You Never Un-belong

Years ago I left a job I loved with colleagues who had become friends to move to Perth with G. While I continued to work with the same company, the branch/location was on the opposite side of the country. The transition was easy enough, I walked into an office with the same logo behind the reception desk, ran through the same procedures and used the same processes. I hit the ground running, I loved the role. They paid me more in Perth and the office was bigger, the clients more prestigious. I learnt more in that year than I had in the three before, and I had a fabulous mentor who had formerly been the West Australian Business Woman of the Year. All of these things make my reaction upon seeing my former colleagues at the company conference well, shall we say, interesting.

After two days of being back with the old crew it only confirmed what I’d known and tried to suppress all along. I missed them terribly. I spent the weekend conflicted over where to sit and who to grab a bite to eat with. While I loved the weekend away with new colleagues I couldn’t resist the chance to catch up with old friends.  And when it came time to say goodbye I found myself sobbing, yes, sobbing, in the hotel foyer.

I was yet to start expat life but that weekend could be journaled as item one in the records of my geographical schizophrenia.

I watched a similar version of events a couple of weekends ago in Dubai. While I always knew that our Doha friends had once lived in Dubai I guess it became a little more real when I saw their brick in the pavement of the baseball grounds. Their son who I’d seen graduate and go off to college had played on the same baseball field as a seven year old, they were now watching child number two and three play on the field as visitors. There was a definite look of wistfulness in my usually stoic English friend’s eyes as he explained how the fields were funded, built and established. This was once his community, his everyday, his routine. It was now a weekend visit with a new club and new friends from Doha.

A former teacher spent the same weekend catching up not only with friends but students. She’d used Dubai as middle ground and flown in from elsewhere. Her new location sought after, her family happy with the move, I watched as she struggled to reconcile the old with the new. Her new school on one field, part of her history and her heart on another. Her goodbye with a friend had me looking away while trying to inconspicuously wipe away the tears. They would possibly never live in the same country again. Their relationship now would be weekend catch ups or holiday flybys.

I’ve been watching the NHL playoffs, in particular the Flames. Having never watched a hockey game (when you live in Canada you quickly learn it’s not ice-hockey, it’s hockey) I spent my first Calgary Flames game in a state of confusion. How do they? Why do they? What does that mean when they? I was lucky enough to have a very patient friend who was a veteran of the game. I quickly became a fan. G and I learnt about the Red Mile, I marvelled at the news that I had friends that grew up with Iggy and we walked miles in the snow and ice to watch a game. Our children chanted the song at school, wore the shirts, and stood on the balcony of our house and squealed when the flame at The Calgary Tower was lit in the Flames honour. That was our old life. I now sit in my living room in Qatar watching those familiar colours speed over the ice. The thunderous music inside the Saddledome, the fire, the sound of helmets on glass, it all transports me to another time. “Is that the Flames Mum” our little guy asked, too young to remember.

Walking away from one life to begin a new is what expat life is all about. The destination where we once belonged, the community we were a part of will be replaced but never forgotten. All that work to build a home, form ties, find friends, and have a sense of belonging – it all stays with you.

You can never un-belong.

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