My mother in law kindly sends us Sunday supplements every week and one of my favourite columns is in the Telegraph Weekend where a celebrity describes their idea of the most perfect weekend imaginable.
More often than not, an author or an actor is interviewed and they talk about dog walking, theatre trips, big Sunday lunches, spending time with family etc. Pretty simple. However, last month when Tara Palmer Tomkinson was interviewed she managed to cram London, New York, Dubai, Bali, Klosters and the family home in Dummer into 850 words. In fact, a few celebrity names were thrown in too. As an old school contemporary of hers, I cannot deny that I might have been feeling a hint of envy but on the other hand I also couldn’t help thinking that it all sounded a bit like pie in the sky?!?
As an expat, the one thing that you miss most at weekends is family. Being thousands of miles from home can have its advantages when dealing with complex family politics or feelings of guilt when an elderly relative is due a visit. However, we do miss out on making arrangements to meet up with a sibling, get our children together to play, or go off home to parents or in-laws for a family roast. Catching up with brothers and sisters, glimpsing their children and seeing old friends usually involves many hours in the car and happens once a year, within one day. (Unless of course you can persuade them to come to Africa for a holiday).
The fact is that expat weekends can sometimes be quite difficult to fill. When quizzing friends who have just moved out from England over what their perfect UK Sunday used to entail, they said that they might typically arrange to meet friends for a pub lunch in the country, tying in a long walk afterwards to wear out the children. Here in Nairobi we just don’t walk, it’s too dangerous to stride out for long walks in town (thieves and pickpockets), or suburban woods (armed gangs) and walking in wildlife rich conservation areas cannot be recommended (there have been quite a few fatal accidents where a lone buffalo, hippo or elephant have been disturbed by unsuspecting and badly briefed walkers).
There’s nowhere to take bikes in town, no pubs, no playgrounds. We do have some restaurants and most are child friendly but there’s not a huge choice and for some reason weekends here are considered ‘family time’; meaning people keep themselves to themselves. It often takes a minimum of one year of friendship, before you are ready to reach out and make weekend arrangements. Meeting for a picnic in the national park is a good day out or visiting one another’s houses for lunch. There are clubs to be members of and while away the hours next to the pool. When the kids are older there are school sports matches, riding lessons and birthday parties to endure.
The worst case scenario is when your husband is away. Many expat housewives find that their husbands travel a lot and it can be agony for those who have been left home alone. If a solo weekend (plus kids) stretches ahead of you it’s necessary to make your weekend status a known fact and fish around wildly for invitations. If arrangements have not been made by at least Wednesday – you can forget it. If you can find a friend whose husband is also travelling, you might just be able to muddle through together but it’s not much fun. Otherwise there’s a danger of finding yourself in the doldrums with your sainted staff on half time, feeling loath to pick up the phone or send a text, for fear of rebuff. In this situation in England, I always muse that I would go and stay with Mum or phone one of my sisters or an old friend and basically call in the cavalry, but here it’s not so simple.
What we gain in easy access to babysitters, we lose in escaping on weekends away with our spouses, leaving children safe with the grandparents. However, the grass is always greener and one really mustn’t grumble….