Moving to another country, especially one far from home and with a different language and culture, is never easy. There are so many things that change together with the change of address. One of the first things I lost was my self confidence. I’ve always been an erudite person, ready to chat and eager to get to know new people. At first, in my new home, I couldn’t converse comfortably. One on one conversations were challenging, but not too bad. Group conversations, however, were a nightmare. By the time I had formulated a response to a comment, the conversations had already moved on. If I did try to talk, people looked at me with a patient, pitying look while waiting for me to finish stumbling along in my third grade style Italian. (Actually, third grade Italian would have been welcome at that stage!) I hated it! Fortunately, a local Italian course and many years later, I still make mistakes, but I no longer care as much. As a result, my confidence has increased again.
Some losses can become gains. Having grown up in South Africa, my sense of decorum and negative body image were far too well developed. I had never worn a bikini and would probably not have been seen dead in one. Two things happened when I got here – I lost weight and I saw my neighbours coping with the summer heat of 2003 (which was by all accounts an extremely hot summer) by walking around in their houses, on their balconies, and for some, even in their gardens, wearing only their bras and a pair of shorts or a skirt. I was quite shocked at first, but I began to realise that attitudes to nakedness are also cultural. I began to lose my shyness and fear of showing my body. I even started wearing a bikini. Somehow, I gained a healthier body image along the way.
There are losses that I feel deeply, however, and mourn within my heart. The loss of closeness to friends and family cuts deep into the heart, and relationships require more effort to bridge the distance. Some people keep in touch regularly, but others seem to forget to phone or write and it’s hard to be the one who always makes contact and asks questions. Some conversations turn into a “twenty questions session” and I’m left feeling sad and weary at the end of the call.
Perhaps the deepest loss for me has been the loss of opportunity to be a large part of my grand children’s lives. I made the choice to move here, so I have no real right to complain, but Oh! How I miss being able to cuddle them, read to them, babysit them, and just BE there while they grow! A short period together once every two years or so just isn’t enough to develop a relationship, and I’m afraid they will never really know us and love us with that special child-grandparent connection. It’s a huge loss for us, but also for them.