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 →
It can be tough being the Trailing Spouse on an expat posting, there are times when you feel like you are the excess baggage. The life and career you had built before is almost certainly on hold or possibly gone forever, particularly if you are not permitted to work in your host country and the goal posts move even further apart if you decide to start a family while you are overseas. There are two choices – bemoan the doors that have closed to you or go out and unlock some new ones. There are many inspiring expats who have used their time to do something new and go in unexpected directions.
Fellow expat Debi Beaumont is one of them. She had a busy and successful career in London and when she landed in Johannesburg as a shiny new expat, suddenly career-less and also pregnant she slowly realised that her hobby was becoming a passion that opened new avenues up to her…
“When I arrived in Johannesburg for the first time (we’ve been back and forth a lot!) I was new to the expat thing, I knew nobody in the city and I was so extremely nauseous with my first pregnancy that it could take hours to drag myself out of the flat each morning. How on earth was I going to meet anybody and make friends, I wondered. 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 →
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 →
Shortly after arriving in Johannesburg, South Africa, we adopted a little rescue dog. It turns out that despite my initial concerns and reservations, I’m actually quite pleased that we did.
To be fair, most of the reasons I give for getting a dog apply to wherever you are in the world, but prior to arriving in Johannesburg adding a dog into the mix had never been a serious consideration. Reasons 4 and 5 are particularly pertinent to people who have just moved (like expats) and probably reason 6 also. Reasons 9 and 10 are two specific reasons that meant that getting a dog in Jo’burg was particularly appealing.
You love dogs.
You really love dogs.
Your family really loves dogs and although you are wobbling on the fence about getting one, the perfect little dog, sniffs you out and chooses you.
Friend Maker: If you’re just moved to a new place (a common occurrence for serial expats) you generally start with a sum total of zero friends. There are plenty of ways to make friends and a dog is one of them. Unlike humans, who often do no more that grunt a greeting to strangers in the street and keep walking, dogs are far more sociable. While dogs are busy sniffing each others bottoms, you can either avoid eye contact with the other dog owner or make polite conversation, which COULD be the start of a beautiful new friendship.
Depression Defender: Expats are particularly susceptible to depression, with frequent change of location, language, friends, employment status and all the other quirks of regular foreign assignments, your world can feel like quicksand under your feet. I’m not suggesting that having a dog cures depression, but it’s a proven fact that pets can help ease these feelings by keeping you company. Having a bad day? Brush your dog, pet your dog or take it out for a walk. The affection you receive in return is completely disproportionate to the effort you put in.
Exercise Enforcer: Dogs need regular exercise or THEY get depressed. Even if you’re not a big fan of going to the gym, taking regular walks is great exercise and helps keep you and your dog healthy and happy. Jo’burg is a car centric city, so you probably don’t get as much day to day exercise just getting from A-B as you would in many other cities – add all that lovely calorific south african wine into the equation and you’re in big trouble if you don’t get out and about.
Scape Goat: Somebody’s been eating the cheese? Somebody makes a rude noise at the table? Blame it on the dog.
Waste Disposal: Most dogs are happy to tidy up any leftovers, vacuuming up crumbs and spilt milk. This is particularly helpful when the bin men go on strike, which they have done recently. Every little helps to keep your rubbish bag just that little bit emptier.
Just in the last few weeks I have been delighted that we took the plunge and got a dog for entirely selfish reasons that have nothing to do with loving or liking dogs. Ultimately, reasons 9 and 10 are THE reasons I’m most thankful that we have a dog in Jo’burg.
Buying decent undies when overseas is one issue many expat gals struggle with. It’s often a top of the list shopping item when heading home on home leave. In parts of the Far East you might be met with “Sorry madame, we don’t have extra big size for you”. In more remote places or less developed places the things you want simply aren’t available or maybe they are, but the prices are eye watering because they are imported.
We lived in Istanbul before moving to Johannesburg and there were a number of weekly local markets called Pazaris. These were places where locals (and expats) would go to buy spices, beach towels, table linen, cheap t-shirts for the kids and underwear (okay, this is probably not where expats would buy their underwear, but we’d enjoy haggling for some of the other items).
I noticed quite quickly that the stalls, selling bras and knickers, were almost always manned…by men.
Generally the bras were stacked cups pointing upwards or fetchingly pegged out on view above the stall.