Namaste everyone! I am Piyushi Dhir, a young Indian traveler, author and blogger, currently residing in the exotic West African country of Ivory Coast.
1. Why did you move abroad?
My husband and I started our married life in New Delhi, India, each of us employed in glittery corporate jobs. We were, however, getting restless with the tedium of a 9 to 5 and seeking something new and exciting. So when my husband got a job offer in Ivory Coast, Africa, we thought, “What the hell, let’s give it a shot!” I did realize however, that the move would entail me giving up my career in Human Resources management. Ivory Coast has limited opportunities, and it is a Francophone country. But I decided to use the opportunity to try my hands at an alternate career that had only been a dream so far- writing.
2. How do you make a living?
So here I am in Ivory Coast, just a day old, soaking up everything new around me. The people, the culture, the language, the flora, the fauna- every single thing was an adventure! My mother, a writer herself, had sent me with express instructions to get started with writing, even if it was just a few words a day, from the first day itself. I got out my laptop, got typing and within a few months, I had established myself as a publihsed author, a freelance writer and a blogger. Two of my novels, In Search of Love and I’m Yours, the Next Time are currently available on Amazon, while my blogs can be seen on my website, www.piyushidhir.com.
I find that I’m actually a lot happier, healthier and more satisfied with my career as a writer, than I was as a corporate manager. It may not mint as much money for me yet, but it gives me a whole lot of flexibility to work as per my timings, which in turn means that I can give myself and my family a lot more of my time and attention.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
Technology has truly wiped distances off the map. With so many tools to place free international calls, one doesn’t have to think twice about picking up the phone. We regularly send pictures of what we’re doing on Whatsapp Groups to family and friends.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Ivory Coast?
After the hectic pace of life in India, we love the peace, quiet and serenity of life in San Pedro, Ivory Coast. We live in a sea-facing flat, something that would have been inconcievable in our home country. We dwell amidst lush greenery, breathe in plenty of fresh air and take walks on the sea beaches. The calm pace of life means we have more time for our health, our hobbies and for each other.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Ivory Coast?
When all is said and done, Africa is Africa. Safety is a concern, especially when elections are round the corner. Civil wars and bloodsheds are a definite possibility. In the election season that just went by, we stock-piled our homes with grocery, vegetables and milk and were prepared for a coup! Even in peace time, I lament the inadequate medical facilities in the country. So we keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best!
6. What do you miss most?
I definitely don’t miss the crazy life I left behind in India- neither the job, nor the long traffic jams or the pollution. I guess what we do miss the most from back home is family.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
While my husband had his job and office to keep him occupied, I had to make a special effort to find opportunities to meet and interact with new people in Ivory Coast. I joined a couple of expat groups like Book Clubs and Coffee Mornings. The exchange of ideas and information with such diverse groups was truly refreshing. I also signed up with a gym, where I attended dance classes with a host of foreigners and locals. On Saturday afternoons, around a hundred people of different nationalities gather to jog across the Ivorian country-side. My blog too, has put me in touch with expats planning to move to Ivory Coast, who are seeking information about their new home.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Something I initially found strange, but later came to appreciate is the freedom of personal choices people enjoy. It is not uncommon for a man to have multiple children from different women, with or without marriage. Even more interesting, it works the other way round as well! Women may have children from a man, be dating another one and no one would question her marital status. The people here are not bound by conventional social mores like marriage.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
That it is in South Africa!! No matter how many times I tell people that Ivory Coast is a country on the western coast of Africa, I get asked, “So, how’s South Africa?” After moving here, I realized that people in the outside world know so little about Africa. They either think of Africa as a poor slum with groveling, malnourished children or if you say you’re employed here, they assume you’re in South Africa.
It is true that poverty is a problem here, but there’s so much more to this country. For example, how many people know that a third of the world’s chocolate is made from Ivorian cocoa alone? One reason I write about Ivory Coast in my blog is to tell the outside world more about this little known place.
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
The cost of living is higher in Ivory Coast, because while the country is busy supplying the world cocoa and coffee, they produce little else for themselves. Factories and industries are practically non-existent. Small and big things, including chocolate itself, gets imported and hence, everything is expensive here. To cater to this gap, my husband’s company provides local and hardship allowances, which help us maintain a comfortable lifestyle as expats here.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
Moving to a new place entails experiencing so many new things. To make the most of this experience, I’d say approach it all with an open mind. Don’t be quick to judge your new home and its customs. Try to learn from it instead, and treat every minute there as an adventure!
12. When and why did you start your blog?
Moving to Ivory Coast brought so many new experiences my way, I would find myself penning down my obersvations, views and feelings. I was also in the process of building my own website and my identity as a writer. What better than to bring this all together in the form of a blog.
And as I said earlier, I realized that so little is known to the outside world about Ivory Coast and Africa that I started taking great pleasure in capturing the hues of life in this continent and presenting it to interested readers. I’ve written about election and politics, cultures and customs, tourism and sight-seeing, women and children, among other things, and the constant good response I get to these articles keep me going.
Piyushi's Blog, piyushidhir
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