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Be mindful of the little ones!


Packing up to make a huge move from one continent to another continent is very intimidating for many people. To be frank, everyone is not capable of making such a move. With an international move, there can be some major sacrifices one has to consider. Where will I live? How will I earn income? How will I make new friends? Can I live in a country with a different language? Can I adjust/assimilate to the new culture? Starting over from scratch and often rebuilding the essentials of one’s life is not desirable. In addition, for some, there are concerns about leaving family behind and not being able to see them regularly. It takes a special kind of person to want to change every aspect of their lives. The decision to make such a move becomes even more scary when you have to take into account the feelings and desires of other individuals, especially a child.

Having Lunch in Sao Vicente, Cape Verde 
As parents, we could not just pack our bags and move without explaining to our 4-year old son how it would affect his life. Over the last few years his life, our son had become accustomed to having a stable home environment. His whole life consisted of being in America besides the one international trip we took with him to Ghana. More specifically, he knew California! He knew he went to school while his parents worked. At school, there was a routine he has become accustomed too. Seeing his friends on a consist basis and being able to interact with them in English (well at least with some of them, it is California after all) was normal for him. He was familiar with his surroundings and even knew where his favorite restaurants were located (Chick-fil-a and Chipotle). He could watch the cartoons he desired, go to the park and play, get on the internet to play ABC mouse or angry birds, go play with friends from his school etc. This 4-years old life was great! Thus, when we made the determination that we were going to leave Los Angeles and repatriate to Africa, our number one concern was ensuring our son would be able to adjust fairly easy. The goal was to explain to him why we were moving, teach him more about Africa (specifically Ghana), and to include him in the process of moving.

On the beach in Lome,Togo 
Most people were advising us to wait until Dj was 18 and off to college before leaving America, but we didn’t think we needed to wait that’s long. After all, he is only 4! Our opinion was and still is that our son is young enough to adjust to the changes which we were about to encounter. We thought he would be extremely disappointed getting rid of some his favorite toys such as his basketball goal, but he donated it to his school and was very excited about his friends enjoying his gift. We were surprised by how he found the positive in us selling all our possessions including his bedroom set, some toys, and other items. As we drew closer to the move, Dj was ready to head off to Africa.

Since arriving approximately five months ago, Dj has shown us that he is a resilient young man. He is our little sidekick. Anywhere we go, he goes. Many people are shocked to see him tagging along with us as we make our way around these African cities. One because he is not in school like most of the kids in these countries and we are out and about during traditional school hours. Another reason being that we take him to places where children do not frequent such as the markets or on the public transportation. No babysitter or nanny, means he tags along with us no matter where we go.  

Traveling with a child needs a lot of planning. Although, we traveled a lot back in the States with DJ, the type of international travelling we are doing now does not compare to previous trips. During the domestic trips, we all knew we were headed back home in a few days or weeks to our own house. These international trips are a different ballgame. The following are just a few things we have learned from traveling with our child that others may want to consider if you choose to do long term traveling abroad.

Getting ready for some sightseeing in  Melville, Johannesburg 
Communication is key with your child. As we stated, in the beginning of this process, we were constantly talking with DJ regarding the move to Ghana. We wanted to know his feelings. If he wanted to move, what he wanted to know about Africa, and what he was looking forward too when we arrived? Our purpose was to ensure that he was processing the tasks we were doing such as selling all our belongings, especially his, or pulling him out of traditional schooling. DJ was very receptive to these types of conversations. He felt that he had a say in what we’re doing as opposed to being told. As our plans have changed, the need for processing his feelings only intensified. As adults, we talk to one another almost every second about how we are perceiving the changes in our environment. It’s vital for us to have Dj do the same. Yet, we did lose sight of this type of processing for a second. As we were observing situations where DJ seemed to become more uncomfortable (particularly interacting with children speaking French), we had to get back to actually sitting down with him every day to discuss the changes we were encountering. We’ve had to talk about how he feels not being able to communicate with the kids, why he does or does not like certain foods, what it is he wants to do, etc. By having these conversations, it is helping us as parents to make proper decisions when it comes what will affect him. Additionally, these conversation builds his confidence which helps him to express his feelings and teaches him how to appropriately do so. We know by helping him to understand his feelings, it will help in the adjustment into our new country of choice as well as countries we are travelling through.

Try to create as much familiarity as possible. Back in the States, DJ was on a schedule. For him it was school, come home get a bath, play with mom/daddy, watch TV, eat a home cooked meal as a family, do some learning, then off to bed at a set time every night. On the weekends, it was nap or quiet time for the little man and still a set bedtime. Our weekends were usually planned around naps as much as possible. We have tried to maintain certain aspects of his schedule while being on the move. However, it is difficult to maintain a schedule like we had prior to moving here to Africa because we have not situated ourselves in one country just yet. One of the biggest things that we have struggled to continue to implement is a consistent nap time. DJ wakes up at the crack of dawn and without a nap, by bed time, his attitude is that of an old, angry, grumpy man. So, naps are very necessary in for little guy. Yet, adjusting to life in Africa is no cakewalk when everything is so time consuming. When we first arrived in Africa, we often found ourselves spending more time than expected getting tasks done (i.e., getting food, traveling to our destinations, acquiring information) and getting back home in time for him to take a nap. However, as we have moved around, we noticed that planning is key to having a good schedule. For us to ensure he is getting proper rest, we must be able to handle tasks more efficiently.

Received a new bracelet in Dakar, Senegal
Learn how to let them be bored. Our family loves to get outdoors and thoroughly enjoy exploring around. Our desire for green spaces and other family activities is atop our list of things we want from our future home country. However, even the most adventurous people need rest sometimes! Well, maybe not our son.  As with most 4-year-olds, he constantly wants to be doing something. For us, since there is no sibling in the picture, when there is nothing to do, DJ is looking for us to entertain him every second of the day. We know the parents out there know the feeling of wanting to chill and your child(ren) are attention seeking. It’s irritating to say the least and for us it was hard at first to not play with him because there aren’t always kids around for him to play with. However, we are now making Dj “figure it out” and find something to do with his time.  He is somewhat learning to deal with his own boredom instead of looking to us to be big playmates. Although he still has far to go in this department, he has developed some go-to activities (dancing being his favorite) and using his imagination.

Eating sushi in Accra, Ghana 
Every day and everything is not fun for him. Although, we have tried to engage in activities that will keep him happy, we quickly learned that pleasing a 4-year old is difficult if not impossible.  We are doing what we can when we can and honestly, we are all becoming stronger because of the challenges. We are so happy that we have the greatest kid on earth to call “travel buddy.” Until next time………….


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1 comment:

  1. This was an excellent an article! A lot of people are still in the mindset of children being seen and not heard, therefore not having a voice. Or people have a tendency to downplay a child's perspective, thoughts or feelings about a situation. So the fact that you all have made a conscious effort to include him in your plans and talk him through each new encounter is wonderful. And it definitely gives parents a good model to follow for easing the transition of repatriation (or international travel) for children. Thank you!

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