I wasn’t going to be writing a post about expat women today. In celebration of International Women’s Day, I was going to write a post all about my favourite women bloggers and maybe throw in my favourite podcasters too. Who knows, if I have time later, maybe I’ll still write it.
Three or four things have happened in the last 24 hours that totally changed what I wanted to write about.
To start it all off, I’ve been in a bit of a funk for the past week or so. Nothing awful or serious. It hasn’t been triggered by anything. I just found myself in that funny space where I was paralysed by some unknown force and stopped writing, stopped doing anything, really. I slacked off the volunteering stuff that really needs doing. Work on the blog almost came to a standstill which is rare for me since it’s my baby. I mean I was working, but nothing was really happening. One of the questions we are asked a lot in one of the blogging groups I’m part of is: “What is the one thing you can do today to move your blog forward?”. And I just didn’t know. Somehow, in the last day or so I have pulled my proverbial finger out and I’m finding my mojo again.
Then, yesterday, I received a lovely message from an expat wife in the UK. She’d read my post about expat women and it clearly resonated with her. She sounded lonely and frustrated. I was instantly triggered into those periods I’ve had in my life before. When I’ve felt exactly like she does now. And my heart went out to her. I replied immediately. I knew I couldn’t say much to help but wanted her to know I understood and that I had heard her. Expat women stick together.
Yesterday and today I caught up with a couple of friends here who I haven’t seen to talk to for a little while. Life gets in the way here just as it does at home and, even though one chat was a 10 minutes long (at best), it made me feel completely reconnected to them. It really doesn’t take much.
Finally… Last night I had an hour long chat with Granny Wanderlust. You may or may not have realised this but she was actually the first expat woman I ever knew. She and my dad took me to Boston when I was 3 months old.
It was lovely to talk to her without the distractions of the Things monopolising the conversation. But most of all, it made me think about what expat life was like before the dawn of things like the internet and video calling.
And it made me think about the friends we make on this journey.
Expat friendships are like normal friendships only they tend to develop much more quickly. As a new mum in the UK I met most of my local friends at our music group. It took me a good 6 weeks to pluck up the courage to ask one of them to meet for coffee. Another one I probably knew to smile at for 2 or 3 months before we agreed on a playdate in the park.
When I arrived in Houston I had coffee in my first week with a girl who I’d met once before in my life. On arrival in Doha I was going to playdates at a new friend’s house within a day of meeting her. I asked a veteran Doha expat for her number after meeting her at a kids’ pasta making course. Another I met in the toilets of a mall with our Things in tow and ended up going to soft play and then all went out for lunch together.
Less than a year later I invited a complete stranger who I met in a Facebook group over for a cup of tea after she wrote a blog post about how hard it is being the new expat on the block.
As an inspiration, Granny Wanderlust is still in touch with her 2 besties from Boston 35 years after we lived there. Mr Wanderlust’s mum and sister (my bestie!) are both expat women on the other side of the world to us.
I’m not a big group of friends sort of person even though as an expat in a transient location you’re always told to have a wider group of friends. You don’t know when people might leave so it’s best to cushion the inevitable trauma.
There are a handful of ladies here who I see and text regularly. These women have seen me through tough Doha days. They’ve let me sit in their air-conditioned car when I got into an accident. They brought meals and had playdates when I left for a family emergency. I didn’t have to ask them to pick my kids up from school when I was too sick to drive (or when I’ve just underestimated the ridiculous traffic). They celebrated the launch of my blog with me and we’ve gone on crazy adventures together.
They’re the ones leaving you soda water and a lime on your windowsill because they know you had a bad day and need something to go with your vodka. Expat women are a force to be reckoned with.
So in order of mention: my first Doha Friend is still probably my closest friend here. If we don’t see each other for a few days we feel the need to check in and say hi. Doha Friend 2 is another bestie whose daughter ended up in the same class at school as Thing 1. Such is the nature of expat life here*.
Doha Friend 3 is now back in Australia messaging me regularly. I see Doha Friend 4 twice a week for blogging office days and probably text her every day in between. Her husband came up with the name for this blog.
There are yet more expat women who make up the rest of the rich tapestry of expat life. The friends we have all left behind in other expat locations remain friends for life. We might not have those intense relationships where we see each other daily, as we once did, but they are there with us all the way just as our childhood friends are.
The ones in the here and now borrow mustard and come back with a serving of the dish they needed to make it with. They brought you cookies or wine (or both) when you first arrived. Now they high five you as you loop round a 5k or buy you a water filter for your shower because they just happened to see one. It’s them that you pitch up with at 5am twice a week to workout together because it’s an awesome group to workout with (and an awesome trainer course). You turn to them to get a recommendation for a hairdresser, paediatric ENT or even a mammogram.
We’ve “recreated” the sense of community that you need because you’re so far away from home. And yet if I were at home, in London, I wouldn’t have any of this. I probably wouldn’t even know my neighbours’ names.
Different for everyone
I’m painfully aware that my expat experiences aren’t the same for everyone. 3 years ago I arrived in a country with something like 9 times the number of expats to locals. It isn’t the same as being the only white family on a mission in a remote African village. Not the same at all.
I know that, even in this country, we are super lucky to have a company sponsoring us and making our lives easier if it can. Not everyone has a community that rallies when it needs to and global colleagues meaning you rarely arrive in a new country without knowing anyone at all.
I’m hyper aware that not everyone can push themselves out of their comfort zones to meet new people. I know the statistics on expat mental health.
As always I know how lucky we are.
Celebrating expat women
So today I’m celebrating my expat tribe on International Women’s Day.
Y’all know who you are and I genuinely couldn’t be living this crazy, impossible, supremely rewarding life without you.
* Don’t make enemies – it WILL come back and bite you.