It takes a couple of moves and a period of time before the realisation dawns, you’ve become an expat wife.
The wife part was dropped like a bomb and arrived with the same alacrity as it does to everyone who gets married at a music festival in Edinburgh with a couple of strangers off the street as witnesses. However the expat part creeps up a lot slower, disguising itself during your first year expatriation as an emigrant. The psychological difference between an emigrant and an expat being that as an emigrant, you ay envisage yourself spending a few years in one location before returning home and as an expat you a resign yourself to a life of moving on an as required basis to unknown destinations with no definite plans to move home.
So considering yourself an emigrant and not an expat, you steer clear of baby groups, coffee mornings and soap carving classes because you’re not an expat like the others, you’re just visiting. You pontificate that you’re not really an expat, you’re just working in Qatar for a while, you’ll be home soon.
By the second expatriation you are still somewhat in denial, you kid yourself and others that you may set about getting a career in Abu Dhabi and that this is the final move in your emigrant portfolio. You cave to the idea of baby groups and attend one of two, but only for the sake of the kids, at an occasional coffee morning you listen as others talk of their travels around the earth and you secretly shudder at the thought of having to pack up again to move anywhere other than home. You openly mention that the Middle East is the furthest east you’re willing to travel and once this contract is up and the Irish economy is buoyant again, you’ll be heading home.
When you’ve choked sufficiently on your words and find yourself one morning waking up in Jakarta, Indonesia, another eight hour flight past where you said your limit was, its then you realise that you’ve become an expat wife. You’ve broken the seal, you reluctantly agreed that the Middle East would a one-stop-shop, but no further. So arriving in Jakarta without friend or foe, you begin once again to start anew, a new routine, new friends, a new life.
Tired of relying on serendipity to make new friends, and with the benefit of having come to terms with the fact that you’re now an expat wife and that your career will now never reach beyond freelance writing or a teaching assistant, you decide to join a women’s association. Against every fibre in your body as it is to classed solely on gender, professional status and marital status, but keen to secure a circle of friends before you move to Mars, you sign up and leave your preconceived notions at the door or at least that’s how I arrived at the door of the British Women’s Association in Jakarta. The Americans Women’s Association and the Australian / New Zealand Women’s Association were other options but I decided that the UK group was closest group to Ireland.
Walking through the door I found I squinted subconsciously, as if to shield my eyes from the gin-swilling, slim-cigarette smoking, card playing and over indulged displays that may lay before me. Alas there were no such displays. Instead there was a room filled with industrious, go getting women, who chose to embrace their positions as trailing spouses and create their own lives in Jakarta.
These were a serious bunch of women with enough clout to organise and sell out a 1000 seat charity event in one day flat. Having the ability to organise and secure sponsorship for a several social events throughout the year I consider to be a mean fete in Jakarta considering I still find it difficult to order lunch in a restaurant. A designated BWA House, and a monthly glossy magazine, not bad going for bunch of expat wives and not a bottle of gin in sight!
Leaving the group feeling rejuvenated and enlightened, I passed my preconceived notion which I had carefully left at the door and decided to leave it there.