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