Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The truth about expat friendships

The woman in question - Alicia.
Wearing her Sunday best. 

So I’m sitting here at my desk on a Wednesday afternoon after what turned out to be quite an emotional morning. See, my friend Alicia is leaving after two years of living and working here in Uganda and we had a farewell thing for her today. And when it came time for my turn to speak around the table about how amazing she is and how much we’ll all miss her, I couldn’t even speak for fear the lump in my throat would spill over. Couldn’t even say one word.

That’s because I feel like I’ve had enough goodbyes to last me a lifetime. Tim and I sat down at dinner last week and counted by name 187 friends that have left in the last five years we’ve called Uganda home. 187. And I’m over it. 

Let me rewind a bit. When we first moved here I remember people talking to me about how “amazing the community is here” and me rolling my eyes. Ok people, you can have your freaky deaky weird little ‘community’ and I’ll be justttt fine over here living like a normal person thanks. See, what fresh off the boat me didn’t realise is that when you move to a place like Uganda as an expat (someone who lives in a country that's not your birth country) your friends become family. Fast. They have to. You have no family, no ‘old friends’ and you don’t know anyone. So friends have to become like family or you’ll drown in the bureaucracy, drama, setbacks and frustrations. You’ll lose your mind when your power goes out for the third time – today. Swear black and blue when your water is cut off for no reason and want to punch someone in the face when you get asked for a bribe - again. But not with friends by your side. Oh no. With friends you’ll not only survive this crazy town, you’ll thrive in it.

See there’s no time for small talk, chit chat and bullsh*tting about how you feel living here.  You’re all just trying to keep your head above water and these friends you find yourself living alongside are the only ones who get it. Like really, really get it.  And so you go deep quick. You go quick because you or they might be here three months or three years and neither of you really knows which one because that’s the very nature of this transient country and this transient expatriate lifestyle. But you need each other. And so you tell your secrets, see each other every single day (and I do really mean every single day) and you become Aunts to their children and intrinsically involved in every aspect of one another’s lives. You do X-fit on a Monday, a smoothie right after and grocery shopping all before 11am. That afternoon you hang out for a playdate and that evening you text each other about what you managed to make for dinner in a country where you have to go to four grocery stores to get what you tend to eat each week. Oh and then you do it all again tomorrow.

So you might be able to see why it’s catching up on me all this “Goodbye” stuff. Especially when you feel like with each goodbye goes a little piece of you. Moments you’ll never re-live, memories no-one else was there for but them. And it’s been like this all my life right? Not just Uganda but California, Sydney, New Zealand and Dubai. All places I’ve lived and said my fair share of goodbyes in.  And so when yet another friend left today it felt like on some deep level another part of me was leaving too. Memories, photos, tears and laughs left with her and stayed with me.

So I've been reflecting on this today, processing by writing to you. Ironically, that same girl who rolled her eyes at the concept of “true community” is now the same one wiping said eyes as one of her closest members of that community leaves.  And although my friend leaving today (and all the ones that have gone before her) can never be replaced, the one thing I know for certain is that for every goodbye in Uganda, there’s another Hello. 

It’s August. That means the Embassies are turning over their staff and the missionaries are moving into town for the school year and the aid workers are coming back from home assignment leave. See what I realized today is is that the silver lining to all these goodbyes is that somewhere along the line I said Hello. A lot. And Hello’s are fun. Hellos are promising.  So it's taken me a week to be able to post this but that's because it's the truth and the truth is sometimes hard to swallow. But today I said Hello again to someone. Turns out I suck at Goodbyes. But Hello’s  - well Hello's are what I do best. I should know, I’ve done 187 of them. 
Please know we NEVER dress like this. We decided to do Prom night in Uganda
and, well, these were the dresses we found. 

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