– If you had a choice, would you give Lagos to your children as their hometown?
– Irrelevant question. We don’t live in Lagos. We live in Dar es Salaam.
– But Dar es Salaam is turning into a Lagos. And if we stay here, our children will see Dar es Salaam as their hometown.
It has happened
So it has happened. We have left Dar es Salaam, and we have left Africa.
Fortunately our departure was not fuelled by an acute emergency, as is so often the case when long-termers leave the continent. We do not need specialized medical care, we did not lose our jobs, we are still very much together and we have not been robbed. Main reason is that we want to offer our children a more diverse upbringing, providing them also with another hometown than Dar es Salaam. Most of all, we like to give our children the opportunity to play outside without supervision, to explore the countryside independently, on foot, on their bikes, on skates or by boat, and to literally find their own way in life.
Somewhere in the summer of 2013 we decided that eventually it would be better to leave Dar. That was a big step, since we often saw Dar es Salaam as our final destination. Still, “eventually” is far away and there was no need to speed things up.
That all changed when Chinese project developers started walking through our compound in Dar es Salaam. Our compound is unique in many ways: a true paradise for children, a green lung in an increasingly built-up area, a place with a lovely, diverse community and some close friends, and most of all a place where children can go off independently, on their own, without having to inform their parents first. A long, long time ago we decided that unless we could live in such a compound, we would leave Tanzania.
A lengthy decision process
That was the start of a lengthy decision process. If you could, in theory, live anywhere in the world, where would you live? What kind of criteria would steer your decision? What are the must-haves? What are the nice-to-haves? If Dar es Salaam was our ideal place to live in many ways, what were the aspects of life in Dar that we so appreciated? Well, a small, friendly, divers community; proximity to an international city; good education; and beautiful surroundings, especially the high skies and the Indian Ocean (which can easily be translated into any large body of water, in the form of a sea or otherwise). We further liked living one flight away from the Netherlands and in approximately the same time zone (exit Australia and New Zealand). The new place also had to be less than 15 hours travel from Dar es Salaam, so that Husband could continue to work in Tanzania. Husband further preferred a warm climate (exit Sweden and Canada).
Botswana has always attracted me, but our international school has set the bars high, and it seemed that the international school of Gaborone was not going to meet our expectations (exit Botswana). Whatever country it was going to be, it had to allow us to be between jobs for a while without becoming illegal immediately (exit Tanzania and quite a number of other countries in Africa) and it had to allow our children to finish secondary school without becoming illegal upon turning 18, as is the case in Mauritius (exit Mauritius, with pain in our hearts, because it seemed an excellent option). The East Coast of the US seemed to meet almost all requirements, provided that we could obtain a green card, but it was voted down immediately and unanimously because of the weapon crazy. I can try to give my children an upbringing that protects them against drugs and sex excesses, but I can’t protect them against madmen who randomly shoot people (United States exit). Something similar for South Africa. We seriously considered Cape Town: it is such a perfect city, it has almost everything that you may look for: culture, nature, diversity, internationality, beautiful surrounding countryside and two languages that we either master or could master easily. Thing is, you can’t imagine how it is to feel unsafe until you feel unsafe. Feeling unsafe influences your whole life. Also, in South Africa I would have to continue to bring the children to school, football, horse-riding, social events et cetera. Independence was high on our wish list!
So our focus shifted to Europe. As European citizens we can live in any EU country – an unexpected blessing. Europe is a decent continent. Not perfect, but decent, and divers as well. We briefly considered Denmark, but despite all the good things about Denmark, notably the cycling culture, Denmark has supposedly 200 days of rain per year (exit Denmark). We considered Barcelona, but apparently good schools in Barcelona are quite expensive, and the unemployment rate is towering, and there is also the double language barrier (Catalan and Spanish – exit Spain). Kroatia: language barrier and doubts about education (exit Kroatia). I really like Stockholm and South Sweden, but Husband voted that down (too dark in winter – exit Sweden).
But wait a minute, wait a minute. AMSTERDAM is an international city! It has good, free education! The weather is getting better every year! It is one flight away from Tanzania! And we speak the language! We just have to look for a small, friendly community in the proximity of Amsterdam, preferably in a rural area. Perhaps an eco-village? Or another village?
So we opened Google Earth. And we found a lovely small village north east of Amsterdam. We found that the village is surrounded by meadows and waterways and that it has all the amenities that one would want: an elementary school, a supermarket, a football club, a riding school, music lessons and more. The village children cycle to school independently and they have miles and miles of countryside to discover on foot, by bike, boat or skate. Still, the village is only 15 minutes by bus from Amsterdam Central Station, where there is a wide choice of excellent secondary schools.
It seemed like a perfect fit. So we decided to have a look. And we liked it. So we made a choice.