At the beginning of every great expat friendship is the knowledge that it will evolve into something different. What begins as a mutual adventure will eventually end with a farewell party. It doesn’t necessarily have to be forever, but no matter what, one day the moving truck will arrive in either yours or their driveway. Those who are leaving and those who are left behind. The leaver versus the leavee. Both of you saying goodbye but only one of you heading off on an adventure.
With seven quick and successive moves in our passports G and I were always leaving, never left behind. The first time it happened I left a very good friend in Jakarta. As the car drove away from her house and down her very familiar street for the last time, I tried hopelessly to stifle my sobs. It all seemed too much, the process of packing up a house and moving country with a toddler in tow. Knowing I was going to have to start all over again, find a new home, a new school, new friends. I was jealous that she got to stay behind and keep living the life I was more than happy with at the time.
When we got together a few months later I’d began to change my mind. My new location in Kuala Lumpur had worked out quite well, I’d found a fabulous playgroup, we were living around the corner from friends and there were freedoms that Malaysia had to offer. I missed her but as she began to recite who else from our old life was on the move I realized that the end was inevitable, we all had to move on sometime. And moving was an adventure, it’s a boost of expat adrenaline and some of us are most certainly junkies.
It happens in cycles. People sign contracts, sometimes officially sometimes just between themselves. Agreeing on two or three years at a time. You arrive, make new friends, fumble through your newness together and two years seems like forever away. But somehow between finding arabic lessons and a decent hairdresser it’s time to renew your contract again. How could that be? You only just got here? You begin to notice staff changes, the receptionist at school goes to live in Japan. You’re on your second music teacher. The woman who paints your fingers and toes has built her parents a house in the Philippines. You decide on three more years, the receptionist at school returns from Japan, you’re now helping the woman who paints your fingers and toes to invest in pigs, she shows you pictures, with every tip she fattens them up and resells them at a profit. You congratulate yourself on the life you’ve set up, the friends you’ve made, you finally work out where to park for the Friendship Festival and how to sign up for baseball. A boozy farewell brunch will have you witnessing an international love in “I love you man, you guys have been the best” a friend will say as he thanks you for your farewell gift. Your tears are genuine and for just a moment you’ll ask yourself if you should be going as well.
G and I are about to be hit hard. There are moves afoot everywhere we look. Friends that we’ve come to rely on. The ease of the drop in call, the last minute plans. This is our time to be the leavees, for it’s just not the right time to go. And as sad as I am to say goodbyes I can’t help but love this genuine feeling of stability. As I sit choosing subjects for Middle School with our second little traveller I can look her in the eye without any hint of a “what if we move.” The eldest traveller is on a firm plan, she knows how the next few years will look. It’s been something we haven’t been able to offer in the past.
At the end of a particularly good farewell brunch on the weekend I sat talking to our host, they’re leaving after 13 years in Doha. She talked about this special life, how your friends become your expat family. “It’s the one family you actually get to choose. That’s what makes it so good”.
We’ve been so lucky, so many giggles, so many great friends. As we watch the excitement gather of new locations, housing, and schools, we make a conscious effort to be happy for them while appreciating what we have. New flowers in an existing garden, artwork to hang, and a house that will have a new paint job.
It’s not our time for the adrenaline shot, we need to coast, sit back and enjoy the farewells – relish in someone else’s adventure. That’s what’s made it so good. We chose it.