Being new is all about being out of place, you haven't quite found yours yet. It can be as simple as an unmatched wardrobe that doesn't fit the weather, a pair of open toe shoes with jeans and a heavy coat. You're not quite sure how the door opens, or which exit to use; you can't find the bathroom and when you realize your purse is empty and ask where the ATM is located, the response is a blank stare.
"The ATM? The Automatic Teller? The cash machine?"
Why doesn't it have a universal name?
In my first week of expat life, I waited in the foyer of a hotel for a stranger. I knew her name was Karen and she was English - that was it. I'd received a phone call the day before from a woman whose husband worked with G.
"We're meeting tomorrow, I'll have someone come and collect you if you like, it will be a great chance for you to meet some people"
The whole idea seemed ridiculous. Hanging out with a group of women who all shared the one common theme, a pay packet that arrived twice a month from the The Big Blue. Was it really January 2000 or had we returned to the 1960's?
When I think back to that day I realize I had no idea of what I'd signed up for. How did I think it was going to work? I'm not sure I'd thought about how I was going to make friends - I just somehow figured I would.
Karen knew who I was immediately. In hindsight it wasn't hard, I was dressed in a combination of shell shock and jet lag. On the way to the coffee I asked about the group, and in a mocking tone suggested the fact that there were official titles and positions was a little sad. "Welcome Co-ordinator" and "President" had left me sneering. Wasn't this just a group of bored women with nothing better to do?
"You're right" she said. "We don't need the titles, I've been an expat for twenty years and we've been doing this quite effectively without the labels. Our organization has never needed a name. It's called doing the right thing."
If I had offended her, she wasn't showing it, she had too much class for that. I imagine she'd met me or the equivalent of me hundreds of times.
"You're going to need some help. You're pregnant, you'll need a doctor, you may want to meet other pregnant women or find out about ante natal classes. At some stage you'll be asked to fill out a form with an emergency contact that isn't your husband and you'll realize you don't have one - you need an emergency contact. You'll need friends to get through this. This is where you'll start".
This morning I'm finalizing the schedule. The schedule that has a core group of eight women who will drive the little travellers home from school while I'm away. In addition to those eight are another five or six that will work as back ups. These are women who have looked me in the eye and said "ANYTHING, I mean it, just ask."
This is what it's all about. You land, you're new, you're awkward, you meet, you befriend, you laugh, you share, you rely and you're thankful - so, so, thankful.
You need an emergency contact.