Not Forever But For Always: The Impermanence of Expat Life

This past year I was forced to reckon with losing my second country and home, Bahrain. I always knew the day would come when I would have to leave Bahrain. In the last few years I felt myself slowly outgrowing it, feeling slightly restricted compared to the independence and freedom I felt in the UK. But still, it was always there for me. A source of stability and comfort. It was familiar. It was security. It was paradise. I never thought I’d be forced to say goodbye so suddenly. 

Though I know it is definitely not the last time I’ll be there I still feel an intense emptiness in my life. I am constantly seeing people talking about and encouraging expat life but no one talks about how unpredictable and impermanent it can be. When accepting expat life, you must also expect that no matter how long you stay there, unless you plan to acquire citizenship, it will not be your life forever. 

From Expat to Settled

When my family and I initially moved to Bahrain, we only planned to be there two to four years. This was the typical time frame of contracts for expats in the region. Usually people would move on to another place after that time was up, if their contracts weren’t renewed. But four years eventually turned into eight years, then into twelve. At the beginning we adapted to the initial transient nature of our lives, reflected in our home and possessions. It felt almost like we were living each day ready to pick up and leave if needed. But Bahrain, with its ever accommodating ways and comforting charm, forced us out of that mindset. We moved to a bigger home, bought new furniture, new cars and I settled into life at school. Somewhere during those years I realised Bahrain was a permanent fixture in my life. I stopped trying to imagine my life without it because it felt impossible that that was even an option. I never really thought of the implications of leaving and resigned myself to the fact it was my permanent home. 

But the more we settled, the more I changed. It was a gradual change that I have never been able to put my finger on, almost as if one day I woke up without my Trini accent and mannerisms. It further highlighted how much more settled I was into Bahrain and Bahrain expat society. What was once strange and scary became normal and routine. I rarely thought about Trinidad anymore and no longer enjoyed my visits there. Still, everyday I was reminded of how short lived life could be there. Friends at school would come and go every few years, preventing long term connections from forming. I managed to keep my friend group intact for some time which afforded me some sense of stability and safety. But by the time I was sixteen, many of my friends had migrated abroad and I was left out in the open, vulnerable and alone. As much as I liked being settled in Bahrain, I began to resent it’s inability to give me the long term connections I craved. 

Dark Suitcase with Mask
Image: iStock

Unexpected Changes

My desire to move on from it became stronger and eventually my wish did come true when I migrated to the UK. But I quickly realised I still needed Bahrain in my life. It had become such a huge part of who I was it was impossible to part with it. I was lucky to essentially have my cake and eat it too, especially when I managed to forge connections that had no chance of being broken. And yet, the longer I spent away from Bahrain the more the way I felt about and in it changed. My gut told me my time was almost up.

So it came as no surprise when that time finally came last year. Much like everything else that occurred pre-pandemic, my time in Bahrain ended on a random Friday in March 2020. I had only been back for the Christmas and New Year’s break but the signs of ending were all around. My aunt and uncle were packing up to move and by the beginning of the year were gone. I knew we were next but I thought I would get another chance that year to say goodbye. Even now, it hurts in ways I cannot describe, especially when everything reminds me of my time there. I constantly have to remind myself this was always the universe’s intention. It was always supposed to be temporary, but not in the way we had thought. Temporary does not always have to mean impermanent.

No matter what happens it will always be my home and I will always have it in my life. I have already planned my next trip there with my boyfriend and some friends, once the pandemic is over of course. And I have a strong desire to finally obtain my citizenship, which to me beautifully represents the full circle nature of my journey there. My story has taught me that even though some things in life aren’t meant to last long, the impact they make can have a lifelong effect on you. I take comfort in knowing that no matter where I go, the memories of Bahrain will always follow.

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