The other day I wrote a blog about being a trailing spouse and I was overwhelmed with response from people male and female, friends and strangers with whom the blog seemed to resonate. It got me thinking about why so many people chose to live away from home, often giving up careers in the process, if we find it so difficult. Why choose to move away from familial comforts and into a situation that can leave us feeling barren and berefit.
To some people travel is addictive, the thrill of arriving in a new country a drug; in Buenos Aires and Cape Town you walk outside the airport and the first thing that hits you is the crystalline white sunlight that paints everything in technicolor, alight in Mombasa and a blast of heat accosts you with a faded yellow sun that almost implores you to take a nap. These instantaneous impressions are the tip of a glorious iceberg of discovery and I love them with my whole heart. I love driving to a new house and seeing unfamiliar plants and animals. I love seeing different styles of dress. I love new food, I love that for at least a week after you arrive you feel like you are on holiday and can order cocktails for lunch. I even love moving house… packing it all into boxes and then ‘oh the joy!’ unpacking it all and deciding where it will go…its like Christmas again and again.
But my slightly perverse love of packing and alcoholic lunches isn’t why I’ve followed my husband. The truth is more boring than that; we had kids, he earned more money than me so I didn’t work, he now earns more money than even if we went back to England and both worked after the cost of living is taken into account. We live an expat life in part because of what his money gives us in this country; our house is nicer, our children go to private school, we can save money for the kids higher education. Am I selling my soul for financial success? It does sometimes seem like that as another grandparent day passes and I’m the token grandparent, or they ask again ‘what’s a cousin and do I have one’, Yes quite a few actually but you haven’t seen them for years.
However, the truth is I’m not motivated by money, I’m motivated by my families happiness. Is my husband happy? Yes, of course, he’s straddling the top of his corporate ladder and can beat his chest with pride as he masterfully provides for his large family. Are my kids happy? Yes, they have made new friends within a week of arriving, their after school activities include swimming in the pool every day and visiting elephants. They do miss their family but in an abstract kind of way; they’ve not known life WITH grandparents who live in the same country so it’s not something that they expect.
And am I happy? Well as the previous blog explored not entirely no, but then again yes because I do have a job and that job is being a mother, and right now I feel like I’m being the best mother I can be. Not having to work means I’m there for every pick up and drop off, I attend every concert and sports day, I volunteer for every PTA event or school trip. On the weekends I take my kids to show them things that they’d only see in picture books back home: Maasai villages, orphaned elephants, to feed a giraffe, hippos in a lake. The kids are culturally aware, they know that there are all types of people in life and that the best people are sometimes poor and the worst people are sometimes rich. They speak a few words of 4 different languages and will soon learn Swahili properly. They eat the food our Ayah cooks and love african food as much as fish n chips. Their lives are spent in the pool, or up trees in the garden, their faces are tanned, their legs are bruised from playing games… they are wild and free and absolutely everything I ever wanted my children to be.
And that sums it up really. This is the best life for us right now, we are the best version of our family that we can be. We can always want more, we could always be better, we can wallow in what could have been if we made different choices, but if being an expat teaches you anything it teaches you to take responsibility for the decisions you have made in life…. and to make the best of every moment.