We’re lost without a community

The other day I was meant to be going to a welcome party thrown by our new High Commissioner who has recently arrived in the country. It was to be a braai, that most South Aftican of get-togethers, at his house. Everyone was invited and it all sounded very jolly.

Except unfortunately I didn’t get there. My husband was stuck in traffic after a road closure between Pretoria and the airport and didn’t get home in time to pick me up. Of course I absolutely could have gone on my own and I am sure I would have been welcomed. But I didn’t really want to. So I didn’t go.

I have been thinking about this because there was no reason why I felt I couldn’t go alone – I would have known a few people there and it’s always interesting to have a nose at a new head of mission and his wife. But when it came down to it, it felt odd going without my husband because it felt like I would have been going to his work do without him. And this made me feel a bit sad.

I have been part of embassies and high commissions on and off all my life. We spent four years in the Philippines as a child and I can still remember the Christmas partys, with one of the staff members dressing up as Santa in the crazy Filippino heat. Then later we were in Caracas and my social life revolved around the young staff at the embassy – nights out, weekends away…even though I didn’t work in the embassy, I was always welcomed and asked along to things.

More recently we were in Islamabad when the Marriott bomb of 2008 forced our evacuation. I believe strongly that things could have been a lot more chaotic had the High Commission not built up a sense of community among the families working there. As it was, the days and weeks following the bomb were pretty distressing but at least we felt the people-in-charge knew who we were and cared about our well-being. We might only have been the non-working spouses and children but we were made to feel like we were part of the High Commission and that our needs mattered.

Since moving to Pretoria I haven’t really felt this. The High Commission here is a distant place full of people I don’t know. We are not connected and there are many other spouses I have never met. For me personally this is not a huge issue – I have lived in many other, much harder, places and because I have school-age children have been able to meet many friends and built a community through other methods.

But for other people who have never lived abroad before or are not used to living in a developing world country (even though South Africa is a relatively easy place to live, the fear of crime does impact on many when they first arrive in particular), this lack of an inclusion into a ready-made community can be devastating.

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Of course not everyone wants to be part of their spouse’s office life and over time all of us will undoubtedly build our own connections elsewhere. But if you don’t have an office or a school or a mosque or church or some other instant “thing” where like-minded people will welcome you, help you, just talk to you in those early, lonely days, if you don’t have that then well life can be pretty tough. And although those of us who have been through this before know well that it does, over time, get easier, that isn’t much comfort for that person going through it right now. Or for that person who might give up before they get to that point.

So what do you do if you are in this situation? If no-one from the office calls you on your first day and asks you out for a coffee? If you don’t have children to meet people through or they go on a school bus so you never see any other parents anyway (and yes, there are plenty of things to get involved with at school like Parent Assocations, but they’re not for everyone)? Luckily for us we live in the age of the internet and because of this you can start to build your community before you even arrive. These days almost every location has am expat group where you can post questions and ask about things like housing and schools long in advance of your arrival. Many of these groups are also social and organise nights out, day trips, cinema evenings etc.

But even if you don’t find such a group or you don’t like the look of what’s on offer, the internet can be a god-send in this situation in another way. Nowadays, because I work from home, I spend a lot of time “talking” to people on line. Sometimes via Facebook posts, often through messaging. I would say quite a decent percentage of my friends are now people I have never met – and I know some of them so well that I actually forget I have never physically met them in person. This includes expats in other countries I have clicked with, writers in various writer groups I belong to, “mum” friends made from the days when my children were babies, and a various assortment of odds and sods I seem to have picked up along the way who I just enjoy being in contact with. And one of the lovely things about these relationships is that when you move – they will still be there. Whilst the relationships you have with people you see on a day-to-day basis will by necessity change when you move on, with some of them staying friends and others dropping off, the ones that you have with the people in your computer will remain.

And yes of course I know that real-life, warm, huggable people are so important to have around, sometimes that just isn’t happening. So in those circumstances, don’t feel you have no friends. Don’t get lonely or give up on ever meeting someone you get along with. You still have friends, you can still talk to them every day as much or as little as you want. And in the meantime you will slowly build up friendships in “real life” who won’t replace the ones in the computer but will complement them.

No-one should feel that they don’t belong. We all belong somewhere. Sometimes, though, it just takes a while to find your tribe.

Picture credit: Orangoing

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A Day in My Expat Life -Sweden

Welcome to the latest look at a normal day in an expat life and today we move to Europe and Sweden where we meet Lisa Ferland and her family. Lisa is a U.S. citizen who has lived in Sweden since 2012. Together with her husband, they have embraced the Swedish lifestyle and according to Lida are currently “raising a five-year-old Lego-lover and a two-year-old Pippi Longstocking fanatic”. Lisa also recently published the anthology about birth and parenting as an expat called Knocked Up Abroad featuring a chapter by yours truely and can be reached on Facebook and Twitter@knockdupabroad.

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7:45 am—8:00 am Our morning began with a deer sighting in our backyard. The kids did their best to scare it away but this deer was experienced in the ways of shouty children and stayed to munch on our grass.

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The golf course behind our house has a herd of sheep grazing in a fenced-off section of grass. We decided to go check them out before school.

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No fish are in that pond. My son checked it out—all clear.

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I’m not sure if the kids were impressed or bored with the sheep. Things got fun when the kids started shaking their rumpas at them. The sheep were a bit nervous with the display.

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Very nervous sheep.

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8:15 am – 8:30 am Time to head to school

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Every bridge must be inspected for trolls. Troll-checking is a time-consuming activity but it’s for our safety, so it must be done.

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Nope. No trolls here. No snakes either, despite a sign clearly depicting the presences of snakes. The kids were a bit disappointed.

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Finally, we are on the way to school. A moped drove by and we stopped to wave hello.

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Finally! After a long walk of touching every slug in sight, we make it to school relatively on time.

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With the kids at school, I need to run some errands. First up—filling up the gas tank with diesel fuel. This is always a costly errand but we only use the car once or twice a week.

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Total cost: 720.90 SEK for 55 liters (equivalent to $6.04/gallon—much cheaper than the $8.50/gallon we saw when we first moved to Sweden.)

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Acquiring a Swedish driver’s license is incredibly difficult and expensive (for non-Swedes and Swedes alike). This sign says that you can park for 3 hours M-F 7 am-11:30 pm, Saturdays 7 am– 7 pm, and Sundays and holidays, 7 am – 7 pm. You must display a P-skiva on your window shield.

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The P-Skiva

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I received this notice that I had a package arrive and I can only retrieve it at the local post office, which is near the grocery store in town. Unless the package can fit within the dimensions of your mailbox, every package is kept at the central post office regardless if you live in a house or apartment.

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The outdoor center of the shopping mall.

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Inside the shopping mall—stores don’t open until 10 am, except for the grocery store and post office.

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Ah, this box was larger than I anticipated. I had to carry it awkwardly through the grocery store while I did my shopping. Oh well.

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I always check out the pastry section when I’m in the grocery store. I can’t help myself.

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Delicious fikabröd or pastries for coffee breaks/fika

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Due to my one arm being full of awkward box, I left with a pastry, a Swedish table top maypole flag (midsummer is coming up), and fun bandaids for my kids who like to use them as body art instead of covering cuts.

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Swedes remove their shoes in the entryway. Sock fashion is very important in the winter.

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9:30 am – 3 pm Sitting at my desk in my home office with a little treat and some coffee and I’m ready to work on my writing.

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3:00 pm – 5:30 pm I picked up the kids from school at 3 pm and we are ready to go off in search of new playgrounds.

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We pause at a construction site because they are dynamiting the granite rocks and the kids love the big booms

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A new-to-us playground is nearby in a newly constructed neighborhood. This one made excellent use of the local rocks and they are perfect for climbing.

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To reach the swing at the top, kids must climb up the hill.

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A fun little hut that housed many spiders so the kids opted out.

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Banana break in a shelter at the next playground

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The last stop on our afternoon adventure was an outdoor exercise space that is the epitome of Swedish training. It is situated among the woods with a horse riding school nearby and people train by lifting logs on a fulcrum system.

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The climbing wall was still under construction but we tried it out anyway

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This exercise made me a bit dizzy as the logs went quite high.

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Hey there, horsey. The local horses are always fun to watch.

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More climbing

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And dancing on rocks

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On the way home, we saw a cat sitting in the woods. Cats are given free range in our neighborhood and we see them all over.

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5:30 pm – 6:00 pm So, what was in that large box that I picked up earlier? A wireless keyboard courtesy of my mother. Now I can get to typing up my second book!

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6:00 pm – 8:00 pm For dinner, we had stir fried rice with eggs from our neighbor’s chickens. The entire day was spent outside playing in the beautiful weather. The kids were exhausted and collapsed into bed around 8 pm. Tomorrow begins another day of more of the same.

Thank you to LIsa for that glimpse into her life – those pastries in particlar look delicious. I am loving the fact that so many of these Days in an Expat Life have so much in common eg walking to school, yummy food and working at a lap top – even though they are all in very different places! If you want to see more posts in this series please click here, and if you would like your own day to feature then please comment below or email me clara@expatpartnersurvival.com.

The Male Trailing Spouse series – Brian in Iran

Welcome to the latest post in my series on Male Trailing Spouses. I love that I have had such a great variety of men taking part in this series, from so many different places. This week I feature Brian, an Australian who lives in Iran with his Swedish wife and their daughter. Brian’s answers to my questions are extremely insightful and I hope they will help other men in his situation or considering taking the plunge into trailer-dom.

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Hi Brian and welcome to the series! First of all, please could you tell me a little about yourself and your partner/family.

My name is Brian, a native Australian and naturalised Swede. I am trailing spouse of a Swedish diplomat, and we have a 4-year old daughter (dual Australian/Swedish). We are presently posted in Iran. Prior to this we have been posted to China (where we met), Syria, Sweden, Belgium, and Austria. I have also been posted to Thailand, while my wife worked in China.

As a male trailing spouse, how did you feel when you first arrived in your new country?

Every posting is the same, and yet at the same time different, at the start; that is to say there are things you find normal for every arrival, and things you notice are different. It is all about compare and contrast! I don’t think that being newly arrived is much different for male spouses as female. Certainly, however, the spouse’s arrival is very different from the arrival of the posted officer who often immediately has work to preoccupy them

Arrival is always hectic, filled with new people, new places, and new sights and sounds. You need to make a lot of notes, get very familiar with maps of the area, names of places, and where to go for this and that. In hardship postings, that initial difficulty is often greater, and start-up fatigue is more common.

The cycle of postings is clear that, even in difficult places, there is a honeymoon period where things are all new and mostly interesting, and you are striving to make the posting fit you, or the other way around. It is the fast-learning-curve end of the posting.

In difficult places, this is more about acting quickly to create your ‘nest’, and finding any networks for support. It is also about a crash course in taxi-level language, map-reading, shopping guide, eating guide, and finding out what groups, if any, exist for networking and support. And, of course, about settling the child into schooling, with the logistical issues that often brings.

In easy places (admittedly I find it dangerous to call any major international relocation ‘easy’), setting up home and network is less urgent because there are lots of familiarities and less hostility in the context. Exploring and ‘conquering’ the new context is considerably faster in easy posts, but common to both sexes of spouse.

Have you had to give up a job/career and if so how did you feel about this?

Yes. I gave it up at the start so that we could be together. I had a job that was to take me back to Australia after we had really only just met. So I quit that job of more than 12 years and joined the UN to be nearer, and after a year of that, starting a consultancy to focus on freelance contracts around the world. For a lot of reasons, furthering the relationship included, it was an easy decision.

In hindsight, I was young and self-confident enough to take it rather lightly, or at least with more gusto than I perhaps should have. I would not have so easily jumped in (or is it out?) if I had known the trials and tribulations of working when permanently on the move.

There are severely constrained choices confronting the trailing spouse to develop into a location-independent professional. Freelancing is the most obvious fit for spouses. However, this often means being away from home and post for long periods, as well as the vagaries of securing contracts, major financial ups and downs, and little in the way of financial consistency, for example, pension, allowances, and taxation.

A lot also depends on how easily you can service contracts from the posting; some difficult posts, for example, have such lousy communications (both internet and air traffic), that clients drop off quickly when they cannot even get you on the phone. That certainly cools the enthusiasm for consulting work.

Frankly, jobs that are all about working from home are by far the best for all trailing spouses, as long as communications by phone and computer work well.

Have you found it easy to fit in and make friends? Have you met other men accompanying their partners or are you a rare species? If you have met others where and how have you met them?

In Tehran, I am a rare species. The Diplomatic Ladies Group even had to change their name and constitution to allow male members. And still, in the end, being almost the lone male was unsatisfying for several reasons; the group activities were strongly focused on women (perfectly fairly, since women are 99.9% the membership). And it felt like any suggestions I might have to change the group would subvert the real needs and interests of the group.

Being a male trailing spouse makes more difference in difficult posts, or strict Islamic posts, In both of which there are fewer male spouses and fewer contacts with other expatriates and the local population as well. In other difficult postings I have been less of a rare species, and sometimes been able to eke out strong friendships with one or two other male spouses. But being a working spouse, which often demanded travel and long periods away from the post, militated somewhat against forming friendships. In easy postings, it is less necessary to establish a network with other male spouses; friends can be found in many other places.

In both difficult and easy posts, I find it is really important to be a ‘joiner’, at least in the first 6-12 months. Join groups, clubs, meetups etc and also accompany the spouse to events to make acquaintances. Although male diplomats mostly fully ignore male spouses, sometimes you can make a breakthrough through asking questions like “do you play squash?” etc. And sometimes, just sometimes, male diplomats won’t drop your hand before the handshake is done; they might actually want to get to know you even if meeting spouses is not the reason they came to the event.

Do you think it is harder for men than women to accompany their partners abroad – and if so, why?

Yes. There are a number of factors, social, economic, and personal. Male spouses often have indelibly imprinted on them the need to have a job, and provide for the family. That is hard to break and even the staunchest male feminist can have trouble rising above identity issues such as that.

Male spouses are also a fairly rare commodity, even with the egalitarian Swedish foreign service. And this is especially so in hardship places. So making friends for them is overall harder than female spouses who can often engage with a much larger grouping of spouses in every post also looking for doing things together.

Whether we agree with it or not, the simple fact is that many female spouses don’t want to hang out overly much with male spouses and vice versa.

Male spouses are also treated differently by male diplomats: I think the male diplomats don’t quite know what to make of a man who stays home with the children, whether the spouse is working or not. Let’s put it this way, as the male spouse you are not of primary interest to male diplomats for their information needs, which means many do not bother trying to understand out at all. Those who do, however, can often become friends because both sides started with engagement in mind.

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Brian with his daughter, in Australia

If you have children, are you the main carer? And if so how have you found this – are you welcomed by other expat parents or do you feel like a bit of an outsider?

Yes. This has been by far the most beneficial aspect of being a male trailing spouse; being able to build a close relationship with my daughter. I have had the time to be there for her more readily, and have witnessed my wife suffering the “I never get to see her” syndrome of the working parent. I am mostly welcomed by parent’s groups, but it often feels a bit odd as the only Dad in the room. Like it or not, Mums like to hang out with other Mums, not dads. I am also an oddity at school; almost the only father to pick up the children and be in the playground with them; the mothers even (not with bad intentions) exclude me from their social media groups because I am a man. Trailing spouse dads just don’t fit into the vast majority of circles created by spouses who, traditionally, are mostly women.

What would you say to another man considering accompanying their partner overseas?

Consider very carefully your career options. If you are young and successful, don’t be over-confident about finding work wherever you go. You might find something but it may not be meaningful or rewarding and, in many cases, doesn’t even contribute well to paying the bills. Consider your pension; it is never too late for a pension saving but the peaks and troughs of freelancing as a spouse make those savings far, far harder.

What more do you think could be done to help male expat partners?

In my opinion, the posting Ministry should take more responsibility for helping spouses find work. Embassies are a vast web of contacts and networks, and can offer great support to spouses looking for work in a new context, whether that be with other Embassies or international bodies such as the UN. And the posted officer suffers very badly if the spouse is unhappy, and unemployed; there are truly deleterious effects for all involved.

Thanks so much to Brian for this insight into the life of a male trailing spouse – although many of his answers will resonate with women expat partners as well as men. If you haven’t already done so then please check out my other posts in this series HERE and do let me know if you would like to be featured on the blog.

How far I’ve come….

My husband was on a business trip last week. To the Seychelles. Yes. the Seychelles. And funnily enough, it was extended from three nights to five nights. So in the end, he was away more or less for the whole week.

It was a bit of a pain – mainly because we had parents meetings at the school on Thursday, which he hoped to attend with me. But in all honesty, it was no more of an inconvenience than it would have been had we still been living back home in the UK.

Which made me realise quite how far I have come in the three months and 20 days since I first arrived, wide-eyed and disorientated, on the flight from London.

Back then, it seemed impossible that a time would ever come when I would understand all the locks, keys, bars, codes and fobs – let alone the alarm system – that we have to battle through to get in and out of our home on a daily basis. I would fumble for the wrong key for what seemed like eternity, getting increasingly panicked that I would be locked inside forever. I also doubted that I would ever drive further than the bottom of the road, terrified that I would get lost and never find my way back to the house. Or get hit by another car.

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I’ve finally worked out how to escape the house!

The mornings also seemed like something I would never get used to. Our children have to be up by 6am every day in order to be ready for the school bus that picks them up at the gates of the compound at 6.45am. This mad scramble includes forcing the youngest out of bed and into her clothes, finding something that they will both agree to eat at that time of the morning (tortilla, bread sticks, dried fruit – I don’t care, as long as they don’t walk out of the house on an empty stomach), making two packed lunches, checking they both have caps, water bottles, homework, reading books, football kit or swimming kit and musical instruments, and applying sunscreen.

A mad rush it always is, but between myself and my husband we now have the routine down pat: he does the upstairs part and gets dressed himself; I come downstairs and make the breakfasts and lunches and look after things like homework folders and swim kits. He then walks them to the end of the road (or walks with them as they run, on the frequent days when the bus is here before we are ready) and waits at the end of the road until they are picked up.

With him away, I have to be both upstairs AND downstairs person. I have to be in all places at once, and I have to get myelf dressed as I can’t be seen walking to the end of the road in my PJ’s. Although, sorry neighbours, the stripey blue and white slippers stay.

So, parenting solo, I am having to do a lot of things I really couldn’t imagine myself doing a few months ago, back when I was a “newborn” and wrote this post. But do them I do – I get the children to school on time, I cope with all the security measures surrounding the house (and haven’t even set the alarm off while being here alone!), I find my way all over town, taking myself and the children to social events in places I have never heard of.

I know where to shop for the best meat, I know where to get the peanut butter that I like (from a chemists. weirdly!) and which supermarkets sell the best fruit and veg. I have found a hairdresser, bought rugs and tables and chairs and printer cartridges and all sorts of other things I wouldn’t have had a clue where to source not that long ago. I have worked out how to tell a 200 Rand note from a 20 Rand note, I even know which coins are which. Although don’t test me on the little copper ones – I need my reading glasses for those! I have also joined a gym, put our name down for a puppy and – last but certainly not least – managed to accumulate a really great group of new friends.

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South African coins. I know what they are now!

It happens wthout realising, this growing up, passing from being a newborn to a toddler to where I am now – perhaps a pre-teen or even an adolescent. Confidence grows with every night alone, every car trip somewhere new, every small emergency dealt with. It also helps when you get to know a few people well enough to be able to ask them things – and have numbers in your phone that you know you can call on if you needed to.

I’m still only a youngster though as I know I have a little way to go. I still balk at going into Johannesburg on my own, or taking the one safe transport public transport system open to me (the Gautrain). I have also yet to use Uber, although many here recommend it. I haven’t yet had to deal with a REAL emergency (one that involves doctors or hospitals or getting locked out). I also haven’t opened a bank account or even got myself a Woolworths card – although they ask every time I plonk my shopping down at the check-out.

So I have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. I am growing up, learning every day and hopefully gaining confidence with each new discovery. Before I know if, we will have been there six months – and I will be welcoming new arrivals like an old hand. When you are an expat, you don’t have to have been somewhere for very long to feel like an old-timer.

But until then, I think I am going to carry on sulking, wearing black and listening to Death Rock Kill Queens – or whatever it is that teenagers listen to. After all, I’m still just a young thing.

Where are you on your expat journey – still in nappies? High school age? Or perhaps collecting your bus pass?

Photo credit: South African coins – Paul Saad

 

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Expat World – it’s very weird

“Where do you go for a new tyre on a golf cart?”

This was one of the questions posed on a local expat forum last week. Nothing wrong with that at all, and people started adding thoughtful replies and suggestions. Hopefully whoever posted the original comment soon had her new tyre and her golfcart was once more back on the road…errr, green….

But occasionally when I see comments like this I stop and think what an absurd world we live in. Back home, how many of us would ever ask where we would need to replace a tyre on a golf cart on anything but a specialist golf forum? And how many more of us wouldn’t bat an eyelid when we saw such a question posed? Yes, it is a weird world we live in.

Many people call it the “expat bubble”, although really, given all the debate there is over the word “expat” and how it differentiates from the word “immigrant” or “migrant”, I think it is more about a certain type of expat bubble. Really, this is the bubble of those of us lucky enough to be posted on corporate or government packages which include housing and schools, and to countries in which we are able to afford to do things like play golf all day. The down-side to this, of course, is that we often also can’t work – finding a job as an expat partner in many of these countries is downright difficult thanks to the local labour market or things like visa restrictions. Hence the need to find things to do – like play golf. So long as our tyre isn’t busted!

As I read the question about the golf cart tyre I was reminded of the chapter I wrote for the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide about domestic staff. The chapter starts with a discussion on a parenting forum between women living in a country like Singapore or Hong Kong, where having a full-time nanny is normal. They talk about whether it is better to have a live-in or a live-out. Had the discussion been kept just to those expats who had experienced this way of life then it would all have been fine. As it was, they were interupted by others – others who had only ever lived in countries where in order to have a live-in nanny you would have had to be married to a hedge-funder. Or be a hedge-funder yourself. Or both.

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Children and their nanny – 1924

It wasn’t a bad-natured exchange between the different groups of women but it did show the original group up for what they were – immensely privileged women living in a world where everyone else was in exactly the same situation so they possibly forgot how unusual their circumstances were. Not to say we don’t all appreciate our lives as expats  – it’s hard not to when you pass men literally on their knees begging for a bit of food for a few rand at traffic lights every day. Or you donate some scuffed old shoes to your helper who tells you she will give them to the school where her granddaughter goes because there are children at the school with no shoes at all.

So it’s not that we aren’t aware or that we aren’t grateful but I do think sometimes we forget how weird it all is. That it’s normal that every single other expat I have met here has a swimming pool in their garden. That we book safari weekends away in the same way that we would book a shopping trip to London back home. And that asking about a new tyre for our golf cart is as normal as asking about where to get the half price offer on cocoa pops.

Yes, it’s a weird world we live in. But a rather wonderful one as well.

(Nanny picture: Robert of Fairfax)

Trailing fools?

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.

Jenny Reyes of MyMommyology asks Are we foolish enough to think that the trailing spouse life gets easier over time?  Read her answer in #TrailingSpouseStories: The Irony of It All.

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.

Tala wonders if being a Trailing Spouse was her escapist dream come true, or not?  Read the verdict in Ambition: Expat’s Wife.

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.

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