The challenge was set.
Meet one new person and come back at the end of the day with a name and where they were living last. "Make sure if you see anyone new, you ask them to play or ask them if they want to sit with you at lunch". I was perched high in the saddle of my parental high horse. "You've all been new. You all know what its like". I sold it as "travel karma", promising it would return.
At the end of the first day of school the first traveller announced her success. She'd not only met someone new but she'd sat with them at lunch AND she really liked them. The second little traveller was highly disappointed to discover the only new person in her class was a boy, "so the boys in the class kept him all to themselves, but I did meet a new girl at lunch". The third traveller took the job so seriously that he actually brought the boy to me at the end of the day. "This is Zane and he's from Australia as well!" Zane and his mother looked a little confused. The fourth little traveler met a lot of people, but it appears that Grade one has induced early onset dementia, he can no longer remember a thing about his day or what anyone's name is.
Making new friends is an essential part to expat survival. I love the friends my children have but am also acutely aware of the devastation that arrives with news that a friend is moving on. Goodbye is hard when you're eight. Who am I kidding? I'm an adult and the idea of saying goodbye to some of my friends here fills me with dread. Being the leaver - or the person on their way, is a lot easier than being the person left behind. When you're left behind you will find yourself constantly reminded of things you did with an old friend, reminders that they are no longer here anymore. A drive to the grocery store can trigger an afternoon of misery. That's where she used to live. That's the restaurant where we had her birthday party. The brief flash of excitement when you think you may have recognized her car, only to remember it's not her car anymore.
We often speak as expats of how great it is that we now have friends all over the world, that we've met so many people, but often having friends all over the world is the bit that stings the most. I would pay money to sit at a certain Scottish woman's kitchen table in Houston right now. Losing a friend to another country means you are left with the option of going it alone, or putting yourself back out there in the world of introductions.
Which is why I need to take my own advice. After preaching to the little travellers about the importance of being open to new people and that you can never have too many friends, I proceeded to walk into the school grounds, re-unite with familiar faces, and then return to my car having not met one new person. I was a fraud.
We have a great group of friends here in Qatar, and I have become a little too comfortable. I'm in that happy place that comes at the three year mark, the house is set up, I have a few favourite haunts, parties to go to, and friends to text when I need to escape for a coffee. I'm driving straight in the middle of my comfort zone.
The school would have been filled with new faces on day one, eyes that would have been scanning like baseball scouts looking for a clean arm swing. When you're new your criteria can not often be named, it comes in the form of a sign, a similarity, a possible connection. Eye contact and a smile can provide an immediate feeling that things will be okay, that this move will be fine. People are friendly here.
I didn't stop to notice if anyone was lost, sad, or terrified about the drive home. I know there would have been someone feeling that way, because I've been that person.
How quickly we forget.
So, if you're new in town, watch out - I'm looking for you. And if you're not new here, but you're new somewhere else, don't worry, it'll get better, it will become easier.