November has been quiet around here because, after my first attempt two years ago, I’m again taking part in NaNoWriMo. (Let me know in the comments or on Facebook or Instagram if you want to know how I’m doing with that, writerly types.) But some exciting news has me thinking lots of thoughts that I want to share. Keep reading to find out just what that exciting news is!
Expat friendship is an intense affair. Away from familiarity and family, you have to rely on a hastily-formed multicultural community of people from all over the world. For many of us, this happens in a short cycle of two to three years: meet new people, find new friends, share the most significant and the most quotidian moments of your life with them, say goodbye, start again.
That sounds dismissive, but the intensity and richness of experience and connection it brings to mind is overwhelming, even for the cynical, unemotional Brit that I am.
I’m thinking of the friends I’ve shared the trials of parenting with – the very normal trials of raising babies, choosing schools, PTA politics – but all without the immediate presence of one’s own parents, so you form an ad hoc extended family around you. I’m thinking of the friend who didn’t hesitate to help me plonk my then-3yo in a bath and shower him down after a particularly nasty diarrhea attack all over our temporary apartment, two arduous weeks after my arrival.
I’m thinking of the activities I’d never have done otherwise, except that it was a opportunity to share time with new friends, and brought unexpected pleasure: boot camp in the park, and how else could I have discovered the joy of watching Jersey Shore, popcorn in one hand, G&T in the other?
I’m thinking of the celebrations shared, the baby shower for one that merged seamlessly into the bachelorette party for another, the hen weekend in a Paris apartment.
I’m thinking of what became possible side by side with those friends – fundraising events, musical performances, theatre in another language, new skills discovered, new languages spoken – that would otherwise have seemed impossible. I’m thinking of the friends with whom I stood in a facility in a Congolese quartier – so close to our own yet so distant from our everyday experience – and how together we could make small but tangible differences in vulnerable lives. I’m thinking of the power of a small community to rally and raise funds for medical care that would otherwise be neglected.
I’m thinking of the friends without whom I just wouldn’t have known what to do next: where to buy meat, how to properly wash the market vegetables, where to get childcare, the unknown essential to pack for a hospital stay: like a mosquito-repelling plug. I’m thinking of the friends who helped make our car getting stuck in the mud on a dirt road into a hilarious anecdote, rather than a sweaty, grubby nightmare.
I’m thinking of the friends who are there for you to confide your struggles in, to say, ‘Oh, hey, me too!’ The ones who help make the barely bearable normal again. I’m thinking of the friends who stopped the clocks to listen at the time of a bereavement.
I’m thinking of more celebrations, the kind that are about making it to Friday once again – an apéro shared is a problem decimated. I’m thinking of a British Christmas recreated with expat family in the tropics. I’m thinking of how we readily open our homes because community needs a place to be together, and how we encourage one another in new ventures, or good habits, or in rekindling forgotten talents.
We share all that, and then we say goodbye.
Except, of course – thank goodness – that’s not the end.
If we’re really lucky we get the chance to be together again, somewhere else. It happens surprisingly often. Close friends from one location were our upstairs neighbours in the next one, making them even closer. We went on safari together, met up later in Paris, are making plans to see each other again. Then, arriving in Congo was made so much easier by already knowing someone there, who’d been a friend back in France.
Nowadays we have a home base back in Scotland, and whenever I spend time there, I can reconnect with some ex-expat friends, and it’s like picking up where we left off.
Then there’s Lisa. Many of you will know her as Canadian Expat Mom. I first met Lisa when she arrived in our town in France. She came to my door with her bump, after a mutual friend connected us, since I’d recently had my first baby. Those babies went to playgroup together, and she was one of the important group of people who made the early days of parenthood significantly less daunting for me.
Then I left for Uganda, and we said goodbye. Two years later we were back in France, and Lisa was still there. This time our younger children were in playgroup together, and we mums shared similar ambitions. At that time Canadian Expat Mom was really taking off, and my envy of her drive and motivation was one of the factors that helped push me towards doing more with my own writing.
A year later we said goodbye again: I went to Congo, she to Indonesia.
It was during that time that Once Upon an Expat was published. When she announced that call for submissions, I jumped on the opportunity to be included, and started work on my contribution (titled ‘How Not to Say Goodbye’ as it happens). I also shared the call with a friend in Congo. Cecile had been talking about the journal she’d been keeping of her experiences there, and I thought she might be ready to publish something. That share also fired up the imagination of another Congo friend, Angie. Both were also included in the book: Cecile wrote an unflinching, endearing, wholehearted account of her first weeks in Congo. Angie’s contribution was the poignant and beautifully-written story of the canine companion to her expat journey.
(You surely want to read that book now, don’t you? It’s still on Amazon. Here’s the link. You go ahead. I’ll wait.)
But the connections don’t end there. We shared the pages of a book from afar, until Lisa got the news of her next destination: Congo. The babies who’d been in playgroup together were now learning to read and write in the same classrooms. We celebrated the book together – Lisa, Cecile and I – with book signings at craft markets. Lisa arrived after Angie left, but now they’re both living in the same town in Canada, and meeting up regularly.
And while I wasn’t lucky enough to have any friends in Esbjerg before I arrived, the very same Angie, who’d been in Congo, had lived here before, and has been with me in spirit (well, social media) the last few months! Cecile is now in Dubai, and I just know she has amazing stories to tell from there.
Which brings me to the very exciting news…
Yes, she’s doing it again!
And I’m so excited to be flexing my red-pen muscle memory as official copy-editor this time around. Not to mention that the profits from this project will create more impact, as they’re going to the holistic orphan care project in Congo, Mwana Villages – click here for their stories.
Will the old team be back together in the pages of a new book? What brand new continent-transcending connections will come out of those pages?
And really, don’t you just want to be a part of it?
If you’re tempted, head over to this post for all the details.
I’m off to write about my worst weekend in Africa. If it makes the grade with our dynamic editor, you’ll be reading about it next year, in Life on the Move. Until then, you’ll just have to imagine…