Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Celebrating 10 Years of Expat Life

Time is a fascinating concept. I am the kind of person who loves to measure passing time in days, months and years. I am a walking calendar in that way. I have to put my mind at ease by adding a proper number to vague measures of times like a few years ago, a couple of months ago. But, what makes me happier is reaching a milestone and to be able to replace that number with a fancy word. 
Like... March of 2019 marks a ‘decade’ of living an expat life - a reminder that it has been a ‘decade’ to that leap of faith we took... you see what I meant by a fancy word? 
I will be doing a tiny series of posts about the journey so far by answering some of the commonly asked questions 

Let's get a cup of tea first... 

Where is home? 
I think this is one of the most frequently asked questions you face as an expatriate. More than others, you will often find yourself looking for answers. I for one had to face this question while in Pakistan too because I was born in a different city, brought up in a different city and eventually settled and got married in an entirely new city. So, I have been at the receiving end of this question for a long time. It got easier when I moved abroad because now at least it is a one-word answer. Until I run into someone who knows a bit about Pakistan and asks me the city... and I hear myself repeating my life story like a mantra. 
So, I did not know back then how to answer this question nor do I know now. I don’t think I would ever have a definite answer. I don’t think any expat really knows how to answer as well. Home is here and home is there, and it is as simple or as complicated as that. Looking at the bright side we get the best of both. Many may find this double life strange and uneasy, I find that there is a sense of liberation in being able to feel comfortable in any place that you are in and it is almost a miracle to be able to call home a place so far, far away from where you were born.

What happens to the Pakistani in you?

The Pakistani in me has grown fatter and bigger only. I know there is always this debate about patriotism and expat life but, trust me the love only grows and multiplies. 

Love grows when you move away because you also start appreciating things that you did not value much before. Like how beautiful our culture is, how colourful our traditions are, how deep our language is and how resilient our nation is. You desire it more when you do not have it as easily.

It multiplies when you mingle in with people from around the globe and they see that whatever popular media tells them is not really all that true. I have changed perceptions and I know many people like me who do many good things to create awareness about Pakistan. It hurts us more living far away when Pakistan is misunderstood and misrepresented. We, the expats, find ourselves in the position to be able to at least change a few opinions. Normally, a plate of biryani or a cup of chai is enough to start a conversation that leads to only better things.

Cliched but it is true that you can take a Pakistani out of Pakistan but not Pakistan out of Pakistani.

Why did you choose to live abroad? 
People move for different reasons; to earn a living, for better or specialized education, due to marriage and sometimes to reinvent oneself. 
Choosing to live abroad is a decision like all other decisions people take in life – the simplest decision of what to eat to the complicated ones like choosing a person to spend your whole life with. You weigh your pros and cons and choose something depending on what you think you is the best for you. Choosing to leave your home country to live somewhere else is ‘deciding a lifestyle’ you deem good for yourself for whatever reasons. 
It is a risky, daunting and life-changing decision but, so are many other decisions in life... 
I moved because I am married to a guy who loves travelling. Moving was a regular feature of my childhood so it was not a very tough decision. At that stage of our lives, 10 years ago, we wanted to explore, experiment and test ourselves. Young and wild, you know! It was a blessing that an opportunity came our way and thankfully we both grabbed it. It was not a smooth ride. There were days when I wished I had never moved and then things happened that affirmed my decision to live abroad. 
10 years later all these ups and downs are now a part of life. 
This is the 'lifestyle' I and many others like me chose for ourselves from the choices life offered us. 

What is the most painful thing about living away from home? 
If I have to just mention one thing, it would be …. my people!
The most painful part is not being with 'your' humans. Your family and your own circle of friends. 
You watch your nephews and nieces growing up and you feel you have missed so many of their milestones. You start losing track of your cousins’ ages till you get to know they are graduating or getting married. 
Once you move, your friends at home are all of a sudden in a different time zone. Sometimes it gets tough to have regular conversations. You learn to live without telling every single detail of your life to your bestie the way you used to do. When you are gone long term, your physical space in your friend’s life starts getting filled by others even though nothing may have changed between the two of you emotionally. 
I often miss seeing myself in photographs that family and friends post. With time you realize that you have missed so many weddings, graduations, baby showers, births and I think that hurts the most. 
Thanks to social media that we see each other frequently because I can only wonder how tough it must be when even a phone call was such a hassle.

How do you find your identity in a new country? 
It is a scary thought to have no external identification. Once in a new place, you are no more your city, your education, your work experience or your relations. You are no one’s relative or friend. You are now on the path to discover yourself or in some cases even reinvent yourself. 
It is often underestimated how the simplest things can be extremely unsettling. To come from a reserved society to an out-going one, or to come from a very busy city to a small quiet town or to live in a place where language is an issue… all these little factors pose a threat to your sense of identification and belonging. 
The best way is to identify the core values that you absolutely cannot live without and for the rest, use this opportunity to pick and choose. You will find that after skipping some customs and giving up some societal norms, you will be at peace. You will also discover your strengths and weaknesses. You will be surprised that you are now managing things alone which you thought were impossible. 
All these will form a new identity for you which will not be dependent on any external factors but, a mix of what you love and what you need.

Is there anything that you could have done differently? 

I wish I knew that living overseas is not as glamorous as it sounds. Also, that day to day life is the same whatever country you live in. The basic struggle is the same. Work is same – office politics, nepotism, favouritism can exist just anywhere. You will have to work hard for promotion and prove yourself to retain your job. You will find yourself in toxic relationships. You will struggle to achieve work-life balance. The house will not clean itself, the fridge will not be filled with goodies on its own, vacations will not be paid for, the landlord will give you stress, you might get loud and nosy neighbours.....

I found myself in the middle of a countrywide protest that I had nothing to do with and got sprayed tear gas on, my car has been broken into, robbers attempted to get into my house and none of this happened in my home country. So, to think that life will be perfect and rosy in a new country is living in a fool’s paradise. And while you may think that people living abroad have it all – we really do have IT ALL...IYKWIM

I wish I had lower expectations and had understood that it is LIFE …just in a different country. 

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1 comment:

  1. This is so well written. I agree to every single point as if straight from the heart!