Expat Life: Making Space for Stories

That’s the Christmas decorations packed away. Will they be on the same top shelf in the same wardrobe next year? Probably. But you never know…

We keep things compact, just one box, always ready to fit in a shipment. I’m not a big fan of ornaments for ornaments’ sake anyway, or seasonal tat that we wouldn’t otherwise use, so everything we keep justifies its place in the box, mostly by reminding us of the places we’ve lived in and seen, or of special people.

Christmas Straws

So why do these cheesy festive plastic straws go back in the box every year? This year I even got out the superglue to repair one of them, before finding a spot where where they can nestle among the decorations for the next 11 months.

Here’s the story:

Back in October 2015, shortly after arriving in Congo, there was unrest around town because of the upcoming referendum. Some companies evacuated their internationals, some individuals decided to take some travel time, but we hunkered down and stuck it out. The protests peaked quickly and fizzled out (for good or ill). Mind you, that time wasn’t without incident for us…

(If you want to know that part of the story, I wrote about it in the book, Life on the Move. Haven’t got your copy yet? Now’s your chance! Just click here.)

Meanwhile, one of our new friends, Diane, was evacuated back to the US. Diane’s children were grown up and she had spent decades thriving as an expat in all sorts of environments. Everyone in the community benefited from her wisdom and her free time. She was a party planner par excellence and a real social connector. She often volunteered at kids’ events and became the ‘expat grandma’ to many families far from home. Every expat community should have a Diane!

Anyway, she decided to make the most of her light luggage by offering to fill up with stocking fillers and Christmas treats for our kids, and for a couple of other families who were sticking things out back in Congo. The kinds of thing the kids might feel they were missing out on.

Then again, my kids weren’t missing a North American Christmas, being more used to a restrained French Noël at that time. Their eyes were wide with the Santa-themed goodies, colourful candies, and frivolous bits and bobs we unpacked when she returned. All the sort of thing I would never normally choose to buy – but isn’t that the whole point of a treat?

Their very favourite thing from that box of delights? The straws. Every December drink was sucked through them – that Christmas, and ever since. If I ask them to set the dinner table, every member of the family gets a straw at their place, lined up beside the cutlery.

And every time, a fleeting, but welcome, memory of Diane pops into my head.

In expat life, you meet special friends and make strong connections, quickly. People become important in your day-to-day experiences whom you would never have got to know in other circumstances. Some of those people become friends for life, the ones you travel for; some are the ones you’ll be sure to look up if you find yourself in the same place; others move on, on a separate path, but you’re grateful they were there at the time.

We make space for them in our boxes. And every time we arrive somewhere new, we unwrap the memories with the souvenirs.

Making Space for Stories Pin

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