The battle was lost, but is the war over? And alas, promises can be so hard to keep somtimes!
Some people are fortunate enough to pop out of the womb with a thick skin. I was not one of those fortunate souls. I had to earn any extra layers of epidermis by venturing out into new and scary situations. If you head into enough “oh my god – there is no way I can possibly do this’ moments and come out the other side still breathing, you realize that your ancient layers of extra skin were just waiting to be pulled out and over your sweaty pits and other body bits.
The day that I started working full-time in Mauritius was a day that I started an exciting and frustrating journey towards thicker skin. But after many months and many new layers, I made a decision. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t keep the good energy going to continue my day-to-day work routine in a way that wasn’t damaging to my self-worth and happiness. A few weeks ago I gave my notice indicating that I would be leaving the firm at month’s end.
It wasn’t a quick and short-fused decision, but rather one that had been building up slowly over time. Cultures are different. Work environments are different and when at work, I was the neon, floppy fish out of water. I don’t think it could have been more possible to call more attention to myself and my every wrong move.
Every instinct that I had and that I had learned while working for so many years in America was not working here. And I could not put it all together to figure it out. In the end, I couldn’t just be still and go along with a flow that seemed just not right to me especially since I was leading a group of employees where I felt like I had to display leadership in an ethical and progressive sense.
How many people have come before me and found themselves in the exact same place? In Mauritius there are not many Americans living and working here. I have been told that the number of Americans residing here is somewhere between 200-400 people. And in the many months that I have been working in downtown Port Louis, I have never once run into one single American working in an office here. In fact, I don’t even know if the woman that helped me at the Embassy was American.
In my defense, it was difficult to tell since every time I have been to the Embassy all of my conversations have been through a bullet-proof glass window with a small hole cut out in the middle. It’s interesting to be living in a country that is not your own and going into building space that is technically yours in terms of national identity. I was so excited to go there the first time to register myself as a foreign national living abroad.
I remember thinking to myself as I was walking into the building and riding up the elevator, “Ah, I’m going to see my people! All of us strangers bonded together because of our nationality. We are living all the way over here representing our country and trying to give it a go. Look! There’s the flag – what a great flag! And there’s a giant metal detector and x-ray machine and some guards and a red siren light mounted on the ceiling and a small hole cut out in the middle of some bullet-proof glass…is there where I go?”
I guess I was fantastically thinking that some American guy, who would be wearing a cowboy hat and a little flag pin on his lapel, would come bounding out from behind a closed door, ask me to come into his office and drink a Bud, that he had flown in special from the States, while we cracked jokes about Yankees living abroad. Instead I stood at the glass window on a skid-resistant mat crouching down to speak into the hole while trying to desperately listen to a woman, who may or may not have been American – again, hard to tell – as she explained how to fill in a form.
I passed my filled in form into the small tray at the bottom of the glass, stood there smiling stupidly and waiting for – oh, I don’t know what – a flag lapel pin with both the American and Mauritian flags intertwined? But, it was finished and I was told “that’s it”.
Riding down the elevator, I was kind of feeling sad-American, lonely and out of place. Where were my peeps?! But, given our small numbers here, maybe it’s normal to have such a closed-off service. I did, after all, decide to leave the Motherland and venture out into the great wide beyond. Guess I’d have to make it on my own. At least someone, somewhere now knows that I am living on this tiny island and I can be accurately counted as one of the statistics to be published.
A few weeks after my Embassy experience, the Frenchman came home after his visit to register at the French Embassy. After hearing his tale of a sit down meeting in an actual office in an arm chair across the desk from his assigned representative, I felt even more, ‘hey! wha?!’
“So, you actually sat down in a chair and had a conversational meeting?”, I asked him. “Oui”, he replied as if my question was THE stupidest one, yet. Again, I asked, “Did they offer you coffee of anything to drink?” “Non, but they would have if I had asked, I’m sure. But, they did give me this expat package with useful bits of information and this little registration card,” he said showing me his card with his photo.
I left the room and went outside to sit on the veranda. Huh. I got a full body scan and a potential statistical marking. He got a place to sit, face-to-face talk time and a laminated card. Wonderment.