How We Live In Foreign Lands… What The Real Story Is About

wpid-img_20150501_183046.jpgBeen reading an ancient Peace Corps memoir written by a married couple serving in Ecuador in early 1962-1963. This paragraph had a message.

“I cannot make any generalizations about the problems created by our image abroad because North Americans in foreign lands vary from the “let’s-go-native” variety to the “we-live-in-an-ivory-tower” type. Several U.S. Consulate people visited our beach house. They usually brought their own food and ate it exclusively. I saw Embassy people on similar occasions refuse good food carefully prepared by Bob Carpenter’s Ecuadorian wife. The North American’s caution can be extreme and sometimes harmful. We knew North Americans whose overprotective concern for themselves strained their personal relationships with Ecuadorians to the point of little or no social contact. They were too stiff to be able to relax enough to enjoy the simplicity and friendliness of the life around them.

Rhoda told me about the comments of two U.S. government people who came to visit our house. “Do you always have so many people around?” they said, referring to the many, always present, neighbors. “I’ve seen them on the street but they never come into my house.”

“I respect these people for the fine and necessary work they do for the U.S. in Ecuador,” Rhoda said, “but I also feel sorry for many of them because they are missing out on so much fun.
Work is being done by foreign service people, technical assistance personnel, and volunteers in the Peace Corps who live in everything from lean—to shacks to homes swarming with servants. Accomplishments seem to be based on personal associations with the nationals, which in turn is based on appreciation, interest, and respect. Adherence to a specific standard of living is not the most important factor, though it is the feeling of many responsible Peace Corps volunteers that an extremely high standard of living in poor countries almost automatically limits contact with the vast majority of people.”
(The Barrios Of Manta. Rhoda & Earle Brooks)

I have never judged how anyone lives in Africa. Everyone’s tolerance level is different. Everyone needs a certain standard of living to maintain our emotional health while overseas. For some a bucket shower is fine, for others not so much. Indoor plumbing for some,  and a “poop in a hole” for others.
We began in Mali with the buckets and outdoor hole. It worked for several years until we nabbed a great little place, and it really made life easier for us both. Truthfully, we were oblivious to the stress our living conditions put us under until our circumstances changed.

Time is the secret key in Africa. The longer we stay, the better. So I advise people to live as simply as they possibly can, but in a manner in which they are happy to stay for a very long time.

Begin as simply as you think possible, and if some thing is a major stressor or deal breaker, eliminate it by taking a step up. “Going Native” and then “Going Home” in a year (burned out), is not ideal. Take reasonable safety, security, comfort and health measures based on who you are, with apologies to NOBODY else. But begin simply and then move up. You might just surprise yourself with how well you do.

However, from that platform of an emotionally healthy home, allow local people into your world, and enter their lives as well, when they open up the door

When it is time to move on, don’t leave behind projects…. leave behind friends. The projects always come to a conclusion, but friendship never has to end. So, let’s consider how we live as a foreigner among the people hosting us in this country and local community.

The richest experiences, memories, and most incredible stories you will tell, until the day you die, will most certainly be about them. The exchanges and encounters alongside individuals and people we came to know and love. The memorable stories are rarely about what we came to do….. trust me about this.

Since 1995, my Africa experiences and life have been very rewarding.  However, I lived and served in West Africa long enough to have regrets, and wishes for an odd “redo” with some people I should have let in…. very few redos of  work project things ever enter my mind.

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