Karissa in Mombasa, Kenya
The expat life isn’t too hard. Your housing is usually covered. Your transportation is provided too. And there are even times when you’re given a stipend for food, or it’s provided for you in the cafeteria. But life’s not too hard. Not really. It’s a cinch.
Or maybe you’re experiencing another expat life. Your housing isn’t covered. You walk to work or cycle. You are content with eating off a buck a day and you’re relieved if the AC works when it’s over 90°. You signed up for this life. It’s a challenge, but it’s what you chose.
But what happens when life tosses you something that you didn’t choose? What happens when tragedy strikes back home and you’re 7,000 miles away? Those niceties mean nothing. All the perks suddenly seem pitiful. Nothing can replace the feeling of being home when hard times hit the people you love.
I started writing this piece last week. I actually only wrote the first two paragraphs and then something else grabbed my attention, so I stopped writing. But when I woke up yesterday, I saw text from my mom. “Call me when you wake up.” I’ve gone nearly three years without seeing a text like that from her, but I knew something was up. I wiped the crust out out of my eye, pulled open my Magic Jack app, and she picked up.
“Hi, mom. What’s up?”
“I hate to start out your day like this, but your godmother passed away last night.”
I know she’d be sick for quite some time, but death is so final. It’s sudden. It’s bitter. And when you’re not there and can’t be there, it stings even more. Since I’ve been away, I’ve been surrounded by other expats who have experienced heartbreak while living abroad. Deaths in the family, devastating terrorist attacks, social injustices, and natural disasters hit us hard. I mean, hard.
So, what do you do? Do you stuff yourself with videos covering the madness? Do you binge on Google searches—hoping there’s a new update about what just went down. What do you do?
And then there’s the flip side. When tragedy strikes in the country or region where you’re residing, you’re bombarded with messages from loved ones expressing their concern—tossing their warnings and suggestions, and asking, “How far away are you from _______? Are you okay? You need to come home.”
Living abroad isn’t always a cinch—especially when it comes to matters of the heart.
So, this is what I’ve learned and am learning to do:
No need to create another tragedy because of your break down from the loss. Take some deep breaths. Take a walk. Drink in some fresh air. But most of all, breathe.
Find some way to express your sentiments. Whether it’s through writing, calling home, or finding a friend nearby, find some way to connect. Talk to someone. Write something. Scream. Pray. Meditate. Release your frustrations and pain. Someone is there to listen.
Sometimes you can go ahead and buy the ticket to go home and be physically present. You can’t put a price on that. Other times, it’s just not possible. You can’t take off work or it’s just not mandatory that you return home. But do something. Give a call. Skype with your friends or family back home. Become an activist through social media. Whatever it is, act on it.
So, when those matters of the heart that hit you when you’re not at home, realize that you’re not alone. There’s still hope. And peace is definitely less than 7,000 miles away. It’s closer than you think.