11 December 2014

Expat Memories

This week's post is a self indulgent memory. 

I have written before about the problems of bureaucracy that are created by expat life.  As we are sending a request for our newborn daughter’s first passport back to the UK we decided to renew our other daughter’s passport at the same time.  She has only about 8 months left to go so we may as well get it done now.  They should be processed together (or so we are told) and then we will minimise the amount of time we are without papers for the girls. 

Paddling in Lake Bohinj - Slovenia
I have been leafing through her passport and I realise it is a record of her life.  Of course, holding an EU passport means that many of her experiences are not tracked.  Her trips to Ireland to meet my father’s family or our holiday in Italy where she delighted us all with her ‘ballet’ shows.  Our four week driving holiday in Europe with our tenacious girl who at 18 months walked through Budapest with only the odd piggy back, paddled bravely in the icy cold Lake Bohinj in Slovenia and giggled away as we read George’s Marvellous Medicine to while away the motorway miles.  All of these are invisible - even her return trips to the UK to see her grandparents are tracked only in exit stamps from our host countries. 

Exploring Tuscan towns
But more experiences are documented than not.  The visas to Kazakhstan track her development from precocious 2 year old to sophisticated 5 almost 6.  Our tiny little toddler has grown into a confident child, quick to smile and laugh.  Our girl who could hardly dress herself now showers on her own and chooses her own clothes, makes her own packed snack for school and reminds her older brother to bring his sports or swimming kit on the right days.

Early days in Kazakhstan - learning to walk in the cold.
The stamps for Lebanon bring back to my mind our just three year old, meeting her Granddad, Step Grandmother and Auntie for the first time since leaving England.  I remember her expression when she saw my sister in the Airport – she ran straight to her and would not leave her side for two hours.  She was able to explore crusader castles, see the legendary Cypresses and the Jeita caves.  I remember her charming the military garrison at the Tripoli castle and the pair of us running dripping into the souk to get out of some truly nasty rain.  I think how lucky she was to go there before hell descended once again on that beautiful country.

Exploring Kazakhstan - Borovoye Lake
The visa for Russia brings back memories of her tramping down Arbat and through Red Square, frozen in the icy winds and snow that had unexpectedly descended on spring time Moscow – thank goodness we had our Kazakh winter gear with us.  Our brave girl walked for miles, undaunted by the weather but ever so grateful for a restorative hot chocolate from time to time.  I remember seeing the understanding dawn on her that Russian was  a world language –every bit as useful as English and not just for use in Astana and impressing the staff at museums and in restaurants as she chatted away confidently.

Playing in the Moscow Spring
Defrosting indoors.
The stamps for Turkey bring back memories of her first trip to Istanbul – exploring the Topkapi Palace, the cisterns and the Sulemaniye mosque – places I had explored as a teenager.  I remember her enjoying the Grand Bazaar – getting sweets, tea and cuddles from all the shop keepers we spoke with.  I loved watching her dance at the wedding of an old friend of mine and introducing her to people I had known and loved in my years living in Turkey.

Hagia Sophia (plus scenic scaffolding!)
They also bring back memories of our trip to the South West where I was able, finally, to fulfil a dream of 20 years and see Ephesus and Pamukkule and enjoy this with the children.  Our daughter discovered a love of carvings - one of my favourite photos shows her running her hands over some plinths in Aphrodisias (with the full permission of museum staff) – enjoying the tactile nature of the carving and then pointing out similar carvings as we went round the site.

Walking around Kaya Koyu
In my memories I see her spend her first day ever on a sandy warm beach  and play in the sea, my mind watches her learning to swim in the pool at our apartment, enjoying pancakes in a roadside café after roaming through the ruined village of Kaya Koyu and wondering through the famous Lycian towns that pepper this part of Turkey. 

Her visa for Cambodia is redolent with memories of Angkor Wat, a place she professed (age 5) that she had wanted to see ‘since forever’.  She enjoyed her time there so much that one year on she talks happily of the beautiful apsara carvings and her friend Mr Theng, our Tuk Tuk driver.  When my husband and I married we honeymooned in South East Asia.  During the trip we went to Ayutthaya and I remember us saying that it was probably the closest we would ever get to visiting Angkor.  I am so pleased that this has changed and we were able to share it with our (older) children. 

Holiday in Cambodia.
Fascinated by carvings
When I look at her entry stamps for Kyrgyzstan I remember how she enjoyed the Burana Minaret and the trip along the Silk Road from Bishkek to Cholpan Alta on the shores of Lake Issykul.  She became very ill very quickly with a nasty bout of tonsillitis the day we were due to fly back to Astana.  It was not worth enduring a Kyrgyz hospital for antibiotics as we were due home in less than 18 hours and I remember how she bravely wondered from coffee shop to museum to coffee shop with a horrid temperature and a scratchy throat as we bought enough drinks to give her an excuse to sleep on a comfy sofa for an hour at a time before moving on to the next place.  I have never been so pleased to get back to our rather rickety healthcare provision in Astana!

On top of the world - sick but enjoying the old Kyrgyz Silk Road
Her final entries on the passport are her visa for Malaysia and stamps into and out of Brunei (trips to take Granny to see monkeys).  Every time I see her Malaysian visa I think about how well she has coped with this move (the first that she really understands), saying goodbye to her friends, teacher and school and launching herself into a new adventure.  The move has transformed her as well – there is less of the Central Asian sophistication and more of the South East Asian cute to complement her sunny, smiling personality. 

Six years on - playing by the South China Sea
So many of these experiences she has only had because she is an expat – we would not have flown to Cambodia from the UK, spent spring in Moscow, Christmas in Lebanon or Easter in Kyrgyzstan. She has packed more into her six years than many do in a lifetime and in the process she has learned to appreciate all the advantages that our life brings.  Whenever I am back at my father’s house I love to look through the pages of my old passports and the family photograph albums, marrying together photographs with stamps.  When our daughter’s old passport is returned to us I think I will scan the pages and put them, together with photographs and some memories, into a scrap book so that she can revisit them and share the memories with her own children in time.  

This blog is part of the My Expat Family Link Up hosted by Seychelles Mama - click on the link to read the other fascinating blogs on expat family life.

Seychelles Mama

Click on the picture for more posts on the challenges of expat life.

Ersatz Expat


  1. I love this post, such great memories. I'm all for looking back over passport stamps and remembering the adventures that came with the visas. My kids have travelled lots too but mainly in Europe so they have boringly bare passports. I remember the days when I lived in Vietnam and even needed an exit visa to leave the country (and a permit to travel outside Hanoi - how times have changed). My passport would get so full I had to renew years before its due date. New European passports just don't hold the same memories. I have kept all my passports from my whole life and will certainly keep my kids ones to pass on to them. #myexpatfamily

    1. Yes Europe is disappointing in the stamp stakes! I had a similar experience to your Hanoi one when I lived in Nigeria - I needed a full page single entry visa for each trip home. One passport is full of just Nigerian stamps. Now we are in SE Asia Vietnam is on the cards - any tips for what to see would be more than welcome.

  2. This is one of my favourite posts I've ever ever read!! I really felt like I was walking down memory lane with you!!! It's so wonderful the life you are giving your kids and one day they will too love looking back through their passports for their own wander down memory lane!!!
    Thank you so much for linking this fantastic post with #myexpatfamily. Hope the girls passports arrive soon xxx

    1. Thanks! Can't wait to read all about your SriLankan adventure.

  3. Wow. just wow. Such amazing memories. And you are creating an amazing life for her which will influence her for the rest of her life and her own children too.

    1. Thanks Meg - we hope so. I can relate to the kids so much better now that they are growing up sharing my expat child experiences.

  4. Such wonderful memories that a passport can hold! Your children will have some great travel memories as they grow up :)

  5. This is an incredible post, I absolutely loved reading it. What an amazing life you are giving your children. The experiences, the knowledge, the memories, truly wonderful. A scrapbook of your children's early years of travelling sounds perfect x

    1. Thanks Sara - I think I will do one for all the children in due course.

  6. Funnily enough, I always think it's a shame that they don't stamp passports in most countries anymore. I am a real hoarder of stationary memories though! Haven't thrown away a Birthday card for years! Lovely post. Very special memories for your little one #MyExpatFamily

    1. Thanks Polly! I must admit that I am not too attached to cards (although I have kept some that my mother sent me) but I love photographs and passports etc - My husband always complains that I take too many photos.

  7. This is such a powerful and beautiful post. I worry sometimes about whether being an expat child will leave my son feeling 'unsettled'. Of course I realise that different people react to these experiences in different ways, your story of your daughter's travels still highlights everything that is good and important about the life choices that we've made. I hope that she as well as my son grow up to find as much joy in them as we do as parents.
    And also: thanks for the reminder not to let them take away his passport when we come to renewing it! ;-)

    1. Hi Eline - I am sure that your son will be fine - I grew up as an expat child and I loved moving around - I think expat children are much more mature for their age and more self possessed than children who stay in their home country. Most of the people I know who grew up as expats are closer to their families than my other friends as well.

  8. I really enjoyed reading that... thank you so much for sharing your travelling life with us! :)

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