You often hear that “it takes a village to raise a child.” Usually this takes the form of one’s family and friends in the familiar milieu of a place that you’ve been brought up in. However, when you’re an expat living far away from home, this might seemingly not apply. You will have occasional visitors, but for the most part you need to survive and thrive on your own.
We have almost reached the first anniversary of our arrival in Abu Dhabi and my daughter is approaching her third birthday. In the past year, she’s transformed into a confident little girl, due in great part to those whom she interacts with everyday. She loves talking to everyone she meets, and has made many friends with both children and adults alike.
I’ve had the fortune of meeting many people since we’ve arrived; some have become dear friends and others are acquaintances I meet occasionally in the course of my day. They offer friendship, conversation and support not only to me, but to my child and family. In a place like the UAE where expats make up 80% of the population, this is probably something that most of us strongly appreciate and even crave, especially when you’re a stay-at-home mum.
Here are a few of the wonderful people we’ve met, who are my daughter’s friends and who often help me to teach my child innumerable life lessons.
Mian is a receptionist in our building’s lobby and is often the first person we meet when we leave our apartment. She has a ten year-old son back in the Philippines and has spent the last 7 years working in Abu Dhabi to support her family. Her two sisters are coming over to work here, and she hopes that when this happens, she can take a break and be with her son for awhile. She recently returned from a one-month trip back home and has many stories to share of her son. Whenever we return from nursery, my daughter will run to the reception table to say hi and stop for a chat before we return home, telling Mian what she did with her friends that day.
At one of our favourite cafes in the neighbourhood, Cindy is my daughter’s favourite waitress. I think all parents would agree that friendly wait staff are angels sent from God! She takes the time to chat with my daughter and plays with her whenever we stop by. Cindy is 21, from Albania, and has been here for 1&1/2 years. Her brother arrived a few days ago and is about to start work in a newly-opened hotel, so she’s very happy that she now has family here. Cindy told me that back home, her mother looks after other children while their parents work. As a result, she used to spend a lot of time with them and could understand what it’s like to look after a child. It’s no wonder she’s so great with kids. We always enjoy our meals at the cafe, especially when Cindy is there as her friendliness never fails to bring a smile to my daughter’s face.
Ms Jasmin is my daughter’s teacher at nursery. She has lived in the UAE for the past decade and her two children have grown up here. When I asked her what was most challenging about her job, she said that it was educating parents and getting them to trust that the teachers knew what they were doing, as well as working together with parents to achieve the best for their children. The most fulfilling aspect was the kids themselves. Throughout the course of the school year, the children change immensely; they learn many new things and their progress is so evident. This is hugely rewarding for her. We have been working together to help my child with her behaviour, and I can see the development since she’s started school. A lot of her social skills have been built at nursery, and this would not have been possible without the support of Ms Jasmin and her other teachers.
Little Tida and her mum were the first friends we made in our building. Now the girls even go to the same nursery and enjoy many activities together. When they initially met, they were much younger and needless to say, there were some tears when they played with each other. In the past year, we’ve seen both girls become fast friends! They’re now in the chatty phase; from barely speaking, they have progressed to having little conversations and influencing each other’s behaviour. It’s amazing how little ones have the ability to change so much in a short time and also create changes in other children through their constant interaction.
Even though we’re thousands of miles away from home, I have a wonderful support system to help bring up my child. The people whom we interact with daily, they are our village and I’m so thankful for them!
Who do you consider to be your “village”? Do you have a non-traditional one? Tell us more!
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by KC in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Always a challenge when you are on the move! I have lived in several countries, 4 states .. and about 25 homes!
Be sure to link your blog with EXPAT …
Thanks for the tip! You’re right, it’s challenging, especially with kids. I’m not yet up to 25 homes but I completely emphathise with the numerous challenges that come with each transition. How do your children cope with it? Our daughter was 15 months when we moved to Oman and then 24 months when we arrived in Abu Dhabi so she’s been fine. Hard part comes when we return to SG and on future postings I’m sure!
My parents emigrated to South Africa when I was 8 years old, so I know first-hand what it’s like to grow up without grandparents etc nearby. My first year was awful because I couldn’t speak a single word of English. I nevertheless got sent directly to Primary School with only an Italian -English pocket dictionary to help me. I think it was easier for my 4 year old sister. Now, nearly 40 years later, I can’t imagine living anywhere other than Cape Town (even though most of my family is still in Italy). “Blood” doesn’t make family in my opinion, love and mutual respect does!
Thanks for sharing, Simona! I can’t imagine how tough it was for you; new country, new school, new language… Do you think it was easier for you and your sister, as children than your parents? I agree!! Love and mutual respect makes family. I’ve definitely found more family on our postings!
I have goosebumps. I love this post about your village — what a great idea!! Thank you for taking us into your world, KC!
Thanks Jen, that means a lot to hear. I find it really fascinating and humbling to hear the stories of others here. Because there are so many expats, we all have different cultural backgrounds and experiences. That’s one of the best aspects of living in the UAE!
Thank you for sharing some of your daily village meets with us! It’s cool & it feels like the world just got a bit smaller! 🙂 Your daughter is awesome and she is blessed to have you as a mum, for caring enough about her to ensure she is thriving not only in the challenges inherent with being 2-3 yrs old, but also that AND living in a village made up of ‘strangers’. She’s a bit young, but I believe they are definitely aware by that age.
My dad worked for a foreign company for years so by the time I was born my family had already lived in Saudi Arabia, Italy, and some other places. After I was born in Tanzania we moved to Italy until I turned 11. Much like Simona, I only spoke Italian. I took an English class for a month and then went to 6th grade. Fortunately the school taught in English so I was able to catch up after a few months and a few very bad grades! I had to also learn Kiswahili so I could speak to everyone outside (and inside) of school.
I hated it the first few years and felt that I was never going to get away from there. Now it’s my home and I wouldn’t trade it for any place else. I think it’s harder for older kids, but at the end of the day, once they are older teenagers or over 18, that we understand our parents better and appreciate the fortune of having lived in multiple places and that our village is actually comprised of citizens from around the globe, and not just from Main Street & Franklin Street to Iman Rd & Jumaa Avenue.
(Mmh.. I might have to quote myself there with that last bit. LOL!)
Hi Sophia, thank you for sharing your own story. I’m glad that we have these exchanges and I feel like we’re getting to know each other a little more each time!
I appreciate your encouragement so much; some days are hard and I wish our family was around but thankfully I also have such wonderful friends here who offer help and support when I need it. My daughter knows that we live in a different country from most of her family, actually a lot of my family live in different countries (in-laws, sister, cousins, aunties, grandmother) and we play the ‘where does ___ live’ game. She’s still not that affected by the distance and being away from them, though she constantly says that she wants to visit everyone. So I suppose she understands the concept while being too young to be too affected. We have to move every three years, so that is definitely a huge challenge that we need to help her deal with in future when she becomes more cognizant.
Like you said, being global kids has advantages and benefits. I just hope she sees it as you do and can adapt as well as you have 🙂 Looking forward to reading more about you and your home!