Sometimes I get the impression that people think we are crazy for leaving all that we are familiar with behind for a life overseas but we aren't the only ones that have chosen this lifestyle. In fact, there are a lot of us and many of us blog about it. Expatriated is a series to introduce you to other expat bloggers.
I am so honoured to have Bethany from Rinse Repeat on the blog today. I had been silently following along Bethany's journey in the Middle East for awhile, but not long ago she posted a lovely, heartfelt and honest post about her expat life which urged me to connect with her. I love that she's honest about her experiences on her blog in a world of blogs that sugarcoat life yet she doesn't come across negative or ungrateful. It's refreshing.
So, without further ado...
Where are you from and where do you live now?
I grew up and lived my entire life in Eau Claire, Wisconsin... but now I live in Kuwait City, Kuwait.
How did you end up in Kuwait and what inspired you to make the move?
Shortly after getting married, my husband was offered a position in Kuwait. Although Kuwait wasn't our ideal location, we thought moving abroad would give us the opportunity to travel and see another culture!
What is the best part of living overseas?
I love the diversity in a place like Kuwait. I grew up in a smaller town in America and for 20+ years was surrounded by people exactly like me. I love that right now while peeking out my window, I can see Indian women in saris, Arab women in hijabs or abayas and Western women in jeans and J. Crew sweaters. We dress differently; we pray to different gods; we each carry a unique culture and traditions that are so special to us. And yet for the most part, we all peacefully exist here.
What do you miss most about home?
It's hard to sum up in one word, but it would have to be equality. That's strange for me to say in Kuwait, because as a Westerner I'm usually treated quite well. But, people of other races and ethnicities don't receive the same fair treatment. I miss the general understanding that we're all equal regardless of race, income or sex...I miss the way people band together when someone acts contrary to this.
And for the small stuff: I miss people forming orderly lines. I miss wine... it's prohibited here. And I really, really, really miss Target.
What was the most difficult thing to adjust to in Kuwait?
The heat. In the summer, it can get up to 130 degrees... and it is not a dry heat. As a woman, you must keep your shoulders and legs covered. It's horrifyingly uncomfortable, and after just a few minutes outside, I need a shower + change of clothes. The hottest season also coincides with Ramadan, a 1 month period of daytime fasting. All restaurants are closed from sun up to sundown, and even drinking water in public (in any visible place including your car) can result in jail time or heavy fines. Last year, I became a hermit during Ramadan, because I just couldn't handle it.
Any funny 'whoopsies' while adjusting to your new life?
Absolutely! When we moved in, our apartment had the ugliest mural on the living room wall. My husband bribed the landlord to get it painted. When the painter showed up, my husband was at work but I welcomed the painter inside. He left the front door open behind him. Because our kitty likes to escape, I quickly closed the door. He opened it, I closed it. He opened it again, I closed it. We played this game for a while, neither of us speaking the other's language. Then he left, returned with a friend and finally closed the door. The friend just sat on a bucket while he painted for three hours.
I was SO confused.
Later, I learned that it's frowned upon for a man to be with a married woman behind closed doors...lest others think that something, um, inappropriate is happening. Since I had insisted that the front door remain closed, he was likely so uncomfortable that he recruited a friend to sit in my living room...simply to serve as a witness that nothing shady happened between us.
Cue 37 shades of blushing over my lack of cultural awareness.
In Kuwait, expats make up more than half the population. So, one of the biggest saving graces is knowing that the lady ringing up my groceries, the man driving my taxi to the mall and the guy delivering my dinner are likely all missing their family and country... just like me. There's a bit of camaraderie to be found with anyone who is homesick, and I love the way others light up when they talk about home.
Everyone has a story. Often those stories remind me that although I desperately miss the Target $1 bin, I don't have it that bad after all.
What is the biggest lesson you've learned from your time in Kuwait?
I used to stress about having a "perfect" life, and spent my first few months in Kuwait trying to rebuild the life I left behind. I beat myself up for not having an adorable home, a perfect wardrobe, and beautiful parties in my new life overseas. But finally, I realized that it's simply not possible to recreate one's old life 7 000 miles away from where that lifestyle ended.
And while I ache for the pretty things that I used to have, I also know they don't matter. Life isn't about being perfect. It's about having experiences, and holding on tight to the people you love.
If you had the chance to move elsewhere in the world, where would you go and why?
Italy, France or the Czech Republic would be high on the list. I've loved traveling in Europe, and find each country so inspiring. The social culture in Europe is closer to my own, so when I leave Kuwait and visit Europe, it's a bit like breathing again. But it also offers the awe of experience new sights, food and people. Plus I've got a thing for old buildings, outdoor cafes and cobblestone streets. Check, check and check. :)
Any advice for the newly expatriated?
Leaving home behind is such a multi-faceted emotional experience...be kind to yourself in the process. Also, it's okay if you're not head-over-heels with your new home. (I'll be brave and say that I'm not.) In time you'll cry a little less, and you'll find things that you really do love. You'll make a few friends and life will begin to feel normal.
I promise. Cross my heart.
I LOVE this interview.
Bethany has such a way with words that is honest and thought provoking yet makes you feel at ease. You can read more from her on Rinse Repeat.
And, thank you Bethany!
If you're looking for other editions of "Expatriated," check out...