‘What will YOU do?’ That was the most common question when I told people we were moving to Bangkok. My stock response? ‘I’ll look after the kids, settle us all in, then after about a year, when Patti’s 3, I’ll most likely get a job.’ It’s been 15 months, the hour is upon thee Natalie. What ARE you going to do?
I recently posted on my Facebook page that I’d got a job. It’s a mentoring role for an organisation that helps women who illustrate leadership qualities from developing countries. For two hours a fortnight I Skype my mentee in Bangladesh to help identify what direction she wants to take, set goals, motivate, that kind of shizzle. My woman is from rural China, a small farming village where the expectation for a woman’s life is to marry, procreate and ‘feed the pigs’. She doesn’t want to get married, have children, feed pigs, she has her sights elsewhere, she just doesn’t know where.
Her walk to school was over a mountain, beside the ocean, at times in the freezing cold wind and rain, further barriers to her education were the traditional attitudes and of course, her gender. Luckily for my girl, she worked hard, attained a scholarship and is studying at university soon to graduate. We have talked twice so far and she is an inspiration. I’ll be learning from her. The challenges to our set up so far are – the electricity failing in her building so the Skype is intermittent; I know only what she’s told me of her cultural background and I don’t know how much she knows of mine; her first language is indigenous, and when I forget this and make suggestions like “why don’t you pick her brains, just be nosey”, I have to quickly explain myself, “I mean metaphorically…” While I have to think about every word I use, her grasp on the English language is great. When she first went to school in the next province, a young girl away from home, she knew very little Mandarin. This is a woman who is determined, with brains and strength, who wants to make a difference. But all this is her story, not mine to tell.
I value her dilemma, her crossroads more than my own. I have more freedom because of my class, race and an education that cost a lot less than it does now and will cost a whole lot more when my children are of age to study and choose their path. Calling my ‘to work or not to work’ a dilemma feels by comparison as insignificant as ‘should I have beans on toast for dinner or spaghetti hoops’, but it’s all relative.
Women undersell themselves, it’s a fact. I’ve read enough job applications to know this, interviewed thousands to witness it. I don’t speak for everyone but in general we don’t show off in all the right places, do we? I want my mentee to be able to confidently claim her strengths, realise her value and potential. Pulling a harmonica from my handbag at 3am and playing the theme to ‘Last of The Summer Wine’, while it was an act that stunned my friends during our late night ‘The Showing Off Game’, isn’t the same as writing all my skills on a CV and showing off professionally. Perhaps I should have written my CV late on a Friday night. I think I’m your classic under-achiever, I lack direction, the confidence of some of my male counterparts (not all I know), I’m a mentor and I need a mentor!
This week I wrote my CV for the first time in 8 years. I deleted the summer jobs from a bygone era when I worked hard to play hard. Now I’m unemployed and my playing involves Angry Birds or twirling and spinning while my daughter screeches the lyrics to Frozen, not so much late night twittering until twilight about how I’d only ever ‘work to live not live to work’, and if I were on a desert island what would I choose, cigs or booze?
So, when I visit home in July when I am asked ‘what do YOU do?’, I might have a different answer to my current one (fingers crossed I get an interview) – ‘I spend 3 hours a day on the school run, longer if there’s a protest, or the traffic is bad, I do a bit of yoga and I’m learning mindfulness, and yeah, I’m raising the children while trying to write a novel’. I might add I flicked through a book on how to meet people and read a line that said ‘in order to be less judgmental when meeting people, try ‘So, what do you do with most of your time?” This must be where I’ve been going wrong. I didn’t buy the book.
In short I have applied for a job for the same reasons my peers work: to afford holidays, meals out, save a bit, but it’s more than for the pursuit of leisure, I need my brain to function and it’s the only way I seem able to get it to work properly. I talked to my friend about it,
Me: ‘I think if I get the job it will be the end to feeling lonely – and other pros, but man, I’ll miss being able to do fuck all’.
Him: ‘Hey, doing fuck all is under-rated’. (Did he typo and mean over-rated?)
Him: ‘No, underated, it’s the best’.
Is it though? Perhaps if you’re single, without responsibilities, childless or off Made In Chelsea (yes I can get it out here, yes I do watch it, yes I know it’s a waste of my time but I fucking love it) then I’d feel ok about the sole pursuit of leisure, but I don’t despite my efforts with yoga and meditation. I can be in the moment, enjoy the tropical flowers on the trees, notice the smells of the city (food ones, not drains ones), but I fear the “trailing spouse” label, the gaping hole in my CV, the time I spent out of work because I took a year off with each of my children, the dependency on my partner, class guilt, what it’s doing to my self-esteem and what my children are seeing of me, which is only a tiny aspect of who I am. They don’t know what I’m on about when I refuse another game of ‘acting like puppies’ and claim to be a multi-dimensional person and throw my arms around like a stroppy teen.
We make sacrifices, tough decisions, we move to other countries to strive for opportunity, change, insight, meaning and when we’re there, we’re back at the crossroads scratching our heads. I don’t want to feed the pigs either.
<<to apply for the role of my mentor, please send me an email.
Essential – take the piss out of me when and any antics with prawns (see Brits in Bangkok)
Desirable – links with the casting director for Coronation Street>>