Favourite recipes from afar

I recently wrote an article about a favourite curry recipe brought with us from Pakistan for an excellent blog called Eat Your World. It was one of a handful of local recipes handed to us by our helper Ansa just before we left under difficult circumstances, following the bombing of the Marriott hotel in 2008.

You can read the article here, but in the meantime I have been thinking of other recipes, ideas or food that we have “brought” back with us from various postings.

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One of the best things about travel is, of course (as all us foodies know), trying the local cuisine. It is one of the reasons I love travelling to Thailand and other parts of South East Asia so much – it’s almost impossible to get a bad meal in that part of the world (unless you are pregnant as I discovered: suddenly going off spicy dishes wasn’t a lot of fun in those circumstances).

But when your time in that country is done, whether it be a holiday or a posting, how easy is it to recreate the dishes you have known to love back home?

So far from South Africa we have had some success with bunny chow and my husband still likes to make his own biltong. We also have some great braai recipe books that we dive in to from time-to-time, including for a favourite Namibian meat stew cooked with coca cola and red wine. But braaiing is hard because the weather is generally too cold and wet, plus the price of meat here compared to South Africa makes it more of a treat than an everyday thing. I also have yet to attempt to make a milk tart.

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From Pakistan of course we have Ansa’s recipes, as well as a beautiful book of recipes  which we occasionally get out and attempt one of the simpler dishes. Getting fresh spices here isn’t as easy as it was in Islamabad but nevertheless most things are available if you look hard enough.

My husband was a huge fan of Jamaican food and luckily now there are Caribbean restaurants popping up all over the place (we have yet to try this local one in our town, but it is on my list). You can also buy patties, jerk sauce, even Ting in local supermarkets here. And I have become a dab hand at making banana bread from one of our Jamaican recipe books. But I think we would have to fly back to Kingston to get the red pea soup, jerk chicken with breadfruit, rice and peas, country chicken etc of the quality that we grew used to while we lived there.

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Overall though, I think our lives have been incredibly enriched by the food we have eaten overseas and the recipes we have brought back with us. It is getting easier and easier to try different things here in the UK – the latest meals we are enjoying use fresh recipe kits that give you the sauces and spices you need for curries and other dishes, making it quick and easy to whip up a quick delicious dinner in the evenings.

But there is still nothing like recreating favourites from places you have lived. You might not be able to go back there, but by cooking some of the food you remember and loved so much you can at least pretend you are back there living that life again.

Now if only the sun would stay out long enough, we could get the braai out….

Picture credit (milk tart) – Dimitra Tzanos

Have you got any favourite recipes or dishes that you still make from places you have lived in or travelled to in the past? I would love to hear about them. 

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Ever wondered what you need in an emergency?

Although I rarely feature sponsored posts on this blog, every so often I come across an idea that I don’t mind promoting because I believe it is something that will be truly useful to my readers. I also like to help out fellow expats – in this case, Richard Miles who lives in Botswana, not a million miles from my old stomping ground in South Africa. I love the idea of someone else telling me what I might need in an emergency and – having been in a few (mostly hurricane related!) I can really see how this would be of great benefit to many fellow expats around the globe. 

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As a native Californian, I know from experience that sometimes you have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. My wife Michelle and I have lived through earthquakes our entire lives, and our house in California sits in the Oakland Hills fire zone, right on the Hayward / San Andreas fault. It’s not a question of “if,” it’s a question of “when” the Big One will hit. Many of our dear friends in California just lived through the recent fires and floods and few of them lost everything. And living in Africa we know at any minute we could be without power, in the middle of some interesting times, and we need to be ready to go. And someday someone’s going to knock on our door and say we have to get out now and we aren’t going to be prepared.

Last fall we had a briefing from the Office of Emergency Preparedness where they told us all to make an emergency kit — a “Go Bag” — in case we had to evacuate in a hurry. Everyone nodded in agreement and said, “oh, yes, very important, will get right to it.” Of course, no one did. And the entrepreneur in me thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could put these kits together and offer them to my friends? And that way we all could go from feeling guilty that we hadn’t got it done to sleeping well at night knowing it was handled. But then I thought it would be ridiculous and massively expensive to try and buy all these products, ship them to Africa, assemble them, and then pay to ship them out to people all over the world. I also realized I could find all these products at great prices on Amazon.#

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Getting our Go!Bag together turned into an item on my to-do list. And that to-do item kept getting pushed back. Because it’s an enormous hassle. Going online searching for emergency supplies and pre-made emergency kits very quickly turns into product overwhelm. most of these pre-made kits are either trying to prepare you for the zombie apocalypse or are just full of useless junk (and quite expensive). What should I buy? There are 40-100 choices (or more) for every single thing I need. Figuring out what we need to buy made my eyes glaze over. Trying to sort through the 1,000s of products out there is overwhelming. Add procrastination and not wanting to think about, and it simply slides off the to-do list uncompleted.

Thus, Let’s Go!Bags was conceived.

I was fully committed and I continued to do research — I spent hours reading articles from FEMA (US Government Federal Emergency Management Agency), the Red Cross, even the Humane Society and more — learning what goes into a great emergency kit, and just as importantly what you don’t need. As a result, I put together a pretty comprehensive Emergency Plan & Go!Bag checklist. You can download it for free and use it to create your own family Emergency Plan. Then I spent many (many!) more hours searching for decent products I could buy – and recommend to others, reviewing detailed product specifications and reading user comments and reviews. I found great products on Amazon and I organized them into kits for your home, for your car, for your pets… The products I put on the website are the ones I personally bought for us after all my research. I looked for the highest quality affordable products and quite happily I succeeded.

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So I built a website where folks can come and check “go bag” off their to-do list with a click or two. A lot of our friends said they wanted to just click one link and get a kit. Others wanted to pick and choose. Others (a small few!) had a kit and just wanted to find specific products to expand them. So you can Buy A Kit, Build A Kit, or check our full catalog. We boiled it down to 10 essential products for your basic Go!Bag and you can order a kit for one, two, three or four people with a single click. Then you can expand it with more items if you want, plus get a kit for your car(s).

So be happy I did all the heavy lifting, download the Emergency Plan and checklist I put together, and then order what you need. Now’s your chance to just get it done.

And it wouldn’t hurt if you told all your friends about this: http://www.letsgobags.com

A trip home: what did I learn?

So I’ve just returned to South Africa after five weeks home in the UK – my first trip back since we arrived in Pretoria a year ago. I am very happy to see the sun again (ok, we saw it a bit at home but there weren’t that many of the cloudless days you get in the African winter), and to swap Brexit politics for South African politics. The former is as depressing as it comes; the latter is quite exciting and in an entirely selfish way won’t affect me or my family as much as what is happening back in the UK.

Everyone who is an expat knows what it feels like to go home after a spell away from it. Always slightly surreal, like nothing has changed but everything has. You know that people will be less interested in you and your adventures than you hoped they would be. You also know you will not be able to see everyone you would like to – and will feel guilty for half the holiday about this fact. And then get over it: by the time you have driven 3,000 miles between eight different places, unpacked and repacked 28 times and slept in about 13 different beds, you will stop fretting about those people you couldn’t catch up with. After all, they can always come to you!

But apart from the obvious, what else did I learn? Following our visit, here are a few of my observations:

  • The United Kingdom has become obsessed with Prosecco. This obsession had started before I left and it was already the drink of choice when I went to the pub with friends. But now the price of a bottle seems to have come down to lower than a decent bottle of red and it’s everywhere! There were even Prosecco bars at shopping malls – as if the proleteriat wanted to mimick the “ruling classes” with their champagne and oyster bars at Harvey Nicks……

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  • I think we can now safely say there will never be a proper summer in England again. We have been going to the same place in Devon for the end of July/beginning of August period for 10 years now and without fail it always rains non-stop for at least two days. My childhood memories of endless sunny days are just that – memories.
  • After you have been away for a year, you will be that fumbly person at supermarket check outs with their new-fangled card machines and paying 5p for bags and not having someone to pack those bags for you and trying to remember you enter the card into the machine yourself rather than simply hand it over…..ditto petrol stations – what do you mean you have to fill it up yourself?!
  • Politics is the new soap opera. It is the main topic of conversation with pretty much anyone you meet. If you don’t get on to the subject of Brexit within 5 minutes of meeting someone there can be only one reason: you suspect they voted differently from you. In which case talk about the weather, last night’s tv, sport….anything but the EU!

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  • Have we reached tipping point with social media? I have never seen so many people spend so long staring at their phones as I did this last month. Surely something has to give soon?
  • For the first time ever on a return from a period of living overseas I didn’t go mad in a supermarket – which proves the quality of food here in South Africa. I did, however, go fairly mad in all other shops including clothes and book shops.
  • The Brits love their dogs. But luckily they do not love their dog poo. It was very refreshing to be able to walk around without watching where you were stepping, especially in parks. I wish South Africans would learn to use their doggy poop bags…..
  • I still love London more than any other city in the world. Yes the crowds do my head in, yes it’s flipping expensive. But it still feels to me like the centre of the universe – there is always something going on, and something new happening. Bath and Bristol run it a close second though.
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Bath – my joint favourite UK city after London.

  • It was also nice to be able to walk out of the house, including at night, and feel safe. I started off always locking my car door as soon as we were in but got more relaxed as the holiday went on. I am now doing the opposite and have to keep remembering to lock doors, keep windows up etc. It hasn’t helped that my domestic helper’s son was kidnapped, tied up and badly beaten for his card and pin nuber last weekend. A timely reminder that we are “not in Kansas anymore”.

I’m sure there are many other things I could say about my trip and my feelings about being home but this post has gone on long enough already so I will leave it there. But let me know if you’ve just been back to your home country after a spell abroad and if so, what were your observations? Did you find it just as you left it – or did everything feel a bit off-kilter? Did it live up to expectations – or were you happy to leave it all behind again?

Photos: glass of bubbly – Meg, EU umbrellas – Jeremy Segrott

 

An Expat Partner: the First Three Months

Thank you to Sarah who blogs over at Scribbles from Overseas for the refreshingly honest story of her first three months living as an Expat Partner. Those early days are often the hardest for any expat – and even more so for the non-working partner who has to find a new routine to their day, as well as find their way around, find out where the shops are and how to use the local bus service….But as Sarah’s post proves, things do usually start to look up once you have the first few months under your belt.

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My partner was always very honest with me. There was a chance his job might be moving overseas, and it was more a question of when rather than if.

I have always found myself torn between two separate paths in life. The first is the kind of ‘normal’ one I suppose – go to school, get a good job, a house, get married and live happily ever after. I am a self-confessed homemaker.

The second, however, is the travelling path. I would love to see more of the world and experience new cultures. When I was growing up I always said one day I would like to spend a year or two living and working overseas.

So when my partner told me we were moving to Toronto, Canada I was excited. There were the initial stresses to deal with – like packing up our house, sorting out shipping and leaving my job. But I loved the idea of Canada. I looked forward to spending my weekend’s hiking in mountains or hiring out cute log cabins by a snowy lake. And I could not wait to go exploring all the cities in North America that I’d always wanted to visit. These would now be on the right side of the ocean for us.

Yet lurking underneath all that anticipation, buried somewhere deep in my subconscious was a growing anxiety.

bubblewrap! Starting the long task of packing our stuff in Bristol

Bubblewrap! Starting the long task of packing our stuff in Bristol.

Leaving England was stressful. Only a couple of days before our flight I was still trying to shift our stuff on gumtree whilst my partner did multiple trips to the dump. Well after dark on the day we were supposed to move out of our house in Bristol, we were still cleaning and sorting out what would be coming with us, and what was going in the bin. It didn’t help that I had come down with the world’s worst (and most badly timed) cold and was feeling entirely wiped out.

Waving goodbye to our house somewhere close to midnight, we drove to my partner’s parents to stay the night before our flight. I felt so nauseous I had to stop the car to throw up. The illness (and general exhaustion) was probably partly to blame, but also the brewing nervousness.

In Toronto

Me, My partner and the CN Tower

Me, my partner and the CN Tower

The first few weeks after you get off that flight will be the hardest. We had two days in Toronto before my partner returned to work in his new office. You feel like you have to squeeze everything into that short period of time. It is a whirlwind of trying to get the important stuff done – such as opening bank accounts and setting up phone numbers. But mixed in is the desire to learn your way around the city and make the most of the time you have off together before work takes over. I was glad we managed to find the time to have some fun and fit a little of the touristy stuff in, such as visiting the CN Tower.

It was after he went to work that supressed bubble of anxiety really shimmied its way to the surface. I had this sugar-coated idea in my head before arriving in Toronto that I would spend this time getting to know the city. However, in reality there is only so much exploring you want to do by yourself. Plus there’s the ever growing guilt that you are not working and therefore should really hold back on spending too much money.

I quickly realised I do not like being dependent. I have always worked since the age of thirteen when I had my first paper round. I do have a work permit here, but I found the process of job hunting agonising. Trailing though endless pages of job advertisements, half of which specify applicants with Canadian permanent resident status will be prioritised was an incredibly de-motivating experience.

Far too excited to find a shop selling British baked beans and squash!

Far too excited to find a shop selling British baked beans and squash! (not at all: I think we all know where you are coming from – look, Yorkshire Tea! Ed).

I got into the habit of researching trailing spouse syndrome online and convinced myself I was doomed to two years of depression and there was nothing I could do about it. Finding some temping work pulled me out of that routine. It stopped me sitting in our apartment thinking, or getting frustrated at job hunting all day. And even though I am not working again now and those niggles do still exist, after three months of being here I am able to enjoy having the opportunity to spend my time writing, cooking and doing the things I love. Things I wouldn’t normally have the time to do when working a full-time job.

I don’t want to make this all sound too negative. Things do get better once you get over that initial first month hurdle. Yes you will undoubtedly sob into a cup of tea wondering whether you made the right decision and consider getting on the next plane home at various points. Yes you may go slightly loopy some days, and I certainly crave that path one lifestyle from time to time.  However, if I could go back in time six months I wouldn’t change my decision to move overseas and become an expat partner. Most days I really love being here, and for every day I want to go home there’s another where I am thinking about where might be next on the list after Toronto.

On top of all the obvious positives of seeing a new place, meeting new people and learning about new cultures, I have found this an opportunity to learn what makes me happy. I have realised what is most important to me – and who is most important to me. You learn who your true friends are. It gives you the chance to step back, re-evaluate and maybe write a whole new path for yourself.

Three months in and Toronto is bright and blooming. It is summer here now and the weather at least certainly beats the grey drizzle England promises most of the year around. Toronto is a really great place – and I have still only seen the tip of the iceberg!

There is still a lot to learn and a long way to go until I will feel completely settled, but I am starting to realise it is OK to not have everything neatly in place.

 

The little things you wish you had known

A while ago I wrote this post on the things you wish you had known before you became an expat. Mostly this dealt with the bigger picture, like how to meet people, embracing the culture, and managing your expectations.

But there are the little things too, the things that are very much more specific to your particular country rather than to expat life as a whole. Things that are also very particular to you – after all, what is important to one family may be insignificant to another. I, for one, don’t care that I can’t get American cereals in South Africa. My American friends apparently care very much.

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When you are used to this much choice….

This was a topic recently tackled by one of my road testers, Lynsay of the blog Mills Family Travels, who has moved with her family to South Korea and has been following the chapters of my book as she settles in to her new life. In her post on the subject, Lynsay writes:

Furniture is oddly expensive  – had we known we probably would have shipped our Ikea bookcases rather than sell them for relatively little!  We probably should have brought the bunk beds too but as we were getting furnished accommodation we had to weigh up the cost of shipping (Jeju is not a cheap place to get things to!) versus what we could manage without.

Bikes are not expensive and are easy to get – it probably would have been better to sell the children’s bikes and buy new here.  For some reason they didn’t travel well and arrived a little worse for wear.

Bedding is not the same size as in the UK!  So our duvet covers and sheets are not very useful!

(you can read the full post here)

I am sure some of these points will resonate with some of you. I am also sure that they will be totally irrelevant to others. Here in South Africa, I wish we had known how hard it would be to get buy good quality children’s shoes and clothes. I also wish I had known how cheap everything would be. There are a lot of things we should have just waited to buy until we got here. On the other hand, I wish we HADN’T been told to bring lots of sun tan cream. The shops here are full of it (although to be fair, fuller now that it is summer than when we first arrived in August and really needed it…).

As it is important to try and get location-specific information before you move somewhere, I always recommend trying to find a local blogger in similar circumstances to yourself (eg has children, doesn’t have children, is working, is the accompanying partner etc) to follow. Even better if they are a friendly type of blogger who will answer your questions. And these days, there are more and more Facebook pages set up for expats in foreign cities – here we have Trailing Spouses Johannesburg and Trailing Spouses Pretoria. These are excellent resources, and just the sort of place to ask questions like whether you can get a certain brand of tea bag in yor new country, what size sheets to bring, and whether you are likely to find a decent dentist….

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Will they have your favourite brand of tea?

But of course, however hard you try, there will always be some questions you won’t get answered before your move. It would be impossible (and actually pretty boring) to know everything about your new location before you get there. There will also be questions that you won’t even know you needed to ask before you left.

And yet, even when things are uncertain, even when there are things you wish you had known, we all cope in the end. Yes you may not be able to buy the exact brand of toothpaste that you have become used to – but there are plenty of very decent alternatives. There aren’t any great clothes shops, but there is always online shopping. Bookshops are scarce – but friends with books are aplenty. Not knowing is one of the excitements of travel, an excitement that has been all but taken away thanks to our interconnected, global world. Let’s leave a few suprises in place.

Even if it is just what size bedsheets you will need for your new home.

Are there any location-specific things you wish you had known before moving somewhere new? Or do you prefer to find out about these things when you get there?

Photo credits: Cereal – Rex Roof; tea: Sarah R

Supermarket hopping, talking the lingo and keeping safe

Earlier this week I shared a post about the first of two “practicalities” chapters in my book – the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. In the book, I look at what it is like when you first move somewhere and discuss some of the nuts and bolts of life as a new expat. Taking the points made in the book I wanted to look at my own experience of moving to South Africa – to test what I had written and check how I was doing so far. In my first post on this subject I looked at finding a home, furnishing it and getting around. In this post I move on to the second chapter on practicalities – shopping, learning the language and keeping safe.

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Shopping

It’s interesting how a supermarket, which at first glance seems stuffed to the rafters with food, can quickly start to drive you crazy trying to find exactly the right ingredients to make a carefully planned menu, or has everything you need except one, vital thing. This can lead to one common expat phenomenon: supermarket-hopping.

Extract from the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, chapter 5 – Practicalities part two.

This has been exactly my experience here in Pretoria. Exactly. When we first arrived here, we were overjoyed. Compared to the supermarkets in other places we have lived (notably Islamabad and St Lucia), the choices here in South Africa are phenonemal. And I still stick by this – this is a foodies heaven in many ways and we could eat our every day for a year and still not get through all the restaurants and cafes I want to visit. There are plenty of good shops too and things like meat, wine, bread, fruit and vegetables are all bountiful.

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Plenty of wine here….

But now that I am out of the early, honeymoon stage, I have found irriration starting to creep in. Yes the supermarkets are good – but they are not always reliable. And you can’t usually get everything you need for a week in one place. And some ingredients are difficult to track down altogether.

Whilst I know I will find goods galore when I visit my favourite supermarket Woolworths (which is basically Marks and Spencers), they do not always have everything I need for my planned meals. The other day, for example, they didn’t have the particular type of sausages I had scheduled to give the kids that evening. It didn’t really matter, I bought them something else – but little irritations like this add up.

I have slowly started to work out where the best place to buy different things is – Hinterland for beef, Woollies for sausages and chicken, Almas butchers for pork loin, Food Lovers Market for ready-prepared food; Macro for bulk items like dishwasher tablets. In the end, I know we can get more or less everything we need here (the list I have asked my parents to bring out with them when they visit soon is very short – Yorkshire teabags, (UK) Marmite and Oxo cubes), but shopping can be very time consuming.

However, for the meat and the wine I am very, very grateful!

(One of my roadtester for the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, Lynsay, has also written on her blog about shopping in their new location in Korea. You can read her take on this important subject here)

Language

The feeling of isolation of being a new expat in a strange country can be massively increased if you can’t interact with those around you, or if you find yourself left out of conversations because they are going on in a language you don’t know.

Extract from the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, chapter 5 – Practicalities part two.

Boy am I lucky with this one. Everyone I have met so far here in South Africa speaks English. They might all speak about seven other languages as well, and English may not be their first language, but I have had no trouble at all being understood.

I do sometimes find it hard to know what others are saying, mind you. Firstly, I get spoken to in Afrikaans quite a lot. I was told by my English South African cousin that Afrikaans women tend to be more glamorous than their English-speaking counterparts, so perhaps the days people first try me with Afrikaans are the days when I make more of an effort. But even when people speak to me in English, I still find some of the accents very difficult to decipher.

I am getting there, but there are still many moments of “I’m sorry, what did you just say?”.

I do love all the languages here though and enjoy practising saying many of the words. Sawubona. Dumela. Molo. Unjani. And, errr, cliick! I have also found myself starting to pick up some of the South African sayings, like Just Now, and Ach, shame. Yikes!

Keeping safe

In many countries these days, you will have bars on your windows, panic rooms or parts of the houses that can be locked off from the rest, gated and guarded communities and more. This can all seem quite alarming if you’re not used to it, but it soon becomes part of life. A sad, inevitable part of life because these precautions are there as a daily reminder of how harsh life can be for many of the other residents of the city you live in.

Extract from the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, chapter 5 – Practicalities part two.

Sadly, while we have had it easy with the language side of things here in South Africa, we certainly have not with the security. This country has a reputation for violent crime, and stats certainly back this up.

I have previously lived in Kingston, Jamaica, so had an idea what to expect here. Horror stories abound and these do lead to the creation of a “feeling of fear” that you have to live with, day in, day out. We sleep behind a keep in a house with grills, surrounded by electric fence, on a compound with a security guard. I have had to speak to the children about what to do if we get car-jacked; they also have “duck and cover” drills at school.

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Life behind bars.

But despite all this, you can live your life relatively normally so long as you follow basic guidelines – don’t walk anywhere at night, stay away from certain areas, keep your car doors locked at all times etc. But there is a certain tension that goes with always having to be “aware” that means it is necessary to take a break from city life as often as you can. Will I ever get used to it? Not completely. One of the things I am most looking forward to when we return to the UK on holiday is being able to open the front door and just walk.

So those are my experiences of the “practicalities” of life in South Africa, I would love to hear about yours. In future posts I will look at some of the other chapters in my book, including finding domestic staff, keeping my sanity and that huge subject: schooling.

 

Finding a house, buying a rug, and learning to drive all over again…..

A few months ago I asked some lovely expat partners to review my book the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide chapter by chapter as they went through their overseas move. So far posts have covered the first few chapters of the book, including preparing for the move, the actual move itself and the early days. But I have also been doing my own little road test of the book and over the course of two posts this week I look at the two chapters on Practicalities: first of all Accommodation, Furniture and Transport; and on Wednesday Shopping, Making Yourself Understood (or not) and Keeping Safe.

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Accommodation

First and foremost you need somewhere to live. At this stage, many people will be in temporary housing. Some will be in a hotel or in someone else’s house while they either look for their own home or wait for their predecessor to vacate it. Others might have moved straight into their new house and have moved on to accommodation – part 2: furnishing. But whatever your situation, and as long as you have some choice in the matter, it is very, very important to get where you are going to live as right as possible.

Extract from The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, chapter four: Practicalities Part One.

I think it goes without saying that one of the most important things to do when you move to a new country is make sure you get your home right. This isn’t always an easy task – you may have to househunt from afar; you may have no choice and already have a home assigned to you and your family; or you may not be presented with many possibilities. Over the past 15 years I have lived in four different overseas locations – and had very different experiences in each:

  • In Jamaica, I decided against moving into my predecessor’s apartment because it was quite a long way out of town and I didn’t feel safe driving there alone at night. So I was shown what seemed like dozens of unsuitable homes filled with shiny furniture until I eventually found the right one. It was relatively close to the office, on a small compound with friendly neighbours and a shared pool, and wasn’t too hideously furnished (although I did remove the zebra-print curtains)
  • In Islamabad, we were given the choice initially of living off compound in my husband’s predecessor’s house – but when the time to move got closer they had already decided they wanted to move all families on to the safety of the diplomatic compound. In the end I was pleased about this; although I am not a huge fan of living side-by-side with your colleagues (and I dislike the “British enclaves” that can be a by-product of these sorts of compounds), it was a lot easier to get to know people this way and much safer for the children.
  • In St Lucia we had to find our own house from scratch – the home that had been rented by the previous officer wasn’t suitable for a family. We took our children on the recce to look for this house and viewed countless unsuitable places. St Lucia suffered from basically being a holiday destination on a poor island – the choice was either a shack or a luxury villa. In the end we did find a beautiful home with an even more beautiful view, but it came with an insufferable housekeeper and was too far from the school/other expats. After a year we moved again, to the more popular end of the islands – where life got a lot easier for me, but my husband had a longer commute for work.
The view from our St Lucia villa#1

The beautiful view from our unsuitable home in St Lucia

  • Here in Pretoria we have moved into my husband’s predecessor’s house. We were told we wouldn’t have a choice but that it would almost certainly be this house. We did look at the one other possibility and it was fine – but this one is in a much better location and in a small, safe and friendly compound. It isn’t perfect (we have had to do battle over getting a shower fixed since we arrived) but it’s done us well and we are happy here. For once, I think we have got it right!

Furniture

Once you have found somewhere to live, you will need to think about furnishing it. You might be lucky and inherit a fully furnished, even – if you’re REALLY lucky – tastefully furnished, house or apartment that needs nothing more than your own finishing touches like pictures and perhaps new curtains. On the other hand, you might need to throw everything out and start from scratch.

Extract from the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, chapter four – Practicalities Part One.

We didn’t have any say over furniture really at all as the houses we move into come fully furnished. Our shipping allowance means it would be very expensive to bring over more than the odd small bookshelf or bedside table, so we have had to rely on local shops to supplement what was already in the house. And this we have had to do – the guy we took over from was a single man, who travelled a lot for work and didn’t need the same amount of stuff in his house as we did. Thus so far we have had to buy two bookshelves, a rug, two desks, two office chairs and a patio table and chair set.

Although on the surface the shops here are pretty good, what we have found is that their stockrooms are often not stocked and goods need to be sent from elsewhere. There seems to be a lot of this, waiting on shipments – particularly frustrating when you are not told when you buy something that it won’t be delievered for several weeks. I have had a few heated phone conversations about this matter!

As well as furniture we have had to work to make our house look a little less bare – there is a lot more space than our home in the UK, including some pretty huge walls to cover. Luckily this is a country where crafts are bountiful and I am slowly accumulating pretty bits and pieces to beautify the house. Heaven knows where it will all go when we return back to the UK!

Wall decorations to fill a large wall

Wall decorations to fill a large wall

 

Transport

Working out transport right from day one is one of the most important things you can do when you first arrive somewhere. Unless you’re in a relatively modern city with good transport links, or where it’s safe and easy to walk around, you really do need to think how you are going to get out and about if you don’t want to feel completely trapped.

Extract from the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, chapter four – Practicalities Part One.

I have already written a post about how my GPS became my new best friend; but I can’t emphasise enough how important it is that I drive here. There really is very little alternative – walking is only good for short distances and the public transport is not to be recommended on the whole.

Before I arrived my husband was already on the case. We had discussed cars and started to narrow down the possibilities for me (he gets a humungous Landcruiser with his job). Once I had got here, and after the first few days when he was at home and could ferry me around, we hired a small car so that I wasn’t stranded at home. It was pretty small and started off a little smelly as some water had leaked through somewhere and the carpet was a little pongy. But it got me around and for that I was happy. I will never forget my first drive here – to the local mall, with the kids in the back cheering me on. I actually managed to take a wrong turning – but then fixed it by driving around a roundabout and back again – which made me realise that actually driving in this city wasn’t going to be so difficult.

Now here I am a few months on, and we have bought a family car (decided on because the girls sat in the back and my youngest was able to see out of the window). I am driving more and more without the aid of the sat-nav and, cross fingers, so far have not had any accidents. I fear it is only a matter of time though – the driving here isn’t great and it is unusual NOT to come across at least one accident every time I go out. Some of which, sadly, have been pretty horrific – we saw our first dead body in the road on our first weekend in South Africa.

So we have passed some of the hurdles of the early days, settled into our home and worked out how to get around. Next, I look at some of the other practicalities of living in a new location abroad – finding your way round the shops, learning the language and keeping safe.

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