In a few months time I will be speaking at the
Families in Global Transition conference.
It's mainly a conference for people who live a globally mobile life and the companies that operate globally.
A group of us who live in different parts of the world were looking at staying together. You know? Trying to work out how to save money and fit 5 people in a 3 bed place.
And the inevitable happened...
We started to joke about spooning. Well, you would wouldn't you?
It certainly kept us entertained on WhatsApp for an afternoon....
....and reminded me of nights travelling, four of you squeezed into the tiny spare room of the friends who'd kindly put you up for the night.
Dare I suggest the new hashtag #FIGTspooning?
But seriously, it got me thinking about FIGT...
The conference has a wonderful ability to make you feel like you've 'come home'. Rather than being the odd one out in your host country, everyone in the FIGT room understands the quirks and challenges of living elsewhere.
FIGT2018 was outstanding.
It allowed me to breathe again.... I had finally found my people!
And then, this morning and completely unrelated....
another friend sent me this picture below of a dog - its owner cleverly using a spoon to stop the dog from escaping through the fence.
And it was a decision that changed my life.
I now have a new group of friends whom I love dearly and communicate with regularly.
I met my best mate at FIGT.
It's been an amazing year of laughing, talking, soul searching and deep connection.
I've started new projects off the back of #FIGT18....and emotionally,
I'm an entirely different person.
I'm settled in a way that I hadn't been for a long time.
Going to the FIGT conference sparked something that has fed me deeply this last year.
FIGT really is a wonderfully diverse organisation that promotes cross-sector connections for developing best practices that support the growth, success and well-being of people crossing cultures around the world.
There's a reason FIGT goes by the phrase, 'A Reunion of Strangers'.
It's not just big picture and big companies. In fact FIGT is the complete opposite.
Rather, it's about creating rich personal connections that thrive across the vast distances that we all live from each other.
I'll be there this year again in Bangkok doing a Lightening Presentation and Living Elsewhere will be in the bookstore.
If you're wondering about whether to come, definitely do!
You never know where it might take you.
See you there!
The loss of a loved one hits you like a cricket bat.
Square in the face.
And it hurts.
It hurts big time.
It's multilayered at the best of times, but your best coping strategies are well and truly stretched when you live in another country. The distance between your souls is far apart, but you hang on to the knowledge that you will see each other again.
...and that's before death hits.
You can cope with the distance, because you talk regularly on the phone, exchange emails and know that when money permits, you can travel to see each other.
There's always that future time when you know you can sit in the same room catching up in a way that phone calls never seem able to do. Reminiscing with each other - enjoying the sound of their laugh or the wry look they give you. Each facial expression reminds you of another time that you managed to share special time together.
You learn to live with seeing each every 2 years, or once a year if you're lucky. So you make it really good when you do.
And best of all, you always know that there will be next time.
Until there's not.
My father died 4 months ago and I still feel like I've just been hit with that cricket bat. It's not such a fresh wound. The bruises have gone. I now look like anyone else, but my eyes still water with the pain. Cricket bats are painful bastards.
Now, my comfort comes from a picture by my bed, a jumper and a poncho.
Some days, just knowing the poncho and jumper are there, is enough.
I was lucky enough to be able to rush to South America where he lived to spend time with him before he died. A surreal time with loss and liminality using each other to balance.
I think they knew each other well.
'Loss' seemed more of a fragile character.
She knows that I was wary of her, but also that she would need to become my friend soon enough. We danced around each other, eyeing one another for 12 days.
We didn't speak much.
'Liminality' on the other hand was more of a friend to me in that time.
She was quite down to earth, but kept disappearing on me. I didn't know where she would go, but every time she did, Loss came forward trying to sneak her way into the room.
Once she even picked up the cricket bat by the door, but put it down again when I looked at her.
I knew I was only putting off the inevitable.
And the inevitable came after I'd flown home.
Unfortunately, Loss decided she wanted to play cricket...another 4 times.
To experience 5 significant deaths in 4 months has felt more like a round with Mike Tyson, than a cricket match.
It's probably not a surprise to learn that I've decided to not play cricket for a while.
I'm happier at an away game drinking tea, watching from afar.....at least until my injuries heal.
If the captain asks me if I want to play again, I know what I will say.
"Yes, but as long as my dad can watch over me from the sidelines"
I've been here over 11 years now. Am I still am expat? I don't have a contract that I know will end in 2-3 years and then I'll go home. I moved for love. My wife is British and I moved to England to live with her. So....lovepat it is.
So how does a one way ticket feel for a lovepat?
It's quite something to sit on a plane, having packed up your entire life and know that you're leaving home, but not know if you will ever return. I felt excited and enjoyed the feeling of the unknown, but I was also a bit scared and slightly unsure - was I doing the right thing?
But deep down I knew that I still had choices to return home to live if I wanted to.
But what if you can't go home?
I heard the most amazing play on BBC's Radio 4 this week. 'Minority Rights and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon - The Fernhill Philosophers'. In it the Eritrean character - a highly educated man, who was unable to go home said, "Exile is a kind of death, but I try to live".
It's a powerful statement isn't it? 'Exile is a kind of death, but I try to live.'
Imagine living with that everyday. Imagine our friends in Syria who cannot go home as home no longer exists. Imagine the exiled LGBTQI person that will be murdered if they go home. Imagine knowing that you will never go home to all the people and places you hold dear.
It's beyond painful....
But exile is not just about people from other countries. Imagine feeling like you're in exile because no one understands you and your autism. Imagine the stress of trying to do your job well, but your dyspraxia plays havic with your ability to remember what your boss asked you to do. Imagine people always looking at you oddly because your muscles make you walk differently.
We need to care and support people. We need to ask them what they need, because until we've walked in their shoes we know nothing of their lives.
But we can listen. We can listen openly and with love, and we can see ourselves in everyone we meet. If we listen we start to learn differently and we also start to learn the similarities. I love the Vietnamese expression, 'same same, but different'. We are the same but we are all different too.
We are all a piece of the giant puzzle of humanity. No two puzzle pieces are the same shape, all rounded slightly differently, but I know that I can't make up the picture without another puzzle piece, and another piece.....and another, and another, until we all fit together; different, but each forming an integral part of the same picture.
We need each other.
Whomever we are - what ever country we come from - and whatever our abilities.
Sometimes we're that lone piece of the puzzle that doesn't seem to fit anywhere. We can't seem to find our way. But suddenly the piece of puzzle is turned around and with a shift in perspective there's a connection - a connection to another piece and another, and as more and more connections are found, the puzzle bonds together more firmly.
It's much like life and community. On our own we may feel unconnected and wonder how we fit into 'the bigger picture'. But start to shift perspectives and you start to see others more deeply.
You start to see the intangible layers, the personal stories in people's eyes, the body language that shows their discomfort, the way they eat food that shows a rich cultural heritage, the non-stop talking that tries to hide their nerves, the accent that makes them 'not like me' and makes them hide the other 5 languages they speak, the jokes they make so you love them, the respectful silence you take as shyness, the constant movement that helps them to focus, the clothing they wear with pride but you don't understand......the.....the..... The list is endless.
All I ask of you is to pause.
Open your ears and eyes.
Open your heart.
Be the shift in persepective.
None us of want to be that lone puzzle piece.
Despite the 'technical difficulties' of me not being able to hear or see anyone, I hope you enjoy it. It's certainly very weird talking to yourself, but definitely a hoot!
Any questions? Please post them for me in the comments below.