Back in the Land of Sand, after a month immersed in island life. The weather was spectacular, family time was comforting and the familiarity of my life that was, made the 4 weeks fly quicker than I imagined. However, amongst all the trips to St Ouens, caffeinating my way around The Rock, something surprising, profound and unexpected happened. Something that made me realise that whilst I have continued to connect with people, who were in my life pre expatting, I have obviously become very dependent on technology. Like most expats, we relish in the fact that the world is smaller because of the ability to FaceTime, WhatsApp and Skype. Gone are the days of long distance phone calls and battling with bad connections. Whilst these new processes are crucial to me, it still doesn’t make up for that human connection and I question whether we become too dependent, allowing some relationships to pass us by?
Over the past 8 years, I think I have been pretty good at maintaining my relationships. Of course it will never be entirely the same as when we were physically together but I can thankfully say I haven’t really lost anyone along the way. I still have people in my life that have been there for 35 years and are still supportive, loving and willing to put in the effort to see me when I’m Jersey bound and that means a lot. The obvious thing is that, as I continue on my adventures, it’s not only old friends that I need to nourish but new expat ones. Kuwait more than anywhere has given me some strong connections and as the inevitable expat transitions happen, people come and go from my life all the time, but it makes you evaluate where your focus and effort needs to be invested.
As I went on my first adventure to London, a naive 19-year-old, I embarked on life outside my island bubble. I walked into the dance studio on that first day of college and realised that we were a bunch a people from all over the country. This was the first time in my life that I would be interacting on a daily basis with people outside of my island peer group, most of which I had been around since the age of 3, all Jersey born and who had never left past a holiday. Coming from Jersey was always a novelty when telling people where I came from, but the downside was I couldn’t just pop on a train, Friday afternoon, to spend the weekend with my family, so I became reliant on the friends around me. Even back then, I needed to find a home away from home. There was one very important person that entered by life way back then and even after a year of knowing each other, when I decided to return home, dreams shattered, our different locations didn’t seem to matter.
Maybe this was the start of my ability to not see distance as a massive deal. Outside of my parents and siblings, my entire family lived in the UK and yet my dad was still as close to his brother, my cousin was an extended sister and with frequent trips to between England and Jersey didn’t seem that much of an issue. OK, it wasn’t the same as being around the corner, but those relationships didn’t mean any less and were easily managed, so with me in Jersey, my best friend up north, no issues in my head.
Over the years I have witnessed marriages, births and deaths with all the important people, that stretch of water between me and them seemed to dissipate with the morning tide. I was thankful they were there, I was happy we were still in each other’s lives, so moving to Prague didn’t cause me any distress. To me nothing would change, we still lived in difference places, we still needed to get on a plane to be with each other, just now my mum and sister would be added to that distance equation. Prague being on people’s wish list, me still working in and out of Jersey made this a piece of cake, we had a schedule of visitors and I was often in the vicinity to swing by between flying to and from the Czech capital.
I think this gave everyone a false sense of security. I had moved abroad but my mum would argue that she actually saw me more than when I was 15 minutes down the road. I was often linking trips via the family in Kent and
my cousin was a frequent visitor loving Prague almost as much as she loved me!
So the day I broke the news we were desert bound, 3000 miles away, 19 hours door to door from Mum and certainly a more costly air travel route, raised some eyebrows. Was I concerned? I don’t think I was, I knew I would need to invest a bit more time and effort as monthly trips were no way going to be feasible but to me it felt the same.
Fast forward 4 years and now a commitment to stay in Kuwait for the foreseeable, its dawned of me that not everyone is thrilled my this news. I think I have kept my relationships going to the up most of my ability. I am closer to my mum than I have ever been, the distance has made us appreciate each other more, she truly sees me for me and knows that distance hasn’t impacted our relationship in a negative way. Would she like to see me more? Of course, but she also knows that our weekly FaceTime and daily WhatsApp’s keeps us close and happy. The rest of the family & UK friends are much harder to keep happy. When I do make trips back, my Mum, sister and new niece are my priority, I don’t always have the time, money and inclination to run around the UK too.
It’s hard because its nothing personal but its hard to strike that balance and it doesn’t mean I care any less.
This trip home I purposely didn’t run around after people. Everyone that’s in my life knew I was there and if they wanted to see me, they only need to pick up the phone. I have learnt that it can be very easy to just please everyone, run around, see everyone on their terms and in the process lose the real reason you are there and enjoy time back in normality. All they see if the perceived glamour, the expat wife with loads of time on her hands, no responsibility, the lady of leisure, who why shouldn’t she just get on a plane to see me?! No one ever thinks how hard it is for us expats, coming and going, in and out of past lives, juggling emotions and then leaving again.
I was lucky to reconnect with my college friend on this trip back. My expat adventures had kept us apart for 5 years, only communicating through WhatsApp and the occasional FaceTime. As our lives went in complete opposite directions, it became that bit harder to keep momentum. I moved to Kuwait and in the same time frame of my sandpit life, she had 3 kids and took on a huge renovation project. We kept in touch, but it was different, it had to be, her focus was motherhood, mine was trying to navigate a very extreme change in location.
So 5 years later we are stood in Liverpool, in a random coffee shop and it was as if nothing had changed. I realised that whilst we were on different paths, different life choices, we were fundamentally the same two people, but that physical meeting needed to happen. I realise that distance can create paranoia, can keep you from saying some things to each other or being able to share spontaneous life moments, but it doesn’t change emotional connections if you keep trying.
I came out of a very positive experience, knowing that meeting would change things going forward. Not every relationship will last the test of expat time. There are many of us desert girls that have lost people along the way, people who’ve had a lack of understanding or who expected us to be at their beck and call when we are back in the UK. Relationships that are navigated across the expat seas, need to be based on effort, understanding and acceptance. Like a journey, its two-way, its goes in two directions , so it can’t be single-handedly maintained. You may end up passing ships, but some relation ships will anchor you together for life, regardless of the ocean you have to cross to be together.