Pondering Expat Life

This weekend I went camping on the plateau in the town I’m living in (Zomba, Malawi) and seriously FROZE…winter in Africa is not a joke y’all. Three layers of clothes and I was still so cold at night! Still, I LOVE camping and it was nice to do something that really makes me feel like my regular self, to really feel “in my element” for a weekend. Anyway, that was a side note.

The camping trip was with a group of expats in Zomba and it was mainly a goodbye trip as the coming months are a huge turnover in people “going home” or moving onto to new jobs in different countries. People who have been in Zomba for years are moving on and getting ready to start life over. For those that are staying, there has been a lot of moaning about having to make all new friends. And the people moving on are saying much the same! It’s one of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about expat life. Constant changes in friends and colleagues. Far from the rough roads, bugs, blackouts, slow pace of life and lack of access to activities and products I can get easily in Canada, the things I think I would struggle with the most is being far from home and having a constantly shifting support system in country.

It’s been making me question a bit if it’s something I actually can or want to do long term. I have aways maintained that after getting my degree I want to live and work in the Global South, for the majority, if not all, of my career. And in fact, this internship was partly to make sure it’s something I can actually handle. I’m pretty easy going and adaptable so I wasn’t too concerned but better to try it for three months before I’ve signed a one or two year contract and suddenly realize I can’t deal with xyz, whatever that may be.

And to be honest, I am really, really enjoying it and have gotten to the point where I want to hit pause as time is going by too quickly (less than 5 weeks left, whattttt). 3 months just isn’t long enough! But how much time would be too long? It’s easy to deal when I’ll be back in Ottawa in a few short weeks, back with my friends, back to my hobbies, my church community, back to doing things other than work, reading and going out to eat with friends once a week. After 2 years or 5 years or 10 years would I still be okay away from the people I love the most? Would I get bored without my hobbies and extracurriculars? Would I be okay with leaving my life in Canada behind permanently?

Yesterday as we walked down the mountain I fell into step with a guy who has just arrived in Zomba to work with an INGO. I had only met him once before this weekend and so we had the typical conversation here: how long are you here, where were you before, what do you do, where are you from, etc. Eventually somehow we ended up on the topic of pros and cons of living abroad. He said it frustrated him when people live in the developing world for a short time and decide it’s not “convenient” for them, i.e. the things like the blackouts or the rough roads or eating the same foods again and again make them leave. On the other hand, he talked about his desire to return home to the states permanently in the next year or so, after 7+ years of living abroad in the developing world. His reasoning was two-fold: he wants to be closer to friends and family, to be truly “home” and secondly, to have a life beyond work which is the reason he is here and the thing his life mostly revolves around. He talked about feeling like he gave up more than convenience to live in Africa, he gave up his hobbies like theatre and certain outdoor adventures as well as “regular” face to face relationships with friends and family. To be fair, I think he has really enjoyed and continues to enjoy his life here. I’m just relaying this conversation because it’s stuck with me and has me thinking. It’s true that here (from what I have seen), life is basically work and then some socializing but it’s less full than back home, where personally, I am involved in many different things. I like to live diversely and energetically and I have a lot going on at any given time. Here, that is not really possible (although it would maybe be different in  the capital or a bigger city).

Maybe these are selfish things to worry about. Maybe it’s just a different type of convenience I’m desiring. But this conversation, and others like it with the many friends who are heading truly home and those who will be in Zomba longer have had me considering the actual implications of pursing long term work abroad. It would mean giving up a lot of things I genuinely love. Not just my ability to easily go for all you can eat sushi but things that I define myself by, things that truly give me life. This summer for example I have so missed my yearly canoe trips…its’ just not a thing here and it’s something that usually consumes my summer evenings and weekends. It’s something that is part of my identity.  Living abroad would also mean long stretches between seeing my family and my dearest friends. It might be mean lots of friends in my life for short seasons and maybe moving every few years. This summer back home there have been weddings and babies being born and friends graduating and the FOMO has been real.

I’m not saying all this has turned me off living abroad long term. It hasn’t. It’s just had me thinking about it seriously and being honest with myself about what it could look like. Beyond my career goals and the excitement that comes with living abroad, what do I value in life and what do I want my life to look like? What am I willing to sacrifice? What are the things I truly need to live a life I love? Can I get those things while working in the Global South? Where? For how long? What type of city or geographical situation would set me up for success living abroad for long periods?

I don’t have all the answers but I think they are important questions to be asking myself.

Wishing each of you all the best from chilly Malawi,

Sam

P.s. Enjoy the random collection of photos from the last coupe of weeks below!

Adventures in tripping – a little flippin’ never hurt!

If you fall into a river in the middle of May… get back up and do it again??

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Kitchi Tripping Crew ft Marty

That’s right, I was still smiling after 2 dunks in the aptly named Black River on a cloudy May 10th. Following my Switerland post titled “Today, I Fell Down A Mountain“, are we really surprised here? I was not, although I did feel bad for taking my bow paddler Lauren down with me…sorry gf! Honestly though, no one in my life is surprised at this point when absolutely ridiculous things happen to me. And if I’m honest, I kind of love it. I’m really grateful that God gives me so many funny little quirky stories to tell. It keeps me always on my toes, that’s for sure!!

Here’s the thing: those couple slips aside, I had an amazing experience at tripper training. I got a whack load of certifications, made new friends, and spent time with already good friends against the beautiful backdrop of Georgian Bay. I found it challenging to an extent; canoeing isn’t exactly my strongest camp skill. (I was always a sailor when I was a camper.) In fact, until this month, I’d never taken canoeing in any formal setting. Add that to the fact that most of the other participants on the trip had wayyyy more experience in tripping, you could say I was a bit intimidated. Here’s some things I learned from my week in the wilderness, as I worked towards becoming “Tripper Sam”!

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Outdoor Pursuits

Everyone starts somewhere. It was my first time taking any kind of formal canoeing and yet I was putting so much pressure on myself to be perfect, to  be as good as everyone around me. But I was just starting out! All the others had already spent the time perfecting their strokes; they had put the work in. I had to focus on the fact that I was learning every hour I spent in that canoe, rather than on trying to measure up.

On the flip side, don’t make excuses, make opportunities to get better. Although I didn’t have a lot of experience, I wasn’t going to let that stop me or intimidate me; I tried to not make excuses. Instead, I took every opportunity to get better. I sterned (steered) the boat every chance I got. I tried solo carrying canoes on almost every portage. I volunteered to do tasks around camp that I wasn’t really sure I could do, like helping to set up tarps. I learn best by doing, so it was a great opportunity for me! Also, I asked approximately a million questions. About everything. At all hours of the day. Hey, I was trying to glean all I could- from the incredibly knowledgable instructors we had and my peers!

On that note; everyone has something to offer. This is such an important part of a safe and fun trip but it’s also just important in life. In this case, I was pretty good at tying knots. Guess all that sailing paid off! It may seem like a little thing, but I was able to contribute to the group by helping to teach different knots. I also really enjoy cooking on trip so I helped out by being sous-chef for the leaders of the meal. Someone has to cut those peppers! Meanwhile, someone else had to go over navigation and compass use with me. And Lauren had to be patient with me on the river in the rapids. We all learned from each other in some way or another over the week and it was really cool to see everyone step up and take charge in their own way.

Confidence goes a long way! Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself by trying something new. Laughing off mistakes is the best way to handle them…trust me, I would know by now. Sometimes, you just gotta fake it ’till you make it. A big part of our trip leading certification was being confident. As a leader, sometimes you have to make decisions and just be confident in your own skills. Trust yourself, trust your team, and be willing to make mistakes when the risk is low so that when you’re in a real situation, you’ve already applied your training and are therefore more likely to make the right judgement call.

When it comes down to it, sometimes you just have to get back on the horse…or back in the canoe! My two dips in the river happened on the very first day of a week and a half of training, during the 1st of 5 courses. It would have been pretty easy to get discouraged. I’m not going to lie, heading out to day 2 was rough. I was feeling so defeated from the day before and let me tell you, a 7am start, combined with spilling your breakfast all over yourself (in typical Sam fashion) and then putting on an already wet wetsuit is not exactly a morale booster. However, once I got out there I firmly decided that it was a new day, that I wasn’t going to let anything stand in my way of learning. Fear of failure only makes failure a more real possibility. And guess what? That Sunday on the river was probably the most fun I had in the entire week. Once we started to get a hang out it, running the rapids was SO SICK. Like for real, you should try it. In fact, I’m hoping to take my 2nd white water level at some point soon. What a change from day 1! Even our instructor (who is basically the most impressive canoeist I have ever seen in my life, Marty you are a Jedi) was impressed by my come-back. And I let THAT experience set the precedent for the rest of my week, not the first. Now, I am SO looking forward to being able to take my leadership to Temagami! Can you say dream come true??

Last summer, I started talking about wanting to be a tripper and my campers, as well as some of my fellow staff, started jokingly calling me “Tripper Sam”. While “tripper” may not be my actual job title this summer, and I still need to log some more experience before I get fully certified, I am proud to have kind of accomplished that goal for myself. Thanks to those friends for believing in me before I did! Also, shout-out to the trip team – you guys were so so fun to paddle with, laugh with and learn with.

 

By the way, thanks to any of ya’ll who read this funny little blog on the regular. It may be messy and silly and often irrelevant but it’s my little pet project and I so, so appreciate any of you who take time out of your day to read my thoughts…wow, what an honour!! Thank you dear friends for joining me on my (not so) grand adventures through everyday life.

Until next time, Sam

P.s. Guys. Can we just take in how incredibly beautiful the world God created is? Like holy cow. Several times I made a point to wander off so I could sit by myself and just breath in creation. Get out of the city friends, it’s so so worth it. You’ll never feel more alive than when you watch a sunset beside a set of rapids while eating a dinner that was cooked over the fire.

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RIP Sandy Grey Falls –  p.c. Grant B.