From Excitement to Frustration, from Happiness to Adaptation, from Dreams to Reality. This is how I would summarize my feelings during the first three months in my new home, Burkina Faso. A completely normal phenomenon, that is called "cultural shock" and that always follows a certain line. Here a very personal insight of the Ups & Down in my professional life and the challenges of adaptation in my personal life.
Books are full of scientific theories of cultural adaptation, assimilation and integration when arriving in a new country. Often referred to as the "curve of cultural shock". A "cultural shock" is a very emotional and personal experience when facing new, foreign environments and an unfamiliar way of life. In fact, this "curve of cultural shock" is just a nice instrument but maybe not applicable to all of the cases.
That's the reason why I came up with my own "curve of adaptation", which is
subdivided into four phases:
Time period: The first three days
Character: I was so happy. Finally in Ouaga. I couldn't wait to be finally here. The people are the nicest human beings in this world. Everybody is so friendly. My job is the best one on this planet. Im positively surprised in all manner! I felt like the happiest girl on earth.
Time Period: 2-4 weeks
Character: Overload. Frustration. New culture, new roles. Too many thing I don't understand. The first weeks have been a challenge and I often asked myself: Will I handle this job. Me, as the most impatient and straight forward person on the planet in a country where diplomacy is everything!
Here are the main challenges:
Suddenly we employ people: four guards, a maid and a gardener. This requires a lot of time and patience to explain for instance how you want your kitchen to be cleaned and that you don´t want to be waken up on the weekends at 7am. You can't explain it straight forward though, you need patience - which I apparently didn't have at that time. So our guards were sometimes very annoyed as well.
Our new roles were very demanding. Between Tobias and me it was not always clear, who is responsible for our employees? Who does the negotiation with our landlord? Who subscribes for water & electricity? Who designs our furniture? Who research the cheapest Internet provider? This was likely source of discussions.
Then there were so many "weird" things that we discovered. For instance this culture of "remembering". You can't just pre-order furniture such as a table with chairs in the store and then collect it after one week. No! You have to go there every day and ask for the status of your order. Remind them that you want the table by next week. Remind them, that the chairs should be delivered at the same time. Call the to ask if the table has arrived.
Same with the water-contract. Since three weeks, Tobias tries to sigh up for it. Every morning at 8am he waits in front of ONEA, the state-owned water company. Either it is closed (due to rain), or the person in charge is sick or the person in charge is shopping at the market. Either there is no internet connection or no paper to print the documents.
Tobias and I also faced changes regarding our daily routine. I do have regular working hours, Tobias works as a self-employed videographer. It is the opposite of our life in Germany, where he had a daily routine and I hadn't.
Then the francophone-diplomacy, which was sooo....ahhh.....At least in the beginning. You can't just call your colleague to ask him whether he has time for a meeting at 10am. No, you can call him, but you have to ask first (1) how he is doing, (2) how is family is doing, (3) how the week-end was, (4) how he is dealing with the heat, (5) if everything is ok, (6) how is brother in Ouaga is doing....aaaand then you can pose your question whether he can come over at 10am to meet you at the office. Time consuming.
Time Period: 4-7 weeks
Character: Everything is super again. Problems? Never had one :) I can´t believe I got this amazing job in this amazing country. People know my rhythm now and respect it. My working hours are clearly defined. I slowly understand the role of my job and the impact of my work. Tobias and I getting used to the situation and finally have time to go on a date again: for dinner for instance, for a walk or the public swimming-pool. Two water tanks à 1000 liters arrived as well! My French improved, I can use and understand common burkinabé expressions and the necessary Smaltalk comes automatically.
Time Period: From 7th week
Character: Getting there. It is somewhere in the middle of the curve. The job is still challenging and I still have so many questions that can only be answered by time and experience. But this status does not stress me out anymore. I´m fine accepting that this is part of the job somehow. I´m very satisfied and happy, but I have left the bubble of "excitement". I feel it wont take too long anymore to describe life in Fada as "normality". It became already normal to us, not to leave the house without mosquito-repellent. Putting the used toilet paper into a separate bin instead to flush it does not appear disgusting to us anymore. I don't scream anymore when insects jump on me while we sit outside on our terrace in the evenings.
Also, our house is ready. Yes, table and chairs have arrived. We have a fridge and a washing machine.Laundry smells so fresh and clothes becomes so clean. love it! There is water and electricity, the gift of a shower is just such a wonderful refreshment after a hot day. All the furniture is ready, so our house looks homely and tidy after all. Rosa, our household help works self-responsible and the guards don't expect us to wake up on Sundays before 10am.
Also, less language barriers. Our social life is sorted, we made friends and have our contacts in the neighborhood. We know where to buy cheese and which is the best bakery in town. They sell fresh, warm baguette at any time of the day - really - it always comes fresh out of the oven, always! We are invited to local partys and to my colleagues birthday. There is trust, tolerance and confidence. The long Smalltalk does not annoy us anymore. Ca va? Et la journée? Et la famille? Et la santé? Et la chaleur? Merci.
We know that we have strongest internet connection in the morning between 5am and 8am and we plan our day according to that (for instance photo uploads on the blog). We don't expect people anymore to keep their appointments when its raining and that saves us a lot of stress. We found new hobbies, for instance running and swimming and we´ve built a home-cinema (watched 3 seasons of House of Cards within a week).
A very good base to look forward to the next couple of months.
And I really do!
we are in: Latvia
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