I have been thinking about how it really feels to me to be living in Sabah – for now. I am not strictly an expat: someone said expats go back to Europe/Australia etc for months at a time – I don’t, so that disqualifies me. Not so bad, that. There is something about living somewhere just for the benefits you get and not committing to the place that is somehow off putting.
I know I am not a Sabahan and do not pretend to be, but we are here because of my husband’s job, which is to be very involved with conservation of nature and natural resources. I am here because I am married to him, but also because I want to learn about the country I am living in for two years. Two years is short in the general scheme of things, but I can tell you that when you arrive and it is stretching in front of you, friendless and unfamiliar, it seems a very long time indeed.
It is less long now – partly because, after four months, it’s actually less long, but also because I am feeling more part of the place. I am meeting people , I have found a wonderful potter to teach me, I am beginning to be able to write and to cook and to spend time alone without panicking that nothing is going to change. I knew it would, I always knew it would, but you don’t believe it when you are in the throes of being anywhere for the first time.
Something else that has struck me is that when there are only a few foreigners who have come to live in a country, for a long or short time, like here and very unlike Kenya (where people bought land and came to settle), they band together and either close ranks against newcomers, or they make themselves more available to experiences. I have met both kinds here, and I hope I lean towards the latter. I have not been here long enough to be able to speak with authority about everyone, but I notice that being in the minority, instead of being convinced that the British (or Dutch, or American or whatever) way of life is the best, people are curious, and work on being less judgemental – and enjoying what they come across. And integrate more.
I am not aiming to pepper my conversation with Malay words, but I accept that it is expected that I take my shoes off when entering someone’s house, and that people don’t like you to put your bag on the floor, but prefer it to be on a chair… I find the slow pace of life at times infuriating, the changes in appointments annoying, but I appreciate not being shouted at by other drivers if I do something stupid or confused on the road. Of course my flat is full of the familiar – I like watching BBC news, and I make a pot of (decaf) coffee every morning, with beans brought from The Old Country – but I am not trying to impose it on others.
It is foreign here. And so it should be. It’s a long way from Tunbridge Wells. But I find I am not trying to live as though I am still there. TW is still there, and that’s comforting, but I am working hard to open to the world around me here, without trying to make it fit what I think it should be. Nothing very profound in that, I recognise, but it confers a sort of release, a freedom to see what there is, and a removal of resistance. Does that make sense?