Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Back to School

Today really marks the beginning of a New Beginning for us. It also marks a few firsts. Not only did my two children start new schools, in the UK; my son's 3rd school in 6 years, my daughter's 5th school, but it is also the first time my daughter has been to school in England. And it is my son's first day at secondary school. Up to now, being back has felt the same as every summer back in the UK, pretty much. But now, September has come, the leaves are already falling, the air is cold & we are still here. And I am resolutely refusing to let my mind wander to what temperature it still is in Tirana.

Needless to say, both children were very excited, uniforms, (a new concept), tried on repeatedly, pencil cases packed & repacked & ties learnt to be tied. And with true ex-pat style, they sailed into their first days with ease & confidence. I was very proud of them.

Needless, also, to say, I sailed slightly less confidently into the day. In a way the whole re-entry adjustment has somewhat eclipsed the momentousness for every parent, of their first child starting 'Big school' (Incidentally I rather liked the fact that at my son's school, one of the buildings is actually called 'Big School'. It even has an elegant little plaque on the wall saying so. I have yet to discover the history of this primary school-ish name for a building, but I like it.

I found myself once again sitting at the kitchen table (different tables, different countries, same scenario), wondering, not for the first time, what my new beginning would be. What was I going to do?

It is time, once more to re-invent myself, or time to invent/create a life for me here. My husband has a new job, my children have new skills, I have..... the shopping to do....

I also have the cleaning to do, the ironing & the ferrying of children to & fro. It's one of the peculiarities of living in developing countries, (in particular), that whilst there may be poorer infrastructure, power cuts, worse communications, less choice of available goods, what you do have is cheap labour & people needing work. So, slightly uneasily, I have enjoyed the privilege of having someone do my cleaning & ironing & even school runs for the last several years. So that is something to get used to again. And looking back wistfully, I wonder at my squeamishness at this benefit...

But on this first morning, I went shopping. I must confess I haven't suffered the horror at the 'obscenity of choice' in supermarkets in Britain. I have to admit i have rather revelled in it. Of course I do find the packaging ridiculous & wasteful; the sanitised polystyrene & cellophane wrapped meat slightly unreal & plasticky (having been used to seeing my meat butchered on the street) & the regular, perfect, shiny fruit & veg even more so; but I never baulked at the variety of choice available. I love cooking & get very excited at the plethora of options & foods on offer. I get excited at the thought that I could cook pretty much any recipe I fancied (I am sure this will wear off.....) And I love browsing the aisles. Sad, but true.

Of course I do get the ex-pat 'choice anxiety' about choosing between the myriad versions of the SAME item. I just stick rigidly to either what I have used before, or which is the cheapest.

The second thing i did was go to the library, partly for the novelty factor of having access to a library full of English language books, & partly because I wanted to do something for me. I am going easy on leaping to help out at church, school, interest groups etc until I see how our new 'routine' pans out; but I have always wanted to be in a book club, since forever, as they say. I joined a rather boozy teachers' one in Colombo, which was a mainly an excuse for consuming cocktails. I used to feel a real girly swat because I had 'done my HW' & wanted to talk about the book. No one else seemed to. Still I learnt some very nice new cocktails. It was also hampered by a lack of available English language books in Colombo. Then i joined one in Tirana which was set up as a rival one to an 'invitation only' group, but that fizzled out as people moved away & titles were even harder to come by in Tirana. Then a friend was talking about one she was in, here in Oxford, so having learned from experience overseas of the need to be proactive& get stuck in & involved, I took the bull by the horns I asked if I could join.

Reader, I could. My first book is 'People like That'. I may not have a new uniform or pencil case, but I am very excited about mynew Book Club.

So there we are, small beginnings; but there's a verse in the Bible which says "Who despises the day of small things?"

Not me. That's a lesson I have learnt abroad. Little by little. Bite sized achievements & goals. And not to be too hard on myself. It takes time. That I know for sure.


Expat mum said...

Well done. It definitely takes effort to become part of a community. They don't tend to come to you. I hope you enjoy the book and the book club!

Potty Mummy said...

Totally get it about the supermarket thing (although I suspect in Moscow we are far better supplied than you were in Tirana). Walking around in Waitrose in London this summer, I kept wanting to walk up to complete strangers who were oblivious to the loveliness surrounding them and, grasping their arm, say something like "Do you know how lucky you are? DO YOU???"

Iota said...

Your last paragraph is so spot on. Yes, that is something you learn if you live abroad.

Eclipse said...

Oh my god, UK supermarket selection. When I go home, I LOVE going to the supermarket. Sad, I know. But I am such a foodie and I love looking at all the cool stuff they have and ingredients that I just cannot get here in Finland. I love German supermarkets - mostly for their meat and wurst counters :)