Expat-Wife Truths

(Written October 2011) This is our second move overseas, and I'm still waiting for someone to hand me the pamphlet entitled, “So, now you’re an Expat-Wife.” Of course, if they did, it would probably just say, “Good luck. Don’t drink the water.”

Depending on the source, we're called different things. We can be “trailing spouses,” though it leaves an impression of unwillingness, or we’re simply the “spouse” or “dependent.” My term of choice is Expat Wife.

There are no qualifications needed to be an Expat Spouse, other than being married to an employed person who's sent overseas. And while the employee has some changes to deal with in moving to a new city, such as a new desk, new co-workers, new pencil cup, their primary job often remains the same. For the Expat Spouse, however, life can be very different. It’s like starting over every two or three years. You have to learn new cities; find new grocery stores; figure out what that bumpy iridescent yellow vegetable, or fruit, is and whether it can go in a fruitcake; you have to figure out what’s dish soap versus laundry soap in a variety of languages that often include a script you’ve never seen before. It’s a never-ending series of wacky fun and great adventure (or frustrating trips and tear-inducing outings, depending on your mood).

For some, being an Expat Spouse actually entails some social obligations, meaning dinners and parties. Luckily for me, we don’t have such demands. If we did I can imagine my evenings could be full of shooing cats off the dining table, removing them from begging at the feet of our distinguished guests, attempting to explain what texturized vegetable protein was and why it sort-of tasted like meat, all the while trying to remember what fork to use and make sure my husband doesn’t dribble the soup.

Many Expat Spouses are stay-at-home parents who have a part-time job or some volunteering on the side. However, if they have a career that is easily transferable, such as teacher, nurse, yoga instructor, writer, they can bring it along with them regardless of their locale. If they aren’t so lucky to have a transportable career then they might be able to find a job locally, however typically the duties and salary are both significantly smaller than what they're used to.

Those parents who choose not to work often find themselves running to and from shopping, school, tennis practice, soccer tournaments, boy scouts and play dates, so it’s not like their days are dull. For me, however, I’m currently in the middle. I’m in that waiting-to-adopt-a-baby-so-don’t-want-to-work phase. Which is a little nebulous at best.

So for now, I’m taking it slowly and frankly enjoying the quiet. I get to read a lot (started book #4 on day 19); get to watch DVDs loaned from friends here; I keep the house tidy and arranged to hire a part-time housekeeper; I write a lot; I try to watch what the neighbors are doing, but with our six-foot privacy wall, I have to do it from the second floor and have yet to see anything more exciting than cars being washed. Basically, I’m June Cleaver 2011, without the crinoline and pot roast.

But, as peaceful and idyllic as it sounds, I know it will get boring. I am forcing myself to get out and I have gone to some social events, including a monthly “Meet & Bead” which was actually great fun, with mostly Arab women who spoke perfect English (though every third word was in Arabic), I volunteered to organize some new book donations at the little expat library and help out a local book fair, and I’m trying out some of the “ladies clubs”. (My husband keeps pushing me to join the Ladies Auxiliary Club because I’m sure he thinks it’s a front for some nefarious underworld crime organization – beware of the Jello molds and macramé!)

I do find myself at times realizing it’s four o’clock and dash about to make sure the kitchen is cleaned and I’ve thought out something for dinner. It’s an odd existence. Once there’s a child here, my quiet will be filled. But until then, I feel a need to have “accomplished” something so when my husband comes home and says, “How was your day?” I can say more than, “I read, napped with Chuckles, wrote some bits, then watched a DVD with Louie.” There’s this push-pull in my head. I gave up a career to follow my husband around the world, so I shouldn’t feel obligated to fill my days with productivity. Then again, he’s working all day, so the least I can do is plan out dinner and make sure the kitchen’s cleaned. Depending on the day (and the mood), I’m fully behind one or the other.

Yesterday, my Expat Wife doings started relatively simply. I opened the gate for my husband to head off to work, then decided to water the trees. Then sitting in the living room I found that the “musty” smell my husband had commented on was definitely present, so I started to snoop around and quickly found the source. Louie the kitten had left us some slightly smeared fecal gifts on one of the wingback chairs. Luckily I had a stash of Oxyclean at the ready, so I quickly scrubbed the evidence away.

Because of the injuries to his back legs, Louie has periodic bouts of spontaneous poopings. He just can’t control it. But after days of scrubbing out spontaneity throughout the house, I hit the research today and found a name for it, fecal incontinence. So now, I’m researching what we can do to help him (and us) in addition to the daily pumpkin he’s receiving by researching such enticing topics as, “Fecal incontinence in cats”, “Rectal, anal & colon problems”, and “Spinal injuries in cats”. The glamour just never ends. So, after I complete my research tasks, I think I’ll start checking out the macramé sites. I think I could go for a little nefarious activity once in a while.