All posts by Ayesha

Today We Celebrate! The Trailing Spouse Keeping the Family Together

Today we celebrate! All of us trailing spouse moms and dads, who have chosen to follow their spouse’s/partner’s careers over their own, who have sacrificed to keep their family living at one place.

Today is not about what we’ve missed out on but what we have tried to create. A home, a family, a sense of security for the ones we love and a sense of knowing that we will always be there for one another.

We don’t know what direction our families’ lives will take in the future but we all try to do our best to shape our tomorrows. We may or may not succeed but we have to give it the best we’ve got. We all make our choices and some of us choose to put family first because we believe that is the best thing for us. That it’s better for our kids if our family stays together, providing more time to spend together.

Thanks to the visitors from Freedom from Chemical Dependency (FCD) and, later, reiterated by the Director of our school, I now know that research has shown that one of the strongest factors “in protecting young people from getting into trouble with alcohol or other drugs are positive relationships with parents.” Again, according to research, if parents are uninvolved in their child’s life, it increases the likelihood of children becoming problem drinkers (http://www.fcd.org/content/resources/newsletters.asp).

There are varied norms in different countries and many different types of families all around the world. By and large, they are all very happy and successful. I am simply stating that involvement with kids is paramount to any society where people organize themselves in families, whatever the shape, size and nature of family it may be! Yes, parenting can be accomplished from a distance but many of us trailing spouses have chosen to keep our families close.

So when you are asked for the umpteenth time as to where do you work, what do you do all day, give a broad smile and answer “I work very hard at home!”

FCD Educational Services is a nonprofit substance abuse prevention organization http://www.fcd.org/content/index.asp

Friends Beyond Borders

It is hard to move from one city to another, even harder to move to a different country. One of the positive things about this though, is that you tend to make friends wherever you go. Of course, it’s painfully hard to leave them behind when you move again. However, it’s easier these days to keep in touch thanks to the internet.

A good place to make new friends, if you are a trailing spouse with kids, is at your children’s school(s). One of the things I love most about my kids’ School is that it is international; the students hail from all around the globe and back! There are 70+ nationalities (and increasing) represented in my children’s current school. Just walking around in this cosmopolitan environment is like getting a lesson in history, geography and culture.

When I was new in town and trying to get to know people, I made a point of introducing myself to other parents waiting around at pick-up time at school and at various school events. Now, many of my friends are moms and dads at my kids’ school. Of course, like their children, they too come from all over the world.

Today, I decided to sit down and list which countries my friends hail from. Here’s what I came up with (in alphabetical order, and not necessarily in the order of closeness, especially as Wales is at the bottom ;))

Where do your friends come from? How many ‘countries’ have you befriended? And, yes, play fair. I said friends, not acquaintances 🙂

Australia                                   Bangladesh                                    Belgium

Brazil                                        Bulgaria                                        Canada

China                                        Denmark                                       England

Ethiopia                                     Finland                                         Gambia

Germany                                    Greece                                         India

Italy                                          Japan                                           Kenya

Kyrgyzstan                                 Lebanon                                        Lithuania

Nepal                                        Netherlands                                    Pakistan

Philippines                                  Singapore                                      Somalia

South Africa                               Spain                                            Swaziland

Sweden                                      Switzerland                                   Thailand

USA                                           Wales

And as promised, here’s the link to some maps to print off and color in – feel free to take a photo of your to post to our Facebook page!

Printable World Map

Savour the Flavour – Attributes and Acquisitions from Around the Globe

I really do love my coffee.

I like it hot and strong and (equally important) the clean up later should not be too complicated. These are my simple rules and this is what I have collected so far in my quest to make a good cup of coffee:

  •   A Cafetiere/French Press (call it what you may) bought from the UK (not France :))
  •   A stovetop Moka Express coffee maker from Italy
  •   An Armenian/Turkish coffee pot (a gift from a friend)
  •   [The electrical filter coffee maker from the US broke, thanks to our packers in NYC :(]

This might make me seem a bit spoilt but it is just a quest for perfection, for the perfect cup of coffee. I have stopped short of buying one of the fancy programmable coffee brewing systems; I prefer things that are easy to transport.

These are some of my treasures that I will carry with me when I move. Sometimes, on one of those rare occasions when I have some time to myself, it’s nice to sit (with a good cup of coffee, of course) and think of what else I may have picked up, knowingly or unknowingly, from different parts of the world.

I am not referring only to those things that I can hold in my hand. Apart from the books, the photographs and the wall hangings, how many of our habits and points-of-view are acquired from the different corners of the globe?

There was a time, long before I ever stepped out of my country, and long before I had children, I met a family where the parents and children had accents differing from each other. I still recall how strange it had seemed to me then. Now, for us, it is the norm.

Living in Kenya, I seem to have picked up the polite habit of saying sorry to others when they get hurt, drop something or even bump into the wall! I am not apologizing for it being my fault but I am expressing my regret that they have been hurt or inconvenienced; I am sorry that they had to go through something unpleasant. It used to sound strange to me when I experienced it as a new comer. I dropped some boxes of tissues in a store, and the salesperson standing near me said ‘Sorry, sorry’. I spent some time explaining that he had nothing to do with it and it was all my fault! It was a long while, and several mistakes later, before I finally got it. And, now, I find myself doing the same thing, without even noticing it. Moreover, I have a feeling this practice will stay with me for a long time to come.

So what have you acquired from the various parts of the world that you have lived in? Where has your quest led you? Do you have the ultimate warm blanket? Or, like me, a jacket bought in NYC which is perfect for every weather? A particular colour or a style of cooking? A habit, some nuances? Do you go around saying ‘sorry’ when it not your fault? Do you kiss friends on one cheek or both or three times? (I still haven’t got the hang of that one and get it wrong EVERY time. Whenever I draw back after the first, I realize my friend is waiting for the second; when I go for the third, she’s already greeting someone else!)

If we don’t acquire anything or learn anything new during our various moves, then where’s the fun in that?

Packin’ Up? Some tips for surviving the chaos

How I wish I had put my camera in my handbag and not in some box during our last move. When we rode behind the truck with our belongings, our view was of one of the back doors of the truck open, showing one of the packers sitting on our table (at the very edge of the truck, with his leg swinging out of the truck!), cradling our microwave in his arms! We (and he) rode the 10 minute distance like that!

I have had the not-so-great pleasure of moving four times (so far) within Nairobi in the 6.5 years we have been living here. Believe it or not, this is not what I usually do; we spent our almost five years in NYC in the same apartment. But, when your landlord decides to sell the house you are in, and the new owners want to buy the house only, without the paraphernalia that is you, you really don’t have much choice.

Moving is always a HUGE hassle and an immense stress generating event. Moving countries, of course, involves SEVERAL additional stresses but moving within a city is also cause for tremendous anguish and sleepless nights!

Here are a few hints to help a little, but nothing can make it smooth sailing! As a child, I used to hope and pray that, during my lifetime, science would advance to the level where we could use the ‘beam me up, Scotty’ means of transportation from Star Trek. Even now, my heart skips a beat when I think of it! But, alas, we are nowhere near that happening (I think?!)! So, we have to rely on bubble-wrap and cartons and movers.

In an ideal world, the packers should unpack for you when your container arrives at your new premises (provided you have found a home before your container arrives!) or the truck reaches your new abode, and the number of rooms, cupboards, shelves, etc in your current and future dwelling correspond! But, just in case, you, like myself, don’t live in a perfect world, the following might be helpful.

Packers will at times number the cartons or sometimes they write vague labels like ‘Kitchen’ and ‘Living Room’. Now you may end up with 20 cartons with the same label. So, how do you start looking for that red and blue mug that your 3 year old still remembers having even three months later (which you thought you would carry with you but forgot to remove it from the shelf before the packers got to it) and cries for every morning? How do you know which carton contains the crockery for everyday use?

If the packers are friendly, smiling and relaxed people, you could go around with a permanent marker and ‘excuse me, excuse me’ your way through them and write on the carton itself the details of what they are putting inside. If, somehow, they don’t want you all over the place (I can’t imagine why though!) while they do their job, keep a paper and pen handy and write down the details of what is going in the carton and have the numbers/titles in your list correspond to what they write on the box. The packers might write only ‘Kitchen’ or ‘China’ or ‘Glasses’, but you could write ‘everyday china’ or ‘blue dinner-set’, etc.

You may not be able to get every detail down, but it will help you locate things faster when you are in your new dwelling.

Advice from a friend (thank you, Teresa) has helped me a lot. Before the packers arrive, make sure to label your rooms as well! Write down the name of the room on a paper and tape it to the door of the room. The dining room, kitchen etc. might be obvious but the “Child A’s” room, “Child Z’s room” may not be so apparent. The packers will then know what to write on the carton and which box belongs to which room. Doing the same in the new place you are moving to will save the hassle and time of repeatedly telling the movers what goes where, especially if your language/accent doesn’t correspond to theirs!

How I wish I was one of those people who clean out their cupboards on a regular basis! That really would be very helpful, especially for those who never know when they may have to move. Some of us get a months notice, or less, to pack up and leave! With other matters that need to be dealt with, having fewer belongings to go through will require less sorting out.

So, I had better go clean out my cupboard now and, before my next move, I would love to get your tips and pointers about packing up and moving.

Repatriation

Up until now, this site has focused primarily in getting to your new location with your health, your family and your sanity intact, but has not said much about the return journey. This is a guest post from Ayesha, who currently lives in Nairobi, but who has experienced repatriation and the issues that it raises, which we will be discussing in an ongoing blog series and a section of the Basics and In the Know.  

 

When we moved back home after three years in a foreign land, I was shocked to discover that I felt I didn’t really ‘fit in’. Some of my friends were still there, but when we got together for coffee or dinner, I found I couldn’t join in their discussions. I didn’t know what they were all talking about, what specific events had taken place in my absence, the movies, the books, the culture, the work environment, places to visit, to eat at, all had, of course, been in flux through the years. Some things were the same but many were new. Strangely, this first hit me when I realized I couldn’t share in the conversations revolving around a new TV series (Oh, how this evil machine has taken control of our lives!) I had never been an avid TV watcher, so I was surprised to find this to be my sticking point. I had never really discussed TV shows with my friends before, so why did I feel the need now?

One day, the day comes when you learn that you are going back home – whether it is  the end of an assignment or you are being posted back to your country of origin, and it is amazing how many different types of reactions that news elicits. One would think that it would be good news for all. Finally time to go home, to go to the familiar, to spend time with family and friends you have been missing all this time. If this is what you have been waiting for, feel free to stop reading.

Changes have been taking place while you were away. Family and friends may have moved too in your absence, if not from the country, perhaps from the city. New roads would have been built (or broken, in some cases). New buildings may have come up or old ones taken down. Even if there have not been many changes to the landscape, the fact remains that it really isn’t so familiar any more to those who have been living in a different part of the world for a number of years.

As a friend who was moving back to her hometown in Europe once explained that her home had been in Africa for over ten years. Her children had known no other home, no other way of life. They couldn’t even imagine leaving this for anything else. But, in the end, one has to, because your or your partner’s job dictates it.

Truth is that every new place you move to,  if you end up living there for a considerable period of time, inevitably shapes itself into your ‘home’. You strive to make it comfortable, you decorate it with the little things you have carried with you from place to place. You make friends, you find activities for your children to take part in, you eventually have a favourite place to shop and a location for your choice cup of coffee. And then you get your marching orders and you have to re-programme yourself that this isn’t really home, it never was, it was just a stop-over. You now have to go ‘home’ and, essentially, start over. And you will. You will find a place to live there (if you don’t already have one). You will once again endeavor to make it special with some old treasures and some new. Perhaps, with photographs of your ‘homes’ and travels around the world, of your friends that still live where you’re moving from and of those that have already moved on to other adventures.

It will take a while but, one day, the new house will become your new home. Like any other place you have moved to, it takes time to adjust and find your own special niche even in your hometown. For me, the simplest solution was to find out the timings for the next episode of that TV series and make a point of sitting down and watching it regularly, until I got a hang of what it was all about; just enough to be able to take part in the next conversation relating to it. It turned out not to be just another show but a radical look at one segment of society, and sparked endless  discussions.

(Note to self: next time I move back home, I make sure I know what’s playing on TV before I reach there! It’s easy now, thanks to the World Wide Web.)

Relax – This is Kenya!

This guest post comes from Ayesha, part of my Sanity Circle of friends in Kenya who kept the chaos in perspective. She kept me laughing constantly with her quiet but very well observed humor, and I am delighted that she has given in to my interminable nagging, and agreed to post on the site from Nairobi.  Enjoy!!

My internet connection was cut off for the nth time today. And, here comes the best part, due to non-payment of my bill.  Of course, it’s the same bill that I paid 20 days ago, two weeks before the due date. As this is not the first time this has happened to me (surprise! surprise!), I make sure that every time I pay my bill, I email the gentleman in charge and ask him if my payment has been received. I relax only when I receive his reply in the affirmative. Guess what? Of course, he replied that he had and that it would be credited to my account. Admittedly, the ‘immediately’ was implicit, and that may have been where I went wrong.

Alas, today my connection was terminated.  Actually, that is what I am thinking of doing now: terminating my connection with this internet provider, but this will obviously involve me getting it reconnected first.  I wanted to cry, but since the tears weren’t really there and fuming and fretting was, I splashed cold water on my face, texted my husband to finish all internet related work at his office and went to see how my kids were getting along with their homework. I was concerned that they may need to use the world wide web for some of their work. Fortunately, today was one of those rare days when they could accomplish their tasks technology free. There have been days when we have had to go either to my husband’s office or to a café with wireless internet access, despite my best efforts, repeated payments and email correspondence.

So, this evening, I reminded myself how, when we had moved to Kenya six years ago, the only internet available to me was via pre-paid cards for dial-up access @ $10 per hour, or via an internet cafe. Uploading ten photos, like I had done last evening, was impossible then. All in all, my internet works pretty well most of the time. Now and then, about once in 2 months, they drive me crazy by (1) disconnecting my service, (2) not answering their phone when I call to get the problem fixed and (3) if someone does pick up, it’s after hours and the accounts office has closed for the day, but hey.  I will start calling them early tomorrow morning, give them time to sort out this mess, and make sure I stay calm and remind myself:

Relax, this is Kenya!