Archive | October, 2011

Dear Me, One Year Ago

21 Oct

Right now you’ll be at the airport, saying goodbye to parents. You’ll feel emotional, but it still hasn’t sunk in that you’re not just going on holiday for a few weeks. It’s a bizarre sensation, almost like a dream. Everything seems familiar – the rituals of watching the flight departure screens, buying a paperback for the beach, anticipating the sunshine at your destination – but it’s not quite as it should be.

When you arrive it’ll be dark; your eyes will be glued to the taxi window, taking in the black shadows of palm trees, the pavements bathed in amber light and, beyond, the dark waves of the ocean. Straight away you’ll unpack, in the mind-set that you need to make the most of your time here because you’ll be back to reality soon.

The next few weeks will be a delightful novelty – playing housewife in the mornings, exploring in the afternoons, returning to make sure dinner is ready for the hubby when he gets back from work. The temporary apartment will be comfortable enough, but you’ll find it a little tired and you’ll grow increasingly intolerant of the little pile of dead ants that mysteriously appear in the kitchen every morning.

So it’ll feel like Christmas when your shipment arrives in your new condo. Mundane things will seem unexpectedly special; UK carrier bags will no longer just be functional but hugely sentimental – “Ah, Sainsbury’s! Remember when we used to do our weekly shop on a Saturday there?” You’ll be just as thrilled to see your teatowels as you will your shoes. Then it will actually be Christmas – the tree will be up, your parents will be here, and you’ll have a fun but bizarre festive period, with Christmas morning against the backdrop of a white beach in place of the usual backdrop of a white-frosted lawn. The year will finish brilliantly with fireworks and cocktails, and you’ll feel excited about what 2011 will bring.

Winter arrives. You’ll get a job offer – which is fantastic – but have to wait almost 3 months for the work permit. The weather cools, the sky is permanently grey and there is little to do at weekends. You’ll be doing your best to carve out a role for yourself volunteering, but it takes longer than you’d (unreasonably) expected and you’ll worry you might be losing brain cells on a daily basis. You won’t have anticipated this feeling of being without an anchor, of not quite knowing what your place in this new world is. You’ll cry sometimes.

In April, after 9 weeks of waiting, you’ll find out that your work permit has been rejected. At first, you’ll think, “Oh well, it is what it is”. Then later it will hit you. You cannot work here. You have no job back home. You have no career options. Everything you had planned has just vanished, like a gust of wind just scooped up your dreams and carried them away. You’ll feel like there’s an amazing life here in Bermuda, but there’s a layer of plastic between you and it. You can see it, but you can’t quite touch it. You’ll cry a bit more.

Then summer comes along. The turquoise ocean sparkles, the sun beams down every day. Your volunteering tasks turn into meaty projects you feel passionate about, and love doing. Friends will fall into place. Weekends will be spent on the beach or playing in the water. You can’t quite believe that this paradise is where you live. You’ll wake up every day basking not only in sunshine, but in happiness – deep-rooted blissful happiness; thankful that you have the opportunity to live in a tropical climate, privileged that you can make a difference through your charity work, hopeful that this is how life will continue. You’ll feel something shift and instinctively know, somehow, that something good is just around the corner.

And it will be because, 11 months after you first arrived, you’ll get a work permit, and a job that you love. By the time you get to next October, you’ll feel like life could not be much better, and will be incredibly grateful for every day in your job, and every evening with your group of fabulous friends. Your only wish will be this – that someone could have written to you a year ago, telling you to be thankful for what you have, and patient for what is to come.

Home is Where the Sofa is

12 Oct

A few weeks ago, Rich came home from the supermarket with a face full of bad news. Our landlords were selling the condo. My head became jumbled with questions: should we move out straight away or wait until they sell? What if we can’t find anywhere as nice as our current home? What if we can’t find anywhere at all – we have no family here to stay with in the meantime! I thought back to when we’d first moved in; the living room filled with our 73 boxes from the UK, and shuddered at having to pack it all back up again and then unpack somewhere new after less than a year.

It certainly would be a huge convenience. But this worry gave way to something else – sadness. When we’d first moved in everything was still unfamiliar and uncertain – but our home was our fixed point for our emotional compass. I’d learned over the months that the unidentified black shapes on the carpet did not need to be interrogated for 3 pairs of legs – they were just pieces of lint; I knew that the dishwasher wouldn’t leak if I left it running when I went out; I trusted that my house wouldn’t let cockroaches creep in; that the closets would stand firm in keeping the mould from getting its dusty fingers on our clothes. In short, we trusted these four walls.

Your home is always a place of comfort and this is even more the case when you’re living abroad. On this island, there are no other buildings which we have as strong a bond with; none have memories of birthday parties, Saturday nights in or Christmases past; none have parents, or grandparents inside.

Thankfully we discovered that our contract is binding until November 2012, and so anyone who buys the condo before then will have to take us on too! It was an enormous relief to know that I wouldn’t have to give up home just yet. And for Rich? It was an enormous relief for him to know that he wouldn’t have to give up the L-shaped sofa just yet! 🙂

What do you do?

2 Oct

Invariably, when I meet new people, one of the first questions I get asked is: “What do you do?” It’s a common conversation starter of course, and it’s even more logical to ask in Bermuda, where most twenty-something expats are here because they are on a work permit. I’ve often wondered whether I’m the only twenty-something expat without one!

My answer used to be simply that “I volunteer”. It wasn’t unusual for people to assume that this meant that I shook a donations bucket outside the supermarket once a month, and then spent the rest of the time on the beach drinking G&Ts. So my answer became a garbled protestation that “I volunteer with three charities, and actually it’s like the equivalent of a full time job without getting paid, and I really don’t like G&Ts”. After a while, even I got bored of my defensiveness, so I just made up jobs – I was an accountant, an insurance underwriter, and a management consultant all in a period of about a month.

I have loved my volunteering work and it certainly has kept me busy. I’ve written communications strategies, delivered workshops on social media, organised corporate fundraising events and, my favourite project, taught a little group of senior citizens how to use the computer. In the office of the charity I volunteer with most regularly – The Centre on Philanthropy – I have my own desk, email account and responsibilities. But I’ve hated not earning my own money.

The Centre on Philanthropy's Give Back Games 2011: waiting to collect the scores for the Sack Race! We raised $72,000 for local charities.

However, after eleven months of being on the island, one rejected work permit, and an encounter with an agency that discovered after two months that my paperwork had actually “gone missing”; the “third time lucky” adage came true. Last week I got my work permit through for temporary and contract roles. A few days later I was offered a marketing role for a telecoms company. I start tomorrow!

I cannot tell you how excited I am to start work. Bring on the Sunday evening blues, the daily commute in rush hour, the overflowing inbox… – I’m ready for it all!

On Friday, my last day of unemployment, I kept my diary clear so I could do the one thing I hadn’t allowed myself to do in almost a year of being here – spend a few hours at the beach, on a weekday! The sky was a perfect blue, the sun shone, and, as I walked along the shore, iced tea in hand, the waves rushed up to greet me, as if to say “what took you so long..?”