To My Expat Friends

by Rachel Pieh Jones on September 18, 2017

Dear expat friends who have my back and hold my heart,

When I say my husband and I are arguing about packing suitcases and that my back hurts, you know what I mean. You’ve also slammed doors and said things you regret because peanut butter weighs a lot and tennis rackets don’t quite fit. Thanks for letting me vent.

You aren’t afraid of dengue fever, typhoid, or malaria. You’ve been vaccinated and have that little yellow card and your kids have the BCG scar on their upper arms. You aren’t grossed out when I mention that we deworm our entire family twice a year. Thanks for helping me feel normal, healthy even.

When I’m broken about the poverty I see and conflicted about how to respond to beggars and barely able to hold all my spiritual questions, you’ve carried it with me, and helped me process. Thank you for sharing your own messy insides.

When I haven’t had the courage or the energy to go a wedding or a funeral alone, thank you for coming with me, for dancing with me, for holding my sweaty hand, for passing me Kleenex.

When friends or family from far away experience tragedy and I can’t be with them, you don’t spout platitudes. You know the pain of a lonely grief. Thank you for letting me weep, for weeping with me. Thank you for bringing us food. When friends or family from far away experience delight and celebrations and I can’t be with them, thank you for joining me in the joy, though you don’t know them. Through your loving response to their delight, I feel your love for me.

Help me not to be the ugly expat. Help me not complain, help me not set myself apart from local friends and coworkers. Challenge me to engage and adapt. Give me a safe place to process my questions and discoveries. Come with me as I explore. Thank you for helping me discover who I am in this new place and for allowing me the space to grow and change.

Thank you for being our family on holidays and birthdays, for creatively forming our own expat traditions like Easter egg hunts through rocks and thorns and goats at the beach. Like Thanksgiving baseball games. Like day-after-Christmas camping and whale shark diving.

We probably won’t have long years together but since we are all lonely and vulnerable and feeling exposed, our conversations go to the deep waters of our hearts faster than I’ve experienced elsewhere. Thank you for being willing to jump into life with me, quickly.

Thank you for calling me when you found brown sugar at the grocery store.

Thank you for loving my children and for letting me love yours.

When we say goodbye, we don’t promise to keep in touch. We probably won’t and that’s okay. I care about you. Our friendship has been deeply true. I might follow you on Facebook or Instagram but we both need to move to the next new thing, the friends who live close by. You are always and forever welcome at my house and I know I will always and forever feel welcome and comfortable in yours, no matter what country we might live in. I will always rejoice with your good news and mourn with your losses and pain. You made these months or years rich and that is no small treasure.

We are expatriate friends. We help each other pack. We pay each other’s bail or electricity bills. We check on each other’s pets. We sit through long watches of the night beside hospital beds. We share peanut butter. We know the inside jokes and laugh at the morbid humor. We care about the same obscure regions and quote the same strange proverbs. We’ve walked through births, marriages, deaths, divorces, job losses, wayward children, jet lag, national disasters, loneliness, misunderstandings, birthdays, private joys and public celebrations, entrenched sins and personal successes. We dream together and root for each other. I am so, so thankful for you.

If I never see you again in this life, come find me in the next. We have so many stories to share with each other.

Love, your forever-wherever expat friend,

Rachel

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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel was raised in the Christian west and said, ‘you betcha’ and ate Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Family Fun, Running Times, and more, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble.
  • Abi

    This…I needed this today. It’s been a long…well, year, and I needed to hear these “me,too” assurances, that we are all in this same arena, offering grace and understanding as we work together. Thank you for this.

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      I know what you mean, about long years and needing that ‘me too,’ so thankful for friends across the miles, even the internet miles.

  • Nicole Baldonado

    What a great word, thank you! We’re missionaries on Stateside furlough right now. I’ve been struggling with some of the very issues you described, so it was incredibly refreshing to know that we’re not alone!

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      So, so not alone! I feel that, too, and the response to this piece has been a blessing to me, too.

  • Missionary Yesutor Blessing Gu

    I am not an expat but the sheer depth of humanity in your writing is touching enough. Thanks for taking the pains to help through this piece. Blessings

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Thank you!

  • Kathy Vaughan

    Now you’ve gone and done it, you’ve made me cry as I recognize how deeply, truly we expats understand one another in special ways that no one else can. And thanks for validating that it’s OK that we don’t stay in close touch with those that we have shared life with in this way, because we both understand and we both move on. But it’s made me miss some of those I’ve shared ex-pat life with, and I think I’m going to send this link to one of
    those special ones I haven’t contacted in a while. I know she will understand – we’ve shared ex-pat life together!

    • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

      Oh I hope you do share it with them, I know I’ve loved getting unexpected messages from old friends whom I still care about but just can’t keep up with. They will know your ongoing love and hopefully be encouraged.

  • Amy Medina

    love, love, love this…and love those friends.

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