It's that time of year again. Friends are gently announcing that they are moving on in July (the end of the school year), to pastures new. News spreads fast. It's like a spreading disease. You hear of one person who is off, then one more. Then you start counting people that you don't know all that well who are also leaving, add them to the list and suddenly it feels like an exodus - like people abandoning a sinking ship. It's the same scenario every year but it's always unsettling for the ones left behind. Especially hard when it's not only your friends but good friends of your children.
The leavers try to be tactful, but are usually secretly excited about their move. They talk about moving to a, 'city that works,' and drop in phrases like, 'more sophisticated' and gradually the expat, who is not leaving, deflates.
When we lived in Tanzania, a great source of amusement for my husband and I were the 'expat leaving' notices pinned up on boards around town in shopping centres etc. and the 'expat leaving' yard sales that were advertised. Because anything 'imported' was taxed heavily there and local shopping was limited to say the least (put it this way - you needed a good dose of imagination when investing in what the local market had to offer), expats tried to sell off their old tat when they left at extortionate prices. And everything was priced in US dollars to boot.
The expat's idea was that as soon as they got to the developed/western/more sophisticated world, then they would buy everything they need again new - using profits made from hawking the second hand stuff.
Lists went up including things like: Imported - (but second hand); mattress $100; dog bed $50; dust bin $20; cot $100; ride-on toy (and they were generally v. well loved and definitely on their last legs) $85. My all time favourite was spotting an 'imported' second hand loo brush and holder for $15 and the second best was finding a lady at a local craft fair who had the neck to be selling off her USED eyeshadows at $8 each.
If you looked at the list and there really was something you needed, then you had to dial the mobile number and set up a visit. These were generally excruciating and intense experiences. First you would be required to go to dusty garages filled with mildewed goods that were generally a huge disappointment. Then you had to be enormously polite about everything while being watched under the hawk eye of the vendor. Then, if you decided you actually needed something badly, you would be forced to hand over a stack of cash to go straight into the expat's pocket for his or her profit - not even for charity! This was especially sickening when you think we were in Tanzania and that money could have gone to all sorts of extremely good causes!
Having said that, I am teased endlessly for asking a v. good army wife friend of mine when she was only half way through her posting, 'What's happening with your trampoline when you leave?'
They key thing was that it had a safety net which was one of the first ones I'd seen. She kindly promised to sell it me on first refusal, so when other friends asked the same question they were outraged to find that I had pipped them to the post! In addition to this, a year later when our lovely army friends did leave, they charged us almost nothing for the whole lot and it has been a beloved and extremely well used feature in our garden ever since (for the past 5 years!). Used almost daily, I don't know what we would have done without it.
Fortunately, here in Nairobi you can get your hands on almost anything new. You do pay over the odds but these prices are no way as steep as the Tanzania 'expat leaving' prices were - so we are not driven to quite such desperate measures of buying other people's old rubbish.
Having said that, we do have the same round of good friends coming and going that, in the absence of family and old friends being around, leads you to ask yourself the difficult old questions;
How long will we be here for? Should we think about moving on? Are they going to something better? What will happen when the kids are older? Are we still happy with all this? Realistically, what are our choices for the future?