two (one is super tiny) in that I try, now more than ever, to eat a balanced diet. Whatever I eat, the baby eats.
“What to Expect When You’re Expecting” has been full of beneficial information especially considering my nutritional needs. It has some helpful suggestions on portion sized servings for every building block on the food pyramid, and I took these suggestions and whittled them down to what is available to me. Living in a place which doesn’t have a Trader Joes or a Whole Foods limits my healthy selection, but the work that I put in this summer freezing various fruits and veggies, pays off big time now.
One of the easiest ways I have found to pack a lot of nutrients into one meal is to make a smoothie every morning. Doing this gets me at least one serving of calcium, usually 2 servings of Vitamin C and a serving or two of other fruits. I have loved trying a few different combinations, all without added sugar (other than the sugar which is is added to fruit juice).
One area of struggle has been in the whole grains department. Pregnant women are supposed to get 6 servings of whole grains a day. 6 is a lot, especially considering I have never seen whole grain bread or pasta here. I am eating oatmeal every morning, and I am experimenting with different grains. I have access to buckwheat, millet, farro and buckwheat groats. Millet is a great substitute for rice so that has been an easy change, but if anyone has great ideas for the other grains, I am all ears.
Lesson Learned: Eating healthy means eating new foods.
Blessings are easily taken for granted. As we prepare to celebrate our 2nd Thanksgiving in Central Asia, here are some things that we are grateful for:
- Coffee. When we were preparing to move here, we were warned that coffee was non-existent. However, the coffee industry is growing and coffee shops are everywhere.
- Friends at coffee shops. We study a lot in coffee shops and this has given us a lot of opportunities to make local friends.
- Walking. Even though we live in a bigger city, there are a lot of places that I can easily get to by walking. I love walking for exercise but also for the things which I am able to learn on the way.
- Ingredients. Even though I have to import major things like vanilla and adobo chilis, a lot of ingredients can be found, even if not in the normal places you would expect.
Everyone, strangers included, want to help. Whether that is finding a taxi, carrying something heavy or translating someone, we are never without the help that we need.
- Electricity. There are many places in Central Asia without regular or reliable electricity. While ours does get shut off occasionally, I can depend on having it more often than not.
- New Year. They celebrate New Year’s like Christmas here, so even though it is a week late, I can still enjoy the Holiday Spirit.
- Produce. As long as it is in season, produce is cheap!
- My freezer. For the times when produce isn’t in season, I love having my deep freeze.
It is hot in the summer. Leaves fall in the autumn. Rain comes in the spring, and it occasionally snows in the winter.
Lesson Learned: Be grateful for what you have and where you are. We have more than we deserve.
Central Asia, for better or worse, still clings to some of its Soviet ways. One of the ways I see this is through their heavy reliance on train travel. Before coming to CA, I can remember traveling by train 2 times in my 30 years of life, but in one year in Central Asia I have easily tripled that. Train travel is cost-effective and the best part, I don’t usually get motion sickness (like I do from other modes of transportation).
This Soviet method of transportation is kept even more Soviet because they still use the same trains that were used before the Cold War. But every now and again, you get lucky and they throw a new train on the tracks. Recently, we got to ride in one of the new ones, and we were pleasantly surprised. We had a cozy cabin with its own bathroom and shower. And let me tell you, normally, the worst part of train travel is definitely the toilet. When you push a lever to flush the toilet and you can see the tracks, you know that you are using an antiquated system. But… in our cozy cabin with a comfortable and clean bathroom, we had a great time and enjoyed the ride.
Lesson Learned: Set your expectations low so that when you come across a good train, you see it for the blessing that it is.
From where we sit in Central Asia, the temps continue to hover around the mid 90’s. So while my pinterest feed is filled with recipes for pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin overnight oats, I am not quite yet in the fall spirit. Fall is without a doubt my favorite time of the year, so I will eagerly anticipate wearing boots and sweaters and making my own pumpkin bread.
In the meantime, I got to take a trip outside this city this week with a local friend, and we stopped at what we in American would call an apple orchard. Here they just call it a garden. I bought about 25 pounds of apples and plan to make some fallish foods and a lot of applesauce. Applesauce is one of those basic foods you are supposed to eat when you have stomach troubles, and we seem be in need weekly.
Lesson Learned: Until the pumpkins are out, I will take what I can get and go crazy with apple recipes.