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"I often wonder what would have happened to me if I hadn't made that decision. I suppose I would have sunk. I suppose I would have found some kind of hole and tried to hide or pass. After all, we make ourselves according to the ideas we have of our possibilities. I would have hidden in my hole and been crippled by my sentimentality, doing what I was doing, and doing it well, but always looking for the wailing wall. And I would never have seen the world as the rich place that it is. You wouldn't have seen me here in Africa, doing what I do."

- V.S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River
Feb. 28th, 2009 @ 08:09 pm Getting to know you
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Current Music: M.I.A. Paper Airplanes
I met a friend of vasco_pyjama 's today, an online link-up based on the fact that we're both in Kinshasa.  She's arrived only last month and plans to stay only about 6 months.  I'm here for work, but not long term.  We had an interesting conversation about the politics of being "new" in town, or, in my case, not new, but chronically temporary.

In her husband's office there are around 12 expats, many with families, and she has kids, so she said she was surprised not to be taken under the wings of the other mothers.  I'm here by myself and tend to meet people out at night, rather than through playgroup, but the idea is the same - we are somewhat at the mercy of others' willingness to invite us in, to be social and to have opportunities to meet other people.

I've been lucky and met a lot of new people the past three weeks, and hopefully will meet some more tonight. 

But it's been by the virtue of willing to be shameless about accepting and following up on invitations.  People may mention in passing that "we should get together" or "you should join us tomorrow."  But they're not going to call.

I tend to think they're perfectly happy to see us when we show up, but the ball is in our court to follow through.  They are already well installed in their lives and don't think of us first.  She was telling me that she was a bit disappointed not to be invited to the weekly kids/moms dance class, and tonight I was a little disappointed not to get a call confirming my plan to attend [acquaintance]'s drinks party tonight.  So I figured the onus was on me to call my new friend and see what the plan was.  When I call, people are typically happy to hear from me and happy to include me, but it's not easy.

In the end, though, what counts?  That I'm getting out and going to the drinks party, and hopefully will meet more new people and solidify other connections.

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Date:February 28th, 2009 10:30 pm (UTC)
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yes, I absolutely hear you on that. I straddle the line between feeling like I'm looking a bit desperate to take people up on polite invites and not feeling like I can be bothered. I do know that in the end if I'm feeling sorry for myself at home it's mostly my own fault!
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Date:February 28th, 2009 11:57 pm (UTC)
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Yeah - but when I think about it, I've never come across other people that I thought felt desperate, and I've been happy to include them when I've been in that position. I have been trying to train myself in the past couple of years to accept more invitations than not, because you never know where it will lead. Even if it was just "polite," maybe they know someone that is a great link for you.

I did have a couple of weekend days where I was feeling sorry for myself at home, and I decided that the solution is planning ahead, something I'm not so great at. I like to have friends available that I can just call at at the drop of a hat. But here, anyway, it doesn't quite work like that.
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Date:March 20th, 2009 12:30 am (UTC)
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Well, I look at it this way.. it may or may not just be a polite invitation, but it's still an invitation. If they didn't really want you to attend, they wouldn't have bothered to invite you at all.

When I was a temporary expat in Lagos (before moving there), I had a hard time getting involved in activities around town. That changed once I moved there- invites to things became much more common.
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Date:March 20th, 2009 03:06 pm (UTC)
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Absolutely - living there is a huge boon. I don't think I'd mind being temporary in different locations, but to be temporary in the same place sometimes makes me feel like I'm trying to be an insider but I'm always a bit of an outsider!
Date:March 20th, 2009 04:33 am (UTC)
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Chronically temporary. I like that.
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Date:March 20th, 2009 03:09 pm (UTC)
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So true. It's odd, I think most temporary people change locations but it's a different feeling to come and go from the same place all the time.