I booked this flight about 6 months before departure. Accommodation sorted. At least 1 tour sorted. Basic foundation was already set.
But since this is me we’re talking about, nothing goes smoothly. So of course, bulls*** started just a few hours before my flight. Money, of course, because why not. But I wouldn’t let it deter me. It’d been almost 2 years since my last proper vacation (and I still have to finish those blog posts from that trip… so ashamed of myself.). Yes, there have been a few short jauntsin between, but nothing as long and far away as this. So no matter what, I was leaving. I needed a break from work, from life.
From New York City to Paris, France; a 5 hour layover there; then from Paris to Algiers, Algeria. I know that going through customs in a different country is annoying, but it’s to be expected everywhere and I deal with it. However, I wasn’t expecting to be interrogated by Algerian police.
You read correctly. I was interrogated by Algerian police.
I handed over all of my travel documents at the customs desk and thought that all was well, until I was told to “hold on for a moment”. I knew that some bulls*** was bound to happen because again, that’s just my luck.
Here we f***ing go…
Along with being exhausted, tired/sleepy from limited sleep, and in some pain, I was also angry and kinda scared. My French language skills are very limited, despite my attempts to practice before I left for this trip, and I don’t have any Arabic language skills. So while an officer was telling me that I’d be fine, my face clearly showed that I knew otherwise.
(As an aside, it “helped” a bit that another American woman – a government worker at that! – was also being interrogated. She said to me, “This is terrible, isn’t it?” I nodded with a scowl on my face.)
They opted to interrogate me outside of the officers’ quarters. A female officer who spoke English interpreted & translated for her fellow officers, and asked surprisingly specific questions about why I was in Algeria, what I do for a living, who I see and the age range of the population, etc. ad nauseam. Thank goodness, I didn’t have any reason to lie and was also smart enough to have access to certain things on my mobile phone to prove myself.
TIP: if your mobile phone allows, store your most important documents on something like Google Drive, and make those documents available offline while traveling. It may make a big difference for you in case of emergency.
After what seemed like forever, they let me go. One of the officers hailed a taxi for me and I went to my hotel. But alas, as is my luck, there was more turbulence ahead.
If you follow the journey of 4 Deep Around the World, you know I’m a huge advocate of international travel. I constantly promote taking advantage of every opportunity to see the world. World travel is the new “it” thing that’s taking the world by storm. This is evident by a simple peruse of the multitude of travel related Facebook groups and travel deal websites that have developed in recent years.
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)
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?
I went to Bristol (Wikipedia link), United Kingdom for the first time with a photography Meetup group to see the Bristol Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. There were 6 of us – 5 of us went in the group leader’s car, while another member drove there on his own. Group leader let me sit in the front because of my injury, and on the way there, all of us (except group leader of course) fell asleep. It was a nice day as far as the weather & temperature – nice, sunny, blue sky, pretty warm. There were thousands of people, plenty of amusement park rides, and lots of food trucks & vendors all over the grounds.
Unfortunately, the wind was an issue. The Royal Air Force (RAF) did a group skydive, and it was obvious that the wind was quite strong. As a result, the organisers decided to cancel the hot air balloon part of the fiesta. We were very disappointed, and since none of us wanted to get on rides since we specifically came to photograph the hot air balloon evening/night programme, we decided to leave early.
So unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the fiesta or Bristol proper. I did, however, get a few shots of the RAF parachuting down. Check ’em out.
First things first, I want to apologize for not posting in a while. Along with being busy, I think that I’ve got writer’s block. Not cool at all, especially when I have drafts sitting in my folder; I tried finishing 1 draft but got stuck & decided to leave it alone for now. I won’t force the process though; hopefully I’ll be back to writing sooner than later.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way…
Happy Valentine’s Day 2012. Today isn’t just about romantic love. We need love every day in every way. While I’m not homesick, I wish I were near my family & friends to get & give hugs and kisses. 🙂 But it’s alright though because just like any other year, I won’t sit around sulking. Well… I’ll sit but not sulk. By the time you read this, I’ll be checking out some free live jazz with a few like-minded others. This is perfect for me because in the spirit of learning to take care of my Self, it reinforces how important my Self is daily & relaxing when my mind and/or body tell me to do so.
So single folks, enjoy today anyway. Non-single folks, here’s to hoping that this isn’t the only day that you decide to share love with your partner and everyone else.
Until next time (again, hopefully sooner than later), take it easy & take care of your Self. Bless.
Are you doing anything today other than sitting around sulking & wishing for a date or a lay? Do you have any special rituals that you adhere to on this day, whether you’re single or not? Most importantly, how do you celebrate love on the other 364 days of each year?