Before we left for Tanzania the first time, I wrote a series on risk. There were so many unknowns: how were we thinking about them? We know life in Tanzania a bit now. Things seem less risky. We are not fearful about returning to Tanzania. Instead, in this last month before departure, we are entering a time of grief.
Don’t get me wrong: we want to go back. We’re excited about what God is doing in Tanzania and feel privileged to partner with TAFES in this next phase. But our hearts are naturally in two places, and we can only be in one at a time. Part of doing the transition well is naming the multi-faceted losses that come with that. So that’s what I’m doing here.
Perhaps the most immediate thing I’m grieving is the things I’ll miss out on. For example, there’s a feminist theology conference in Melbourne a month after we leave. I’m hoping to hear recordings of the talks, but it’s the networking I’m really interested in, and you can only do that in person. On the family front, my sister had twin girls while we were here, and the next time I see them they’ll be three years old. No amount of photos and videos can make up for not seeing them grow in person. A number of friends are pregnant. Not only will I miss meeting their babies, I won’t be able to bring a meal around or offer help. My Bible study group has been planning the next term of material but I won’t be there to participate or follow up on prayer requests in the same way. There are a hundred things like these.
Much of what I’m grieving is relational. One of the fantastic things about home assignment is meeting a stack of wonderful and intriguing people, but many of those relationships feel very new, the conversations unfinished. We keep in touch while we’re overseas but it’s not the same as getting to know someone in person.
I’m grieving the comfort of life in Australia. As our thoughts turn to life in Tanzania, I think of what a luxury it is to trust police instead of feeling dread when you see them, or to control indoor climate because the power supply is reliable enough to run a fan if not air conditioning. I’m thinking about how good food is in Australia — the variety and freshness of what’s in our fridge, let alone what’s available in cafes and restaurants! I’m remembering how much effort it is to live in and try to understand someone else’s culture and language, and how restful it’s been to operate in my own for a while.
I’m grieving not having more kids — though we believe this is right for our family, and it’s got ethical and personal dimensions to it as well, it’s at least partially tied to our life living between cultures and continents and what that means for our family. Were we to do life in Australia long term, we might have made a different decision, so this becomes one more thing that we’ve ‘given up’.
Another thing it feels like we’re giving up is opportunities for our boys. Living in Tanzania is rich in lots of ways. They have the chance to grow up learning another language, to intuitively move between cultures, to see animals in the wild most Aussies would only see in a zoo. But there are things they miss out on too: playgrounds, museum visits, grandparents, toy libraries, musical theatre, bike riding. Once upon a time we didn’t know about these things so we didn’t miss them. But now we’ve experienced them, I’m wondering how we’ll cope without them.
I’m grieving our home in Dodoma. Before we left we didn’t say a proper goodbye — we were packing boxes and I was horrendously sick and we were just thankful to make it out in one piece. But it really was a great house and living on campus was wonderful and we really like Dodoma’s climate and size and feel. Plus, as Elliot thinks about returning, it’s the ‘yellow house’ and his school in Dodoma that he’s talking about, but we’ll be living in a completely different place now. And we don’t yet have a house in Dar es Salaam or know that much about the neighbourhood, so it’s unknown and it’s hard to look forward to a place which is so nebulous to us.
So I’m grieving stability too. This time in Australia has been deeply unsettling for us as a family. It’s been transition after transition, from the steep learning curve of parenting in Australia, to the joy of becoming a family of four. We’ve lived in several different places, and our routine changes each week according to what stage of home assignment we’re in. And though once we’re settled in Tanzania we’ll be there for three years, we don’t expect to have a house when we first arrive, so that process of re-orienting is likely to be delayed because of that move. New house, new furniture, new shops, new school, new relationships, new family structure. Returning to Tanzania is not the end of the instability: it’s the beginning of a whole new set of changes.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.