Expat woman or taxi driver?
I have been travelling around the world on my own. I have a Master’s degree, had a management position and I am financially independent. Already as a child I believed in equal opportunities and obligations for all men and women. So, I repair the car, build a bench from drifting wood and let my husband sit behind me on the motor bike.
I married a man who, like me, had the ambition to make a living abroad. When he got an offer to continue his career in the Middle East, I followed him without apprehension. I was ready to meet a new challenge in an unknown region. Heavily pregnant with my third child I was hired as a project manager within a large international company.
But when my husband left for Saudi Arabia, I needed to adjust my life to that of an expat woman with the accompanying expat verve. Expat woman, a word without any substantive meaning. Pretty dumb blondes striding alongside their successful husbands. The reactions of family and friends were unquestionably clear. In their minds they saw me attending luxurious dinner parties and glamorous galas. They imagined me relaxing at the beach with a glass of sherry and a plate of olives on the side. A beautiful tanned skin in a flowered dress with freshly painted nails put in elegant slippers. Other friends and even strangers fancied me in a completely different dress. In a thick black robe with a scarf around my head, often face covering. My eyes gazing downward, two meters behind my husband. And even behind high walls, locked up in my house.
Maze of unfamiliar rules and manners
For a long time I did not know how to live my life as an expat woman, or how to find my way in this maze of unfamiliar rules and manners. I kept myself busy with clubs I did not really fit in. Just to find contacts and new friends among all those people with various backgrounds and different interests. Among people that are trying to make a living in a world that is as incomprehensible to them as it is to me, or that are in transit to another destination. Luckily it did not take long before I found myself in a multicultural group with whom I felt at home. I made friends with people that I would easily connect with in my home country. But also with people who I would have walked past if I had encountered them elsewhere.
We chat about work, stroll along the beach, or confer new developments or cultural differences. But above all, we discuss the time-consuming task that we have as an expatriate woman: the long-haul journeys through the city and carpool opportunities for our children. Children can’t move around independently. The road system and traffic is not arranged for pedestrians and bikers, and distances are too long. A ride to school is more than 10 kilometres and for a swimming lesson I drive 70 kilometres back and forth. Including rides for the everyday hustle and bustle I drive about 120 kilometres per day.
A day’s work
Meanwhile I understand that to outsiders the word expatriate woman is meaningless. But my daily life as an expat woman is not like that at all. The taking and fetching of the children who are scattered over different locations, collecting the mail from the post office and organising my financial matters are daytime activities in the car due to the long distances and busy traffic. It is a full-time job, which requires great responsibility in terms of safety and punctuality. A task for masters in planning and organisation with insights into the raging traffic and congestion times. An inescapable day’s work, that if it would be paid for it would be included in the career list for high school students. I am a taxi driver!