Last year right before Christmas I hauled out my pair of headphones and did an interview with the Expat Chat podcast with host Tony Argyle. Tony lives in Australia, making the most difficult part of our interview trying to find a time that worked with our schedules and the eight hours of time difference. As usually happens when people start asking me about living overseas, our conversation drifted to Pakistan and stayed there for awhile: most people are curious about what it was like to live there and surprised when I say how much I enjoyed it. We also covered Botswana, life with kids overseas, my favorite things to eat in Botswana, and the “Big Five” animals you have to see on safari. Also how great my mother-in-law is (and not just because I knew at some point she would listen.)
We are deep in the middle of holiday season now, having blown by Halloween and Thanksgiving to arrive next week at the grandaddy of them all, Christmas. And it won’t be too long before New Year’s, Valentine’s, St. Patty’s and all the rest roll around again. For many expats, leaving home and never again having to show up at your in-laws’ door bearing pie ranks as one of the perks of moving overseas. But for others, any holiday can be a hard time of missing family, country, and traditions left behind. Here are ten ways to enjoy yours holidays as an expat, no matter what time of year:
At four months and change, our new little guy is going strong. He likes to smile at strangers, grab for toys, roll over from back to tummy, and remind mommy to turn on the hot water geyser before bathtime since we normally leave it off to save electricity. Unfortunately, he doesn’t do this last one. But he really should. When is he going to start pulling his own weight around here? I slipped into the babycare routine like you would an old shoe: the rhythm of interrupted sleep and constant breastfeeding came right back as if the last three years hadn’t passed. But of course I was far from home this time. When my daughter was born in 2011, I was living in crunchy Santa Barbara, California: land of organic food, hemp overalls, and a baby psychology clinic. if you didn’t tote your baby to the farmers’ market in a sling, you were the oddball. Things in South Africa are a little different. There are plenty of health food stores, and I was surprised how easy it was to find almond flour for my homemade nursing cookies or witch-y dried herbs for my after birth soothing bath. But there was one area where I immediately felt like the hippie outlier: nursing in public.
Like any pregnant woman will tell you, the second time around feels different. You’re a little more confident; you do a lot less research. That strange periodic burning sensation under the left ribcage? Had it last time so I know it’s no big deal. Feet feel tingly when you first get out of bed? Been there already. The words Moby, Beco, Baby K’Tan and Ergo? Know ’em all. I am very clear on what baby gear I need and what I don’t (I’m looking at you, Diaper Genie). In short, I feel like a pro. But being pregnant in a different country comes with its own surprises that you can’t predict, and this makes even the second time around feel like a new experience. First of all, I am in a strange and lonely category being pregnant here at 39.
It was my birthday this week. The last birthday of my 30s, a golden decade that in retrospect seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. At the beginning of the decade I was living in Boston, working on my dissertation, teaching undergrads and watching every single Red Sox game. Since then I’ve lived in two different countries, moved back to California for a year, gotten divorced and re-married, had a baby and started working on a second. It’s safe to say my life is different in almost every way.
What is it about leaving something that makes it seem all the sweeter? Ever since I knew I was leaving, I have been conducting a love affair with Boston, one that has involved candlelit dinners, walks down Newbury Street with smiles for each budding spring flower, and sighs of appreciation and nostalgia for every favorite corner, haunt, and quirk about this city that I have lived in for ten years. After all, thanks to Skype and the fact that calls from Pakistan to the US are only two cents a minute, I can keep in pretty good touch with all the people I love while I’m gone. But I can’t stroll over to Devlin’s for the juicy bacon cheddar burger, and I can’t go to the Public Garden to sit on the brass ducks or make fun of people for going to the “Cheers” bar. I can’t sneak my favorite Cuban sandwich from Yawkey Way into the fancy Fenway seats upstairs before the game starts. I can’t get all excited about ivy on brick buildings, or order pad zeeyou from one of the three excellent Thai restaurants around my house. I can’t go down to Daisy Buchanan’s to sing “The Piano Man” during last call (or to borrow their plunger in the middle of a very crowded Christmas party when we realize we don’t have one). I can’t take Boston with me. Yesterday is a perfect example of this recent love affair. I spent the day with one of my dearest friends doing a bunch of great Boston things. There was a little Newbury Street, a little trafficky Mass Pike, a little Waterfront, a little […] Read More
Nothing is weirder than a Peep. I’m ready to eat a lot of new, strange food, starting in less than two weeks when I move to Pakistan. Twelve different kinds of mangoes and three different kinds of pomegranates, I’m told. Goat curries, bitter gourd, mutton in tomato sauce, and chicken. (Well, chicken’s not weird, but the fact that you can buy it live off the street in front of your house is.) I love curry and flatbread and samosas, but I’m sure my visits to my favorite Indian restaurant down the street in Boston will not have prepared me for full immersion into the daily food culture of the subcontinent. But back to Peeps, the weird food of my own country. You know ’em: fluorescent little marshmallowy chicks and bunnies that appear suddenly in every drugstore and supermarket this time of year in an array of colors found nowhere in nature. They’re weird, they’re highly beloved, and they’re very American: add them to the list of things I won’t be seeing in Islamabad. I’ve had some time to think about Peeps a lot today as I scraped smashed Peep out of the carpet and pried dried Peep off the sides of empty martini glasses. (Peeps figured prominently in my spring-themed going-away party last night.) What are Peeps? Marshmallow, obviously, and a crapload of toxic food coloring, but oh so much more. Peep is an industry onto itself. You would think that, much like a Cadbury egg, they would be cursed with the problem of seasonality. They are chicks and bunnies in lurid approximations of pastel colors after all, trotted out at Easter for candy baskets and the […] Read More