Happy I Tell You!

The process of returning, the re-entry, had its usual narrative. An epic journey (I swear it took me about 5 days to get home). I arrived at the final baggage carousel looking greasy and creasy. I’d picked up a cold somewhere between Brisbane and Hong Kong, my nose was red, my skin dry and I’m fairly sure I smelled. G looked slightly scared rather than lovestruck when he first eyed me coming out of arrivals. It was then home, a drive where I rambled on endlessly about the blog conference, I kept talking, because I could. 30,000 feet high in a tin can can quieten the most enthusiastic extrovert. There’s only so much conversation you can weave from the chicken or the fish?  Once home, the shower was perhaps the best I’d ever had, or since the last time I flew.

I swore I was going to wake up optimistic about my desert surroundings. So what if there was no beach-house, no favourite morning paper, no zipping to the local bakery or breathtaking views of almond blossoms, vineyards and Adelaide Hills.  So what if the eggs didn’t taste like eggs. It was good to be home, back to a routine, back to work, back to school – back with friends I’d missed over the summer. You will be happy! I told myself. Do you hear me? Happy!

After standing in front of the wardrobe with a fixed grin on my face (happy I tell you) for longer than I care to admit to, I realised I had no idea of what is was that I wore in 45 degree heat. After three months of winter, of tights, shirts and scarves – nothing in my wardrobe made any sense. I looked longingly at my new winter boots and then gave up. I threw on bathers and a sundress, I would follow my own re-entry rules and do laps at the pool. I packed a towel, goggles and cap, deposited the children at school and decided I’d exercise before work. It would keep me happy. Happy I tell you!

“Sorry Maa’m, no pool.” the security guard was blocking the doorway.

I stood in my sundress, goggles and swim cap in one hand, I used my towel to brush away the drops of perspiration that were now running down the backs of my legs.

“Why no pool?” In less than 12 hours I had returned to speaking the language of broken English.

“Chemical Maa’m, they burning the skin of the peoples.”

“Are the peoples all right?” I had visions of friends running from the pool in flames.


I tried for elaboration.

“Children peoples or grown up peoples?”

After three months of living in a world where the local baker had greeted us with a “G’day, How’s it going?” and newsreaders threw in slang and idioms, and the newsagent made small talk about footy cards and newspaper deliveries – I was back. Back to a world where my world is not your world. Where everyone brings their own world to the one place and tries to make it all work together. An experiment in international life. This is the world we chose, the world we love, this is exactly what I like about this world, the difference in culture, nationalities, lifestyle – but it was going to take a day or two to get my head around it again. Language was only the beginning.

“When will the pool be open again?” I was now melting, it was 8am and already 40 degrees.

This time it was silence but with a smile and a shrug. He looked amused that I’d asked, in a you don’t come here often kind of way.

I went home and showered. Pulled out my laptop and began to work. Periodically I’d look over to the corner, to a pile that needed my attention, the last of the unpacking. I had of course unpacked all the good stuff, the stuff you can’t get here: the treats, the clothes, the new shoes, the bucket size jar of vegemite. Like a bowerbird I’d marvelled over my new shiny things, finding places for them in my wardrobe, drawers and kitchen shelves. As always I’d left all the boring stuff in the corner: the washing, the study, the wet pack.

I opened an email from my Mum “glad to see you’re all home together, but sad that it’s so far from us.” That was it. Tears. Silent, staring out the window over the mosque, the construction, the sand and the dust, tears. Happy I tell you!

These first few days are a process of transition for me. I tread carefully. A lunch with friends here, a meeting for work there. I will push thoughts of another life to another time. I will move quietly from one life to the other. Happy I tell you!


Anyone else have to make a conscious effort to move from one life to the other?

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  1. Oh yes……as usual you hit the nail on the head. Have lived in the same foreign country for nearly 7 years. Two weeks at home..can’t speak the language any more. All the new people have arrived don’t know how anything works etc and I have to help them…remember it was you once…rather not at the moment….I want to be somewhere where I know what they are saying, how much things cost, where no one tells me off every day, where friends don’t leave, where my family is…..Is the grass always greener on the other side? Happy on the outside….

    • I hate that ‘can’t speak the language anymore’ thing. What is that about?? Just when you think you have the basics mastered you realise you have no way of asking for a roll of toilet paper, or what the word for tooth brush is. Deep breaths, people will stop telling you off soon 😉

  2. Yes. Even then I am counting the months until we go back to the ‘other’ life. Not because I’m not happy here in Singapore but because life in Cyprus moves at a different pace, with different people. You can see more sky in Cyprus because it’s not built up and it is a lot calmer because there are 800K people on an island 15x bigger than the one I usually live on, which houses 5 million.

  3. Bex Jenkins says

    Oh Kirsty, why is it always so hard. Six weeks back in the UK and I feel like a stranger in Oz. I’ve only lived here the 12 years. I’ll be better by next week but the transition is so hard. Having two lives can be a blessing and a curse x

  4. Wow! We lived in Estonia for years, and moved from Md, USA. Took some getting used to and with elderly parents and I was the only child, I did a lot of flying back and forth for longer periods of time than I would have. Readjusting on either side was not easy. S T R E S S! I would usually meet Hubby in Helsinki for a few days when I flew back and Hubby and I had a romantic few days with good food, catching up, and REST and concentrating on just “us! ” That was really a God send!

  5. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. I’ve been back in Riyadh for 4 weeks and I’ll admit, I’m still slightly in that phase. It’s subsiding more so now that friends are returning and school has begun again. With ever unwelcome set of eyes that follow me down the street, every prayer time closing, every time I pull on my abaya in the 45 degree misery, I’ll try to remember and chant that to myself as well.

  6. Mirela Eleftheriadou says

    Dear Kirsty, I come from Greece but the last two years I live with my husband and two kids in Berlin. After 6 weeks under the greek sun, I return to Berlin, go to the supermarket, reach the counter with you can’t imagine how many stuff and the moment I am about to take out my credit card, I realise I had completely forgotten my pin number. I can’t describe my embarassment when I left all the stuff there and walked out of the store!!

  7. Caro Webster says

    Kirsty, it was so lovely to meet you at ProBlogger. This is a great post. I could really sense how tricky life as an expat must be sometimes. I hope you settle back into your routine and that your pool is sparkling, acid free and swimmable again soon. xx

  8. I dread re-entry to China every time we’re back in Australia. I question why on earth we would live somewhere where air quality and food scandals are part of daily conversation. Why would we turn our backs on an idyllic Australian lifestyle? The air is fresh, sky is blue, grass green (and you’re allowed to walk on it) and the sun shining. Yet I love living in Shanghai; it just takes a couple of days each time to remember why. There’s an addictive quality to expat life that I yearn for when we’re back home. And after every 12 hour flight, I swear never to do it again! Three weeks after re-entry and I am happy to be ‘home’.

  9. Yes, it’s part of the reason I didn’t go back to Oz this summer (along with the cost of flying us all back and not really having anywhere to stay). Last year, it took too long to settle back in and I found I was only really settled in and it was suddenly Christmas. We’re going back for just 3 weeks at Christmas.

    I laughed at myself the other day when I realised that I’d asked “What’s your best price?” four times in one morning of doing chores and thrown in a few “khalas” for good measure. I’ve been here too long!

    I hope you’re swimming in your pool soon (inshallah). x

  10. Linda in Ethiopia says

    I’m in Addis Ababa. I was having a tantie almost every day (dodgy sewerage smells in bathroom, no water at all, nasty meat, poor quality veg that taste of nothing, Internet down, endless hours in traffic) but it does no good. One has to make peace with where one is and look for things to be happy about. I am thankful that it is not hot here (think Spring almost all year round except the rainy season when it feels a tad chilly). I hope the pool situation is resolved for you soon.

  11. Istanbul to Phoenix, AZ for 2 months each summer. Summer. No one except conferences looking to book on the cheap visits Phoenix in the Summer. 105-115 regularly. But there’s family and some friends who haven’t forgotten me/us. A pool in the backyard at Grandma’s house, fabulous easy shopping at great prices and driving on roads laid out in a grid. Oh! and cartoons in the movie theater in English, not dubbed into Turkish! Libraries with summer programming and activities, and they actually lend books too, imagine that! The goal of raising little people who are fluent and comfortable in 2 languages and cultures has had us going home to Arizona each summer for the last couple years, instead of the glorious months of February-May (which we used to do when we could just pull them out of preschool.) Coming back to the craziness of a city of 15 million is both blissful (cool temperatures and lush countryside) and aggravating. Trying to learn from our Turkish gardener/security guard/pool maintenance man why the pool in our common area had turned green a week after our return was comic. My Turkish is halting, I need to make time to take classes, but we don’t live in the crazy center of town where fun classes with ladies who lunch are offered, we live on the outskirts. So what I got from body language and a few words was that the “pompa” had had water up to its neck from the unusually strong rainstorm the previous day, and was no longer working. Just in time for us to miss the last 3 weeks of swim season here, because the likelihood of it getting repaired anytime soon is. . . dependent upon god willing possibly maybe.


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