Christmas is a-coming and the delivery men are in overdrive trying to deliver Christmas gifts. Finding our house is challenging enough, but when people do not provide our correct address, we are nigh on impossible to find. Needle and haystack springs to mind.
Our son ordered my Christmas present and told me it was on its way. It’s only a small lightweight parcel yet the delivery charge was almost half the value of the gift. I scratched my head as to why until I tracked the parcel online.
2 stops in the UK
1 in France
2 in Spain
1 in Lisbon
and then onto us.
I am not smiling at its carbon footprint, but I digress.
So what made me smile?
Now given vital details of the address were missing I am going to give the driver 10/10 for initiative!
When addressing packages we always ask people to include…
Last month, I visited England for a wedding. I was there less than a week.
Because of the nature in which I left England 4 years ago, I wasn’t sure what feelings would come up for me. England was my 2nd home. I’d begun building some semblance of a life there – building my career, traveling, visiting my 1st home at least twice yearly, trying to obtain dual citizenship, possibly venturing into the world of (British) dating, slowly growing friendships, etc. – when it was snatched from under me faster than the time it took for me to move there in the first place.
To this day, I can’t forget it. And oftentimes, since I left there, the months of August through October are sometimes hard for me because I remember the sequence of events that happened once I got the Home Office letter stating that I was an over-stayer. Time kinda froze.
So with that in mind as I flew to England for the wedding, I expected my emotions to be on the negative side. I got some advice before leaving to go there, from a few people in my small circle, to go with no expectations and cross bridges whenever I got to them. So I tried to do that. And to my surprise, I succeeded.
I had a very nice time.
I recently had medical issues and probably shouldn’t have traveled when I did; therefore, I couldn’t see everyone who wanted to see me, nor could I get around how I wished. But all in all, I truly enjoyed myself. I actually thought about moving back there again… almost. Hell, I won’t even lie… I’m still thinking about it on & off…
Anyway, while there I stocked up on cheese, tea and crumpets.
Although I couldn’t see everyone, I saw a few people whom I was meant to see. I won’t show their faces, but I’ll show some of what we ate. 😐
I had proper henna done for the first time ever, as part of the wedding.
I visited my old neighborhood, twice. The first time, I took a friend there who – believe it or not – just moved to England 2 months ago and wanted to explore a different neighborhood and borough. I took her to the local market I used to frequent.
And the second time was to visit my old flat. My downstairs neighbors still live there – as a matter-of-fact, they took over my old flat and the home is now fully theirs. After my departure, they didn’t want to risk any troublesome tenants moving in, so they took it for themselves. That humbled me then, and still humbles me now. Anyway, approaching my old door – as well as the street and neighborhood – was emotional.
(That’s a new door, by the way. It used to be a red door.)
I ate and conversed with them for a couple hours. Afterwards, I visited my old self-defense class and instructor. I couldn’t participate, but I enjoyed living vicariously through the students. Side note – only 1 of the original students from my class is still there.
(I miss class. It’s just not the same over here.)
And of course, I attended the wedding. I won’t show faces, but it was a nice one.
I appreciate the family inviting me. They’re like a 2nd family to me; I’ve discussed them here once or twice before.
Looking back, the visit was better than I expected. I saw a few loved ones, nervously returned to my old neighborhood, got my hair done, and brought home some very-missed British cheese, tea and crumpets. I couldn’t handle all of the business I wanted, but the major stuff was done and brought back. I’ll handle the other business (hopefully) next year.
I planned to never return to England again because although most of the time there was alright, the ending was horrible. But now, I’m glad I went, and I plan to return again. To visit or to live? That remains to be seen.
(P.S. By the time you read this, it’ll be 4 years since I left England. I scheduled this post like that on purpose.)
Aside from a few pieces of luggage filled to the brim with whatever I could carry, I returned home with almost nothing. The life I was trying to build in the United Kingdom was snatched from me.
I’d been placed on unpaid leave on August 9, 2013 – in contemplation of dismissal – by a shady employer that misinformed me about my work visa, among other things. Because of the employer, I accidentally overstayed my work visa by about 2 months by the time I received notification from the Home Office on August 8, 2013. I then had to report to the local immigration office like a criminal – once per week initially, then once every 2 weeks. I was evicted from my beautiful apartment in October by what turned out to be a shady landlord (I’ll never forget, Gary Sheppard of southeast London). I’d been his tenant for over 3 years and even offered him my security deposit, but money over everything, right? For 3 weeks before leaving the United Kingdom, I stayed with someone who insisted that I stay with her after my eviction. (I won’t mention her name here, but can’t thank her enough.)
I asked the male DNA contributor to please help me get a ticket home; there was no real response. Things were so bad that an American colleague took the male DNA contributor’s number from my phone to call and explain how bad things were. (Even though I knew it was a waste of time, she insisted.) Male DNA contributor begrudgingly bought a ticket, didn’t accept my thank yous, and treated me like shit. After almost 3 months of no contact (didn’t even check to make sure of my safe arrival to the U.S.), the male DNA contributor e-mailed me – not to say “hello” or “how are you?”, but to tell me that “you owe me (insert U.S. dollar amount here)”. No exaggeration – that’s what the e-mail said. When I responded that I was living from couch to couch, the male DNA contributor stated that I was exaggerating and need to look for work to pay back the money, along with some other really fucked up things that I can’t remember off the top of my head. Male DNA contributor would’ve known that I was looking all day every day, including weekends, at employment opportunities, had there been any effort to check on me. Don’t worry… I washed my hands for good.
The female DNA contributor isn’t much better. (Boy… if there’s a higher power, he or she sure knows how to pick the people whom they want to create new human beings. 😐 ) Complete narcissistic waste of time & energy. Don’t worry… I washed my hands for good a while ago. At least I don’t discriminate, right?
Another person from England, whom I’d known for 10 years, insisted that I pay her back $50.00 I owed her in spite of full knowledge of my situation. Yes… $50.00. I was so stunned that she had the nerve to ask me for money she knew I didn’t have, that I just responded with “not a problem”. I gave her the bit of money (and boy, was it just a bit) I got from the former employer about 5 weeks later and after that… *crickets* – no “hello” or “how are you?” or even “f*** you” after that. I waited 1 year for her to say something to me on any form of social media or technology… still *crickets*. I was there for her during some really difficult times (including an abusive relationship), before and after my move to England, and she threw everything away for 50 U.S. dollars. Don’t worry… I washed my hands for good.
At one point, I don’t think that even my aunt & uncle – who are like real parents to me – realized the gravity of my situation. And I’ll admit, I was angry at & frustrated with them for a bit before my return home. But once they realized how bad things were, that was it. I began staying with them before Xmas 2013.
I forgot to mention that since I accidentally overstayed my visa because of the former employer, along with reporting to the local immigration office, I was banned from returning to the United Kingdom for 1 year. Once I gave up all chances of returning after being shafted by recruitment agencies, I gave up trying to get back to the country and sat out my 1 year ban.
And so many other painful stories of betrayal and outright dismissal, from so-called colleagues, friends & relatives, that I could recount since I hit my rock bottom. (I’m not sure if those people deserve my energy, though.)
But then there are people such as:
my (ex-)stepfather who, in spite of us not speaking for 1 year because of an issue, picked me up at the airport upon my arrival home even though he lives in another state and carried my luggage – no questions asked – and gave me money for public transportation to get to interviews without me asking.
Joana, who insisted that I stay with her upon my return home, free of charge and refused any of my offers to help otherwise. I didn’t stay long due to other reasons, but for that and her I’m eternally grateful.
my aunt & uncle, who’ve housed me, which has helped me rebuild my life slowly but surely. Among countless other things, aunt bought me a coat and interview clothing also.
Dashima, who supported my fundraiser and sent me flowers when I finally got a job after almost 8 months of no luck.
Juma, who gave me his old coat until I got a new one, and provided other support.
those who gave me emotional and/or financial and/or other support and didn’t have to – Ellen & her husband storing my stuff in England, Sherri helping me pack, Sherri (again) & her husband cooking for me, Nadine helping me pack, Dacia, Gary, Johanna, Uzma, Twana, Sharon S., Natalie & Emmon, Ruth, Atiba, my 2 main Facebook group members, and so many others I wouldn’t expect.
the many people who sent me job postings.
the people who don’t know me in real life or online but believed me and believed in me more than enough to help, no questions asked.
I know I’ve forgotten some names, but I hope those people know my heart.
I think things are beginning to look up.
I’ve worked since March 2014, after almost 8 months of unemployment with no benefits of any kind.
I’ve paid down some debt.
I joined a gym to return to healthier living.
I’m studying for my next highest credential (or qualification, for those of you overseas).
My aunt, uncle and I get along very well overall, which is definitely a challenge for an introvert like me.
I have travels coming up within the next 2 months; my travel bug is finally back. (I’ll leave the travels as a surprise for now.)
And last, but certainly not least, I’ve been able to help others with no strings attached. It warms my heart to help those who can never pay it back (nor do they have to try). I’m just grateful to be able to do it. (I’m very selective, however.)
I sit here, typing this with tears in my eyes. (A few of ’em even fell.) Some feel like sad tears, but more feel like grateful tears. For those who left me when I needed it most, farewell. For the rest of you, I’m eternally grateful. I thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart.
After giving this some thought recently, and after reviewing the requirements for a work visa application, I’ve decided to stop looking for employment opportunities in the United Kingdom.
The visa application website requires potential applicants to qualify for a certain amount of points before moving forward. I hadn’t looked at it since 2010, so I didn’t remember what the requirements were. I took the preliminary test to see if I could go ahead with the application, and I met each requirement… except the sponsorship part. Therefore, I couldn’t go ahead with the application.
I don’t think it’s too difficult to get sponsorship in my profession from employers over there. What is difficult, however, is finding a reputable recruiter/recruiting agency to find a decent employer willing to offer sponsorship. Unfortunately, my experiences over the past few months led me to believe that most recruiters/recruiting agencies over there are shady. They’ve shat on me from the start, making shoddy promises and displaying a major lack of professionalism. Here are 2 examples of their “professionalism”:
I am looking to see if i can find a worksponser for you in London, will keep you posted ASAP
(P.S. I copied/pasted the e-mail exactly how the recruiter sent it to me.)
(P.P.S. The e-mail subject was “.” Yes… a period – that thing with which we end sentences.
Another one never spelled my government name correctly and used smiley faces in e-mail correspondence. (And no, it wasn’t a woman.)
I got so fed up with recruiting agencies over there, I decided to change the settings on 1 employment website such that recruiters can no longer contact me. I also changed the settings on another employment website such that neither my former employer nor another shady employer – which flaked out on me 3 times – can ever contact me again. If I work over there again, it’ll be on my terms and to hell with recruiters/recruiting agencies overall.
I’m also still experiencing the negative effects of what the former employer did to me. Now don’t get me wrong… overall, my time living in the United Kingdom was alright, but the last few months of my time there – along with my current challenges – left a really bad taste in my mouth. I try not to let those months color my whole view of the country, but I admit that it’s very difficult.
Will I live/work there – or any other country outside of the United States – ever again? I don’t know. After this experience, I don’t think I want to expatriate again. (I’ll always love travelling, though – that’ll never change.) But I’m not 100% certain about this, so who knows what the future holds. I’ve applied & looked for jobs all over so I’ll go wherever the money is. And if that means leaving the country again to get back on my feet, then so be it… even if – since I know that expatriation isn’t all cupcakes & roses – I go kicking & screaming for 1-3 years. However, I’d prefer getting my life back on track here, not in another country.
When I returned to the States, the ticket was round-trip because it was cheaper than a one-way ticket, and I scheduled to return sometime in Spring 2014. I plan on changing the ticket date to later this year. (Hopefully my life will be drastically different by then.) If I still feel a certain way about the country (and it is possible that I may feel the same way in the future), I’ll cancel the ticket altogether. But I think it’d be good to see a few of my old colleagues and a couple of friends, so I’ll likely just change the date instead of cancelling altogether.
There’s a lot more, but I’m going to end here. I don’t want to pass on my doom & gloom to anyone reading this, and many things are better left unsaid (until later?). It ain’t over until the fat lady sings. I’m fat, but I’m not singing… yet.
(WARNING: the following song has curses and derogatory words)
This week, I began seriously thinking about starting a gratitude journal. This blog by a good friend of mine is my inspiration. Despite work being fast-paced & busy, there MUST be good things about being an expatriate that I often forget/overlook and/or ignore. I’m still considering it, it may happen in the next few weeks IF I go ahead with the idea, and I may do it in a different time format (every other week or so instead of every week). Stay tuned.
It’s really hard to always appreciate the things that make us happy or make us smile. These little blessings that make our lives full despite the struggles.
I’ve been seeing this idea around the Internet for the last week or so — 52 weeks of Happy. Most recently, I saw it on Adaliza’s blog and I’ve decided to join in the fun. I’m hoping that I can take this one to the end of the year too.
The idea is to list 4 things that make you happy each week. I like Adaliza’s version better — I’m going to record moments when I felt happy, things that made me smile, and unexpected blessings.
from L to R:
Watching the New Year firework show from my living room window
Sankofa: “We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today.” (Wikipedia)
Today is an old friend’s birthday. We’ve not spoken in a very long time. Our friendship never really ended; life happens – work, marriage, kids, military, etc. and our lives took different directions. Like everyone else addicted to connected to the world-wide web, I got on Facebook and got an alert reminding me about my friend’s birthday. His settings are such that no one can write on his wall, but can send a private message instead, which I did.
I rarely view other people’s walls or pages, but I decided to be nosy skim through his friends list. I don’t know 98% of the people on his list, but I recognised a couple of old, familiar faces. I didn’t click on their names, but it got me thinking about where I was then, and where I am now.
I wonder about those people not because I’m nosy (well, I’m usually not nosy), but I wonder how they’re doing and if they’re still in the same place, physically and otherwise. I look back and I’ve changed a lot since then. Back then, I was deep into church yet filled with anger & negativity. Those people, looking back, were ultra-religious and ultra-conservative. Now granted, I had some good times with those people – hell, one of them wound up being my longest relationship ever – but that part of my life, and those people, can stay back there. If I remained where I was, physically and otherwise, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
I’ve done so much since then. I’ve been through so much since then. I live in another country, a life-long dream fulfilled. I’m now agnostic, and aside from my friend, his wife, his sister and another friend, I don’t speak to any of the people from that time in my life. I’ve seen different places, done different things, met different people, made many mistakes, learnt many things. And while I don’t miss that part of my life, I appreciate that era for keeping me focused, out of trouble, and on the straight & narrow. I take those things and carry them with me… not to stay stuck, but to sustain me as I move onward & forward.
Here’s to looking back on life. Here’s to dropping dead weight distant memories of those who are in your lives for a reason and a season, no matter how short the season. Here’s to being insane crazy scared brave enough to move to another country. Without looking back every once in a while, one can’t move forward to new experiences, people or places. And I’m glad that those things landed me where I am today – in the United Kingdom and in a whole new world.
How have your experiences in the past led you to where you are today as an expatriate? Did you ever think that you’d be living in another country?
The last time I wrote a full-on blog post was when I was going through some transitions. (I wrote a couple after that, but they were either photo challenges or more like short notifications.) While I’m still transitioning, I think I’m getting into more of a routine now, enough to write this post. (Plus, I’m off today.) What was going on, you ask? Here you go:
1. At the end of July 2012, my team merged with another team in a new building, not too far from my original building. They told us that due to austeritymeasures and a more streamlined service, things were better this way. We were skeptical about it, but glad that we’d still be a team within this new consolidated team; we worked together and got along very well as a team for the over 2 years I was there.
Sometime between the end of July and October 2012, the director of the new team said there’d be more changes, but never gave any hint about the changes so we could prepare. So while we knew that extra changes were in the works, no one expected the news on October 1st that our team would be completely deleted. Individually (and as a team but especially individually), it affected each of us more than we thought it would. Word got out to the rest of the teams in the borough, and they were just as surprised as us.
Between October and November, we were in limbo. We had to decide whether we each wanted to remain with the other team… but there were caveats – all the new positions are for unqualified (unlicensed, in U.S. terms) workers, and the pay is lower. The few positions (maybe 2 or 3?) available for qualified workers were already earmarked. While that wasn’t explicitly stated, we already knew in our minds what’d happen. We had to make difficult decisions in a very short time.
October 31st was our last day as a team. We’d soon be split up for good. My supervisor left. We were officially out of work, even though we had to come to the office daily; we still got paid, but it just wasn’t the same. I got home that evening and slept for at least 12 hours. While I put on a brave face at work, every thing clearly took a toll on me (same for my team members).
While this was going on, I looked elsewhere, in & out of the borough. I soon realised that I didn’t want any more long-term work, holding cases for months at a time. Before my supervisor left, she suggested I join a team that, while challenging, has less case-holding responsibility and quick turnover. I thought about it, it made sense, and I approached the service manager of that particular team on my own. We met, spoke for 1/2 hour, and I decided to try it. While we met, I felt a sense of calm wash over me; I knew that I was making the right decision. A week later, I shadowed a worker on the new team. The week after that, I met with who would be my new team manager and my new supervisor. And about a week and a half after that, on December 10th, I started on the new team in my original building – full circle and right where I started when I moved here in the first place.
2. A few days after starting with the new team, I found out that my maternal great-aunt passed away. She was 85 years old and lived a long life. However, everything since October 1st took a toll on me so when I found out, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I lost it. (Also, out of 10 sisters & brothers – my grandmother included – her passing leaves just 2 sisters. It drove home even more that my maternal descendants are closer to leaving us.) I couldn’t attend the service, which hurt even more (and is a negative aspect of being an expatriate). I also thought I wouldn’t get home for Xmas due to financial difficulties (I lucked out 5 days before Xmas). So all of that, coupled with possibly not being with loved ones during the holidays, made the last 3 months of 2012 feel like a whole year.
OH! I forgot to mention:
My dear friend’s brother developed a serious and potentially life-threatening illness. (It has since been dealt with, and is still being dealt with.)
Another friend’s niece was stillborn.
My uncle’s grandmother, who raised him some of his life, passed away a few days after my great-aunt died. (She was either 101 or 102 years old, but it hit him hard. And when he hurts, I hurt.)
I’m almost sure I’m forgetting a few other terrible things that happened between October 1 and December 31, 2012. So yeah… I wasn’t in the mood to write a damn thing. I just wanted to be away from this country and with my loved ones. I posted a few photo challenges on here (which also took lots of energy), but aside from that, I couldn’t do it.
While I’m still observing & learning things on the new team (Rome wasn’t built in a day), and while other changes are afoot throughout the borough (you can thank the government for that), I’m just glad to have a job that’s in very little to no danger. I’m also glad that I’m usually diligent about things like ensuring my credentials, especially since all qualified workers in my field must be registered as of December 1, 2012 otherwise one cannot work in my field without doing so. I also learned a little about my rights as a worker and legal resident non-citizen. And whether I like it or not, trials take forever to go away, but somehow or another they will pass.
My new work responsibilities are quite time and energy-consuming, which is another reason why I’ve not posted lately. But I have drafts sitting in my WordPress dashboard, and I hope that I can settle into enough of a routine, with enough energy & time, to blog weekly again.
I actually was “fashionably late” due to missing the train. I’d say that my style reflects New York City, but… well… suffice it to say that no one asks me for fashion tips.
Pardon, I’m rambling.
Anyway, I attended my first ever, bona fide fashion show with 3 women. (Meetup is the best.) But before you see the photos, I’ll briefly open a window (just a bit) into a small part of my life.
Before moving here, I was small. Throughout my life I was either teased for being too skinny, or told “I wish my body was like yours” (or some variation thereof). I could eat almost anything I wanted, in any amount, when I wanted. Freshman 15? Never happened to me. I was never overweight. In spite of this, I didn’t like myself.
Fast forward to now, and I’ve gained weight since moving here – never been overweight in my life until now. You never miss what you had until it’s gone and in my case, I wish that I appreciated my health & body more. I’m not used to it and it affects me a lot, negatively. (NOTE: This is not about looking down on overweight or obese people, so don’t pen any hate mail.) Being unable to fit most of my old clothing, yet not knowing where to find affordable & fitting clothing, made me look & feel slovenly (along with any other negative feelings). This was especially so in 2011.
Toward the end of 2011, I re-evaluated many things in my life and decided that working just to pay bills wasn’t worth it – mentally, financially, physically or emotionally. I resolved to make myself more of a priority in 2012 and beyond, and I’ve done alright so far. However, figuring out clothing sizes & cuts & colours & etc. was/is still a bit of a challenge. I also sustained an injury that has made it hard for me to work out & lose weight. (Getting older isn’t much help with weight loss either.) I found out about a stylist’s Meetup workshop and got a free ticket. Her tips gave me some ideas about where to start, as fashion has never really been my forté.
Little by little, the tips are helping, along with attending the show. Not only did I see women of different shapes & sizes (dressed better than me, no exaggeration), races & ethnicities, I also got a look into some of the latest trends. I know that I’ll never be a true fashionista (mostly because I generally hate shopping), and I may never dress like a true European (of any race or ethnicity), but I’m developing my style and now have an idea of what’s classic, current & fitting for me. I’m trying to work with what I have, no matter my size.
Alright… enough about me. I and the 3 women had a nice time; we wandered around for a few hours & each got something to bring home for ourselves. One even scored a great DKNY denim jacket for a decent price. Check out a small sample of the show’s offerings.
And here’s one of my small purchases from Kat & Bee.
If you’re a fellow expatriate, have you experienced body changes? How did they affect you (if at all)? How did you adjust to the changes? Are you pleased with the changes, or are you learning to work with what you have?
For more about the Weekly Writing Challenge, click here. For more about this week’s writing challenge, click here.
(NOTE: This is the challenge from 2 weeks ago. Whatever… I’m still dealing with jet lag from going home. Better late than never.)
My maternal grandmother died over 17 years ago. Although it has gotten easier with time and the pain isn’t as sharp as it used to be, the longing, the memories, the love… even the pain, no matter how dull… never go away. She was a major part of my life. We (her grandkids) saw her almost every day, as she lived down the block from us and watched us after school sometimes while our parents worked and made their way home in the evenings. We’d play in front of her building, not too far from her sight of course. Our old neighborhood is far from savory, so after calling us to get in before the street lights came on, we were inside with her and/or down the hall at my god-sister’s house and/or upstairs at my play cousin’s house (her god-daughter).
Before I moved over here, my aunt J surprised me & gave me one of my grandmother’s possessions as a parting gift. It pained her to do it (she shed a few tears), but she wanted me – the oldest grandchild & only granddaughter – to have it. I was, and still am, humbled by it and keep it on my dresser. I’ve even used it once or twice. What is it, you ask?
Her old school powder puff. (I have other items from her, but this one sticks out the most.)
Grandma used this powder all the time, whether she was making a quick run to the store, or going on a weekend trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey (Wikipedia link) with her sisters (my great-aunts), or visiting Panama (Wikipedia link) or Barbados (Wikipedia link) or (insert anywhere here). I vaguely remember her putting it on, standing in front of her mirror as she finished getting dressed. I loved hugging & kissing her after she dabbed the powder on her neck & chest because she smelled so sweet! She’d fuss at me a little – “Don’t mess up my face (make-up) & clothes!” – but she knew full well that she loved her granddaughter’s hugs & kisses.
I still think about her, miss her, and love her beyond infinity. I wonder how our relationship would be if she were still alive. Grandma liked travelling a bit, so I’m sure that she’d visit me over here for a while and, later, fuss at me for making such a fuss over her.
(Panamanian accent) “You don’t worry about me! I’m not that old, I know where I’m going. I want to explore this place, it’s so big, my goodness!… Yes, I know it’s like back home but still, it’s big!… Just give me the spare keys so I can find my way around… Yes I’m sure, dammit! You’re not too grown for a pop in the mouth. Your mouth fresh!… Yes, I’ll be fine… Yes, I’ll call you… No, I won’t lose the spare phone… Alright alright! Ay yi yi, dios mio, yes I’ll behave!… I love you too, babes.”
If any of you are from the Caribbean or Central America or South America (hell, almost anywhere worldwide) and you have grandparents or older parents who visit you when you’re an expatriate, they stay long time! My grandmother would surely stay at least a month.
I laugh just thinking about it… but that’s how I picture things in my mind if she were still alive. I’d prefer her to be here in body & mind, but at least I carry her spirit with me everywhere. And it only takes one whiff of her powder to reminisce and treasure the memories.
You are forever missed & loved. Que en paz descanse pa’siempre, Grandma. And thank you, aunt J.
Tell me about your favorite things in the comments section.