Long distance partner moving in. In Uganda.
January 22, 2015 1:14 AM   Subscribe

My long-term, long-distance girlfriend is moving in soon, to my new place in Uganda, a new country for us both. What can I do to make the most of the wonderful parts and limit the challenging parts?

My girlfriend and I have been together in some sense for four years (she's Swedish, I'm Australian), and seriously making an effort to be in the same country for the last two. We've spent the majority of those two years together but it was often a holiday for one of us, and there was always a return flight booked that would herald the start of a new period of separation.

I recently moved to Uganda for work, and she's moving here in a few weeks. I'll be working, and she'll be studying externally. For the first time, it looks like we'll be together for the foreseeable future. It's also in a fairly neutral place - she's not moving to my home country, and I'm not moving to hers.

Both of us are very excited, and I have no doubt that it will be fantastic most of the time. I want to do what I can to make the move as easy for her as possible, and to ensure that we minimise any of the potential hard parts of this new situation. I'd also like to try to anticipate any of the challenges that might come down the track.

I live in a small town in rural Uganda, so it'll be very different to Stockholm. She's travelled quite a lot, but not so much in developing countries.

I haven't lived here for very long, so I haven't made much of a mark on the house yet. I've made space for her clothes, toiletries, etc, and tried to stock up on things that she likes. What else would help if you were moving to a new country? What are some issues that might come up for us down the track, that would be good to be aware of earlier?

posted by twirlypen to Human Relations (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Research things to do and places to go that would be good to do as a couple. Scope out potential friendship groups etc. The biggest thing you will have to deal with I think is her potentially getting bored and lonely, because essentially, she won't have a reason to leave the house (unlike you who has to work). Have seen this happen alot of times even in non-developing countries. The feeling will only be enhanced in the environment of a developing country.
posted by ryanbryan at 2:58 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

You two need to agree to guard against becoming one of those insular ex-pat couples, who finding themselves strangers in a strange land, turn primarily to each other for all of their conversation, friendship, and social outlet. It isn't healthy, and it tends to be unbalanced in a way that creates dependency.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:27 AM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

I've lived in rural east Africa, albeit not for long term. I would agree with the advice from DarlingBri. In the town where I lived, my American roommate and our host were the only ones who spoke English well enough to hold a conversation with, and I quickly grew very irritable with them because of it. It was very isolating. I would recommend for both of you taking lessons or self study in Luganda/the local language for the same reason (Peace Corps has a good guide). Communicating and being able to hang out with other people is good.

Does your place have power or running water? I know most places in rural Uganda don't, and so that can be part of what's difficult for someone moving from a high income country, especially if she hasn't spent much time in a low income country before.

As a woman, east Africa can be intimidating in the sense that sexism is more rampant there. In the village where I lived, there were funerals for wives killed by their husbands, no charges were pressed against the aggressor. Men in leadership positions would address their conversations to my roommate when we were out together, even if I was the one who asked them a question. Guys would yell stuff at me on the street or try to grab me in the markets. Not much you can do about this but listen to her and make sure she's ready for it, maybe make sure she's read up on personal safety and self defense. And culture shock. Make sure she goes out with you or someone else for the first few months until she has time to learn more about how to deal with people there when you're out and about/how to navigate the boda boda and mataatu systems, including bargaining for price (which is off putting if you aren't used to it) - and make sure she knows approximately what she should be paying for stuff so she doesn't get ripped off with "mzungu price".
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:05 AM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

Also have her bring special foods which aren't available where you are. Having my home spices etc to cook with was really really nice there, so talk about what she enjoys that she won't be able to purchase nearby and have her pack some.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:08 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have not been to Uganda, but I have been the trailing partner who moved to a developing country where my partner was working. Things that worked, or in retrospect would have been better to have, included:

-- Enrolling in language classes (which both directly helps you communicate and lets you make social connections outside of the network the other person already has established); in your case she might need to travel to a larger city periodically, maybe supplemented with arranging a local tutor?

-- If it's a situation where the arriving person isn't legally allowed to work, or you are in a location where there is no option of paid work for her, make sure that she has a budget that allows her to not feel trapped or limited. She should be able to do normal things like travel, order books, or whatever fits her lifestyle, without having to ask you for permission at every step.

-- Related to both of the above, encourage and help her to find and connect with her own friends/acquaintances. Depending on her personality and where you are that might be expats or it might not, but only seeing your partner and their preexisting friends can feel incredibly claustrophobic.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:28 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I lived in Uganda for a year about eight years ago, and spent about a third of that time in rural areas. I know a lot has changed since then, and I don't know how rural your town is, exactly, but some things to consider:

1. Entertainment. Particularly if she's coming directly from Stockholm, and you don't have reliable electricity/Internet access. It was harder than I expected to go from constant connectedness to reading by candlelight once it got dark (at 7 PM, every day). Perhaps encourage her to pack a fully loaded Kindle and a few games the two of you can play?

2. If time and budget allow, plan a few trips (Kampala, Jinja, Lake Bunyonyi, Sipi Falls, the Ssese Islands, one of the national parks, etc.). It can be jarring to be dropped into what sometimes feels like the middle of nowhere in a strange country, and having the chance to explore and connect with either bigger cities or nature, depending on your preference, can help.

3. Once you've taken care of the basics, save some of the "making a mark on the house" activities for after she arrives. Shopping for furniture or art or kitchen supplies together will help make the space feel like it's yours (both of you), rather than yours (singular).

4. N-thing the comments about making friends, both as a couple and individually. Isolation and loneliness make culture shock and homesickness ten times worse.
posted by rebekah at 6:53 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Are there any other expats in your town? Find the closest Swede, or Finn or Norwegian or Northern European, preferably a woman, and introduce them early. It'd be great for her to have someone to talk to, to ask questions of, who has at least a few things in common with her.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:17 AM on January 22, 2015

Be prepared for both of you, or either of you to get desperately homesick about three months in. It won't mean you don't want to be there out with the other person etc, but the other person wanting so desperately to go home can come as a shock to the best laid plans. Of you are prepared for it out is easier to ride out, for everyone converted, until it passes.
posted by wwax at 8:00 AM on January 22, 2015

« Older When the storm finally clears, will there be a...   |   Reliable replacement battery for Dell Latitude... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.