As expected, you go through an adjustment period when you are expatriated. You follow certain steps, if you will.
First, it’s Excitement. You can’t wait to get there! The visa takes too long! Where the hell is my plane ticket? My bags are packed! Damn this traffic to the airport!
Then, it’s Discovery. The airport you arrive in is so exotic. You take a tour of your new home, you mentally rearrange furniture (you’ll physically arrange them later on, holding on to jetlag as an excuse to be lazy), then you familiarise yourself with your new neighborhood. The first stop is almost always the grocery store, where you fill your cart with the essentials (salt, sugar, pepper, rice, soy sauce and oyster sauce – yes, I’m Asian) and also the new, unfamiliar items you see on the shelves. You take delight in the new, unfamiliar bills and coins you now have in your wallet.
Next step is Plateau-ing. The following days or weeks trick you into thinking that you’re finally getting into the groove of things. You’ve gotten over jetlag, you’ve established your schedule, you no longer convert currency in your head, you’re on a first name basis with the woman behind the counter of your grocery store when you happen to pass by. You know what time the garbage is collected, you get used to the rhythm of the day (in my case here in Algiers, it’s the prayers over the mosque’s loudspeakers five times a day.)
And then… the Doldrums. Suddenly you miss what you left behind. Little inconveniences of your adopted country suddenly annoy you, and you wonder if it was a good move after all. Damn, you miss your favourite café and your favourite restaurant. And all the good exhibits are showing now that you’ve left, fuck that. You daydream about what you could potentially be doing. The routine of life back home, so mundane before you left, suddenly feels so comforting, so easy. You turn around your new home, missing the old one…
But then comes the turning point. There is ALWAYS a turning point in expatriation – it’s not really a jolt, but rather a gentle tug to remind you of why you are where you are.
In Qatar, my turning point was when I started working. In Rome, it was when we paid a helluva lot of money for a cold, shitty meal in a tourist trap of a restaurant. In Saudi, it was when my Malaysian neighbor and I played tennis, laughing while ordering our kids to retrieve our tennis balls.
Here in Algiers, the turning point happened today: the arrival of our trunks from Paris.
With excited, trembling fingers, I turned the key into the lock of each of our trunks, and was greeted by familiar things from home, silly little things I’d haphazardly threw in without realising how much comfort they”d bring me, now, at this time, when I needed it most. This home feels like home again, or a home away from home, or just a mirage of what home could be. Surrounded once again by books, robots, favourite coffee mugs, picture frames, lamps, blankets, the Nespresso machine – this is it, my turning point.
And once you’ve hit the turning point, you turn a page. All doubts are erased because you remember why you’re in an unfamiliar place. You find your reasons again.
(This is it, my philosophy; the reason why I agree to move to places which always elicit a Why the hell would you want to go there?! reaction from other people. And actually, this is the thinking that gets me through all major changes in my life.)
What it is, is this: You already know what you are leaving behind, but you still don’t know what lies ahead.
That’s why you move.
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