Aside
2

Word has it that if all expats in the world were pooled together in one territory, we would form the 5th most populous country in the world. When I first saw this data I was amazed. Are there truly that many people living outside the borders of their home country?

When we moved from Jamaica to the United States I didn’t feel like an expatriate; I felt more like an immigrant. This feeling stems from the fact that, for Jamaicans, living in the USA is what people do. Everyone in Jamaica has a friend and/or family member living in the US. The fact that we relocated specifically for hubby’s job did not change that feeling of immigrant vs expatriate.

The move from the US to Indonesia has, however, now placed me squarely in the expatriate box. There are tons of articles written on the expatriate lifestyle. Many create fantasies while others try to understand the emotional and realistic lives of all age groups within the expatriate community. The expat life isn’t always a bed of roses. For example, as a Jamaican, it kills me to not have the rhythm of my music, of my people and of the life on a small island. Say what you will about the problems in my home country, it is and forever will be home.

Photos below of a beautiful spot in Portland, Jamaica and of Red Stripe beer (the most refreshing beer in the world).

Portland

Real Jamaican Beer

Personally, I love the expatriate life. I like seeing the world as a tourist and as a resident. I feel as though the world is my own cocoon. My family and I are now champions at figuring out which countries have safe enough to eat street food (well hubby and I do as the kids are anti street food). We are also masters at figuring out in which cities hunger is a more viable option than touching anything cooked in a restaurant with less than 4 stars. We have seen so many World Heritage Sites and have felt the warmth of so many cultures that anything other than gratitude for our lives is thankless.

Among the many things I truly love about expatriate life is the hunt. The hunt for the next place to live. For me, the hunt starts long before we are scheduled to leave the current post. It is when the mind tells me I need to learn a little more about living as an expat in a particular country. It is when a newly made friend is re-posted and is moving to a country that holds a fascination. It is when I meet someone who, over dinner, revels in the memories of their last posting. That city in which they regularly had monkeys in their backyards or where Friday nights in the high-end clubs are free Cosmopolitans (the drink) for women until 11 pm. The funny part about the Friday free cosmopolitans is that the country in question is a religious state. That discussion is for another day and time.

When I hunt, I hunt well. I go detailed. I look at houses and compounds. I learn details about schools: is there a British school or an American school or both? Do the students at the British school study for A’level exams or the International Baccalaureatette (am I the only one who finds it difficult to spell that word)? Is City X a family duty station or not? Ah, fun fact on family duty stations: Iran and Pakistan are family duty stations but Haiti isn’t. Hmmm, not sure I get the logic of that one. Other fun fact: everyone I have ever met who has served as an expatriate in Zimbabwe wants to go back. One such friend describes Zimbabwe as the secret duty station. It is that place we hear about and assume it is awful but in reality it offers a wonderful life for expatriates, or so my friends proclaim.

Where to next, we have no clue. Catch me after a trip to the Caribbean and I may say any Caribbean island. Catch me after watching a documentary on life in Buenos Aires and I may nag hubby to move us to Latin America. Let me see Africans dancing on my tv screen or hear the roar of lions and nothing can rattle my conviction I am destined to reside in a country somewhere on the African continent.

The reality is we know not when or where we will next have an address. What we do know though is that we still have much to see and do in Indonesia. Right here on the Ring of Fire in the country with the most volcanoes in the world.

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4

Buddhism and Asthma

Chinese New Year, Jakarta

Given hubby’s work schedule and the hassle of getting around in Jakarta we haven’t managed to see and do as many things as we would have liked. With this is mind, we have resolved to explore and see more in this chaotic city. Yesterday we decided to visit Glodok which is the “Chinatown” of Jakarta. The history behind the establishment of Glodok is quite sad as the Chinese were pushed to live in these ghettos centuries ago when they were being persecuted and massacred for being different. (Intolerance is a wretched thing). For the most part, Chinese Indonesians are still the predominant inhabitants of Glodok and visiting this part of town is an excellent way to visit Traditional Chinese Wet Markets, Buddhist Temples and I am told great Chinese restaurants (we could not find anywhere to eat so I guess we missed that).

We walked through the streets and spent and inordinate amount of time reminding our 12 year old that she cannot just randomly take people’s photos as it was an invasion of their privacy. Truth be told I wanted to take photos too but had to restrain myself. Yes the elderly Chinese man standing behind his counter eating God knows what would make an excellent black and white photo; yes the man sitting over his stall of live toads and frogs along with many varieties of snails in filthy containers would be quite enthralling but no, we have to respect people’s privacy.

Temple Toa Se Bio

The wet market was great but the highlight of the trip was the Buddhist Temple called Toa Se Bio that was built around 1751 by Hookkian immigrants. The Temple got its name from the fact that the main deity worshipped there is Toa Sai Kong. It was an amazing thing watching the worshippers buy and light their many candles and perform their rituals to each deity. To a Christian looking on it seemed like a strange ceremony. Later in the night while I reflected in between sneezes from the high inhalation of smoke I realized that it may seem strange but it was actually a testimony of a religion that encouraged individual relationship with the one they believe to be most high. The Temple encourages all to worship and pray to whomever they believe is the Supreme One or Ones.

I have never seen so many sizes and shapes of red candles just burning. To some extent I felt in awe and wanted to stay a while longer but for the smoke that burnt my eyes, nose and throat. This is what led me to wonder if Buddhists are never asthmatic. By the time my husband got home his chest was tightening and nearly 24 hours later I still have the smell of smoke in my nostrils and my clothes are as smoky as when I used to frequent some of Jamaica’s favourite night spots.  I do not understand: is it that if you are asthmatic you do not practice Buddhism; is it that Chinese (who are the main practitioners of Buddhism) are by nature not afflicted with asthma or is it that the faith is so powerful that such inflictions are deflected by the power of the mind? In my research on Buddhism I found that meditation and its effect on the mind and body can be powerful. (I probably should not share this but: while we lived in the US I joined a class that taught one how to meditate and twice I fell asleep while trying the techniques. My Jamaican pride could not stand being seen among my classmates as the sleeper so I quit). I believe in the possible power of meditation but probably not as fundamentally as those that practice the religion. Within Buddhism there seems to be various principles and practices that are purported as bringing happiness and good health to the body. Is this why there doesn’t seem to be a greater incidence of asthma among Buddhists who practice their religion in the midst of much smoke and ash?

As a Christian (not necessarily a practicing one) I am somewhat skeptical about the power that can be brought from meditation and other such practices but as a social scientist I cannot explain some things and am wondering if the fact that I was born in the West and brought up Christian is limiting my openness to possibilities that could be beneficial to my well- being. What do you think?

 Until next time……..One Love!!!!!!

3

It’s Possible to Remake Yourself in a New Environment or Within the Same Old One

This morning I checked my Facebook page and a friend of mine in Jamaica had the following post:

         “Need a career change for 2011!!! Any ideas guys?”

The post motivated me to write this blog post as I was reminded that career/life change is a big issue for expatriate spouses who often give up their dreams, goals and careers for their family unit. Living as an expatriate brings a fabulous lifestyle that exposes you to new sights, scenes and experiences but when the lights are dimmed there are many who quietly (or like me, loudly) suffer the anguish of not knowing quite what to do with and for themselves. In actuality, this applies not only to expatriate spouses but also to people who are migrating to new countries to be with the ones they love. There are also those like my friend with the Facebook post who simply want to do something different. So what is the solution? I won’t say I have the magical answer that can provide solace or a solution to everyone but I’ll share a few ideas based on my own experience and that of others who have been through similar situations.

  • Many of us from the Western world have been brought up to believe that we need to excel so that we can get the perfect job. What we really need to do is create our own jobs and opportunities. Not everyone can but those who can, should.

 * If you have the capital, invest in a franchise

* Get your real estate license and become a Realtor  www.realtor.com 

* If you live in some exotic place in the world start an export/import business

* Start an online store with ethnic items from your adopted country: the US/European market is wide open to exotic/ethnic items. If you are afraid to start your own store then sell on Ebay or Amazon. http://onlineprofitable.com/ebay/top-ten-ebay-selling-secrets 

  • Ask yourself, “what service can I sell or promote?”

* Are you a highly detailed person? Then start an online     administrative business where you review documents for organizations all over the world without ever leaving your bedroom. Are you good at building/designing websites? Advertise your services to persons in Namibia, Iceland or the Virgin Islands. The point is to start your business, get out your globe and market yourself.

* Don’t be like someone I know (Alexander Mandilow) who doesn’t recognize the gift they have. Check out his blog at www.jamaicanmeditations.blogspot.com  where he shares some of his short stories and poems. My personal favourite being, The Love of Fried Chicken and Other Such Demons.  Check out his blog and leave him a message encouraging him to get his work published.

  • Are you gripped by the fear of the unknown or the possibility of failing with your new idea/business?

* Find a friend who will be your motivator. Mine is Diana Antholis who is founder of the blog Enter:Adulthood www.enteradulthood.com. Diana and I were cohort colleagues in grad school at the George Washington University. She bit the bullet, took the plunge and is determined to be the lord of her own destiny and worklife. In addition to her blog she has also co-developed a consulting company www.anditsonlytuesday.com I reach out to her when I get fretful about the business idea I am currently developing. 

* Hire a life coach to walk you through the maze. My friend and kindred spirit Patrice is such a person. She recently started her own business Catapult Life Coaching LLC. As she often says, “It’s ok to be scared but important to be courageous.” Patrice may be contacted at Patrice@catapultlifecoaching.com 

  • There are opportunities everywhere, even in Yemen (for the love of life Yemen is not such a good option but you get the idea).

The internet provides access to every nook and cranny of this planet earth so use it to develop new ideas. There is a blog for everything; there is free advice and information for anything you may wish to research. Find an opportunity: there is one awaiting you. 

  • Become a member of a service club and start networking.

* There is a Rotary Club nearly everywhere in the world. 

  • Many are content and can afford to simply volunteer their time while others need an income and still others need the job, more for self-actualization and gratification than for the salary.

* Be honest with yourself about which category you fall in and own it. Many expat spouses would never admit that their family needs an extra income. No need to share the information with anyone else but be honest with yourself.

Whatever you decide keep in mind that possibilities are endless and we are often the creator and enabler of our own failures.

Until next time……One Love!!!!

11

Good Friends Are Better Than Pocket Money!!!

At a party during our university years!!!!!!!

Being an expatriate is fun and fascinating but it can also be quite lonely. When you leave the beach, the ethnic shopping, the volcanoes etc., you turn off the lights and this feeling called ‘being homesick’ takes over your very core. You start missing your mom’s meddling, your brother’s friends who still hang by your parents’ house even though they are grown men with families of their own (just in case my brother is reading  please note that i am not speaking about you). More importantly, you miss the things  you enjoy from home. For me it is Screechy fish and lobster (Screechy is located on Hellshire Beach in Jamaica & serves the best fish and lobster in the world….not to mention that the price is great), the sweet mangoes especially East Indian and Julie, my mom and her comedic life but also without doubt I miss my friends. These friends are absolutely better than pocket money.

In 1994 I entered the University of the West Indies (UWI) and I found myself alone. For those of you who know me, you know that alone is not my cup of tea. All my high school friends had either gone to other universities or were at UWI but were in the Faculty of Natural Science while I was in the Faculty of Social Science: we may have been on different planets the amount of times we were able to see each other. (In high school I was a science student but decided that a life of science was not in my calling).

The loneliness lasted for as long as it takes Usain Bolt  to run a race. In no time I had met and befriended 4 awesome women who remain a staple in my life. I will spare you the details of how we met but through them I have learned the value of friendship and the security that comes with knowing that you have persons who will listen to you cry, whine and laugh like only a Jamaican can (loud & raucous until tears flow from your eyes).

When you live away from home you realize how much you miss these people and how much you truly love them. This is where the power of Blackberry comes in. To all my iPhone friends I say ‘what a pity, hush’. Blackberry Messenger (BBM) is the best invention since sliced bread. Let me not get distracted here as I am itching to give all the reasons Blackberry is better than iPhone but I won’t. Skype and Magic Jack are other must haves to keep in touch with your friends when you live oceans apart. Skype allows you to see them so you can get a first hand view of the fabulous engagement ring or a first glimpse at a Godchild that you won’t get to meet for months to come. It’s important to keep in touch and that is why an expat’s shipment must always include their Blackberry and a Magic Jack.

I know the true value of keeping close to your friends as back in 2008 when I had brain surgery my friends helped me and my family through this traumatic time. I still feel a warmth when I think back about opening my eyes and 2 of these wonderful chicas were right by my side. They had flown in to lend support. I tear up when I remember that Karlene decided to read to me an article about Vladimir Putin because:

1) I had lost my ability to read for a short while after the surgery, and

2) She knew how much I loved politics and political news.

It may sound strange but it is something that has stuck in my mind and signifies how much she knows and understands the core of who I am.

Let me stop before I tear up as I truly miss my girls. Maya, Karlene, Nicole & Kaye: I love and miss you all so much. Thanks for being a part of my life for so many years. My dream (outside of owning a herb farm) is that when we retire we will all live within 10 miles of each other so that I can grow old with my husband and the most awesome women I have ever known. While in the US I met and am now quite close to another person (Nadine) who completes my group of bedrock friends who are better than pocket money. While I am physically separated from these ladies, we are usually only a BBM, Skype or Magic Jack call away.

UWI Graduation 1997

Until next time……One Love

9

What happens if you are an expat wife and being a stay at home mom is not your thing? Part 1 of 2

In 2005 when we started our expatriate life I was excited and sad at the same time: we were embarking on a new adventure ( if you can call living in the US an adventure) but I was also giving up my independent life. Let me give you a little background information. In 2003 the political blood that had been boiling in my veins finally erupted and I quit my job as Director of Youth (Jamaica) and ran for office as a Council Woman. Not only was I elected but it was as though a new me had been born. I had never experienced such deep passion for anything outside of my family before my foray into representational politics. The constituents whom I represented acted as stimulants of my existence. My political career and prominence were growing and I felt I could achieve anything I wanted in the political sphere. Truth be told though, my family was feeling the pinch of me being absent. My husband heard me more on the news than he saw me at home. No let’s change that: he also saw me when he brought our baby to be breastfed on the campaign trail.

Enough background for now – I think you have gotten the drift of why I felt that moving to the US was similar to giving up my independence. In the US I was lost in the midst of everything and everyone else. The novelty of ni there wore off in about a month (that is as long as it took for me to complete a real estate course). I was bored, I felt that my mojo had been crushed. There was no passion boiling through me, the place was cold, I wanted to work but couldn’t find a job. Life became miserable. I hated my new life as expatriate.

Talking with other expat wives in my husband organizations I came to realize that I was not alone: the US could be a tough posting. Forget the shopping and the bright lights and reality sinks in quite fast. Jobs for expat wives are difficult and while many do not want employment, many do. No matter who you were or what your profession was at home, in the US (more often than not) you have to start from scratch. If you were a doctor at home, in the US you have to go back to school before you can practice, a lawyer – same scenario. If your academic background was not from the US you were stuck waiting to get lucky or for something to open up in your Embassy.

For me it was sheer misery and I wanted nothing more than to go home. I felt depressed, I got miserable (or more miserable as my husband would say). To make matters worse my political party (Jamaica Labour Party) won the national elections in 2007 after 18 years in opposition and there I was stuck in a country that did not feel like home. It felt as though someone had imprisoned me but was allowing me to watch what I was missing. I got even more miserable and antsy. It felt as though there was no end in sight to my state of regret about leaving Jamaica.

We spent many nights trying to find a solution. What are some of the things that an expatriate wife can do in the USA if she is not interested in being a stay at home mom? I desperately needed to be defined as something other than my husband’s wife or my kids’ mom. I needed to be me and to be acknowledged as such. 

In early 2008 I got a phone call that changed everything – I was alive again!!!!! This phone call brought news that began my journey of enjoying our posting in the US. There were twists and turns, ups and downs but I came unto my own. I grew into my role as Stephen’s wife and my kids’ mom because I found a way to also be me. My family went through the worst experience ever during this time but let’s talk about it tomorrow when I can tell you more about how to make the best of a bad posting if being a stay at home expat mom/wife is not your thing.

Until next time…..One Love!!!

If you like this blog you may also like http://www.jamaicanmeditations.blogspot.com