Transitions are never easy.

Edited May 8, 2014

It’s been roughly a month since I’ve left Dar and returned to Canada. This was quite a transition. Though I had thought that I’d be mentally prepared for the  transition back to normalcy, it turned out that what I remember as being “normal” came from a particular context that I’m no longer familiar with. I left for Dar from Vancouver, a city that I had lived in for roughly 3 years after the completion of my grad studies at the IoE. I had, over the course of those 3 years, become quite familiar with the city. After leaving Dar, instead of returning to Vancouver, I went to Montreal where my wife is pursuing her PhD. Montreal, as you might know, is my hometown. This is where I grew up, went to school and went to McGill until I left for London in 2008. But I haven’t lived in Montreal in nearly 6 years.

So I left the warm climes of Dar where upon my departure the city was going through it’s rainy season but the thermometer still hovered well over the 30 degree mark and came back to Montreal, a city that had experienced one of the toughest winters recorded in decades. I arrived at the beginning of April on a very chilly day and over the next few weeks, I had to reacclimatize myself (literally) to the shock of going from beach and sandals weather to blanket and hot coco weather. That was my first shock.

My second shock was getting re-accustomed to living a life that, for 8 months, I had put on hold. This included living with my partner, sharing a common space, working for my employer, taking on a new set of challenges teaching in French, getting to know my students and the classes I would be taking over (within one week as the regular teacher was leaving for a work placement) and taking care of all those things one must take care of when moving to a new city (e.g. cell phone, signing a new lease for a place, finding a car, seeing friends and family, etc)

For a long time, I couldn’t quite grasp why the transition had been so hard. But in conversations with my colleagues in the Fellowship I realized that I was going through what is typically known as reverse culture shock. Going from a work context that posed a new set of challenges, where I collaborated with new individuals on a project that I had a lot of autonomy and control over, to going back to my former job as a teacher, with the challenges of teaching in French, and the routine involved in most teaching professions. After Dar, this all seemed so mundane.

Then there was also getting accustomed to a “new” city and trying to figure out my place in it. Dar was fun. I’ll be honest, the level of ‘life’ responsibility (e.g. paying bills, watching over my expenses, taking care of family obligations, etc) was much different in Dar than it had been in Vancouver or as it  currently was shaping out to be in Montreal. All these things, the newness of the city, the mundaness of work, getting back into the groove of a new routine, was more challenging than I had expected it to be.

So, the first few weeks I wallowed in nostalgia of Dar. But eventually (though I’m not fully at terms with this change) I realized that as good as Dar was on a personal and professional level, this is a new reality that I need to become accustomed to. I remembered that as much as I loved Vancouver when I left, I didn’t exactly have warm feelings for her upon my arrival. That as much as working at the Aga Khan University was a positive experience, my first month there was full of ambiguity and caused a great sense of dissonance between what I was familiar with in Canada and what I was getting myself into in Tanzania. Transitions are often like this, difficult at first where often the challenges seem unsurmountable especially when we compare how our lives are now versus how they were just a short while ago. But all transitions are this way and all opportunities are born from our capacity to turn challenges to opportunities.

Moving to Montreal has certainly presented me with a new set of challenges. I’m  challenged in finding meaning in my work from the AKU as it relates to my life here. I’m facing the challenges of a new city but this is a challenge I’ve faced several times before. More importantly, I’m confronted with the challenge of continuously trying to push myself and not becoming complacent in my professional practice as an educator and researcher. Montreal is different, life here is different but it’s also an opportunity. Slowly, more slowly than I had hoped but with a fresh perspective after initial frustration, serious contemplation, and eventual equanimity, I’m starting to see things this way.

Alim Fakirani