The past couple of weeks, DiploDad and I have been to several farewell parties. We go to our fair share of them here; it’s just a normal part of expat life. Most people are on a 2-4 year assignment, and after that head back home or to another far-flung corner of the world.
Most of the time, you are OK with it. You get it. Get over it. You make friends on Facebook and soon content yourself to watching their kids grow up online, seeing them age a bit, and wishing them happy birthday annually. But sometimes it seems that the family you are farewelling is going too soon.
We got here in August and began meeting others the second week we were here when the DiploBoys started school. It’s a small school, so you meet and get to know most people pretty quickly.
F had the first School PTA Tea. She was so welcoming, and lovely, and charming, and made me feel comfortable even though I was feeling rather awkward at the moment. She told me then that she and her husband were leaving at the end of the first semester to go back to the UK, but I kept running into her, and I liked her. We chatted. We laughed. Our sons played football (soccer to you Americans) together and we cheered on the boys from the sidelines and sat around during practices. She gave me the phone number for the “wine guy who works at the airport sometimes”, which has been quite the treasure. DiploBoy 1 played opposite her daughter H in the school musical, and I think he harbors a secret crush on her. Her son F played another role in the musical and wore one of DB1’s wedding outfits. She is one of these people who makes you happy whenever you see her because she radiates positive energy and happiness. I am so sad to see her go.
And then there is R. Did I learn from meeting F? Did I hold back when I found out she was leaving? Nooooo. And I got myself in even deeper. R’s daughter, Li, is in DiploBoy 2’s class and the only girl. She also happens to be his best friend, and they have spent many hours running amok, drawing together, and playing with every toy in the playroom. R and I spent hours chatting, talking about India (R is Indian), drinking cocktails, and supervising LEGO builds. We baked the gingerbread men together for the school lantern fest (OK, so we supervised our maids, but still). We met for coffee and endless sangria at a local café. Her son Lu played football with DiploBoy 1 too, and because he was smack in the middle of the two DiploBoys age wise, he got along with both swimmingly. Her husband, J, and DiploDad hit it off, and it’s such a gift when everyone in the family is thrilled when you go visit someone.
R and J would have us over for dinner and feed us German sausage J had brought back from his last trip home to Germany. The older boys would play FIFA on the Xbox. DB2 and Li would go look for pretty rocks outside, color on the walls, or just hang out and play together with stuffed animals or bug the crap out of their older brothers. And while the kids were off getting into or out of trouble, we would sit in the dimly-lit living room of R and J’s Bandra bungalow with the ceiling fans humming overhead and the cars honking in the street outside, talking late into the night until our kids were either asleep or so tired they were guaranteed to be in a crappy mood the next day. Time just flew as we talked about everything under the sun, cracked jokes, and shared stories.
I could count on R to pick up DB2 in a pinch, and returned the favor upon occasion. She took me under her wing and told me where I could find things in Mumbai, what sort of things to sidestep in the particular social minefields, and who was in charge of what and why.
Usually, I am the Caretaker in my expat relationships. I tend to jump in with both feet and try to master it all quickly, becoming relatively self-sufficient in a short amount of time. I think it’s the bossy older sister in me. Most of the time when you reach that point, people back off considerably and let you get on with being an Old Hand. But R was different. An “internal expat”, R was living as an expat even though she was Indian. And she wasn’t having any of that “you’re not new anymore” crap because well – she knew I didn’t know the deal. So she took care of me. And I let her.
F’s farewell was a week out from her flight, so I had time to adjust to her leaving. I saw her two days later. I saw her later on that week. I saw her and her family at the end of year assembly. It was the kind of farewell that moves slowly and you only realize later what has happened.
Unlike F’s farewell, R’s farewell was last night at a Café in Bandra that was down the street from her old bungalow the evening before she left, and the impending departure hung heavy in the air. The night was clear, twinkle lights were on the outside patio, and the wine and conversation flowed. But when it was time to say goodbye, I flubbed it. I am horrible at this. I ran out as fast as I could after an awkward hug before anyone could see me cry. I’m supposed to be good at this. I do this all the time. It’s part of the deal. But after 20 years, I still suck at it.
In Expatland, you get close quickly, because you never know how long you have. Even if you know, as I did with F and R, that it time will be short, you still get close because you don’t want to miss a good friend no matter how little time you may have with them.
Someone told me once to never say goodbye when you farewell someone, to just say “see you later”. To me, that’s not very concrete, reassuring, or optimistic. The Germans, however, have an expression: Wir sehen uns zweimal im Leben, which roughly translates to “you see everyone twice in a lifetime”. I prefer this. It’s not a vagary, it’s a promise that can be fulfilled over many years. So while right now my heart hurts when I realize there will be no more football games with Lu and F, no more gem hunting with Li for DB2, no more giggling between H and DB1, and no more late-night laughter with either of F and G or R and J, I know that one day, we will meet for our “twice”.
Godspeed, friends. Wir sehen uns zweimal im Leben.