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

 

 

 

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First time expat? Read this.

Bet you’re halfway between elated and exhausted, right about now. You’ve probably done your goodbye party weeks ago; the house is packed up, you’ve shipped your stuff. The kids are enrolled into school, your husband’s been gone for weeks and you’re just about to get on the plane and leave absolutely everything behind. You might have even already arrived. You’re nervous, excited, sad and happy all in one go; you’re hoping the kids settle in quickly and that you can still get PG Tips and Marmite from somewhere and you’ve already given everyone your Christmas dates so they know you’re coming back for regular visits, just like you promised you would. You’ve spent the last three weeks feeling like you’re treading water – like you’ve said goodbye about 10,000 times. You know it’s not forever. It feels like forever. You can’t wait to go but you don’t want to.

You’re nearly there. Or you’ve just arrived. Welcome to being an expat. A thousand experiences and challenges await. But something’s already happened: you’ve changed. Life has changed you. You’ve taken a step away from everything familiar and put adventure at the top of the list of things to do. Here’s my list for you to mull over, in the coming days, weeks and months: Ten thoughts on moving and living abroad.

1. No matter what you think life will be like, it will be different. You will be different. You can try and stay the same, try to squeeze the shape of your old life into the new one. But  you will not return the same person, if indeed you return at all.

2. You’ll find yourself high on the experience one moment and crashing down the next, and you won’t be able to predict when or how or what will set you off. It’s not you: it’s culture shock. Even a culture that seems to be familiar, is still different. You’ll experience it a lot for about six months, and then it will ease off. But it won’t ever go away completely, even if your stay stretches into years. Ride the wave, accept that there will be times where you really don’t know what the hell you are doing here, and then move on as quickly as possible.

3. There will come a point when you have to get in a car, or on a train, or a bus and just get lost. Do it the first few days, to get it over with. After you’ve sat crying because you can’t understand anything and you don’t know where you are, know that it will be easier the next time.

4. Talk to people. People in coffee shops, people in the queue at the supermarket, people at school drop off. Everyone is in the same boat as you – bar none. Even seasoned expats need new friends to replace the old ones who left, so don’t be put off by their tenure. The longer you remain alone, the more alone you will be. So put yourself out there, find a club, or a group, or join the PTA. Don’t wait ‘until we’re settled in’ to do this. You won’t settle in until you have friends and in the absence of family, you’ll need them. Go get them. NOW.

5. If you are a trailing spouse, and you even think for a millisecond that you want to continue working while you are abroad, prepare for the fact that it might be a lot harder than it would be at home; because of visa issues, or lack of appropriate childcare, or because the job you do at home doesn’t exist where you are going. If it’s hard to find a job that fits, keep searching, and networking, until you find the solution. Make it work. Don’t be lulled into an expat lifestyle you didn’t want because it’s easier. If work is an important part of your self identity at home, consider the impact not working will have on you, and act on that before everyone gets too comfortable.

6. You will feel very lost, for a while. Not just in the streets, but as a person. Your identity, your life as you knew it, has just been ripped out from under your feet. It takes time to build yourself up again. Don’t feel a pressure to be ‘normal’ on day 1, or day 10 or even day 100. You need time to recalibrate, and you might go off in completely the wrong direction before you figure out who you are in this new world.

7. Don’t forget who you were, either. It’s okay to change but it’s not okay to pretend you’re someone you’re not. You’ll get found out eventually.

8. However easy it seems to get on a plane and go home every couple of months, try to resist the temptation, and commit to the place you have chosen to be in. Commitment will make you happier in your expat life and ironically make you less homesick than if you keep going back all the time.

9. Remember your spouse is new at all of this too, and if you have moved because of their job, the responsibility and pressure on them is IMMENSE, to make it work for everyone. Cut them some slack and make time to talk (not yell) about why life is different/difficult/depressing. Try not to blame them for your feelings (easier said than done, I know) because unless someone held you at gunpoint, it’s pretty safe to assume you had a say in this adventure too.

and finally,

10. It might not feel like it now, when you are lonely, stressed, don’t know how to get anywhere, or where to buy anything, or how to say thank you even – but this is the best adventure of your life. It will take time, oodles of it, to really appreciate this  – perhaps you won’t even realise until you’re back home again, what an amazing thing you did. But you’re doing it, and in between all the hard work, it’s going to be awesome. The very best of luck. Now get out there.

Ruby. x

 

On the road…again…

It’s a funny thing, this expat life. We are 4 weeks into our world tour and have just under 3 weeks to go, now (mainly) staying put in the same beds, and although I’m happy to be here, and the sun is shining, and my little boy is content, I’m a teeny, tiny bit homesick. For Dubai. Ironic? Rather. Here, in no particular order, is why:

1. I miss routine. School, work, social: I miss it all, for a variety of reasons but mainly because routine gives purpose and order and a kind of contentedness to life you don’t seem to get from living out of a suitcase for 2 months

2. I miss my quiet time. The bit where I come home from drop off, put the kettle on, and go upstairs to write for two glorious, uninterrupted hours. Or sit watching TV with a glass of wine when I’m home alone and the boy is in bed. It is a serious situation. I’ve even taken to doing the ironing just so I can get half an hour of time to tune out.

3. I miss my friends. I haven’t spoken to an actual peer, i.e. a person who shares my day to day existence for a month  except via the odd Facebook comment. It’s tough, not talking to the people you usually share the minutiae of life with. They are either sighing with relief or miss me too. (It’s debatable which).

4. I miss my bed. My glorious, comfortable bed. My bed in my bedroom, with my bathroom, and my wardrobe with all my stuff in it, with floors that don’t creak and walls that block out anything quieter than a fighter jet and air conditioning and occasionally containing a husband.

5. I miss exercise. Not that I ever do a lot of it, but I miss the idea that I could just pop to the gym whenever I wanted. I seem to lurch from one mealtime to the next while we’re away, so much so that I’m starting to feel absolutely sick of food. And as a result of relying on eating to fill my days, the relatively svelte bikini body I’d accidentally acquired due to stress appears to be disappearing amongst lunchtimes out, afternoon ice cream and mid morning muffins at the coffee shop as a substitute for any other kind of ‘routine’.

6. I miss pedicures. This is admittedly not going to win me any sympathy, but I would really, really like to get the dead skin filed off my feet and for someone to make my toes pretty again and give my feet a nice rub. If they could see about doing my hands and thread my eyebrows as well, that would be brilliant.

7. I miss my son. He’s here, with me, but he’s not the same little boy we have at home. He’s spent a lot of time feeling unsettled, disgruntled, and fed up with the lack of normality in his life. We expect so much of him with all this travelling and it’s really not very fair. I feel so horribly guilty for putting him through this upheaval every year. It’s the worst bit about living away.

8. I miss my kitchen. I want to flick through a recipe book, to shop and cook and serve a meal without getting halfway through and wondering if there is a can opener, or not being able to work the grill. I want to not eat lunch if I don’t feel like it, or eat 4 chocolate digestives with a cup of tea because they’re mine and I can if I want to.

9. I miss privacy. I’m surrounded at all times. I love everyone, they are my family; but I miss having precious hours of my day to sit and muse in silence in front of my computer, or to wander the shopping mall deep in my own thoughts, or sit in a car by myself singing, or not to have to put a bra on as soon as I get up in the morning for fear of running into a male relative on the stairs.

10. I miss myself. I’m on the road. I have no time to write, no chance of getting on stage and worst of all, I left my hairdryer in Dubai. I love seeing everyone, but I don’t feel truly like ‘me’ while I’m away from my home. Ironically this is exactly how I will feel all over again when I leave the UK and return to Dubai in three weeks.

And let’s be honest: I’ve got all year to enjoy my life in Dubai, but only a few weeks to make the most of this one. As a result, I’m enjoying every second of being home, before I go back there. I hope you are all having a great summer too.

Ruby x

Career of Champions

“Mummy, I want to be a superhero when I’m older.”

“Do you? Which one?”

“Which one is the best?”

“Well, I think it’s probably Superman. Would you like to be Superman?”

(Pause)

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because Superman is Superman. I want to be my own superhero.”

“Well you have to have a magical power to be a superhero.”

“I don’t have one.”

(Thinking there may be a learning opportunity here) “Well maybe you could be an everyday hero instead, like a policeman or a firefighter, or a doctor.”

“Dr. Khan is a hero.”

“Yes, he is.”

“He makes sick children feel better.”

“That’s right.”

“I could be a doctor hero then.”

“That’s a good hero to be.”

“Yes. A doctor. (Long pause). Or a hairdresser.”

Not a hero in the traditional sense, I admit. However, there have been some days I’ve walked out of the salon and would be inclined to agree.

Celebrating the expat brat

Annabel Kantarina, writer and fellow expat, wrote a post this week about the demise of the Expat Brat. Whilst I’m not inclined to believe it’s the last we’ve seen of the spoilt rich kid abroad, I do think it’s probably not as relevant a ‘label’ as it once might have been. Not meaning to start a war here, but let’s face it, there’s plenty of kids who live in their home countries who are spoilt rotten, plenty who have no manners and can’t seem to behave themselves if their life depended on it, and plenty who are lazy and let everyone around them do everything for them. I know, because they come here on holiday. So I agree that it’s grossly unfair to tar all our third culture kids with the same brush, and hats off to Bellakay for championing their cause.

As coincidence would have it, I’d actually been thinking this week, about how totally cool it must be to grow up in Dubai. We’ve just got back from a few days in the desert, and my son hasn’t stopped talking about how much he loved it. And he really did have a blast, discovering new things about his environment and himself and filling every bodily crevice with sand in the process. Despite my continual misgivings that he is ‘missing out’ it occurred to me this week just how much he would have missed by growing up in Surrey instead. Our expat brats might miss the leaves falling, have no idea how to put gloves on, and have an unnerving tendency to ask ‘is it real?’ about every animal they come across, but they have another host of experiences notched up that most ‘stay at home’ children can only ever read about in books. So here are my reasons to celebrate being an ‘expat brat’ in Dubai:

– You get to run up around the dunes or dance in the waves every weekend and picnic on the sand in either place while you watch the sun go down.

– You can eat your lunch and watch the fountains go off next to the tallest building in the world.

– You can have your lunch inside the tallest building in the world.

– You’ve been up the top of the tallest building in the world. Twice. Aged four.

– The sun always shines. Yes, it might get hot (gross understatement) but everyday, for months, you know you can make plans for the park/pool/play date and pretty much rely on the weather being perfect.

– When it does rain, it’s magical: a day off school in case a lethal puddle engulfs the 4×4, and as exciting as snow. And snow – well snow is just THE BEST THING EVER because it is only ever accompanied by grandparents and presents, or it means you’re about to hit the toboggan run in Ski Dubai.

– By aged five you can pack your own suitcase for a six week holiday taking into account travelling to three countries with three different weather patterns, and you are able to negotiate airport security and long haul flights with expertise and finesse usually reserved for fifty year old travelling salesmen.

– Being different is your norm.You have friends from 15 different countries speaking 15 different languages and you will grow up never knowing what it’s like to only know people who come from the same place as you, or who all dress the same as you, or who all look and sound the same as you.

– You have no idea what a sheep looks like in real life but you’ve ridden a camel.

– You’ve been to Sri Lanka, Jordan, Thailand and Oman and seen temples, beaches and ways of life you would normally have to wait until a gap year to experience. Plus you stayed in a nice hotel instead of a dingy hostel (you’re welcome) and the only thing in your backpack was a set of felt tip pens and a Leap pad.

– You accept change as easily as ice cream, and adapt to it faster than a cockroach in a nuclear holocaust.

And finally

– You think all this is normal, which means on trips home when you’re collecting conkers or climbing trees or staying at Nanna’s house it’s special and exciting but at the same time, feels like slipping on an old familiar pair of shoes.

The best of both worlds, our kids live a special life that we can barely imagine having as a child, one that is certainly privileged, but doesn’t have to mean spoilt. And for the most part, I think we all do our best to make sure it’s as kept as down to earth as it can possibly be, when, let’s face it, it’s pretty surreal to us parents a lot of the time. But, in 2014, if this is what it means to be one: all hail the expat brat.

 

 

 

 

The Chicken Song

Cast your minds back….(this one might be for the Brits amongst you, sorry everyone else) Remember it, Spitting Image fans?

‘Its that time of year, now that Spring is in the air
When those two great gits, with their girly curly hair
Make another song for moronic holidays
That nauseate-ate-ate in a million different ways’

Etc. etc.

Why do I still know all the words to this? Because it was played in every bar and club in every holiday town in Europe for the best part of a decade of my – er-hem – ‘formative’ years. And today it’s back, running through my mind with the ease of an olympic sprinter and driving me slowly crazy. ‘Why?’ I hear you cry. Well, it’s that time of year. (‘It’s that time of year….’ see?) Despite the rain (yes, RAIN) this week and the glorious resurrection of jeans and t-shirts just when we all thought bikini season was upon us, the pre-summer buzz has begun. And with it, the inevitable annual friend cull. This year I’m losing a few acquaintances, and, as seems to happen each time I think it’s safe to come out, one very dear friend, who has the audacity to return home just when I’d got used to the idea of her being a permanent fixture.

It’s that time of year. (It’s that time of year…arghhhh) The bit where I am trying not to write off the ones who are going but at the same time knowing I will have to fend for myself when they are gone. A cloud of aloneness wafts over my skyline and although I know I will be fine, and there will be others come (and probably go again), the friends that truly have become part of your life are hard to let go of. It’s difficult to accept starting over again. Again. And when you’re as picky as me, losing a few friends actually creates quite a hole in life.

This year is the first year that my son is losing friends too. He’s sad, that a few people are moving away who he’s got to know and like. He wants to know why they are going home and we are not. He doesn’t understand why they are leaving, and is insistent we will visit them in California/Oklahoma/Switzerland/Australia. He is asking about his other friends, and whether they will leave too, one day, and if we will see them again either. He says we can skype them but I’m not sure he believes we will.

He’s starting to sound an awful lot like me.

So to cheer him and me up, and for the rest of you who weren’t living in the UK in the 80s and therefore have no idea why I’ve called this post ‘The Chicken Song’, here’s a link. Listen at your peril, it’s not one that’s weathered the passage of time particularly well (although unless you’re on your seventh pint in some hell hole in Magaluf, I’m not sure it ever did).

It’s might be a bit soggy in my desert world this week, but I feel it. The heat is on, the crazy is coming and the goodbyes are looming. It’s that time of year.