Monday, November 21, 2005

Life as an expat wife a breeze?

I have been on a blogging hiatus. Partly its been a time constraint. Partly I just needed to think things through.

To the readers who have kindly commented. Thanks for your thoughts. I do appreciate them. Its not that I seek validation to my thoughts but its often interesting to see other people’s point of views and even their blogs.

Last Wednesday, I went to a neighbor’s birthday party. I don’t really like birthday parties because I am not a socially out going person myself, and sometimes I do find it hard to make conversation with some people who I have little in common with, except that we’re neighbors and we often say hello to each other at the pool. But anyways it was nice meeting up with some people. They commented how they haven’t seen me out and about for a long time and they thought I was away on holiday or something. I mumbled something about being busy teaching, quilting and hibernating (didn’t say blogging in case any of them found my blog hehehe) and they mentioned how much they missed me. Wow really? Did I really have such an impact on people’s lives that they missed not seeing me? It was nice to know or perhaps they were just being nice to me.

Through the loud music and the interruptions of people saying hello, I managed to have a short conversation with LN. LN was telling me about a couple who had just moved into the compound. They happened to be a fellow countrymen of mine. DF, the wife, has found moving here particularly hard. LN who lives above her has heard someone crying and throwing things about in the apartment. God bless LN and her kind heart, because that made LN try very hard to get in touch with her and even asked her over for coffee with another neighbor.

Apparently DF arrived just before Ramadhan (which happened to be a crazy time to arrive here because everything becomes topsy curvy) and has found the move incredible lonely without the support of friends and family. Her husband, like most of our husbands here, work till late. And as you already know, we women can’t really go out by ourselves to explore. And it being Ramadhan, everything is closed in the day anyways. It was her first time living outside her country. She had just quit her job before joining her husband here. So she had to come to terms with two things, being a woman of leisure, in a country that is hostile to women.

So LN asked me to call DF up and help her with the transition. Which I agreed to do. You see, one good thing about most of the women here (in our compound or within the expatriate community that is), is that we all understand how it was like when we first arrived in this country. How we found it difficult to adjust to the lifestyle here. And how we had to deal with culture shock. Most of us here came to accompany our husbands. Some were lucky enough to have made the decision jointly with their husbands. Others had no choice but to follow the husband’s posting because the husband’s employer had sent them there. (Of course there are women who chose to come to work here but I’d but them in a different category.)

I did remember my dearest’s boss telling him, there are two categories of wives who follow their husbands here. One type will hate it here and will leave almost as soon as they come. The other type, however will love it here and would hate it when it comes to the time for them to leave.

And he was right. Just recently we had a friend who has chosen to leave the country while the husband continues to work here, after trying to live here for just 6 months. More recently a Kakak (who was here to work a as a cook) was confiding in us that she wanted to leave at the end of this month, just after living here for 2 months. (At the moment she is extending the stay until after Hajj.)

So I called DF up and she told me how relieved she was to have heard from me. Apparently she has been told about me from a few people. Even the compound manager mentioned us but she didn’t know where we lived. She even asked her husband to walk round the compound, looking for someone who may look Malay. (Which would have been fruitless of course because I haven’t really gone out much especially during Ramadhan.)

She told me how she missed her family very much. She is very close with her mum, whom she still saw everyday even though she has been married for a while and living on her own. She misses her 7 year old nephew whom she talks to on the net everyday. She said her nephew even sometimes calls her “mama.” They are that close.

She was terrified of going out because she is often harassed by the Ar@b men. She feels that she is being stared at, or looked down at. She is not used to being mistaken as a F|l|pina.

DF related to me how a local man approached her and her husband as they were doing their grocery shopping. The man came to ask her husband, with a big grin on his face, “is this your wife?”

“Yes,” replied the husband.

But the local man apparently was not satisfied with that answer and proceeded to ask them 2 more times. Still with that cheeky grin on his face.

You see, DF and her husband is in a Muhibbah couple. She is an Amoi muallaf, while he is a Malay. Knowing how the local men here think, they probably thought that he was a B@ngla worker and she was the F|ilip[ina girl friend. And He might offer the girlfriend over for a price. DF is rather pretty, with her porcelain white skin, lustrous black hair and very slim figure. She looks very different from the local women here, and of course would elicit interest from the local lecherous men.

[Dislaimer: I am not saying that ALL local men are leacherous, but the local men who are lecherous here, have problems holding back and does not understand the concept of respect for a woman. Kang ade plak yang salah sangka cakap saya ni anti org sini!]

So she is quite terrified of going out by herself on the shopping bus, and had to depend on the husband to go out. The husband however, has had to put in long hours at work and by the time he reaches home, is too exhausted to go out again, to battle it out in the crazy traffic.

She said she was crying almost every other day, if not at least once a week. Even her husband found it hard to deal with her when he comes home seeing her black face everyday.

I tried my best to reassure her that we all go through a little bit of that when we come here. Despite having experience living abroad at different countries, I too had to go through the same things when I moved here myself. I told her that she needed to find something to keep herself busy, either go out and make friends on the shopping bus or find a hobby that will keep herself busy. Without new friends and something to do, surviving here would be difficult.

It will take some time for a woman who has been busy with her career, to suddenly find that she now has no focus in her life, no office to go to, no where to go to dress up for. She has to give herself some time to come to terms to that. And if she so wishes, she can try to find a job here.

Anyways, the reason I am sharing this story here, is that I hope the wives who are about to embark on the journey of becoming an expat wife can take a leaf out of DF’s book. You may go through a little bit of depression, you may go through a little bit of culture shock and you may start breaking down, questioning your existence as a woman here.

Once again I have to stress the importance of doing your research before coming. And if you don’t have any children to accompany you during the day, make sure you are comfortable being alone, being with yourself, and stepping out of your regular comfort zone. Keep an open mind and be prepared to face the idea that naturally everything in your new environment is very different from your home environment.


Mel Ija said...

Hi Sunflora,
You don't know me but I got to learn about your blog through a friend of mine and I must say, your blog is very interesting and I like reading them. I came to comment on this particular blog because the story posted is an eye opener for me should my hubby take up the job offer in Sudan (which is world's apart from Malaysia). Thanks for sharing it.

Lollies said...

I am preparing mentally. But that doesn' mean tak ada gaduh, cuma hopefully minimise. heh heh.

I am jittery about being cooped up in the house and do so much look forward to whatever.

Kesian kawan you tu, I hope she will find something

auntylela said...

I loved life as expat, those few times as expat, i saved loads of $$$!

Has said...

nice song, tumpang dengar he he he, could you feel me virtual presence? I am in office, waiting for 12 noon for our jamuah hari raya?

tp said...

Dari pengalaman tinggal di Negara Teluk, saya ingin berkongsi beberapa tip:
1. Lelaki digalakkan pakai baju melayu dan wanita pakai baju kurung (lebih elok dgn abaya sekali) apabila keluar rumah utk membezakan dgn org asia yg lain.
2. Jika suami tiada dirumah, jangan buka pintu walaupun yang ketuk pintu tu adalah polis. (Jika perlu beritahu suami akan balik sekejap lagi.)
3. Jangan bagi passport/ID kepada yg mengaku polis tapi berpakaian awam ditempat awam.
4. Budak lelaki tak digalakan bermain tempat awam sendirian. Dari akhbar, saya dapati lebih banyak budak lelaki kena 'rogol' daripada budak perempuan.
5. Elak tinggal dari kawasan terlalu ramai org arab baduwi.
6. Bila masak belacan, goreng ikan kering, atau memasak masakan yg berbau 'lazat', cuba pro-active dgn meyembur wangian supaya jiran tetangga arab tak excited :)).

Ini bukan bermakna kawasan teluk ni banyak jenayah tapi adalah sebagai panduan. Saya dapati Negara Teluk jauh lebih selamat dan aman jika dibandingkan dgn M'sia. Dan dari pengalaman, org tempatan atau expat selalunya hormat/kagum dgn org M'sia. Semoga ianya berterusan… harapnya tiada perkara2 yg boleh buat "kerana nila setitik rosak susu sebelanga".

Saya dapati ramai org M'sia pada mulanya tak suka minum 'laban' (susu masam). Tapi bila dah cuba banyak kali, ramai suka dan dijadikan minuman kesihatan. Begitulah jika dah lama tinggal disini, ramai menjadi suka dan yg paling penting bertambah rezeki halal $$ insya Allah.

Ghazali B Abd Aziz said...

Sunflora ... When I was in Brunei, I did bring my wife and kid along ... I do understand what is loneliness mean ... nasib baik ler Brunei tu dekat dan macam Malaysia jugak .. but still .. it is not the same as our own home ...

Kat Sudan, cuma company tak "encourage" and my assignment here hanya SINGLE STATUS, kalau tak for sure I will bring my wife and children along ... hardship but that what will make us be a better human being :)

Ghazali B Abd Aziz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
OneEE said...

a'kum sunflora,
being here thru elisa..
a nice read though I am not going to be one of the expat's wife..but it does add to my knowledge :)

hopefully your friend will recover with your help..