There’s No Place Like Home

Where’s My Ruby Slippers? is five years old this month, and it’s with huge reluctance that I’ve decided it’s time to say goodbye. I’ve been in London for nearly a year now and my expat life, the full technicolour version that I once lived, is most definitely filed in ‘memories’. I have a full and happy life here, that I love, and it’s not taken anywhere near as much time or effort as I once feared it would. Occasionally it’s tinged with the sadness of it not being where I was, and often it’s saturated with the exhaustion that comes with the territory of building a new life. It’s doesn’t feel like I never left, though, doesn’t feel like I’ve wandered back into my old self; I’m a different person, in a different world, and I never expected it to be anything else. I’m glad it’s not.

As I slowly sink into life here, I become steadily, softly ejected from the old life in Dubai. The messages and skype calls and everyday contact so prevalent just a few months ago, are diminishing. Photos appear, of my friends’ smiling faces, their arms wrapped around strangers I will never know. And of course, there have been more goodbyes. I watch from afar (well, okay, from Facebook) as the people I once cherished in my everyday begin to scatter to the four winds and return home, or continue their journey around the world. It was always inevitable. And I know in those moments when news of the next departure reaches me, that I will most likely never see them again. And each time another one leaves, I am sad, not just because it is another friendship confined to the realms of social media, but because I feel my ties to the city I used to call home being cut, one by one by one.

One day there will be no one left there, and I wonder if, when this happens, I’ll ever go back. Our son was born there; I used to believe that this fact would bind us, even if the near-decade we spent there was slowly erased by time and the absence of familiar faces. But even a year on, I’m not sure it’s enough. I’m not sure, when everyone is gone, what will be left. A holiday destination; a place we once lived; but a home? No, I don’t think so.

Is London home now? Nearly. Not quite, yet; we’re about to move house again and there’s still a hundred things I don’t know about, don’t know how to do, not sure how to get there. But I know that it’s only a matter of time. I am happy, abundant with friends old and new; I have accomplished an enormous amount in a year that I know I couldn’t have dreamt of achieving ten years ago and I have my expat life to thank for that. I’m proud and amazed at myself, that I did it better this time around, without too many tears or fights or slow lonely days and nights – and given my tendency to be glass half empty, that I did it with so much joy. Life is full, life is good, in a thousand different ways. And because it’s good, and because I’m just getting on with things, it feels like it might be time to say goodbye to my Ruby Slippers. To keep writing about this part of my life – to keep one foot in the doorway of my old self – stops me moving forward to something new. And if there’s one thing expat life has taught me above all else, it’s to embrace change. So although it’s with an incredibly heavy heart, I think it’s time to close up shop.

Of course, I am a writer, and so there is always something new to be said. I’ve started another blog that feels like it might be a better fit with my life as it is now, and I hope you’ll take a look. You can find me at www.fortysomethingfeminist.com , where I am not entirely sure what I’ll be writing about yet, but it’s safe to say I’ll be busy embracing the consequences of being a woman hurtling towards middle age. Fun times lol.

So, it’s not ‘goodbye’; it’s ‘au revoir’. I like to think that the pages of this blog will remain relevant to many of you, and I hope that the time isn’t too far away when There’s No Place Like Home makes it into print, as I always intended it would. I’ll be sure to shout it from the rooftops when it does! In the meantime, with all my heart I thank everyone who has supported me in so many ways and taken this enormous journey alongside me – in real time or virtual. It was an honour, and I will miss you and this funny old life of ours enormously.

Ruby Slippers
xxx

home 3

 

 

 

Methinks thou dost protest too much

I don’t normally use this blog for political comment. I rarely get involved in this sort of thing; I’m self aware enough to know I really don’t know what the hell I’m talking about most of the time. But I do know a few things:

1. I am a white western woman from a middle class background who received an excellent education and continues to live a privileged life in all ways: housing, personal safety, financial security, health, education, social and political freedom.

2. I try hard not to take it for granted, but basically, it’s difficult not to in any real terms. The best I can do is educate myself better about how other people live and try to be a person who says and does things that will improve other people’s lot in life.

3. I believe the most effective way to do this is not by ‘unprivileging’ myself; instead, I can choose to do what is within my grasp to change what I see around me, even if it’s just a little bit. My creativity, through writing and improvisation, is a way to harness this privilege and turn it into something that might make a small difference in the world.

The reason I write this is because I’ve stumbled across a campaign that is currently running to encourage authors to boycott the literature festival in Dubai. At first, it made me sad, from every conceivable viewpoint, that such a thing existed. Then, as I read further, it seemed to make sense, that some people would choose to join in. Then, I wondered what I would do, and I decided that boycotting isn’t something I would consider but it’s fair enough someone else did. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and if their moral compass directs them that they just can’t bring themselves to visit a certain place because they believe the bad outweighs the good, then that’s up to them, I thought.

Then there was some Facebook bashing, and I got a bit cross, because the comments began to come across as part-judgy, part-ignorant and part-patronising, and I hate that. As a few more people who have actually been to Dubai voiced the suggestion that actually, maybe boycotting a literature festival wasn’t the most effective way to show dissent for a particular country, the arguments began. A barrage of reasons…it’s not the festival, it’s the sponsor; it’s what they represent, it’s a terrible regime; the festival is sponsored by an airline and so it’s environmentally unethical; the airline is run by a government that doesn’t support LGBT issues; censorship… again, I thought, okay. Fair enough. And then, as these things always do, it got a bit personal. To those who had been to the festival – authors and visitors – it was suggested (no matter what was said to the contrary), that our experience enhanced our white privileged lives without addressing the other issues on the table – ‘sweeping them under the carpet’ in order to serve ourselves. The usual number of people trotted out lines like they wouldn’t be seen dead in ‘a place like that’, everyone there is a money-grabbing wanker etc etc etc. And then someone suggested the lack of culture in Dubai was reason enough not to go. Dubai lacks culture, ergo, boycott a literature festival. 

Listen to yourselves.

I’m not going to bang on about what this one festival has done for Dubai culturally because you either know that because you live there or don’t believe me because you inexplicably ‘hate Dubai’. Actually, yes I am. I know from personal experience it is a springboard for many people from very different walks of life to explore their individual voices in an alternative way. It created a hunger for cultural activities in the city that wasn’t there before. And audiences crave more. They literally cannot get enough. I’ve been on stage in a theatre with standing room only – where people who have never been to a theatre before have stood for two hours just to watch a show. I’ve played to hundreds of people in the crowded streets of the old town. I’ve stood in classrooms and helped bring stories to life – stories of the children’s own creation – in schools bursting with different languages and religions and skin colour. The festival was indirectly a part of what enabled me to do all that, and enabled audiences to begin experiencing new things. The fact of the matter, whether you like it or not, is that five years on from when it started, there is a thriving arts community that wasn’t there before. And by definition, that means people are experiencing new things. In terms of myself, it allowed me to find a way to mix with other people who aren’t exactly like me, and to explore their worlds a little bit – but it also allowed the audiences and schoolchildren I met to explore mine. And that is a Good Thing. I’m proud to have been part of that.

Creativity. This amazing gift we are given is the essence of what makes us human. It empowers people, educates, entertains, and allows us a window onto a different world where the things we don’t/can’t/won’t experience for ourselves in our everyday lives are brought to life for us from the pages of a book, or the scene of a film, or through a painting, a dance, a moment on the stage, or by looking at a photograph or listening to music. As an audience, we learn and grow from these moments, and as the individual creating them, we express our unique point of view, to share and be counted. So what sort of sense is there in boycotting a literature festival? Surely that is censorship of the worst kind? It’s saying the audiences (and let’s forget, for a moment, about the thousands of adults that attend) – the children and young people from every kind of background who wait for this amazing experience of having authors and poets visit them, talk to them about any number of things and explore new worlds with them – it’s saying all these kids don’t deserve a festival which encourages creativity and conversation, because they live in the wrong place. It’s forgetting that these children will one day be grown ups themselves, and that if doors are opened and new worlds are seen through the eyes of their imagination, maybe when they are the ones in charge, their view might be different; they might be the very people to make things better, the way we all want them to be. Those ‘over-privileged Emirati kids’ you don’t want to meet? They are precisely the ones you should be meeting. One day they will be the rule makers and well, wouldn’t it be nice if they were as well-rounded and thoughtful and ‘right-on’ as, say, you? 

They say one person can’t change the world. It’s never really been my thing, and I will hands up say I’m not very good about taking extreme stances on anything, but I agree that protest en masse is sometimes the only way to be heard. And yes, sometimes it works. But a literature festival? Hurting something that’s so precious and relatively fragile – a place where the conventions of normal Dubai society can be set aside and where there might be a single genuine, allowable moment that might change a mind or plant a seed of knowledge inside a young mind – this can only have an outcome that will be damaging in the long run. We should be using our privilege, our education and our social and political freedom to show what being a good citizen of the world looks like – and how can we do that by denying others of ourselves?

We are creative people. Our imaginations know no bounds. Our responsibility as a creative person is to open minds and hearts and fill them with the voices of the world. Each to their own, indeed; but I fail to see how walking away in disgust will help anyone. We should be saying ‘I believe the world can be a better place’, not by holding a banner up at the people in charge of today, but by sharing knowledge, challenging viewpoints and figuring out a new way, a better way, a more creative way to make it actually happen tomorrow.

 

 

RAD (Repat Adjustment Disorder)

So, hey, Happy New Year.

Is it too late to say that now it’s nearly February? Well, I am anyway. January, much like December, November, October, September, and most of last summer, seems to have shot by me at the speed of light. I keep wondering why it feels like my feet haven’t touched the ground since the clocks changed, and yet IT’S STILL WINTER.

It’s been winter here for a very long time. I’m not going all British on you and complaining about the weather; far from it – it’s been unusually warm here for the time of year and there’s only been a couple of dark mornings scraping ice off the car windows so I really am not complaining. Also on Saturday I sat in a beer garden, outside, with only a blanket around me, and my fingers didn’t start falling off from frostbite until nearly two hours had passed. So no, that’s not what I mean.

What I mean is the dark. And I don’t mean the dark nights. Living in Dubai, it gets dark pretty early all year round. We don’t have those blissful European summer nights spent sipping rose in the half light at 10pm. But even on the shortest days of winter, it actually gets light. And this is what I’m struggling with: the lack of light. Anyone that knows me will know I loathe the house we moved into in London specifically due to the lack of light. It’s north facing, or wrong facing or whatever; basically I have to have the lights on in my kitchen, living room and office 24/7/365 in order to see anything at all. This has produced many days of procrastination over sitting in the house writing, because dark rooms doth not a creative make. Not this creative, anyway.

So in order to live a more fulfilling life in a hundred different ways, I’ve focused on getting out of the house, out of the dark and into the light I sometimes see lurking outside the windows in the grey distance. Meetings, breakfasts, brunches, lunches; nights out, days out, weekends away; working and writing and dragging my laptop around with a general sense that if only I am not sitting in the dark, I will not procrastinate, and I will get on with things.

Which made me a very busy person. In between laundry loads and grocery store trips, parenting and house keeping, I tried to fit in running a business, producing and directing an improv show, editing my old book, writing a new one, plus a million other projects and social functions, all with as little contact as possible with my desk. And to balance it all, to be efficient and charming and creative and funny and logical and entrepreneaurial and a good parent, IT’S NOT POSSIBLE. I’ve written a thousand times about ‘having it all’ and I think we’ve all come a long way since 2012 or so and know that not only is it not possible, it’s totally undesirable. And so, as the year came to a close, I took my foot off the accelerator and realised that I’ve been doing way, way too much in order to stop remembering I left another life behind. In doing so, I’d created a life that was super busy, but didn’t leave me time to find meaning in any of it. I’d created Repat Adjustment Disorder: The bit where you forget to be you.

So it’s a new year and I’m in (slightly) better control of things. I’ve stopped running around networking for jobs; the work will come to me and I will do that work, but I’m not going to hunt it down – not for the time being, anyway. The improv show is nearly up and running – first performance 10th February (eek!) – so the time that has taken in planning, casting, rehearsing and administrating is diminishing at a rapid rate. The first book is done and submitted. The new one is waiting in the wings. Instead of escaping my hell hole of an office I’ve resolved to tidy it up (it’s a total shit tip which hasn’t been helping) and on sunny days – or days where it’s not raining – take a walk to get some fresh air, and take time off from the rest of life to enjoy the limited daylight on offer.

So far, it seems to be working. I feel far calmer. I have whole days where I come home from school drop off, turn off my social media and email, and sit down to write. It all feels far less lonely than I was scared it would, and I think that’s in large part due to the fact that I don’t need as many people in my life as I thought I did. Repatriation is part planning, part panic – just the same as expatriation, I suppose. You cast the net wide and say yes to everything in fear of being left alone crying in the car about having nothing and no one, and it leaves you with no quality time, no time to figure out how you want to spend your life or who you want to be. Putting the breaks on everything, taking time to be alone, and realise that I’m not lonely, has been the best thing I could have done.

I suppose this post isn’t really about much in particular. I don’t have a point, in the strictest sense; I just felt like sitting down and writing and sharing with you where I’m at. I’m sure lots of people who haven’t just moved countries feel like this too. But so many people have voiced how in awe they are of how much I’ve done, of what I’ve achieved since we returned. And that’s been nice, to have people say that. But also, it made me realise it’s not normal. And sometimes it pays to be a bit more normal. There’s hitting the ground running, and there’s doing it at a speed that won’t just graze your knees, it will obliterate you entirely if you don’t stop in time. There are benefits I’m reaping from fast tracking myself these past six months, but it’s time to put on the brakes a little and start to enjoy the moment.

And with that, it’s time to go for a walk.

Ode to 2015

I can’t write properly. My fingers are too fat from all the Christmas pudding I’ve eaten and also, my brain isn’t quite ready to form whole sentences of reminiscence yet without getting a little teary. So here’s a poem instead. Happy New Year to everyone out there who’s still following me after all this time. It’s a privilege to write for you.

Ruby x

Ode to 2015

It’s been quite a year in this house; I will wager
We’ve covered more ground than an average year
The sum of it all is a large dose of happy
With just enough room for occasional tears

We’ve moved from Dubai to the city of London
Which fate has decreed should be our new home
But our year started sunny and innocent to the idea
That by June we’d be leaving to roam.

First there were shows every week at the theatre
With audiences laughing and cheering us on
Musical impro and Maestro, Ten Titles
And Theatresports – all of them came, then were gone

Next there was time for a small celebration
Academia finally calling for me
The end of two years of hard scribbling turned into
A book and a subsequent masters degree

Spring saw us starting our long preparations
For leaving our home of the past nine years
Logistics and planning and administration
Goodbyes to our friends who were so very dear

We went everywhere one more time for good measure
The desert, the ski slope, the beach and the malls
The restaurants and bars filled with so many memories
It wrenched at our hearts to say bye to it all

The summer upon us we left for a new life
Not having a clue what our fortunes would hold
These were the months of hard work, and before long
The summer was gone and it got really cold

School life began for our littlest member
The third set of friends in as many years passed
But easily settled with many a play date
It’s made him as happy as I could have asked

And me? Well I’m busy with writing and improv
And making my way in this different new place
Despite days of sadness where I feel quite lonely
There’s days where a big smile invades my whole face

A blossoming business, a published short story
A book in submission (I wait for a bite)
A new novel working it’s way to the surface
And sketch ideas keeping me up in the night

A new stage to play on at London’s The Miller
A new team to play with and enjoy the show
A bunch of new friends who I’m so looking forward
To spending more time with and getting to know

And if I look back, which I don’t do too often
For fear of the sadness that might start to creep
I find that instead there’s a growing collection
Of memories that I will cherish and keep

What a wonderful year, if crazy, chaotic
And challenging; yet, if you asked me today
Would I reverse it or change it? I’d tell you
I wouldn’t have it any other damn way.

Happy 2016 everyone!

The boxes are the least important

Well. Here we are. Here I am. We’re six months in, and I’m standing at the school gates offering advice to a teacher at my son’s school as she embarks on her maiden expat voyage to New York. ‘The boxes are the least important bit,’ I say, before wishing her good luck. And as I walk towards the car, I think ‘maybe it’s time to blog.’

Some may consider this a tad overdue, but I would disagree. I write when I feel compelled to do so, and quite simply, I haven’t felt compelled in quite a while. There wasn’t much to say. I was getting on with things, it all seemed to be going well, and I didn’t care to dwell on it too much. After that, I had stuff to say but I wasn’t sure how to say it. And then I got too busy and it seemed like I’d be writing out of a sense of duty, in that awkward apologetic mode, like anyone really cares whether I put pen to paper or not. But now, I sort of think that maybe I’m ready.

Six months. It feels like yesterday I dragged my sorry, hungover arse onto the plane and few away from my old home, towards my new one; and yet so much has happened, you could tell me it was light years ago that we left and I wouldn’t argue with you.

The family have, by and large, settled in well. The boy is making friends, and although he desperately misses his best friend from Dubai, he seems to have accepted that they won’t be seeing each other any time soon, and that life must move on. He’s happy in school, seems happy with his life, and mentions Dubai less and less. I don’t think he’ll ever forget it, but I see him making fewer comparisons as the months go by, and as his life fills up I’m sure it will become nothing much more than a distant memory. It’s a relief, that he is so content, but mixed with a large dash of sadness, that a part of his life is gone and consigned to the memory pile before it was really time. But there’s no denying, it’s mainly relief, that his transition has been easy and he’s embraced life in London with such joy. You can’t ask for more than that, and it makes me incredibly happy to watch him flourish and grow in his new world.

So my job in terms of parenting this move, is pretty much done. I can relax a bit now, and turn my attention to all the other things in my life. Not the boxes, obviously; there are still plenty of those, lurking in corners and in the attic where I can’t see them and don’t have to unpack them. Not that there’s much point, because the house we rented is a pile of crap. We love where we live; we just don’t love what we live in. Sigh. There were bound to be problems moving to a house you’d only ever seen on a video, I suppose, but I didn’t quite bank on moving again so soon. The Rightmove and Zoopla apps remain on my phone and the reminders come weekly, advertising potential properties to rent or buy. It’s the one cock up, the fly in the ointment; it’s not bad enough to make us miserable, but it doesn’t make us happy either. Mainly, what doesn’t make me happy is the idea that I’m going to have to box up the sodding house all over again in six months. Still, I mutter on a regular basis, once it’s done, it’s done. It’s only moving house, not countries. A walk in the park, right?!

So, what of me? Well, I finished my book. It’s out there, submitted, and I live in hope that someone will love the idea of 200 pages of expat life and put it into print. I’ve had a short story published here, another one sadly rejected, and I’m tackling the idea of starting a novel in January. I’ve made friends with some of the mums at school and have organised a little festive drink this week to seal our friendship, which was met with great enthusiasm. This means an awful lot to me. It’s been lovely, to meet new people and be so welcomed by them. I value them enormously, even after such a short time, and look forward to the years I will be spending with them a great deal.

I accidentally started two businesses, which has been interesting, challenging and a bit stressful to say the least. The first one, to be fair, wasn’t accidental; I was hoping to build up some copywriting work once the summer was over, and miraculously, September and October went crazy thanks to a single client who suddenly put a lot of work my way. I was ON FIRE. I was psyched. I was king of the friggin’ world. Then November hit, the jobs finished and I realised I had nothing. No pipeline of work, no network, and no idea where to start. As a result I’ve spent much of the past month swinging between wanting to network the crap out of everyone I meet, and shutting myself in a room to avoid having to do anything that might involve putting myself out there. I am terrified I will fail. And so, I have learnt the first harsh lesson of being a new-born freelance writer: not only is it really hard to win clients when no one understands why they need you (‘It’s just writing; everyone can write…right?’) it’s also a lonely, lonely job and no one is just going to roll over and pay you money because you asked them to.

The same goes for friendship, as it does for entrepreneurship. No one is going to be friends with you unless you make it happen. That goes for new friends and old. It’s hard but necessary work – yes, work – to manufacture a brand new social life, that at times has been just as stressful as running a business. This is where my homesickness kicks in, where I desperately miss my life in Dubai. Where I was out working acting jobs in the day, or on stage by night, with my best friends; where I would nip for breakfast with the girls before wandering home to write in a room bathed in sunlight; where I could head for a glass of wine bathed in a warm evening breeze and laugh, carefree and content. In contrast, after school drop off each day in London, I head back home to, I suppose, what most people in the world who don’t have live-in help probably head back to: laundry, clearing up the breakfast stuff, putting the bins out and cleaning up cat shit. Once that’s done, I debate going to the gym, decided against it, and head to my desk. I sit, lonely and silent, in a room which never gets light. I try not to get distracted by social media, which I stalk in the vain hope of getting some attention, and at my lowest points, live my former life vicariously through the photos and status updates of my Dubai friends. And then I realise I need to get out of the house and do something that actually means I won’t go crazy.

And that’s where business no. 2 comes in. I have inadvertently become the producer of an improv show, launching in February. I didn’t mean to, I just wanted to do my hobby and meet some people…but it sort of turned into a big monster truck of a thing and apparently I’ve ended up behind the wheel. But no matter. THIS is where I will come alive; this is where I feel myself, where I can embrace the crazy and laugh about stuff. I know it will come, and I know it will make me happy…I’m struggling to not wish time away so that I can get there faster. In the meantime, it’s giving me purpose and confidence to carry on, and stay positive, and it’s probably the most vital thing I could be doing for myself. Luckily, both men in my life can see that too, and let me loose each Saturday to indulge myself, so that I come home revitalised and smiling, ready to take on whatever is next.

And boy do I need to be revitalised. It is an understatement to say I’m tired. I’m completely, utterly exhausted. This year, like last year, has been a full 365 days of stress. More people died who we cared about. We’ve left our lives behind, we’ve moved house, and started over. We’ve been on planes, lived out of suitcases, and spent months negotiating the unknown. We’ve worked really hard to get to this point and remain sane, loving people. It feels like we’ve achieved a great deal and for the most part, life is good. I have few complaints and more importantly, no regrets. Repatriation has been kind to us, but I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t been an awful lot of work. It continues to be. It’s part of the reason I’ve not really blogged and written very little, in a creative sense. I don’t have the energy, or the brain space, or the time to devote to writing swathes of text. I haven’t travelled anywhere to inspire me, haven’t gazed at the stars, or the desert, or the mountains, or even sat by a pool in the heat of the sun. To be honest, more than anything else, I’m gagging for a sunbed and a book and about 48 hours of undisturbed peace and quiet, and I expect I’ll feel that way until I get it.

I’m not sure when I will blog again. It’s been hard to write this, to put into words the myriad of feelings and experiences I’ve had about the past few months. It’s a rollercoaster: some days you’re high, others you’re low, and sometimes you just feel like you might throw up in someone’s coat hood in front of you. But the thrill of it all, the rush of the ride makes it worth while. And I had to write it down for you. Mainly to avoid the rest of the boxes.

Five reasons why being new is a good thing

Being new anywhere – new school, new neighbourhood, new job, new country – they all come with the same set of doubts and fears, where, given enough time to think about it, you end up creating your own dystopian fantasy of a friendless, soulless void in which you fail in your quest to ever find a way to laugh again. Generally speaking though, this is not how it goes. A few minutes/days/weeks of feeling like the village idiot and sooner or later you find your way in. Still, it can be a stressful and lonely time getting there. So I’ve been thinking about why it’s good to be new, and why you should celebrate it.

  1. You get to pick your friends. As I get older (and a little bit wiser), I realise it’s okay not to be friends with everyone you meet. There’s no need to be rude, but you don’t have to add to your circle if you don’t want to – and being new is the ideal time to be picky in order to avoid those awkward moments later where you wished you’d never engaged in a friendship you have absolutely no interest in pursuing. It’s. Okay. You are not a bitch. You just don’t gel with that person, and in truth they probably feel the same way. If you start out by being discerning, you can go about your life safe in the knowledge that you aren’t going to have to go for coffee/drinks/dinner with anyone you don’t want to, and neither are they. Win win.
  2. You get to pick your friends. Friends that reflect who you are now, rather than who you were when you were 27. This is not to say there’s no value in those friends – of course they are part of your make up, part of you. But we tend to see our friends as ageless things, as the people we met and loved for who they were at that time. Even with friendships that go the distance, we don’t always help them to nurture the thing they want to become, or have become. New friends = new you. If you tell your new friends you are a writer, for example, they believe you, and accept you as a writer, want to know about you as a writer. (And hopefully even offer to pay you as one, or at the very least introduce you to someone who can. No job too small. Reasonable rates. See my website for details). Also you get to expand your world, by meeting new, vibrant people who stimulate and energise you. Being new, and meeting new people because of that, is a way to reinvent, reinvigorate and revive parts of you that old friends and family cannot reach.
  3. You can ditch things about your life you don’t like and add in new things that you do. Like, say you’re on the PTA at your school, but you really don’t want to do it anymore. Guilt goes a long way. When you’re new, you can just not do it. (Of course, this has never happened to me). Or, vice versa. You can join a gym, get a new hobby, stop smoking, learn to cook, throw your millennial kids out of the house finally – anything really. Routine is the devil’s work, and being new means you get a window of opportunity to get out of whatever rut you previously found yourself in.
  4. You have the chance to evaluate your life. Being new means you left somewhere, to get to the new place. It’s a brilliant time to take stock of what’s important to you – family, career, marriage, health – and refocus on those things.
  5.  It makes you a stronger person. Being new anywhere is hard. It takes guts. But when you look back after a week, six weeks, six months, you realise you’ve achieved more than you thought you ever could. And suddenly, you’re not new anymore.

The ones with no choice

Here’s me banging on about how hard my life is. Woe is me. I’ve just moved from a country that gold plates almost everything and am sobbing because I can’t wear my Manolos out on the streets of my new city without ruining the heels. And the new city – well don’t get me started. The weather, the commute, the endless stupidity I feel about not knowing how to do anything; the loneliness of the whole business; the unsettling feelings of homesickness and the shock of re-entry.

Poor me. Poor expat me.

Now imagine, for a second, that I hadn’t got here by first class Emirates, I didn’t move into a very comfortable 4-bed in South West London, that despite needing new carpets and having dubious smells coming from the sink, is pretty luxurious in terms of size and location. Imagine my son wasn’t enrolled in a Very Good School and we didn’t have two brand new cars sitting outside our house. Imagine I wasn’t heading off to the shops this morning to buy warm clothes and new shoes to furnish us for the cooler weather coming. Instead, imagine I’d spent a few years wearing the same clothes over and over. Imagine my life was in danger in the place I called home. Imagine my child couldn’t go to school, and we were scared, and we didn’t have any choice any more, about where to live or not live. Imagine we’d left our home because we wanted to survive.

Imagine I’d arrived on a boat that wasn’t even a boat, to a place that didn’t want me, didn’t know what to do with me, didn’t speak my language, and struggled to find a place for me to go to the toilet or wash or eat or sleep. Imagine that was where I wanted to be, because the only other option was to stay and live in fear for my life, for my children’s lives. Imagine people taking photos of me, staring at me, balking at the smell. Imagine ‘Cathy from Manchester’ moaning about me to a newspaper about how seeing me, and hundreds like me, ruined her holiday.

Imagine I hadn’t made it at all. Imagine I watched my child drown and then I drowned and then we got washed up on a beach for the world’s media to photograph, and we were an issue for journalists to dissect and politicians to proclaim about, while everyone else talked over coffee in their offices and comfortable homes about what a terrible thing it was, and why weren’t we doing more to help, and then going back to about their day because, well, there really wasn’t much anyone can do.

Imagine how terrified I would be, of everything. Of leaving, of being on the water in a boat that isn’t a boat, of arriving, of being turned away. Of thinking life would be better and finding out it isn’t. Of being homeless, sick, cold, hungry and scared. All the time. Of being vulnerable to rape, robbery, prostitution and abuse. Of dying. Of watching my children die. Imagine that, as your expat experience.

Imagine.

Now click here and find out how you can help them, before your coffee gets cold.