Somewhere along the road, I adapted.
I can't even tell you when it happened. But I do know that it took a long time--years and years.
When you move to a new country, the remnants of your old life stay with you for a long time. At first, keeping in touch with your friends is a big priority. You get lots of packages in the mail. You grieve the loss of all that you left behind. But you are excited to be in this new place you dreamed about for so long, and that excitement keeps you going for a while. After the honeymoon wears off--which could happen in a week or a year--then it just takes grit. A lot of grit. As in, I'm going to grit my teeth and stay here even though I hate it.
That stage also can vary in length. But it usually morphs into the next stage, which is a settled acceptance. You re-learn how to do everything you used to be good at--how to shop, how to clean, how to drive, how to relax, how to get the stupid electricity to stay on, where the best place is to buy mangoes. You find a new normal and you forget that it's weird that there's a gecko on your wall that's watching you brush your teeth.
But quite often, you still need that grit to get you through another water shortage or your third flat tire in one week. The lure of your old life is still there, and your heart will regularly long for what you left behind.
And then, somewhere along the road, so slowly that you don't even realize it, you adapt. You fully transition. I don't know when it happened for me. But I've lived in Tanzania for twelve years now, and I don't think it starting happening until somewhere around year eight or nine. It's different for everyone, I'm sure. It happens a lot faster to children.
It's a strange, strange feeling. It's not that I've forgotten those I love who I have left behind, or that I have stopped missing them. It's that I have stopped missing that life. I used to long to return to that life, and now I can't fathom leaving this life.
It's not that I've grown to love the insane traffic in Dar es Salaam, or that I suddenly adore this ridiculous heat. Because I don't. It's that this normal has become so normal that I can't imagine leaving it.
Except, I know that I will someday. And even though we don't have plans to leave Tanzania, I know that someday we will. I am not a citizen. This is not my country. Our residence here is dependent on a fragile balance of health, financial support, and government favor. Yet the thought of leaving fills me with an intense grief, knowing that it will tear away part of my being. Not just a loss of place, but a loss of who I am.
That's how I know I have adapted.
Which is a good thing, of course. But also a tragic thing. It's like coming to the realization that you've fallen in love with something that you can't keep. Or knowing that your roots have gone down deep but will one day be unceremoniously yanked up again. It will hurt, and pieces will surely be ripped off.
And I'm not sure what to to think about that.