Tag Archives: expat transition

India etched on my global heart… thirty days of ‘lasts’

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Today I have just thirty days… thirty more days of living in India.

A friend was recently asked if she loved this country. “I can only love it a little,” she replied thoughtfully. “I’ve already given my heart to Malaysia.”

And this is how it is when we adopt a country as our home. More often than not, it comes to claim a piece of our being – symbolically etched on our global hearts. Mine is already inscribed with Japan, Scotland, The Netherlands, Qatar, Oman, The US, Norway and Kazakhstan. Now to this, India will add its treasured motif.

I am sentimental and fragile at the moment. How will I say goodbye to so much that I love?  

I’ve done this many times before and I know to say a quiet farewell to all that has been my life here. And I will… with reluctance, but also with much gratitude.

It will be a sad farewell: to the birdsong in the lush canopy outside my windows, to the bats that flutter and flit overhead at sunset as we ‘happy hour’ on the terrace. To the rain tree whose expansive branches reach out like the arms of a fond friend, and to the two lemony yellow villas across the street that backdrop saffrony-orange flowers. Also to a giant-of-a-tree that will soon be plump with juicy mangos, and to the slender palm trees with whale-sized fronds hiding caches of coconuts and pairs of emerald green parakeets. And to my apartment – my beautiful space with its hues of greens, blues and ivories. Where I’ve penned two books, laughed and lived with my family, and stepped out to the terrace to marvel at refreshing, life-giving monsoon rains.

Yes I will bid long, lingering goodbyes: to my narrow street with tall shady trees reaching up to the brilliant blue sky, to the security guards who wave and greet warmly, to the vegetable cart that is trundled down daily with Raj at its helm. And I can’t forget the chai wallah who putters up on his motorbike early afternoon or the the saree-adorned sweepers and the rhythmic s w i s h – s w i s h of their short coconut brooms. I will  also say ‘so long’ to the cry of too many cats and far too many barking dogs – even to the clang-clang of Bishop Cotton’s school gate opening and closing, opening and closing again.

And of course before I leave, I will also give a nod to those things that I have despaired of – the all together too much traffic and having to launch myself into the stream with the now practiced nonchalance of a local. There is the symphony of horns and urban clamour, the potholes and broken sidewalks deep enough to lose oneself, the birds-nests of tangled, dangling wires and the choking air that clogs and catches your breath.

Oh, but there has also been much calm – early morning walks in sheltered parks, outdoor swims in sparkling pools and long lunches in frangipani and bougainvillea dotted courtyards.


At this time, I become conscious of the many
 ‘lasts’. Will this be the last time I walk past faded elegant villas that remind of  what once was, or through a market where vendors sell long coils of garlands as vivid as rainbows? Where the aroma of spices piled high entice and beguile? And I’m sure I’ll gaze at sarees so beautiful, and vibrant, they’ll make my heart leap as they have always done. Or perhaps I’ll engage in the friendly banter of barter with a gentle South Indian soul. 

How I will miss it all. And also my Indian friends; with gifts of sarees, with conversation so rich and stimulating, with sincerity and affection of which I have rarely known.

Inevitably, there will be ‘a last time’ gazing up to grand temples and spendid ruins, boarding a Southern Indian train, or cruising to the market in a rickshaw – wind rustling my hair, smells and sights so close I can touch and embrace them.  

Yes, that litany of ‘lasts’ will mark the cutting of threads that have bound me to this dear place. But in fact, they have already been woven into the tapestry of this global life – India’s richness, etched on my thankful heart.

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Two book launches… an Indian chai cafe and a tall, Dutch gabled home

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I write from The Hague on a chilly March morning, just before I travel back to India. The Netherlands is one of the places in the world I most consider home. It is not surprising as I’m half Dutch – our first son was born here and I have visited often with my mother – keeping strong connections with our Dutch family.

And now, another of life’s milestones has unfolded amongst these cobbled streets and gabled homes that I so adore – my first book has been launched!

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The setting was my co-author’s lovely, gezellig home. That Dutch word for cozy, typified the evening of March 7th. With a crackling fire, candles lit and tulips artfully arranged, and gifted, Jo Parfitt and I welcomed our guests. Many were dear friends who we see but once a year at the Families in Global Transition Conference; many having just arrived from the US, from Switzerland, Hong Kong or perhaps Dubai. Others were local friends or some involved in Jo’s mentoring and publishing life. All of them were congratulatory and pleased for us that Monday Morning Emails was ‘hot off the press’… stacks of boxes tucked away in a corner to prove it!

With Jo and I seated before the warmth of the fireplace, I peered out to the crowd of thirty or so people and soaked in the moment. A book launch is the gilded prize, reward for many hours of silent endeavour – the culmination of a dream. For me, it is my first published book and needless to say, I was a little ‘over the moon’.

“Your first book is always the most poignant,” Jo had admitted the day before as she handed the book to me for the first time.” Its silky cover was more lovely than I had hoped. When I thumbed to the back, to my author’s page, I was euphoric.

The evening of the book launch progressed with readings and discussions. Also with my penning many heartfelt messages as I signed copies of the book. And curiously, after all of this, I found myself back at my hotel, sitting cozily and reading a little of our book. Through it all, I was enveloped in sheer contentment and joy. Yet Monday Morning Emails is not always an easy, calm read. It is thought-provoking and truthful, a vulnerable exchange between global mothers. Between the two of us, Jo and I have raised five sons around the world in twelve different countries. We have supported our husbands careers and found our passion in writing, mentoring and publishing. But with that has come myriad issues as the backdrop of our life has changed every three, four, six years, perhaps after only three months!

In May of last year, Jo and I decided to write to each other every Monday. We well knew the power of writing and initially thought our book would be about the empty nest stage and raising global children, especially as each of us had a son who was having a difficult time with depression and anxiety. As we wrote of this, our dialogue also turned towards the loss of identify of children, building homes for ourselves against an ever-changing backdrop, ageing parents, health and wellness, traumatic childhood experiences – the topics tumbled forth. We found that over the six months we migrated organically from subject to subject exploring not only trying times, but also of great joy. We have experienced so much that makes a global life worth living – unique cultural experiences and privileged insights that we forever treasure.

Our accounts are truthful and personal, and we thank our family for understanding our ‘mission’ – to enlighten, to offer solace, to let people know that they are not the only family going through issues. “Mom, I don’t mind if you write my story,” my youngest son said with support. “If it can help someone not go through what I did, or help parents, then I’m happy to do that.”

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That evening of the book launch not only did I think of my family, who happened as is often the case to be scattered to the four winds – in Canada, in India, in Nepal. But I thought of a group of wonderful people that had already helped launch Monday Morning Emails. A few days before I had travelled to The Hague, I had given a two-day writer’s workshop in Mysore, India. Two hours by train southwest of Bangalore, Mysore is a charming small city that I have visited often and it has always felt like home.

As always, I was welcomed with open arms, arms which extended to an invitation to speak at the launch of a ‘Chai Patthe’ book club event. I had mentioned to my husband that indeed it was an honour to be doing this, but thank goodness I hadn’t been asked to be the ‘chief guest’ as I noticed the title on the announcement. Yet as the book club launch unfolded, that is indeed what seemed to happen.

The setting was an older bungalow that had been transformed into a charming Chai cafe. Older repurposed doors dotted the long narrow room, by coincidence coloured in the same hues as our book theme. I felt immediately at home.

The room was full, prompting some guests to listen and peer through the old barred windows of the once cozy bungalow. Seated up front as one of the ‘dignitaries,’ I gave a short speech. I mentioned how book clubs had always played an important role in my overseas life and how I had journeyed from avid reader to now, a published author. Without an actual copy of Monday Morning Emails, I had wrapped a copy of the book cover around a random book – yes pretending it was really the published version! The crowd chuckled when I admitted the truth, that in fact the launch was going to be held the following week in The Hague.

“When is the launch in India?” one of the guests asked eagerly.

“There isn’t one planned,” I admitted, not anticipating what was to come.

“Well,” someone chimed in, “this can be your launch in India. Now, here in Mysore.”

“Yes, in India before anywhere else!” another attendee added proudly.

“Can we? How wonderful,” I think I exclaimed and then proceeded to read the back of the book blurb, just to make it ‘official.” A round of applause erupted. I was asked questions and a lively discussion followed. Yes, just like you might with a true author… it was starting to feel more and more real. It was a magical evening with people who have become friends and wonderfully, many with whom I’ve shared the joy of writing. And so that evening in The Hague was of course our official launch, but how fortunate am I to have had two such poignant events.

IMG_4512Monday Morning Emails is part memoir, part diary, part self-help. The latter part of the book gives way to advice from eight different experts – including counselling, psychology, retirement, career advice and wellness.

The support that we’ve received since the publication of Monday Morning Emails has been heartwarming. It appears to resonate with readers, offering an unvarnished glimpse of a life that often seems so glamorous, yet is played out in the same ordinary tones as life ‘at home’. For this reason, it is also a book for those who don’t live a peripatetic life but live in one place, yet also face many of the same issues.

It is also starting conversations between parents and children, even those who are older and lived an expat life before any dialogue about this unique life was the norm. Many have also shared that it would be a good read for book clubs to discuss, and with that in mind, we are formulating book club questions and a Monday Morning Emails website.

It turns out that writing of the present and reflections of the past, was not only therapeutic, it was a joy to claim our stories. For indeed, our collected stories are narrations of life’s journey, whether they be global or otherwise. And after all, mothers are mothers wherever we may call home.

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My first touch of Monday Morning Emails

 

 

 

 

 

Shades of blue, pesky green…and counting Ladas

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IMG_3525It was one of those days yesterday, which admittedly, one can have anywhere.  Although I returned to Kazakhstan only last week, the initial excitement of seeing hubby and friends had given way to a dismal Wednesday.  I’ve somewhat recovered my equilibrium today; back from a ladies lunch and a market, but yesterday….how I longed to get back on that plane.

Trust me there have been countries over the years that yielded more than their fair share of…well in Qatar we all used to call them, Doha Days, and not in a good way. So I suppose yesterday was my first… Aktau Day.

I drift back to other countries we’ve lived in.  ‘A few moons’ ago in Japan I loved teaching English, though it was definitely a bad day when rats from the upper flat visited us and scurried across the tatami mats and futons.  In Holland, gloomy days were easily spun away with a good bike ride through the cobbled streets.  Scotland? Too many to mention and that was before the travails of two kids coming down with the chicken pox at the same time.  Oman…bad days didn’t exist except maybe when the water was too choppy to take the boat out…oh heavenly Oman!  The U.S….the first six months in Houston I was desperate to go back to Oman.  And Norway…let’s just say my ‘romance’ with the Vikings and my work cheered me immensely and rescued me from blue days and lashing horizontal rain.

But back to Kazakhstan.  There’s a honeymoon phase when you first move to a country andIMG_4199 I revelled in that last fall.  But of course, it often doesn’t last.  Thankfully at least, my daily routine is calm and harmonious. The ebullient staff greet me warmly at breakfast, placing my Americano on my table while I do a first sweep of the buffet. Miroslav, the chef calls out to ask if I’d like an omelette…”pazahal’sta, just a malinky,” I reply using my favourite Russian word meaning small.  The odd day, there might be the distraction of an unfamiliar guest to chat with. Today it was a lovely, and understandably jet-lagged American lady here to attend a wedding this weekend.  I tip my hat to her as it’s an awful long way to come for a celebration. I have a feeling she hid her surprise when I told her I actually lived here.  It does catch a few people off guard, including myself occasionally.

Most days by this time, the ‘business’ crowd has left for work leaving us stragglers, including the striking Air Astana flight attendants who frequent the hotel. They glide past us in perfectly manicured ‘other worldliness’; thank goodness I usually dress for breakfast and with makeup!  Yesterday, my eye followed them wistfully…maybe I could jump on a flight back to Istanbul with you. Predictably, the rhythmic efficiency of the staff preparing for lunch is a reminder to make use of my time, to not squander it. Look at the luxury you have, living in a hotel, no chores, no responsibilities…

And it’s interesting, even intriguing with a revolving door of different people and fascinating conversations. Going down for a cocktail or two and buzzing back up to the top floor is darn cool. The staff feel like family, I was welcomed back with hugs and genuine warmth.

But there I was yesterday, feeling restless, feeling confined.  The suite had been cleaned while I had breakfast. My quick stint at the gym was lacklustre.  A short walk to the grocers garnered IMG_3839some much needed vitamin D and my two phrases of Russian elicited some carrots and wilted coriander. Back along the rutted sidewalk to the hotel, outing complete. Not one photo snapped, not one interesting exchange, not even a glance out to the sea.  As the elevator doors closed on me, I slipped back into the doldrums.

Trying to be productive, I washed our seven dishes from lunch…yes B. comes home for lunch every day, usually just when I’m caught up in my work and would rather not be disturbed.

“See you this evening,” I’m forever calling out to him as he leaves in the morning.  He looks at me like I’ve lost my memory once again.  I switch from being away from him for more than a month at a time, to having him home for lunch everyday, please tell me that elicits just a little sympathy ladies…

Continuing with my predictable days, I know that the very efficient Amangul will deliver our laundry at 4:30 and trust me, I longed to have this respite from housework and chores once again. But there is something fulfilling about a gleaming floor and dust free blinds when they’re the fruits of your own labour. No, the laundry I will never miss.  And yes I admit that crawling into pristine sheets every evening is, well…sublime.

DSC04600Snap back to that restless afternoon, time is crawling by.  I’m procrastinating, I have a writer’s bio to complete for some newly published work and I’m designing a writer’s workshop that I should start on.  Instead, I stare absent mindedly out the window…Oh how I wish I could open it.  The view of the Caspian from our suite is usually what inspires me.  Today it’s almost monochromatic; the sea and sky melding into one dun, formless canvas.

Seemingly in a hypnotic trance, I fixate on the busy IMG_4240intersection from our upper window, watching the cars scurry below. I start counting Ladas, those ubiquitous toy- like cars left over the Soviet days. Hmm, seems there’s about one every twenty cars..yes, seems they’re all still white.  This is rather ridiculous, get on with something, I chide myself.

Then something registers against the drab skyline.  I suddenly get these ‘Soviet style’ buildings across the street and down the streets…those with no names.  I understand their garish colours and the slathers of paint on the low, crumbling concrete walls.  Some relief, some colour DSC04672against this drab February setting.

I recall pondering this when we were out in the warmth of the October sun… the fact that so much of the city is hued in blue and green.

Do they have a warehouse full of that pesky green shade left over from Soviet times that will be used until eternity. The blue I like!

IMG_4265Blue, along with that sickly shade of hospital green dominate the colour scheme; at the markets, on signs, on flower pots and buildings.  On buses, benches and especially doors. I sense it isn’t by chance.  In this part of the world, blue is a colour steeped in tradition and of religious significance.  To the Turkic people, as with Kazakhs, it symbolizes cultural and ethnic unity. It also represents the endless sky, as well as precious water (not to mention the colour of the Kazakh flag.) Yes, this light blue colour is meant to signify health, healing and as a bonus…it wards off evil spirits.  Perhaps why it graces so many doors?

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So, I finally rally and go to my photos that are resplendent with these two shades. There is no end to the photos I took when I arrived, it must have been that beguiling honeymoon phase. Looking at them now has cheered me, revived me…and at least I’m no longer counting Ladas!

 

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By the way,there is a shade on the colour wheel for this sickly green… (#94b21c) …the supposed healing properties of the light blue is a lovely antidote for it after all, it seems.

No, things aren’t that bad, after all tomorrow is Friday which means there’s the weekly soiree to look forward to.  The ‘gang’ will be down at the bar for evening drinks.  Last week’s tales spanned from the prepounderance of luxurious fur coats,IMG_3872 to the endless bottles of vodka stacked in supermarket aisles and unbelievably, to bride stealing in Kyrgyzstan (yes sadly an issue.)

And it appears we need to chat about a trip being planned to Azerbaijan. It’s supposed to be a must see…I know, who would have thought it.  I’ll keep you posted!

 

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