“Where can I make a phone call?” I asked my roommate who had lived in Casablanca for a year longer than I had. “There are no pay phones here,” she replied. Hmmm, I thought. Many people in the city don’t have the money for cell phones. How do they make calls?
So, I put on my proverbial detective’s mindset and started watching wherever I went, trying to solve this small mystery. I learned that technically, she was right. There were no obvious pay phones, but I soon noticed plenty of shops where people could go and pay to make calls.
Over the past 19 years, I have lived in 9 houses in 6 cities in 3 countries. Whenever I move, I become a detective. Like Sherlock Holmes, I observe, looking for clues on how life works in this new place.
- First, I start with a mental list of what I want to learn about the neighborhood where I live.
- Where can I buy food? Are there small shops? Bigger grocery stores? Fresh vegetable stands?
- What are the closest restaurants?
- Where are ATMs? Where can I exchange money?
- How do I set up my cell phone? And, until I do, or if my phone isn’t working for some reason, is there a way to make calls? (Hence my question to my roommate.)
- How do I get internet access?
- How can I get around? Are there buses, taxis, rideshare services like Uber?
- What other shops/services are in walking distancing from my home? Knowing what I can find quickly and easily nearby adds a great deal to my comfort in settling in.
- As I walk around, I also observe people:
- How are people of different ages dressed in different settings? In Amman, I observed that in professional settings, women are very well-dressed and take great care with their appearance. However, they seem to treat our local neighborhood as an extension of their homes. I often see women running to the small neighborhood shop with a sweater thrown over their pajamas.
- How do people greet each other on the street, in shops? Do they make eye contact? Do they smile at strangers? How do people interact with shopkeepers? With their neighbors? How do men and women interact? How do adults treat children?
- What are the rhythms of life? How early are people up and about? How late do they stay out? When is traffic the worse? What is the best time to go shopping?
- What days do people have off? I’ve learned not to assume the weekend is Saturday and Sunday. In Jordan, it’s Friday and Saturday.
- I ask questions to figure out how to deal with the business of daily life:
- Where do I get drinking water?
- How do I keep my house warm in winter? Cool in summer?
- How do I pay bills like electricity?
- Is there someone in the building whose job it is to do maintenance? If not, who can I call for help?
- Is there a way to receive mail? Send mail? (Don’t assume there is!)
- How do pharmacies work? What can I get over the counter, without a prescription?
- While not essential, I have certain things that make a place feel like home.
This list is very personal; everyone I know has a different items on their personal lists. Here are some of mine:
- What are my options for attending church?
- Are there any bookstores nearby? Any libraries?
- Where can I find my comfort foods, like good coffee and good pizza?
- Are there museums and art galleries to explore?
Settling into a new place is stressful, but approaching it as a mystery can turn it into an adventure. And it becomes a source of joy when you realize the place that was once foreign now feels like home.
About the Author: Libby is an IDEAS Associate and professional librarian. She currently resides in Jordan and works with libraries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Enjoy other blogs by Libby, such as The Power of Small Seeds.