Welcome to the Wandering Drays!

Not all who wander are lost...

Welcome to my blog dedicated to my family and our crazy foreign service life. Never content with staying in one place, we are excited to share our journey. We've survived two unaccompanied tour (Baghdad 2010-2011 and Baghdad again in 2015-2016), multiple TDYs, and enjoyed a two-year family assignment in Cairo, Egypt. The fab hubby is currently learning Turkish for our next assignment...Istanbul, Turkey! We leave for Turkey sometime in summer 2017. I write about what I know. Which is mainly kids, tween drama, gross pets, dealing with lots of government info, our moving adventures, being a nurse, yoga, running, living on too-little sleep, and an addiction to coffee lattes. I hope you'll enjoy this glimpse into our lives.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Am I Happy Here?

I've been off my blog for a few weeks.  Doing some soul-searching.  Trying to categorize the crazy swirling thoughts in my mind.

Cairo is our first post overseas.  And I like it.  I think.  It's hard to say.  Maybe I don't.  I don't know.  Yes. No.

I'm withdrawn, and I don't know that I can, or even should put it into words.  Because then I have to deal with it.  I haven't reached out to my friends about it.  I've kept it inside.  I feel lost.

I did talk to fab hubby about it.  A lot.  And he says blog.  Blog because when I write, it helps me sort out my feelings.  So here goes.

See, sometimes I think I love living here.  I sit on the porch as the call to prayer echoes through the city.  I hop in my car and zig-zag down the road, flowing with the traffic, honking, swerving, gawking at the sights.  I take in the view of the Nile River.  Sometimes you can see the Giza Pyramids all the way from the Autostrad while driving to Khan Al Khalili.  It's breathtaking.  I love bargain shopping at the souk.  I love that I've bought something like ten pashminas.  I love listening to my children count in Arabic.  I truly enjoyed our trip to Luxor.  I love my job.

But often I don't love living here.  I don't like Egyptian food.  Sure, I love the local bread.  But I don't like koshari.  I don't like foul (the Egyptian equivalent of refried beans).  I don't drink tea.  The garbage, the filth, the dust.  It makes me so angry.  It's piled everywhere - doesn't matter how nice the neighborhood is.  It's dirty.  And when I'm in a mood, the lack of traffic laws, the near-accidents, the ridiculous motorcycle-turned-uhaul that almost hits a kid on the road puts me over the edge.  It's hard to run outside safely.  It's hard to run quick errands to the store.  It's restrictive.  I can't walk alone at night; I've been warned about running alone through the streets.  Heck, I've been chased by street dogs.  We don't explore the city in the ways I thought we would.

I guess maybe we were sold on the Cairo of the 1990s.  Of the Cairo that was American-friendly.  The Cairo that was safe.  Maybe we weren't ready for the post-revolution Egypt.  And maybe my expectations were, no, are unreasonable.  Because, honestly,  who cares if I don't like the food?  We have  commissary that carries all of the grocery items that I need from the U.S.  There are plenty of U.S.-type restaurants here that I love.  Chili's.  TGIF.  McDonald's. Pinkberry's.  Starbucks.

And who cares if we don't get to explore a lot of the city?  We live in a nice neighborhood with the rest of the American community.  Really, everything we need is here.  The kids' school is fantastic. I love being involved there. Not to mention we have a great American club with a restaurant, pool, playground, and lots of green space for the kids to play in.  Should I really be so upset with the garbage everywhere else so long as my yard is clean?

But it's a bubble.  A nice little microcosm of all the American things that I love.  That really removes us far from the daily life of Cairo.  Which makes me just wonder - if the things that are making me most happy here aren't the Cairo things, but the American things, then why live here?

I'm sure there's some sort of research out there about mobile lives and happiness and the process we go through as we try to assimilate to our new nomadic lives.  But whatever the answer is, it's all got me in a funk.

I look at our time here and I realize, it's all so very temporary.  We just got here and we're going to be leaving to go who-knows-where in just a little over a year.  I like our apartment, but we didn't pick it.  It was picked for us.  The furniture isn't ours.  I don't even have pictures up on the wall.

My closest friend, who I've only known for six short months, is leaving post.  She's the kind of friend that I feel like I've known forever, and she's leaving.  It's a new feeling for me.  You see, I've always been the one who leaves.  We've moved three times over the past three years - I'm the one who leaves.  Not the one who gets left.

I'm sitting here typing all this out and the questions keep rolling over and over in my mind - am I happy here?  Is this what I thought it would be?  It sounded so glamorous.  We're going to live in Cairo.  We spent an entire year prepping for the move; we sold the kids on this idea.  What is it that I'm looking for? Why do I miss the U.S. so much when most of the stuff I really love about it is here?

And I beat myself up for it.  I feel the guilt rolling over me.  As I look at everything I have, everything I've wanted and I dare ask myself if I'm happy with this all?  What is wrong with me?

::deep breath::

I admit, I don't know the answer.  Maybe it's good that it's temporary - that the time we get is just enough time to find the things to appreciate about the culture, to learn something new, and then move on.  Maybe it's good that the stuff that makes me happiest is the American things.  After all, I AM an American.

And my family - I couldn't love them more.  I get more time with the kids, more time to be involved in their school, more time with the baby.  The days I work?  I get more time with the fab hubby.  I even get to see him at lunch.  We work out at the gym together.  Carpool together.  All that time that I was missing him so desperately when he was in Iraq and I was stuck in Ohio with two kids and a newborn, all that time I was dreaming of the days we'd be together in Cairo, we have that now.  I wouldn't change that for the world.

I KNOW that I am blessed with all that we have.  I am grateful for this time we have, for the opportunity to serve in the capacity we've chosen, and for the opportunity to explore a new culture.  So maybe I shouldn't beat myself up so much about this all.

But the funk is there.  I'm knee-deep in it, and I'm trying to pull myself out of it.

I think that at least for now, it's ok for me to mourn what I'm losing - my friend going to another post.  But I know I've made a life-long friend.  Who knows?  Maybe our husbands will get posted together someday?  Maybe it will even be in the U.S. where we can laugh and reminisce about all the crazy traffic in Cairo while we sip lattes in Starbucks.

Maybe I shouldn't beat myself up so much for feeling this way.  Sure, it's temporary, our time here.  But that shouldn't mean it's not home.  It's my responsibility to make it home.  I'm going to put some pictures up.  Make it a bit more "ours." And celebrate that when my kids spill Kool-Aid on the furniture, I'm not the one who paid for it. (And be thankful that it's dark material!)

Maybe it's not exactly what I expected.  And maybe I miss the U.S. more than I thought I would.  That's what R&R is for, right?  We have ours planned for one month, starting in mid-July...a trip to Orlando for the kids before we head to Ohio to see family and friends.  All the stuff I'm missing, it will always be there.

And then maybe, just maybe, I'll realize what I miss about Egypt?  We'll see.

But there is no specific answer right now.  Am I happy living here?  Yes, no, maybe, sometimes, yes...


  1. Wow...great post! I really needed to read something like this right now. I'm having sort of an opposite but the same situation in life at the moment and it feels great to see someone else feeling the same and being "real" about it and not faking the funk :)

  2. Totally NORMAL. Believe me, we all get it. We are in a luxury post and I have the cheek to complain about my housing, furniture, earthquakes, idiot drivers, etc. It is ridiculously clean here, they speak English, blah, blah, blah I should be perky and happy all of the time right?.
    Yes, this is the life we all signed up for but, allow yourself to have pity parties once in a while. It's not an easy way of life but there are perks-focus on the good as you have been. We won't see the US for 2 years (no home leave or R&R from here)and sometimes I get so homesick I think I'll go crazy. A profound change happens during the second year, you'll see. It gets better. Have fun in Orlando...we go home in July so maybe we will see you there (I went to High School in Orlando).

  3. I'd be worried if you DIDN'T worry abou this sort of thing from time to time. I had issues in Iceland from time to time... I mean, I loved it, but 24 hours of darkness in the winter, 24 hours of light in the summer, being stuck on an island (that was ridiculously expensive to leave)...even the best places can get to you...good for you for knowing when you needed to vent!

  4. Feeling lost and left behind is just as much of the FS experience as having amazing opportunities to see a part of the world. Sometimes it downright sucks. To be Foreign Service is to sacrifice and wrestle with happiness, home, security, safety, language, culture on a daily basis. Somedays you struggle. A lot. But it does get easier; you will get your pace. And it is temporary. The funk will visit you every post, but you will learn to recognize it faster, combat it easier, have a better instinct to understanding what helps (painting, plants, art, family fun, supporting a charity dear to your heart, letting the school be your activity planner and social center, finding a worship family, exercise, special meals, trying a new hobby, hosting family parties, finding a unique way to run -- possibly with others). You will get there. And you will come out of the experience stronger, kinder, and smarter. Funk happens. It is a season. Go kick its butt!

  5. You are not alone! We all go through the ups and downs. We are definitely in a "down" right now, too. But we're working on it. No post lasts forever. Hang in there and concentrate on the things that make you happy. The rest will fall into place.

  6. Put the pictures on the walls. Take baby steps to claim this house as your home. Even if it all has to be packed away again in 10 months. What you're feeling is normal and an important part of the adjustment. Did you love everything every day when you lived in the US? Of course not. Now that we live the "glamorous lives" the right to have bad days (or, quite frankly, months) did not get taken away from us.

    Mourn your friend who's leaving, then start making plans to see each other. Whether it's one visiting the other or meeting in a third location. It could even be that you discover your training/HL/R&R schedules coincide and a playground in Falls Church is your next coffee morning.

    Good luck and persevere.

  7. Thank you for writing this! So good to know I am not the only one who struggles with the inevitable ups-and-downs of foreign life. :)

  8. Oh, honey. That is the FS life, exactly. Sometimes you just feel so lucky and other times, well, it just plain sucks! I think if the good outweighs the bad in a given week, you're doing okay. Everyone relies on the bubble to some extent - some more than others, and there is no right way to do it. I rely heavily on my bubble friends to get me through my down moments. And when summer comes, and my bubble friends leave, I fall hard sometimes.

    Hang in there until R&R time. My guess? You'll go home to the things you've missed, and you'll enjoy them, but you'll also realize how much you've changed since you were there last. And you'll be proud of yourself for how far you've come, and you'll miss your Cairo life just a teensy bit even while you're chugging lattes every hour and enjoying those trash-free vistas.

    Dont worry; you're doing it right. It is supposed to be a big, fun adventure. But it's also a hard slog, when some days all you can do is just get through it. That's just what it is. Just enjoy the adventures where you can. And allow yourself the sad days.

  9. What a terrific post! I think you have captured something that all of us experience. But it's not all. This life is temporary but that can be a blessing and a curse. If you love a post and don't want to leave, you'd hate that it has to end. If you hate a post for whatever reason, it's wonderful that you can put it behind you and start all over somewhere else. I agree with everything already said. This too shall pass and you'll be better for it. Thanks for putting your feelings into words because those feelings are many other FS folks feelings too. Have an awesome R&R!

  10. Great post! I agree with the comment about year two being better. Year two you have all your filters in place to make life livable and mostly enjoyable. Every time you leave and go on R&R you have to re-build your filters. Also good news is that your second post isn't as hard to adjust to. At least that has been my experience. We live in a bubble here too! I hate it one day-need it the next.

  11. That was exhausting and I can so appreciate what you are going through,what you have given up and what you have, and what you will have~Not many people can travel to Cairo, and teach their children to speak arabic. You are an American-you are used to living in a clean, well kept environment- We are all not in safe clean places. America is home-no matter where you travel or chose to live-your home, can be made anywhere your husband and your children are...I hope you can feel better about things. Unsure if I could do what you are doing. Hell, I have a hard enough time being 10 hours from my Dad! If I were a sea away-I would go crazy! Hugs to you all...

  12. We've been gone from Cairo for nine months now. I miss the mangoes, the bread, Maadi House, and being warm in February. That's it. I liked Cairo a lot when we were there, but now that we've moved on to Baku, my husband and I keep telling each other how much nicer it is than Cairo! Cairo sounds like it should be a good, easy post. If you even add things up (the commissary, the community, the availability of American things), it should be, but really it isn't. So don't feel bad. Cairo will make your next post much easier to adjust to.

  13. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts in this post. What great comments you received. I don't have any wisdom, as I'm only just in my first year too, but hope it gets better for you.

  14. Thank you for this post! You so eloquently captured what I seem to lack the words to describe! How fabulous that we get to be part of such a bigger community who "gets it", who understands that each post has plenty of ups and downs.

  15. Thank you so much for this post! I am new to the FS, about to start FSI in a few weeks and its nice to hear about all the ups and downs. Hope things get better for you soon.

  16. Great post. I am currently in the process of writing a book that touches on these funks . . . I can't speak for you, or for anyone else at all, but it seems that FS spouses need to be careful to make a space for themselves wherever they go. I've been reading Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" (an oldy but a goody) and she talks about unhappy women that have a good situation but still don't feel . . . quite . . . right. Or happy. Or fulfilled. Her words: “Just what was this problem that has no name? What were the words women used when they tried to express it? Sometimes a woman would say ‘I feel empty somehow . . . incomplete.’ Or she would say, ‘I feel as if I don’t exist.’ Sometimes she blotted out the feeling with a tranquilizer. Sometimes she thought the problem was with her husband, or her children, or that what she really needed was to redecorate her house, or move to a better neighborhood, or have an affair, or another baby" (from page 63). She goes on, but I think the key for me here on this very tiny island was to find some projects that I feel particularly inspired about, and to make time for that project even if it means that my son has less than 24 hours of face-time with me. I don't know if that information is useful or not to you, but I wish you the best of luck in tracking down happiness.

  17. I have been meaning to comment on this for ages! I think that what you are feeling is totally normal. And this post was a really great read. If you can, you should submit it to the FS journal or something! If it's not already part of the link up, do that too. Also, if perchance, during your break in July, you pass by DC/Philly let me know - I would LOVE to treat you to a Starbucks. Or Prosecco. Or whatever!!! :)

  18. I sometimes think that living at post is like being on vacation too long. Vacation is mostly very wonderful and exciting... but... eventually you get tired of feeling like you're living out of your suitcases and in someone else's home, no matter how welcome they make you feel. The bad thing is, this feeling of conflict comes and goes. I don't think it's a first post thing. The good thing? Living a life that makes me feel like we're on an extended vacation... even if we have to work, go to school, keep up with chores, etc. just like 'back home' (whatever that is)!

  19. Wow. Absolutely WOW! Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who posted a response to me - here, by email, by Facebook. I am always so amazed by the FS community and the way they (well, we!!) support each other. It was so hard writing this all out, and I can't thank all of you enough for your great outreach to me about this. I've honestly been doing so much better since writing this out and putting things into perspective. And all of your thoughts, prayers and support has meant the world to me. Thank you, all of you!, once again. <3

  20. What a terrifc post. You hit on so many things that MANY of us feel.

    The bubble gets me down sometimes too. We were foot loose students abroad before this and now that we represent the man I have to fight the urge to live like someone with our jobs "ought" to.

    The funk is hard to describe, huh? I get all existential thinking "What brings meaning to life? What's the main ingredient to a happy life and how do I re-create it here? Is it family? Is it choice? Is it late night drives to Wendy's in a neighborhood where you won't get robbed? I don't really know. If you find any research about re-stabilizing everytime you move -let me know!

    I also totally get the bit about feeling guilty - I even felt emabarrased from time to time. "I'm tough. I wanted to do this as much, if not more, than my officer husband. Why am I not 100% jazzed 100% of the time?" I set some unrealistic expectations for myself that I didn't even think WERE expectations.

    I will say that things get better. I had a funk around the same time you are having yours. You go through ups and downs and in the end I think most people come up on top :)

    Take Care