It takes a special person to follow their partner to the armpit, ars*ehole or ends of the earth. A very special person indeed. One in a million in fact.
One of my favourite expat quotes EVER was coined when a British couple moved to the small island of Okinawa, Japan. At the time (aside from a formidable US presence on military airbases, which was a self contained community with their own on-base shops and cinemas and social life), the sum total of the expat population was around 10 people and most of them had Japanese spouses and were there on a fairly permanent basis.
It’s almost certain that the British couple were the only non-military expat couple on the island. Okinawa’s population at the time was around the 1 million mark and thus quipped the wife to the husband whose job had taken them to this tiny isolated dot in the Pacific Ocean:
Icebergs, people, cacti….you can’t always see the full picture, maybe because your perspective is skewed or obscured. Sometimes you have to go the extra mile and dig a little deeper (in this case inside my wheelie bin) to get the full story.
These large cactus ears popped out from behind our chimney over the Christmas break. I thought they looked about the size of a human head each.
I let our landlord know and a man with a ladder duly appeared to remove them.
I meant to ask him to let me see the cactus before disposing of it, but it had already gone in the wheelie bin by the time I’d walked the dog. I smiled and pretended that was exactly the answer I had wanted to hear. It wasn’t though, I am inquisitive by nature and really wanted to see the cactus and confirm whether my human head estimate was accurate.
I waited for him to leave and the minute his car turned out of sight I was rummaging in the bin and ended up tipping the contents all over the driveway to see what I could see.
Getting a hair cut should be a fairly simple procedure and yet I have found it to be one of the lesser known, but very real challenges of expat life. Plenty of expat blogs cover all the obvious, big ticket hurdles to being a successful and happy expat: emotional resilliance, repatriation, culture shock, depression, leaving well etc. But there are plenty of lesser known hurdles we face as we ricochet around the globe and getting a decent haircut is firmly on that list.
Whether I’ve asked for ‘a trim’ or ‘the same but shorter’ or shown a picture from a magazine or a photograph of my own hair I seem to have had more than my fair share of awful expat haircuts than I care to mention. Here are a few of my lowlights…. Continue reading →
There’s always a bit of a brouhaha when it comes to labelling or describing expat partners. A few of the titles used include Expat Spouse, Expat Wife, Trailing Spouse, Trailblazing Spouse, Lady of Leisure, Lady that Lunches, Guy that Golfs, Excess Baggage or as my husband endearingly calls me Expensive Habit. None of the terms is perfect and some are deeply loathed by the expat community.
So, I’ve come up with yet another alternative for you. It’s an analogy that first occurred to me when I wrote about the industrious dung beetle after we saw hundreds of them on safari. They are completely fascinating little creatures and the comparison between expat partners and dung beetles has been scratching about in the back of my mind ever since. Yes, I am comparing the Trailing Spouse to the Dung Beetle.
Confused? Here are 6 ways that expat partners are like dung beetles:
Gin and tonic is an iconic and yet slightly negative symbol of expat life. The drink contributes to the image of the idle, drunk, spoilt expat living a life of luxury in far flung tropical locations. But do you know the real reason expats first started drinking gin and tonic? You might be surprised.
There is a great deal of poverty in South Africa and some expats choose to use their time here to do what they can to contribute to improving and empowering local communities through a variety of volunteer programs, fundraisers and initiatives. All in all there are some fantastic expat projects going on. Today’s guest post is written by expat Mona Brantley with input from Annabel Newell. Mona currently heads up the Friends of Diepslootvolunteer team that has invested an enormous amount of time and love in Thokozani Preschool over the last few years to great effect.Over to Mona…..
Where is your happy place? Have you found a place in your current location that makes you smile, where only good memories are made? For me and many other Joburg expats that happy place literally is Thokozani (a Zulu word for “a place or state of happiness”).
Four years ago, in April of 2012, Laurence Braeckman, a Belgian expat, went into Diespsloot township to look at schools, day cares, and preschools. When she discovered Gogo and Thokozani, she knew she had found her happy place.
Gogo (Zulu for grandmother because no one calls her by her name Miss Lizah) had already been running Thokozani for six years, primarily as a day care and a place of safety for the very young children of Diepsloot.
The facilities then were very basic. They were making food for 200 kids on a two gas hob cooker in a kitchen that doubled as the office. The children sat and ate on the floor. They practiced writing letters on the backs of their classmates. The classrooms were little more than shacks: hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The food, though made with love and care, was not nutritious enough for growing children. While the kids were safe and in a loving environment, so much more could be done, and Laurence and her cohorts set to work. Continue reading →
The official language of Nigeria, the language of business and commerce, the common language for Igbos, Yorubas, Hausas and other tribes to communicate with one another is English. Whether you are a native English speaker, or like many expats have English as a second (or impressive third or even forth) language, it sounds like one less thing to worry about when moving to Nigeria.
However, even when more standardised English is spoken (and a lot of the time it will be the less comprehensible pidgin English that you hear around you), there are various words and phrases that are likely to confuse, amuse or befuddle you from the moment you step off the plane. You might figure them out easily, you might not. Let me help by decoding a little bit of Lagos Lingo for you.
A is for Area Boy: A local hoodlum. Watch out, watch out if you are told the area boys are about.
B is for Breaking Plates: Plates that are not plastic. i.e. the regular kind of porcelain plates that most expats over the age of 5 would eat from. Continue reading →
I am THAT woman. I don’t know how it happened, but I am the mug that runs our local expat Facebook group. I assumed there would be one (an expat Facebook group, not a mug) when I arrived in Johannesburg. After all, I’m sure every major city has had at least one of these groups for ages. I searched for it before I arrived, I asked around when I got here. I got tumbleweed. So eventually, I stepped up to the plate and set one up. It took all of 10 minutes to pick a name, write a description, add a photo, select the settings and add a few friends. I think I started off with about 10 people.
On the back of the initial 10 minutes that I invested, not much happened for the first couple of weeks. Then a lot happened. It’s become a bit of beast. A much needed and generally much appreciated beast, but a beast nonetheless.
Here are 10 things I’ve learnt from running an expat Facebook group (and yes, there are links at the end of the post).
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. Continue reading →