Monday, June 8, 2009

Almost a Year.

Well Blogettes it has been almost a year since we touched down in Africa. It has been quite an evolution for the Candelaria family. Reflecting upon our arrival, we were definitely novices when it came to living abroad. Everything that had been so certain in our lives was suddenly uncertain. Not knowing what to expect or who to trust, we waded through or first month very skeptical and overly cautious.
The biggest obstacle to overcome was security. Coming from Durango, security was a concern but not an issue. However, upon our arrival at the airport we were greeted with security guards carrying AK-47 machine guns, police check points on the way to our new residence, and a 24 hour guard for our residence. Once at the house, there were bars on all the windows and locking iron gates over every door entrance. We were given a quick lesson on how to arm the alarm system and we were introduced to our guard. I could tell it made a big impression on Beth and the kids as there was an uneasy quiteness present in each of them. Never in my life had I ever really had to worry about my security or be in a position where my only defense was a call to the Marines.
When nightfall came and our Embassy sponsors drove away, the realization hit us that we were suddenly alone in a new country, did not know anyone, had no transportation, and we would have to totally rely on others for our basic needs until we got our bearings. I remember walking around the inside of the house looking for the safest place to take shelter should we ever come under attack. A place that would remain hidden from windows or doorways to buy us time while we waited for the Marines to arrive.
The following days we began to venture out. The first trip was a walk to the grocery store which was about 4 blocks away from our house. I purposely waited until about noon and then Beth and I briefed the kids on what we were doing, where we were going, and instructed them to stick close to mom and dad. As we left the confines of our walled yard and began walking down the street we were greeted with stares from the numerous Zambians that were walking on the street. I can't help but imagine that we looked like a duck family walking down the road. Me on one side herding the kids and Beth on the other doing the same.
When we arrived at the grocery store we were greeted with unfamiliar products that were very expensive. Once again it felt as though all eyes were upon us. (and they probably were because I'm sure we looked awkward and out of place). We bought a few things and left the store to walk back home. There was a lot of activity with cars, buses, and taxis whizzing by, horns honking and of course numerous people walking around.
As we made our way back into our safe haven, I painstakenly made sure all our doors and windows were locked and all alarms were on. As the first week wore on, we felt as though we were in a little better shape than when we arrived. The next week, I brought a vehicle and our world opened up quite quickly. As the weeks turned into months, our fears and concerns softened. But in Africa, there are constant reminders that you must stay vigilant even when things seem relatively calm. For instance, around Halloween a person who lived about 5 Kilometers down the road from us contracted an unidentified viral hemorraging fever (Ebola type). That person died within a week, the EMT who evacuated her to South Africa died about two weeks later and the person who tended to her in South Africa died about a week after that. To make matters worse, the original patient had a nephew living with her who just happened to sit next to Trevor at school and come to find out he was at home with a high fever. My anxiety level has never been higher as we waited to hear whether the nephew had the virus and wondering if Trevor had been exposed. For about a week every time Trevor sneezed or coughed I was in knots thinking that he may have the virus and what an idiot I was for bringing my family to Africa and exposing them to these things. In all honesty, we were about a day away from pulling up stakes and leaving. But as time wore on and the threat lessened, we held the course and all our worries were unfounded as the nephew did not have the virus and he returned back to school. (To this day, the virus has not been identified as any previously known virus, which is common in Africa as people die everyday from unknown illnesses.). Having survived that scare, the fact that all our worldly possessions and vehicle from the States still hadn't arrived seven months after they were packed seemed somewhat trivial, but nonetheless made life more difficult than it had to be.
Now that a year has almost passed, we are gearing up for a return home but not for good, as was the original plan, but instead just for the summer.
It turns out that we have adapted well and we were able to overcome our early fears of the unknown and unfamiliar. Our perceived security issues turned out to be nothing more than standard precautions. The kids enjoy their school, and as we had envisioned, they have been exposed to people, places and opportunities that simply do not exist in Durango, Colorado. We have travelled to numerous destinations on this continent, taken several safaris and visited one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world. (Victoria Falls)
So as I look back at our year abroad, and knowing that our decision to uproot and move to Africa is tested on a daily basis, I can only wish that anyone reading this will have the good fortune of experiencing those same trials and tribulations that we have because in my view it is the trips outside of our comfort zone that make life worth living.

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