Welcome to April 2015’s #TrailingSpouseStories! This month, we played with April Fools and asked each other “What got you “fooled” into being a trailing spouse? What myths did you start out with and what did you discover in the process?” Here is my take on the matter.
As someone who spent my childhood as a trailing daughter, following my parents to Asia and Africa and Europe, and then as someone who took my own posting to Jamaica as an adult, I thought I knew what it would be like. I really thought I understood expat life – I thought it would be easy.
How wrong I was.
I can’t really remember now what my pre-conceived ideas of Islamabad were going to be. I was so caught up in motherhood that I don’t think much else really impinged on my consciousness. I had a toddler and was pregnant with my second when we accepted the posting. The run up to the move was a blur of childbirth, breastfeeding, crying, broken sleep and potty-training. I seriously don’t think I gave much thought to what my life would be like when I got there.
But what the hell did I think I was going to do with myself? We made the huge mistake of arriving during the summer holidays. It was too hot to go out and all the other families bar one were away. Our sea freight was still weeks away from reaching us. We had no car, and even if we had there was nowhere to go. We were trapped. It was a miserable few months and then, just as things started to get easier, we were evacuated.
The second time was better – after all, I had more of an idea of what it was like to not only have yourself to think about as a new expat in town, but two small children as well (which meant no, I couldn’t accept all those social invites…). Plus we were in St Lucia – a beautiful country with enticing beaches and the Caribbean Sea around every corner. But it was still hard – really, really hard. This time I wasn’t so trapped (we hired a car. I used it). But unlike Islamabad, which was bursting at the seams with expats, it was difficult to meet people. Even when the girls finally started at the local preschool, I found it a bit cliquey and unfriendly. I got there in the end, but it just took quite a long time.
And this was me, someone who has lived abroad on and off all my life. Someone who had taken herself off round the world on a solo trip in her late twenties, moved to Jamaica, travelled independently in Egypt, Jordan, Cambodia, Israel, the Philippines….if I found it hard, what of those who had rarely set foot out of their home town, let alone their home country? Who didn’t have the support of a large institution like we did in Pakistan, or the backing of diplomatic immunity, as we did in both places. How were they finding it?
So a germ of an idea started to grow in my head. What they needed, I thought, was some sort of manual. A supportive guide, both practical and emotional, to help them through those difficult, early days in particular. And so the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide was born.
But to return to the original question, was I a fool? Are we all fools? Just because we might find it hard, in some cases harder than we ever expected, does this make us stupid? Well, of course the answer to this is no. We’re not stupid – but in many cases we are under-prepared. So if there is one thing I have learned from these experiences is to do my homework. To try and understand what it will be like, to steal myself for boredom or loneliness or frustration. To know that all of these feelings are normal and that they will pass. To grit my teeth and just get on with getting through the hard times, knowing that it almost certainly will get better.
Foolish? Maybe. But better than blind.
To read how others interpreted this month’s trailing spouse link-up theme, please click on the links below:
Didi of D for Delicious says that the trailing spouse life is attractively shiny, yet it is better to know that behind the glitter is a lot of grit. Read more in #TrailingSpouseStories: Falling for Fool’s Gold?
Elizabeth Smith of Secrets of A Trailing Spouse says that the reality of life as a trailing spouse does not live up to its image, but is so much better. Read more in You Could’ve Fooled Me: Common Myths About Trailing Spouses.
Shakira Sison chats with Didi of D for Deliciious We chat with Palanca winning essayist and Rappler columnist Shakira Sison to share stories of her foolhardy decision to leave for NYC. Read more in A Conversation on the LGBT Trailing Spouse Life in NYC with Shakira Sison.
Yuliya Khilko of TinyExpats says that quite often it’s not about being ‘fooled’, but about ‘fooling’ yourself. Read more in Assumptions and speculations – beginning of the trailing spouse journey.