As you know, our journey to Gabon took over a year to come to fruition and while we didn't always know that Gabon was going to be the destination, we were preparing for a big move. By the time we actually did get on that plane to Africa, I had read and researched as much as I possibly could (there isn't a lot out there on Gabon) to try to prepare myself for the changes that were to come. While we certainly couldn't prepare for everything, I felt ready. I was excited and anxious but so completely ready to start the adventure.
From the beginning, I expected everything to be different and in a way, I think that helped me more than anything else. I didn't expect to encounter any similarities between my new life & home in Gabon versus my life in Canada so it was always a nice surprise when I found one. I knew it was going to be hard - hard to settle in, hard to fit in, hard to see what we were seeing, hard on almost every account - and I wasn't surprised when it was exactly that. When I look back on that first year, particularly the first 9 months, I wonder how we lasted through it. The robberies, the homelessness, the visa issues, learning to live feeling scared, Joe's particularly difficult working conditions and the consistent lack of many basic necessities would be enough to send anyone packing yet we held out and didn't give up when many of our friends, even those in Gabon who knew we had a particularly rough go, thought we might. I think perhaps it was, in part, due to our preparedness.
The first night in our 2nd Gabonese home - Joe's truck window was smashed out.
What I did not prepare for, was how difficult that expatriation would be on our families. I had spent so much time worrying about preparing myself, that I didn't really pause to think of the impact our decision to move overseas would have on those who care the most about us. In the early days, our infrequent calls home were filled with details near impossible to explain to those who had never visited Africa yet we tried nonetheless. When Joe was offshore and I was spooked after hearing a particularly unpleasant story, I shared it over Skype with my parents. I phoned home crying after the final robbery and tried to explain that there was nothing we could do and that we couldn't rely on police nor our security to help us. When Joe was hauled into the police station over the immigration debacle and no one knew what was happening, I detailed everything to our families. It was so hard to explain when the society itself is so different yet I tried and always felt better after expressing my feelings.
I didn't realize that after ending that Skype call, my parents would worry. They would worry even more when the internet would go out for several days afterwards and they wouldn't be getting updates from me. Later on I would hear the relief in their voices when I explained that it was just the fluctuating power that week that caused my silence. I couldn't count the number of times my Mom or sister would mutter the words, "Come home" after we faced yet another problem.
I remember in the last 6 months of our stay there was a string of armed robberies at expat homes. It was terrifying to us as armed robberies were not very common in Port Gentil. Our guards were unarmed, as they all were, and the recent events had us questioning our safety. While I tried to get emergency plans from our company 'just in case' I debated chronicling it all to my family at home yet I didn't want them to worry unnecessarily. Instead, I drove over to a friend's house and we talked it out. I remember deciding to hold back a lot of stories because it was just so difficult to explain that if someone attempted to break-in that I was to phone my husband's boss instead of the police and hope that someone would come to our rescue. I decided that causing fear at home wouldn't do any of us any good so it was better to keep it quiet.
When Norway came together, I had no idea the giant sigh of relief that our families would breath. My Mom takes every opportunity she can to say, "Oh, I'm so glad you don't live there anymore." It's evident on my Facebook page when a friend posts some crazy photo or story from Port Gentil to my wall, my Mom will always comment, "Thank goodness you're in Norway now." Right now I'm in the middle of meeting the other expat women in Stavanger and we always list our expatriations as a way of getting to know each other, similar to, "What do you do for a living?" Everyone is curious about Gabon and they often ask how the experience was for us. I generally respond, "It was hard but I'm so glad we did it. I made really great friends and learned so much about life yet we were both so happy to be moving on."
We always seem to think of the impact it had on the person living it but I'm realizing that it was just as hard on our families as it was on us, and they didn't get near the amount of reward that we did.