It was the year 2007, the year when an earthquake measuring 4.3 on the richter scale struck Kent, Prince William officially opened the new Wembley Stadium and a smoking ban came into effect in all enclosed public places in England.
I had created a new bucket list at the beginning of the year; one of the ‘big’ ones was to live and work abroad. I was single, unhappy with where I had found myself at 26 but yearning for a challenge in my career.
I applied for several jobs abroad, mainly ones I had seen on tes.com and at that point, quite honestly, I was casting the net far and wide with no real thought as to where I wanted to go. The world was literally my oyster.
Rewind a few years.
I guess being a mixed race child; being born in the U.K, raised initially in the Middle East and returning to the U.K to start my school life in Oxfordshire, you could say that being an expat was always in my blood.
I was lucky enough to travel to a few countries as a child and teenager and my thirst for adventure grew stronger as I grew older.
I remember as a young girl, thinking that I wanted to be a spinster teacher living and working in New York…if you know how things have worked out for my family, you’ll see how funny this is!
So there I was, standing outside a posh London hotel, my hair in curls with a skirt that went over my knees and a sparkling smile. I was just about to meet the ‘owner’ of an International British school from Kuwait. I didn’t know what to expect (this is something I would say a great many times!) was she going to be friendly and have a warm, welcoming smile or was she going to have no idea what I am talking about because the Arabic that I could actually speak, could be written on the back of a napkin?!
I was relieved to meet another teacher, also called Georgina, at the hotel foyer and we exchanged nervous greetings before being led towards the lounge where a rather formidable woman was sitting with a fur coat laid neatly next to her.
I can’t remember much of the conversation really, I mean it was over 12 years ago now but I do recall trying so hard to look at her as I answered the questions that the Principal was asking me…which is really weird and difficult to do, it felt rude to be asked a question by one person and then only answer it to another.
The next thing I knew, my hand was shaken and I was told, ‘see you in a few months! I’ll be at the airport to meet you. Oh, just one more thing, make sure you wear tops that cover up your cleavage’.
I don’t go red in the face due to my complexion but if I did, I would definitely have been looking like a strawberry!
I bounced out into the bustling London streets, striding past Claridge’s hotel, unaware of the people around me. I was caught off guard when the doorman called out as I passed,
‘Having a good day madam?!’ he smiled warmly.
‘Yes, absolutely fantastic thanks! I just accepted a job and I am moving to Kuwait!’
‘Wow, then I would be smiling like that too! Enjoy the celebrations tonight!’ he waved as I floated off on my cloud.
Yes, I did indeed enjoy the celebrations that night, some would say a little too much, but I needed to fit in as much fun and frolics with my friends before I left, especially as I was moving to a dry country.
The next few months were like waiting for the results of a very important exam. I was excited but with equal measure I was nervous. I was not hesitant about moving to Kuwait, or about the fact that Iraq was its next door neighbour - I was so happy to be making positive steps for my life. Taking the reigns and being in control of MY life for once. Looking back on that time, I was living my best life, I had so little money, no home and no responsibilities. I knew that the next chapter was going to be an exciting one.
I ensured that those relationships with my family and friends would continue to be nurtured. They had got me through some of the most difficult times in my life and they were more important to me than anything.
As one of my family members said to me before I left, ‘Don’t ever worry about it not working out over there. If you’re not happy, just come back home. No-one will think any less of you’. This remained with me.
I had to head down to the Kuwait Embassy in London a few months later to get my visa in my passport, so I had to have many medical tests prior to this. I wondered why on earth I needed to have so many tests done, though I never questioned it, it needed to be done so I just did it!
I know London relatively well so I got the underground to Kensington and decided to wander around until my appointment. I remember seeing the Kuwait flag waving at me as I approached the embassy and suddenly it dawned on me what I was doing.
The day had arrived, I was constantly reading the booklet that the school had sent me, ‘An Introduction to Kuwait for new staff’. I had scrawled notes all over it. It was like my lifeline, I read each line, over and over again.
Most of it seemed so unreal.
Expats have ‘maids’?!
Some staff have to use a ‘laundrette’?!
The temperature goes up to HOW MUCH?!
Nothing was going to put me off.
My dad had been back in the UK for a few weeks from South Africa and we celebrated my brothers birthday the night before.
I remember him booking my seat online with British Airways, giving me advice as to where is best to sit on the plane. He also helped me pack strategically to maximise the space in my case. He helped me weigh my bag and check it wasn’t over the allowance.
In all honesty, having travelled to lots of countries since then, I had no clue about travelling! I think I could do a blog just on travelling hacks!!
We arrived at Terminal 3 at Heathrow. I had bumped into Georgina again who told me that several people had been bumped off the flight (I had no idea what this meant or why on earth such a thing would happen on a flight to Kuwait but it all makes sense now!).
I checked in and I said my goodbyes to my mum, dad and brother. The 3 people who had known me all my life.
My mum and dad met in the Middle East in the late 70’s at the same age as I was then…they knew exactly what I was walking into. They were never negative or showed any signs of concern about me going. They knew it was the right time for me and they knew I would be OK.
I will never ever forget as I walked towards departures and the security area, turning around to see my mums face.
I sat at the gate after having a pint at the pub in the terminal, feeling anxious and excited. I looked around at the mixture of people that surrounded me. Some were Arab, some were clearly not. One girl who was sat a few rows away, was sobbing, sobbing so much that I considered going over and talking to her. Problem was, I knew that if I went over, I would probably start and not stop either.
I found my seat on the plane. I cried on take off and I cried on landing.
My new life had begun.