Julianexpat tells us how it feels to be a kept expatman in Peru 🙂
I promise that I won’t write any more about myself in the future, but it did occur to me that there might be an interesting angle in being the one man in a team committed to relating the feminine experience of expatriation; even more so, as I am in the position of having taken a career break and having “followed” my wife and her career to the other side of the world to become an expatman in Peru.
The seed of the idea
When, some two years ago, Greta put to me the idea of passing the childcare years anywhere other than cripplingly expensive London, I probably tried to evade the issue. I had just been made redundant and had been six months in a new job proving myself again. I’d say that a move was the last thing on my mind at the time.
However, her persistence paid off, and as I came round to the idea of stepping outside my comfort zone, preliminary preparations were laid. While my wife worked, I could dedicate myself to writing that first novel, buying that wreck of a boat and doing it up, painting a masterpiece, singing principal tenor with the Coro Nacional, doing good works. I suppose my main “concern” after 15 years in the workplace was the embarrassing amount of time I was likely to have on my hands. When working full-time, the thought persists “if I had more time, just think of all the things I could do”. When circumstance provides that time, the pressure to produce, do something useful, create something, is very real.
That gap in the CV
Naturally, accompanying the welcome opportunity of taking 2 or 3 sabbatical years is the flipside of dealing with that tell-tale gap in the CV, not to mention the less tangible pride and identity that accompanies a career path. Before coming to Peru, I managed a systems team, and for me there was definitely a pressure to find volunteer work to maintain or enhance my skills in that area, which I have. But in addition, I’m sure like many others who move to a country with manifest problems, I wanted to get involved in a more direct way.
Well, I am among other things chauffeur to my children (as I insist on taking sole responsibility for my children’s mobility on the mean streets of Lima), which with complicated school hours, the play dates and the regular birthday party scene takes up no small amount of time. Becoming a useful member of society was not going to happen overnight, as I had to get my Spanish up to speed, and of course there were many other practical considerations to deal with, common to all “trailing spouses”. I had to get the children into schools, find a place for us to live, interview and hire a nanny and generally settle us into a new social and cultural environment.
Managing a household has been an interesting learning curve. On the face of it, the portents were not good. Greta is a list-writer, organiser and is control-conscious; I, on the other hand, am probably rather too laid back, a little too “last minute”. Some of our more colourful exchanges early on revolved around this unfortunate contradiction. I think I have improved in that department (although you’ll have to ask my wife for confirmation!), and I have definitely taken to exploring the hitherto less frequented (by me!) pages of our recipe books.
When one in two is travelling
Greta’s travel schedule could well be described as “if it’s Tuesday this must be Paraguay”, and this undoubtedly creates different stresses for both of us. Recently, for instance, I had to take my daughter into casualty with what turned out to be a fractured skull. Greta was in Washington DC. I get to see my daughter sporting an intravenous drip, dropping in and out of worrying sleep, whilst my wife gets to imagine it all from 2,000 miles away. Which is worse? Luckily for her, she checked her Blackberry at the end of a work dinner, by which time the immediate danger was over.
Acceptance from my host country
As far as acceptance from my host country, I would say I am looked upon as something of a rarity, if not a bit of an oddity. Aside from the inevitable messages from my son’s school addressing only “Mamis” (which I had to comment on), I am at least acknowledged now by the other mothers, if not entirely accepted. One report from a fellow English “Mami” at the school suggested that I tend not to be invited to coffee gatherings for fear of causing embarrassment as a man in a group of women. But I can deal with that.
I am guessing that for the most part, my experiences, concerns and needs reflect those felt by women in the same situation. I find that when I am kept busy with voluntary work, like LimaKids or INRENA, the balance of the well-rounded “kept man” is within reach. I may not have written that first novel yet, never bought that boat, but, although I have definitely not created that masterpiece, I have taken to painting scenes of Peru and its colourful people, and I am beginning to write occasional pieces for Expatclic. As they say in Peru, “Poco a poco”.