Tales & images from life as me…

Archive for December, 2013

The ex-pat re-patriates


I’m beginning to think that England is at least equally as crazy as Tanzania. So I’ve been in the UK for almost an entire month now and Africa’s vibrant colours and life-filled, dust-filled, sunshine-stormy days have faded to a backdrop that I have an irritating habit of referring to in spite of my audience’s apparent disinterest. No one cares that I miss it, they can’t even imagine it. From the moment I crossed the passport check at Heathrow with my one way ticket, I was just another British citizen and it is supposed to be as simple as that.

And that means accepting that the mobile network is worse here than in the middle of the Serengeti; or that the guy in the train station won’t help a pregnant, lost and slightly tearful woman with a flat phone (and her charger) in case something happens to the phone and he has to accept liability; or that a child that starves in its own home places the social services at fault whilst the parents get to moan on the news that the authorities did nothing – erm, what did they do? It means mummifying yourself in red tape as you try to reinsert yourself into a system you left, quite deliberately, and are now repeatedly punished for having done so. Was I welcomed back into the open arms of my native country? Not exactly.

Of course my family have been great and do understand, having been out to visit and even lived in various African countries at various stages. And I’ve managed to catch up with several of my friends who I met originally in TZ or Kenya, so that’s helped too, but let me tell you of the weeks’ adventures so you can get a little insight into the mayhem of relocating!

That’s a big part of it I think – the fact that I am supposedly ‘home’. I’ve discussed that word before. There’s no doubt this is home, but when you’ve been a long-term ex-pat you get into the habit of referring to two homes, neither of which quite fit comfortably. Well now the expectation is that I will fit straight in, that I know how things work, that I already have friends. But the fact is I am different; laws, systems, products and technology are different; and my friends have grown up and moved on in almost a decade (or worse, they haven’t!). As part of my efforts to blend back in I opted to take some driving lessons to build my confidence on these fast, smooth, frequently dark or wet roads. I couldn’t help but spot the metaphor as I practiced the blend road onto a motorway for the first time in all these years – the pressure on the accelerator, me holding my breath, everyone else already going along at their own speed on the motorway and me desperately trying to catch up and find a slot to move into.

Of course family and friends were delighted to have me home (my parents have lent me all I could need, helped me move furniture, fed me and done washing, my sister dropped everything for my arrival and my brother has driven me to collect my car and come to install our TV!), but everyone is in the middle of their ‘real’ lives, they’re already on the motorway. You can’t blame them, they have children and jobs and commitments, but nothing pauses to allow you to adjust. And in the mean time I had to keep pace regardless – I mean, we need a house, I had to register with doctors, buy some ‘essentials’ (many of them items I have lived without quite contentedly in TZ!) and get us ready for Christmas… but it wasn’t as simple as just ticking off the jobs on my list, the UK doesn’t just welcome back ‘foreigners’ after too many years away.

I began with the bank – can I get a bank account for myself and my husband? ‘Of course, but not until you have a proper address and your husband is in the country.’ Hmmm. OK. Let’s focus on getting an address… Our choice was limited to about 1% of the properties on the market because landlords are not up for having dogs in the house so we were off to a wobbly start, then I started to complete the tenant application forms and the financial vetting forms and things really started to fall apart. Turns out you can’t get an address until you have a UK bank account (refer to the start of this paragraph and you can see the issue!). It also turns out that after twenty years of working I must now tick boxes that describe me as ‘unemployed’, ‘housewife’ and ‘living with parents’ oh and ‘pregnant’ (with my husband still in TZ I felt like I might as well tick ‘knocked up’ and have done with it!) – seriously depressing and not making me look like an especially great potential tenant!

We lost the first two houses we made offers on around halfway through negotiations. The first because the landlord changed his mind about the dogs, the second because they told us (after we’d signed the papers) that the neighbours would be doing 3 months’ worth of loud extension work on their house and I had visions of myself plotting to murder the builders – especially once baby had actually arrived and they began drilling just as he’d fallen asleep!

Finding a house in an area 2 hours away from where my family lives has also meant I need to drive, a lot, get lost, figure out how to use a Tom Tom, find places to pee every hour!

So tomorrow I am driving up to – fingers crossed – collect the keys to our new place and feeling a little more positive, but we are not there yet. We’ve had to double our deposit payment to reassure our nervous landlady, and now we need to buy… everything. Our shipping hasn’t even left Dar es Salaam yet (thank you TZ customs) and we can’t survive with no furniture, bedding, kettle, clothes etc so it just has to be done. I’ve been spending like a crazy person and feeling sick at the prices, especially knowing the January sales will soon be here.

But surely the baby side of things has been good, I mean I have NHS care and an endless selection of all the world’s best products to choose from… yeah, about that… in my next installment I’ll share how my midwife reported me to the NHS for fraud, the antenatal classes, crying in a baby shop, my failed babysitting attempt and other people’s terrifying birth tales if you’re really lucky!

But the fact is I’m getting there. I’ve squeezed in some fun, some catch ups with great friends, bought some Christmas presents, found a house and got my NHS card – I am official! I miss my Mwanza friends, the lake, the sunshine, but I don’t miss ants covering the washing up or Tanesco or daladala drivers! I’ll miss Christmas in Kenya with my lovely in-laws, but I’ll get to see all my family’s new babies and my 104-year-old grandmother. 2014 looks promising, though there are bound to be some crazy stories along the way!