Monday, April 27, 2009

Home Thoughts From Abroad

We escaped to England for Easter. The whole family. We had got some cheap flights, husband was in desperate need of a break & we all needed a breather from the country, the culture etc. We also wanted to surprise my father-in-law who had had a hip operation & hadn’t been able to come out & visit at Christmas. It worked brilliantly & wasn’t too much of a shock to the old ticker.

I had been to a talk a month ago about ‘Acculturisation’ which talked about one’s tolerance levels plummeting after 2-3 months, when living in a stressful, alien culture. Particularly a developing or very different country. He said you find yourself experiencing childish emotions & getting absurdly angry about little inconsequential things. This he said was perfectly normal & happens EVERY 2-3 months. He reckoned it lasted for 2 yrs in a new culture. Friends here say it never stops completely. Phew, so I’m normal. It’s not that I can’t cope. Or that I’m peri-menopausal. At least I have an excuse now…

In the midst of gloomy, old, credit-crunch Britain, it was a pleasure to see that spring wasn’t affected by recession. The green shoots, not of economic growth, but of nature’s round, were oddly reassuring to see, and just the tonic we needed.

Woods were awash with bluebells, bobbing in the lime green light, so redolent of spring, also, white wood anenomes, cheery yellow celandines & even a sprinkling of pink campion. Wild cherries were in blossom & the candles on some of the horse chestnuts were in full flower.

Hedgerows were bursting with stitchwort, May & frothy blackthorn. On one walk we came upon a field of cowslips, their presence jauntily contradicting their rarity.
On another visit friends had them in their garden & allowed our daughter to pick bunchfuls of them (which she probably would have done anyway living in Albania, where there are no rules about wild flowers or conservation. One wit observed that the blue plastic bottle is the national flower of Albania…)

But let’s not spoil the picture. The fields obligingly had lambs in them, and on the Isle of Wight we hid in a hide & were rewarded by a red squirrel coming & nibbling nuts on the hide windowsill inches from us. He stayed for 10 minutes & then kept popping back for more.

The birdsong too was startling, so loud. Again in Albania you don’t hear much birdsong. Most of the birds have been shot & those still alive are living dangerously. People shoot them, not sure if this is for sport, food or just ‘for fun’. My husband once biked past an old boy with a rifle, on the dam near where we live. He was aiming at a sparrow. Hubby deliberately jogged his arm to spoil his aim. One sparrow lived to see another day, or maybe another half hour…. there are lots of old boys around with rifles here. My husband took off on his bike very quickly….

I have to admit I agree with Boris Johnson who said that nowhere in the world is as beautiful as England in the spring, though he hardly has original copyright on such sentiments. Two poems, one by Hopkins’ “Spring” “Nothing is so beautiful as spring” & Robert Browning’s Home Thoughts from Abroad “Oh to be in England now that April’s there” have come into their own for me since living abroad. You miss it, you appreciate what for years you have taken for granted & you realise just how lovely it is, even without the rose-tinted specs, it looks pretty special.

For the children England is about grandparents, cousins, & re-establishing routines & rituals, revisiting familiar places; the chance to walk a favourite dog for our son, trips to the beach near my In-Laws’ home, seeing how many stones from the beach one grandfather has polished (lots….), checking the special child’s bunk under the eaves is exactly how they left it, visiting the brook and cheating at pooh sticks.

For us adults it was also a bitter-sweet time. I went to church on Easter Sunday & saw a friend there who has a brain tumour, discovered 2 months ago; “the worst possible sort” the consultant said. She has 2 children, & is so brave, so amazing.

“I’m holding hope in one hand & reality in the other” she observed. In this modern age we are walking through the experience with her as she keeps us up-to-date on Facebook, with her treatment, with humour, candidness & pictures.

She was the first person I saw when I walked in. I went over to give her a hug and say hello. Her legs were up on the chair in front of her. I asked what the matter was. She dissolved into tears explaining that the steroids she was on were now affecting her legs badly. The side effects of pain, sleeplessness & discomfort, as well as the indignity of suffering radiation sunburn & hair loss makes it so hard on a daily basis, never mind the ordeal of having one’s hope for some sort of future lying in shards at one’s feet.

Yet she does have hope. She has a vibrant, real faith, forged in the fire of this ultimate test. And she has a peace & strength, which is beyond earthly understanding.

Then there was a visit to some friends, actually just the husband, who (it turns out) had been left by his wife 6 months ago. We had thought their emails very infrequent & sketchy always hinting at bad times but no detail. Turns out they were still sharing the same email so couldn’t say anything. They are friends we have known for 20 years. Our first uni friends to marry.

They have been through so much; their oldest has been bullied much of his school life (& had it ignored by the school), their 2nd son has had various mystery illnesses which have left him at times in a wheelchair, their 3rd boy has very severe asthma & endless ENT problems, requiring operations, consultations, medication etc. Their 5th child, a little girl was sexually assaulted by a boy in her class, aged 4. The headmistress wouldn’t do anything about it, because she admitted she was afraid of the father.

Their 4th child, a boy, Daniel, died ‘in utero’ at 26 wks. The husband had a nervous breakdown around the same time. He was the Number 2 in the foreign office in a country which suffered a high profile terrorist bombing. The stress & tension of living & working in that situation proved too much, coupled with his child dying.

He contracted ME & has not now worked for about 4 years. He is still trying to get a settlement from the Foreign Office. He was one of those typical candidates for ME, highly driven, 1st class honours, extremely intelligent, very hard working etc. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever work again.

We think his wife just couldn’t cope any more. You can understand her world-weariness & sense of hopelessness that anything would change. She asked him to leave. Somehow she felt life would be better without him. He will be utterly ruined by the divorce. He can’t work, a court will hardly find much in his favour in the way of sharing childcare when he has ME, & he probably won’t be able to afford to live near them either.

This brings the tally to 5 couples we know who have now divorced. Of the previous 4 if I had to name 4 of our friends that would be most likely to divorce it would have been them, but these latest friends…. It was inconceivable, unbelievable, and, it seems, irreconcilable.

At times like this you wish you weren’t so far removed & unable to help.

But unfortunately we had to return to Albania.

The 1st indication of being back comes before you are even off they plane. The mild anarchy, that is Albania’s attitude to rules of any kind, is represented in microcosm as the plane lands & taxies to its stand. As soon as you have touched down, most of the cabin is on its feet removing bags from lockers even as the plane is hurtling across the tarmac & despite repeated requests from air-stewards to sit down. On one occasion the pilot even came on the sound system to tell people to sit down.

As always seems to happen after a holiday of any kind, & always happens to us on re-entry to our adopted country, in the 6 days since being back, we’ve had 2 ½ days of power cuts, 4 days with no internet (our landlord neglected to pay the bill for 6 mths, even though we’ve been paying him for it), the broken sewer outside our gate is only half built (after 2 months) but at least the smell has gone (though I’m not sure where…) Our car has broken down yet again. Our ‘new’ mechanic, we thought we’d finally found a good one, short circuited our indicator & horn in order to fix them. In so doing it has caused the starter motor & lots of fuses to blow. Oh for a reliable, honest garage….

And I spent an hour queuing in the wrong queue for a passport renewal, because that was where I was told to queue, only to discover the security guard, when I got to the front of the queue didn’t know what he was talking about & put me in the wrong queue.

The effect of the ‘Easter English tonic’ wears off all too quickly when coming back into such circumstances. There are times when I really intensely dislike this place. However, I guess it’s spring here too, the park is full of buttercups, a small owl has taken to visiting our roof terrace, & house martins are nesting under our roof. And having seen the sorrows of people dear to us back in England, how can I not be grateful for all I do have?


Wife in Hong Kong said...

I loved your description of the spring flowers. They are just what I have missed in this evergreen place. But how harrowing for you to find such pain at home. Surely the divorce courts will have more compassion than to disallow an ME sufferer shared custody of his children? It's not as if he's done anything wrong. Oh, such sadness.

Iota said...

Gosh, don't know what to comment on this post. Was going to say "glad you had a good break", but it seems it was very mixed.

England is terribly terribly beautiful in the spring. You appreciate it all the more for being away from it.

Ernest said...

Well, hard to explain all your hate towards Albania (dispite all your personal circumstances - you got my sympathy there). If you don't like that country, why the heck bother to go there? It's hard to believe that English and American can still whine to the rest of the world after causing havoc. Grow up and stop demonstrating that you are English.

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

Thanks WIHK. I hope he gets a good custody deal. I don't know I was just pontificating.
Iota, we did have a fantastic break. Perhaps it shd have been 2 separate posts. The Happy & the Sad
Ernest. I don't hate Albania I just get v frustrated by it. I do keep reminding myself how far it has come too. Actually Albania is 1 country that the Britsh (it's not the English by the way) have not caused havoc in. British soldiers fought on both the Nationalist & Partisan side in the 2nd world war, but mainly the Partisan side. Basically helping to fight the Germans who were occupying Albania. Britain is also quite involved now helping Albania develop, fight corruption etc. We are here because my husband is working for a development organisation, helping poor Albanians who otherwise wdn't get the chance, to set up a small businesses, learn a set of skills & get on the 1st economic rung of the ladder. We are here precisely because we know that we have had many opportunities & privileges that others haven't & we want to give something back. That's what keeps us here. It doesn't mean that I don't find it hard sometimes though.
And as for 'demonstrating I'm English' I'm afraid I can't help that, I am. It's like saying stop demonstrating you're a woman.....

Michelle said...

It's her blog. If you don't like it don't read it.

First time I've been here (blog hopping), appreciating what you've got is so important. Take care.

Potty Mummy said...

Hi Paradise, lovely post. My heart goes out to the couple you mentioned. And who is this Ernest person? Not only does he not have his own blog removing the possibility of posting come-backs there, but he can't even spell 'despite'. (I thought you were very restrained in not commenting on that in your response, by the way...)

Oh yes, and I tagged you...

Almost American said...

Just ignore Ernest!

Glad to hear you got a break, though of course the return to Albania must have been hard.

I have tagged you BTW, should you care to participate in a meme. (Hopefully not the same one Potty Mummy tagged you for!)