I guess I have lived here long enough now for me to be moving into the 'old timer' category as we embark on our 3rd year here (5th overseas), but more importantly for people to be leaving & for me, suddenly, to be the one left behind.
I wasn't in Sri Lanka long enough for it to begin happening there really. So this is a New Experience for me.
I remember a friend back home in Oxford saying that it was actually quite hard to be the one left behind doing the 'same old, same old', whilst her friends were 'moving on' to exciting things & new pastures. At the time of course I didn't see it like that. I didn't want to 'move on'. I saw her as the lucky one, still cocooned in her community, with friends close by, still in the town, house, job she loved. Unlike me.
Now I begin to understand, not actually because I envy people moving on to 'more exciting' things, or feel that I want to myself; more that I am left behind as friends move on to pastures new. I have begun to feel that old insecurity & lack of confidence again which come from being in a new place, having to start all over again, make friends, put down roots, learn the ropes. It has some of the characteristics of the 'transition' phase of entering a new culture again. Except I haven't even gone anywhere this time.
In this case it's the vulnerability of relying on a few friends in a small community & the wearying nature of having to rally oneself & 'get out there' & make the effort once again to make new friends, & engage with new people in the struggle to establish a new network. Just when I was hoping to rest on my laurels & nestle into something akin to a comfort zone. Bam, my friends up sticks & decide to move.
First there was an Albanian friend who left in Oct, having accrued enough 'points' to enable him to work in Canada. Then at Christmas there was a couple who we knew well. I helped her with the Mangava card project & I now oversee it, (which is a big challenge for my Albanian). In June our bachelor P.E teacher friend leaves, & the family with whom we do most, whose children get on so well with ours, may now be leaving in June too (after 6 ½ yrs here) pending a potential job offer back in the U.K.
That's all 4 of the guys my husband mountain bikes with, & it's both my main girl friends here.
It's at times like this, though, that I feel most sorry for ex pats, married to Albanians. (NOT because they have no 'get out clause' like me, although I DO think that too sometimes, on bad days)
But because this is their home & yet they usually do, inevitably gravitate towards other foreigners, particularly those from their 'homeland'. Others I know deliberately keep a distance to some extent & try & integrate more fully into the Albanian community knowing the inevitability of the foreign friends' departure at some point & the pain that goes with it. I couldn't cope with that. I know you can enjoy those friends 'for the moment' but I'm the sort of person who enjoys, & has, close, long term, 20 yr old friendships. There is something irreplaceable about the familiarity, acceptance & 'pick up where you left off' nature of old friends. I miss it.
I guess I'm also quite picky & I have found it hard adapting to 'circumstantial' friends. Somehow it seems a bit false & a bit pointless hanging out with people because you need a social network even though you have little in common. I do try & be welcoming, have people for meals etc even though it's a draining process, but it's the soul mates, kindred spirits, old, old friends I miss. On the plus side I have made unexpected friendships & gained valuable lessons from these experiences.
I have been reading 'Third Culture Kids', that seminal work by Dave Pollack. Leave taking & expressing grief, are all part of a 'global nomad's life experience. Pollack states that for TCKs, 'The collection of significant losses & separations before the end of adolescence is often more than most people experience in a lifetime'. He says that Third Culture Kids (TCKs) can develop a pattern of fear of intimacy, or protecting themselves from further pain & from further goodbyes by not allowing people to get very close. This often continues into adulthood (ATCKs) & can affect all relationships & marriages too. Of course, on the plus side, they are very good at getting into friendships very quickly & are confident socially because they have had so much practice & had to get stuck in to make friends. I see this positive trait in my children already. I just hope they can avoid the negative ones, which let's face it are quite significant & potentially impacting. For me I just find, increasingly, that it all feels like such a huge effort & one I know I will have to repeat again & again & again, as long as we are living this lifestyle. And I'm fed up with it, yet at the same time, I hate loneliness too & need to feel I belong to a social network. So I guess I will keep trying.
At least reading the book (which is equally applicable to adults, like me, leading highly mobile lives) makes me realise I'm normal &helps identify the stages of Involvement, Leaving, Transition, Entering, Re-involvement. & helps me recognise the typical reactions that go with these stages. It really is helpful to know one isn't utterly pathetic, or even merely hormonal (for a change) but that I am exhibiting normal psychological phenomena. Hooray for them.
Many people spend most of their lives in the 'Involvement stage' where life is 'normal', we are comfortable, we fit in, we recognize we are an intimate part of our community, we are familiar with & follow traditions & local customs, we are confident of our valued membership of & position in this society. We are probably focused, primarily, on the present & our immediate relationships, rather than worrying about the past or the future. It is also a comfortable stage for those around us because they know our reputation, history, talents, tastes, interests & our place in the social network.
You may not even realise half of this, because it's so normal. Until you leave, move somewhere new, or even to another country.
Meanwhile though I still have my cyber community to enjoy. This has been a lifeline to me & has provided invaluable support & people to talk to, especially those in similar situations who have time to write & chat, unlike many of our busy friends back home. And some have become virtually, real friends, people whom I hope to meet up with at the Cybermummy conference in London in July. So thank you to those that read my blog, have offered encouragement, made kind comments & emailed too. it means a lot.
I wonder if anyone has written about the positive & negative impacts of cyberpals on the integration of an ex pat into her new 'real' community..........?