Just Me and Steve

If you’ve ever moved country as a family, you know to expect the unexpected. For us, it has been a different experience for each move. But if I had to put seven moves together, it would look something like this:

You arrive in your new location in a state of exhaustion from packing and saying an emotional goodbye to your previous destination. As you attempt to inconspicuously peel a strip of packing tape from your bum while standing in the immigration line, your child announces you have more on the other cheek. You’re not sure what happened in the past three days, they were a whizz of farewells, packing, and jobs that were frantically crossed from lists. You reach into your pocket while your passport is being stamped, you’ve still got the house key. It’s too late to go back.

You arrive in your new house. It appears the squatters moved out just this morning. Your husband swears it’s only temporary and suggests a walk and a bite to eat. ย As you wander down the street you realize you look ridiculous, the weather does not match your attire. You’re not sure if it’s hyperthermia or jet lag that has you struggling to keep your face from falling into your soup. It is soup? Isn’t it? You have no idea what it is you’re eating. As you wander around in circles you’re looking not so much like a deer in the headlights, but more a deer who has just seen a lion, followed by a hunter, with a really big gun. You grin in desperation at everyone you meet, they stare back at you wondering why you’re wearing open toe shoes and a sun dress in the snow.

You wake up on day one to find your husband dressed for the office. He has his best serious look on his face. He is very important and needs to go and do very important things. This is his way of disguising that he is ridiculously excited about his new career opportunity, as well as the promise of lunch with colleagues, and the fact that he is freeeeeeeeeeeeee. You kiss your very serious and important husband goodbye. As you look out the window to check the weather, you see your husband doing high kicks and singing oh what a beautiful morning as he makes his way down the street.

You walk back into the kitchen and discover you have no milk, no local currency, no idea where your husband works, no mobile phone, no hot water, no friends and four children who have all just woken up at the same time.

Your child turns on the television and discovers three people who are speaking a language you don’t recognize. They are looking very friendly, without very many clothes on. You quickly change channels to find something else, there is nothing else. Just more very friendly people without many clothes on. You reach for the Steve Irwin and the Wiggles dvd because it was the only English speaking childrens dvd you could find at the airport. Everything else is in a container that you suspect is somewhere near Azerbaijan. Which is a long way from where you are. You think. Or maybe it’s not. You make a mental note to find a world map.

Everything is new. It takes forty five minutes to work out how to turn the shower on. There’s a special button for the stove which is located in the upstairs bathroom, and you’re not quite sure why it smells of pigeon in the spare room. The microwave is bigger than the television and you have two forks and a spoon to share between you and four children. You are now singing “Crikey it’s a croc, toot toot chugga chugga” over and over like a deranged woman.

It takes roughly six hours to feed and get your children dressed for the day. No-one has a jacket, they were in the suitcase that didn’t make it. Someone has diarrhea from either the plane food or the new diet. Or perhaps it was the pigeon feathers you found them playing with in the spare room. You eventually head out the door to find groceries and snow gear. You flag down a cab only to discover there are no seat belts which you soon realize will not matter as you are squished like sardines into the back seat and everyone is firmly wedged together – your arms are trapped to your sides. You ask to go to a bank, you need cash. You go to five banks. No cash. When you finally find a bank that works, you and the taxi driver embrace, you’ve become best friends. You needed the money to pay for the taxi fare, which is now starting to look larger than your mortgage. The children have started to fight, someone is breathing on someone, someone is looking at someone, someone told someone they had fart breath. You finally have money and ask the taxi driver to take you to the nearest winter wear store, he informs you with a big smile that it is a “special day” in your new location and all the winter wear shops are closed. You ask to find the shop with the gin.

Your husband arrives home to find you dancing to hot potato hot potato and speaking to Steve Irwin like a long lost friend. You serve up cheese sandwiches for dinner (that’s all you could find at the corner shop). Your husband talks of a fabulous lunch, a vibrant office and a project that will have him in Paris for two weeks. He enquires about the hefty amount of cash you extracted from the bank account that day and suggests you need to keep an eye on the finances. You wonder if it’s possible to commit murder with a fork and spoon.

You bath the children and put them to bed. Mid story an angelic face asks if you’ll hop into bed with them. As you wiggle your way into the sheets you feel something hard at the foot of the bed and immediately sense the feathers are not from the quilt or doona.

You gently extract the child and announce there’s a special treat of a sleepover in Mum and Dad’s room tonight. As you snuggle in a child announces that they think they’re going to like their new home. The taxi driver had a nice smile. The soup was yummy, and you can watch The Wiggles all day.

Their optimism is infectious. You giggle about the taxi ride. Sing the words to Crikey it’s a Croc just one more time, and agree to try and hit the shops again tomorrow.

For those who are new. I promise it will get better. It always does.

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  1. I moved countries once, as a teenager. The experience was enough to warn me off any moves as an adult, I can’t imagine how horrific it would have been for my parents. Only recently I moved away from Melbourne to the country and was thrilled that I surived the move unscathed. People who move around as much as you have my deepest respect and admiration.

  2. On the first morning in Singapore the kids got up and loudly demanded to go to the serviced apartment’s breakfast buffet. I looked atmy watch. 6.30am. OK, so I showered and it was only when I went through the living room I realised it was pitch dark outside. Yep, I hadn’t changed the time on my watch and it was 4.30am.

    When we did make it to the pitiful “buffet” breakfast I had my first ever taste of Asian “enriched” bread. Enriched = sugar.

    What would be amusing on a holiday is overwhelming on a relocation. But i promise other newbies – it gets easier!

  3. “What would be amusing on holiday is overwhelming on a relocation” BANG ON!

  4. Ha, ha, funny but soooo true. We arrived in our apartment in Baku at 3am local time to discover the company had provided us with 4 potatoes, 6 eggs, 2 onions , 2 carrots and a packet of coffee (no coffee maker or milk). We were starving. What would you have made? Answers on a postcard …

  5. Yep – right in the thick of it!!! OK so it’s Australia and quite familiar – even though they all talk funny, but it’s the overwhelming exhaustion of the departure, plus the jet lag plus the stress of the whole thing that just kills you. We arrived in our house yesterday – all we want is a shower after 30 hours travelling – no hot water. Then the drain in the bathroom flooded from the shower. Then today, 2 jobs: supermarket and try to get a phone – waited/wasted 3 hours for the guys to deliver our air shipment. Just as going out the plumber arrived to fix the drain. Only got out at 4pm, after F had happily skipped off to work at 10am, and I’d had bored, tired kids going at each other all day. After yelling at bickering/fighting kids all round supermarket, I suggested that the kids could start school a couple of days earlier than planned, and got the raised eyebrow from F, and was asked if I was only doing that for me??!! Yes, yes I was!!!! Somehow you forget all the details about this moving thing – bit like giving birth really, if you remembered all the crappy/painful details you might not do it again!!!

  6. So true, every word of it. Doing the very basics such as using local transportation, banking, buying groceries, finding the hardware/household goods/cleaning products/drug stores is exhausting. I’d hear myself exulting at dinner about triumphantly scoring a mop and cleanser or getting copies of the key made that day and cringe inside… But it DOES get better, and you do survive.

  7. Kirsty, you had me laughing out loud, all by myself in front of my laptop. You have to be the most capable woman I’ve ever met. That’s why G can be so excited about a new opportunity when you move.

  8. Love this. I haven’t done the exotic locale moves (just the UK and US from Oz) but I completely feel you on the initial arrival, exhausted from the emotional farewells and packing, living out of suitcases temporarily, no knowing what the new school system will be like, and everything is pretty much different from before. Throw in some tired-yet-bored young kids (emotional because they didn’t want to move away from their last lot of BFFs) and yep. I get it.

    Still, as hard as it can be, I wouldn’t change a thing and am glad I haven’t lived my whole life in the same suburb, city, or country ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Spanish omelette? What I really want to know is what did you use as a coffee filter?

  10. Great article. I just laughed – especially the part about murder with a fork and spoon! Definitely been there ๐Ÿ™‚ Do you think its one of those immutable laws (like, say, gravity) that all international moves involve arriving on a public holiday (or if you’re moving to Europe, a Sunday) meaning that it takes the better part of a day to forage for a few scraps of food?

  11. Right on again! Thank you. Just sent this to my expat girl friends. You made my day.
    We do build our network fast without our husbands!

    Your post helped me to get ready for a much hated task:

    letting my help go who has been fantastic with the kids, the house and me the last 2 years. Sometimes she was the only adult-conversation-partner during a day. Learnt a lot from her about this strange country. She started to take things that clearly do not belong to her. Going to miss her.

    Thanks for making me laugh out loud this morning ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. The stories that come back to mind after reading your blog…but I have to say the hardest time for me was moving back to my own country (1 time for a job, twice after evacuations). I felt like a stranger in my own country and nobody came over to welcome me back or take me out for a coffee to get to know the unfamiliar town we had moved to (my family does not live close to where we were).

  13. Love this decription of arriving somewhere new. Takes me back to my childhood when we moved every 3-4 years and instead of important husband it was important dad. Then throughout my 20s I continued to move every few years, dealing with situations like yours, though without the added stress of children. I haven’t changed country for 16 years now but have moved 8 times within France with my kids nevertheless, and I laughed out loud at your tales. Thanks for making me smile!

  14. Too true, no matter how many times we check hot water is available, we still seem to get stung and have no hot water!
    The other issue that really hit me in Europe is you are supposed to feed the delivery guys but I did not know where any shops were to even feed myself.. They ended up giving me a cheese sandwich I think???

  15. I’m still squirming at the thought of the pigeon. Yep this is the blog all expats with families should read and then there should be a “beat that” competition – I’m sure everyone has some great ones to tell- Flexibility, resourcefulness, sense of humour (huge) and sheer bloody determination…..you’ve just reminded me how brilliant we all are-:) STARS or what!?

  16. I love that idea Louise!

  17. Ha! Very familiar.

  18. Eight times! You win. xx

  19. It’s incredible how many expats say that repatriation was the hardest move of all. ๐Ÿ™

  20. Yes! Yes! Yes! What is it with the public holiday thing and moving? Moves also like to happen in Ramadan, or the height of the summer holidays so not only is nothing open you’ve also got no-one to play with. xx

  21. I feel the same way, it’s always good for a giggle after the event and I also wouldn’t change a thing.

  22. Awwww, I miss you. x

  23. Survive and thrive. x

  24. I love that analogy “Somehow you forget all the details about this moving thing – bit like giving birth really, if you remembered all the crappy/painful details you might not do it again!!!” So So true!

  25. Amazingly right on the money. Love it!

  26. Excellent post! Thanks for sharing…and it’s all so true!

  27. Potato scramble!

  28. I can relate to every bit of this. So many memories, you had me laughing and crying at the same time….we sure become resourceful when we land in a new country.

  29. Charmaine Pauls says

    Spot on! I so relate to this. Thank you for converting the expat experience into a laughable and humorous read! We need that.

  30. Kate Murphy says

    My first day as an ex-pat mum on the other side of the world was spent getting rid of nits from two children’s heads. Obviously brought with us from Australia, but no more welcome because of that!

  31. Absolutely brilliant post. I compare it to F1 racing. Hubby is Alonso and gets to drive a Ferrari (its his job after all) while you are the engineer, the mechanic and all the rest of the back up team. You deal with it!

  32. Aaaahhh so true! I love the way you make it so funny when it can be so hard but you get through it. The motto of the story! I arrived in new unfamiliar country with a one month old and a 19 month old only to have my husband tell me after his first day in his big important job he was off to the other side of the world for two weeks!!!!

  33. I have used a babies muslin cloth in the past to filter coffee.

  34. Rebecca Jones says

    The line “he is important….” Actually made me chuckle out loud. Spot on as always Kirsty! Bec x

  35. You are amazing in how you describe it all. Brings back memories of moving to Dubai for the first time (only 1 small child)! Returning a shopping trolly (what – who does that) and losing my husband and daughter in the mall. No phone. No money. No address to get home. Lost in time for over an hour. Funny now of course. Frightful then.

  36. Vanessa Humphrey Reverdy says

    What a delightfull story! Even after decade of travels with the family your text is absolutely hilarious and so true. Also so refreshing thanks.

    It has a special a tatse also for me tonight. A came back from holidays 3 days ago to learn my contract wouldn’t be extended more than a couple of months. In the last 72 hours we made decision to move country (where my hubby works), confirm a pre-booked school for a start Day after tomorrow…. We need to be on time for back to school!

    I booked flights last night,
    my husband found a family flat and moved in tonight, filled in the fridge for breakfast,
    tomorrow I fly out after office with the kids, and drop them with their dad and,
    come back to pack the house and finish my contract.

    I love change in so many ways but this “sprint” move is a new experience —-
    Look forward the fun part of it to laught out loud, cause right now it has a litlle taste of fatigue, ans yet a few luggage to finish.

  37. Laughing out loud over breakfast. The kids insisted I read them what was so funny. Even they thought it was hilarious. I used to seriously resent my husband “swanning off” to the office each day, while I dealt with the fallout of moving in and getting organised.

  38. Fantastic idea. A competition for the most disgusting story, the scariest story, the weirdest feature in a new house, etc

  39. Zoe Wassermann says

    THANK YOU, you have no idea how it was to read this today! I promise I could tell you a few similar stories and at the time they are so horrible but you get on with it and it does get better, some countries it takes longer than others though!

  40. Mandy Henderson says

    Can’t believe I’ve just discovered this forum, after being an expat in Dubai for 15 years.. And I was in Dubai when you had your night out! Now back in Australia!! Good and bad timing!


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