I decided to move from my country to Belgium about 4 years ago, without having thought much about it. I got an irresistible job offer and I said yes without contemplating the impact on me, my family or my friends. I was full of good intentions and optimism (as usual) and I had no idea what to expect.
When I landed in the City of Rain and Brussels sprouts, I was still naïve about the difficulties of integrating in a new way of life. I thought that my previous experiences of living abroad, my openness and my extravagant social skills would be enough. They weren’t, I can tell you now. The first year was so intense, so full of new things, people and situations that my brain was working at maximum speed all the time. I was working daily in four different languages, discovering a new job, in contact with numerous different cultures. At the same time on a personal level, I was without my partner for very long periods, raising a teenage daughter on my own, in a country she didn’t seem to like. For the first year, every time I went back home in Greece, the moment I entered home, I felt a big weight lifting off my shoulders. I breathed with relief. When I was back home I felt that I could handle anything, and everything seemed so easy. In Brussels, I was constantly alert, I had devised plans B and C for me and my daughter, I had emergency numbers on the fridge and my friends’ numbers saved on my daughter’s cell phone. I was worried that if something happened to me she would be lost. Fortunately the things that happened were minor, even funny in restrospect. Like the one and only time I booked a massage with a colleague who needed guinea pigs for her practice. I didn’t have access to my phone for 45 minutes. Of course, Murphy’s Law ruled and that was the day when my daughter forgot her keys and mobile phone at school. She arrives home and I’m still not there. Our Indian neighbor kindly lets her in. However, for some reason I never understood, she doesn’t call my husband herself but asks her own husband to call him (from his office). You can imagine the terror of my husband back in Greece: he receives a phone call by a man with a strange English accent telling him “your daughter is with us but you can’t speak to her”. And my daughter had given her dad’s number and not mine because it was the only one she knew by heart. We finally cleared everything up, I made her memorize my Belgian number too and I checked every morning she remembered, my husband calmed down and life continued. No one was hurt! We came closer to our neighbours after that. We shared our different kinds of halwa which amazingly is something they make in India too!
But you get the picture of how stressful life was in the beginning. And the conditions were ideal otherwise: safe and well-paid work, supportive colleagues, nice apartment. I don’t want to complain, when I think of all the people who move countries, voluntarily or not and have none of the security I had. Still, it was hard…
What kept me sane? What still does? I was lucky enough to connect with a small circle of female friends right from the start. In the beginning we were five. Then some of us brought other people in the circle. Sometimes boyfriends or husbands were added. Then some people left. This circle of friends has helped me through thick and thin. In the beginning, I didn’t feel strongly about them, I must admit. I compared this emerging friendship with my two best mates back in Greece and they always came short. But it was unfair. These friendships were brand new, we all came from different countries, we were all stressed and most of us completely new in the city, we needed time. We started talking, hesitantly in the beginning. We developed relationships inside the circle. We sometimes fought with each other or hurt each other. The limits of humour across cultures were not always clear and personally I behaved thoughtlessly many times. But we always found the way back to the circle. And we were always honest with each other. Now, four years have passed. Last year, when some people from the circle moved to other countries we created a group in Whatsapp to keep in touch. Today, I was having a coffee in the afternoon on my own but in reality with the Niñas. That’s what we call the group from the Spanish word for girls. I think that since the virtual group was created we have come even closer. There’s something about the written messages and the photos that glue us together. And we’ve shared so much, oh boy….where to start? We’ve shared, love and disappointment. Losing a job and finding a job. Death. Loss. Delight when a baby was born! Promotions. Terrorist attacks. Travelling. Lots of travelling. Food. Lots of food. Beaches in Jamaica, in Spain, in Greece. Drinks in Rome, in Krakow, in Prague, in Budapest, in Paris. Exotic fruit. Football teams. Which means good looking men. Photos of boyfriends, fathers, brothers, husbands, lovers and almost lovers. Daughters. Nephews and nieces. We’ve shared films, music, quotations from books. Art. We’ve shared our joys, our pain, our lives. But mostly we share our love for each other. Since some of the Niñas left, I realized I was sorry I hadn’t spent more time with them when they were here. But at least I now see how great this thing called friendship is and I’ll do my best from now on.
So this week’s tip for a life in between, is this: CONNECT. In any way you can. Don’t be afraid to share with other people. You will make new friends. You are never too old for friendship. Friendship needs time. Give it generously. The more you give the more you will get back. Dare to show your TRUE self and the people who will accept you, warts and all, these are your friends.
I feel I am in a very good place right now. I am even starting new circles, this time with boys which will be all new! There are many people I have to thank for my present bliss. Here in Brussels and back in Larissa. My other, more intimate set of Greek girls, is always there and no one can get between us. But a big part of my Flow zone is owed to a group of friends called Niñas. Thank you!