Africa Expat Wives Club – There have been a few raised eyebrows about the name of this blog and to be honest, it was originally designed to capture attention, and not necessarily in a good way. Just in a ‘stop me in my tracks and let’s have a read’ way. The name of this blog was intended to be as tongue-in-cheek as the Stepford Wives pictured on the banner. The name and image belie the content, which I hoped would give readers a more rounded idea of ‘real’ expat life.
Africa – goes without saying is a huge continent, home to over 54 countries. Obviously I am not writing about ‘Africa’ at all but just a tiny corner that happens to be Kenya/Nairobi (and occasionally memories of Tanzania/Dar es Salaam). I don’t travel much. People who have grown up here know a heck of a lot more than me. I mostly stay at home or hereabouts. It’s not adventurous blog, instead it’s just concerned with daily family life.
It also helped that Africa starts with an A – in my ignorance, I thought that starting the name of this blog with an A might work well with Google searches.
Expat – this term was always laughable to me and many people still find it derogatory (which is why I thought it might catch your eye). It’s a bit like standing out as a tourist when all you want to do is blend in, speaking a language other than your mother tongue, effortlessly (this never happens for us Brits). The last thing most people want to admit to is being an expat. People have commented, ‘what makes you an expat and not an immigrant?’ I don’t know. In this ‘global village’/soup that we live in, where there are few barriers to jumping on a plane at the drop of a hat, I believe that there is not really any such thing as belonging to a specific place. In fact, the concept is becoming increasingly outdated. Asking where somebody is ‘from’ must surely be an odd question these days.
Wives – When I moved to Tanzania, my residency there depended entirely on me being a wife, trailing spouse, dependent, plus one – legally married with that all important certificate to prove it. I left my individual identity (read; dignity) behind when (as a newlywed of just x2 days) I had to sign one of those entry forms at the airport in Tanzania stating that my occupation was ‘housewife’. I did find a job there. It took me a few months but it was not what I would describe as a dream career – more of a ‘filling time’ occupation/general dogsbody/horribly low pay. And I still had to write ‘housewife’ on entry forms. How did I manage this transition? Took a deep breath and tried to accept it from day one. Let’s not be defined by a name. But yes, it pained me that my education and work experience up to that point was suddenly irrelevant in my new home and counted for naught. Sigh. Hence the writing – you can do that anywhere.
Club – there is no Club. (sorry to the PA of a corporation who recently got in touch asking that I sign up a new expat arrival). That’s ironic too. I kind of wish there was a club. There are in fact very few clubs for ‘expat wives’ that I have ever found to be of much use (and I’ve tried a few! Bridge club, Hash House Harriers, Sewing club, Diplomatic Wives – even though I am not one). Baby groups were the best but that’s different since you are bound by a lack of sleep and wringing of hands over how much your life has changed.
The truth is that there’s scant support for expat wives, especially when you arrive somewhere alone and not part of a larger organisation that might offer the potential of fellow wives and a little coordination. I have to admit, possibly my own preconceptions held me back to much (it’s harder than you think to find people around of the same age, with the same interests). Being a fairly ‘private’ person (don’t laugh! Bloggers can be the strangest types) – I decided to muddle through alone and find it hard to put myself ‘out there’. I’m not very social and can’t remember the last time that I invited people over for anything more organised than an ad hoc tea. By the same token, I have not been much help to incoming ‘expat wives’ – so I guess that this blog is a kind of penance. Maximum respect to expats who come and go after just two years because it is impossible to put down roots – though perhaps it is possible to get into some kind of crazy rhythm that way.
Apologies for sounding a little Debbie Downer. Moving overseas is not always a bed of roses (though staying back home probably wouldn’t be either) – but it is an adventure and, as with any adventure, you must steel yourself and be prepared. There are good times to be had but you have to go out and find them. Life is what you make it…. etc etc… blah blah. Now pull yourself together girl – when are you organising your next dinner party?!….
|Loving the made-in-Kenya key ring|
Driving around town the other day, running various errands with my eldest daughter, was heart wrenching on account of the number of beggars who came up to the side of the car with a plaintive face and outstretched hands. Who can fail to be moved? On the central reservation of Waiyaki Way there was not just the old lady with the usual small child in tow, but this time she had brought along a poor boy of around 12 years old, who was in a wheel chair. Then there were the blind beggars who ask for money with the help of a seeing partner brandishing a plastic cup on Peponi Road, then the very smiley man with no legs who used to be on Chiromo Road (he’s moved) who sits on the grass next to his wheelchair and finally, the boy who ran enthusiastically amongst the traffic trying to find me space to ‘filter in’ on Dagoretti Corner, sparking gasps of concern from my children who were convinced he was going to be run over.
It’s hard to know whether to give money and if so, who to? Or if giving money makes things worse? But how could it make things any worse? Add this to the fact that our greedy family is usually snacking in the car right in front of the street kids. It’s not a good feeling. To sum up, that day; The boy in the wheelchair (or rather the women who was looking after him) got 500/-. (and I couldn’t help myself from saying to her; ‘please go home’). The man on the grass with the wheelchair and the blind man: nothing. And the boy on Dagoretti Corner got 100/- (in coins). When I did get my wallet out, both times it was with some desperate fumbling as traffic moved and the decision; ‘shall I, shan’t I?’ raged both in my own head and in the car between me and my kids.
I read a very humbling article about a Kenyan primary school teacher who, single handedly it seems, is helping to feed street kids in Nairobi. It’s worth reading here:
Still raining like crazy in Nairobi. Flooding everywhere. When will it end? Somebody told me today that it would dry up in August – hope she’s wrong and we don’t have to wait that long! Talking about the weather here is very different to the kind of weather conversations we would have in UK. Back there, we would speculate about the weather, here in Nairobi – everyone is an unequivocal authority. When will the rain come? Or when will it go? The answers invariably are; ‘at the end of the month’, ‘next month’ or ‘at the new moon’ or ‘at the end of August’. There is no arguing. It is also extremely ‘cold’ here. The temperature gauge in my car said 15 degrees this morning. Brr.