Untethered – Or how Expat Life is like Camping

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This photo first appeared on the post Johannesburg’s Top Hikes.  Credit Becci Monge.

Expats often talk about feeling like they are in limbo.  Much of the limbo feeling is to do with the uncertainty that accompanies an impending international relocation.   When it’s time to move on, the juggling act of trying to seamlessly line up new jobs, schools and housing with your shipment timed to arrive as you get the keys to your new pad is a mammoth task.  It’s how I imagine living on quicksand might feel, all the goal posts shifting at the same time but in different directions, leaving you with a queasy sinking feeling.

Alongside limbo, I find that there is another feeling that can blindside you when you are in the throes of moving. It’s both liberating and terrifying. It’s a strange feeling of being completely detached and disconnected from the day-to-day life that you have been so busy building, a feeling of being cut loose and utterly untethered.  

What do I mean by untethered and what on earth has it got to do with camping?

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Farewell 2017, Hello 2018

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Farewell 2017, Hello 2018

The holiday is over and it’s back to reality.  New posts are already in the works.  In the meantime, just incase you missed them the first time around or just really really want to read them again, here’s a quick round-up of Expatorama’s top posts from 2017.

  1. Ponte Tower – A Tale of Glamour, Garbage and Gritty Regeneration.  I read about Ponte Tower before moving to South Africa and was intrigued – an unusual hollow cylindrical building with a checkered history.  I didn’t realise you could visit the tower until early last year.  The tour is fascinating and I highly recommend it if you’re in town (i.e. Johannesburg).

  2. Hair Raising and Hair Razing Experiences Abroad.  This post falls under  ‘lesser known challenges of expat life’ that don’t normally get covered on expat blogs.  Getting a haircut may be a lesser known challenge and yet the struggle is real.

  3. Expat Life Through Rose Tinted Glasses.  This was a fun post to write, it involved wine and LEGO.  When it comes to expat life, not everything is always as rosy as it seems.

The most read post ever is Why Expat Partners are Like Dung Beetles – a post basically detailing how completely awesome both expat partners and dung beetles are.

Expat A-Z Part II – From New to Zoo

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Welcome to Expat Life – It can feel like a bit of a zoo.

Continuing from part I of the A-Z of expat life, which covered ‘Armpit of the Earth’ to ‘Moving’ here is part II, from ‘New’ to ‘Zoo’.

N is for New.  New experiences, homes, languages, countries and cultures.  Embrace the newness.  N is also for Next Life, as in those wistful words frequently uttered by my husband and many other expat working spouses; ‘In my next life I’m coming back as an expat wife.’  A charmed life it can be, but being a ‘Lady who Lunches’ is not always quite as easy and glamorous as you may think.

O is for One in a million expat partnersThese are the patient, resilient, uncomplaining (okay, that’s a lie, they complain sometimes, sometimes they complain a lot) men and women who follow their other halves half way across the globe for a different or better life.

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Cheers to all the One in a Million Expat Partners

P is for Packers.  They descend on your home like a swarm of ants armed with bubble wrap, packing boxes and tape.  You thought you were ready, you thought you had it all under control until the chaos of the the packers is unleashed.  They scatter to the far corners of your home and garden.  You have to keep an eye on them.  If you didn’t lock and barricade the door to the room with your suitcases that are not to be packed, they’ll be the first thing out the door and wedged at the back of your container.  Kept a bit of food in reserve for a final supper?  Careful, it could easily end up packed and festering in a container for weeks.  Left a small i-pod, cash or sunglasses lying around?  These could end up being packed in someones’ pocket and never seen again…..and the ripping sound of packing tape being stickily unwound will haunt you forever more.   P is also for Personal Grooming, another of the lesser known challenges of expat life.  My particular bugbear under the Personal Grooming category is getting a haircut.  It can be a bit of a hair raising or should that be hair razing experience. Continue reading

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

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Today I received a handwritten card from a friend who is far away.  She’s from New Zealand, I’m from the UK.  I currently live in South Africa and she recently moved from here to Asia.

The card didn’t arrive in my post box.  We don’t have a post box.  It came in true expat style via a mutual friends’ suitcase with a smattering of goodies to boot.

The wording on the front of the card is a Danish proverb which is completely apt for expat life, “The road to a friend’s house is never long.”  Although, I’d probably alter it to “The road to a friend’s house is never long, even if they are thousands of miles away and living in a completely different time zone.”

It made my day.   Continue reading

How one Expat is Walking the Walk rather than Talking the Talk

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Although I very recently lampooned a fictional stereotypical expat called Charity Charity who is hopelessly devoted to helping all the causes, in reality I have a great deal of respect for the expats who go out and make a genuine difference to their host country.

Expat Leslie Randolph is someone who has done just that.  She is making an admirable contribution to South Africa through her involvement with Lawyers against Abuse.  Leslie is a fabulous individual, warm and kind and great fun to be around.  Here she shares her story and her passion for the cause she has been fighting for:

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Are you a badass expat? Take this quick quiz to find out.

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What’s your badass expat score?

Do you think you’re a hardcore badass full-fat expat?  Let’s find out.

A few days ago I shared a link to a recent Business Insider article entitled The 19 countries with the worst quality of life in the world for expats.’  I soon had friends and readers telling me how many years they’d spent in which country and realised we could turn these rankings into a quick and easy way to work out your ‘Badass Expat’ score.

I’ve allocated points to each location, the tougher the location the more points you get.  You then multiply the points for each location by the number of years you lived there, tally them up and bingo, you have your Badass Expat score.

My current score is 111.

What’s yours?

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The One in a Million Expat Partner

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It takes a one in a million kind of spouse to follow their partner here.

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:

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Expat Life Through Rose Tinted Glasses

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Rose tinted glasses soften and morph reality.  When it comes to expat life, from the outside our life may look perfect, but expectation and reality rarely tally.

I didn’t have actual rose tinted glass or lenses to use in my photographs, so in true expat style improvised with rosé filled ones.

Yes, a certain amount of rosé was consumed during the staging of the photos for this post.

Yes, it might have been even more fun to use actual human friends and share the wine, but it was tricky enough seeing tiny Lego people through a wine glass, so there we go.

This is what people back home often think expat life is like all the time.

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Big house, flash car and time and money to fritter.

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The Iceberg of Cacti

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.

The cactus was far more aggressive and extensive than I had imagined.   Continue reading

Hair Raising and Hair Razing Experiences Abroad

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You know it’s a disaster when you’d rather wear a paper bag over your head.

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