Sunday, 31 August 2014

Mums Who Move: Three Under Five In Kinshasa

It's not often that I meet a mum who makes travelling across the globe with small children look not only easy but fun too!  Jess hails from Canada but lives thousands of miles away in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.  When she's not battling black flies or stifling humidity, Jess, a mum of three trilingual children under five teaches at an international school.  But come holiday time, Jess and her clan are off, venturing from the Seychelles to France to Uganda.  She is the queen of the long haul flight en masse and has some great tips to share.  Here's her amazing story...

Meet Jess 
I’m a Canadian mom living in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the last five years.  Before Kinshasa, we lived in Uganda for five years as well. I have three little ones: a girl (4.5), a boy (3) and another boy (15 months).  I’m also a teacher in an international school here.

My husband is originally from Congo, although he is of Indian descent. Although we met in uni in Canada, we always knew would we would come back here to work for his family business.

The best bits about living in DRC
There are so many! No snow for starters lol. Despite decades of hardship, the Congolese people are some of the nicest, kindest and most generous that I have met. Our staff is always willing to share their very, very limited food with my kids. Congo is also a Francophone country so my children are growing up trilingual, including Lingala one of the local dialects. My children are being exposed to a life most people in Canada can’t imagine.

The challenges
Water, electricity, high unemployment/poverty, suffocating humidity, mosquitoes and black flies that won’t give up, and the thousands of kilometres that separate me from my own mom. Leaving your parents never gets easier, even after ten years of tearful goodbyes at the airport.

Keeping children occupied in Kinshasa
Activities are limited here although there are more and more every year. Children can participate in after school activities, ballet, horse riding, soccer, karate – there is a fairly good offering but it’s all done on a rather small scale. Kinshasa is a child friendly place to live but there are security considerations to make when moving around after dark. Car doors are always locked and windows up whether days or night.
There are a variety of school options in English and French. The schools are small but serve their students well.

Getting away
The average ex-patriate leaves Kinshasa at every opportunity! We travel at least three times a year, usually on long haul flights. Travel within Congo, and most of Africa for that matter, is extremely expensive. I can fly to France for less money than I can fly to Uganda, a neighbouring country.

A top destination
We recently went to Seychelles when the kids were 3 and 18 months. I was also 5 months pregnant. We rented an apartment (a far better way to travel for young families than the standard hotel room) and we had a fabulous time. The beaches were the most beautiful I have ever seen and we were able really have a relaxing time.

And a funny travel story
When our daughter was about 6 months old we were in Paris on holiday. We went to visit Notre Dame Cathedral. My husband decided to hang back with the baby while I went up to get a closer look at the altar. A complete stranger approached my husband and demanded to know where the baby’s mother was. My daughter does not look like my husband at all and the woman was concerned he had kidnapped her.

A top product
ERGO! ERGO! ERGO! The best baby carrier made (I’ve tried about five slings, wraps or carriers) for travel. In October 2013 we travelled to Spain for a family holiday. We were in the Madrid train station trying to get down to Marbella. The kids were 3.5, 2 and 5 months. My husband was pushing two suitcases and two duffle bags, I had the 2 year old in the stroller, the 3.5 year old walking and the baby in the Ergo. Of course baby got hungry as we needed to speed quickly to the train! So I snapped on the hood, opened up my nursing top and fed baby while I pushed the stroller, held a wee hand and hustled towards the train. Now THAT is a good carrier! I also love how snuggly baby is and how easy it is to put on. I carried my 4.5 year old in it this summer (on my back) and she happily fell asleep while we walked around Toronto. Can’t recommend this one enough for traveling families.

A top tip
So many families are afraid to travel with kids but it really is terrific and not as hard as you think. A good tip for flights or long car rides: head to the local dollar store and spend $20 on junky toys. Put them in a brown paper bag for the flight. Everytime your child gets bored with a toy, you can pull out a new one. If it gets lost of broke on the plane, don’t worry! It only cost $1. It’s a great way to keep them busy, you haven’t spent a ton of money and you don’t need to stress about losing them.

A recommended blog for Mums Who Move

It’s not my blog but it’s done by two good friends of mine and it’s terrific.

Are you a Mum Who Moves?  I'd love to share your story.  Please drop me an email at


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