Expat Spouse: A day in the life, Part I.

Expat Spouse: A day in the life, Part I.

The lives of the spouses not employed while in-country can be varied.  Some people attend to their children, teach classes, volunteer at local schools or with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), play Playstation, try goat farming, or some combination thereof.  There are typical days with plans and shopping, hectic weeks where nothing seems to work, and surreal moments wondering what India will bring next.  Some people want schedules—me included—while others are more flexible.  Since each person and personality is different, it only makes sense each person’s day is a bit different.

An Individual Perspective.

This is largely a discussion about a singular perspective—mine, a male, non-working, expat spouse—filtered through the biases of someone who spent the last 33 years building a career.  We have no children for which to care, or pets to walk, or aging relatives to entertain.  In addition to a driver and housekeeper, the occasional lizard will find its way into the house, but none of them consider themselves dependents.  It’s just us and time.

Personally, my least favorite question is ‘What do you do?’  As a spouse with a career to return to—technically, I’m on a leave without pay—the answer is supposed to be a job title.  People, especially in the West, identify with job titles. “I’m an accountant with Two & Two is Three, LLP,” or “I’m an engineer with WeOverBuildIt, Inc.” or “I’m an international assassin.”  Job titles excite the imagination into generating general ideas about how one spends their day; however, the title is rarely enough to truly understand what someone does.  For example, if you tell me you’re a garbage man, there is no way to really understand your day to day challenges:  the weight of the cans;  how you avoid the dogs; the smell after an over filled bag breaks, dripping a toxic mixture of last night’s dinner and this morning’s fridge clean out down the front of your jumper.  To understand these details there needs to be an explanation.

The problem is most people who ask, “What do you do?” aren’t interested in what you do.  It is usually a societal pleasantry akin to asking someone we pass in the hall, “How’s it going?”  We don’t want to know that the kids are sick, the dog urinated on the carpet again, and Preparation-H is on the shopping list.  Likewise, the person asking about an expat spouse’s current career is not interested in a 25 minute dissertation on the challenges of writing and publishing, photography, trip planning, volunteering, and house maintenance.  Since we don’t have children living in India with us, the “stay-at-home mom” answer really doesn’t work well, either—plus, I’m not a mom.  A seemingly innocuous question for a working person in the US becomes a painful moment of creative stuttering for a man—or woman—who finds themselves without a paying career for the first time in 33 years.

What is my job title?
Missing Job Title
In the west, without a job title people may lack identity. (Drawing by author, April 2016.)

Without a job title, the answer to the question becomes more complex.  Explaining that I write normally results in more questions—besides, calling myself a writer after only being paid for one of four published articles is a little like saying I’m a NASCAR driver because I drive fast.  Nobody wants to hear the agonizing details about writing for publication versus blogging, building a personal brand, idea generation, research, and acting as my spouse’s Chief of Staff—least of all me.  However, since people expect an answer to the question, three possibles come to mind:

Answer #1 (The “it’s been one of those weeks” reply):  I sit on my ars, read the paper, surf the net, eat, and lay by the pool, like every other person recently granted three years of unpaid leave.  What do you do besides go to work and f%&k off all day, wasting your employer’s money, which is obviously what you do, because you can’t even think of a creative way in which to ask me about my life.

Answer #2 (The “sarcastically vague” reply): I am an international man of leisure dedicated to the pursuit of the finest things life can offer and to which I’m willing to become accustomed given the appropriate amount of time and inducements.

Answer #3 (The truth):  It depends on the day, but that is a great question!—I add “great question” because if thirty years of academic, corporate, and government training taught me one thing, it is that there are no stupid questions, only stupid people.

The “normal” day.

What does the “normal” day look like?  Most days begin minutes before the alarm sounds at 06:00, after about six hours sleep.  If the alarm sounds, it is usually an indication of a restless and sleepless night—perhaps I couldn’t fall asleep, or my back was sore, or my wife tossed and turned all night, or her para-menopausal state turned her body into a raging furnace and it was melting my skin off.  In any case, sleeplessness does not impact the routine.

To those considering writing about their spouse’s para-menopausality, I recommend not.  My wife hasn’t read this, but when she does it won’t end well for me. 

The fog lifts a few minutes later and I’m standing in the kitchen, the smell of freshly brewed coffee filling my brain like sweet honey fills the comb.  How did I get here?—In the kitchen, not India.  Where did this coffee come from?  I’m not totally sure.  There was the smell of campfire—or the Indian campfire, burning garbage—a walk downstairs, past the workout room, and the bathroom that my spouse wants painted, light switches pressed on the way, hoping not to see spiders, lizards, scorpions, and snakes that might have slipped in through one of the many cracks, crevices and holes in our rented villa.  Most mornings we remain the only tenants, but every few weeks something will be out of place.

The cockroach killing Huntsman spider. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Huntsman_spider_white_bg.jpg.)

When something is out of place, it is usually because said something crawled to a spot onto which it was not the night before.  To date, three rather large spiders—believed to be the Huntsman—and five lizards—what I believe were geckoshave attempted to make our house their home.  The spiders help to keep the cockroach population down—and since there’s been only two cockroach sightings, I don’t even want to think about how many of these spiders are hiding in and around the house.  They appear harmless enough if one can believe the bastion of all knowledge, Wikipedia.  Nevertheless, the spiders generally end up dead.  Not because I wouldn’t like to relocate them outside—I am a lover of all gods creatures, save humans—but because they are quick, tend to move toward instead of away from me, and killing them is the only way to catch them.  If it soothes the conscience, I do let them go after they are dead.

One of several lizards trying to make our home theirs. (Photo by author, April 2016.)

The geckos, although quick, respond to cues.  For example, when the broom is placed to the right of them on the wall—yes, they are wall climbers—they generally move in the opposite direction.  Failure to herd them toward the nearest opening results in capture and containment in a tupperware dish and eventual redistribution outdoors.  However—and I can’t stress this enough—they are wily.  On one occasion a gecko decided to occupy our downstairs bathroom—Yes, the same one my spouse would like painted.  I closed the door and went to fetch my tupperware-gecko-catcher, but by the time I returned, he was gone.  It wasn’t more than a few seconds.  Where did he go?

A towel stuffed under the door and two days of checking to see if he returned yielded little.  Finally, after a long day of international man of leisure-ing, there he was just hanging out on the wall next to the sink.  As the tupperware gecko catcher was already in hand, catching him was a matter of evolutionary advancement versus agility.  Evolutionary advancement prevailed and the gecko was relocated to the outdoors.  As exciting as the catch and release was, the crowning moment came the next day when our housekeeper, seeing the door open and the towel removed, asked, “You catch the lizard, sir.”  Yes, in fact I did.

Lizards and spiders are one thing, scorpions and snakes are entirely different issues.  Scorpions—my love for all God’s creatures except humans aside—unfortunately must die.  It’s fine risking life and limb to capture a harmless gecko whose mouth won’t fit around a single human appendage, it is an entirely different matter when it comes to a land lobster with a poisonous stinger.  Therefore, if a scorpion enters the house—and presuming I see him before he sees me—he will find himself squished by the largest flat surface at my disposal.

A snake presents an exponentially more complex issue.  I’m not ophidiophobic; however, I’m also not sure I can tell a regular Indian garden snake from a cobra until it is too late.  Therefore, he—or she, as I presume there are females or else where would baby cobras come from—need not fear being squished.  If spotted in time, said reptile will be given a wide birth.  After quickly evacuating the area, numerous text messages will be sent to everyone requesting assistance.  Should those go unanswered, the emergency evacuation plan is implemented—Basically, I devised a plan to tie together bed sheets and clothing, allowing us to repel out the window to safety with our good bourbon.  I only hope I don’t startle the snake when I run screaming up the stairs.

Waking the savage beast.

Coffee in hand, it’s time for breakfast.  This is normally yogurt—if the store wasn’t out of non-fat or low-fat during the last visit—and granola if our US supply isn’t depleted.  Otherwise, its yogurt and muesli, which is a wholly unsavory and inadequate excuse for granola.  Reading yesterday’s events on the computer, drinking coffee and eating breakfast brings us to 07:00, at which time I wake my lovely furnace-spouse.

Coffee for Story-03
Java, joe, go juice, high octane liquid energy. Whatever the term, it does seem to make mornings just a bit better. (Photo by author, April 2016.)

My wife is not always the easiest person to wake from blissful slumber.  One proven technique is to bring a cup of coffee into the bedroom during the rousing period.  The coffee on the night stand, I wave my hand over the top hoping to direct the scent toward her where she can smell it—some animals will wake at the smell of food, so why not people.  I tentatively remove the pillow from her face, followed by the eye shade, all the while talking in soothingly soft tones so as not to overly agitate the beast within.  If she has a soft deadline, she is free to arise of her own accord, which she usually does within a few minutes.  However, a hard deadline, such as an early meeting, an appointment, or an airplane to catch requires significantly less tact.  In these cases, I drag her legs over the side of the bed, pull her arms until she is in a standing position, and place the coffee in her hands, all while guarding my man-parts.  Both techniques have worked for over 25 years with only a handful of injuries to the party doing the waking.

The next hour is spent reading, answering emails, and readying for our morning constitutional.  At 08:00 each day we rise to greet the sounds, smells and sights of India with a power walk around the compound, during which we discuss our challenges, possible futures, yesterdays happenings, and how we ended up here—in India.  I share reports of new garbage dumps in the area, sightings of persons publicly peeing or pooping during the previous day’s exercise routine, planned trips, and any events which might impact the future.  My wife will share bits of her previous day, discussing generically some of her challenges, interspersed with expletives to help convey the gravity of the statements.  Toward the end, we will agree that we need to make a better effort to schedule weekend trips and possibly consider consuming less alcohol, the idea of which makes us both laugh out loud.  This takes 30 minutes during the work week and 40-50 minutes on the weekends.

Eventually we return home and it is time to workout.  We are normally in the gym (see this post for more information), playing witness to our fitness—I’m really getting quite a bit of play out of the witness-fitness line…Thanks again to Fergie for the line and to my good friend Jason for introducing me to it.  I may go for a run, or a swim, or lift weights with my wife.  Or she may go swimming, or possibly do a bit of yoga.  The routine is varied but effective.

A quick bite to eat—usually one or two boiled egg whites, or some peas for a post-workout protein boost—and it’s time to get to work.  Usually work is a weekly blog posting, or an article for which I will receive multiple rejection letters—my spouse says I should be proud of the rejections, but I fail to see her logic—or a satirical novelette tentatively titled, “The Hyderabad Expats Survival Guide.”—The title needs work and I’m looking for a female co-writer with children for this if anyone is interested.  This researching and writing—researching taking the bulk of the time early in the week, and writing later in the week—usually ends by 13:00.  Why 13:00?  Because it is at about that time my sore butt reminds me I’ve been sitting too long.  Also, it’s lunch time.

Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I have just gone very thoroughly the article. Every word touches me but the question raised in the text, “what do you do?” really pinched me. this is the common question I faced in every gathering and I escape from the people

    1. Thank you Shankar. I’m very happy the phrase reached you on a personal level. Perhaps it is a question we should continue to ask ourselves throughout our lifetimes?

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