Our first visit “Home”; as an Expat

We’ve been Expats now for close to a year, and the boys and I recently had our first trip “back home”.

Being away from Home for just over 10 months has widened our hearts and minds. We’re part of a different culture; not only the one that we currently live in but also the culture of being an Expat; an outsider.

For months I’ve had friends and family telling me how they miss us and when are we coming to visit. With Bunny’s school holidays approaching towards mid-January, I suggested that I take the kids to visit friends and family, instead of just lounging around in the house while Mr. Bear still had to work. It would be 2 weeks of excitement; constant get together’s and meet-ups where Bunny could play outside in a garden, Monkey could get used to what real grass feels like, I could soak up the typical Highveld summer thunderstorms with the added pleasure of seeing the people I hold dear to my heart.

I had announced our idea to some friends and family and it was very well received. Some even counting the days down with me, some starting to make plans, but then, some not sharing much care or enthusiasm about it.

I was told numerous times by other expats who have gone through this type of visit, that it’s rarely all that you wish it to be and one often will expect way more; that I had to remember that I’m not going through what they are going trough right now; I’m not really part of their lives, even if we still had daily contact; that I would see who were willing to make an effort; and that the easiest would be to organize one event where people can come see us, instead of me dragging the kids all over the place each day to try and try fit everyone in.

My heart sank quite a bit when I heard that it wouldn’t be all sunshine and roses. I mean, these are people I care for and they care about me. I’m making the effort of a 11+ hour trip across the world; why wouldn’t some make a small effort. I’m sure my people won’t be like that!!

Well, wake up and smell the bloody roses!! They were right.

By all means, I had family and great friends who really did make a lot of effort to come and see me. Effort from driving 3-hours to come to where I was staying; extending their own trip to stay longer; to blocking out an entire afternoon to see their “doctor”; and others just making the effort to maneuver through hectic traffic to come say hi. It was absolutely heart-warming to see how some would put their lives on hold for a little bit to come see us.

Don’t get me wrong; I know one can’t always take off work, or take a break for a coffee, especially during the week, or rearrange a whole day with kid’s schedules. I really do get that. Good grief! I had to adapt and rearrange both my kid’s routines for 2 weeks, in a different time zone, miles away from their new home, without their Daddy, in a foreign house with new tastes and smells. I know that I’m not “used to” what’s going on in said Home Country. I know you have your own life now. I know sometimes plans just really don’t go as we intend them to go. Really, I do get that… Just didn’t realize your own life meant I can’t be a part of it in living form, but only through social media…

This is not a post to make anyone feel bad that didn’t make an effort or whom I didn’t get to see. This is just a heads-up to anyone planning a trip “back home”.

Visiting back home after being away for nearly a year, certainly has stirred up a lot of emotions in me. Even when you look past the whole visiting of friends and family.

Currently, we live in a country where it’s relatively safe. Where violent crimes are unheard of. Even petty crimes do not make the news headlines, not even on a monthly basis. It just doesn’t happen… Compared to our Home country, where violence and crime is part of everyone’s lives on an almost daily basis.

So it was quite a reality shock to be petrified to sleep alone in the house without a family member at night; to not allow Bunny to stroll behind me in a shop; to not want to drive around in case we catch a red traffic light and having to wait for it to turn green.

It made me realize how pathetic it is to live in a country where you don’t feel safe; where you have to constantly look over your shoulder and be on permanent guard mode. How did I ever manage to live with it for so long?

Our holiday overall wasn’t so great. It didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. It was lonely during the days while everyone was at work. It was nerve wrecking at night with only me and the kids in one massive house. I missed having my boy’s daddy. They missed him. We were all miserable. One phone call and a good amount of tears later and Mr. Bear went to change our flight ticket to come back home 4-days earlier.

Do I want to go visit again? Yes sure. But this time completely on my T’s & C’s.

The next time another Expat gives me advice on these type of things, I’ll actually follow them and not think that “my trip will be different.” Seems everyone’s trips are all the same.

 

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On our way back home

 

 

Limbo has ended!!

OMW!! What a week. Can someone please pass me the fermented grape juice? No seriously. I need it…

To summarize; everyone is finally on the schedule and routine they should be on. After more than 6 months of being in limbo in some areas, confusion in others and pure frustration to make up the rest, I was ecstatic for 18th of September to arrive. And now that this week is nearly over, I couldn’t not reflect on what we’ve had to go through for half of 2016!

Let’s start at the beginning of it all and just see how we’ve grown:

While still in South Africa, last few weeks of pregnancy, Bunny had to immediately go to a new school. Ok fine, he got in to another school very easily, but now try get him to settle in this new environment while he knows Mommy is at home; while Mr. Bear hasn’t been home for weeks (due to being in Qatar); while Mommy is either selling off household goods, giving things away or just tossing it. Try and explain that to a 4-year old. I mean how dare I “give” Daddy’s car to Uncle N…

And just when he started getting settled in school (sort of), mid-term break arrived. On the upside Mr. Bear arrived too for a few days not-patiently awaiting the arrival of Monkey. Well, the little rugrat decided otherwise in anyway.

A week after Mr. Bear had to come back to Doha, Monkey arrived safely and a day later, school was open again… what effing timing! So now Bunny didn’t want to go to school cause Monkey was home. This still while all things are either being packed up or sold. Thank goodness babies don’t choose their family based on the content of someone’s house…

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Meeting my baby brother

A quick and fast track of getting Monkey’s birth certificate, passport and all our visa’s in less than 3 weeks and off we go to the airport, not even having a flight ticket yet! Man, I just wanted to have my family together. One night in the hotel and the next day we were on the plane. Let’s not even discuss flying solo parent with a 4-year-old, a newborn, 4 huge suitcases, 3 hand luggage’s, 2 car seats, a pram, the 4-year-old’s back pack, a handbag and a nappy bag… Still got nightmares.

8 Hours later and YAY! Family is together. Monkey is growing well and no more issues with latches and burps; I’ve got this newborn thing! But guess what, Bunny can’t start school cause we need our residence permits… Bloody-fantastic! Fast forward all the ups and downs and back and forth’s on this…. Fast forward a total of 6 months.

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6 Months of having to work my way around a foreign country, sometimes strange people and even a weirder way of driving… 6 Months of having Bunny at home, cooped up for most of the days as Monkey doesn’t like going out. And then summer arrived and you can forget about going out then. Yes! I relied on TV quite a bit to entertain Bunny while I was busy with Monkey and yes some of the shows watched, you barely needed half a brain cell, but most of it was quite educational. Or at least, I’ll keep telling myself that. No, but for the amount of info and knowledge he has absorbed about animals, the way things work among other things, I’d say it was the best education I could provide him without him being at school and without us killing each other while trying to learn the correct order of numbers…

And then this week arrived…

This week where Bunny finally started proper school, in uniform and having to ride a bus.
This week where on the very first day, we had to wait for the bus 2 hours, twice.
This week where Monkey’s routine was something as rare as chicken teeth.
This week where nap times was something that was never heard of.
This week where I had to stand in a queue for 2 hours only to pay for medicals to be done.
This week where night routine was thrown out due to traffic.
This week where I saw more of Doha in 2 hours, than what I have had in 4 months.
This week where finger prints and correct photos were taken.
This week where both my boy’s had to have a prick on the finger to get their blood types tested.
This week where I realized even more how different my children are from one another. (Bunny cried with the finger prick. Monkey laughed at them. In retrospect, maybe Bunny just cried cause I’d promise him a treat afterwards.)
This week where we have finally received our new Qatari ID’s.
This week of whirlwind.
This week can go onto the shelf as a week that we’ve all been waiting for, for the past 6 months.
This week where this past year’s limbo-ness (Is that even a word?), has finally ended or started to have motion again.

This week we have been looking so forward to is almost over and looking back on how far we’ve come; this week has been all worth it!

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First day of proper school

Why I don’t feel guilty being on my phone 

For the past couple of years, “studies” have told us more and more about the dangers of constantly having screen time. Research telling us we have some mental illness when we are so active on social media. Blogs have told parents to put our phones down and be with our kids. People sometimes even close their different social media accounts due to all this guilt that the reports are putting us through.

But I refuse to feel guilty.

Don’t get me wrong. I put my phone down when either of my kids are calling me or if they need me to do/get them something. I leave the phone while I’m playing with them. I leave the phone when Mr. Bear is talking to me. I leave the phone while driving. Heck, I even leave it while cooking and doing the house chorus. For all other times, I am on my phone.

Whether I’m on social media, chatting to a friend or family member via whatsapp or playing a game to pass the time; I do it all in moderation and I refuse to feel guilty about it.

As a relatively new member of the expat community as well as a stay at home mom, my social circle has drastically decreased. I remember when Monkey was younger; he hated going out of the house. Even going for a quick coffee just a few meters away from our apartment, was too stressful for him. He wouldn’t feed nicely, he wouldn’t sleep. His whole body was tense right up to us stepping back into the house. You could see the stress leaving him when he noticed we were back home.

To be stuck in the house with only a 4-year old’s conversation, baby babbles and only having proper adult conversation for a few hours before bedtime, was just not enough for me. My only outlet and balance for this, was my phone.

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It is my outlet to stay in touch with the reality and with the world. You all know that phones these days are like a 100-in-1-gadget with so many functionalities and purposes. I can stay in touch with my friends, know what my family are up to, keep up with emails, read a book, pass the time by playing a game while Monkey nurses off to sleep, stay in touch with the news of the world and so many other things.

I think I would have gone mad long ago if I had felt guilty and left all my groups, whether on Facebook or Whatsapp. The idea of having someone on the other side and just a message away is just too comforting. Especially when different things are needed from different groups. I have my family group, my friends with similar ages than my children group, my weird mommy group, my expat mommy group, my vino-drinking mommy group; hell I’m sure I’d even be able to make or find a group for the ladies who don’t feel guilty for using their phones.

Like so many other mommies, my phone is 99% of the time on silent. Not only is this because I don’t want to startle the baby while he is dozing off, but also because it gives me the freedom to decide when to look at it and not have to rush to pick up the call or reply to a message. Thus free from guilt regarding being on my phone.

So when my family are all happy, lunch/supper has been made, house is clean, then you can get hold of me on my phone, I’ll be available on the other end…

 

 

Making friends as an expat

We all need that special person, or for some, more than one, other than the dearest hubster after work. Someone who you can have a proper adult conversation with. A person you can ring up for a quick coffee catch up or someone who will just be there willing to lend you an ear during those difficult days or have silly conversations and jokes with. A person who can come over and bring you a much needed hug or look after the kids for a few minutes just so you can get something done; you know; like a shower… We all want someone to call “My Person.”

 

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Image: Grey’s Anatomy

At the best of times I struggle to make girl-friends. I’ve always been around the boys and some of my closest friends during school years, were all boys. Not because I fancied them or anything like that, but just because they’re less of a mission, less dramatic and less to fuss about petty things. And as an expat, it seems to be quite the trick to get right. And even more so being completely new to a very different country.

There’s only so many Facebook groups you can join. Only so many you can follow. And only so many posts you can comment on and extend an invitation to meet up. Not all invitations get accepted and that’s ok too. Good grief, I’d never be home or able to do my own thing if all were accepted.

And then the awkward moment arrives and you meet up with a stranger. So much for your parents’ advice while being a child of “Don’t talk to strangers”. And the conversation usually goes as follows:
“So, where are you from?”
“How long have you been here?” (Shock and horror that we’ve only been here for 4 months)
“What does your husband do?”
“How long are you staying in Qatar?” (See, that right there is where some are already planning on whether this friendship can go anywhere or not)
Then it varies between “Are you settled in?” and questions about the kids.

While the kids play or do their own thing, small talk gets made, which I don’t mind as that’s how you get to know someone more. And then you have the awkward goodbye’s and “thank you’s” and “we should do this again”. Sometimes there is a next time and sometimes not and that’s okay too. The search just continues.

I know and I understand that when you struck up a friendship as an expat, you always are aware at the back of your mind that this could most likely just be a seasonal friendship. I’ve seen it too often that friendships sink like a ship when one party travels to another country. And I’ve realized, with myself that it takes a hell of a lot to get passed my wall. Once in, I won’t let you out.

I’ve also come to the realization that not only are you coming from a very different country and its culture, than myself, but you also have your own way of doing things which you think are right. And even though I don’t judge them or frown upon them as it is your decision; people with the same way of doing and thinking tend to stick longer together. You know, “Birds of a feather” kinda thing.

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So what are your options? Sit for the duration of being in a new country all locked up with your kids and house work and your only adult conversations are on the internet with people miles away from you, who also have to get on with their own lives as well as happenings of their own country? OR puck up the courage and put yourself out there?

Well, I choose the latter. I hate having cabin fever and I know I can be a great friend for someone too.

Here is something that I learned a long time ago and I know it can help anyone, in any relationship; even marriage and/or work:
To be able to understand someone, you need to be able to communicate to them about something you both have reality on (something in common) and then only your liking for each other will expand.

For example: I find it very easy to talk to someone who has the same parenting styles as myself and who doesn’t judge or make me wrong for something. We have something in common and can easily share ideas. We understand each other and like to be in each other’s company.
But turn the table around and try have not only a friendship, but even just a conversation with someone who completely disagrees with you on how to bring up your kids or disagrees with everything you do; constant clashes and there will be very little chance that you’d want to be around that person again.

So in a new country, being surrounded by people with different backgrounds and from all walks of like is obstacle number 1. Then there’s the fact that you are at some point the “newbie” who has to try get into a group. And just like at school for a new scholar, you are faced with the groupies and cliques; they exist here too. Then from that pool of “potential friends”, you now have to suss out someone who thinks and acts similar to you or at the very least allows you to stay who you are. And once you’ve gone through those stages, then only you can have someone to have coffee with more regularly, bar you can talk about more than just one topic and don’t forget about the constant struggle to get together due to the kids’ schedules and bad nights/days.

It’s not easy, but it is do-able. You have to go out of your comfort zone and that in itself is a growing point, even if just for yourself. As for me, I’m getting there slowly.

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