Monday, September 5, 2016

Survival Mode

We have now been in France for 10 days, and I admit that I am guilty of not keeping our family and friends up to date on how things have gone so far.  For that, I am sorry.  To be honest, for the first week, we were very much in survival mode, just trying to figure out how to live and eat and to get around town.  This took a lot of energy and a lot of time, but I believe we are starting to get our feet under us and are just now beginning to get into a rhythm.  

We arrived at our new apartment on a Friday night and were warmly greeted by our teammates the Baskins, who are just finishing their year in Albertville, before moving to Burundi (Darrell is an ophthalmologist, and will be Burundi’s first ever retinal specialist).  They had dinner waiting for us, along with a supply of groceries to get us through the first few days.  Our apartment is on the third floor of a building which is off campus (about a 15 minute walk, or a 5 minute car ride). Many of the students live in a dormitory on campus, but we are grateful for have been assigned an off campus residence, as we hope it will compel us to better engage in the local community and utilize our French as much as possible.  Before we moved here, we arranged to purchase a used car from one of the outgoing students, a 2001 Opel Zaphira.  It is a well worn and well loved car, but so far, it has started every time.  

The first week was filled with meetings trying to get set up with a French bank account, phone and internet, car insurance and registration, and the kids schooling.  These meetings were exhausting, as they were all in French, which was a big stretch for me.  My French is probably on the level of a 7 year old …. so just imagine me sending Biniyam in by himself to set up a bank account, or to purchase car insurance.  I am not sure exactly what I signed up for, but put a great deal of faith in those who were helping me.

Thursday was orientation for Stephanie and I and was also the first day of school for our kids.  It became clear to us on Thursday that what we are asking our kids to do, is massively more difficult than what Steph and I are doing.  They have been thrown into schools with teachers and kids who speak no or very little English.  It was a hard day for them, but they all survived and girded up to return to school on Friday, which seemed to be a slightly better day.

This weekend we had a bit of time to exhale and to explore this gorgeous city, nestled in the French Alps.  We went to an artisan festival, and also hiked up to a medieval city on the mountainside (which we can see from our balcony).  We also spent time with our teammates who are here with us, the Baskins and Wendlers.  It seems I could keep writing for a very long time, describing our first 10 days, but I think instead I will close with some observations we have made about life in France.

  1. The French people have been, for the most part, incredibly warm and kind to us.  I think the French have gotten a bad rap in recent years, and I can only assume this comes from some bad experiences that Americans might have had in Paris or another big city, but out here, far from the big city, people are warm and generous and kind, and most of them have been very patient with my 7 year old level of French.
  2. Everything here is much smaller than in the US, including roads, apartments, and toilets (some of us need to work on improving our aim:)
  3. France (or at least the part of France we are living in) is an incredibly diverse part of the world.  In our apartment complex, we live above a Kabob shop owned by a very kind Turkish man, also above a family from Poland, and below an Arab man and French man.  
  4. France has a culture that is in many ways different from American culture.  This will take time to understand and to learn how to adapt.  I am not sure that a year is enough time to wrap our minds around it, but we will try.
  5. In France, your kids are released from school every day to have lunch with their families.  I am grateful for this time as a family each day, and even more so as it gives us some time to check in with our kids in the middle of their day, and give them a respite from the onslaught of French coming toward them.

Again, I am sorry for all the emails and Facebook messages that I have not responded to, or responded to very slowly.  In addition to the busyness of these past several days, we just got internet set up in our apartment this weekend, so we have had few opportunities to access the internet prior to this.  Please continue to keep us in your prayers.  Although a year in France may sound like a year long vacation to many, we know this will be a year with many challenges both for us and for our children.  But we hope that in the end, we will have the depth of French that we need to re-enter into the work we have been called to in Burundi.