FIFOs and DIDOs.

DIDO

85.

That’s a rough estimate of the number of times THIS YEAR I have packed bags, packed cars or on those very lucky weeks, boarded planes to travel. Most of the time it has been the packing of the car; with sewing machines, ipads, video games, the long suffering cat and all the other paraphernalia we seem to need each weekend when we visit my husband. Nuts, isn’t it?

But what are the options?

Prior to the children and I moving to Ghana, my husband was a FIFO. Fly In-Fly Out. He worked a roster of 6-8 weeks away, 2 weeks at home. We battled through jetlag and the emotional roller-coaster of squeezing three precious childhoods into 2 week blocks. There was never enough time, hard decisions were put on hold, we tried to suppress irritations and grievances so not to mar those precious two weeks. The children always come first, but the adult time precious to all parents was squeezed into tiny blocks of time; shared with tooth brushing and the moments before sleep.

And while I was at the coal face of parenting, juggling homework and dog walking, play dates and school activities; Bill was away. He missed ballet concerts and scout camps, he missed reading aloud in bed and goodnight kisses.

With hindsight, I wonder who had it worse?

On my bad days I would try and remember all the military spouses. Their partners away for six months or more…in war zones.  I was trying to cling onto a little perspective.

So when the opportunity arose to move to Ghana, we took it. Nothing could be worse than FIFO. Could it?

And now, nearly two years down the track, I reflect on what we thought our life here would be, and what it really is. We’ve commuted long distances to school. We’ve felt isolated and, at times, alienated. More than anything, we’ve worried about the kids.

At the beginning of this year we started a new chapter in our Ghanaian life. Rather than the dreaded FIFO, we became what I’m calling DIDO’s…Drive In-Drive Outs. During the week the children and I have lived in Kumasi, for the sole purpose of them attending a good school.

And so each weekend I pack the car and the cat, collect the children from school and drive along the back roads of Ghana. We drive past cocoa plantations and through small villages; past children walking home from school along the dusty roads, past villages preparing for Saturday’s funerals, and we arrive in our little corner of Ghana. No matter where we live in Ghana, the little pocket we call home is the place that we are all together. Where we are complete.

Exhausted each Friday night, pissed off with unpacking the car again and running two households, I was feeling somewhat sorry for myself. Trying to cling to the ever elusive perspective, it got me to thinking about my friends both here and abroad. Of my closest friends in Australia, more than half spend time away from their families. Whether it be Sydney, Melbourne, China, or the far reaches of the Western Australian outback. Here in Ghana, spouses spend time in Accra, Burkina Faso, Mali, London, Hong Kong. Whether it’s a week or six, so many people are spending significant amounts of their year away from their families. And these are just the expats I’m writing about.

Time stretches in a whole different dimension when I speak to Ghanaian friends. One afternoon I was commiserating with a friend about the challenges of solo parenting, and she was stunned when I told her of Bill’s old FIFO roster. She said “You mean to tell me every six weeks, he had two weeks off work? Completely off work? He wasn’t working at home? His company flew him every six weeks half way around the world to visit?” Her incredulity was palpable, and I felt chastised and ashamed of my complaints. Her first baby was one year old before they lived permanently in the same country together. When she was the mother of four, her husband visited for three weeks a year. These people are not refugees, and nor are they poor. They are the middle class.

It’s just become the nature of the beast hasn’t it? And to survive the FIFO and DIDO life, it is all about perspective and expectations. Keeping decisions in perspective, remembering what my mother would always say to bolster me up when I was feeling down, “There is always someone worse off than you”. And to keep re-assessing expectations and experiences. Constantly asking, Is this working? How can we make this work better? And sometimes, we just have to hold on, and ride out a period in our lives. Knowing that the only constant is change.

We make our choices in life based on compromise and hope. Compromise, in that nothing is truly perfect. And hope…hope that we are making the right choice, for our own lives, for our children’s lives. While we may one day walk a mile in each other’s shoes, we can only ever make decisions based on our lives, our situations and our families. While history sometimes proves us wrong, I am a firm believer that at the moment we make a decision, it is the best decision we could have made. And next year, in light of this constant reassessment, we start a new chapter. A new DIDO. We hope (there’s that word again), we are making the right choice, and are moving to Accra.

It can’t be worse than FIFO, can it?

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For other families on the move, we have found the app Life360 really useful. It’s a map based app, and let’s us know where the other is in real time. We can send messages, even panic alerts. And it’s FREE!

9 responses to “FIFOs and DIDOs.

  1. “And so each weekend I pack the car and the cat, collect the children from school and drive along the back roads of Ghana. We drive past cocoa plantations and through small villages; past children walking home from school along the dusty roads, past villages preparing for Saturday’s funerals, and we arrive in our little corner of Ghana. No matter where we live in Ghana, the little pocket we call home is the place that we are all together. Where we are complete”

    Your one picture in the current blog with the long dirt road seemingly with no end in sight and your above quote say’s it all. I now have that long dirt road (and goats) printed with the following caption below in Lucida Sans type/bold as one of my rotating screen savers as well as on my electronic picture that hangs on the wall. It is very motivating and thought provoking.
    Chris, you take your time to write but when you do………………..

    “No matter where we live in Ghana, the little pocket we call home is the place that we are all together. Where we are complete”

    Donald

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    • Hi Don, Thanks so much for your lovely words, very flattering, and more importantly, motivating. I’ve been pre-occupied with the move to Accra and hence the lack of posts. It truly feels like a move to another country, and I’m looking forward to discovering (and writing about) another part of Ghana. I hope you have a Merry Christmas (hell, its December, we can say it now can’t we?). Chrissie

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  2. Hi Chris

    Living in Accra will be very different to living in Kumasi, but still the vibrant interesting life of Ghana. I have to admit that reading your blog was slightly instrumental in my decision to take up a position offered to me here in Ghana. I have been in Kumasi, Tema and now Accra and life is never dull. I thoroughly enjoy living here although one does sometimes feel that Australia is in a galaxy far far away! 🙂

    Have a good Christmas and perhaps we may meet in the New Year.

    Jayne

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    • Hi Jayne,

      Lovely to hear from you, and that life in Accra is fun. We’re pretty excited about it all, just got to get through the next few weeks! I agree that Australia seems like a galaxy far far away, but the move to Accra feels like a move to another country! Coffee shops! Bookshops! Malls! Hope to meet up with you in the new year too. Happy Christmas, Chrissie

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  3. Hi Chrissie,Bill & little tackers. I always read with amazement of your lifestyle, and remember once telling you that I didn’t envy you. I think the reason for that comment was concern and caring about you all, as it appears to someone in my situation, that you guys are all really doing it tough. I am amazed and happy to see how you are working through things, and seem to take things in your stride. Thinking of you often, and realising that you will have so many memories ,all of you , from your travels, and doing it as a family is wonderful too. Do take care and come back safe to Aussie. Love and best wishes always Ann B

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  4. Oh goodness – another move on the horizon for you.

    When my husband was offered an overseas position there was the choice between what you call FIFO or live-in. I was not prepared to be apart and I wasn’t prepared to miss out on his overseas ‘adventures.’ It’s still the bottom line for us but who knows what’ll happen down the road. I suppose that’s what we do – make decisions as they come and hope for the best.

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  5. Chris, i have a comment from some folks on this end and some Questions….

    1) Mindset? where you in your current Blog mindset when you stopped to take the photo or was it on file and you realized that the photo in question finally had a home or it’s day in the blog spot light?
    2) Obviously that photo reflected your current travails, issues, concerns and insights but did you mean/purposely meant and wanted to begin and end your current blog with one photo in mind after you expressed yourself in your blog? And one photo summed it up, instead of two, three or more as you usually post.
    3) While driving did you spot this good photo opportunity and stopped the car or did you peak at the hill and realized you just came upon a great visual and backed up to take it all in again?
    4) Because you shared the thought and feelings you are experiencing AND the beautiful red dirt road with an incline and dark bright green foliage and the sky which goes on with no end is supposed to correlate with your positive and uplifting blog ending quote right? “No matter where we live in Ghana, the little pocket we call home is the place that we are all together. Where we are complete”
    5) are we looking into your blog to much and need to get a life of our own? You can reply with that answer also….we will understand.
    Did you consider photo shopping the front of the car out of the picture or did it all just naturally work for you?
    Don

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    • Hi Don, Thanks for a funny and interesting comment, but I’m afraid many of my answers may be a little dissappointing: 1) No, the photo was taken last year, and as I searched for an image for the post it echoed with my current mindset. Such a classic image of my driving life in Ghana. I also think it is a very beautiful image, it resonates with many of my emotions about Ghana. 2) To be honest, iPhoto crashed 5 times as I tried to upload some other photographs, I just gave up and left it with one. But I think using just one photo sums up our situation probably better than adding any others. A happy accident. 3) Bill was driving, and I just had the camera out the window of the car and snapped away. Don;t forget driving on these roads is often very slow, so there is lots of opportunity for passenger photo taking. It’s a very beautiful stretch of road. But I have a thing for dirt roads stretching into the distance (see my FB cover photo), to me they symbolise opportunity, adventure and a sense that you never know what will be along that road, both literally and metaphorically. 4) I am always looking for a positive spin, its a self-protection mechanism. Ive had friends criticise me that life is not all sunshine and roses, but we all know that, and I think it’s always better to look on the bright side. Otherwise it’s just bitching, and what’s the point of that! 5) I’m not a huge fan of photoshop (I know it is amazing program), but I like the honesty of using an original photo. And the car is an intrinsic part of our life here, for better or worse. Do you know the song by The Church, Wide Open Road..it’s one of my all time favourites. And as to you guys not having a life….well, no comment. I’m just pleased you enjoy the blog and our discussion.

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  6. HI Chris, I do love reading your blog. Currently I live in Accra, and would love to welcome you here when you move here. Your life is going to take a turn for the better very soon. Not that it has come across as being terrible at all – just here are going to be many more opportunities. Now that you have lived in a smaller Village – some of these local expats are definitely going to come across as weird, ungrateful and cuckoo. At least there are some ‘almost normal’ ones as well. There are many Auzzies all over – and I do hope you are going to be very happy here.
    We have been living all over Africa with small children. (22 years now). We tried the travel thing with me staying at home but my husband is such an introvert – he found it too alienating. Every time he came back, we tried filling time-gaps and that was like playing catch up. Eventually I just traveled with him all over. When the kids came along we joined him all over. Creating a home where ever. (Ghana 3 times, Uganda twice, Kenya twice, Nigeria, Namibia). He was a project manager. These are just the longer stay projects. We moved so many times – I guess its just second nature now.
    My kids have been in good schools, private schools, and finally home schooled. They turned out to be very independent, inquisitive and grounded. I realise its hard for any parent – ever questioning weather you are doing anything quite ‘right’ for them. My conclusion: As long as they experience you wrapping them in love and protection – they can over come anything. So if your household does not run as ‘normal’ as you thing its supposed to – don’t fret too much. It’ll work itself out. As parent we constantly worry about our kids – it just shows you are definitely on the right track. Looking at some of the pictures, you definitely are not cotton wrapping and sugar coating life in Africa. Well done.
    My son put it perspective for me the other day: He said “In the end it’ll be ok, if its not ok yet, its not the end.”
    Looking forward to your next blog.
    Good luck with your move.
    Happy holidays.

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