Family Rules

By: Lisa M. Welsien - Also see author's expat blog listing

When you move to a different country, the word change is completely insufficient to describe everything you experience compared to your “old life at home”. Since moving to East Africa almost five years ago and making another international move within the region since then, almost everything about my daily life has been “new”, including two new rules that my husband and I live by. They will sound arbitrary to you at first, I know, and will inspire an inquisitive raise of your eyebrows (if I could see you). They are separate from our beliefs and values, definitely, and, rather, are based on our two biggest concerns as expats in a developing country: health and security. We didn’t initially sit down and say, “Hey, let’s think up some rules to live by!” But these two came about organically because of the environment we live in and have become commandment-like to us.

Rule #1: Go to the Doctor.

We live in a place where malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid, and a whole host of other serious and seriously undesirable illnesses are at least common if not rampant. And there are all kinds of parasites and “bugs” to get from the water or the air or the trees, or wherever. So the basic rule that covers EVERTHING is: Go to the Doctor.

First sign of a fever? Go to the Doctor.
Weird rash? Go to the Doctor.
Mystery bump? Go to the Doctor.
Diarrhea? Go to the Doctor.
Bad cut? Go to the Doctor.
Unusual cramps? Go to the Doctor.

So, as you can imagine (and let’s keep this a bit hush-hush from our insurance company, shall we?), we OVER Go to the Doctor.

We’ve just heard too many horror stories about people who waited too long or didn’t go at all…and we desperately do not want to become the next, “Did you hear about…” fodder at Friday Happy Hour.

We Go to the Doctor so often that when we moved from Nairobi my saddest goodbyes were with my children’s pediatrician and my cardiologist.

We Go to the Doctor so often that we don’t bother with appointments here in Dar; we just show up whenever we want to…and they know me by name.

And the thing is, we Go to the Doctor because we know it is our choice that we live in a place that does not have stellar medical care, but we will certainly not take an additional risk of not at least benefitting from the best medical care that we do have access to (medical evacuation included).

Always Go to the Doctor.

Rule #2: Keep Distance.

We also live in a place where accidents of all kinds happen in the car: normal traffic accidents or even car-jacking/robbery type of accidents. Security when driving is one of our biggest concerns living here and we take it really seriously. To try to prevent accidents-that-happen-in-a-car, the rule is that when we are driving we always Keep Distance from the car in front of us.

Reason number one for the rule is that people stop short here all the time because other people (or they themselves) do not know or do not follow proper road rules. Clause 1.A of this rule is also “when not accelerating, let your foot hover over the brake for easy access.” You just have to get used to a stop-and-go driving world where motorbikes and buses and 3-wheeled-motorbike-taxis (called “bajajis”) don’t respect lanes or the “right of way” or lights or signs or hand gestures or foul language or anything else. If you at least keep distance from the car in front of you, you give yourself a chance to brake in time without damaging your car or cargo (strapped safely in their car seats). Basically, in the event of a traffic accident, if you Keep Distance you have a prayer.

Reason number two for the rule is that if a robbery or car-jacking is attempted on your vehicle, you really want to have some room to maneuver. I learned this during my online security training when I worked for UNICEF in 2008. You never want to be boxed in if you don’t have to be (obviously, heavy traffic makes the rule more challenging in this regard). You can’t count on space behind you because someone else is probably riding your rear end. So you have to plan that any kind of quick turn you make (be it 3-point, U or otherwise) has to involve the space in front of you. Basically, in the event of a security incident, if you Keep Distance you have a prayer.

Always Keep Distance (alternately titled, “Have a Prayer”).

These rules bring up issues that might be uncomfortable for our family and friends to hear about our life. Trust me, they are not always a picnic for us either. But they are our reality and we knew that when we made our decision to live here (okay, maybe we didn’t know all the gory details…but still…we knew). They are, in fact, a big part of being an expat.

Expat-hood (expat-dom? expat-ness?), which is both incredibly interesting and challenging, is about being open to figuring out these really new, really different, possibly scary-to-think-about-why-you-need-them rules. Because if anything in life is a game changer, it is moving to a foreign country. I know that I didn’t necessarily think I was the kind of person open to such a quest until I found myself here. And, actually, I think a lot of people would do well to find themselves so far out of their comfort zone that they are playing by an entirely new set of rules.

I also know that the rules for us will change once again wherever we go next. Maybe they’ll be less “health and security” related? Maybe they will be more “health and security” related? Regardless, I know that I’ll always remember our current family rules, for better or for worse, as a big factor in the expat experience that we’ve had.

About the author:

Lisa is an educator, married to a "do-gooding" Dane whose work first brought them to Nairobi, Kenya and then on to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. For the last five years she has been blogging about the perks and challenges of being an expat in East Africa, as well as the joys and frustrations of raising two healthy, adorable, fiesty little kids.
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Contest Comments » There are 17 comments

Elaine Milacci wrote 11 years ago:

Lisa gave me a few chuckles.........she certainly has had more experience than some of us.......we are blessed to be living in the US of A..........Lisa has grown so much over the last 5 years and I have had the privledge of knowing this amazing young woman!........Be safe and some pics of the children!

Tara wrote 11 years ago:

Lisa's blog is a great read for parents, expats, and expat parents! I love it!

Mary wrote 11 years ago:

Great Entry! Sheds an interesting light on how depending on where your expat life finds you, your priorities can change enormously. Reminds those of us living in countries that are more like the places we grew up that all we really all want for our kids is for them to be happy, healthy, and safe!

Katherine wrote 11 years ago:

A wonderful read! Thank you for sharing your ex-pat world with us!

Christine wrote 11 years ago:

Insightful. Thanks for sharing... And making me miss the expat life :)

Jane Lanzoni wrote 11 years ago:

lisa's blog provides an excellent insight into very serious concerns for ex-pats when living in africa. she is insightful, practical and demonstrates a clarity of expression that is very helpful. lisa - great job.

MaryMuellerc8r8 wrote 11 years ago:

As the mother of the blogger, I worry about both health and safety. Visiting in Nairobi, I knew what was happening ther. Now that they are in Dar, I need to understand that country. The blog and FaceTime are what keep our family informed

Jean S Wollan wrote 11 years ago:

Every blog makes me realize what an amazing experience the welsiens are having - what a treasure these blogs will be for her children and her grandchildren when they children grow up - and how much I miss her!!!

Kdahlface wrote 11 years ago:

Things you only know about if you live them (or read them)! Thanks for sharing!

Rebecca wrote 11 years ago:

Sharp and funny as your blog always is!

Donna Helinski wrote 11 years ago:

Thank you for the essay. We in the USA take so many things for granted. You have made me think about how many different ways of life there are in this world. Thank you for sharing.

Karen wrote 11 years ago:

Love it! I can just picture you packing up the kids and heading to the doctor as an answer to all of life's current problems!

Stephanie O'Brien wrote 11 years ago:

Very insightful! Thank you!

Holly wrote 11 years ago:

So funny & informative too! Love the author's writing style & her thoughts.. on simple survival overseas. Such great insights!

Christina wrote 11 years ago:

Would never have thought of the second one. The first makes sense, and I'm thankful that's not my every day. Keep blogging, I love to hear about your experience.

Kristen Woolf wrote 11 years ago:

Lisa's blog makes me laugh out loud / want to live in Africa again / and grateful for US/UK "home comforts" all at the same time. She has a brilliant and unique voice ... one that makes me click, open and read her blogs the second they arrive in my inbox ... no matter how busy or timepoor I am!

Kelley E. Walsh wrote 11 years ago:

I love the way Lisa provides such informative insight on a topic that I know nothing about, but does it in a way that always provides a smile to my face. I'm so intrigued by her experiences!

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