Years ago, wallowing in the despair of an unexpected divorce, I remember complaining to a friend. My son (five years old at the time) was not behaving well. So, naturally, I blamed the divorce.
My friend tolerated my ranting for a while. Eventually she said quietly, “You know, it’s pretty common for five-year-old kids to do that. I think he would behave that way even if you were still happily married.”
When you’re in an unfamiliar or especially challenging situation, it becomes an easy target for blame when anything goes wrong. It’s far easier to blame the divorce or the new country when something goes badly than to look at yourself.When you do that as a new expat, though, you shortchange yourself and your new home.
Recently I had a painful reminder.
One of Those Weeks
It was one of those weeks when everything that could go wrong seemed to. As a result, I fell behind in my work. The more my plans got disturbed, the more stressed I got.
So what were those things that went so badly wrong? They all seemed earth-shakingly important at the time.
Let’s see …
1. Our youngest daughter, a junior in college, had some personal issues she needed to talk about.
2. The work I planned one afternoon was interrupted when friends dropped in unexpectedly and the repairmen came to clean out the air conditioning unit.
3. The power went out. When that happens here, the internet also goes down.
4. A group of us planned to start doing yoga together and the first class was cancelled.
5. My computer’s USB ports suddenly stopped working.
6. One of my few remaining pairs of shorts ripped.
So how catastrophic was it really?
With one exception all those issues and interruptions were minor. The only reason they turned into problems was because of my lousy attitude.
Our daughter’s situation needed several lengthy online chat sessions to resolve, but it wasn’t serious.
We lose power and internet a lot here. That’s why I have a backup internet system. Unfortunately, the device has to be recharged at the Claro store every month and it just happened that we lost internet on the day the recharge was due. Bad timing.
Having friends drop by was actually delightful.
Getting the A/C unit serviced was a good thing.
The cancelled yoga class was disappointing but hardly the end of the world.
Now, the laptop computer issue was serious. Without working USB I had no mouse, no backup, and no way to print or upload from my camera to the computer.
I really dislike using the built-in, finger-driven mouse pad on the laptop. When my computer’s set up the way I’m used to I work very rapidly. Without it… let’s just say that molasses in January would run uphill faster than I work when I have to use the laptop’s built-in mouse pad.
When you add up the interruptions and the computer problems, I wasn’t getting work done. Instead I was spending all my energy panicking – big time.
Oh, and the ripped shorts? Just to add insult to injury, that happened when I was hurling myself into my office chair to try to coax my computer into working. The pocket caught on the arm of the chair as I sat down and – R-I-P. Certainly not a catastrophe, hardly even a setback. My state of panic turned it into a big deal.
Would those things have happened if I were living back in my home country?
My daughter’s issues – no difference.
A/C service? Sure, I’ve been inconvenienced by loads of repairmen back in the US.
Ripped shorts? Sure.
Losing power and/or internet? Oh, yes. The difference is, back in Florida I wouldn’t have had to go into town to charge up my USB internet device. Although we did lose power and internet occasionally, it happened infrequently enough that I never felt the need to have a backup in place. Here the backup is a necessity.
The computer issues? Those can happen anywhere. The problem is not the laptop failure but my response to it. If it happened in the US, I know I could have another computer up and running within two-three days. Here? I have no idea.
How can I replace the computer here in Panama? I don’t even know where to buy one, let alone one with an English keyboard and in a place where hopefully somebody speaks English. I was planning on replacing the computer in another 6-12 months, but if I have to do it right away my options will be limited and I’ll invariably end up spending more than I want to.
If I don’t replace it, though, how do I work?
Two items on the list probably wouldn’t have happened back in Florida.
Friends probably wouldn’t have dropped by. Everyone there is too busy and too stressed to just drop over.
Yoga class cancelled? Probably not. If I were taking a class it would have been at the local gym, not with a group of friends.
What’s the Bottom Line?
After a good night’s sleep I asked my husband to help me open up the laptop and clean its little insides. He got out his screwdrivers and the can of air, and carefully removed everything on the back of the laptop case.
We squirted the air to every spot we could reach without unplugging any of the components, and then put it all back together.
Heart in mouth I turned it on and waited for it to boot up.
It recognized the external (USB) hard drive … then it connected the tablet and stylus I use instead of a traditional mouse. So at least for today I was back in business.
Yes, there are some projects I planned to finish this week that didn’t get done. Fortunately it’s not the end of the world.
I don’t know whether my computer will act up again, or when. I do know I need to start planning so I have some options if and when it does conk out. As my son the programmer pointed out, “when you’re working in the field, two equals one and one equals none.”
This week I’ll start researching where I can find a replacement for my laptop and what types of machines are available here. That is, I will if my laptop works and the power and internet stay on.
Susanna Perkins always wanted to experience life in another culture – she just never imagined it would become the “sensible” option. Believing that, when life hands you lemons you learn to juggle, she found herself with an entire crate full of citrus following the financial meltdown in the US. She started tossing fruit around and ended up, with her husband and three small dogs, in Las Tablas, Panama. With a more-or-less reliable internet connection she works as a freelance writer and shares her expat insights and experiences on her website, Future Expats Forum, and teaches non-technical people about WordPress at WordPress Building Blocks
Read more of Susanna's Expat Focus articles here.