It’s what you think we expats spouses do all the time, isn’t it? Go out for lunch and have a jolly old time. Well, yes, sometimes we do. Here is a group photo of our international ladies social club taking a morning walking tour, followed by – you guessed it – lunch. It took place on a weekday when our children were at school, our husbands at work and in many cases a house helper was doing the cleaning or ironing in our homes. I know what you’re thinking….
It’s an easy life. Perhaps when these ladies get home they will find that the electricity has gone off, or the water….or both. Perhaps they are in the throes of packing up to move with uncertainty and upheaval ahead. Some of their husbands have left the country already and have started new jobs in new locations. The wives will pack up and follow in the coming weeks.
They are lucky to be going for a jolly morning out, rather than working. They are lucky not to HAVE to work, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to work, it means that they are not allowed to work. These ladies have degrees, professions and skills. There is the qualified and experienced occupational therapist who is manically jumping through hoops trying to gain the South African equivalent qualifications, so that MAYBE she MIGHT be permitted to work for the few remaining months before she has to move again.
They’re all smiling and happy. You can’t see this of course, but I know that they are smiling. It was an enjoyable way to spend a morning. However, with every outing, there’s almost always a new lady. She might be feeling really lonely, culture shocked and slightly terrified to be out in Johannesburg’s inner city for the first time. From a distance she is part of the group. Her hands are occupied with her camera prop and she paints on a smile and probably, by the end of lunch she will feel less lonely. There will be another lady wrestling with the fact that her child is about to leave the nest to go to boarding school, or university, which means shortly they’ll be living thousands of miles apart. She’s probably very sad, but she’s smiling too.
They must be looking forward to lunch and a nice glass of wine, or more gin to further pickle their gin fuzzed brains while they talk about shopping and beauty salons. We were looking forward to lunch having worked up an appetite while walking. It’s always nice to have a chat, but it may surprise you how much networking and information exchange takes place. Discussions cover schools, visas, security concerns, how to renew car licences, concerns about moving.
These ladies chat a lot. There are probably at least 20 different languages spoken by this group. I watch as a Greek lady simultaneously translates everything the guide says to her visiting mother-in-law.
They have nothing better to do. Cumulatively these ladies teach township kids to read, raise money for good causes, some of them have set up impressive small businesses or have retrained. All of them keep busy.
At the end of the trip the ladies say their goodbyes and head off in all directions to pick up kids, go to the supermarket or walk the dog. The goodbyes are bittersweet, some of those goodbyes are final. Some of the ladies are leaving for good in the next three weeks.
Trips like these are enormous fun, but they are also about friendship, solidarity and sanity.
We are the expat ladies who lunch.