Monday, June 16, 2008

Expat Wife Blues

To save my mother the time in accusing me of being self indulgent and self pitying, I’m going to admit it upfront: this post will be highly self-pitying. But I don’t care that much because right now, I’m feeling rather tired of this lifestyle. Not the having a maid and driver part, (I’m sufficiently selfish and lazy to appreciate the luxuries that Hubby’s employment choices have offered me), but the unemployed housewife part seriously depresses me at times.

“So what do you do?” “You don’t work?” “So what exactly do you do all day?” These questions, each said in an increasingly condescending tone, are beginning to curdle my very last nerve. My usual Stepford answer is, “I am here to support my husband in a country that I’m not legally allowed to work in. Thank you for asking.”

As Hubby and I don’t have kids, I don’t even have the respectable answer of, “I’m raising my children” to fall back upon. God, lately I’ve been thinking of having/hiring kids for just that reason! Instead, all I can tell people is that I volunteer, work for the Association, and all the other things with which I fill the day. I still usually receive disdainful looks from Hubby’s work permit holding coworkers and friends, but I enjoy my life knowing that I contribute to Hubby’s job and wellbeing in a myriad of ways those lonely losers could never understand. (See I’m not bitter at all. Much.)

It isn’t as if my state of unemployment is entirely my choice. If I had a PhD of my own, I might be able to find work with Hubby’s office – but I don’t because my attention span is exactly 6.7 minutes. If we worked for the Embassy, I would be able to get a job “working for buttons.” At this point, I would be happy to work for peanuts as long as they were peanuts that I earned myself – but I can’t because we aren’t here with an embassy, or the UN, or any other organization that works hard to employ its trailing spouses.

The truth of the matter is that as an Expat Wife, we often find ourselves in countries where obtaining a work visa is either prohibitively expensive because the government is quite rightly trying to save jobs for local workers or flat out not possible for the same reason. There are companies that are willing to sponsor a foreign worker but they often won’t bother because of the expense, the knowledge that their future employee won’t be around for very long, or because they are worried that their potential Expat Wife won’t accept local wages.

One of the best things about Cairo is that Hubby’s new work realizes that keeping its employees happy means keeping the employee’s family happy. Having only heard about organizations like this (e.g., UN, Embassies), I have thus far been astounded by all they are offering me to help me settle in and make my transition to Egypt seamless and easy. One of the many wonderful perks is that they try to find jobs for spouses – even unqualified gits like me! They’re not going to invent a job for me, mind you, but if a job comes along that might apply to hangers on like myself they send out an email. The Wives have to compete for the job with other local hires but a chance is more than I’ve had up to this point and I’m willing to take it!

Which is why it is incredibly odd that I have been so angry with the scores of people who have asked, “Will you be able to work in Cairo?” Since I complain incessantly about my inability to work here you’d think I’d pipe in with my excitement about the possibility of working for peanuts. (My peanuts that I earned all by myself!) Instead, I’ve been irritated by the kind inquiries that I have no doubt encouraged with my complaints.

I’m unemployed but that doesn’t mean that I don’t work. And as much as I am saying that to you, I am saying it to myself. I work hard – just not traditionally and not for a salary. So to answer your question, “Yes, I will be able to work in Cairo. I will be volunteering, learning the local language, joining charitable organizations, establishing a life in a culture vastly different from my own, and dozens of other things I can’t think of right now. You know the same work as I have done in Delhi and Nairobi. And maybe if I have some spare time, I’ll get a paying job but in the meantime, my other jobs will keep me incredibly busy. Thanks for asking.”


Anonymous said...

Have you ever spoken to your father about lolly-gogling and honey -do lists? Heh, ex-pat sounds like a dream!
Cairo will be just fine!

Lynda said...

Hey! Have you been reading my thoughts? LOL
It is tough to settle, I at least still have one child as 'an excuse' - problem is, Cairo has such a busy social and activities scene I find myself struggling to fit it all in.. and I was dreading the idea of being here without a job.
Recently I have started investigating the possiblity of 'passing it forward' - all the years of study and $$'s must be useful somewhere - will be running some training courses at the school in the new year. But seriously, the biggest fight my hubby and I have had here was on the the evening he told me he was suddenly taking the next day out - I picked a huge fight and stormed off to bed.....because I was embarressed that the only thing I had in my diary for the next day was a PEDICURE! LOL

No advice... same story here too.

MsTypo said...

Mum, Everything i learned about lolly-gagging and ignoring honey-do lists i learned from my father! :p

Lynda, I'm so excited to hear that Cairo has a busy social scene! I am looking forward to finding knitting groups, book clubs, and ladies who occasionally lunch when i arrive. :)

I completely understanding the frustration over "only" having a pedicure in your daytimer. But remember that pedicure's are important your mental well-being which means that they're good for your marriage!

Anonymous said...

Haha love how you've worded it! I can relate completely...

I think I might borrow your coined phrase if you don't mind. When asked if I am "bored yet" my new response is "bored is for the boring..."