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Making Friends As An Expat

I’m always surprised to read and hear grumbles from expats about the temporary nature of friendships they make in their temporary homes. “We no sooner get friendly with people than we or they up-sticks and head off to somewhere else!” Especially in these days of easy worldwide communications, that kind of thinking doesn’t make sense. Surely people who say that – or even think it – are a tiny minority. One must hope.

My wife and I tend to keep our friends – whether couples or individuals. Of course it’s possible that we’ve just been lucky all our lives, but I don’t think so. Some friends have dropped away, and that’s natural. We regret the dropouts, but there are many others who have lasted the distance. I wonder if most readers of this column will identify with our experiences.

David was one of my cabin-mates on the boat to England in 1963, and we shared a flat (with four others) in Earl’s Court that winter.I invited him to be my Best Man in Toronto a few years later, though I knew he wouldn’t fly all the way from New Zealand for a wedding. I visited him with my wife, my son, or both, in 1970, 1985 and 1995. Now, we chat about his local earthquakes, and family news. 49 years is a long time to be friends-at-a-distance; we’re not likely to let the friendship die now.

Ross was my Best Man, and I’ve only seen him twice since Toronto. We flew to Cape Town from Vanuatu in ’73, and we met up in London at the home of friends of mine from Nassau when our son was small. Now we’re down to emails and photos of grandchildren, but he and Tish are still in our lives. Jenny, Linda’s English bridesmaid on the big occasion, married a Kiwi, also in Toronto. We’ve stayed with her family twice on their little farm outside Auckland, and recently the two old girls hooked up again for cruises in Alaska and Hawaii.

Jon was another flatmate during my single days, this time in Toronto. After that, I lived mostly in hot places and he in cold, and he always phoned me when the cold got too painful. He brought his family down to Cayman three or four times, and I stayed with them in Phoenix a couple of years before he died.

Our salad days were spent in Nassau (Bahamas) in 1967-70, where several solid friendships began. Dave used to teach with Linda, and entertained us with tales of his stints in Cyprus and Aden. (He and Sheila were wounded by a bomb thrown into a cafe in Aden; few expats get to boast about that sort of thing.) He died last year in Hampshire, but his daughter is one of my seven (count ‘em!) Facebook friends. Gordon ended up in Chorleywood by the M25, Tim in Blackheath, Brian in North Carolina, Peter in Queensland. We keep in touch with them all except Gordon, who has Alzheimer’s, poor chap.

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I wish I knew what happened to Val and Jeff, who kept me fed and watered in Vanuatu when I was in bed with malaria and Linda was in Melbourne with a cancer scare. They were in Gosport, and then they weren’t. We think of them every time we hear “Rule Britannia!” played very loudly. Neil was harder to lose. I tracked him and his wife down the other year in their rented narrow-boat on a canal north of Watford, on holidays from their home in Brisbane.

Even one year in Bath was profitable, friendship-wise, where Hazel was our next-door neighbour. Years later, her son came to Cayman in charge of a Royal Navy frigate and we were guests of honour at the onboard cocktail party. That was something different in our lives!
After fifteen years of transient life, Cayman became our home in 1978. People still come and go. Challice is back in Poole, and I wish he were still around the corner. We used to hope that one of his girls would marry our son, but that hasn’t happened yet… Alisdair and I have checked out a retirement village outside Tucson that would suit us down to the ground; but we’re probably not quite old enough.

Today, our son is an expat in his own right, and keeps up with old chums as diligently as we do. He was at his friend Nick’s wedding in Sark, Jake’s in Madrid, and Jay’s in Vancouver. His expat life began in a maternity home in High Wycombe (go Wanderers!), and following babyhood in a Kombi van in Spain and Greece, Cayman was his regular home until he reached adulthood. Then he became an expat again while living, loving and working in Mexico and other places in Latin America. Now he lives (and loves and works) in Norway – more an immigrant than an expat, I guess.

When his daughters are old enough to leave home, I hope they’ll become expats in their turn. There’s no guarantee, but they’ll be hard put to resist the pushing from Dad and the Cayman Islands grandparents.

Gordon Barlow has lived in Cayman since 1978. He was the first full-time Manager of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce (1986-1988) – a turbulent period when the Chamber struggled to establish its political independence. He has publicly commented on social and political issues since 1990, and has represented the Chamber at several overseas conferences, and the Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee at an international symposium in Gibraltar in 2004. His blog www.barlowscayman.blogspot.com contains much information on life in Cayman, written from the point of view of a resident and citizen.

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