“I never do anything fun, because I’m a housewife. I hate the word ‘housewife’. I prefer to be called domestic goddess.” Roseanne Barr
September, the month of new beginnings (source:www.picturescafe.com)
Pinch, Punch, it’s the first of the month! The 1st of September signifies many things especially in the British calendar, the end of summer and the start of Autumn and it’s all new shiny school shoes and stationary as the schools start back for a new year. Personally, it marks the anniversary of my Abu Dhabi expat adventure. Five years ago today, I locked up our house in Hampshire and got on a plane with my second son and the teenager (pre-teenager at that point) and flew off for our new full-time life (we had been flying back and forth for the previous eleven months) in the Gulf.
Eldest son was on the flight before us as part of his round the world gap year ticket and eighteen days later jetted off to Australia and then Canada (we didn’t see him for a very long nine months), second son started Sixth Form at BSAK (British School Al Khubairat) not knowing a soul and the pre-teenager started secondary school, again not knowing anyone, stressful times.
Five years ago today we traded living in the UK for Abu Dhabi permanently
Now five years on, the eldest has graduated university and is embarking on his career in the real world, second son is travelling America before starting his last year at University next month and yesterday the teenager started her AS levels in the same Sixth Form that her brother started back in September 2009.
My visa states that officially I am a ‘Housewife’ sponsored by my spouse. I turned to Wikipedia for its definition of ‘Housewife’ and it says ‘A housewife is a woman whose main occupation is running or managing the family home—caring for and educating her children, cooking and storing food, buying goods the family needs in day-to-day life, cleaning and maintaining the home, making clothes for the family, etc and who is generally not employed outside the home.’ Think I may be failing in the area of ‘making clothes for the family‘ but apart from that I’ve got it covered.
You meet a lot of new people here all the time and the same inevitable questions always come up “Where are you from?”, “How long have you been here?” and the one I absolutely dread “What do you do?”. Funny I always try and leave housewife out of my answer.
The careers officer would be so proud
Being an expat is not always as glamorous as it sounds. Don’t get me wrong there’s a definite glamorous side to living on the beach in a hot country, where frequenting 5* hotels is the norm but that’s superficial and on a day-to-day basis being an expat (non-working) wife can be quite a lonely experience at times, especially when friends move on in this transient existence. Another learning curve of this experience has been the realisation of who your real friends really are, both back home and new ones befriended here as part of this experience.
Old friends back home that keep in touch regularly, come to visit (some on multiple occasions) and are so welcoming and generous with their hospitality on our return are worth their weight in gold, others who have not been so bothered have shown their worth. I have made some fantastic friends as part of this journey as we bumbled through this expat reality and for that I am truly grateful, they made it possible to survive through good times and low points and will be lifelong trusted friends, some of them have moved on they have left leaving a massive hole in my everyday life.
Not too shabby living on the beach here in Abu Dhabi
This is not a woe is me post believe me, or a cry for sympathy as I am well aware that it’s a privilege to have this experience and not have to be gainfully employed (still dodging that bullet), it’s just more of a definition of ‘how it is’, well for me anyway. When you up sticks and move across the world as a family it is usually because, in the majority the main earner of the family, which in our case is the other half, has been offered a new job or a fantastic career move and as part of a family unit then you come along for the ride depending on age, education and other factors.
An Expat Journey has its ups and downs but overall it’s an extraordinary privileged experience (source:www.wereldactief.nl)
Every expat has moved here for a reason which can vary from financial gain/tax benefits/career progression or the experience of living abroad or maybe a combination of all of them. We deliberated with our pros and cons list for a long time as I am sure most people have done and the decision we reached as a family unit after a visit to the region, was that it was the right opportunity for us at the time and then after you just have to go with the flow. My feeling was ‘It’s better to go and try and come back if it doesn’t work, than not try at all‘.
In my ‘trailing spouse‘ (a person who follows his or her life partner to another city because of a work assignment) experience, I think moving with younger children or even starting a family here gives you more of an opportunity to mix with other mothers and you go through the different childhood stages and the school playground experiences together. As a mother moving here with older children that process is more limited as you are not required to even get out the car most of the time (social faux pas to be seen out of the car and if you are in school reception where you might be seen it’s the end of the world according to my teenager) so face to face social interaction with other parents is limited or you just have to try much harder. Teenagers tend to make their own arrangements and aside from the texts to confirm some of these arrangements (if allowed) any communications are limited. Older teenagers also move onto to university or work usually back in their home countries which creates a huge void and distance becomes a factor especially if there are any problems. Skype and Whats App have become my saviour!
The Abu Dhabi city skyline and coastal views (source:www,arabianbusiness.com)
I am sure that mothers of young children may totally disagree with me and say that they are missing being around their extended families when they have such young families and find nurseries and schooling here a struggle (if they don’t have the luxury of a housemaid that is), who knows? When is the right time to move abroad with kids, again who knows, I guess you can only speak as you find in your own situation.
As I have plunged deeper into Blogosphere, I’ve discovered new blogs and topics to follow and connect with different people unearthing some great new bloggers to follow especially those in a similar situation. I have decided to share one such expat blogger here as she has bizarrely has popped up in lots of different places recently. Every expat’s journey is not without its own hurdles and traumas and this courageous Australian lady has lived in seven countries in eleven years and had four children along the way, recording her and her families experiences on her blog which she has now turned into a career. A great read whether you are a fellow expat, a mother or just like to be entertained check out her blog ‘4 kids, 20 suitcases and a beagle‘. I am inspired by her journey and feel my experience pales in comparison, I cannot comprehend starting afresh in so many countries so many times! I found one international move, three local moves, two schools changes and packing a whole home into storage exhausting enough. Kirsty I salute you!
If you like reading blogs check out 4 Kids, 20 Suitcases and a beagle here
I also love this quote from an article written by Quenby Wilcox and published in the Huffington Post last year about Trailing Spouses: The Unsung Heroes of an International Relocation, “Unfortunately, most expat employers, HR people and those in the global mobility industry still see the expat spouse as a throw-back from the 50s; a helpless, pampered, Barbie doll, rather than the highly efficient, intelligent and competent woman of today.” Read the rest of the article here.
Keeping the brain matter ticking over by writing this blog. Find it on Facebook here
So for now I am an expat trailing spouse, five years in, writing this blog and my other ‘work’ related one in an attempt to keep the grey matter functioning and making some new ‘cyber’ friends along the way, as well as enjoying reading other people’s experiences. Oh I also stick a bit of washing on and produce the odd meal or two because my visa requires me too 😉 and of course the daily personal taxi/chauffeur service for the teenager including the obnoxiously early 6.30am school run!
Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett. All rights reserved.