Once you get over the lack of cheddar, decent tea bags and shampoo labels you can read, the hardest aspect of an expat life is trying to maintain ties with those not around. When you move abroad, things change. The concept of home changes, as do the traditions, the routines, the fundamentals that define the definition of a home. Maintaining ties becomes hard not because you don’t work at it, but because the fundamentals all shift. You shift, you change and they’re not along for the ride. When you meet back up, sure, you’re still friends, still sisters, still retain that mum-daughter bond, but something’s shifted and when you meet back up, unless you’re careful to explain, remembering all the while to underexplain, the shift becomes a cavern and the knots on those ties can seem suddenly ever so loose.
Since I’ve lived in Istanbul, my world has been blessed with a few great friends. S is one of them; we clicked right away, meeting in the cafe under the school where we would both work sitting with our respective books and coffees, in worlds of our own, gym bags at our feet. We spent entire days walking Istanbul’s’ coastline talking Greek classics and problems with the world. We’d shop and ‘do lunch’. We weekended in Prague and when I left for the UK, her wedding brought me right back to Turkey and ‘the village’. Twice over I witnessed her declare and devote her love to a wonderful man and she was one of the first I told when our pregnancy was confirmed. Yes, S one of those friends God intended to hold such a title in my life. Yet even with her, a friend whose worth I couldn’t pay in gold, those ties can be tested.
The last time we spent real-time together was in Prague. Hours were whiled away reading over jugs of the Czechs finest ales, evenings were laughed away over plates of longed for rich, indulgent dishes unavailable in our adopted hometown. Our days started over breakfast American style and continued until we were in waffley, bacon comas only fit for to stroll until a tea shop called. Three months after Prague, I moved back to the UK and a month later, she and her husband moved to the States. That was three and a half years ago.
Three years is a long time when you’re changing your world. What I’ve had to remember is, not everyone is, not everyone wants to and if they don’t, it may be hard to understand why you would, or why so much, maybe.
S and her husband have just moved back to Turkey and it’s great to have her back. We’ve spent the past three years emailing each other our worlds; catching up intermittently when we could schedule a chat. Some things translate well online/on the phone; some don’t. The headscarf/conversion thing falls in the latter category and for that, I missed it out. She knew the wine loving dancer had gone, but not quite why. There was no need to say why. And yet there was every need to explain it all. Again, one of the main difficulties I have with the religion Allah swt chose for me; the visibility of it. I find it hard to wear hijab; it’s the elephant in the room before there’s even time for a hug. Her fashion partner in crime has been replaced with a scarfie – she’s meant to ignore that, right?!
Thank God, S is a friend who knows me inside and out. She knows that I know my own mind and will have a very clear vision of what I want to achieve, why I dress the way I do; even though she may not quite approve or understand why. After an hour together again, she knows that me is still me and the scarf’s just a scarf – but other people don’t. In the UK, it’s the neighbours to my family, the checkout girl in the store and the cousin of a girl I once met – those acquaintances todays’ etiquette dictates we call ‘friends’. Here, its neighbours too and sometimes even closer to home. It doesn’t matter who or where you are, you wear a scarf and people have an opinion of you, your intention and your partner in crime aka the man in your life. Frustrated, me?
S and I still have bridges to jump. They’re moving to the coast, to a friendly seaside town. M and I will visit for sure, and G’ll probably tag along too, but it’s not a burkini town and I’m not up for socializing in a bar, so we’ll have to iron out some kinks and yes, at some point she’ll open up the conversation why, but by that time I hope – insh’Allah – she’ll have figured out the why herself so the words are just things that need to be said because the ties are already reknotted. For today, it was just good to have her back…better than good…friendship makes the world go round.