Friday, March 27, 2015

The reality of the ex-pat life ....

I step out of the shower, trying to ignore the throbbing of my cheek. It's been almost six months now and it's not getting better ... it comes and goes and there have been root canals and extractions and somehow we're no closer to having this resolved. I make a mental note to call the dentist, maybe I'll have to go on a fourth course of antibiotics. I wonder if I'll have to delay my trip home - again. Three years has been a long time to wait, I can't imagine waiting any longer.
The house is quiet - one off to school, the other home sick but happily playing for a little while, enough for me to shower and get dressed. I saw a post on Facebook this morning ... a dog stretched out, exhausted, and the caption said 'I can't do adult today.' It's how I feel. Some days it's overwhelming, the being grown up stuff. I'd like to climb back into bed and lose myself in a book and pretend there's nothing else I need to be doing.

Speaking of beds, it's been a while since I changed our sheets. Maybe that's a good place to start. Find some order in the chaos that is life right now and change the sheets. Tidy the room. I strip the bed in a few seconds. This will help. At least one room in the house will feel peaceful and clean when I head to bed tonight. I stop at the linen cupboard. I forgot, we only have one sheet. The second one tore and I meant to replace it but I clearly never did. Add that to the list of weekend chores. And I can't wash the sheet today because we pulled out the washer and dryer last night in an effort to repaint the laundry cupboard and make the space more organized, and when we did, we saw the peeling paint on the wall and the calcified hose. Water has been leaking behind the washing machine, and now we have to fix it. Only we don't know any contractors or plumbers and I'm not exactly sure who to call. The plumber we called out this week for a broken toilet didn't end up fixing it properly. I have to call him back too, but when i do he's going to remind me that he saw that our water tank needs replacing and that's a few thousand, and today that's just one more thing I don't want to have to deal with.

If we were at home, my step-dad would just come round and he'd know exactly what to do. He'd fix it for me, all of it, or he'd know a guy who could, and it would all be done and I wouldn't have to worry. 
But he's an ocean away.
I could wash the sheet, the machine could still work as it is now, pulled away from the wall with it's leaky hose - just one more cycle wouldn't hurt. But then i wouldn't be able to dry it because spring has not arrived and there is snow on the ground and the dryer was working just fine but when we pulled it away from the wall last night I tore the delicate silver extractor pipe at the back. I have no idea how to fix that either. I could ask my neighbor but although we've lived here just short of two years now, and get on just fine, that seems too intimate a request. I'd be imposing.
If we were at home I'd just take the whole load of washing to my mom or to one of my sisters and that would be my clean bed done. But we're not. 

I head back into the bedroom to remake the bed with the same old sheets. They'll have to wait another day. Or two. My daughter calls from downstairs, her fever has risen. I call the doctor and make an appointment for later in the day. Which means I have to cancel the arborist who was due to inspect our trees. We accidentally bought a forest with this house and a dozen of the trees are apparently not stabile and need to come down. We have been wondering if we could just do it ourselves. My brother-in-law said we could fly his gardener over and that would be cheaper. We laughed and nodded at the time. Now it seems like a tempting option. I wonder if he'd also be able to patch my leaking water pipe and patch the wall. In South Africa he'd just do the whole job and paint the wall for me too.

In the county I'm from there is a lot of talk of staying and leaving. Each time I go home I notice how often it comes up, maybe because I left and so it's the natural way of talk to flow, to ask and wonder and compare. Do I have regrets ? Am I coming back ? Is my life perfect so far away ? The day to day FB posts talk about load shedding and eating by candlelight and I understand how we all sometimes have days when we want to run away.

The reality is that it's the same struggle no matter where we are, just in different ways. The grass is green here, yes, and very beautiful in the summer - but the winter is cold and white and goes on way too long. The reality of the ex-pat life is that the homesickness often lurks around the corners. It hides in the cupboards and under the bed and pounces out at the most unexpected time, making one lose concentration for the better part of a day. Months. Years. There's no cure. One learns to carry on.

Since we became parents it's definitely been harder. In our twenties we were glad for our freedom and the chance to live our lives far away, in a new place. It was a huge adventure and we went home to recount our tales and we were happy. If we missed home too much we went back for a visit and when we returned it was to a community of South African friends and our British colleagues and it was easier. But the children, they changed everything. There are no family dinners or weekly coffees. There are no grandparents at our birthday table, no popping by to quickly drop off the kids for an hour. There is no one to babysit or take the kids when they are sick, no weekend sleepovers, no one teaching my son how to catch fish. There is no maid for the priviledged, no one to keep the house clean and watch the kids for a quick half an hour, or help me with dinner or sweep up the sudden mess on the floor that I swear was gleaming clean just half an hour ago.

It's the small day-to-day intimacies of having family close by that I miss. The last minute phone calls to come round for a meal, join us for a braai (bbq), come shopping for a new outfit. Come round to help with a project, can you sew these curtains for me. Have I chosen the right paint color ? It's the having to start over, trying to fit in and find a way to belong. Accept being the odd one out, the one who doesn't always know how things are done, the one who's accent gives her away. Get comfortable admitting not knowing and ask a lot of questions. Get lost a lot. Flounder, cry and pull oneself back up and do it all again. It gets easier. Mostly.

I don't regret where life has taken me. I am aware of all the choices that led me to this place, and why I made (and am still making) the ones I did. But to those of you dreaming of the faraway places and starting life anew ... it's an incredible experience to be away and start a new life somewhere else. I love that I've lived on more than one continent, that so many of my friends have travelled the world and had incredible adventures, and know what it is to move continents away and start life again. Sometimes more than once. But we all know the price we pay for our freedom, and some days it would just be nice to be able to call up my parents and say please come and fix my broken wall and can you play with the kids while I just nip out for an hour or just come and have coffee, i could do with some company. I'll even throw in a cake.

So instead i write a blog post in between a hundred interruptions to spell out words for an Easter card. Fever does not stop 5 year olds being creative. Then I'll walk away from the computer and deal with the day and think how really none of this is important and we all have those days sometimes. 

Just another day in paradise, right ?