"I'd Forgotten How Full Of Joy You Are"
The annual trip home for an expat is an interesting experience. No matter how long you have been living out of the country, people continue to ask you when you're moving back. The question is strange; I would never consider asking someone when they are moving out of their house. Why is it different when you live abroad? Aside from that little niggle of annoyance, visiting friends and family, particularly around the festive season, is a joyous occasion. Apt, therefore, for this blog. For eleven months of the year I live in a foreign land, returning for a few weeks to catch up with everyone. And some things never change.
There are many marks of a good friendship. Being comfortable together in silence is one of my favourites (I love silence). But the one which is most valued by me is the ability to slip back into 'how it was' after months apart. I will admit to not being the best when it comes to keeping up to date with people's lives. Facebook and Instagram keep me in the loop but texts are few and far between. Skype calls are even rarer. And yet it doesn't matter. Because as soon as I get home, it's like I never left.
My December gets booked up with reunions months in advance. I'm not popular, but I have two large uni friendship groups who are well-organised. For the first two weekends back in the UK, I was in London catching up with people whom I shared houses and lives with while studying. University bonds you for life, especially undergrad where you're thrust together, wide-eyed naive, navigating your early 20s and learning to become an adult. To be honest, I'm still learning. My Cardiff University friends meet every year for dinner, Secret Santa, board games and a catch up. We've all drifted down different career paths, live dotted around the country (and Asia, in my case) and come back together each year. My Warwick University friends (where I did my Masters) are the same. We're an international bunch and ther are many Europeans in the group. But every year we meet in London for a nice meal and then a night on the town. Both reunions are a time to catch up, find out about each other's lives and keep the connection going.
My oldest group of friends come from high school and we meet up at the same restaurant every year. Wonderfully set in our ways, this is a night I look forward to for 11 months and it never fails to disappoint. Again, we fall into old habits. After filling each other in on our news, we talk about the times we shared, the jokes we've laughed at for too long and the memories of our school days.
It doesn't matter that I don't see these people for 11 months. It doesn't matter that I haven't even texted most of these people for 11 months. When we come back together, it's like no time has passed. We slip back into old habits and relationship dynamics without conscious thought. And that, to me, is a gift and the mark of a great friendship. The fact that I have that with over 30 people is incredible.
But there are still aspects we forget about one another. My 'joy', for example, according to a high school friend yesterday. It appears I need to work on my story-telling ability. I'm far more eloquent in written prose than in person and perhaps I shouldn't tell stories about the time I found myself on the tube with a 'suspicious item'. Regardless, the fact that we are able to come together after so long apart and enjoy the same dynamic is very important to me.
The expat life is notoriously transient. I meet new people often. Sometimes we become friends, other times I never see them again. It's fun but it can be tiring; an affliction of those who choose to live abroad. The knowledge that I have great friends back in the UK is invaluable. I am terrible at keeping in touch, so I am very grateful to be able to come back and spend time with people with whom I share a history.
I'm off in less than two weeks, back to Cambodia. I'll pledge to be in touch with people more often but, let's be honest, I am unlikely to succeed. It won't matter, though. I know that when I return in 2018, these friendships will still be strong. If the festive season is a time to be thankful, then this is what I am giving thanks for. Enduring bonds allow me to travel the world but always come back to a place I call home.
Go. Do. Experience. More Good Deeds.