How to make it your ‘home’ as an Expat

After camping in our own home for four months, that mystical removals truck from Mozambique arrived, loaded with all our kit! I cannot deny that four months of simple living; with no TV, no oven, no toys and just 3 pairs of shoes – was enlightening. We can survive with less. But I tell you what – it is bloody marvelous being reunited with all our mod cons, hanging the photo frames on the wall and sinking into that comfy, well-used couch to watch a bit of telly! The house is now ‘home’ in every sense.

Yet a feeling of restlessness persists. And I realise my blog – or rather, my absence from it – is why I have been feeling this. I’ve thought long and hard about what makes a place home and though I am still feeling unsettled, knowing ‘why’ is a massive leap in the right direction. In my experience, there are 4 ‘at home’ boxes to tick. Firstly, as an expat, make some good friends. Squash your shyness and talk to that person in a queue with kids the same age as yours. Be prepared to meet people who are different from your ‘norm.’ Be bold and swap numbers. Meet for coffee. Make some memories. I did just this and am incredibly grateful to have found some wonderful new friends. Suddenly my social calender has gone from zero to being super excited at the prospect of a quiet weekend!

Secondly, make your home ‘yours.’ Get things in their place. Drill a million holes in the wall for all your paintings and photos frames, hang the chandelier, paint the wall crimson red and redesign the entire garden. Stamp the house with your special brand of ‘YOU.’ After all, you’re planning to be here for a good few years.

Third, KNOW your zone. Get to know all those little places; who bakes the best loaf of bread, where to find Gelato ice-cream, which bush the police hide behind when speed trapping and in Malawi’s case – who serves the best Chambo?

Last but not least, live a meaningful life. I realise that everyone’s idea of meaningful is different. But for me, it’s important to do something with my time here, other than being a mother to my kids and while they’re at school – surfing the net, watching TV and tea-partying around Blantyre. This is why my absence from my blog has me biting at my nails.

It seems that since moving to Malawi, my expat experience has gone the full circle. I started off in Mozambique much the same as here in Malawi – living a fun, friend-filled, carefree life. Yet somewhere in the back of my mind, lurks a need for fulfillment. And this is where my blog has played a huge role. My blog and of course, knowing that you are reading it, has been a source of motivation – a way to meet interesting people from all walks of life and to feel that I am making a difference and doing something meaningful with my time. I think of Rudi, I think of Francisco the ex Renamo soldier and the important lessons of life I learned from knowing his story, I think of the unknown road I ventured down in hope of finding something interesting to write about or photograph and I think of the different opportunities that have been presented to me since starting this blog.

But  Malawi is a country that I am unfamiliar with and this region in particular (Lower Shire River) seems to be somewhat complex and edgy, leaving me a little uncertain about how and where to start. Until recently, my blog has been stalling.

Road to the lower shire   Thylolo mountains

IMG_9040   Shire woman

And so for the umpteenth time, I did what I know best – we loaded our little family into the car, set off with a cooler box of cold drinks, turned up the tunes and explored our dusty, dry and ultra hot surroundings.

Shire Livestock

To the market

Roadside House

Should I have been surprised when I saw a young man hurtling down the dirt track on a rickety bicycle sporting a Mozambican Frelimo T-Shirt or if I spoke Portuguese, a number of them would answer me? After all, the Mozambican border is only an hours drive away.

It made me think. Perhaps I need to dig a little deeper and learn about this areas history for me to go forward. It’s history seems to be intertwined with it’s neighbor, Mozambique, and the horrific guerrilla war that went on for almost 20 years leaving a million people dead. In the mid 80’s, this small developing country was host to almost one million Mozambican refugees, most of them fleeing to this very area I now call home. Many of them have stayed on, having both a positive and negative impact on Malawi and adding to the complexity.

Donkey labour

 Followed ii

Shire women

River crossing

Suddenly I see how this regions history could well be the place for me to start and to understand why things are the way they are.

It’s  a mystery to me right now, but  that is exactly what I find exciting. Finally I have found a key to unlock the door.

Box 4 (How to make a place home)  – soon to be ticked!

Big smile

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

– Alan W. Watts


31 replies »

  1. Lovely stories! I was in Malawi in 1980 so love to see your photos of the country. (I was your mum’s best friend at school!) Can I ask why you moved there?

    • Thank you Jeannette, I’m so glad to hear you are enjoying the blog. It’s my creative little space where I get to put my experiences of living in these parts into perspective! We moved to Malawi for a number of reasons, but mostly because a good job opportunity came up just when we really needed it 🙂 I’m not sure how long you have read my blog, but we were in Mozambique before Malawi and had a bad experience regarding the safety of our family towards the end.

      Thank you for making contact. I read your message on my mothers facebook 🙂 Thank you very much for the wonderful compliment.

  2. Awesome Blog Hon, makes a very interesting read. When you have been living the expat life for as long as i have you just dont notice these things anymore and, its good to be reminded. Keep writing xxx

  3. Great to read about your journey and finding home in all its shapes and forms, very interesting and helpful, even for an expat like me in a metropole like KL!
    All the best to you,

    • True words Bart. And it’s just the beginning for me. Looking at the ‘same thing’ from a different angle has given me that inspiration I have been so desperately seeking! Thank you for reading and as usual, for your incredibly thoughtful comments 🙂

  4. Absolutely stunning photos, m’friend. I especially like the women on the road carrying their loads, the dugout canoe, and the last one with the beautiful smile. Thanks so much for sharing your new home and journey with us. 🙂

  5. Just love reading about your experience. I can hear the people, smell the country and see the rushing Shire river. Most fun memories were watching a guy with his bicyle loaded three times his height with small logs going down from the Zomba plateau with his heels acting as brakes – dug into the sand, the “Bend-down-boutiques” on the side of the road and the remarks on the back of taxis!! Keep on writing, I’m loving your “Blog” rgds Lynne

    • Thank you for your words of encouragement Lynne. I am happy to hear that I am stirring up those wonderful Malawian memories. I remember seeing the bicycles loaded up with wood like you have mentioned, but in Lilongwe many years ago. I don’t think there are enough trees in our area to do that! I must definitely get up north again. Thank you for reading and for your sharing some of your Malawian memories with us 🙂

    • So true. I have definitely picked up on that too. It’s something I’d like to know more about. It seems like everyone has worked in South Africa or knows someone who has or is working there.

  6. Malawi is a country I’ve never though about visiting, but that makes me look forward to getting there oneday. I’m really looking forward to learning more about living in Malawi, it seems to be more than just “something else”. Keep on the awesome blogging 🙂

  7. Wishing you well on your new safari. These are marvellous photos. And yes, dig into that history. I found the 8 years we lived in Kenya the most meaningful of my life, and 14 years on, I’m still researching and writing to make sense of where I have been.