Escape Hatch

A newbie no more: I’ve reached a tipping point in my expat life

Writers of any stripe or flavour will recognise the transcendental bliss of hitting ‘send’ or ‘publish’. It’s a state of euphoria which lasts all of a nanosecond before we set off chasing it all over again.

Return of the king
As reward delivery systems go, this one’s simple but effective

But one of the perennial perils of publishing – aside from little stuff like typos, factual errors and potentially libellous comments – is the nagging feeling that you forgot to include something. An authorial FOMO, if you will.

So it was with a post I wrote recently about Plan Bs.

The version I ended up publishing (I make a lot of edits when I’m writing) was about rolling with the punches of daily life, like finding a different route home when the brand new Salwa Rd underpasses flood because they don’t have drains.

But I had started out with the idea of writing about the importance of actual plan Bs – things like writing a will, getting your money out of the country and what to do in a genuine emergency.

Because expat life in general seems to hang by a thread at the best of times, easily ended with a change in job status here, or a serious illness there.

My thoughts must have been bang on trend for once in my life (stopped clocks and all that) because since then, a steady stream of articles along the same lines has found its way into my blog reader, from posts about planning for expat emergencies (including essential tips on blank cheques, translating wills and keeping contact lists handy) and parental loss, to the perils of surrounding yourself with moaning expats and posts about expats counting like their days like prisoners marking time.

Get busy living

The prison analogy, in particular, resonated with me. For me, prison=Shawshank and the first thing I thought of when I read that article was Red clueing Andy in to the reality of his new life behind bars:

Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.
It’s got no use on the inside. You’d better get used to that idea.

On reading that post, I realised that I too was guilty of the same crime: I’ve been thinking of my time as an expat in seasons, such is the blessing and curse of being a football fan. We did this in our first season, met those guys in our second, need to do x, y and z before the summer break…

Free as a bird
Spoiler alert: Andy escapes

The danger for expats is that you can find yourself marking time instead of living life. If you find yourself thinking that your new life is something to be endured, to be counted off or got through before you can carry on again elsewhere, you’re in for a shock.

That’s not to say it doesn’t help to know where you are in the bigger picture of any plan you may have foolishly concocted (because we all know what happens to plans).

But this is your life, and it’s happening now. So, you know, get busy living…

Make your own kind of music

Still, a prisoner’s awareness of the passing of time will at least mean you can easily answer the second most common question you’ll get asked as an expat (how long have you been here?, which comes right after where are you from?)

I seem to have morphed imperceptibly from a newbie expat into, if not quite a grizzled old-timer, then at least someone who’s seen some of it all before. The kids and I have passed the 18-month marker, meaning we’re nearer the end of Mrs LC’s contract than the start.

Our social circle is more multi-year veterans than doe-eyed fawns. Back in the UK, we’d all be moaning about the weather and talking about house prices. Here, the conversation has subtly shifted to what next? and where next?

Locke and the hatch
What lies beneath?

It reminds me of the first season of Lost, where the islanders made repeated attempts to open a mysterious hatch they’d found.

They finally succeeded at the very end of the season, leaving us fans to spend the summer proposing increasingly daft theories about what lay beneath. (Oddly, no one got the right answer, which was: Desmond Hume, a failed monk, soldier and sailor, who has to press a button every 108 minutes – and he wasn’t even a writer…)

But that sense of ‘I wonder…’ is a powerful one. Seasons pass quickly, after all. Kids will grow up before you can blink. So it’s only natural to ponder where else you might want this experience to take you.

For expats anywhere, it’s worth having these conversations while you have time on your side; more so in a working environment like Qatar’s in which anything can, and frequently does, happen.

I was talking to a friend the other day who said she does this all the time. “Mentally,” she admitted, “I’ve already moved us to…” and then proceeded to rattle off about half a dozen countries, whose only shared attribute was that they weren’t Qatar, including one so unstable she’d had to do a preliminary risk analysis on the viability of taking her young family there.

That may be a little extreme. But in the meantime, we make actual plan Bs – for staying; for an orderly I-did-it-my-way exit; and for the unexpected.

As Desmond himself was so fond of saying, see you in another life, brother.

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7 thoughts on “Escape Hatch

  1. Kean Walmsley April 3, 2014 / 5:42 pm

    Looking buff, Nat. Can barely see the layer of sunblock, either!

    • littlecity April 5, 2014 / 7:54 pm

      You’re too kind. Maybe I have spent my time here wisely after all?

  2. Amanda van Mulligen (@AmandavMulligen) April 4, 2014 / 3:39 pm

    I love the analogy of expat life as prison time – it prompts me to think about what makes one expat happy and another that just does time…. thanks for the link to my post!

    • littlecity April 5, 2014 / 7:56 pm

      That’s it: whether you succeed or fail as an expat (by whatever standards you set yourself) – don’t just let the experience be something that happens to you

  3. Sherbet and Sparkles April 5, 2014 / 5:58 pm

    Thanks for the link and for continuing the conversation! It’s true, very few of us see this as forever and count the seasons. As someone who is being “dispatched from prison” in a couple of months I must say I’m guilty of not living my life to the fullest here.

    Thanks again!

    • littlecity April 5, 2014 / 7:58 pm

      That’s such an honest admission. Question is: what do you do with that knowledge when you get to wherever’s next?

      Always happy to link to great posts; thanks for stopping by!

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