Thursday, April 9, 2009

My Cinderella Moment.

Sometimes I wonder where I fit in. In the blogging world there are Mummy Blogs, Ex-pat blogs, Travel blogs. Which am I, I wonder? Should I be targeting a certain readership? I am all these, but not one exclusively.

Of course we all have multiple roles & identities: e.g wife/mother/career woman/daughter/sister.

These identities are true & defined. I am all these things, they fit. I like to think I slip seamlessly between roles, but in this new blogging world I slip through the cracks of these different identities & in my new ‘living abroad world’ I sometimes feel like Harry Potter on Platform 9 3/4, slipping through into another world & back again, seemingly effortlessly, yet left wondering where I belong. Trailing spouse/NGO wife/Third Culture Kid Mother.... these roles are more blurred, more slippery & equally angst inducing.

I ‘joined’ the blogging world to write about my experiences, observations & frustrations of being wrenched up from the safe herbaceous border of home, & family, & thrust, raw roots still oozing, into a parched desert, not a friendly flower in sight, trying not to think of the rich pastures of friendships left behind.

And in my overseas world. I am an ex-pat in as much as I live abroad. But that's about as far as it goes; I'm not married to an Albanian so not permanently here, not here longterm like most of the missionary community. I am not part of the Embassy/ex-pat crowd, though I suppose I should be grateful that I could choose to fill my time with Tuesday morning coffee, Wednesday evening dining club, Thursday’s lunch group, Friday Afternoon tea, Monday art gallery visits. There are also daytrips but I can’t do those with a child still not at school full time. Most of these women are older with no children or grown-up children. And what do you talk about when most of your week is filled with little more than sampling different beverages……?

Then I am an NGO wife, but there are only 5 or so NGOs here (more to do with corruption problems than lack of need here I imagine) so there isn’t an NGO crowd as such to ‘run with’.

Often, anyway, this crowd is young, very hard working and full on party-ers. I can understand this now. When dealing with so much hardship, tragedy & poverty it needs an escape valve. But doesn’t really work for a 40-something stay at home mother of two….

Then there is the missionary crowd. These wives/mothers mostly work too so aren’t around during the day; they are mostly (not exclusively) American conservative fundamentalists, who I struggle to relate to, despite my own faith. Then there is the fact that whilst my husband is putting in 12hr days & gets 20 days leave a year, these missionaries have about 12 wks a yr & seem to have incredibly flexible schedules. Hence we do not overlap much.

I am learning Albanian, but once I have asked the shop assistant for 400 grams of mince, asked after your health, explained that, yes my children are at school, & commented on the weather, then I grind to a small talk stop. So much for Albanian friendships.

This weekend was another reminder of the worlds I inhabit. I spent one afternoon at the hand made card project I help with, which provides a job/income for ladies who literally dig for iron to sell to earn money. Mangava is a micro enterprise project to help these women. Then I went to the International Women’s Group meeting in the evening. Everyone dresses up to the nines for this monthly meeting. I always feel a bit slack turning up in my jeans. We watched a film by an Albanian about the many problems in Albania today. I was very glad to find, after Albania’s own ‘cultural revolution’, that art & free expression are thriving (though the latter does not thrive in the media it has to be said).
The chairwoman’s response was “Well, that was quite a heavy film. Thank you” And it certainly was unusual for this group.

Then, on Saturday, in rather abashed, full ex-pat mode, we went to the first ever British Embassy Spring Ball in Tirana, raising money for the Sue Ryder Foundation. We were going with a group of friends, amongst whom were 4 guys who had completed a charity bike ride from North to South Albania. So everyone was in the mood for celebrating. My husband ran their training mountain bike trips in the hills behind our house every Sunday. But of course he didn’t have enough leave to just ‘take off’ across Albania on a bike for 9 days.

So, on Saturday afternoon I went with two friends to get my hair done. I have only ever done this twice before. Once for my wedding, once as a bridesmaid. Felt quite decadent & an indulgence, but for $20 an affordable one. (My friends' 'hairdos' only cost $14. was my lack of Albanian the reason, did I seem 'more of a foreigner than my 2 foreign friends' thus meriting a higher price??)
This is one of the things that is weird about living abroad (in a developing country) You can afford to get your hair done just for going out to a party, you can have ‘help’, even gardeners & drivers if you really want, live-in housekeepers etc. I know a lady her who has her hair & make-up done every day at a salon (No, she doesn’t have children) You can live the sort of life that in Britain only the rich live. But it is doubly uncomfortable because you are living in a country, no doubt, where there is a lot of poverty. And I just don’t want to be living that sort of life.

Anyway it was great fun to peep into this embassy world, amazing to be a voyeur at an auction where ex-pats (& rich Albanians) were paying 400 euro for a bottle of cognac, 1400 euros for a night in a London hotel etc. When you are not bothered about fitting into a particular world, then it is simply fun & amusing. The rub comes when you want to fit in somewhere & there doesn’t seem to be anywhere you fit.

On Sunday, my husband was feeling very rough (more from age, overwork & the roughness of Albanian wine than over indulgence I think), so after lunch he had a sleep. I do not begrudge him this in the slightest. He works very hard, and I'd had my girly afternoon on the Saturday at the hairdresser.

While he slept:
1. I washed up the children ‘s supper from the night before, & the lunch stuff.
2. I made the supper.
3. I wrapped a birthday present for my 8 y-o to take to a party the next day.
4. Found a spare birthday card for him to write.
5. I made an Easter project with 8 yr old involving plaster of Paris. (He won 1st prize!)
6. I supervised my son defrosting the freezer (chipping ice away with v sharp knife)
7. Loaded & unloaded the washing machine twice.
8. Iced fairy cakes with my 2 children.
9. Washed up cooking stuff.
10. Hung the washing out.
11. Tidied the kitchen.
12. Made afternoon tea for everyone.
13. Checked my email (well I am an ex-pat…).

I felt like Cinderella. Ball, posh frock, chic hairdo one day, washing dishes & mopping the floor the next.

My husband woke, looked around at the serene scene & said “oh good, tea!” He didn’t seem to notice the fairy Godmother had visited in his absence.

And do you know I felt strangely content. I am the sum of my parts. I enjoyed being Cinderella & going to the ball. I enjoy having different worlds to observe & participate in (& write about). I am grateful for the privilege of being a wife & mother, for all its mop & bucket moments. Perhaps I should stop looking for one place to fit into. After all, we women are supposed to be complex creatures aren't we?


Iota said...

I feel sorry for your husband, labouring away at that nap, while you just waft around, with your little list of 13 tiny jobs...

Great hairdo!

Brit in Bosnia said...

I really identify with you on this one! There are not really many expats round here, my Bosnian is coming on but still it is painful to listen to, kids not at full time school, you won't find a British Embassy employee up here, they prefer Sarajevo and the joys of the coast. I think that is why I have got so into the blogging, I don't really have another social network at the moment, blogging is it.

I've been having the same debate with myself about what sort of blogging niche I want to be part of(mummy blogger, expat blogger, travel blogger, grumpy old witch blogger)and couldn't make my mind up so decided to carry on blogging about what I felt like. As you say, we have to move seemlessly between our different identities.

Sounds like you had a great time at the party and I hope you got soem rest time the following day too (once your husband was up that is!).

I do love your blog, you hit so many of the things that I am struggling with on the head. And that was a great hairdo too!

nappy valley girl said...

I think these 'labels' aren't particularly helpful, actually. What's interesting about blogging is people writing about their lives, whether it's from a mother's, an expat's, or just another person's perspective.

Personally I think your blog is fascinating. Your experiences are so different from those of most of the people I know, even though I grew up in a slightly peripatetic expat community. I say don't worry where you fit in and just keep on telling us about it all.....

nixdminx said...

you don't need to fill an niche for anyone when you blog except yourself! I loved your post. Happy Easter from London

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Thank you!
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Wife in Hong Kong said...

Great post. I'm often not sure of who I am here, or how I fit in. Being yourself is easier said than done when you're away from home as the goalposts have not only moved, they've been completely removed. Whatever identity you have, it's ticking many boxes. Glad you're feeling content, you multi-tasking domestic Goddess!

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Would you mind if we used this post for the expatmumsblog best of carnival on Tuesday? Please let us know at Thanks!

"On Tuesday 21st April we're hosting an expat mums carnival over at

We hope to collect a good group of posts about the unique experiences and challenges of being an expat mum. Please send over a link to any posts on related topics to"

Tanya said...

Hi! You kind of answered it in this post Ive just realised but I've just tagged you in 'Her Bad Mothers' 'Round the world in 80 clicks' experiment if you feel so inclined!

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