Tales & images from life as me…

The expat extracts


So word is pretty much out now, but I haven’t officially shared it with you, readers. You see it’s one of those secrets that you are never quite ready to share because that makes it real. I mean we want it to be real, we’re excited about it, but there’s more to it than that… it’s also incredibly sad. You see, we’re leaving Tanzania.

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It’s for all the very best reasons – a great new job, baby on the way, we’re ready for some time in the first world, we’re exciting to have our baby in the same country as all its cousins. We are so excited to see family and old friends, to enjoy seasons, have supermarkets, etc. Plus I’m thrilled not to have to tough it out like all the other ex-pat mamas waiting to give birth in a foreign country without my partner, him arriving just in time for the birth (you hope) and then leaving you to it and flying out to return to work because you aren’t ready to return to Africa with the baby yet. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that I am very lucky not to have to face, because we’ll be able to be together in the UK now. But there is also such a lot to say goodbye to. This has been our lives. For eight years.

I won’t dwell on all there is to say goodbye to just yet, no doubt I’ll be doing plenty of that over the coming two weeks, but I did want to share a little of the process of an expat extraction. It’s such a mission, and in a country with no discernable systems or consistent rules it’s a nightmare!

Let me take for example, our two dogs. The process of getting them back to the UK has gone like this:
Micro chip (which had to be sent over from Dar, along with a scanner to make sure we’d done it correctly)
Rabies jab (also sent from Dar, had to be kept cold, the first one was too cold and got frozen and spoiled so we had to get another!)
Exactly 30 days later bloodwork to be taken by a recognised vet (we had to fly the vet in from Dar and then everyone wanted to see the vet while he was here in Mwanza so I had to co-ordinate 11 additional appointments over two days including accommodation, meals and transport!)
Meanwhile we secured dog boxes from the local security company, thanks to a very kind friend, but when we contacted the airline we discovered the European standards are different to the inter-African ones so had to start again. Having ordered (and paid plenty) for these we now needed a plan for getting them to Dar – the Mwanza to Dar airline won’t fly animals.
Once the vet has been (this week) we have to wait 90 days and then new tests can be done and the dogs can be flown out.
Just one problem we will both be gone in 90 days! So… Damien will drive the dogs to Dar (16hrs) next month whilst he’s still here, they will wait at his dad’s house for two months and then, assuming the past the final tests, they can finally be flown to Heathrow…where no doubt there will be another set of hurdles before we actually get them home!
I only hope that the rules don’t change before we manage to tick all the boxes!

And then there’s us. I have to go first. I have no warm clothes, in fact I barely have any clothes that fit me any more. I need to carry Christmas presents with me as our shipping will be too late for all that. I have to find a house – on my own, 7 months pregnant. I have to pick up my new car. I haven’t driven in the UK for nearly ten years – I’m used to dirt roads, goats, veering motorbikes, oblivious pedestrians and maximum speeds of around 50kmph. Now there will be slippery tarmac, high speeds, real rules and police you can’t persuade to go easy! I have to sign up to a new dr and tell some poor midwife that I have appeared as if from nowhere almost ready to give birth! I need to do antenatal classes and shop… a lot!

Meanwhile my lovely husband will be here for a whole extra month living in a great big house that is almost completely empty, working hard to ensure everything gets handed over smoothly and trying to help me choose our new home via email and skype!

It’s all just a little insane!

And then there’s our stuff!…

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When I first moved to Kenya I brought 10 boxes. When I moved to Tanzania I brought 25 boxes. Now we are leaving Tanzania with 100 boxes including bits of furniture, wedding presents, keepsakes and just everyday stuff that we’ll need in our new lives. It’s taken almost 6 weeks to pack it all – carefully bubble wrapping each item and then placing them into sawdust filled boxes; getting bubble wrap from Kenya; begging boxes from everywhere we can think of; buying endless tape. All the bending and lifting has nearly killed me – it hasn’t thanks to great friends and staff who have helped out (in particular Gerry and Musa this could not have been accomplished without you), but it has not been fun. Oh and every box must be listed with its contents in a typed document. BUT, and here’s the big ‘but’, it’s not really ok to pack it yourself. If you do, you don’t get the same level of insurance. Of course if you don’t you risk it being packed badly by the moving company and breaking on the way anyway! You can’t really win. All I can say is our boat had better stay afloat when we finally get it all into a container and onto a ship!

Plus we have the added complications of rainy season. Some of the stuff I’d already packed was temporarily outside at the end of last week when the first rains hit. Turns out cardboard packing is super absorbent! I’ve had to remove all the packing (which stank!) and I’m now in the process of repacking it all again – oh joy! More bubble wrap!

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Of course you don’t pack everything. There’s a lot that needs to be sold or donated or bequested to friends. Now this is a whole other side show. Postings on Facebook; open house sale days (I survived two of these); coordinating people who promise to pay you later; and planning for those who can’t collect their stuff until after you’ve gone because you need it – like the bed or the fridge; oven or last frying pan. It’s a juggling act of note!

Right now we’re living with barely any curtains, a borrowed fridge, minimal kitchenware, and no car – I sold mine last week!

I could go on. I haven’t even got to the events I’ve started to plan but now, sadly, won’t be here for and so need to hand over; the freelance work I have to wrap up; bank accounts that need closing; changing telephone numbers; and – of course – most of all the wonderful people we have to say goodbye to – friends, people we’ve worked with, our house staff.

It’s no mean feat leaving your life behind. When I did it initially, leaving the UK, I was leaving a life I knew I would return to, even if it was just for visits. I didn’t have to shut everything down so completely. Don’t get me wrong, we know we’ll be back in Kenya and Tanzania, we have family here and we belong here, but this will no longer be our lives. At least not for the foreseeable future. And that’s suddenly become overwhelmingly clear as I sat here and actually typed out all that has been weaving through our daily lives over the past 6 weeks.

There are some wonderful poems about how you never really Africa if you have loved it, and there’s no doubt this story isn’t over, but this chapter almost is. The next two weeks are going to be tough.

* * *

My favourite little snippet about leaving Africa:

Africa smiled a little when you left. “We know you,” Africa said, “We have seen and watched you, We can learn to live without you, But we know we needn’t yet.” And Africa smiled a little when you left. “You cannot leave Africa,” Africa said. … … … … “It is always with you,there inside your head. Our rivers run …in currents,in the swirl of your thumbprints; Our drumbeats, counting out your pulse, Our coastline, The silhouette of your soul.” So Africa smiled a little when you left. “We are in you,” Africa said. “You have not left us, yet.” …. Author: Unknown

* * *

AFRICA
When you have acquired a taste for the dust,
And the scent of our first rain,
You’re hooked for life on Africa,
And you’ll not be right again
Until you can watch the setting moon
And hear the jackals bark,
And know they are around you
Waiting in the dark.

When you long to see the elephants
Or hear the coucal’s song,
When the moonrise sets your blood on fire,
The you’ve been away too long.
It’s time to cut the traces loose,
And let your heart go free,
Beyond that far horizon
Where your spirit yearns to be.

Africa is waiting – come!
Since you have touched the open sky
And learned to love the rustling grass
And the wild fish eagle’s cry.
You’ll always hunger for the bush,
For the lion’s rasping roar,
To camp at least beneath the stars
And be at peace once more.

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9 responses

  1. Claire Mitchell

    Hi Melissa and Damien … If there is anything at all I can do to help when you get to the UK let me know. I live in Sussex so if I am near you will be able to assist in any small way that I can. Love, Claire (Lyndsey’s friend) x

    November 8, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    • Thank you so much, that’s really kind. What an amazing network of people who understand there is out there all around the world!

      November 8, 2013 at 4:47 pm

  2. Malaika

    oh wow Mel, I didn’t realise you were leaving Mwanza for good (ish). Good good luck with all that lies ahead – with the move (stressful I know), baby and more importantly, winter. As someone who has had many many chapters in her life (my parents are also leaving Mwanza, yet another chapter closed), I wish you luck in the leaving and the arriving. I know how hard it is to leave Mama Africa – I know the above poem really well, “Africa Smiles” by Bridget someone-or-other. I have frequently read it at my numerous departures, or the frequent bouts of homelessness that I felt when away from that wonderful continent. I also usually indulge in Out of Africa (and then howl at the fact that Karen Blixen never made it back – What a romantic schoolchild i was) so as she says ““Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the Earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road.”. Good luck with the next chapter and may the path lead back to the most beautiful and enriching continent one day.

    November 8, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    • Ah I know that quote well! Love it too. Thanks for your kind words and understanding. I did see your mum briefly outside U Turn (as you do) and she mentioned the move too – so wishing your family all the very best too x

      November 8, 2013 at 4:48 pm

  3. Kate Wood

    Ohh babes … I am feeling your pain! It is a really tough ride on the way out… But we are here for you on the other side. Cannot wait to have you closer, have missed you so much. Xxx

    November 9, 2013 at 9:17 am

    • We’re very lucky to have our good friends who have ‘gone before’. Looking forward to more time with you in 2014 🙂 x

      November 9, 2013 at 1:46 pm

  4. alpington

    Weeping! You’re an inspiration. So looking forward to having you nearer x x X x x x

    November 9, 2013 at 4:46 pm

  5. Safari Njema. Enjoy your time in the UK.I am sure there are many people EXCITED that you are returning home for longer but also many people here will be sad to see you go.

    November 14, 2013 at 11:02 am

  6. stuart

    if you 2 need anything ,give me a shout i am just down the road ,so to speak ,hope your both well

    December 5, 2013 at 5:15 pm

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