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They say starting a new job, moving house and having a baby make up some of life’s most stressful scenarios.
But what if you take on all three at once?
The conversation went like this.
Husband: ‘I’ve been offered a job in Dakar. I have to let them know by close of business day.’
Me: ‘Well, where is Dakar, exactly?’
Husband: ‘It’s in Senegal…’
Me: <blank face>
Husband: ‘West Africa? Next door to The Gambia?’
Me: <blank face>
Husband: ‘Just open google maps…’
Perhaps if I hadn’t been so high on hormones, I would have said no. I was seven months pregnant with twins and one of them was causing lots of worry. Surely anyone in their right mind would have seen that moving continents with one baby, let alone two, would be a lot to contend with. But at that moment, Senegal sounded like escapism.
Some months later reality set in. My husband moved ahead of us and I juggled two (thankfully healthy) newborns, twin night feeds and relocation admin. Multiple trips to the travel clinic turned the babies into two tropical-disease-resistant pin cushions. Phone calls were fraught; we debated things like ‘should the twins take malerone?’, water safety, mosquito nets, medical care, and what to ship or store. And when the babies turned 6 months, we took off for pastures new.
But great effort reaps great reward. Now fifteen months old, the girls have spent most of their lives in sunshine. From a practical perspective, dressing twins in a single layer of clothing saves considerable time. Senegal boasts all-year-round blue skies, beautiful beaches, fabulous food, and a culture that adores children. Pre-bedtime is spent watching the sunset over the Atlantic – Cbeebies barely gets a look in, however the Toddler Fun Learning App was fab.
Then there is childcare. A London nanny would swallow my wage whole and eat my annual bonus for dessert. Nursery’s no better at £80 a day per child. In Senegal, your very own Mary Poppins is a reality. As is a fulltime driver, cleaner and chef (hangs head in shame). But when you’re far away from home, that’s a wonderful thing. Looking after little people is hard work, but the additional domestic demands are pure drudgery. And who really wants to tackle Himalayas of laundry once the babies are in bed.
All of my relocation fears have proven unfounded. Medical care is second to none; a phone call will see a pediatrician at your front door in under 30 minutes. And a prescription delivery service is hugely handy with a poorly baby on your hands.
I thought I would miss my family but I see more of them than ever before. We spend quality time together and share exciting new experiences.
As for the babies, they are flourishing. They pass their days surrounded by warm and loving Senegalese, and are exceptionally sociable. Weekends are spent at the beach. They have developed a taste for Senegal’s spicy Yassa Poulet. Their nanny speaks French; ‘bravo’ and ‘salut’ are among their first words and their passports have been stamped more times than their determined little feet.
As a new family, it’s easy to feel daunted – to think it’s ‘a big deal’, or ‘not the right time’. But then you arrive and realise you’re far from alone. You meet heavily pregnant women, or those with newborns. Expats are giving birth all over the world, many in far superior conditions than our UK hospitals. Their babies are bi and tri-lingual before they even start school. And families are profiting from wonderful childcare in sunny climbs.
On a personal level, my outlook is forever altered. The richness of a new culture and its people has been priceless. Plus, I now appreciate our wonderful Britain so much more.
So, if you’re a family with an international offer on the table, say yes! Those who don’t will lose the chance of a lifetime.
Jo is a freelance writer and illustrator, when she’s not chasing twins. Her heart belongs to West London, but she recently returned from a year in West Africa with her family.