I first met Michaela in 1999, in Nairobi when she was part of on a short term mission trip that my mum was on and I was on my way to teach in Tanzania. In my second year in Dodoma, Michaela came out as a member of staff at the same school as me and we lived on the same compound. She also went on to study at All Nations but left the year before I started and then went on to work in Myanmar. She is now married with two beautiful little girls and another little munchkin on the way.
I have returned to Dodoma, somewhere familiar to me ... but living here with a family is very different to when I was young and single first time round. Michaela is now experiencing something similar too, except she is on a completely different continent to me once again!
My husband and I both come from large villages, we have Christian parents and are followers of Christ ourselves. But that is where the similarities end, for a start our villages are in different continents! My village is typically English; thatched cottages, village clock tower, his is in South East Asia with houses of bamboo and wood.
We met while I was teaching in his country and after we got married we continued to live in Myanmar. After we found out I was pregnant we decided to return to England for the birth and ended up staying 3 years! Two children later and a third on the way, we decided to return to our life in Myanmar.
We were incredibly excited about returning! We have family and friends here. We own our apartment which was the first place we lived as husband and wife. We know how to get around; we know the language, in fact its home. So the last thing I was expecting was to experience the level of culture shock I did! Living in Myanmar this time was very different. The difference being, we now had two children under 3.
The thing I struggled with the most was what seemed to be a loss of my independence. I was used to strapping my two girls into our Phil and Ted’s double buggy and walking to friends houses. I was used to putting them in their car seats and driving off to all manner of places. Suddenly getting to any place was a struggle! We sold the double buggy before we left the UK knowing it would be too heavy to carry up 8 flights of stairs- yes we live on the 8th floor and no lift. Instead we bought a small foldable push chair and a buggy board.
And yet the paths are so pot holed, crowded with stalls and in complete disrepair and the curbs so steep that the buggy can only be used in the parks anyway. Then there’s getting to the parks. Firstly I need to carry a one year old, buggy, buggy board, change bag and hold on to a two and half year old down 8 flights of steep, dirty, concrete stairs. Then wait by the side of the road without losing a child, in temperatures of high 30 degrees C, while I flag down a taxi and haggle with the driver over the price. Once I arrive at the park I am hot and sweaty from having to restrain the one year old from climbing out the windows, no air con in these taxis so all windows are wide open, and I now have to pay foreigner rates. Even though I married a local and our children are half Myanmar we are all still considered foreigners and so pay double what the locals do. And of course then there’s the return journey but this time the two and a half year old probably wants carrying up the 8 flights and I’m 20 weeks pregnant!
So it became quite clear, quite early on that going out alone was no longer an option. This really took time for me to accept and was the reason for my culture shock. I had always wanted to look after my children myself and chose not to return to work but be a stay-at-home-mum instead. I enjoyed going out on our little adventures together, seeing where we’d end up, not worrying about someone else’s time schedule but just taking our time. When I looked around at the ex-pats living here they all have nannies and home helps and drivers which didn’t surprise me but then I realized that all the locals have help too. Not hired help but family! I also have an amazing family here who are adored by my girls and who are ready and willing to help at any time and in anyway.
There are times in all our lives when we need help. The trick is to acknowledge your need and ask for help or accept the help offered. I have come to realize that the support and help I receive is not failure on my part but a privilege and a joy as well as a necessity!