The Little One in the form of an Owl...(but don't tell her I said that!)

May 2, 2012

The Expat Bourgeoisie

Main Entry:
expatriate [v. eks-pey-tree-eyt or, especially Brit.-pa-tree-; adj., n. eks-pey-tree-it, -eyt or, especially Brit.-pa-tree-]  Show IPA
Part of Speech:noun
Definition:person thrown out of a country
Synonyms:departer, deportee, displaced person, emigrant,evacuee, exileexpellee, migrant, outcast,refugee, émigré

(courtesy of
              I am stuck, uninvited, in someones home as the rain pours down in lightweight sheets and I wait for my mother to make her way to us, already 20 minutes late.  I have been in close quarters with this woman over the last six weeks, during rehearsals, but that is not the same as being "welcomed" in her home. Uganda has taught me to be weary of such boundaries of intimacy, so tricky to navigate since they are never mentioned, but so very apparent when you feel you've crossed one.

            This is one of the few expat homes I've been in, and my eyes paw through the things trying to asses if we measure up, making note of where we fall short.  Well, of course there is the location-it is always about location, but we know this is a temporary miscue on our part; we will fix that.  

            The forested garden outside must be almost an acre; the grill on the deck alongside cushioned, hand crafted lounge chairs, mock our isolated existence (a remnant of Ugandan life that we must lose if we mean to survive here). The children play on the computer, the parents sort through old photo albums, a task they have "been meaning to get to for ages".  

             Out of the corner of my eye, a woman rushes by the window, ducking the rain, clinging to clothes picked off the line.  My mother was right to hire a housekeeper; I breath a sigh of relief; we are not so badly off; we belong.

             Being in the play has given me a taste of the Dar Expat community.  Anyone who doesn't understand the homogenized nature of expatriate communities in third world countries, should just wait for the reality t.v series (they call 'em documentaries in the U.K innit); I'm sure there'll be one along shortly.  It is a fascinating community: people whose lives would look very different were they in their "home" countries (some expats live abroad for 20 years or more so this term gets.....tricky) all adopt the same laissez faire, privileged/humble, sheltered/exposed, paradoxical lifestyle that comes with the expatriate position.  It is a class that is at once peripheral to and the apex of mainstream society; the former being in regards to responsibility (and vulnerability), the latter in regards to privilege (and security).  Sort of like celebrities (this analogy can also help describe the difference between immigrant or Diaspora populations and expats; there are actors and then there are celebrities).

               It isn't really about the help:  the drivers, cooks, baby-raisers, always in the background, always an assumed aspect of life, even in speech: I get offered rides from rehearsal only to find they have to call up the driver and wait for him to come (though they live, "just around the corner").  During the tsunami scare my mother's colleague was also out of town at the conference; her husband was in town in a meeting, and didn't not make it home until 10 p.m.  The children were with their caretakers, the oldest is five.

              Though western (white) expats do it on a grander scale, having help is ironically common in developing countries.  Much of the population, across income levels, relies on some form of hired hands (even if it is more of an exchange for room and board, a barter, as opposed to a direct salary) to assist in daily living.  To me, the irony is the casual, easy way that those who were raised in societies were this is a privilege for the absurdly rich, adapt to this type of lifestyle.  Expats are experts when it comes to living the good life.

             In Uganda, I was trying so hard to claim my identity that I was willing to part with large part of my Self for the chance to be accepted as a Ugandan.  I spent three years proclaiming I was, for the first time in my life, a local.  I lived my life ignoring all that exists in Kampala in terms of expatriate life-and it, in turn, ignored me. But in many ways, so did the locals; they rejected my application to the fraternity. In my attempts to assimilate,  I failed wholeheartedly. At times I have thought I was ruthlessly punished for my false claim, but maybe it was more of tough love; maybe it was meant as an encouragement to really embrace who I am.  I was not born in Uganda; I was not raised in Uganda; why did I feel I should be a local? I am, born and raised, an outsider; I am an Expat.  I used to say I was a retired expat, well, I've come out of retirement.  I am me again.  It's funny how quickly you revert to those forgotten habits of comfortable disconnection, luxury, ease, and humble exclusivity:

             The door bell rings; I wrap my exposed legs and run to let Ana in.  She comes here three times a week, just enough for me to not feel invaded.  She can barely speak English.  I know where she lives, not far.  My mother tells me she has a child; I have not asked her its name; and I will not make a point of it.   I don't know her mother-tongue, or where her village is.  I have never met her parents; I do not know if she has siblings, how many, what they are doing.  She knows nothing about me except that I like to eat chocolate and stuff the wrappers under my bed.  She cannot claim a part of my history; she cannot claim to know my grandparents and their home better than I do. I am a stranger to her and she to me; both of us like it this way; it makes more sense this way. 


  1. nice blog :)
    Let`s follow each other sweetie!

    1. Thank you Ioana! You are really stylin'!! Your poses reminded me of my Croatian sister ;p