“How on earth am I going to do this?” gasped the extrovert.
The introvert replied, “I will be in my happy place. I’m so going to enjoy it”
The truth is that most of us lie somewhere between the two.
Moments of peace, internal serenity polishing our halos. Other days? Not so much. More akin to, well, let’s be honest, an almighty mess of the two thrust together.
Tension, cabin fever, short fuses and those kids shouting next door? Gees, I wish they’d quieten down. Hang on! Where are mine?
Ah…Um…. “James and Sophie, please stop shouting now. We can glue your favourite cup back together for ‘art class’ this afternoon. We have to do calc… calcu… calcul…. calculus…. calculations? first”. [Where’s the vodka? That looks like water in my glass right?]
Welcome to Coronovirus lockdown.
Never have we seen the world so divided nor so united at the same time. Freaky huh?
There’s a wonderful balance in that. Very yin and yang.
Coronavirus is forcing our coping strategies to enter new heights of adaptation, transition and the unknown.
My 9 tips for separation, isolation and staying sane during lockdown
As I can’t get to the gym, I’ve set up a home gym. For the first time in my life, I’ve signed up to a 90 day home-workout program. Day 2 and I can barely move! At the end of it I’m either going to be rock hard or dead!
So, what’s something different for you? Dancing around the kitchen? Doing some gardening?
Stair jumps? Sit ups? Vacuuming? Lifting tins of beans?
Turn off the news, turn of the internet and talk to each other. At that moment, the only thing that is present is you and whomever else you are with. By being overly connected to the outside media you run the risk of making your safe internal spaces (your home) feel stressful, when in fact they need to be our safe spaces. Now, more than ever, when we can’t go out, we need the spaces we retreat to and are isolated in, to be emotionally safe and calm.
I know personally that I will feel better if I’ve achieved something. Achievement is different for everyone though. For some, achievement will be getting through this time being with your family 24 hours a day and still liking each other at the end of it. Others will be home-schooling their children, successfully.
We may need to lower our expectation of what we can achieve in this time as there are additional pressures present that may not be normally upon us (household finances, limited outdoor time, no in-person socialising etc)
Some opportunities and resources to explore:
Seriously though, we’ve all suddenly been thrust into working together in our homes. Spare a thought for the introvert who now can’t cope with partner and kids home all the time… or the spouse whose desk has now been taken over for the partner’s paid work and they’re stressed because they’re not getting done what they would normally do.
It might be worth you setting some new ground rules so that you can all work together happily in close quarters. Hold a family meeting and establish new ways for working time, lunch time, and play time at the end of the day. It’s early days for many of us and we need to develop systems for longevity.
How will you manage if schools are still not open but your employer wants you to return to the office? At what point will you need to consolidate financial resources from lost income? Are there other resources available to you? If you returned to your passport country during the pandemic, at what point will you return to your host country? If it’s almost school holiday time again, is it worth attending the last 2 weeks of school or should we stay in our passport country for the holidays?
There's a million and one questions that will need thinking about. Planning your coronovirus lockdown exit strategy ahead of time, just may be as valuable as the thought you put into keeping your family safe during the pandemic itself.
And for expats who are reading this....
Think about your skills and experience in transition. Let's start an online EXPAT RIPPLE EFFECT of wisdom and guidance..
So I'm calling for us all to:
Oh, Not again…. I wish I didn’t have to post these pictures again.
But I do it because it helps me cope.
It helps others cope.
I know because they tell me.
I’ve often posted these pictures to social media unfortunately. Normally it’s in response to a global grief - a large natural disaster, a mass shooting, or other event that surpasses our comprehension.
They seem to express what we can’t verbalise. The brain process images 60,000 times faster than words do, so that’s pretty effective.
It’s one of the reasons I love to draw. The simplicity of the pen allows all superfluous information to fall away and the minutiae of the message is highlighted.
Headstones offer much symbolism – carved stone that reflect beliefs at the time, materials give indications about the wealth of a family, epitaphs tells you about religious sentiments and values, grave locations tell of social hierarchies, whilst the style of monument can reveal how a family felt about the death of their loved one.It's about life. It’s always about life, which is actually probably the reason that so many of us struggle to talk about death.
And now, it is also life that we now grapple with, in the midst of the global coronavirus outbreak.
The world is trying to contain the virus and preserve life.
This brings me back to angels.
In cemeteries, angels are protectors of souls. In life and more so than ever now, human angels are also protectors of our souls.
Whilst we hunker down in lock down at home, I want to draw your attention to these five categories of human angels.
My friend, Dr Anisha Abraham recorded this in her street in Amsterdam the other night. She says “Shout out to all my fearless health care colleagues around the world who are working tirelessly in hospitals, clinics, research centres and more to fight coronavirus. Tonight, throughout the Netherlands, we applauded health care workers at 8pm and we will it repeat in again tomorrow night. It made me feel so proud and a bit teary eyed. Here’s the view from our street. Stay strong peeps!” Wonderful huh?
Often forgotten, but they too are on the front line. Standard protective equipment is as rare as hen’s teeth for Funeral Directors to buy. Staff are working without it. I’m not posting this to frighten or cause panic, but to raise awareness about the dedication and sacrifices that people are making to fight this virus. It’s easy to forget when we’re watching tv on the sofa warm and safe in our homes. In this article, read ‘funeral staff’ in place of NHS staff and you get the picture.
Yes, schools are closing left, right and centre, but here in the UK, teachers are still teaching kids in school with special needs. Schools are ensuring online learning is available for students to try and keep a sense of normality flowing. Now I know some parents aren’t terribly pleased at suddenly having a 3 month weekend or becoming an overnight ‘expert’ in Maths, Science and Geography – no one wants to look stupid in front of their kids right?
Shop keepers and food delivery people
These champions enable us to stay home, so that we don’t run the risk of making the spread worse. We need them just as much as our other essential services. If the human body could survive on water alone, I’d be the first to try it. Mind you, a little less food might be a good thing for those of us trying to lose weight! As someone said on my Slimming World group page, I will either come out of this 60lbs lighter or 100lbs heavier – only time will tell. I joke because I feel the same. Whilst I am able to run outside I will, but I am soon to set up an exercise space in our house.
Whatever is happening in the world, we still produce rubbish. Mountains of it and if it’s not managed, we end up with other health problems. Thank you to those who collect our rubbish and allow us to live at home reasonably carefree.
But equally importantly...
If you are someone who believes in angels of the spiritual kind, please may I ask you to send your prayers, your thoughts, your woo woo juice, whatever you practice, in bucket loads to the people I am most frightened for – those living in abusive relationships.
Imagine lockdown for 1 month with an abusive partner.
Imagine lockdown for 3 months with an abusive partner.
Imagine kids at home in that abusive space, when their only safe space (school) is now closed.
Imagine a mix of alcohol, drugs, guns, frustrations.
Imagine isolation in this environment.
Imagine how fucking frightening that is!
I have no idea what we can do about this.
All I can do is hope for goodness to come across the spiritual airwaves. If you’re ever going to believe in this stuff, then now is the time to enact your interest. Please send your vibes their way.
And if you don’t believe, that’s fine. I used to think it was all a ‘crock of shit’ :-)
All I ask is that you raise awareness of how some people may be safe from coronavirus, but in dreadful danger from partners/parents.
Check on your neighbours.
Watch. Observe. Help those unseen, be seen when they need it most.
I once asked a police officer at what point I should call the police if I was worried about domestic violence in a neighbouring house. He said, ‘the moment you are scared’.
So if you feel scared for someone’s safety, please make that call.
And in the meantime….
Enjoy lockdown, but spare a thought for all those workers who enable us to be in lockdown.
"How do I know if I love myself?"
That’s a simple question.
Well, it kinda feels like it should be.
I’ve discovered it’s not. It’s not at all. Like, reeeally not. SO much of a not it’s like someone telling me I’m a man.
Ask it of yourself. What was your answer?
Your REAL answer. Not the one you think you want it to be.
If you received a clear answer that affirms that you do love yourself and you know why and how, then I congratulate you. I’m serious. It’s a beautiful thing to love oneself.
If what you heard in reply was little more murky or you felt like that person who excitedly opens their box of chocolates to find that someone else got there first and all you have is empty wrappers, then I think we should talk.
Firstly, you’re not alone.
I’m there with you, exploring this myself.
Only last week was it the subject of my Barefoot Friday.
Secondly, if this is you too, I have a hunch that you’re probably a woman.
I’m not saying that all men love themselves but talk to a woman and my experience is that pretty much every single one of us has had to navigate a path to loving ourselves.
What does it mean to love yourself?
Given how different we all are, I suggest that there’s probably a million and one ways to interpret that question.
Yet, I think that all these variations come down to three elements:
That’s a lot of ‘self’ in there. And trust me, there needs to be. You got to be selfish for this to work, but more about that in a bit.
So why talk about this in a global context of expat life?
Expats are some of the most confident people who get ‘out there’ aren’t they?
Others, like me, grow and mature as we go. The wild ride of living elsewhere, triggers us to go deep. It forces us to find out what we’re made of and to look in our pockets for the emotional resources we didn’t think were there.
And this brings me back navigating the open seas of expat life whilst also learning to love oneself. If you wait until you love yourself, Life presses the PAUSE button. It’s a big button too. Hard to rewind.
There is another option though – find the cassette tape called ‘get out there and stumble through’ and press PLAY. That’s my tactic at least. Decide to do it all despite the self-love and confidence not being balanced.
I’m never going to let that stop me.
Why? Because life is too good not to.
We all have that voice in our head that talks to us. Sometimes she’s your best friend.
Another time? She’s a real bitch. I find her particularly unkind at times, in ways that I wouldn’t dream of being with a friend. She’s so rude. I’m not sure why I’m still friends with her to be honest.
Why do I allow her to speak to me this way?
It comes back to the three Ss, Self-acceptance, Self-respect and Self-confidence.
I can accept myself, but if I am letting that voice have an impact, I’m not allowing space for self-respect – and as a result, my self-confidence plummets. It’s like the three-legged stool. Damage one leg and it’s not going to stay upright for long. We need all three legs to function fully, for the stool to remain stable and to be able to support our weight.
So how do we maintain the balance of a 3 legged stool?
I think it comes down to pleasure.
I know a large proportion of you instantly thought of sex.
Okaaaay… well, that was just me then.
Sex is part of it, but in its broader sense, pleasure is about feeling happy and satisfied on a deep level. It’s everything from passion for your work, reading and cooking to exercise, fashion, sport, music, meditation and pretty much anything else you can think of that makes you feel good in that warm fuzzy way.
I’m currently reading ‘Pleasure activism: The Politics of Feeling Good’ written and gathered by Adrienne Maree Brown. “Pleasure activists assert that we all need and deserve pleasure and that our social structures must reflect this”.
And this is where is gets interesting for expats.
When we exist outside the social structure of the country in which we are living (either through privilege, cultural differences or a feeling of not belonging), I believe that pleasure can be one of the first things to suffer.
Rather than thriving, we may start to feel like we’re surviving. Coping and reacting become our norm and from survival mode, it is an easy slippery slope to experiencing the devastation when self-confidence, self-acceptance and self-respect decide it’s time to take temporary leave.
This was certainly my experience.
I forgot about myself. I didn’t know who I was anymore. In losing myself whilst trying to fit, I also lost my self-confidence. But that’s okay I thought, because I still had self-acceptance and self-respect in the bag. Well, if I’m honest, I’ve always struggled with the self-acceptance side of things.
I realised recently how often I’ve seen myself in relation to others, not me as me, standing there transparently visible and vulnerable. Vulnerability is scary.
This blog kind of throws caution to that wind. I’m hoping that it doesn’t suddenly switch to a gale force 10 and knock me off my feet. But if I don’t step out, I never feel that wind on my face nor feel what it is to be truly embodied and alive.
And so I turn to pleasure as the path back to me.
In practical terms, what does this look like for you?
For me, the exploration of pleasure has included:
So, as I sit here at midnight writing these musings, I’m reminded of a conversation I had this week with my best friend.
We were talking about the value of writing down your achievements and keeping them as a reminder of just how well you’re doing. AND, this is not despite ‘the shit’ of life, but actually because of it.
And through these experiences, I’ve started 2 businesses which I continue to operate, got my passion project off the ground, published my own book, travelled widely, reinvented myself, gone from couch potato to running 9kms at a time, gained a post graduate diploma, made a life in a foreign country, became a citizen of a new country and I’m currently studying a Masters.
I don’t list these achievements to gloat, but to say that I’ve realised something incredibly exciting.
Make yourself a priority.
In doing so, you’ll find that SELF will start to fight for front position and much to your surprise Respect, Confidence and Acceptance will announce that they’ve change their names by deed poll to SELF- Respect, SELF-Confidence and SELF-Acceptance.
I’m pleased to meet you, my new friends.
Have we met before?
Do you suffer from the condition Expatria Déjà Vu?
It's a little known condition that affects millions of people each year.
Sadly, as yet, there's no cure.
Patients with Expatria Déjà Vu generally have to manage their own symptoms through rest, silence and keeping up fluids. Unlike other conditions in the Expatria family, the consumption of a small amount of alcohol reduces some symptoms, but you are still advised not to operate machinery.
'Holidays at Home' (50mg tablets) is currently one of two products on the market designed to help people recuperate temporarily. You are advised, however, to use 'Holidays at Home' with caution as this medication is also known to increase the severity of symptoms of Expatria Déjà Vu.
What is included in this information?
1. What 'Holidays at Home' is used for
Holidays at Home contains the active substance, 'repetitious conversation'. Holidays at Home is one of a group of Expatria medicines called, Hell for Expats in Leisure Periods - Mental Exhaustion (HELP-MEs); these medicines are used to treat Repetitive Conversation disorders.
'Holidays at Home' can be used to treat:
Expatria Déjà Vu is a circumstancial condition with symptoms like:
Your family has decided that this medicine is suitable for treating your condition. You should however, consult your doctor (expat friends) if you are unsure why you are taking 'Holidays at Home'.
If you are concerned about whether you have the condition, the image below shows you what Expatria Déjà Vu looks like under the microscope.
2. What you need to know before you take 'Holidays at Home'
DO NOT TAKE 'Holidays at Home':
TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR (expat friends) if you are taking the following medicines:
3. How to take 'Holidays at Home'
Always take this medicine exactly as prescribed.
The recommended dose for adults is One Week Staying in a Nearby Hotel with your Own Leisure Activities Every Second Day. If Expatria Déjà Vu symptoms do not ease after 1 week, dosage can be increased to Create a Mailing List to Regularly Update Your People. This will help ease the repetitive questions in time.
4. Possible side effects
Like all medicines, 'Holidays at Home' can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them.
When treating Expatria Déjà Vu, the most common side effect of 'Holidays at Home' is Minor Frustration which often dissipates with sleep, a small amount of alcohol and continued treatment.
Talk to yourself and moderate your behaviour immediately if you experience any of the following:
COMMON (may affect 1 in 10 people)
UNCOMMON (may affect 1 in 100 people)
RARE (may affect 1 in 1000 people)
5. How to store 'Holidays at Home'
Do not use this medicine after the expiry date.
Store in ambiant conditions with:
If symptoms persist, consult your doctor (expat friends).
It felt reminiscent of the Facebook Martyrs who post 'Oh, some people!" as an invitation for support from their 'friends'. They then wait for the sychopantic dopamine hit that comes with the replies.
But on this day it felt right. It was right.
I wrote it in 20 mins - far shorter than the usual 2 hours I allow.
Essentially, I just closed my eyes and wrote from my heart. My thoughts seemed to flow in a way that hadn't been present before.
I was being authentic. I was being real. I wasn't hiding.
I was honoring him and digging deep. In visiting that place that hurts, I'd also opened up the vessel to healing.
Navigating Hurting and Healing
When we run away from the difficult stuff, we can never run fast enough.
Actually, I think it's a way better athlete than us. It's exceptionally good at running - always a few paces ahead, ready to anticipate our thoughts and block us from smashing through the ribbon on the finish line.
Writing my blog that day gave me rest.
It's why I draw the illustrations I do. They too give me rest from those pesky shapeshifters.
Why We Need to Create Emotional Rest?
Loss is loss is loss is loss is loss is loss is loss is loss is loss...... (Get the picture?)
Whether your sense of loss comes from a death, a serious injury in which you need time off work, or as a rotational expat saying goodbye to friends every two years, it has an impact.
Furthermore, the trauma stays in the body until it is dealt with.
Even before we have words, trauma leaves its imprint on our physical body. It lies there, not particularly dormant until it is processed - and can lead to complex illness and health problems. For example, we know Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) causes visible changes to the brain, demonstrated too by Ariana Grande after the terrorist attack on her Manchester concert.
10 Ways To Help Navigate the 'Difficult Stuff'
Firstly, let me say, I am no doctor. I am not trained in mental health, nor am I trauma specialist. I am also NOT offering these 10 tips as medical advice or in anyway suggesting that they replace seeking proper medical help.
This list is purely based on my own experience and the things that have helped me in the past.
Unfortunately, I’m deadly serious.
That’s not something you want to discover about yourself.
Racists are those people that I Ioathe. The ‘less than’ people I see on the news being arrested for hate crimes. The people I disassociate myself from because….
I have friends with different coloured skin.
You need to know that as I write this, that my whole body is creasing up in discomfort. It’s the pain of realising that I’m no different to the ‘less thans’ and I’m trying to not feel ashamed.
I want to run. Badly.
Every cell in my body is fighting this admission. I hate it.
And now I’m crying. I feel like I’ve hurt my dear friends who have different coloured skin to me and I hate that even more. They don’t even know that I’m racist… but I feel like crap for actually being secretly pleased that I’ve been able to hide.
F*** This. Is. Hard.
For ease of access to the church, we stayed in Harlem.
And then it began. Five days of realising I’m racist.
So how does that happen?
His words were, “with all due respect, please do not compare your sexuality with one’s race. It is two totally different things.” I was affronted at his assumption that I was like ‘the others’.
I got it. Really I did! I didn’t.
I’ll just reframe my point because he’s just misunderstood me. He hadn’t.
De-Dee Loft Davis is a racial equity consultant I follow on Linkedin. She’s great. About 2 months before New York I’d commented on a post of hers (how WOKE of me eh?) to show support that I understood the micro-aggressions Black people experience, because I get them too as a gay person.
It started a conversation between me and another racial equity consultant - a guy who continued to say, For me, most can hide their sexuality. I cannot hide my Blackness. It is what you see. I understand what you are trying to say by, “Sit in my shoes,” but I really don’t like when people try and compare the two. Both identities should be able to stand on their own.
I still didn’t like it. I really wanted him to understand my position. He wasn’t listening. (I know…..) He didn’t understand my gayness. I continued my argument, reframing and adding more points from my angle. This would make him understand (Don’t say it. I know…).
Suddenly I stopped.
I don’t know why, but I remembered something that Catrice M Jackson had said in her book ‘Antagonist, Advocates and Allies: The Wake Up Call Guide for White Women Who Want to Become Allies with Black Women’. See I knew I wasn’t racist; I was reading the right books.
Essentially one of Catrice’s messages is simply to shut up and listen.
LISTEN to Black voices.
LISTEN to their experiences.
LISTEN to what they are telling you.
So I listened and then I apologised to him. I did come to understand his point.
However, I still managed to tell myself that this was a one off experiences of me misunderstanding.
There’s that blindness of privilege again eh?
My naivety hit me hard. I smiled at people. Nobody gave a crap.
In fact it felt the opposite. It felt hostile.
And there were two hostilities, but I realised that they were both inside of me.
The first? I was desperately uncomfortable and trying to not look privileged. I couldn’t hide it. I’m a white woman walking down a street called Malcolm X Boulevard. That’s enough.
And second, (now I’m really trusting you with this), it became apparent to me how different my body felt when I walked past Black men. It hesitated and it felt anxious.
I tried to tell myself that it was because I’m a woman and we’re good at keeping ourselves safe in public, but deep down I knew I wouldn’t have felt it so acutely if they were White men.
I was ashamed and felt awful. I even found myself blaming them for making me feel this way. Nothing like a bit of projection eh? But I did want to understand why my body spoke to me this way.
I’m still wrestling with the why, but what I can offer for now is:
YOU'RE JUDGED FOR BEING WHITE
I was completely ignored as I walked around Harlem. No one smiled at me. No one said anything to me. No one made eye contact of any description. But if you’re White and thinking that’s normal for any city street, watch what happens when you’re next out and about where you live. You receive subtle acknowledgements all the time. A sorry when someone squeezes past you, a quick stare if you’ve got a slogan on your shirt, people stay on the footpath when you walk towards them or they might give you a smile.
I got nothing. Like A.B.S.O.L.U.T.E.L.Y nothing.
In shops, the cashier talked to me as in, ‘that’ll be $5.99 thanks’, but if I said anything else it was completely ignored.
I felt like I wasn’t welcome. I wasn’t.
And why should I be? Centuries of slavery, discrimination and aggressions towards Black people and I think I can be welcomed as I venture into their safe spaces? Their communities? The reality was starting to hit me.
The reality hit even harder when I walked down the street with my wife dressed in her clericals. Her Bishop’s collar received welcomed smiles, greetings, Hello Padre - yes, padre! :-) In the laundromat where we'd been met with disdain in the morning, we were now offered a staff machine and all the help we needed.
Previously, being White was enough to be judged. I hated what my skin represented. I wanted them to know I was different to ‘other white people’, but it didn’t matter. It was irrelevant. I was now experiencing what it was like to be judged for the colour of my skin.
It’s shit by the way.
Having struggled enormously when my wife became a priest (suffice to say, I didn’t like religion much), the irony of her giving me warm passage through the streets of Harlem was not lost on me.
You see, one less barrier existed. One less potential agitation removed. The collar bridged our differences and mutual fears.
I found myself wanting to leave Harlem, because I felt uncomfortable. I wanted to go back to blending. And then it hit me again. Blending is not an option for Black people. Unless they’re in Harlem. And then there’s this stupid White woman walking down the street…..
That’s gonna piss anyone off.
And you know the really awful thing? When I was in Harlem, I wished I had black skin, so I could blend and then I thought about what that really meant outside of Harlem and I didn’t want it.
Not because I think being Black is in anyway ‘less than’, but because I wanted to be accepted and not judged.
This wasn’t a TV cop show or a social media post that you can distance yourself from.
The reality of their faces said everything.
I was now starting to truly listen. Minute snippets of truth slowly sinking into my tiny brain.
A couple of days later, Atatiana Jefferson was shot in her own home through her bedroom window by a Fort Worth police officer responding to a report that her front door was open. Moments before, she had been playing video games with her nephew, heard a noise and went to the window.
She’s now dead.
Black people are subject to deadly force even when they stay home.
I have never worried for my life when the police come to my home or they've pulled me over in my vehicle. Privilege.
RELIEF AND GUILT
It became time to move to another hotel Downtown. Synod was over.
I was relieved to be leaving the tension of Harlem.
This relief was also distinctly uncomfortable, because I knew that I could simply walk away from the discomfort I’d felt. It was an easy option for me. I could return to privilege without any effort and if I wanted to, forget about my experience ‘north of Central Park’. I could slip back into the melting pot of New York’s diversity and everything would all be okay again.
But it’s not.
What is not okay is not doing anything about it.
A switch has been turned on and I can’t turn it off.
I don’t want to.
The challenge for me personally is to work out what I’m going to do about it.
It starts with this blog.
In reading Catrice Jackson’s book, I had hoped to be classified as an ‘Advocate’ with the aim of moving to ‘Ally’.
However, my well intentioned, but misguided comment on Linkedin puts me in the Antagonist camp. I am not proud of this. But I’m also not afraid of difficult conversations.
So for me, it’s back to Catrice’s book to learn how to move forward into ‘Advocate’ and ‘Ally’. It’s too important not to.
Who’s with me?
It's going to take more than one coffee to work through this one.
They reply: Fantastic Thank you. I can't wait! Me neither, I'm so pleased to be here.
Sound familiar? Expatriate postings are like those extreme sport team-building days. There's tension in the air, but you're not quite sure if the adrenalin is exciting or terrifying.
My good friend Sundae Bean, says that as globally mobile people, we live 'Olympic Level Lives'. Believe me, she knows her stuff. She's an intercultural strategist and solution-oriented coach who also lives this life.
She right. This life kind of takes you apart, then puts you all back together again, many times over. And that's now in 2020 when we are at a all time high for ease of instant communication. What about 10 years ago? 20 years ago? Or even more than 50 years ago?
It's almost unfathomable to me. Imagine setting off in the 1920s unsure of where you'd end up and when - or if - you'd ever see your family again.
So what's it been like through the Years?
There's nothing better than words from the people themselves. For this, I have turned to my trusty resource, 'The Source Book', which I bought from the Expatriate Archive Centre in The Hague in 2018. This wonderful centre describes itself as a home for expat life stories.
So with my copy of The Source Book at hand, let me introduce you to our community of life-builders, the heroes, the brave, the determined, the emotionally resilient, the fiesty, the inventive, the survivors, the thrivers, the problem solvers and the inordinately adaptive people we call expats.
As you read on, I invite you to think about the skills developed, the lessons learned and the life review that these remarkable experiences trigger.
Take a moment too to reflect on each 'PAUSE FOR THOUGHT'.
On our arrival at the Lutong wharf we were met by the company men, Chinese coolies[sic], with four wheeled trolleys. Sitting back to back we were pushed through the jungle along a rentus (track) for two miles... our luggage on a following trolley, and so we arrived at the bungalow that was to be our home for six years.
- JG about EM, Malaysia, 1926
[The Source Book, page 035, EAC Ref 0500/479]
PAUSE FOR THOUGHT:
How would a long journey like this help alleviate arrival culture shock and subsequent transition?
Husband in Prison
My husband was one of the many rounded up and put in Seria Police station. The rebels took possession of all the cars. One night...some of the hostages were taken in a truck to part of the road near Panaga Police station. They were lined across it and used as a shield and were caught in the crossfire between Police and the Rebels. One man was killed and several others were badly injured. Lachie had been a POW for five years during the war and there was no way he was going to be locked up again. He escaped across a bit of jungle.
- EM, Seria, Brunei, 1960s
[The Source Book, page 75, EAC Ref oacl/33/4/1]
As the gun began to drop slightly lower and away from his face, I realised he was looking as frightened and unsure as I felt. Throwing caution to the winds, I asked him in what Province he had been at school... The gun lowered, he relaxed and we leafed together through one of the standard English texts in use in most primary schools. He had wanted to continue his education, but the army provided a surer living....
He finally confessed that what he had come for was to ask me to provide...some space for use as a polling station. Together, we toured the compound and decided that one classroom nearest the entrance would be quite sufficient.... As we parted he almost shoook my hand - but his gun got in the way.
- AR, Nigeria, 1960
[The Source Book, page 119-120, EAC Ref 0401/54]
PAUSE FOR THOUGHT:
Have you and/or your spouse worked out what are your non-negotiables? What scenarios have to happen for you to leave the country? Natural disasters? Civil unrest? Threat and experience of violence? The currency become vastly inflated?
Tanker Hit by a Missile
I was taken to the Graille Hospital in Saigon and eventually operated on to take the shrapnel, glass shards and burnt wire strands from my many wounds I had to my side, shoulders, head and neck, and then was stitched up well vaccinated with a syringe the size of a stirrup pump.
The French surgeon wore shorts, a flowery shirt and flip-flops on this feet, with a Gauloise cigarette haning from the lips, 'picture the scene'.... and asked Carol to come and watch while he operated, no anaesthetic, of course.... just like out of war movie, only this was for real.
- CM, Vietnam, 1972
[The Source Book, page 98, EAC Ref 0905/763]
PAUSE FOR THOUGHT:
What has using local medical services made you grateful for?
How do you actively apply that gratitude in your life?
First Week in Bangkok
In our first week I was browsing through an antique shop and asked the owner to recommend a good rug dealer. He stared blankly, so I squatted to show him the floor. "Ah Toilet!" he said delightedly and ushered me to the back of the shop.
- CC, Bangkok, Thailand 1984
[The Source Book, page 41, EAC Ref 0600/166]
Women may not drive, cycle or employ female domestic help. Some feel they are living in 'gilded cages'.... Homesickness can be a real problem especially as extended family members may not visit and living in such a restrictive atmosphere can lead to paranoia and depression in various degrees.
Officially we're not allowed to gather in groups and certainly not mixed (male and female). We are extremely fortunate however, in having a great GM's wife who pointed out that we all have talents which we should use...I have just set up a small mixed choir (no previous experience in conducting!) and we plan to have a house concert very soon: prohibited of course and we have to leave out potentially provocative words.
- PH, Saudi, 1984
[The Source Book, page 57, EAC Ref 0007/732]
PAUSE FOR THOUGHT:
In what ways can you 'get creative' and use your talents to create great connections and purpose in your life?
When our seafreight arrived in Nigeria, we were informed that the agent had been thrown into prison because customs had found consignment of military uniforms in our possession. What?! In fact my husband had an old pair of camouflage trousers he used to wear when photographing in the Gabonese jungle.... He was summonsed before the General at the military base to apologise. [Shell paid a large sum and the agent was freed]
... A similar thing happened to friends of ours a couple of years later. They were accused of importing 'espionage equipment'. This was in fact a small canoe acquired for their children.
- KM, Nigeria, 1997
[The Source Book, page 70, EAC Ref oac5/1/1/12]
A Guide to Etiquette in Delhi
The plumber - sadly everything leaks but he will persist in his repairs and come immediately. Sadly he fails to understand why we want the luxury of water out of both taps.
- SP, India, 1995
PAUSE FOR THOUGHT:
The best cultural interactions occur when both parties feel 'met'. How do you deal with challenges within another culture? Do you only see it your way, or are you able to stop and meet them in the middle? If your way is not working, perhaps try another option and open yourself to their cultural approach. What have you got to lose?
Relocating with Special Needs Children
When a family of a child with special needs learns of a possible international relocation, the rug literally is pulled out from under them. Even when research and treatment may be more advanced in the new country, parents need to learn an entirely different system, understahd the cultural context of special needs, and rethink best practice when considerable time, energy, thought and effort already have gone into the project. There may be insurance issues to be explored or mastered.
- LP, London, UK, 2004
[The Source Book, page 103, EAC Ref 0100/4/3/2]
I don't know anyone who sent their children to boarding school because they wanted to.
- AM, Den Haag, 2005
[The Source Book, page 123, EAC Ref oac5/6/2/22]
My husband never drank alcohol until we went to Nigeria.
- KM, The Hague, Netherlands, 2006
[The Source Book, page 101, EAC Ref oac5/6/5/7]
PAUSE FOR THOUGHT:
How we behave off the situations that present themselves to us can dramatically influence our mental and physcial health This includes what we're like to live with and work with too. How can you transform your choices that you choose through gritted teeth into ones taht you welcome openly, warmly and with purpose?
I hope that you can grace me a minute to remind you of the words I used at the beginning to describe expats:
Life-builders, the heroes, the brave, the determined, the emotionally resilient, the fiesty, the inventive, the survivors, the thrivers, the problem solvers and inordinately adaptive.
I don't see how we can see them as anything else. Do you?
They've worn their shoes well.
So well, they might need to retire them, but that's another blog for another day.
"No matter what the situation, remind yourself, I have a choice"
- Deepak Chopra
All the diners had arranged themselves roughly in the centre of the restaurant, except for one table.
Sitting in the furthest corner away from any other diners and under a loud TV was a family; two parents and their adult child who had an intellectual disability. They were distinctly separate; removed from other diners.
Now, humans are fairly predictable. We follow well-worn paths. We clump together. We struggle to be random, even when we try to be. For example, you can tell if someone has fudged their expenses because they will often include numbers ending in a zero or a five.* Yes really. Don't get any ideas! (*Is this where I enter my disclaimer?)
I admit that there may be a myriad of reasons why this family were separate (other diners had since left or they liked the TV? etc), but I couldn't help but wonder if they'd removed themselves because of their son?
And the minute I write that I want to correct it.
Not because of their son, but due to a fear of how people might react to them.
We naturally want to protect ourselves. Who wouldn't?
I know too as a gay woman, how much my own public behaviours are modified to remove any chance of being hassled, stared at or jeered. You self-select your protection measures.
Insight 1: DISCRIMINATION can create ISOLATION on route to PROTECTION
So you don't say anything, but you feel guilty. You feel guilty because what does it mean if I don't say anything? Does it matter? Well, yeah, because it's like I'm hiding. Does that mean I'm uncomfortable by my family's difference? No. I'm just scared about how I will be treated. I want to be open, but if I'm completely honest, I worry that..... And so the thought cycle goes round and round. It's exhausting.
I have a friend who works internationally in the developing world and travels a lot for work. Picture rural areas, broken pavements, pot holes, footpaths covered by market stalls, animals lying in your path, stairs not lifts etc. She clearly impressed them in her interview as she got the job. The first they knew of her wheelchair was when she entered the interview room.
Now, imagine that. Really imagine that.
Think of the emotional energy that goes into removing the chance for discrimination.
The excitement you feel at getting an interview takes a hit when you imagine the potential discrimination and previous experiences of 'not suitable for the job'. You try to work out how much it matters to you; whether or not you want to ask for the disability assistance that's available for the interview. NO, let's remove all chance of discrimination and just turn up. This protects you emotionally whilst holding the uncertainty of how it will be received. That's all before you even get to the interview.
That's a lot of emotional energy that could be redirected into more positive things.
Insight 2: INCLUSION removes wasted energy and creates a sense of BELONGING.
I'm not sure that people who are resistant to diversity realise that inclusion is going on all around them. They just don't see it.
And in many way they're not meant to. It's not for them.
It's a bit like a hidden code - only seen by those who can read it.
For example, my wife wears a sunflower lanyard when we go through airports. It shows staff that she has a hidden disability and might need assistance. A Rainbow flag sticker on a cafe door shows me it's a safe space. A Rainbow badge worn by the nurse and doctor in the UK's National Health Service tells me I'm seen.
These visual cues are so important. We all know to be careful walking near someone with a white cane. It is no effort for us, but makes the world of difference to that individual.
BUT, we still need to listen and not assume that we understand the code. We all speak different emotional and observational languages..... and if we go back to those *fudged expenses (*ahem...insert another disclaimer here), we need to remember that we struggle to be random. Based on our own set of cultural and social reference points, we tend to assume that our own observations of an individual's behaviour equals that person's intentions. Mostly, it doesn't.
I suspect that we've all stomped along that well-worn path of human predicatibility at some point in our lives.
Insight 3: ASK FIRST - Always! and FOLLOW THEIR CUE
The woman approaches. I now see she has britle bone disease. I'm hoping she goes straight past us and doesn't see us. But of course no, she pulls up, right next to us to also cross the road. The five of us in a row, waiting like peas in a pod - sandwiched together between two traffic light poles.
Angie and I stare straight ahead, trying to act as though wheeling a rubber man around in a wheelchair is normal. Mind you, he's quite life-like so people often don't realise that he's not real.
And then I see her.
I see her slowly turn her head to look at Ichabod. The look of surprise is palpable.
She opens her mouth to speak.
I wait, worried.
And then in a broad Glaswegian accent she says Aye, and there I was thinking I was the special one! before laughing uproarously.
I'm fairly sure I then embarrassed myself by chatting to her waaay too enthusiastically. My relief burbling out with freaky friendliness.
It is also safe to say that I didn't 'style it out' particulary convincingly.
But I didn't care. She showed me how to 'style it out' like a pro.
Thank you Glaswegian woman. You taught me well that day.
A bag of oranges here. A packet of dates there. A box of biscuits.
Different food groups, but all the same within their collective packet.
It's the reason that supermarkets, haven't offered (until recently) imperfect fruit and vegetables. We like symmetry and we like to lump together.
We like to lump together when it comes to people too.
We do it with nationalities. We do it with gender. We do it with religion. We do it with..... well, everything.
It's easy isn't?
But have you noticed that we only do it when our words have derogatory intent?
When was the last time you heard someone say,
Oh that's so typical of women to be amazing at juggling family life and work?
Typical men, they're so good at raising their kids.
We lump together and generalise when we want to slag off or have our misguided judgements confirmed.
Oh yeah, but that's not always the case I hear you say.
I wouldn't say that because some guys aren't great at raising their kids.
You're right, They're not, but I challenge you.
Do you afford the same positive variations and distinctions when generalising in a derogatory way? Do you say, Ah, typical men! or do you pause and say, that's so typical of a certain type of man?
Generalising Isolates and Incites Hate
I've seen it. It's not pretty. In fact it's horrid.
Social media is not kind. Faceless 'warriors' influencing and creating fear against certain people. Massive generalisations.
Transphobia. Xenaphobia. Islamaphobia...to name a few.
Inclusion and Being a Friendly Face is Not Hard
It's not till you see someone else's every day, that you realise the reality of why we need to reach out.
On one of my last trips to the USA I was standing in a slow security queue at an airport. People were starting to get irritated at the delay. The security team were being extra thorough on one person. A muslim woman and her 3 year old child.
People smiled as he played behind her, leaping onto anything he could climb, but at the front of the queue you could have cut the air with a knife. The security guys were doing their best to be polite, but there was a massive elephant in the room, stomping down the conveyor belt.
I swear I heard it blow its trumpet, at least twice. Once when they insisted on putting the woman's bags through the scanner for a third time and again when they offered to repack her now completely jumbled bags. She fought back tears as she grabbed her bags; all her belongings falling out. No, I'm okay. I'll pack them myself, she said, clearly desperate to get away from the public spectacle.
It was awful to watch. We all knew why she'd been stopped, but no one said those words.... Muslim woman.
A few minutes later I was in the toilets and realised she was there too.
By now she was crying too. She leant forward to hug me. There we stood in the bathroom, two strangers in tears, hugging each other.
And the incredible thing...?
I spoke to her to give her comfort, but in reality she gave me comfort. That experience of 'other' was new to me. THAT reality check of someone else's life.
How is it that we've got to the point where the victim is the one who reassures the privileged? And because they are so used to being treated as 'the other', it's become their normal.
That frightens me.
I do not want to live in that world.
But as Sundae Schneider-Bean, LLC advocates:
Love the crap out of your people! "
Keep them at the forefront of your lives. Look after them in the way that maintaining the steel girders of a bridge keep its users safe.
Maintain your steel girders too. You are the user of your own bridge.
Don’t let distance stop the connection. There are always ways to keep your friendships nourishing, meaningful and as close as they’ve always been.
I feel safe. I feel secure and I feel full.
Find your steel girders.
Love the crap out of them and your bridge will stand against the fiercest of storms.
It might become a little cracked and dented in places, but these marks bear witness to a remarkable story of how the bridge survived the Force 11 storm of....
[insert your month/year].
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 remember as a child thinking I was terribly clever asking whether Brazil nuts were just known as 'nuts' in Brazil.
Or asking what's 'Déjà vu' in French?'
We all did that right? As a kid? Silly games and playing with words as we began to learn about how to use them.
Back to the Brazil nuts though....
Apparently, they are not actually a nut (rather, a seed) and it turns out Bolivia harvests more of them than Brazil. And it's not just Brazil; they grow in other parts of South America too.
But it got me thinking about labels.
What narrative do you tell yourself about who you are?
How do others describe you? Do you like the words people use?
In many ways it could be argued that we need labels to help us to function as a society. On a civil level, it protects our rights and entitlements to services (health, housing, social benefits etc) and also allows us to prove who we are.
But what about the labels that aren't for government purposes? The ones which the newspaper touts as a headline like:
MIGRANTS take ALL new jobs in Britain (The Daily Express)
the Mail Online:
How they make YOUR lunchtime sarnie: Migrant workers use their BARE HANDS to churn out three millions sandwiches a week... I refuse to link to the Mail Online, so here's the Huffington Post article that discusses it.
These are fairly extreme examples, but they are real headlines from British papers. They incite hatred and provide a slow drip feed of hate and fear that isolates and demonises different sets of people.
And I hear you saying, "but that's the Daily Express and the Daily Mail. They're known for writing like that."
Yes they are, but those headlines filter down to local communities and become the accepted facts. Too often no one checks to find out if the headlines are actually correct or what their motives might be.
I thought to myself, 'but I'm not dark-skinned or Eastern European or any other 'otherness' that's deemed 'foreign' am I? I really wanted to say that out loud, but I let it slide as it was a new job and I was worried about being seen to cause problems. I've regretted it ever since.
Yes I am a migrant in the UK, but when does that descriptor become a label?
It comes when it's used negatively against you. A while back a friend asked me what words I'd use to identify myself. I surprised myself by instantly saying, 'red-headed Australian'. I wondered why and realised that at home in Australia this was a given. It didn't need to be expressed.
My experience in the UK has been quite different. I am the one that is 'not from here', and referred to as the 'foreigner', 'the 'convict', the 'red-head', the 'ginger', 'ginga' or the 'colonial'. I've been in business meetings where people have talked about 'drowning gingers at birth'. I've had people say, 'another bloody arrogrant Australian' when I've politely answered a question. Another told me that 'all Australians are arseholes' whilst someone else even looked at my ankle and asked 'where is the ball and chain?'.
It certainly doesn't make you feel welcome. I must point out at this stage that I have met many lovely people too and live in a wonderful community. The more negative comments are definitely not the majority, but they are said with enough regularity to have an impact.
For them it's a throw away line.
For me, it's my every week, sometimes my every day.
So you decide to try to fit in more to make yourself less noticeable, not as open to the passive aggressive 'jokes'. But you're unaware that you have every chance of losing yourself. Without really realising, you slowly chip away at the fundamental descriptors that make you who you are. I ended up not sure who I was anymore and where I belonged.
However, last week I heard the most wonderful talk by Dalia Elmelige, on Radio 4's Four Thought. Her story of being a Muslim in America after 9/11 was fascinating especially her comments about being split between 2 cultures - Too Muslim for America, but not Muslim enough at home.
WHY DO LABELS EVEN MATTER?
They matter for two reasons.
And to end....
Here is to more conversations.
WHAT ARE YOUR MOST PRECIOUS OBJECTS?
It's the house-on-fire question isn't it?
'What would you grab if you only had a few minutes to get out of your house?
There's the obvious ones like family photos and your beloved pets. I'm also likely to grab practical things like my computer drive, passports, credit cards, clothes etc. They are all the obvious items that I think we'd all choose if we had to make a quick decision.
But what about the other objects around your home?
I'm talking about the ones that tell a more detailed and multilayered story of your life - their meanings not fully tangible to other people, but are imbued with a rich personal depth that reveal the story of your life.
For me that meaning comes with a personal experience.
The object triggers so much more than what appears on the surface.
There's also certainly something wonderful about finding an object in the ground and piecing together its story.
EXPERIENCES THAT SHAPE YOU
From an early age my parents took us travelling. Where possible, time wise and financially, we spent holidays camping in the outback, learning to 4WD, learning to like our own company, learning to appreciate and respect the ancient Aboriginal culture that forms the foundation of Australia. And when more money and more time permitted, we backpacked overseas. I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to grow up learning about the world through the eyes of the people we met on our travels.
But these experiences were not always ones I’d like to repeat. In India our train was held up for several hours by bandits in the middle of the night, other passengers telling us to hide as we would be easy targets.
In Egypt I remember our taxi being stopped by the police. As foreigners we were viewed as potential drug traffickers. The doors were forced open and the police started to pull the panelling off the doors as they searched for narcotics. As a 10 year old sitting in the back seat, I started to giggle – mainly through fear, but very quickly stopped when mum’s face showed me the seriousness of the situation. On not finding any drugs our taxi was allowed to continue.
There’s something about taxis actually; they seem to feature quite heavily in my experiences of other countries. It was 2am and we’d just settled back into the taxi after stopping for tea. We were travelling to Kipling Camp in northern India, where we were hoping to see tigers.
The thick jungle-like vegetation made for a fairly monotonous journey that was, until a man walked out into the middle of the road. Our driver slowed down and rather than waiting for the window to be wound down, the man opened the front passenger door.
Something wasn’t right.
Our driver’s face told us all we needed to know.
He was scared.
Dad managed to pull the door shut again and quickly reached around to us in the back and told us to lock the doors. The driver was frozen with fear, but managed to move off again with Dad repeatedly telling him to drive, getting slightly more frantic each time he didn’t move.
As we drove off and looked behind us, we saw about another 10 men walk into the middle of the road from the bushes all carrying machetes.
Who knows what might have happened, but I don’t think they were expecting foreigners. The split second look of shock of the man’s face when he opened the door was enough of a delay to save us.
LISTEN TO OTHERS with KINDNESS AND ACTION
It is these situations that have made me look at the world differently. It’s opened my eyes to the fact that everyone has a story and everyone’s story is their own. We are all human. Our diversity is what makes us unique, but it’s also what makes a whole.
In 2005 I spoke to a man in Syria, who said:
How do you reply to that kind of comment?
How do you answer the woman also in Syria, who during the Iraq war walks straight up to you out of the blue and asks, ‘do you like Iraqi people?’
...or the woman in Vietnam that says ‘we are sick of people coming to look at us after the war’.
How do you cope with the racist attitude of a couple in the northern territory who are happy to give the man next to us a lift down the road, until they realise he’s Aboriginal?
You respond in the way you know how...
For me it’s about sharing people’s stories, whether it’s a man on the other side of the world or the local artist who crafts items from driftwood she finds on the beach.
People’s stories like this are replicated all over the world. Our social history gives us a place and a soul; otherwise what else are we other than just creatures with no connection to each other?
Our stories need to be shared, witnessed and honoured.
We make communities this way and as we start to understand each other's lives, we can support one another through the tougher times.
A FEW OF MY OBJECTS
On my window ledge, there's a polystyrene figure that I carved when I was going through a tough time. It reminds me of my strength and the growth that comes from these challenges. I have dried Eucalyptus and Wattle leaves which remind me of home in Australia. Then there's the cute soft toy duck I bought when I travelled overseas on my own for the first time. I just liked it at the time, but now it feels like one of my first acts of adulthood and of branching out on my own.
So, which are your favourite objects?
Which ones tell the tale of your life?
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.
The next day I found myself driving to the site with an old Aboriginal man as my passenger. I wondered what on earth I was going to talk to him about as we were worlds apart. There I was, a young non-indigenous woman from the city, him, an old Aboriginal man from the country. We drove in silence. I wasn’t frightened by the silence, but it made me think about other times I’d been ‘out bush’ with my family on 4WD holidays.
I started to talk about my love of the bush and camping in the middle of nowhere. We passed a dead roo by the side of the road, the smell hitting our nostrils, making me screw up my face and smile. I made a comment about the dangers of roos by the road at sunset, when he began to recount an amazing story about having to drive along a country road at night without working headlights. The lights had died on route and the only way he could see well to drive was to stick closely behind the well-lit road-trains (large trucks) which frequent country Australia. But, this didn’t work for long. The road-train must have hit a kangaroo, because suddenly a dead kangaroo came flying out from under the truck and landed on his car! We talked about kangaroos, camping trips, camp fires, watching the sun go down over the desert, and about his life as a feral goat catcher.
Arriving at the art site, I got on with work and he sat in the shade. We occasionally acknowledged each other throughout the day and again shared silence over lunch. At the end of the day I put out my hand to shake his and said, ‘thank you’.
He took my hand, said nothing, and shook it in the usual manner, but as I went to release my grip, he wouldn’t let go. He continued to hold my hand firmly for what felt like ages, placing his other hand on top of our hands. Finally he looked up and smiled at me. ‘Thanks love’. Two simple words, but it was a special moment that confirmed we’d had a good day together.