This morning I met with a girlfriend in a coffee shop in Doha, she's just moved to Jakarta but was back in town for a couple of days. We were getting together to catch up and talk about Jakarta and if I had any tips or suggestions. We ran through the usual checklist of expat questions; questions I've asked when it's been my turn to move.
Which part of the city did you live in?
Where did you do your grocery shopping?
How was the healthcare?
Would you have a baby there?
I was having trouble focussing on the conversation. My mind kept straying. The more we talked about Jakarta, the more faces appeared in my mind, more memories, more flashbacks. It was like talking about a previous relationship, an old boyfriend, but it was more than that.
If locations are like lovers, it would make sense that you never forget your first.
I pictured our arrival, our time in the hotel before moving to the house. The excitement of the first baby, decorating the nursery, the first baby group. The first little traveller was 11 days old when I returned to Jakarta with her. We muddled through so much of the experience together, some days I was terrified something would go wrong, others days I couldn't believe my luck to be there.
I thought of friends, one in particular, who I'll never see again. I could see her walking in to my house, with two enormous wet circles around each boob, a screaming baby and the hugest smile. "I can't remember reading about this in the book!" she laughed hysterically. I pictured her icing the 1st birthday cake of her little girl. I don't mention any of these thoughts while I talk about the traffic, the food and the furniture.
We talked about an area in Kemang and I thought of another friend who is now in China dealing with pollution and isolation. A friend who I count as one of my best, she has become my confidante and of late my personal trainer in writing. She sends me pictures like this:
"Ive been doing my shopping at Ranch" my newly relocated friend says and I wistfully reply "I remember when Ranch first came to Jakarta" but I'm actually thinking about a man called Jamie with a baby carrier on his back. I think about standing in the brand new Ranch and chatting about baby food and if going to Ranch was worth the drive. A stupid banal conversation now that I look back.
I remember that the hotel was on Jalan Casablanca, the house on Pejaten Baru, the supermarket was called Hero. The health clinic was on Puri Sakti. I think about the times those address' came out of my mouth while I directed taxis and drivers to get me there. "Terus Benar, Terus Kiri." The first words I learnt were directions.
At least once a week in Doha I meet someone new, whether it's at school, sport or the pool. Inevitably the question will come up about where we've lived - expats do it in the same way people ask about schools or suburbs, they're trying to find a commonality. "Oh - we were in KL in 2003" someone will say. I always run though our locations quickly, they flash before me, I don't think about what they mean or more importantly what they meant at the time.
If locations are like lovers, I got lucky with my first.
What's been your favourite location? It doesn't have to be outside of your home country. Where would like to go to?