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Thursday, November 02, 2006


Karen Blixon, in the book Out of Africa said, “I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”

Although I’ve never really wanted a farm in Africa, I’ve always wanted to say that line and have it be somewhat true.

Instead I can say, “I lived in a house in Africa, near the city of Dar es Salaam, just one block from the beach.”

Not quite as romantic, is it? Still, it beats saying I had a bungalow in North Carolina (sorry NC friends).


There were big changes for the Mahler family last week. Our sea shipment – the one that had been sitting in the Port of Dar for more than two months while my work permit situation worked itself out - FINALLY made it to my house – arriving in a massive shipping container that couldn’t even make it through the front gate.

This long awaited and much anticipated arrival of my shipment has led me to wax poetic about what it means to be at home. After all, home isn’t just within the confines of your house. Home can be a whole city. Home can be where your family or friends are. Home can even be an existential state of being – the place one is missing when having an existential crisis.

It is true that home defies definition. But one usually knows when one is there.

Before last week I thought that I was at home in Dar es Salaam.

I found a house.

I moved into the house with my kids. We set up shop.

We even made friends.

The house had big overstuffed leather couches and chairs and cheesy adornments on the bedroom furniture. It was very Tanzanian imported from China (where most so-called high-quality furniture comes from here). And actually, after five months of living in the house with this furniture I secretly started to dread the arrival of my sea shipment. After all, we were doing just fine like we were. And where the hell were we going to put everything anyway? We were living rather austerely by US standards, that that was just fine.

But alas, the stuff arrived, there was no turning it back. The furniture is not going back to the US until we do.

And as the 20 moving company workers unpacked the 200 boxes and 50 pieces of furniture and large toys, my anxiety grew and grew.

Where were we going to put the stuff?

How was I going to keep all this stuff safe?

It didn’t help that I had a keen eye focused on the faces of the people who work in my compound. They didn’t say it, but I could tell. They were totally overwhelmed, too. I’m sure however, they must have also thought it ridiculous. How could three people – two of whom are under the age of three – need so much stuff???? I wish I could have been a fly on the wall of their dinner conversation that night.

The biggest surprise for me, other than the fact that in the lead up to the unpacking I didn’t even want the stuff anymore, is that once it was here – in my house – I felt totally different.

My stuff is MY STUFF. It makes my home. It turns out I’ve been “waiting to exhale” all this time. I’ve been waiting for my comfortable furniture. I’ve been waiting for my beautiful (albeit Ikea) living room rug. I’ve been holding out for my pillow top mattress and the giant pile of kid’s toys. I have been looking at bare walls and just dying to having my colorful West African and Caribbean art work up. I just didn’t know it until it was all inside and unpacked.

There are some downsides. I was depressed to see all the boxes that were the contents of various junk drawers and closets I should have taken the time to clean out before I left (or at least put in storage rather than have them sail across the seven seas).

And really, I can write a whole other blog on white man’s guilt related to the amount stuff we seem to think we need to feel at home vis-à-vis the rest of the world. But, I’ll keep you on pins and needles for that one.

But overall… I must admit to feeling totally different about my home. And I think the kids feel different too. Now we can sit comfortably on the couch at night and read book after book before bedtime. Now Rowan can “cook meals” in her play kitchen and Jaden can play basketball with the big hoop.

Meanwhile, the house continues to provide new learning experiences. This week I had a very funny incident with the carpenter/wall hanging fundi my landlord sent over to help me hang my artwork. I spent two hours with him on Monday morning measuring out where I wanted each and every painting. Then I went to work. That evening, as I returned to the house with my boss and my bosses’ bosses’ boss (in from DC) in tow, I discovered that he had managed to hang all my artwork just inches from the ceiling. I felt like a midget! And after an initial mini-explosion (contained because of the presence of the bigwigs) I managed to see the humor in it. I just wish I had had the foresight to take photos of it before the fundi came back today to re-hang everything. I’ll let you know if it works out or if it all ends up just inches from the floor.

Dorothy says, “There’s no place like home.” And she is right.

Jaden, Rowan and I are now really at home. *exhale*


Anonymous Anonymous said...

George Carlin did a wonderful monologue on 'stuff'and your blog reminded me of that. Glad to hear that you and your stuff were finally reunited.

5:32 AM  
Anonymous Becky said...

how wonderful that you finally feel at home. and how did your wall hanging fundi manage to think it should hang two inches from the ceiling? i got a very big belly laugh out of that image. i do wish you had taken pictures. when it is all done, please take pictures of the finished product!

5:49 AM  
Anonymous Becky said...

ps so are your kids toilet trained and if so, let us know how much you can get for each diaper in the expat community on the expat diaper black market circuit...

5:51 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

200 boxes, wow. Thanks for the cautionary tale - even though we're not crossing an ocean in our upcoming move, it might behoove us to pare down a bit, make a few Salvation Army runs before packing everything we own.

I'm always known the expression "home is where you hang your hat." But perhaps what you're hanging your hat on is every bit as important as the fact that you're hanging it. Long live stuff!

5:22 PM  

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