“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” ~ T. S. Eliot.
I am on embarking on a new life, but I don’t know which direction I’ll take.
In preparation, I have spent the past few months cooking my way through my kitchen cupboards, getting fat on chickpea flour pancakes fried in cheap corn oil, in my ploy to finish groceries. With that accomplished and a few spice jars upended by my two-year-old (his contribution), I begin running from bakalas to hypermarkets in search of medium-sized packing boxes, which I build and tape together by pressing them between my belly and a wall, filling them with the accumulation of five years and three apartments of living that no one would ever want to buy – outgrown baby clothes, party dresses, 100-gram packets of cardamom – culling out only a few shoes in need of repair to give away as charity. Once my husband finds buyers for our furniture (good luck with that) and an address in another country, the friends who threw us our farewell dinner will load our boxes onto a flat-rate moving truck and ship it to us. Wherever we may be, if we manage to leave at all.
You see, I’ve been told that we (might? will?) leave Kuwait, where we planned to stay for six months but lingered for six years. A better offer in Saudi Arabia beckons: the promise of an escape from my husband’s current job frustrations. For now our fate lies in the hands of a foreign employer and an agency issuing visas, which may issue ours much later, as wife and child. If we’re lucky it will take…months. If not, we may choose to stay in Kuwait (my iqama has been renewed for this possibility), or move to my home country (USA) or my husband’s (Pakistan) and start a new life there. We haven’t parsed out the details yet.
For now, my son and I are mercifully out of our box-filled, grocery-deficient apartment, having packed winter clothes and nested suitcases (to bring more stuff on the way back) on a one-way ticket to America. I could have taken a shorter flight and gone to warmer weather at my in-laws’, but my husband decided to book a sleepless 24-hour flight with a toddler into the arctic chill of a North American winter. The decision on where to be “dumped” finally came down to this: a nurturing environment where I’d be less likely to call my husband to complain, where my family ooh and ahh over my crappy versions of the Middle Eastern dishes I’ve developed a taste for, and a place where my son can be spoiled rotten (son? What son? I had forgotten I had responsibility beyond my Netflix queue), all the while waiting comfortably for news of which country to buy a return ticket to, Kuwait, KSA, Pakistan, or to stay put after all and wait for my husband to come.
At my father’s house, my life is going by in Black Friday shopping and baking through cookbooks to create warmth in a break of cold weather. My parents and sister play with my two-year-old. I have accounts to open to have money wired here, canvases to fill with paint, books to decide whether or not to read, stories to listen to from my mother. I have not been buying clothes, unsure of what wardrobe I should build for which climate or political reality, but I have been stocking up on kitchen gear. I have also been trying my best not to get jealous when I hear my mother congratulate an aunt on a cousin’s new baby – that joy should have been mine, my family of four complete by my thirtieth birthday, if it wasn’t for the bad timing of having to move. Now I don’t know when it will happen.
Part of life is not knowing with any great certainty what tomorrow will bring. This is truer if you choose to be an expatriate. This year will bring changes upon changes, and I have to be flexible for all of them, once we discover what they might be. I know that I am luckier than most.