I’m sorry that I have been out of commission for a while. October was kind of a rough month, most of which had nothing to do with Kuwait. Then, a few of the tough things spilled into November. The dust has settled and I finally feel like I am resurfacing. Like, literally. I went through my first desert dust storm and my first earthquake and things finally seem settled in again.
Now, I can write. Rather, I need to write, to share it all. So here goes. Tough stuff first.
I kicked off the month of October with a bad stomach flu. Like a fever, vomiting, and couldn’t even move stomach flu. The same night as this started, I got a call from my dad. My grandmother had passed away. It had come on pretty suddenly over the course of just one week. I flew all the way back to the states for the funeral and then all the way back a couple days later. On the plane ride, I did my best not to vomit or they wouldn’t have let me on the flight. When I got back, I got really sick again, this time with the regular flu. A week later, I got a call from my parents saying that my cat that we’ve had since I was in elementary school had died. October, you were a piece of total crap.
I say these things not because I am holding a pity party for one. Rather, to illustrate the fact that there are tough things in life that happened which feel a bit accentuated when you are thousands and thousands of miles from where it is all happening. However, I also note these things because they illustrate an important point I want to make here: that as an expat, you create a sort of mini-family here. Even though I was only a month and a half in when all these things started, the support I got was “I have no words” amazing.
My mentor-turned-friend named Eric took me to and from the airport so that I could be there at my grandma’s funeral without have to pay a lot of money for a cab and so that I would have a friendly face when I arrived in Kuwait. My other friend here, Abby, walked to a pharmacy for me when I couldn’t move myself and brought back a bunch of medicine that the pharmacist suggested I take after hearing my symptoms. The owner at the bakala next door gave my friend free fruit and water to bring to me when he heard I was sick. My other friend Laura brought me water that I needed when I ran out. Another teacher at school, Arienne, covered my class for a week and a half while I was sick/away without hesitation to make sure our kiddos were in good hands and that I had nothing to stress over.
So much good inside of the so much bad. You see, this blog is a travel blog about all the cool places I go and see and want to go and see. Hopefully that encourages you to go and see the world. However, it is also a blog about Expat life. Living outside of your home country. Living outside of your comfort zone. Expat life is beautiful and challenging and scary and exciting and frustrating and reaffirming and strengthening and weakening and regardless of your experience, will change your life forever.
People who study the mental state of people who choose to live outside of their culture say that the cycle starts with a feeling of adventure. This carries a person through about a month, to a month and a half, in their new culture. Then comes a dip around the two month point. This dip includes feelings of homesickness, missing your dominant culture, anger at the current culture you are in, feelings of being lost, etc. This is around the time that you start to see “runners” as they are called here. These people, and I have known a few here so far, feel so overwhelmed that they leave, or “run” in the middle of the night. They pack up their stuff, cab it to the airport, and jump on a plane out of here. The school finds out when they don’t show up at work the next morning and their apartment is empty. A quick check of their passport will indicate that they have left the country.
According to these studies, if you stick it out, you will start to see the bright side of the situations here and even find them funny. That is followed by acclimation. They even say that if you get to this final stage, you experience some culture shock when returning to your home culture.
For me, I think I am on the tail end of stage 2 and heading into the third phase. I never considered running but with all the crappy things that happened in October, I felt the distance for sure. What got me through was the friends I have made here, being in a play and having something outside of work, and my students.
There are still some tough things. My best friend is having her first baby and I won’t be there for the shower or the birth. Thanksgiving is coming along and I am going to miss seeing my family. I am also going to miss my cousin’s wedding IN DISNEY WORLD.
Then again, it turns out Kuwait actually sells a lot of Christmas stuff. I purchased a 5 foot tall, magenta Christmas tree for myself two weeks ago. I got winter scented candles glowing throughout my apartment and my first ornament for the tree is ready to be hung. I am planning a trip to the UAE in January and China in April. The first week in Summer I am going to Russia, Sweden, Denmark, and Estonia. I am paying down debt.
Some things that were formerly frustrating are now funny to me. Sometimes the quick cycle on my washing machine randomly takes four hours. If I use too much soap when washing the dishes, soap bubbles start coming out of the floor. Cab drivers don’t always know where to go because there is not a true address system here. So sometimes you have to be the navigator, but sometimes you arrive at the mall of your choice and find out that it is shaped to look like the Titanic for some random, yet fun, reason.
And this vast world doesn’t seem so big anymore. In a good way. As an expat, you make your home in more than one place and more than once culture. You can love your native culture and keep pieces of the new one with you. You realize that a dot on a map across the world can become home too. You realize that you represent America in Kuwait and Kuwait in America and that hopefully, as Hallmark as it sounds, people in both places come to see that though there is tough stuff, we are more alike than different.
P.S. This blog post is dedicated to my grandmother. I’ll love you forever. Maybe a little bit of the grace it took to get through this month is because of your strength from above.