Today marks one full week, living in Tunisia, so I thought I’d take some time to reflect on the first-week experience. It’s been full of ups and downs, but mostly ups. I still wake up in the morning a little disoriented like, “Where am I? Whose life is this?”
First, to rewind a bit and get a little philosophical, it feels good to finally feel like I have taken steps to author my own life. Going along with the decisions I made for myself in my 20s and assuming my needs and wants would just stay the same for the rest of my life wasn’t working out. In my 30’s, floating through life, doing the same thing day after day didn’t feel good. It’s easy to accept:
“This is just what it feels like to be an adult.”
“No one is completely satisfied with their job.”
“Life doesn’t have to be fun or exciting.”
But, in reality, you always have choices. Taking an inventory of what I liked and didn’t like in my life and what I wanted more of has led me here. It wasn’t an easy journey, but I do not regret it for a second, and in many ways it’s just beginning.
Now back to the topic! The first couple days in the house were busy and exciting! We were all in awe of this place that we get to call home. I took hundreds of pictures. We unpacked. The kids hadn’t seen their toys for weeks, so that in itself was a highlight for them. We got a kick out of everything:
- Our house key is this huge skeleton key.
- We found a gecko and a tortoise! (And of course we had to name them: Larry and TicTac if you were wondering)
- We opened every window and gawked at the views. There are flowers everywhere. The sky is insanely blue, and the architecture is truly a work of art, especially the doors which they are famous for.)
- We picked fruit from our trees and put flowers in our hair. The yard is full of treasures!
- We aren’t getting eaten alive by mosquitos when we go outside!
- It’s fun looking at the food labels in different languages. The money (Dinar) is also interesting to look at- different colors and designs. We used to collect foreign money and now we are using it!
- Sitting on our balcony feels surreal; like a dream. Having a soak in our giant bathtub and taking in the views afterwards has to be the most relaxing way to end the day that I’ve ever experienced.
In a few weeks, these things will feel familiar and blend in with our everyday life. But, for now, the honeymoon-everything-is-exciting phase is really fun.
The things we enjoy with our kids have changed too. In Eudora, I loved to take walks around our neighborhood. I loved getting out of the house, getting some sunshine, and taking walks always lead to great conversation for Justin and I. However, asking my kids to go on a walk with us was like pulling teeth. They would whine and complain. It was boring. It was hot. They would rather stay home and play with toys or watch TV. The list goes on and on. But here, we ask, “Wanna go on an ADVENTURE walk?!” and they are running to get their shoes on. Walks here are not leisurely, conversational walks. Here, we are wide-eyed, holding each others’ hands, seeing the world for the first time. We see stray cats and puppies. We marvel at the giant houses and tropical-looking plants. We hear different languages and music. It’s exciting and I love that it’s bringing us together as a family.
However, I wouldn’t be painting a full picture if I didn’t talk about the struggles as well. So far they are minor and the benefits far outweigh the negatives, but they are part of the story nonetheless. One of the biggest issues is that we moved across the world during a global pandemic and that brings some unique challenges.
We were fortunate to even get into the country. The school worked their tails off getting special documentation from the Tunisian and American Embassy. Part of the agreement was that we quarantine for 14 days. I’ve been doing some version of quarantine since March! 14 days is nothing, right? That’s what I thought, but being stuck in our house here has felt different. We feel helpless- completely dependent on others. Our neighbors, Suzanne and Blake, have gone grocery shopping for us multiple times. They’ve had multiple late-night runs to our house to help with our phone, bring us shampoo, sign paperwork, or help us interpret new money or food labels. They have been our lifeline, and thank goodness they have been so gracious about the whole situation. They have never made us feel bad and have accommodated every little request. We’ve also had a power outage, air conditioning issues, and furniture requests, and people from the school are at our house in an instant making sure we are taken care of. The people here are above and beyond friendly and helpful, but it will feel good when we can start taking care of ourselves a bit more.
As for the job itself, starting at a new school with virtual orientation meetings is not ideal. In past years, the school takes the new recruits out to fancy dinners, takes them out shopping and shows them all around the city. We are missing out on that, but the main thing I miss is the social interaction. Being in a new place, so far away from friends and family can be hard and quarantine is just exacerbating that.
And then we have the typical new-expat issues, regardless of COVID-19.
- Exhaustion and jet-lag
- Finding food your picky eaters will eat when all of it is just a bit different
- Getting used to communicating in a different time zone. When we wake up, it’s the middle of the night in Kansas. When we go to bed, they are just starting their afternoon.
- Missing the comforts of home and being in the same room as the people you love and miss.
With all that said, this is still the experience of a lifetime, and after we bust out of quarantine next week, we have at least 2 years to do all the things we are itching to do. I can’t wait to go to a restaurant, and the market, and Sidi Bou Said (a gorgeous coastal area- do a google search!), and shop for an authentic Tunisian rug and pottery. And of course, I want to see my classroom and meet my coworkers. The kids can’t wait to go to the beach and eat a “bambalouni” (like a donut- a common street food around here). And we have a short list of weekend trips we want to take, like going to Tatooine (as in the place in Star Wars, but it’s a real place too and it’s in Tunisia).
There is so much to see and do, but for now, we are content in our amazing house, playing in our yard, and venturing out on walks, a few blocks at a time. We are here. We are safe. We are happy and this is beyond our wildest dreams! Thanks for “virtually” holding our hand through this journey and cheering us on.