The Expat Niche

I was searching through my bag for a pen while chatting to a new friend when I found my house keys. The Adelaide house keys. It was an impulse buy at the hardware store – I’d collected one of those miniature torches as a keyring. The torch had assisted in the walk to the local restaurant, particularly the part where you make your way through the over grown path without street lighting before getting to the beach. “Can’t we just use our phones?” some-one had asked as I’d bossily taken the lead with my miniature torch.

As I fumbled through my bag, the feeling of the torch had passed between my fingers and a glimpse of the beach house flickered through my mind. I’d used those keys every day since June, in and out of the car, handing them to the little travellers to lock up, leaving them in the door for the last person to make it to the car – and now they would sit in the inside pocket of my handbag, waiting for December – like the rest of us.

“So did you come here from Qatar?” new friends, or old acquaintances would ask as I introduced myself at the conference in Queensland.

“No, we have a place in Adelaide, we’ve been there since June, the children have this really long break in the middle of the year. They’ve just gone back with my husband, I leave on Sunday.”

It’s the story I tell on high rotation. I know it’s boring, but I don’t have a better explanation for who am I, what we do, why we live our geographically schizophrenic life. Each time I answer and mention the house in the Adelaide, the beach, there’s that same little flicker. The keys in the door, the walk to the local restaurant, the neighbours. My heart makes the gentlest of tugs. The things that could stay: the wine in the rack, the football scarves, the jackets hanging in the closet. The things that were thrown out at the last minute: the remaining contents of the fruit bowl, the opened yoghurt, the container of cream. As I’d carried my suitcase to the car I’d put the rubbish bin out on the street for the last time, knowing I wouldn’t be there when the truck came to empty it.

At the conference I heard many bloggers, young bloggers, talking about their tribe. I heard marketing people talk about their brand. I heard writers talking about their readers. Speakers talked about their “niche”. After registration we were asked to add buttons to our name tags with our blog’s “niche”. Food? Family? Personal? Fashion? I looked at them all and decided to make my own.

Expat.

What’s my niche? My niche is about washing your knickers in the transit hotel. My niche is about finding a obstetrician in Africa, a place for immunisations in Malta and pasteurised milk in rural Indonesia. My niche is about sobbing while you say goodbye to your new best friend, knowing that you’ll never live in the same city again. My niche is about starting a new school, relocating to a new house, buying yet another can opener while you wait for the old one to arrive in your shipment.

My niche is the people who will always feel a slight tug of the heart for another location, a yearning for home, or a previous life. My niche is directed towards the people who rally, supporting each other through new locations, because we’ve felt the same way. We understand how soul destroying starting from scratch can be.

And maybe that’s not even a niche? I don’t know. I just know that there’s a lot of us out there and I’m going to keep coming back each day with the same idea in mind. To remind myself as much as anyone else, that while this expat life can be challenging it remains to be a gift.  It’s not about enduring the journey, it’s about enjoying the adventure.

I can keep feeling for those keys in my handbag while I keep my eyes forward. That’s what it is to be an expat.

 

What do you think?  Is there an expat niche?

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