Friday, November 16, 2018

6 Types of Reverse Culture Shock Incompetence

“Going “home” was one of the most successful failures of my life.

Not that repatriation is a competition, but had it been the summer I moved back, I would have been a shoo-in for the win,” writes Jerry Jones of The Culture Blend , in Arriving Well*.  

He had all the knowledge, being a cross cultural trainer and all, plus he had some amazing friends. I almost fell off my chair with emotion when he described the way they set up his apartment and met them at the airport. And I say ‘emotion’ as I’m not sure if I was laughing or crying. Talk about attention to detail- even the cat had a welcome sign. Everything was set up so they could have a smooth transition, and yet it was still hard.

““It’s hard to feel incompetent, isn’t it?” Yep. That’s the word. It echoed for a while. Maybe it still does.
I despised feeling incompetent, but at least in China it had been expected. One look at my face set the bar incredibly low and anything I did to surpass that was met with shock and high praise.”

So after I read Jerry Jones’ chapter in which he so competently explains his incompetence I went back and looked at the re entry post I wrote a few months ago;

I realised that 1-6 are basically all incompetence. (#7 is Loss)

So here I adapted the original and turned it into:

6 Types of Reverse Culture Shock Incompetence

1.You look like everyone else so drivers assume you will know how to cross the road; people in the supermarket expect you to be able to put a box of corn flakes in the cart trolley and the line up to pay for it. (The Cereal Aisle had to get a mention.)  
You can’t do stuff people expect you to be capable of doing.

2. You've lived there before so you (think you) know how to do all those simple things. Like feed yourself and participate in conversations. Like buy and wear shoes after wearing flip-flops thongs for many years. Like speak Australian English.
You can’t do stuff you expect yourself to be capable of doing.

3. “Have you settled in yet?” It sounds like a perfectly reasonable question to ask but sometimes sounds like “You should feel settled now that you have been back for almost a year.”
You can’t be settled in like it seems people expect. 

4. Every little thing takes so much more effort so you are extra tired. But the bed is too soft, there is no hugging pillow, and it’s so cold you need to use a blanket. Even sleeping needs to be relearned.
You don’t have the ability to sleep as much as you need.

5. In a new environment your hobbies and habits that kept you sane can’t happen.
You aren’t equipped to have fun and relax.

6.Feeling like your arms have been chopped off is such a huge part of your thought life but you don’t know how to communicate this to anyone. 

Incompetence is going to be part of reentry, so get the tools- like Arriving Well. My favourite description of the book:

“The difficult but necessary topic of re-entry is approached so eloquently through five honest, raw, healing personal stories we are all certain to learn from. The co-editors/coaches neatly sum up the useful lessons learned from each story and ask the readers pertinent, reflective questions to help them through their own repatriation journeys. This is one book I will keep handy along with all my other favorite expatriate resources.“

Tina L. Quick, author of The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition and Survive and Thrive: The International Student’s Guide to Succeeding in the U.S. and founder of International Family Transitions.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Expanding in October {Time Capsule}

It feels like everything got bigger in October. Well, by everything I mean the town and our health issues.

The town is expanding out to us. A few weeks ago the electricity company installed these huge concrete poles on one side of our street. They totally dwarf the homemade wooden sticks we have been using to hold up our cables.  Sorry no person or moto for scale but in the centre of the photo you can see a pole almost as tall as the palm, while on the right you can see our maybe three metre toothpick holding the wires.

Also our pin on google recently changed from 'unnamed road' to a string of letters and numbers! Exciting times. I have no idea what they are referring to though.

The kids had some one off days of fever, tummy upset etc etc, and I also was feeling really tired from late September. No matter how much I slept and tired everything, still exhausted. So last week I had some blood tests and turns out there are at least 2 reasons for that. Both treatable, seems straight forward, although for one I will need to travel out of town to find a doctor.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Regular routine in an irregular time period {Time capsule}

So far this blog feels like my favourite way to record what's happening, so here is our time capsule for mid July-ish until early October-ish.

Finished up at preschool but not yet started official homeschooling. We are getting used to all being at home together and still setting up things/unpacking in the house. It’s like deschooling, or homeschooling preschool or maybe even just playing and reading at home with the kids. 

Our ducklings are enjoying our flooded yard.
Within in this irregular time period there are some regular things that happen. Including but not limited to:

- one afternoon week we open the laptop and turn on Skype to talk to family members in other countries. We don't always end up catching them, but we have that regular afternoon when it might happen.
-Soeun is doing Psalms in a weekday cell group and Revelation for sermons. We have just set up an office for him so he can focus better. Bought a bookshelf, unpacked most of his books! We have a code word he uses to tell us he is going to work and can't play- because the kid always want to play with him.
The vacant lot opposite us fills up with water at this time of year. Apparently a good place to take your water buffalo. 
-weekly morning playdates with a group of people we have just started getting to know. Although a few of them I have sort of known for awhile, others just moved here. It feels like the 3rd wave of playdates since I moved to Siem Reap. The group that used to meet weekly when I arrived pretty much all left town around June 2016. Then I was meeting weekly with one or two others for awhile, but then all our kids were at preschool and we didn't meet as much, and then we moved we meant we couldn't do weekdays anymore. But now, post preschool we are getting to know some others from House Church and also starting to form a homeschool community. 3 years ago I asked on Fb if there were any homeschool families and got no response. As of the weekend we I know of 5 others!
Since we finished up at preschool in June its been nice to be able to use the market near our house regularly, I end up going every few days. The transition time between when we moved but hadn't yet stopped going to preschool didn't really allow me to shop at a market.

Soeun had to unexpectedly leave one night to go and stay at church overnight with all the water... 

Current favourites. From the 1960s and 70s, new to us via American friends. 

Out the front door.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

You know your offspring's childhood is different to yours when...

...the thought of a bus ride to the capital city is more exciting to them than the thought of a plane ride.

...when they ask what a seat belt is you reply “like on the plane”.

...they ask why Jesus washed the disciples feet and you don’t need to explain they wore open shoes on dusty roads. Your answer is “Because they didn’t have a tap outside their front door like us.”

...when your toddler reaches the end of the alphabet song she stops at “Y” looks to you unsure of how to sing the final letter.

...what you call biscuits, they call cookies. Then when you make biscuits with American friends they are confused as to why scones come out of the oven instead of cookies.   

...chopsticks are the first thing they grab when they see spaghetti heading to the table.

This is all from my point of view of course. If Soeun made a list it would be quite different, their childhood is so different compared to his.

Friday, September 21, 2018

3 reasons for a cross cultural family to laugh at dinner time

I had already put forks on the table, but my son got himself a pair of chopsticks when he saw we were having spaghetti.

I found it amusing. His default way to eat Italian noodles is with chopsticks. Subconsciously I thought as I was serving Western rather than an Asian meal I assumed we would eating it the Western way. But his actions makes sense, as all he's seen his whole life is people eating noodles with chopsticks. I have also eaten spaghetti with chopsticks, but only in my adult life which I would describe as 'between worlds'.

Meanwhile, Soeun is also amused. Although I think of spaghetti as a dinnertime food he doesn't. Noodles are usually only for breakfast or a snack in Cambodia, it's not a proper dinner unless you are eating rice. Even though, as an adult he has lived in Australia and many times has had to eat an evening meal of pasta.

"Like Mummy! Like Mummy!" Our daughter was (trying) to use her fork, but laughing as she did. It seemed like she also would have though using chopsticks would be the normal thing, but she was amusing herself by imitating my funny way of eating. 

So in summary: I was laughing at our son for using chopsticks, Soeun was laughing at me for serving noodles for dinner and our daughter was laughing at me for using a fork. It was a fun family meal. Eating and laughing together.

The way you eat is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to culture. The visible, the tangible bit that sticks out of the water for all to see.  We can see how our children are learning some Western and Asian ways and it is kind of fun and interesting at this point. Their childhood is different to both Soeun's and mine. I assume as they grow up they will also be forming and learning their own fusion of ways of thinking and relating, of values and worldview. The majority of the iceberg is under the water, we can't see it, at least not at first glance.

Soeun and I are also learning a bit about each other's culture but only in our adult life, while our children are doing it in their developmental years. A big difference. And the majority of "culture" is the bottom part of the iceberg that is not so obvious.

We can already see that their 'normal' is different to both their parents. Their mother grew up eating spaghetti for dinner and their father grew up eating noodles with chopsticks. They are growing up eating spaghetti with chopsticks for the evening meal. Abnormal to both Daddy and Mummy - for different reasons.

It is likely we won't understand them by default. It is likely they will sometimes feel like they belong everywhere (with both the chopsticks users and the pasta dinner people) and sometimes feel like  they belong nowhere (who else thinks chopsticks when they see Australian style Italian food?). We hope that we'll have a family culture of eating and laughing together, where they feel they belong.

Linking up with Velvet Ashes.

Friday, September 14, 2018

To my understanding friend

So our mutual friend VelvetAshes is talking about being understood this week. I first started getting to know Velvet Ashes in Instagram, then hung out in the blog and retreat and hope to join a connection group. It’s a place I feel understood, which of course made me think of you too.

I met you just over four years ago, I can’t remember exactly how we met but I remember my first feeling. Shock. I was shocked that you knew how I felt and shocked that you expressed it so well. In some cases I hadn’t really heard anyone talk about some of these things much before. It was so nice to know someone else had been through similar experiences. If that wasn’t helpful enough you also gave me ways to deal with it.

Sometimes you give me new freeing ways to think about the struggle. For example the one about people putting on the glasses of skepticism and backing off when you're dating a local.  Or this one about not hating your husband’s ministry.  Such honest conversations!

Other times you put things in their proper perspective.  Like that time I was feeling overwhelmed about the next step for us. We needed a lot of money. Where would that come from? Then a post popped up in my newsfeed reminding me that feeling like we are small is actually a good perspective to have.  When you are in a valley, big things look big as they are supposed to. Whereas praying in high places can actually be 'dizzy and dangerous' and things look topsy-turvy.

Occasionally it feels like you are right beside me giving me commentary on what is happening, and helping me to think about how to go forward well. Like that night my fear response was taking over my logic, as we made a late night trip to the clinic. I knew my husband’s condition probably wasn’t serious but my brain was tricking me into reliving those times I thought he was moments from death. You were hinting that knowing this is actually a positive thing, and could help me serve better in the future. It's like you know what I'm going through today, and where I need to be headed tomorrow. 

And so many times you make me laugh about the stressful issues I face. Like this one about the re entry process, or this one about returning overseas (I think I laughed while reading...or was that an anxiety attack?!) 

Neither my passport country nor my host country friends can really understand my feeling about home, but you look at it from so many angles. Forbidden roots and tent pegs to name a few. And the numerous posts about saying goodbye and about being a mother come to mind. You totally "get" me!

Photo: Juniper Tree, Chiang Mai, Thailand. When I'm feeling not blue enough for my passport country, and not yellow enough for my host country I need green spaces like this!  A Life Overseas Blog is like my daily green space.
Looking back on the last few years you even knew some of my needs before I did, and managed to bring them to my attention. You always mention both counselling and TCK issues. It is as if you are assuming they should be a normal part of my life. I hadn't thought about it like that before I got to know you. Both sounded irrelevant and a bit painful based on past experience but once I started having counselling sessions and began reading about TCKs I realised you were right. It turns out that the TCK book you keep quoting from is also relevant to cross cultural kids generally, not just one narrow subset like I'd assumed. 

There are so many other posts I could mention as I thank you for being an understanding friend, and I'm also glad you've introduced to me to other blogs and books. So grateful for the way you express and explain so many of my expat emotions; and for equipping me to live well while being too foreign for here or there.

A Fan 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Storm at Angkor Wat September 6th

I was enjoying a nice peaceful read by myself near Angkor Wat, engrossed in a description of monsoon rain in Pakistan when suddenly yellow dust clouds started running along the road with the tourists who were hurrying out of the wind.
The ancient temple had been glowing golden in the afternoon sunshine but in a matter of minutes Angkor Wat became silhouetted against white clouds while dark dark clouds hung above. It felt like almost everything was moving- the trees dancing in the wind, the contrasting clouds above, the billows of dust, the crowds of people running, the water in the moat rippled in the dusk light.
I stayed to enjoy the storm for awhile, and watch the people running. When the dust and the strongest rain died down I rode home. It was still raining with a bit of lightening but not too windy. If it hadn't been getting dark I would have waited until the storm calmed down a bit more.
Arrived home soaked despite the poncho. And our house had lost power of course but the kids were having fun eating rice in the dark. That power cut turned out to be the last straw for our water pump.
Later on I found out others in town were commenting on something unusual too. Something quick and strong, someone said it looked like a tornado. It was kind of bizarre and awesome. 

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Why is being undiagnosed stressful?

“Sorry I can’t come, my husband is dizzy.”

It sounds ridiculous. Why would I need to cancel something just because my husband is a bit dizzy?
And people’s natural response sound ridiculous to me: “Ok, make sure he drinks enough water.”
Photo credit

When we arrived in Australia, we expected reentry/culture shock. We knew we were going to be in a different world and that that would mean stress and disorientation. It’s an inherent part of your life when you’re an Aussie married to a Cambodian. I’d read books and blogs, talked to people, made my own lists of my own experiences so far. I was expecting the first few months back in Australia to be extra hard.
Being uprooted from the familiar and landing in a new place there are so many things that inevitably cause exhaustion. Even though we were anticipating this, it was still stressful and painful. But it was expected and we could understand where the stress was coming from. Some things might not have been obvious at the time, but later we could look back on it and say, well I got stuck in the middle of that road because I was crossing as if it were a Cambodian road, where drivers are nice and just go around you. (Whereas Australian drivers stick to the rules.)
At the same time we entered Australia we also entered the world of undiagnosed debilitating sickness. We didn’t know we were going into it, and so there was no preparation or expectation of what it would be like. I don’t think I even knew such a world existed. Unlike culture shock we had no way to prepare and often no way to even know why we were stressed.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Between seasons, between worlds.

Our yard has started to look more like a pond.

Looking outside causes me to squint. Sun is reflecting off water covering our yard.  Although its been raining for a few months this week feels like a key change. We are heading into the serious half of rainy season now. If we are going to be flooded in, it will be sometime in the next 2 months.

Spring photos suddenly began blossoming on my Aussie friends Facebook timelines this week. They are writing about sunshine and thinking about taking the first swim after winter. The soundtrack of my childhood Septembers was sneezing.

Meanwhile my fellow expats are posting "back to school" photos. September is the start of a new school year, the end of "The Summer" and the start of "Fall". International schools in Cambodia follow the same school year as much of the northern hemisphere. I'm seeing those photos, as well as over a decade worth of friends who were in Asia once and are now back in America etc. I first encountered this in China. It was so weird that people called July "The Summer". At least it made sense there where it was actually hot at that time of year. Expats here still call July "Summer"even though the weather is actually cooler than the proceeding months.

No mention of where we are in the Aussie school year, it must be about three quarters of the way through the year. Christmas is synonymous with end of school and summer holidays. The school year follows the calendar year.

And for local government schools here I think their long school vacation is coming up although I'm not really sure. And for the small private schools so many go to, I don't even know if they take a break. The French school is still on summer break I think.

This change in season comes just as I'm thinking about my "greenness" or how I'm most comfortable between worlds.  I first started reading TCK blogs and books for the sake of our kids. Although they don't fit exactly into the definition of Third Culture Kid, there is so much overlap. But I'm finding it useful for myself as well. From age 8 to 18 I lived in the same house, but my whole adult life I've been moving house between 3 different countries.

"...We live between worlds, sometimes comfortable in one, sometimes in the other, but only truly comfortable in the space between..."
From Marilyn Gardner's website

I just realised how much I like this quote even though I've been reading Marilyn Gardner's books and blogs for a few years.  I love the way she describes things. The sights and sounds of Pakistan, and the feeling of straddling homes. (Although I'm not sure of this quotes origin? I need to check...)
(Update: I found it! "Burqas and Miniskirts" in Between Worlds)

Giving birth for the first time. So special. So scary. Where do you want to be for this? For some their passport country seems the best place for them to be looked after. For others their host country is most convenient. For me it worked out that a "between worlds" location was ideal. A third country where neither of us had ever been, but had an expat community. Even though I didn't really know anyone there it felt easy to slot in and I'm so thankful to have shared that time with a collection of Americans who live in various parts of Asia. I had never met them before, and most likely won't see them again.

This current change in season is highlighting the between-ness for me. In my childhood September and spring were practically the same word- they even start with the same letter. But these days I regularly have people ask me "How was your summer?" They mean how was my July, and they are asking because its assumed I would have a different timetable for that month. I will probably always link this time of year to hayfever- but never again to ONLY hayfever- its now also a new school year and watching for floods. 

And then for my husband and children it's a different experience again.

Soeun is neither Australian nor any other kind of expat so September is not spring or "back to school" for him.  And despite the fact that he is a local his home life and most intimate relationships are not local.

And our children? We don't know what their childhood will end up being like apart from that it will be so different from both their parent's childhoods. They eat spaghetti with chopsticks, go on planes more than buses, say zed and zee at the end of the alphabet. And they are growing up with parents who stare at screens... I better go and see what that screaming is.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Fairy lights, empty photo frames and speedy but measured emotional investment.

A string of fairy lights ties my first pregnancy/newborn memories to a night market in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We decorated our house with the lights, along with postcards and photos. It felt like our place for those 90 days of maternity leave from Cambodia/Australia.

I tried to make our room feel like home as quickly as possible (without investing too much) as we were only going to be there for three months. 

I tacked up, taped up and tied up satiny scarves from the Russian market and photos of friends and family to begin  my first year in Cambodia. The walls were covered in brown marks from the last person's taped up posters, the ceiling was really low and there was little natural light or air flow.

 It was hot and uncomfortable but I needed to make my room feel like home as quickly as possible (without investing too much) as I was only going to be there for ten months.

ONE  (academic) YEAR (multiplied by about 6)
Again, photos up on the wall straight away in my Australian student accommodation (and sometimes a rainbow mirror ball). Some years it was my uni course, Bible college year or husband's Bible college.

I tried to make my/our room/s feel like home as quickly as possible (without investing too much) as we were only going to be there for about 11 months.

To combat the dark, cold months of a north east Chinese winter I bought a gaggle of pot plants for my flat, as well as arranging  photos and pictures above the radiator. The colourful doona cover I received from friends at uni decorated my sofa. Finding a place for the washing machine, that still allowed me to use the kitchen and the bathroom was a big challenge but thankfully got done.

I needed to make my room feel like home as quickly as possible (without investing too much) as I was only going to be there for eighteen months.

The patterns breaks down here, I would have loved making it home straight away, especially as we had come from 2 years of stress and were due to have a baby in 6 months...however, the owners were selling so we had to go month by month not knowing if they were going to kick us out- so stressful not to be able to make it feel like home, it had felt like such an essential thing to do all the other times I've moved house. I need a home to rest in so I can function.  

Again, the pattern breaks down but for a happier reason. When we knew we would be in the same house for FOUR YEARS we attached hooks and hung empty photos frames on the wall. No need to rush putting photos in, there's plenty of time to do that later. We didn't need to make it feel like home as quickly as possible, as we would be there for FOUR YEARS. So when it came time to pack up we laughed when we took down the still empty photo frames...

I didn't really get interested in last week's Velvet Ashes word until I read The Grove and the readers blog linked up. When I did I realised this is an aspect of expat life I want to record here.  This isn't an exhaustive list of house moves but its the general vibe of the last 20 years.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Grand Finale of preschool {Time capsule}

Surprise! We found a water melon growing near out steps.
A time capsule of this transition which turned out to be surprisingly delightful.

It came sooner than I expected, and I felt happy instead of stressed. Taking the kids out of preschool has been looming before us for a while. We needed somewhere fun and safe for them to play over the last couple of years but now things have progressed and it’s time to get used to being at home together as we plan to try homeschooling.

The kids were going to be at preschool until the end of August...but in early June about 4 or 5 things came together and we realised we would finish up in June. It had been such a lifesaver, we put our eldest in in desperation- he needed more climbing and friends than we could find elsewhere.  So I thought taking them out would be hard, but when it was the right time it felt like we suddenly didn’t need it anymore.

Such a big relief- the thing I was dreading disappeared.

Dress up day at preschool

It was Fairy Tale Dress up day on the Thursday. Our son was so excited, he came up with the idea to dress up as the big bad wolf. He begged me to buy a grey t shirt to go with his grey shorts, he found socks to put on his arms and worked out a mask. We painted it together on the Wednesday afternoon. It was fun to see him having so much fun planning his costume. Painting with him at home also made me less stressed about homeschooling. Yes it was messy, but so thankful we have been given some paints and paint brushes, and he has so much fun painting. That was one of the things I like about preschool- they do so much fun messy stuff there, which the kids love and I don’t have to set up or clean up.
Our son worked hard writing and drawing on the Thursday afternoon, he was excited to make cards for his teachers. We also made granola for them in our toaster oven. Both our kids were given huge handmade cards with finger prints and photos of their class. I went early to pick up and got some photos of them near the world map with friends.

Some of the books we bought in the last week of preschool.
 Choosing a new-to-us book to take home was a feature of those last few days. A bookshop just opened up near preschool, full of English language kids books!!! As we won’t be in town much after this, I let the kids choose a book each 3 days in a row. Exciting, festive! Added to our Peppa collection, got our first Mr Man book and, our sons new favourite , our first Enid Blyton. I didn’t know if he would be ready for so many words and so little pictures but he LOVES it. I’m reading it to him for the second time now, he keeps asking for it again.

June skies are amazing

I was glad our son already had an idea about homeschool from when we visited a friend in February. All the other kids are going to different schools, or continuing on at the same school. He is just staying home to play and read books for now, but he calls it homeschool, and he is really excited about it. Yay!
Tuk tuk ride home on final day of preschool

I'm still being asked to read this book everyday almost a month after we bought it! I thought it would be too many words and not enough pictures but he loves it. The word "tiresome" has entered his vocab. 'oh Mummy, you are tiresome"
The first week after preschool we were up to Psalm 19 so that matched the amazing sunsets we were having. At the start of the week we had some kitchen shelves made for the pantry, I spent the next few days unpacking our kitchen boxes while Soeun and the kids went to visit Grandma. One child came back with a sore face after falling down some stairs! On the way back they had a boat ride at sunset. The next Sunday I went to house church and discovered a homeschooling family is moving near where we live (where no other expats live... yet?) Exciting times.

Soeun's sunset boat ride photo

Where our non cautious child met her swollen mouth.

New shelves, unpacking boxes we packed back in October.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Goodbye season, Hello season

Contrasts at this time of year: dark stormy clouds and brilliant sunshiny green leaves

Goodbye expat friends, particularity one who was part of both Bible study group and the initial playgroup I was part of when we first moved to Siem Reap. Boo.

Hello families with kids on our side of town! Recently been getting to know 2 families from preschool who have kids our kids love playing with. A European family and another Khmer/Barang family. Yay.

Goodbye preschool. We first started there as it has one of the only outdoor play areas and our toddler boy needed to climb and run. We kept going because  its  a safe fun place for our kids, and it gives me time to get stuff done. Such a great mix of Khmer and expat families. Boo.

Hello new home based lifestyle. Since we moved its been getting harder to go into town each day, it will be good to cut out the travel and rush. Now we have space at home for the kids to play so we don't need preschool like we did a year ago. Yay.

Goodbye to turning up to expat women's Bible study group easily. Its held near preschool at the same time as the kids are at preschool.
Hello more space and time to have playdates with people from the expat house church who I'd like to get to know more.

Goodbye shopping mostly at supermarkets with tired kids and a tuk tuk. Since we moved out of town its been hard to get to the market.
Hello going back to walking to the local market, buying meat and veggies easily and getting to know our community.

Friday, June 01, 2018

7 ways reentry is like invisible illness (or Why I prefer scorpion stings to visiting my passport country)

" to ignition or blast-off, the re entry phase is the most dangerous and difficult part of a space mission.."
From Craig Storti , The Art of Coming Home, pg 187 

Sudden excruciating pain stabbed into my foot and up my leg.

After flicking the light switch I saw the scorpion, lying, as if innocent, on the bedroom  floor.

“Am I going to die?” was my first thought; closely followed by “We need to take a photo for Facebook.”

No, I didn’t die, and yes, we did get a photo uploaded within minutes. It grabbed the attention of over fifty of my closest friends all around the world. It felt exotic and exciting. Although the sting stung, the memory of it is not painful, in fact I love talking about it.

A memory that is painful is that time my husband was dizzy.
For two years. For no reason.

Nothing was different about his appearance (compared to a healthy person), or even his medical tests, but everything was different for him, for both of us.

“When you get an invisible illness...your whole world alters. How you see yourself changes. But how the world sees you does not. Your illness is invisible to others, to doctors and to the government. The perils of not being seen can be life-threatening.”

Your world changes, but no one can see that. This description of invisible chronic illness sheds light on the reentry process, when you return to your passport country after years away.

Nothing is different about my appearance (compared to an Aussie who has been living in Australia) but everything is different for me.

Living with an invisible illness and going through reentry are both types of unseen pain, unlike a scorpion sting.

7 ways reentry and invisible illness are similar

1.You surprise everyone by not being able to do things they expect you can do.
In your previous life you could work and take care of yourself. Now despite appearances that’s all changed. Some parts take more effort than others, other parts impossible.  Debilitated and disorientated.
People in the supermarket expect you to know what to do.  Drivers expect you will know how to,and be able to cross the road.

2.You surprise yourself by not being able to do things you expect you can do.
Make a list of simple stuff to get done.
Try to do it.
Feel surprised and frustrated.

3.You surprise others and yourself by not being what (you perceive) they expect you to be.
“Are you better yet? “
“Have you settled in yet?”
Both friendly well-meaning question but totally miss the magnitude of a chronic illness or an international move.
You need wade through the frustrations those questions might trigger, and see the good intentions behind them.  They know you’ve been to the doctor and/or had a debrief and they are wondering how it is all going.

Looking normal and healthy, but feeling tired all the time. Every little thing takes so much effort. You are busy working out a new normal, perhaps including how to sleep. Maybe the old normal way of sleeping isn’t an option anymore, so on top of it all you may be getting less quality sleep.

5.Even fun is hard work
Noticing you are tired and stressed, well-meaning people suggest you should take a break or to go out and have fun. But there is no way to take a break from yourself or your new life. Even ways of fun and relaxation have gone. It takes effort work out how to do it now.
So not only are you more stressed, but you also have no easy way to cope with stress like you did in your old life.

6.Trying not to sound like a broken record
Until recently things were easier and so so different, you can’t help but keep comparing. Every time you try to pay for something, or walk somewhere, it’s hard not to remember how different it is to before. Such a huge part of thought life, yet it feels like you shouldn’t keep boring everyone with “I used to know how to do laundry back in my host culture/before I got sick.”
And even if you do keep sharing this it becomes apparent people don’t really get that you feel like your arms have been chopped off.

You haven’t needed to go to a funeral, you still have all your limbs and your house has not burnt down. You look like anyone else but your normal routines of eating and sleeping are different, different ways of interacting with people and so much more that’s not mentioned here.
Unseen losses mean they might be unexpressed for years and may need to be unraveled somewhere down the track.

“Whoa- that sounds painful!”
It’s easy for others to acknowledge a scorpion sting but they don’t use exclamation marks when you mention that you are dizzy/tired or that you moved from overseas 6 months ago.

When people don’t know or believe you are struggling it “magnifies the pain” (Metzger, 2016). Unseen pain such as reentry, invisible illness and a myriad of other things become even harder.
The sting lasted less than 24 hours, while the worst of the dizziness was 24 months and beyond, so the comparison only goes so far, but according to Metzger, baldness attracts more interest than chronic fatigue syndrome.

“...research into CFS/ME is small, especially when considering the number of people sick and how devastating it is.  “I had looked up male pattern baldness … $18 million for male pattern baldness [but only] $3 million for chronic fatigue syndrome, an illness that affects 1 million people in this country (USA) that has at least 25 percent of them out of work and on disability.” (from Metzger, 2016)

About five years on from when we were living in Australia, I’m still realizing just how hard it was.  We entered culture shock and sickness all at once, as I wrote about here: The Dizzy Monster.
It’s only in the last few years that I’ve been able to think about it. I’ve found it a relief to read other’s stories, such as this one here on Fruitful Today. Kristy writes about how her life changed when she got sick, including how hard it was to be part of church initially, and how different it is now.  If you are sick or someone you know of is sick you might find Fruitful Today useful too!

And here are some blogs on reentry:

And linking up with Velvet Ashes as this week is about Returning.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Time capsule

My favourite way to peek into my past is currently using this blog, so I’m motivated to jot down things how they are now (in these few months)  before this “normal” travels into the past as well.

The most fun

Rockets, playing the mud, building things and using their torches (flashlights) are how the kids love filling their afternoons and evenings. During hot days they don’t get to play outside much until it starts getting dark. Recently it’s been dinner early then out to play until bath time. 

Morning routine

What was previously reserved for holidays is currently our daily routine! Pre-kids, and pre-moving to SR tuk tuk rides were for special occasions, and travelling alongside the river in SR with all its greenery was only ever done when we were having a break from the capital city. Sitting together, without the distraction of housework and toys sometimes ends up being the time the kids start asking me questions, or telling me things. Only a few months left and this will end!

And then we arrive at preschool. I often run into other parents, many from families who are also have one Khmer parent and one expat parent. Sometimes the parents are people were friends with before we all started at preschool, others I just started getting to know at drop off and pick up after hearing our kids talk about their kids at home. One family we actually met the first time in a supermarket. Another is a friend’s nanny’s other client from a couple of years ago. Other than Khmer the nationalities include but not limited too- Canadian, English , Australian, Irish, Philipino , Austrian and German.  Hoping we can stay in contact with some families when we finish up at preschool.

I still want to get a full size gas oven one day- but a toaster oven does the job for now.

A rush of new things

The size of our last house moved deceived me. It looked small, only a few kilometres away but we are still in transition. A rush of new things reminded me the other weekend.

First (proper) time to have friends over was so refreshing! We used to have weekly play dates at our old house, so it feels great to start having people over again. I don’t like to have people over until I’m settled in.....but I don’t feel settled in until I’ve had people over. One of the many moving house stresses.

A roof over our front door/outside steps- just in time for rainy season! Soeun installed a light too, we have been eating outside and then cleaning up in the dark. 

A mini electric oven joined the family- so bran loaf and zucchini slice cooking have resumed!

Bible Reading

After clearing out the Revelation sermons from my phone there was space for ones on the book of Isaiah. To help me I’ve also got Kirk Patston’s Surprising Salvation, and Howard Pesketts’s  Bible study book.

Weekly Psalm reading is in action at the moment! On Sunday the Khmer congregation read it chorally. At home we read bits of it in both languages throughout the week, here and there as we have time and concentration. Sunday just gone we read Psalm 12 at church, so this week at home we are reading Psalm 13. The kids can read numbers and some letters so they like trying to find it in the Bible.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

4 people 4 days- our KNY staycation

Some of the kids books on repeat during Hot Season staycation
One of our favourite things to do is to stay home alone. With traveling obligations, workman and relatives who live with us we hadn't been able to do it for awhile. Over Khmer New Year last month we had a chance and it was GREAT!!! There were 4 days with just the 4 of us at home.

We had just been given/lent some new-to-us kids books. The Astronaut book looks innocent but it launched our son into a huge rocket obsession!!! And the poetry book - at first I thought they would get bored as there were more words than pictures on the page..but the words were so amazing they were laughing and quoting the poems all week.

The kids are old enough to play and eat without too much help from us, but young enough not to know that everyone else was either travelling or having a huge water fight. Old enough for us to have relaxing time at home with them, and young enough not to be asking to go out....