My inner Irishman is overjoyed that this day has once again arrived. Naturally I tried to foster the same excitement in the 55 eight and nine-year-olds that I teach. We read Green Eggs and Ham (to honor the color of course) and I briefly described Saint Patrick (he was a priest for the Irish people a long time ago…). But I have found that my Irish tradition is just not appreciated in the middle of Africa.
Lucky me, I am not truly Irish, and my heart is young. I will get over the disappointment.
But it got me thinking about the life of an expat.
Choosing to live in a foreign country, with foreign foods and foreign customs is no walk in the park. Generally those who do so know the risks they are taking, and in fact want to experience the newness. And loneliness. Because living with people who don’t appreciate the same jokes, food, fashion, books… as you do is very lonely. As much as we talk and know about the other, we will always miss out on the intimate knowledge that comes from finding enjoyment in the same things. This type of understanding does not require talking. A mere glance can reveal that you both know what it means and take pleasure in the meaning. This is missing in cross-cultural relationships.
But again, the life of an expat is entirely voluntary. Nobody is making you live where you do.
Which is why I prefer eating at the cheap little local bar and taking tea with my colleagues in the back of the kitchen, instead of joining the other white kids downtown for expensive replicas of hamburgers and hiding out from my Rwandan counterparts over break time in the library (which actually is a sacrifice. Even donated children’s books have a strong pull on me).
So while I may not be toasting my Guinness and sharing corned beef and cabbage over at the ranch, I did stop in the dimly lit, local grocery store to pick up two samosas and fresh milk for less than a dollar. I am living on a teacher’s salary, which isn’t much anywhere in the world, and choosing to live in Rwanda. So while I am here, I will do my best to partake in all that Rwanda has to offer, and temporarily put aside the traditions I hold close.