Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Expat Wives

People have often envied my position as the so-called expat wife. Even The Engineer has joked that he'd like to exchange places with me sometimes but being an expat wife is by no means as simple as it looks.

I've resigned from work in Malaysia twice in 6 years to join The Engineer overseas. The first time, especially, I was only too glad to do it. I was an engineer then and work was a total draaaagggg. So the moment I had the opportunity to compose the resignation letter, I was only too glad to throw it at my boss and make a run for the door. Besides, it seemed so romantic to give everything up for love.

However, the life of the expat wife, much like that of the air stewardess ( let's face it, they're glorified waitresses who also double as toilet cleaners) is not as glamorous or as easy as everyone presumes.

Firstly, an expat wife has to battle loneliness from the very beginning. There is that constant feeling that something doesn't quite fit - imagine Lindsay Lohan in a Teh Tarik competition and you'll get the idea.

The farther you are from home, the more likely you're going to feel cut off from everything and everyone that you know. This might have been challenging or even fun when you're away in college but does not hold true later in life.

The only person to cling to is your husband/boyfriend. However, he probably has other pressing things on his mind like how he's going to keep his job and get over the language barrier and/or alien work culture. So, he has neither the time nor the inclination to be very sympathetic when you ramble on about power cuts or bad plumbing.

Meanwhile, you're also struggling to get around the idea that you're not working and therefore have no money that belongs exclusively to you. Of course, most couples work out finances and share everything but there is nothing like seeing your own name on your own pay slip at the end of the month.

Then you have to start changing the way you think and start doing things that you would have previously labeled as unimportant or irrelevant. So, instead of meeting deadlines or balancing company accounts, you will find yourself thinking up ways to survive power cuts in the middle of sweltering afternoons, haggling with local grocery store owners despite the language barrier and trying to fend of malaria and other life-threatening/exotic diseases.

Then there is the issue of having to deal with the stigma that is attached to being an expat wife. This is much like the one that's attached to being a housewife (despite the women's movement claiming that its all about having choices, people still view the housewife as a lowly creature barely hanging on to the bottom rung on the Ladder of Liberated Women).

The only difference is that the expat wife is considered to be a housewife - with money. Therefore people see them as vacuous creatures who fill their vacuous lives gossiping over gourmet coffee and going for spa manicures.

I admit it. I was formerly one of those people. I felt a mixture of annoyance and envy when I contemplated the expat wives in Malaysia - a feeling that arose when I was barely making ends meet while they seemed to spend their time languishing beside their pools in their lavish Mont Kiara apartment buildings.

I have since revised my opinion. The recurrent theme in the life of an expat wife seems to be loneliness, homesickness or just sickness in general. There's always some malady or other that strangely afflicts only those with foreign blood eg unexplained stomach trouble or a stubborn strain of flu that never goes away entirely.

Besides, for me at least, having a large swimming pool and endless spa manicures do not replace meeting friends at the local mamak at 11pm or driving over to my mum's house for some home made curry or crying on my best girlfriend's shoulder when I need to.

Still, expat living isn't all bad. Nothing bonds total strangers the way living in a foreign country can. So you end up making some really good friends, really fast if you can manage to drag yourself out of your cloud of homesickness long enough to meet them.

So, now that I can empathise with the foreign ladies courageously living in foreign lands, here's a prayer I found for them and all those who brave life in an alien land for love...

Heavenly Father, look down on us your humble obedient expat wives who are doomed to travel this earth following our loved ones through their working lives to lands unknown. We beseech you, oh Lord, to see that our plane is not hijacked or doesn't crash, our luggage is not lost or pillaged and our overweight baggage goes unnoticed.

Give us this day divine guidance in our selection of houses, maids and drivers. We pray that the telephone works, the roof does not leak, the power cuts are few and the rats and cockroaches even fewer.

Lord, please lead us to good, inexpensive restaurants where wine is included in the meal and the food does not cause dysentery. Have mercy upon us Lord if it be the latter, make us fleet of foot, to make the loo in time, and strong of knee in case we have to squat. Also give us the wisdom to tip correctly in currencies we do not understand.

Make the locals love us Lord for who we are and not for what we can contribute to their worldly goods. Grant us the strength to smile at our maids, even though our most treasured dress resembles a rag or they take bleach to clean our well-admired Persian rug.

Give us divine patience when we explain for the hundredth time the way we want things done and Lord if we ever lose our patience and thump them, have mercy on us for our flesh is weak.

Dear God, protect us from so-called "bargains" we don't need and can't afford. Lead us not into temptation for we know not what we do.

Almighty Father, keep our husbands from looking at foreign women and comparing them to us. Save them from making fools of themselves in nightclubs. Above all, please do not forgive their trespasses for they know exactly what they do.

And when our expat years are over Lord, grant us the favor of finding someone who will look at our photographs and listen to our stories, so our lives as expat wives will not have been in vain.


Source: Unknown


Anonymous said...

It's amazing how living in the city you grow up in you don't even register the benefit that a shared history with the rest of the city.

The same news headlines, the same fad's or trends (either participating in or viewing from the sidelines).

The further away from home the less in common you have.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant Prayer!!!!!
I'm sure all of us can relate to it.
From another expat wife