Category Archives: expat life

starting life in a new country

Sail & Discover in Warriors One Two and Three

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maltese flag

Fire, Water and the Cross By Paul K Porter #paulkporterphotography

A couple of weeks ago I did something rather impulsive. I don’t consider myself an impulsive person, but when it comes to travel and adventure I’m keen to take on pretty much anything you throw at me, even- or especially- when it’s planned as a last minute experience. The yoga studio I train at in my overpriced and overrated neighbourhood full of foreigners, of whom many call themselves ‘expat’ – and if you want to know what I think of those, please check earlier posts on my life at the African Med- had organised a yoga- sailing retreat around the Maltese isles. As I am considered a loyal customer- and if you like yoga and know what hot yoga exercise costs in London Town compared to this island, you would be too, I was invited to join the enterprise at last minute for a very friendly price. My corporate jailers looked upon me favourable and I was released for a week to go on a yoga- sailing adventure. There were a few firsts for me, which I didn’t quite realise until a couple of days into the retreat. Although I am a keen yogini I had never been on a yoga retreat. I had never been at open sea on a sailing boat that small- the yacht had space for 10 sleepers- and I never had been on a boat for more than a full day.

The Retreat I went on- I bought it

What first became apparent was the clientele. As sailing is not a cheap hobby and inexpensive yoga retreats in Europe are very thin on the ground, most of my sister yoginis- as yoga tends to be a chicken fest- where boss-women with salaries to match. Think Destiny’s Child’s

“All the women who are independent
Throw your hands up at me
All the honeys who makin’ money
Throw your hands up at me”

Some of these honeys reserve plenty of time and funds to go on retreats as a solid investment into and for the betterment of themselves.

What’s Water Got to do with It?

Besides the boss-women honeys, there is the fact that one is on water and if you are used to steady land at all times, this can feel quite  unfamiliar and unsteady. On our first day the sea was unusually rough for the time of year and I got sea sick for the first time . Then there is the space, or the lack of it. Space on floating vehicles tend to be limited, unless you’ve booked a luxury cabin on a floating city. Although people are my favourite animals, I am a closet hermit, who needs her space and to some this can come across as anti-social or moody behaviour.

Beware the Zombie Collapse

As most of the power honeys were terribly attached to their mobile phones I was forced to deal with my pet peeve and what I consider socially accepted anti-social behaviour. It can be considered weird by some to physically remove yourself from a group, yet for most it seems totally accepted to mentally remove yourself from the group by finding the pettiness – in most cases- on you mobile device far more interesting than the people around you. I don’t get how real, face-to-face human interaction could every win it from interaction in cyber space between profiles, that are often just fabrications and half truths in an attempt to make oneself look good in cyber space, because one fears that the real ‘thing’ will never do. You might think I’m exaggerating, but the zombie collapse is here and it ain’t a joke.

Sailing, especially sailing for several days in a row in summery settings, forces you to connect with water. When it comes to the zodiac, I am an earth sign and I have been told that both the moon and the rising sign at the time of my birth within the same system are fire signs. For what this knowledge is worth, there is not a lot of water going on in my character. I both admire the wideness and depths of the sea and, as I am not a confident swimmer, they fill me with trepidation at the same time, but that trepidation might be a common sentiment amongst sailors and other sea-folk. Despite this sense of fear I believe that water has healing and transcending powers and that connecting with this element could be good for me, especially after getting rather frustrated after a sup yoga session, which is yoga on water on a longboard.

The Salt of the Earth

When I came back home, which was never far away, I felt that something had shifted and wondered what is in a holiday that can make you ‘shift’? What is in a challenge and what makes people change? Holidaying seems a necessity of life and it doesn’t seem to matter whether you work or lead a life of leisure or whether you love your occupation or vocation or not. As human creatures we seem to like a change of scenery and as everyone- who can afford it- seems to be doing it, it could be considered weird if one preferred to stay at home. Although we might be creatures of habit, I seem to learn and discover most if I break with my current routine. Besides not going to the corporate prison, this can entail engaging with people, you might normally not engage with or choose to live on water when you’re used to the steadiness of land. Or do yoga in the outdoors, where you can be effected by the elements, let it be wind, the sun or mosquitoes at dusk.

I’ve always considered Malta an interesting and pleasant Rock one needs to escape from ever so often. For this adventure I didn’t escape from Malta. I just saw the islands from a different perspective. For now, it’s my salt of the earth as it has given me well-being and great experiences and above all; it reinforces the idea to stick to the written word to set me free and avoid the smartphone zombie collapse in the process.

Namaste, sisters and brothers.

The Island in One’s Mind

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island2When I left London Town to settle on the Rock I moved from one island to another. From one that used to rule half the world to another much smaller one that used to be ruled by half the world. The weather and the quality of life might be a lot better on that smaller island, however, both pieces of land suffer from island mentality at different stages of severity, despite both countries being exposed to plenty of foreigners.

As former British colonies gained independence and initially all citizens of those lands were free to enter, live and work in Britain, the country has experienced a steady stream of migrants from all over the world. As Britain and its capital developed in the post-colonial era and the English language had become the lingua franca since the Second World War, not only people from former colonies flocked to the British Isles. Despite these foreign influences the UK still suffers from island mentality: calling continental Europe ´Europe´ as if the country weren’t part of it, but a continent on its own, having been a reluctant member of the EU since it joined the Union´s predecessor the EEC in 1973 and just wanting to do things differently believing it is still a superior force in the world.

 Malta has been ruled by several foreign powers including the British. Many Maltese almost seem proud to have been colonised by British folk, which I find, having parents from post-colonial states, rather peculiar. Despite a history of foreign rule, an influx of tourists from all corners of the globe and the presence of a considerable amount of migrants and foreign workers, quite a few of the natives suffer from proper island mentality. I guess they can´t help it. Although the place is small many people who were born and raised in a certain locality tend to stay there for the rest of their life. Dark Fairies are still considered rather exotic, attitudes are conservative to some- divorce got legalised only a few years ago and abortion is illegal- and provinciality is almost an art form.

 Island living can give you island fever and I was warned of this condition before moving to the Rock. I have submitted myself to something I called a hermit month, in which I don’t go out to increase focus and save some funds. So, without exploring the island further, engaging in few to no social events, my world has become particularly small as I work, live, do my shopping and go the gym within an area of less than 200m² (no joke). As my hermit month is coming to an end and I am in desperate need of some exploration, which will be happening throughout party month December, I’ve come to think that island mentality and island fever is not necessarily determined by place, but is mostly in the mind.

When I lived in that most vibrant City of Cities I suffered from the same phenomenon. London might not be an island, but it is a cosmopolitan bubble. London is not England or Great Britain, it’s an entity of its own, where its residents suffer from its own superiority complex and many don’t venture out to the peripheries. In the cosmopolitan bubble of London  there is also this urge to escape all the metropolitan action now and again.

 Island mentality might keep you safe, but often this is a false safety, which can lead to island fever. To the Dark Fairy life is about exploration and although one might have the need to retreat to an island of one´s own, I sure need to come off it, if only once in a while. Not only to keep my sense of sanity and fun, but also to keep exploring. The essence of progression and innovation is discovering and learning new things. So bollocks to island fever in the name of new Dark Fairy Adventures and let the exploration continue.

Tired of London, in Need of Sunny Life

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move2maltamarsaslokkmaltaThe quote “when a man is tired of London, he’s tired of life”  was famously uttered by Samuel Johnson, who was discussing with his friend and fellow writer James Boswell whether London is more attractive to the visitor or to the resident. Now, for more than a decade I have been a big fan of London and while others have come and gone, as the City of Cities is a highly transitional place, I stayed put for quite a while. Until recently that is.

I might be a(n almost) recovered news junkie, I still consume the diet offered by a small selection of UK newspapers. I don’t know if it’s because I’m looking in from the outside, but the UK seems even more gloomy than it did when I lived there only a couple of months ago. Gloom tends to dominate the news as apparently, like sex,  it sells. But what impact are stories on economic gloom including  a sluggish labour market, high youth unemployment, a squeezed middle, an increasing underclass and an inaccessible housing market in London topped off with average weather supposed to have on Londoners and other UK residents? It’s not only the UK that seems bleak. Other nations in Europe seem to be in crisis as well and the mighty US of A ain’t grooving as a super power should either. You almost wonder if all those people from outside Fort Europe, who are desperate to get in, got it all wrong. They’re having this idea of the fabulous West as if it were Eldorado. But Europe has been stagnant- if not declining- for quite some time while several nations in the East and the Global South are booming. I wonder if I had the same misconception about London. As the economic and cultural capital of Europe it sure is the place to be. Growing up as  a Dark Fairy in provincial and predominantly  white settings, arriving in the City of Cities was like arriving in this delicious haven of diversity and opportunities, where no one has to feel left out. The idea of that delicious haven of diversity and opportunities is true to a certain extent. Diverse with opportunities it certainly is, but one sure can feel left out. Not only is London one of the most expensive cities in Fort Europe, it also attracts a lot of people with plenty of talent and drive and if you lack behind it is easy to miss out.

As I arrived in Malta on a late Sunday morning I was shocked by how quiet it was on the streets and wondered if I’d done the right thing. But while adapting to my new rock of residence I was highly surprised by how little I thought of the place I just left behind. That place that always had a special place in my heart. Question of out of sight, out of mind?

Perhaps it was just a sign that it was really high time for me to go. I have always known that London is not for everyone and for a long time I felt it was most definitely for me. But times change and people change. London might be as vibrant as it was in Dr. Johnson’s age,  it now is an entirely different place. The Rock is so much smaller. Although international it lacks the cosmopolitan excitement and Dark Fairies are considered a tat more exotic. But I guess I was in high need of some economic and Mediterranean sunshine to wash away the tiredness I inflicted upon myself by means of London living. If the cliche is true that life’s a journey, I guess we should just keep on moving. And perhaps Johnson’s quote is not applicable to Dark Fairies after all.

image below: Jason Hawkes/guardian.com

Tower Bridge

The Rock and the Art of Walking

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vallettaMalta is a great place to walk. It’s small so you can cover a fair bit in a short amount of time. The scenery is rather pleasing to the eye and there is plenty to see. If one does urban walking away from the main roads it’s pretty quiet whatever time of day. Malta is highly urbanised, but there is still a bit of countryside left to get ‘away from it all’. Despite all these conditions there is surprisingly little walking activity on the Rock. Sure, people, tourists and residents alike, stroll the waterfronts on a balmy night, but a wander through the streets is mainly done by tourists or non-Maltese residents, like me, who brought their walking habit with them and still haven’t adapted or perhaps refuse to adapt to the island’s mentally in regards to walking. Especially when one walks the streets after dark or early in the morning it feels like one is walking through a ghost town.

A warmer climate might not be a great invitation to move about on foot, but if one chooses the right time of day when the heat is on, this doesn’t have to be problem per se. The Maltese seem to have an intense love affair with their cars. At the same time one doesn’t seem to care much for exercise and perhaps not surprisingly the island has high obesity rates which is – sadly- already to be spotted in little children. On top of that it seems that the vast majority of people on this island smokes. I might have been stuck in some sort of metropolitan bubble for the last decade, where even the most unfit person would still walk at least 20 minutes a day. And before one accuses me of body or health fascism and portraying the Maltese and other residents as an unfit and unhealthy specimen, I just want to make a case for the act and art of walking.

Don’t get me wrong, the Dark Fairy herself didn’t always use to like walking. Actually, she used to hate it with a passion. The last time I visited my hometown I did a fair amount of walking by lack of bike. As my hometown doesn’t get the wave of tourists like cities on the Lowlands tourist trail, I noticed that we Dutchies don’t do a lot of walking either. When it comes to exercise we don’t really have to as we think bike and many a journey is undertaken by means of pedal power. If one cycles, one doesn’t see the need for walking and one wouldn’t be used to walking and might therefor not really appreciate this activity. That all changed when I moved to the City of Cities. In the first few years I didn’t have a bike and cycling at that time was only considered and option for the most lycra-ed up gung-ho guy and occasional woman. Unless one has six children or has some sort of trade demanding a motorised vehicle, a car is not really necessary as there is an extensive network of public transport 24/7. As London Town is a rather big place, walking 10 minutes from or to a bus stop, tube or train station is by no means unusual. Then one walks within tube stations to change lines, which can take you another 5 minutes if you’re unlucky. Then one has leisurely walks in the city’s many parks or one just walks shorter and longer distances between A to B  in an attempt to avoid expensive gym membership and still get one’s exercise or to avoid ever increasing public transport fares. One walks. And that’s how the Dark Fairy was forced to appreciate the act of walking even when a two-wheeled monster came into her life.

Activities like cycling or walking are a question of habit. If enough people in the same place have the same habit it becomes culture and cultures are fluid. Therefor, residents of the Rock of all sizes, shades and creeds, enjoy the sceneries of this beautiful island on foot. Get lost, refind one’s way, talk to a stranger if only to ask the way or buy a bottle of water. Find an idyllic spot, have a drink, a bite, go for a swim, have a read, have a write. It might not be the (only) panacea to bring down obesity levels, but it sure improves the well being of mind and soul. Ready, set, go. And keep walking.

Adventure and the Womb

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pirateI am by no means considered an elderly person, but although I am a five-year-old at heart I am no spring chicken either. As I am settling in a dwelling of my own, enjoying sea view as both the sea as well as my workplace are literally a stone throw away, I feel truly blessed I’m able to embark on a new adventure despite my non-spring-chicken status. The majority of people who came into the world at the same time as me are seriously building careers, families or both and starting a new life in a new country might seem a far less straight-forward affair. Prior to the move into my current place of residence I was residing in temporary accommodation near a marina, where I met and befriended some pirates, sailors and other unconventional folk. These people have fabulous stories of adventure and exploration and my inner five-year old is truly inspired and entertained. These folk all happen to be men, just like the vast majority of great pioneers and adventurers, who went down in history. As we know history is a story mainly written by and about men. Not only might many a female adventurer not have made it to be recorded in the history books, it is also the case that women were and still are bound to one adventure in particular; that of wife- and motherhood. As the social science of history is not terribly interested in the adventures of motherhood, does that mean that the creation and rearing of offspring is a significant obstruction to those great adventures that do go down in history? And if that is the case, where does that leave the Dark Fairy Adventurer of past, present and future?

My dear friend Moona from Lowlands country has just given birth to her first child, a girl. She is what is known in the country of my birth as a consciously single mother as she wasn’t in a relationship and had the very strong desire to be a mother. As the fertility clock was ticking after a lot of contemplation she decided to take the ballsy step to go for it alone and conceived with the help of a sperm donor. I guess like me, she has certainly chosen her adventure, it just one of a different order.

There are plenty of women who have and will go down in history as adventurers and pioneers along side their motherhood: Marie Curie, Emmeline Pankhurst, Hillary Clinton, Tina Turner, Margaret Thatcher to name just a few. There are also a fair amount of adventurous and pioneering women, like Rosa Parks, Simone de Beauvoir, Oprah Winfrey, Dolly Parton and Billie Jean King, who- consciously or not- choose other adventures over motherhood. Unlike Moona, I never had the strong desire to create offspring. Although I think kids are cool and I am a proud aunty to my nephews I’ve always considered having one’s own children as an obstruction to freedom and -therefore- adventure. But what if motherhood is not an obstruction to adventure, but just like it is for Moona an adventure in itself. I guess my issue with Project Motherhood is that it does have a shelf life and once executed it is irreversible.

As I am discussing motherhood as an obstruction to adventure or an adventure in itself I don’t mean to imply that fatherhood has no impact on men whatsoever.  However, most men, if they stick around in the first place, tend to continue their adventures and projects while the mothers of their offspring are predominantly concerned with the care of their children.

Whether I’ll embark on the adventure of motherhood, either through the natural way or by means of adoption, remains to be seen. In the mean time I’m thoroughly enjoying my current project and I wish Moona and her newborn daughter all the best in the world for their upcoming adventure(s).

motherhood

Nina Knows Right

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waveHow do Dark Fairy adventures come into this world. Out of a need for change and excitement, as it creates possibilities for something different. Something potentially better. After a decade of London life, an experience at the African Med, entering the path of graduate life an itch was building up. I might carry the City of Cities in my heart, but that doesn´t necessarily mean that she carries me in hers. After too much whining about the weather, somehow failing to apply my fabulous skills in a lucrative employment engagement and a general there´s- gotta-be-something-better-than-this feeling, it kind of hit me. And that hit resulted in a single airfare to a new adventure. One in which I can use my language geekiness in funky settings earning me decent money too. An adventure in which I can indulge in a Mediterranean lifestyle without having to adjust my sense of fashion*. An adventure taking me to a place where I can walk to work passing  along a water front with stunning views and luxurious yachts. An adventure that got me infatuated by a pirate with a cute accent, a brain like Einstein, stories like Sheherazade and highly advanced kissing skills, which make me come back for more. An adventure to a place where all nationalities mix with locals of all walks of life. An adventure that seamlessly fits with my current wishes, dreams and desires.

I made a Malta Move. I still feel brand new. My London cool & savviness is of no use at this end of the Med as I don´t know my way around and my local social network has the size of a Brixtonian house share. Yet, It´s a new day of a new life. The sun is out and guess what, it sure feels good.

*check out Dark Fairy Whines and Tribulations at the African Med in the earliest blog posts

Lowlands Some-Sort-of Homelands

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Touch down in the land of Delfts Blue in the middle of an Indian Summer as I felt it was time to touch base again with the country of my birth and creatures called family and friends. After having left the country for almost a decade I feel like a tourist at home or at home as a tourist. I speak the language, I know my way around- sort of- but when it comes to culture, which is ever evolving, Lowlands culture has been slipping through my fingers for several years and the grasp is ever loosening. I immediately felt lost in cultural translation when I sat down in café I used to frequent fairly regularly back in the days to meet Moona in a few hours time. I ordered a caffe latte, which in Dutch we call ‘coffee wrong’. When my coffee was served in the tiniest of coffee glasses and I witnessed a group at another table drinking something that looked pretty similar to a ‘coffee wrong’ in a more decent sized glass I asked the waiter if he ran out of large glasses. He informed me that I had been served a standard ‘coffee wrong’ glass and that ‘the others’ were drinking a ‘latte macchiato’. “A what?!” I asked. I know what a latte is, I know what a macchiato is and a latte macchiato does not make sense to me. The waiter explained to me in a slightly amusing-how-come-you-don’t-know-this-woman manner that a latte macchiato contains more coffee and more milk. While thanking him for the information I realised it’s just a larger-sized ‘coffee wrong’ with a fancy name. In the following days I learnt that this latte macchiato businesses has been the latest coffee fad. We have an old concept, we give it a fancy new name that makes no sense but sounds nice and everyone is buying into it.

Besides rather small drinks sizes in cafés and bars drinking and eating out has become rather expensive especially with a rising euro rate compared to good ol’ sterling. And I get what the Americans, among others, were always whining about: Service is often inefficient and pretty average at best. No wonder my sister never leaves a tip.

But while reconnecting with Lowlands café culture, the weather gods were with us and I enjoyed fabulous quality herbs in Moona’s fabulous crib overlooking the canal. Then there was pleasant family time in my home town of Noviomagum, catching up with girlfriends and o yeah, some deadlines to meet.

I had planned to make that week a working holiday. Catch up with my reading and research and progressing with the execution of my master plans. Although I did some work the to-do list has not been ticked off, which is okay. I’ve only been able to meet up with a few people, but touching base is about quality rather than quantity. I believe my heart to be in London Town and I don’t like Lowlands Country as it is now. There have been some events in the past 10 years that have hardened and polarised society considerably and it is most definitely no longer the model country I used to brag about in the early days of the last decade. Despite being a proud Dutchie in London Town I don’t feel part of Dutchness when I am in Lowlands Country. It is a rather odd sensation. Country of birth, mother tongue, family and old friends. There is only a tiny bit of sea between that and my adopted city and history seems to be repeating itself in reverse. It no longer seems British or London culture I (still) need to get used to, it’s that culture I left behind that seems foreign. I was always considered a foreigner in Lowlands Country. It seems that I have finally become one.

image: amsterdam-culture.com