Wednesday, May 19, 2010

More "Expat Entertainment," or Successful Isolated Expat Living

My father grew up in Tanzania and later Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), and his stories of his expat life fueled my childhood imagination. There are few photographs and one precious film reel from that distant time of his life, but in my mind's eye, I've always been able to picture everything in great detail. As a child, I would retell my father's stories to my friends, and without realizing it, made his memories my own.

And these memories periodically return to me as aspects of my own expat life echo that of my father. Food was often scarce, and if someone brought several dozen eggs to the farm, they would eat eggs. For days. In every imaginable reincarnation. Those of you who read this blog regularly know that while my husband and I are thankfully well-fed, we too are often the recipients of someone's bounty. And like my grandmother, I too endeavour to find as many different ways to use the seven heads of Romaine lettuce or the five kilograms of yogurt.

Recently, memories of my father's African evenings have been coming to mind. I picture him and his six siblings sitting in the family's living room, knitting or reading or listening to the shortwave radio, trying desperately not to disturb their father as he reads or writes. My grandmother is writing letters and perhaps someone is rereading a precious letter from Europe aloud to the others. Or they are singing. Or telling stories, erupting into fits of laughter. My father and his siblings, all of whom are still alive today, still enjoy simple, quiet pastimes -- corresponding with each other and far away friends (although a few of my aunts, into their seventies and eighties now, have mastered email!); listening to the radio; and knitting. But I credit their expat upbringing in rural east Africa, which, despite the fond memories, was far from easy.

And so whenever I feel sorry for myself, isolated from fancy restaurants or museums, I remind myself of all the resources I do have. I'm happy to say that I really am quite resourceful in this regard; I've written about our murder mystery dinner and our dependence on good books, and now I want to tell you about another secret to successful isolated expat living: finding and tapping into others' expertise.

My friend Oriana Sutorius-Lavoie is an artist and a teacher; my friend Carole and I share the need to 'do art' but feel we lack the talent. So we asked Oriana whether she'd consider teaching us to paint. As so often happens when one simply asks, we discovered that Oriana had already been thinking about how to start an art class! We started a week later, and for a few months now, Carole, Oriana, my husband and I meet every Tuesday evening for a lesson.

We use one of our school's art classrooms and its easels; supplies are unfortunately harder to come by -- either ridiculously expensive or impossible to find. But ever resourceful, we found some at Kitapsan, others at local hardware stores; we order some items online from the States or stock up on trips to Europe.

We started with drawing and have only recently begun painting, but we've been fueling our creativity and satisfying our need for 'something more' for months. If I were back in Toronto, I'd either be too busy to take an art class at all (as so often happens when you have everything you could possibly want at your doorstep, you take it for granted and put off taking advantage of it), or I'd be travelling through rush hour traffic one evening a week and paying hundreds of dollars to be one of two dozen students.

*I'm working on a series of 3 paintings based on windows and doors of our current home, Sadık Paşa Konağı, and inspired by Henri Matisse.

*The top photo is of my grandparents' coffee plantation in Tanzania in the 1930s.

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