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Unspoken truths of living abroad

By Khairoon Abbas

Born and raised in Dar-es-salaam, I always imagined I would spend most of my life at home, close to my family and those I love the most. I first moved abroad when I was four years old, then again at 12 years old, and lastly at 18 when I decided to pursue my post-secondary education abroad. Back then and increasingly now, our world is no longer defined by distance. Thanks to affordable travel, we can cross time zones in, literally, no time.

My pile of laundry waiting to be ironed at 8 am on a Sunday morning.

But perhaps one of the most challenging misconceptions that I, and probably thousands of others who live abroad, continually experience is the notion that we have it so much easier abroad compared to those who are back home. I, for one, do not agree that we have it easier. Yes, life is different abroad but at the end of the day, we face similar personal and professional challenges ranging from stresses resulting from jobs and the rising cost of living.

My pile of laundry waiting to be ironed at 8 am on a Sunday morning

I live in Canada, which was recently ranked as the second-best country in the world in the annual “Best Countries” survey from the U.S. News and World Report, in conjunction with Young & Rubicam BAV Consulting and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. This, I believe, is because Canada, like many developed countries, has more affordable and advanced facilities and services.  Things like healthcare and education top that list. Our East African countries are also making progress in these areas in terms of quality, reliable and affordable health care and universal quality education, and I am certain that it is simply a matter of time for us to get there.

Anyone who has visited or lived abroad will tell you this: life abroad, especially for women and specifically for mothers, has its own set of challenges that we rarely discuss. We are sometimes consumed by the idea that life is easier abroad but is it really? Here are my few examples that highlight that this is not usually the case:

  • Housework = your best friend: Unless your income enables you to hire a cleaner on a weekly or bimonthly basis, the reality is that housework rests on our shoulders. The sweeping, vacuuming, cleaning, cooking, laundry, ironing, and arranging …. all these tasks are yours to keep. In my household, although my husband and I share the load, the load is still heavy. Many of us have our own coping mechanisms. To maintain my sanity, I meal plan and cook in bulk and work on laundry and ironing when my children are asleep! Most days, I miss having a “dada” to help me even with the minimum!
  • Tackling the childcare challenge: While public education is free for children aged four, children younger than that remain in your care. You can a) put them in full-time daycare; 2) put them in part-time daycare and/or 3) stay at home with them. As you can imagine, childcare is unimaginably expensive. In my case, my husband and I work different hours so we can share the childcare responsibilities. I work mornings and he works afternoons; this way, we save on daycare costs while keeping our youngest, who is two years old, at home until he is ready to enter kindergarten or until we can afford full-time daycare. Does this arrangement have its challenges? Of course! My kids miss out on valuable time with their father in the evenings and at night while he works. But these are just some of the sacrifices that one makes at times. You have no idea how much I miss having family close by to help us look after our kids!
  • Being away from your loved ones takes a toll on you: Indeed, WhatsApp, Skype, Viber and all other forms of instant communication can reduce the heartache one feels when being separated from your loved ones. But let me tell you, the pain is still there. There are moments, be it in happy times and sad times when I simply wish I could just drive to my mother’s house or visit my mother-in-law but the reality is that I can’t. And that makes me sad. As a family of four, flying to Tanzania often is not a reality. For me, this is one of the hardest things about living abroad. And my children are also missing out on growing up with their cousins and extended family members. And when we do have family visit us, the goodbyes after a few weeks with us are so painful.

Some may say, why are you living abroad anyway if it’s hard? Why not move back home? To be honest, this is something I continually struggle with. Whether to stay abroad or move back home. The reality is that each place has its ups and downs, its advantages and disadvantages. Also, I moved abroad when I was in my early adult life and I have lived abroad for more than 15 years now. This abroad has become my new home. But more importantly, it’s my children’s’ home. This is what they know as home. So while the challenges are real, and some days are harder than others, we keep on keeping on for the sake of our children. As for my husband and I, we are still striving to work and study hard so that we can afford frequent trips back home to Dar-es-salaam, so that our children grow up visiting our home and loving it as much as we do.

Khairoon Abbas is originally from Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania, and has been living in Canada since 2002, when she first moved to Canada to pursue her post-secondary education. She is a working mama of two busy boys. She enjoys writing about all things Tanzania and motherhood. 


2 thoughts on “Unspoken truths of living abroad”

  1. I live abroad and have recently had to make a decision to stay after my training. I am still wondering if it was the right decision. I do agree that challenges do exist both ways; staying back or leaving.


  2. Wonderfully expressed!! I live on the West Coast of Canada…Vanvouver. Have been here since 2003 and I can relate to each and every point that has been mentioned above as I have and still go through the same challenges….and maybe a few more.

    Liked by 1 person

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