Week in the Life: Technical Expert in Sub-Saharan Africa

work-life balance technical expert mom in Sub-Saharan AfricaFor this week’s installment of our Week in the Life of a Working Mom series, I’m happy to introduce CorporetteMoms reader J, who lives in sub-Saharan Africa with her husband and son and was works as a technical expert for a large international institution. Our usual caveat applies: Please remember that this is is a real person who has feelings and isn’t gaining anything from this, unlike your usual friendly (soul-deadened, thick-skinned, cold-hearted, money-grubbing) blogger — so please be kind with any comments. Thank you! — Kat

If you’d like to be featured (anonymously or otherwise), please fill out this form! You can see all posts in this series here.

First, Some Basics About This Working Mom…

Name: Reader J
Location: Capital city in sub-Saharan Africa
Job: technical expert for a large international institution
Age: 34
Home Situation:

My husband (39, works in government), my one-year old son, and I live in employer-provided housing in an expat neighborhood. We have a three-bedroom house with a small yard and a swimming pool in a walled compound.work-life balance technical expert mom in Sub-Saharan Africa

Childcare Situation:

We have an amazing nanny who works about 45 hours/week as well as a full-time housekeeper who helps out with childcare. In total, we have childcare coverage from 7:00–5:30 on weekdays and a few hours on Saturday morning. I won’t share how much we pay because it would make your U.S.-based readers keel over with jealousy, but we pay top-of-the-market salaries and benefits to both our nanny and housekeeper and it accounts for less than 5% of our take-home pay. (We both work professional jobs.)

A Week in My Life

Sunday

7:30 a.m. We let the baby sleep in a bit, but get him up at 7:30 so as not to throw off his nap schedule. After his bottle, I read him books for a while while Husband showers, and then Husband and I make a big Sunday breakfast while the baby crawls around the kitchen. We eat together, and then go “explore” the yard with the baby (which mostly involves pulling flowers off their stems, picking up fruit that’s fallen from the trees, and trying to eat stones).
9:40–11:00 a.m. While the baby naps, Husband works on some tax paperwork and I take a quick shower and make a menu and shopping list for the week.
11:30 a.m. We all run to the grocery store to pick up a few things. The baby loves outings, so I wear him in the baby carrier and he smiles and waves at everyone in the grocery store. When we get home, Husband entertains the baby while I prepare lunch and roast some butternut squash to freeze in small portions. I feed the baby lunch and Husband and I both forage something from the fridge. Husband cleans up the kitchen from breakfast and lunch while I play with the baby.
2:30–4:00 p.m. The baby and I nap. Husband works on some projects around the house: pest control (a constant battle) and setting up satellite TV.
4:00 p.m. Husband feeds the baby while I read my phone for a bit.
4:30 p.m. We all go for a long walk around the neighborhood.
5:30 p.m. When we get home, we FaceTime the grandparents. Husband talks to his folks while I prepare dinner for the baby. The baby eats his meatballs and veg without a problem, but has suddenly decided that he hates butternut squash (welcome to the toddler years!), so we default back to sweet potato fries.
7:15 p.m. We finish the baby’s dinner and husband gets the bath started while I clean up his high chair and play with him for a bit. I give the baby a bath while husband preps a bottle and PJs, and then we both get the baby lotioned and dressed (it’s a two person job… I have no idea what we’ll do when we have another kid). I feed the baby a bottle, and then we all sing a lullaby and put the baby to bed.
8:00 p.m. Husband and I make dinner, glancing at the video monitor every so often to make sure the baby falls asleep. We eat together and chat for a bit, and then Husband goes to bed to read and I stay up watching Game of Thrones in the living room.
10:00 p.m. We go to sleep.

We asked J about the decision to have another child: 

I’m now seven months pregnant with #2, so they’ll be 23 months apart. We always knew we wanted our kids to be close together in age, since we move around a lot and want them to feel like they’ve always got a teammate, even when they’re mad at Mom and Dad. Physically it’s been hard on me; I had less than four months of “recovery” time between when the first weaned/started sleeping and getting pregnant with the second. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ll be glad when my pregnancy/breastfeeding days are over.

Monday

5:30 a.m. Husband got up early and went in to work early to catch up on some stuff. He was gone before I woke up.
6:10 a.m. I wake up, take a shower, and get dressed.
6:55 a.m. I make a bottle of formula and wake up the baby to feed him. I change his diaper and put lotion on his eczema before passing him off to the nanny. During the day, the nanny handles everything (naps, bottles, meals) and also takes him on walks and to play groups in the neighborhood.
7:20 a.m. I leave for the office. My office works a modified schedule: 7:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and half days on Friday. I have a 10-minute commute. When I get in, I catch up on emails and have a quick breakfast at my desk.
8:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. Meetings with a visitor from headquarters in the U.S., followed by an off-site lunch with said visitor. I underestimate traffic and we barely make it back in time for our next meeting.
1:00–2:30 p.m. Debrief meetings with a group of technical experts.
3:15 p.m. I take a quick peek in on the baby during his nap, via our baby monitor app. I take a few minutes to update his nap data from the weekend, send my brother an email, and pick up some dry cleaning from the on-site vendor.
5:00 p.m. I head out. On the way home, I pick up our mail and stop to buy some pre-paid phone credit.
5:50 p.m. When I arrive home, I learn that the nanny sent away some carpenters who were supposed to do some work in the house because they arrived during the baby’s nap and she didn’t want them to make lots of noise and wake him up. Oh well. The nanny goes home, and I play with the baby for awhile. Husband arrives home shortly after me. We cook the baby dinner while he crawls around the kitchen. He eats each “course” (veg, meat, fruit) as it’s ready.
7:15 p.m. Our regular bedtime routine: bath, lotion and PJs, bottle, lullaby, and bed. The same every night.
8:00 p.m. The baby falls asleep immediately, and Husband and I eat pizza and salad for dinner.
8:30 p.m. We retreat to the bedroom where we spend the evening with our noses in our respective devices: watching TV, browsing the internet, and reading books.
10:00 We go to sleep.

Tuesday

6:40 a.m. I wake up and get dressed while my husband feeds the baby. Before I leave, I set out a grocery list and and some money for the housekeeper. She buys most of our fresh fruit and vegetables at the weekly market.
7:25 a.m. Husband and I are on the same schedule today, so we commute together.
7:40 a.m. Arrive at work and catch up on work emails. I also send my dad a note about getting a visa for my parents’ upcoming trip to see us, and contact a travel agent about arranging a weekend trip during their visit. I make a hair appointment for later in the week.
8:30 a.m. I grab a tea and cinnamon roll on my way to a meeting, which lasts until 10:30. Afterwards, I review documents and catch up with some colleagues on their current projects.
11:30 a.m. The housekeeper calls; I need to go home to advise the carpenters. I run home, fix the problem, and pick up lunch on my way back to the office.
12:20 p.m. I’m back at my desk and eat lunch there. I have afternoon meetings until 3:15, followed by reviewing reports. I text with a friend to make plans for the weekend.
5:40 p.m. Husband and I leave work and head straight to a restaurant to celebrate my birthday. We have a reservation at 6:00, which is ridiculously early, but it’s the only way that we’ll make it home for bedtime, which is important to us. The nanny works late to cover for us.
7:40 p.m. We get home and find the baby mid-bath, so we take over the bedtime routine.
8:15 p.m. Baby falls asleep after some protesting. Husband and I browse the internet and watch TV.
9:30 a.m. We go to sleep.

Here’s how J answered our question about her work/life balance in her expat life vs. her life in the U.S.: 

There are two major differences for us in terms of work/life balance. The first, which I am grateful for every. single. day, is that because we’re able to afford a small army of household help, we don’t spend nearly as much as time as the average American family on housework, cooking, laundry, yardwork, etc. When we’re not at work, we’re mostly able to relax and spend time with friends and each other. Having the freedom to do this here has totally changed our philosophy on paying for help in general. Even if we came back to the U.S. and our salaries didn’t go nearly as far as they do here, we’d definitely make cuts in other areas in order to have a nanny (at least while our kids are small) and bi-weekly housekeeping. The second major difference in work/life balance is that due to the nature of my job, being based “in the field” means I travel a lot less for work than I would have to if we were based in the U.S. Before we moved to Africa, I traveled 2+ months a year — long-haul, 8- to 13-hour time difference trips that made it hard to keep up with what was happening back home. These days, I travel about three weeks a year, mostly in-country, mostly Monday–Friday.

Wednesday

6:20 a.m. My alarm goes off and I find that Husband is already gone. I read Facebook on my phone for a bit. The baby wakes up and chirps, but settles back down.
6:30 a.m. I’m up and get dressed.
6:45 a.m. The baby actually wakes up while I’m getting dressed. I make and feed him a bottle and pass him off to the nanny while I finish getting ready. I grab a cup of tea and a yogurt for breakfast.
7:20 a.m. I catch up on emails from home before leaving at 8:30 for an offsite meeting.
9:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. I tour a local hospital and clinic with a VIP from one of the UN agencies. We walk through an infectious disease ward and I notice some liquid on the floor. I make a mental note to bleach the bottom of my shoes when I get home. After the tour, I head back to the office to check in with my boss and grab lunch at the cafeteria.
2:00 p.m. Decide to work from home for the afternoon. I head home, kiss the baby, and close myself in our home office. I work on a report until about 5:30. Somewhere in there, I also send an email to the doctor about the baby’s eczema.
5:30 p.m. I send the nanny home and play with baby a bit. I open some packages that arrived in the mail and let the baby play with the empty boxes. Husband arrives home as I’m starting to prepare dinner.
6:15 p.m. Dinner. Baby attempts to use his spoon to eat peas, and frustration ensues. However, the rest of his meal goes down without protest. Husband and I manage to throw something together for ourselves at the same time, so we all eat together.
7:15 p.m. Bath time involves lots of silliness tonight; water all over the floor. Afterwards, we do PJs, bottle, and bed. The baby asleep is at 8:10.
10:30 p.m. Bed. I stayed up too late on my phone. At least I sent some baby pics to the grandparents.

Thursday

6:30 a.m. I get up, shower, and get dressed. Husband gives the baby a bottle and then hands him off to the nanny. We commute together.
7:40 a.m. I arrive at work.
9:00 a.m. I grab breakfast from the cafeteria (greasy egg bagel) and peek in on the baby napping on my phone. I spend the morning preparing for a big presentation. Here and there, I catch up on a few personal emails and try to find a birthday gift for my brother.
11:00 a.m.–12:30 p.m. I give the office director a presentation on a project I’ve been working on for months. Success! She’s on board and I have the green light to proceed.
12:30–1:30 p.m. I grab a salad from the cafeteria and eat on a bench outside with a few friends. Beautiful weather today. After lunch, I work on some administrative paperwork.
3:00–4:30 p.m. I attend a meeting off-site with some partner organizations. A male colleague arrives late, interrupts me, and then repeats the same points I had already made prior to his arrival.
5:10 p.m. Husband and I leave the office together and pick up our mail on the way home. We catch up with the nanny on the day’s events.
5:40 p.m. We send the nanny home and play with the baby for a bit, and then Husband makes dinner and we all eat together.
7:15 p.m. Bedtime routine for the baby. We discover that all of his PJs are in the washing machine, wet. We put the load in the dryer, and put the baby to bed in regular clothes.
8:15 p.m. I take a phone call with my professional coach from the U.S. while husband orders some new clothes for the baby in the next size up and then plays around on his computer.
9:30 p.m. I finish up my call and we read in bed for about 30 minutes.

We asked J what she misses most about the U.S.:  

The thing we miss the most, hands down, is being close to our extended family. My heart aches when I read the profiles of families who have Grandma and Grandpa or an aunt help with childcare. I would love for my kids to grow up closer to their relatives. The other thing we miss, which seems trivial in comparison but is actually a big deal, is convenience. In the U.S., you can pay your internet bill with your credit card by phone; you can grab a salad from the grocery store on the way home from work; you can get new clothes delivered to your door in two days. Here, you have to go stand in line to pay your internet or phone bill; you have to bleach anything you’re planning to eat raw so you don’t get a stomach bug; and you have to do your apparel shopping the old-fashioned way… in the store (ugh). These things seem small but overall they add up to a lot of extra work to keep a household running.

Friday

6:30 a.m. I get up and get dressed.
7:00 a.m. I feed the baby a bottle and change his diaper, noticing that an eczema sore on his foot looks infected.
7:25 a.m. I head to work.
7:35 a.m. At the office, I have breakfast at my desk and catch up on emails. I spend the morning reviewing data and technical reports and providing comments to colleagues. At some point, I check in with the doctor about the baby’s foot, and she agrees to give me some antibiotics in case the infection spreads over the weekend.
12:30 p.m. I leave work.
12:50 p.m. I grab a few bagel chips as a snack and change quickly into my swimsuit for baby swim class. Husband is coming this time, too. We bring separate cars and swim with the baby from 1:30–2:00. After the class, Husband takes baby home and I go get my hair cut.
3:30 p.m. I arrive home and find Husband and baby napping. The nanny is gone. I also take a nap.
4:30 p.m. We all get up and the baby has a bottle.
4:45 p.m. We call the grandparents and FaceTime for a few minutes, and then I strap on the baby and we go for a long walk around the neighborhood.
6:15–8:00 p.m. Our regular routine of baby’s dinner, bath, and bedtime. The baby’s eczema is bothering him, and he tosses and turns until about 8:30, when he finally falls asleep.
8:30 p.m. Husband and I warm up some leftovers and chat over dinner. I watch about an hour of TV and he reads a book.
10:00 p.m. We both go to sleep.

Saturday

7:00 a.m. We wake the baby up and prepare and feed him his bottle. As we’re getting him dressed, the nanny arrives. We occasionally have her work Saturday mornings so we can run errands.
7:30–11:00 a.m. Husband and I get dressed, have breakfast, and work on chores around the house: putting outgrown baby clothes in storage, hanging some pictures, setting up the baby’s new play area, and installing our satellite TV system.
11:00 a.m. We run out to the hardware store and the grocery store and have a nice lunch date at a Thai restaurant.
2:00 p.m. We arrive home and I quickly get changed and go for a 10-minute swim with the baby.
2:30–4:00 p.m. The whole family takes a nap.
4:00 p.m. Everyone gets up, the baby has a bottle, and we head out to a neighborhood restaurant to meet some friends. The kids crawl around the grass and we have a drink and some snacks and catch up. The baby eats some french fries and Cheerios.
6:30 p.m. We return home, feed the baby a few vegetables and some fish sticks, and give him a bath.
8:00 p.m. Baby is in bed.
8:30 p.m. As soon as he’s down, I hop in a cab, pick up a friend, and head to a party that we thought was at a dive bar but turns out to be a formal dinner. We are extremely underdressed, but enjoy the drinks. Girls’ night was a hilarious failure.
10:40 p.m. I arrive back home and the baby is awake, which never happens anymore. Husband and I get him up, change his diaper, and give him a small bottle. He is back in bed just before midnight, and then Husband and I go to sleep.

Thanks so much to Reader J for sharing a bit of her life as a working mom! Readers, what’s your biggest takeaway from her week of work as a technical expert as well as her general work/life balance?

Stock photo via Deposit Photos / imagex.

An expat mom in sub-Saharan Africa shares her work-life balance as a technical expert, including her thoughts on having kids close together in age, dealing with a nanny and a professional coach, and missing family and friends in the US.

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing, Reader J! Congrats on your pregnancy – how’s that going overseas? Are there major differences in pregnancy care? Are you planning to deliver over there, or try to come back to the US? Will your/his parents fly in postpartum?

    Also – how do you find the pace of work at your job in Subsaharan Africa (as opposed to the US)? Is it slow, or does working for an international company mean things get done at normal speed?

    • Thanks! I’m lucky to have had healthy pregnancies, so even though the prenatal care can sometimes be not-quite US standard (although I’ll add that I’m extremely privileged to be able to access the best medical care in the country, which 98% of the citizens here cannot), I haven’t had any issues. I do return to the US for the deliveries. Many of my friends or colleagues have chosen to deliver in South Africa, which has excellent medical care. I go home so I can hang out with my family :)

      I find the pace of work in my offices (I’ve worked for a variety of organizations over the years) to be mostly equivalent to the US. However, things really slow down when working with national governments or at the village/community level.

  2. octagon says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’d be interested to know if you view this lifestyle as a short-term (3-5 years) or permanent. I have a couple of friends who did overseas stints to save $$$$ and pay off loans, but left as soon as they could.

    • We’ve now spent more than 8 years in Africa, in 4 different countries. For us, this is our careers. We plan to stay overseas at least until our kiddos finish middle school, since finding good international high schools can sometimes be tricky in developing countries.

      • Anon4this says:

        The International School of Kenya is excellent — if you can get a position there at the right time for high school!

  3. Anonymous says:

    This was fascinating, thank you! You are living my best life, where I have technical expertise that is somehow applicable to infectious disease wards in sub-Saharan Africa.

    A friend who had a US Government job in a Global South country told me what he pays for a nanny, and even joked that he might hire a nanny for each kid in addition to the housekeeper. I did keel over with jealousy. Of course, there were major security concerns that meant his family had to stay in their walled, security-guarded neighborhood most of the time, so always trade-offs.

    Along those lines, I’m curious the extent to which you feel like a part of the local culture in your current country. Are you much engaged with the local population, or primarily living, working, socializing with other expats?

    • Yeah, there are definitely perks but each place has it’s drawbacks as well. Luckily we’ve never lived anywhere that had major security concerns like that.

      Our integration into the local culture has varied a lot by country and also our own life stage. In some countries it’s quite easy; people invite you to weddings and other events, you hang out with colleagues after work, etc. We’ve also lived somewhere it was quite hard and we never really felt like we cracked the surface. But also, since we had our son, we’ve found it to be different than before. We have less time for social events and we’ve definitely become a more inward-focused family (I think *hope?* this is normal with young kids and that as they grow we’ll be able to engage more socially again), which has made us less engaged in both the local culture AND the expat community.

    • Yeah, there are definitely perks but each place has its drawbacks as well. Luckily we’ve never lived anywhere that had major security concerns like that.

      Our integration into the local culture has varied a lot by country and also our own life stage. In some countries it’s quite easy; people invite you to weddings and other events, you hang out with colleagues after work, etc. We’ve also lived somewhere it was quite hard and we never really felt like we cracked the surface. But also, since we had our son, we’ve found it to be different than before. We have less time for social events and we’ve definitely become a more inward-focused family (I think *hope?* this is normal with young kids and that as they grow we’ll be able to engage more socially again), which has made us less engaged in both the local culture AND the expat community.

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