woman's shadow on sandy beach

An expat perspective

Cocooned against Covid

By L Taylor

Far away from the busy western world, I have made my home with my family in a peaceful corner of the planet, where life moves at a slower pace, wild creatures continue their daily routines around us and people are peaceful, patient and kind. Living here is like pressing the reset button on life; things are not as easily available as in the West, so I challenge myself every time I yearn for my old life, do I really need those things? Re-use, making do, creating from scratch. I have learned so much and realised how rejuvenating it can be to just slow down. Things I used to take for granted such as Amazon deliveries, clothes shopping, buying all the ingredients I need for a meal in one place, drinking from the tap and going to the pub, are no longer part of my life. Occasionally, I miss those things, but I miss different things these days since things changed irreversibly last year.

Covid made a brief appearance here on our little corner of Borneo before the borders slammed shut for us regular folks back in March 2020. The spread has been contained and managed ever since by the authorities. Not a day goes by where I do not marvel at the way in which a small country has kept its citizens safe during this awful time. As I hear the news from my home country and friends around the world, I feel more and more unable to relate, but I just keep attempting to be supportive and understanding. All of a sudden, any worries or problems I may have, pale in comparison and I feel myself even further away from friends and family and not just in distance, as the mental scars of these times will now always divide us. Although here we experienced a short period of lockdown and home schooling, it was so brief, the memories are already fading but I doubt this will be such a trivial memory for those who have experienced far greater hardship and disruption.

Some would say I live a privileged life, but to be an expat can also mean giving up certain aspects of life that others feel are necessities. The National Health Service, easy access to family, fresh air, the smell of freshly cut grass, drinking tap water, social security, not having to wear sunscreen every day, your children keeping the same friends throughout school, not worrying about tropical diseases/viruses or deadly wildlife as you walk down the street or swim in the sea. If it’s not watching man-eating crocodiles next to the local supermarket or wild, potentially rabid dogs chasing your husband down the street, biting his shins, it’s the mosquitos carrying dengue fever, monkeys stealing your shopping bags from the trolley or giant reticulated pythons crossing the road as you return home with your Indian takeaway.

Did you know that tiny ants can munch through sealed plastic containers to get to the contents, or that 2 metre monitor lizards can climb over fences to get into your garden? Or that macaque monkeys can attack you if you smile at them and termites can topple a healthy, living fruit tree from the inside, seemingly overnight? Tarantulas in the classrooms, snakes in the gym, monkeys in the canteen; the kids have had their fair share of wildlife tales at school too. Am I little more aware of my surroundings? Do I consider different things when I take the kids out to play at the beach or go for a walk than if I’d been back in the UK? Yes I do. All self inflicted by choosing to become an expat. But was it worth leaving it all behind and choosing a life without a security blanket? A safe and secure career, with the social framework to support the family, should it all come crashing down, surely makes more sense. When considering the events which have unfolded over the past year alone, I would say yes. Yes, it was all worth it.

When I unburden myself on a non-expat friend who has just had a hard week in lockdown, working from home, with a busy husband and two small children, I have to ask myself, ‘is it fair to moan?’. But do you know what my oldest, dearest friend recently told me with love and respect? “I’d still rather be here than there”. Knowing her, I can understand why she feels that way and it made me feel so much better, because I know for her it wouldn’t make sense, but for me, I wouldn’t be happy sitting still, wondering what I’d missed out on out there in the big wide world. But one thing’s for sure, you never know what’s round the corner in this big adventure called life.

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