Home is where… the internet connects automatically?

The break wall

Admittedly, Australia does do a pretty good winter.

In Australia, mid year was that difficuilt time, nothing special going on, a wintery greyness punctuated by days of cold, clear sunshine. But there was no event to be marked on the calendar, a time of the year which just slipped by every year, almost unnoticed while we waited for the holidays of summer and Christmas. But now, they are now infused with heightened emotions, they are months of endings and beginnings, because now they are the end of the school year. A time of celebration, infused with the sadness of farewells. The farewells of knowing you will never live in the same city as these dear friends again, never sharing an impromptu coffee and chat.

For us, like many expats, it is also a time of travel. Each July we head back to Australia for our annual pilgrimage. The heady excitement tempered by the tedium; the excitement of boarding planes and the jetlag, overflowing suitcases of treasures and the exhausted march through airports.

Crawling out of the plane after the 30 hour journey back to Australia, it’s easy to forget the simple pleasures of a trip home. Eyes burning, craving sleep, and begging the kids to just ‘hold it together’ till we collect keys for our holiday rental.

We arrived at our ‘place’ opposite the ocean, staring in wonder at the beauty of the sea, congratulating ourselves on finding such a wonderful place to stay. There is a sweet melancholy visiting the simple, clean beauty of Australia. The kids and I look to each other in silent recognition of what we have given up; the time to remember what our move to Ghana has given us is for another time.

view from the lighthouse

Visiting Australia has elements of groundhog day. We know how lucky we are to have such wonderful friends, whose lives we slip back into, seamlessly. Indeed, it was only an hour after we arrived back that friends were knocking on our door, and we out, curing the jetlag, walking along the coast. A coast of clean white sand and waters muddied only by the swirl of sand, not by black plastic bags, old tubes of toothpaste and shoes. Then up onto the breakwall, which separates the harbour from the great blue Pacific, past the lighthouse and right to the end, where the sea spray whips your face, and there is nothing but water.

Those heightened emotions which carried us through the end of school, persist into the visit home. The excitement and simple sweet relief of being with old friends and family, reconnecting.

There is never enough time.

IMG_7108

It starts out hectic and finishes crazy. Could we squeeze in just one more coffee? One more dinner? One more play date? Why don’t we just drop in and say hello? Say goodbye? The juggle of social lives, and precious time with grandparents and cousins, all crammed between the maintenance of life, visits to doctors, dentists, optometrists, solicitors. And then there is the schizophrenic shopping lists of laptop battery, trainers for the kids, Carmans museli bars, miso paste, tortillas, boots for Bill, underwear, rosemary plant, saffron, Wii Mario cart, phone chargers, Bluetooth speakers, those new little weetbix with fruit in them; these trips are a holiday with a sting in their tail, one part socializing, one part maintenance.

While we were away, my daughter bought a t-shirt which said:

“Home is where the internet connects automatically.”

A little cheesy perhaps, but also true. I stayed with some friends for a few days while the kids were visiting their grandparents. My phone picked up their wifi automatically, they gave me keys to their car and their house. I ate family dinners with them and helped their kids with their homework. We traded parenting successes and failures. And when the time came to say goodbye, there were no hugs or talk of another year to pass. Pretending we would see each other again tomorrow, we just said ‘bye, see you soon’.

There is never enough time.

Arriving back in Ghana brings mixed emotions, and each return is a little different from the last. In the beginning, the heat, the smell, the frustrations with just getting anything done was very real. It was all still so new, so foreign, and to be honest, so disappointing to be back. But as the years pass, the familiarity of life here, along with some major decisions about our live here (like moving to Accra to attend school, rather than live on a mine site in rural Ghana), have made the transition back to this home, so much easier. I look forward to reconnecting with friends, I look forward to the daily surprises of what we see everyday and the general unpredictability of life here. And while a little part of me mourns the ease of life in Australia, like the quaint way cars stop at pedestrian crossings unbidden, I have come to the realization that life is here now. It’s up to us how we react to it.

I have a friend here in Ghana who has spent the last 10 years of her life in West Africa. Her biography reads like an exotic West African travelogue, Ghana, Senegal, Mali and Ghana again. A seasoned expat, she divides us into 2 groups, those who complain and those who get on with making the best of it. And while I make plenty of jokes about self-medication through alcohol, I want to fall into the latter camp.

The return to school gives a sense of new beginnings, like a mid-year January with plans of exercise, motivation and goals for the new year. And after a 9 week extravaganza of holidaying and travelling, it brings a much needed return to routine. In those last few weeks of the school year I never thought I would crave the crushing routine that is school life. But as all parents know, kids, particularly younger ones, crave the familiar. And before we know it, they are settled in their new classes, reconnected with friends, the sporting teams have begun, the home readers come in the door, birthday party invitations start to arrive, and we are back….back to the routine. And those holiday memories are just that…memories. It’s easy for all of us, expats and non-expats alike, to lurch through the years, living holiday to holiday, craving the plane ride outta-here, but isn’t it better if we make the memories here and now? Making the best of it.

But after a morning filled with a three hour wait for the mechanic, 16 phone credit scratchies and 2756 keystrokes to recharge the internet and an exploding power point…pass me the wine will you?

The shopping is a lot more fun than at the mall!

The shopping is a lot more fun than at the mall!

11 responses to “Home is where… the internet connects automatically?

  1. So lovely to hear from you. Enjoy resettling into a different home routine. I was thinking about you in my lecture the other day as I was showing students the connections between myself and other parts of the world from eating my breakfast, getting dressed and brushing my teeth (it is a lecture about globalisation and economic development). One of the lines on the map was to Ghana, courtesy of some fair trade chocolate mix. But I was thinking as I talked about these global connections and that that particular line to Ghana was much richer connection in the life of my family than the red line on the map could show. That and how difficult it is to figure out where all the ingredients from toothpaste come from in the time available to prepare a lecture.

    Home is perhaps all the places where you have those rich connections to, no matter how far away.

    It would be great to skype and catch up some time soon.

    Kathy

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    • Hi Kathy, so lovely to hear from you too!! Life is a funny thing isn’t it, never guessing we would have the connections which arrive in our lives, and those connections with peoples lives are indeed what makes life so rich…and I am intrigued about toothpaste ingredients…do I even want to know?? Also, did you find a little parcel in your letterbox after we left? Hope so!! C xx

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  2. You and your friend are so wise! I loved this: “A seasoned expat, she divides us into 2 groups, those who complain and those who get on with making the best of it. And while I make plenty of jokes about self-medication through alcohol, I want to fall into the latter camp.”

    I spent twenty years overseas, and the complaints and problems are real. But now, after many years at home, I treasure that experience.

    I laughed about your daughter’s shirt and the quote about the internet. When we were in Vanuatu (in the South Pacific) in 1990, e-mail was too new, especially from there. I was taking a low-residency MFA from Vermont College that required me to travel there for two session a year and to send assignments in once a month. It wasn’t easy sending large assignments from Vanuatu to Vermont and getting them there on time. Most of the time I succeeded.

    My grandson started first grade last week. I featured him in my post, “First-Day-of-School Jitters.” http://nickichenwrites.com/wordpress/

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  3. Ah Chrissie, so true make the most of each day and the memories will always be there. When I left England for Australia 51 years ago I corresponded with my parents by airmail letter and tape -recordings. It took a while for me to enjoy all that Australia had to offer. We went back to England after 15 years for a 12 months Teacher exchange for my now late husband, I had often wondered if anything happened to him would I go “home”. He passed away four years later and would I go “home”? no, Australia was now my home and I love every bit of it. However I still have that pull back to England, just to hear the different dialects, see the green countryside with the thatch cottages, see my friends, what memories I have stored away and as I reach the twilight of my years I have no regrets only thankfulness that I lived the day. Lovely to see you all again, look forward to next time, love jacky xx

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  4. Happy to see you back online and to hear that you had an enjoyable and successful trip back to Australia.

    I think your friend is correct re: the two categories of expats. It’s easy to fall into the one that complains but much more enjoyable to be one just gets on with life and makes the best of it. I think it’s a conscious decision that we occasionally have to remind ourselves to keep on track. And, there’s always the wine…

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    • Hi Jay, you are totally right, it is a conscious decision to make the best of it, especially as the complaining route is a far easier one. I hope all is well with you and your growing family! Looking forward to hearing the baby news. C x

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  5. Crissy it’s always so.lovely to read your blogs! They make me feel proud an emotional. We are very very lucky aren’t we? I am going to Newcastle beach right now and whilst I squish sand through my feet I shall send beautiful thoughts to you all. Xxxx Margy

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  6. I am Ghanaian and its always refreshing reading expat thoughts and struggles in this country. Just found your blog and you just got another regular reader.

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  7. Hi Chrissie

    Your blog has very deep emotions and anybody who read it will definately be fond of it.

    I am curious, what exactly your husband is looking in ghana? Gold?
    I hope he will get what he is are looking for and then can return to australia.
    We would have not got these wonderful post if you were not moved.

    Kids are really very cute!

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