While you were gone: December

While you were gone December

This was a big one wasn’t it? We finally got to travel together, meeting up to explore a region that is new to both of us. And to do what we love best: have adventures.We were saddened to see how everyone was struggling in Jordan given the dramatic but needless collapse in tourist numbers.

In December: 

  • We explored Amman, ancient and modern. We spent some time in the beautiful desert and learned a little about Bedouin life. I fulfilled a life long dream to see Petra. The walk down through a silent Siq to the Treasury in the moonlight was magical and something that will remain imprinted upon my memory. Petra was very different to what we expected; the scale of the city took us by surprise but it was as beautiful as I had thought it would be.
  • I caught up with friends from Beijing in London, always a treat. We shopped for Christmas and spoiled ourselves with afternoon tea. I spent a wonderful Sunday catching up with my dear uni friends. I got to have a roast lunch for the first time in a long time.
  • I had an unexpected hour to wander around and explore Ghent, with its beautiful cathedral and riverside. Despite the grey and the rain, the Mediaeval buildings are impressive, with their rich, gorgeous paintings.

I missed you.

While you were gone: October

Like Alice’s white rabbit, I’m running late.  Before 2015 gets too old, I’m posting in catch-up mode; a little photo diary to show Mr B what has been happening. And perhaps prove to myself that I’m doing OK back here too.

One of the ‘benefits’ of being in a Long Distance Relationship is the time and freedom it gives me to travel. I do a lot for work but now that you’re away, my weekends have become empty stretches that I fill by exploring Brussels itself and catching up with friends.

In October:

  • I took a spontaneous trip to Cologne one evening for dinner;
  • Went up the BT Tower and was treated to gorgeous views across the city and a freaky sensation when the Tower began to rotate;
  • Had a weekend in beautiful Paris – a chance to revisit well-loved monuments, wander Montmartre, discover suburban life and experience a Halloween cabaret featuring dead French and international singers (a lot of fun);
  • Saw autumn produce emerge; Brussels always seems to go mushroom mad at this time of year!

I missed you.

Things we learned on holiday

Apparently ‘obli-cations’, where you spend your leave doing administrative tasks or seeing people you feel you should see, are now ‘a thing’. Expats are pretty au fait with this sense of ‘how-much-can-I-cram-in’ when returning home.  This year, we did three things differently.

Just as well, considering we didn’t know then that we were about to be separated for a year.

First, to redress last year’s tilt in favour of time with Mr B’s family, we organised a week in Spain with my family. The first time we’ve all been away together since leaving home. And the first time with spouses and children in tow. Mr B is a patient man and it is important to balance time between our families. Life is too short.

And despite all the men in the family prophesying (since the planning started a year ago) that it was a terrible idea, bound to end in chaos and acrimony, we all had FUN. We drank a lot, we ate a lot, we were LOUD and silly, in the true tradition of the family. The children were spoiled and cuddled. We all loved beautiful Menorca, with its prehistoric monuments, gorgeous cities, fresh produce and some of the most stunning beaches in the Mediterranean. If you haven’t discovered this Balearic gem, go.

Secondly, on our trip [to his] home and, I admit, mostly as a result of my continuous complaints that we’re both missing out by letting obligations stand in the way of ‘our’ adventure time, we took a few days to be alone. With ageing parents, siblings and a wide circle of friends, we normally wear ourselves out trying to see too many people. This time, we focused on catching up with his best friend and those of his oldest friends who we haven’t seen in a while. It was awesome, an approach that really worked for us. It allowed us to spend real time focused on what matters: reconnecting. My favourite part? Learning new things about Mr B; the places he used to go, the times he sneaked out of the house.

And we got to spend time in the beautiful mountains of British Columbia. Always a bonus.

Thirdly, our Long Distance Relationship element that began at the end of the summer has meant a re-evaluation of our travel plans for the rest of the year. You never know when things are going to change. We’re unlikely to be able to return to Canada at Christmas which is bumming Mr B out.

Instead, we’re trying to snatch time together during his R&R breaks and thinking about new regions and new adventures over the course of the next year.

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside

My best friend A is lucky enough to have a family apartment at Oostduinkerke on the Belgian coast. It is from A that I first heard about the dying tradition of paardenvissers, an ever-shrinking group of shrimp fishermen who still use horses to trawl for their catch. It is a tradition that can be traced back half a millennium and was once common not only in Belgium but also in the UK and France.

By 1968, there were only seven horseback shrimp fishermen left in Oostduinkerke, this number had risen to around twelve when they were recognised as an ‘intangible cultural heritage’ by UNESCO in 2013.

Being a bit of a sucker for quirky Belgian events, seeing the fishermen in action has been high on my ‘must see’ list for some time (the Ypres cat-throwing festival is also waaaay up there, roll on May 2015). Mr B and I had checked the timetable for this summer, only to be thwarted by his departure for a year-long project abroad.

Readers, the stars aligned and Mr B returned for a few days of R&R that coincided with the last outing of the season. The morning was gorgeous, one last shot at summer for this year. There is always something magical about having a day off when the rest of the world is working, isn’t there?

We decided to start at Koksijde, the amusingly named village just down the coast from Oostduinkerke, and strolled along the broad, golden sands hand in hand, feeling quite giddy with being reunited, albeit briefly, and the sense of pending adventures.

The UNESCO recognised shrimp fisherman of Oostduinkere, Belgium

The UNESCO recognised shrimp fisherman of Oostduinkere, Belgium

Clam diggers and horse lovers alike at the Belgian coast

Clam diggers and horse lovers alike at the Belgian coast

High tide markers, Koksijde, Belgium

At the Oostduinkerke end of the beach you’ll be able to see a small group of the shrimp fishermen working together (Alison at CheeseWeb has a beautiful account of her visit last year here). We, however, were lucky enough to stumble across a lone fisherman, well away from the crowds, surrounded only by his wife, a couple of clam diggers and shrimp fisherman working by hand…and a practically every seagull in Belgium.

Paardenvisser, a rarer and rarer sight in Belgium.

Paardenvisser, a rarer and rarer sight in Belgium.

We caught the paardenvisser as he emerged from the sea after his first run of the morning, unloaded his catch for his wife to sort and went back in for a second trawl, his feet hitched up high by the horse’s neck in the traditional way.

Fisher horse

Fisher horse

Hitched up & heading for the sea

Shrimp fisherman gears up

Horses scare me but this little fisher horse was a peach. So patient, and perfectly accustomed to wading along the water up to his neck, fearless in the face of the waves breaking around him.

Heading out to for the 2nd shrimp sweep of the day

It is an incredible sight and, I can’t help feeling, a much more sustainable way to gather the tiny, grey shrimp that Belgians love so much.

On being a Remedial Wife

As I write, you are in the kitchen, whipping up yet another curry for us. Since our time in India they have become something of a point of pride for you. You love nothing more than playing with the spices, toasting and grinding your own mixes. I am truly lucky that you found me. That you did not give up on me during those first months when I was not available or later, when I descended into dark days and you struggled to understand what was happening and felt helpless but still pulled me through. You are a gem.

The real reason I call myself ‘Remedial Wife’ is that I never feel like I pull my weight compared to the amount of love and care you provide. I’m always playing catch up. You are much more patient than I am. You see the humour in the blackest situations which threaten to swallow me whole. You call me out when I begin to wallow, having learned the signs. We pay someone to clean the house and iron your shirts because I’m not one of those wonder women who can do everything with style and panache. I am easily overwhelmed, with a tendency to throw too much of myself into my work to the detriment of everything else, particularly myself. It is your love that cocoons and protects and anchors me.

It is almost Valentine’s Day. Traditionally this is one of the two (yes two!) times a year that I try to make an effort and cook for you. The dish is not going to be a surprise because I tend to fall back on the same things repeatedly but at least it is something you claim to enjoy. It is a meagre sign of my love and deep respect for you but it is a start, right?

Who knows where we will end up next, my love? It is not always easy, this cycle of packing up and moving on but we both love it and you are a most excellent partner in crime for adventures.

Happy Valentine’s Day my boy.

Namibia, with the in-laws {Travel Tuesday}

Namibia, with the in-laws {Travel Tuesday}

Just over a year ago Mr B asked me if I’d give up our plans to take our honeymoon this year and take his parents on holiday instead.

In the lottery of life I’ve been incredibly lucky to end up with the in-laws that I have. They are kind, thoughtful, never interfere and have been supportive ever since Mr B decided to take a chance and move abroad despite missing him like crazy. Like most expats we tend to get home every two years or so and when you do, you’re acutely aware of the passage of time and parents slowing down. Since he was in college, Mr B has harboured a dream to take his dad on safari and his mum to the desert.*

This year, to celebrate the inspiring 50 years of happy marriage of his parents, we made it happen.

Namibia is vast, about 80% desert and a population of only 1.8 million, making it the second least-populated country in the world. It gained independence from South Africa in 1990, making it a young adult in global terms and with 1 in 3 unemployed it still has serious challenges ahead.

From Windhoek, we drove south for almost seven hours to the Namib Desert through the stark landscape to see the huge, glorious, red dunes for ourselves. Driving in Africa is not for the faint-hearted. Unless you have training in 4-wheel drives and experience, it is best to hire a local guide. We’d been lucky enough to get accommodation inside the national park itself and I’d recommend this. It means you can start morning drives very early and get into good positions with great light to see the sun rise. If you’re aspiring photographers like we are, this is unbeatable. If you want to take photos of the incredible night-sky in the national park, be aware that you will need to gain permission from the government in Windhoek (all national parks are under satellite surveillance!) This is easiest to arrange via a guide.

As well as the dunes and incredible salt pans, there’s an astounding variety of wildlife in the Namib: from meerkats, to ostriches, jackals and bat-eared foxes, orxys, fog-basking beetles, sociable weaver birds with their enormous nests and desert giraffes. Again, a well-trained guide is brilliant at helping you spot things that would normally pass you by.

Another must-do for the anniversary trip was a hot air balloon trip. Sailing above the desert with views for miles is unforgettable, well worth the expense and the ridiculously early start.

The bottom line is that my in-laws had a blast, despite the long flights, early starts and long drives. They’ve been married for ten times longer than we have, which is humbling given I often feel like a Remedial Wife. It’s truly inspiring to see how they still work as a team and still love to experience new places together. Being an expat means you miss out on so many events and aspects in the lives of your loved ones. Being able to share our love of travel over a couple of weeks was priceless, as was getting to know my in-laws even better. I’m so lucky my mother-in-law loves the planning stage of travel as much as I do! Namibia is truly beautiful and our trip to the desert only scratched the surface. We’ll definitely be back.

*Incidentally, his treatment of his mum and his friends is one of the things I love most about Mr B. His working seriously hard to turn a dream for his parents into a reality is just one of the things that makes him awesome. And for the record my mother-in-law believes that eldest + youngest kids are the best marriage combination. Result!

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To Mr B

Please don’t think this is some kind of Valentine’s message because it isn’t. It’s purely coincidence. Think of this as an anti-Valentines if you must.

Mr B rarely reads this blog. I think he is vaguely embarrassed/bemused by it. He normally only reads it if his mum reads it and mentions that he was mentioned in it. And then normally he gets cross. Poor Mr B. He has a hard life but that is what happens when you marry a remedial wife.

Recently, Mr B and I had a conversation that we’ve had several times since I became a trailing spouse. Mr B is of the opinion that he has made life very difficult for me because he uprooted me from my “career” (*cough*cough*) and forced me into a life of boredom, with nothing to fulfill me.  Dragging me all over the world in his wake.

He feels guilty about this.

So let me set the record straight.

Yes, going from being a career woman to a trailing spouse is not an easy transition. It is hard to have no money and nothing to do all day in strange lands.

However, it has also made me get out there to make new friends and find new hobbies, learn new languages, to try to understand new cultures. It has given me time to think about what I want. What I really want to do. What makes me happy and what makes me miserable. It has made me realise work is not the be all and end all. That I am more than a title on a business card. That the world is a small place, getting smaller all the time. That I have to laugh at myself more and find the humour in stressful situations. That I have to look after myself. That I have to make sure Mr B also looks after himself and gets some balance in his life.

Being a trailing spouse has given me self-confidence in subtle and unexpected ways, as well as breaking down a long-held hatred of walking into a room and not knowing anyone.

Let’s not also forget that Mr B has supported me financially and emotionally and been the model of patience on many occasions and my partner-in-adventure everyday.

This is a gift.

My time in Asia has given me my mojo back.

And for that I can’t thank you enough.