Support networks for expats – friends are like family (5)

Support of friends

Support networks are vital, particularly when living life as an expat. When you’re far from home friends become like family. Consequently, contrary to popular belief, expat life is not a bed of roses all the time. Challenges and problems can and do happen. Without the support of family close by these times can be difficult to navigate. Thankfully, knowing that there is a warm, friendly expat network is comforting This was something I valued deeply during my time as an expat, particularly when illness came knocking.

Building a support network

Eventually, the war in the Gulf ended and life in Dubai settled down and so did I. Big changes were taking place on the home front as my husband was away a lot. I learned the importance of building a circle of friends. To be honest, this was fairly easy with a young child. My daughter was at nursery and this was a great opportunity to meet other young mums. We all gave each other support when needed. At the same time, I qualified as an ACE (American Council of Exercise) Group Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Health & Lifestyle Coach. In addition, I trained as an Aqua and Fitkid Instructor. Time was flying by in a flurry of being a mom, and fitness teacher at the  Dubai Marine Beach Club and at various compounds.  

The myth of expat women

Articles that refer to expat wives as being lazy and spoiled makes me smile. Most of the women I knew personally worked at some kind of job. Of course there were those that chose not to work. Many liked to bake themselves in the sun every day. Not me. I began working part-time at the Dubai World Trade Centre, working at The Management Development Centre. What a brilliant opportunity to participate in more useful business courses. Most importantly the hours were great; 8 am – 2 pm. Home in just in time for my daughter coming back from nursery.

Two types of expats

Over time, one of the things I noticed that there were two types of expats. Firstly, those committed to enjoying the whole experience. Determined to make the most of their new situation. Secondly, on the opposite side was negative expats who moaned and complained constantly.  Generally they didn’t stick around long.  Spending time with positive people is important to me,therefore, my preference was to spend time with optimistic individuals with a thirst for life.  

Good times with special people

It’s a true saying ‘it takes a long time to grow a friend’. Conscious efforts were made to check in with each other to make sure all was all okay. Consequently Tuesday evenings became “girls” night. At that time Pancho Villas and The Highland Lodge were “the” places to go. Good fun, great Margaritas, tasty Nachos and an opportunity to dance the night away. All good, harmless fun spending time with female fellow expats.

Illness comes calling

Life was good, all was well until one day I developed the headache from hell.  Instinctively I knew that it wasn’t a migraine as I don’t suffer from those. As a result, I was surprised the GP diagnosed me with this and sent me home. Desperate for pain relief I dutifully swallowed the pills he gave me, yet I got worse. Pain shot through my head, I felt feverish and I couldn’t bear the light. Everything ached and I couldn’t move my head properly. Something was very wrong. My husband took one look at me and rushed me to the only hospital in Dubai (government hospital). All systems go on arrival and I was admitted straight away. Consequently, that’s pretty much all I remember of that day.

Support health

The bucket, brush and bleach

Two days later I woke up, still in pain. Doctors were confused and didn’t know what was wrong. I was going downhill fast. The next thing I remember was being wheeled along on a trolley and told I was having a lumbar puncture. Given that hardly any of the staff spoke English and I was getting by with my Arabic, I was scared. terrified and didn’t know what was happening. For some obscure weird reason, they wheeled me into a cleaning cupboard type room.  Not so gently I was rolled onto my side, told not to move, cough, or sneeze because I could end up paralyzed. As I lay there, I gazed at a bucket in the corner with a mop and some bleach. My mind was reeling. How on earth did this happen’? There was nothing to do but surrender to the process.

Needing the support of my mother

Finally the results came back. I had bacterial meningitis. Yes, I cried because I didn’t know what the outcome of this illness would be. Doctors had been honest and open, however, I wasn’t going to let it beat me! Often I would wake myself up calling out for my mother who was on the other side of the world. Determined that I was going to survive, I adjusted my thought process and dealt with it the best I could. Each day I visualized myself healthy and well. In addition, focused on my family and happy times in the future. In this situation, it serves no purpose to spend time in the dark places of the mind. The mind can be your best friend or worse enemy. Making it my best friend was a priority.

Support of expat friends

During this experience, friends rallied around the family. Tasty delicious food arrived at the hospital (though I couldn’t eat it). People made sure my husband and daughter were okay.  Above all, the expat community couldn’t have been kinder or more helpful. A true example of the importance of leaning in. My girlfriends were there for me and kept the giggles going. Soon after, my parents came to visit and spend a few months. Dad was a great cook, and I was regaining strength each day with his yummy food. Mum was my best friend and tower of support helping me with my daughter. Bacterial meningitis leaves you tired and drained of energy. Some days it was hard to keep my eyes open. 


Expats support each other through thick and thin

Expats living abroad share the common thread of understanding that friends become your family. Building a support network is vital. A community of sharing and caring. These people are still my friends, although they may live in another part of the globe. We are all still connected.  Is it still like this in the Middle East? I would imagine so. 

If you are enjoying this series on Tales of an Expat, feel free to read others on the site. Comments, questions, are welcome. Expat life takes a little time to settle into, but you get there eventually.

Remember to have fun on the journey!


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