Life as an expatriate: Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Sort of.

Last month was quite tough for me. I’m optimistic that things are improving though.

I’ve laid down some ground rules. I’ve reset my priorities.

I’ve been overwhelmed with support from all corners of the globe. My family and friends are awesome.

Family is all that matters photo
My dad with Rafa back in the UK

It’s been interesting to see the way my Expater friends replied. Nine times out of ten, those living abroad have underlined how difficult situations make us stronger. Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

Angola: a love hate relationship 

When I was in Angola, I found it very tough at times. My full story is too long for any blog post, but I got into some visa issues and it ended up with being pushed into a van, ‘We make the rules now, whitey!’ 

A guy in the office haggled over when he could sexually assault me. He closed the door and beckoned to his colleague, ‘Let me have a little play with this one’, stroking my hair. Thankfully he never got the chance – a $10,000 USD exchange, my British passport and a powerful contact on my side perhaps helped. After a five hour wait I was finally free to go.


The next day I woke up with the start of an ear infection. By midday I decided to go home to rest.

Traffic was horrendous (my Luanda traffic jam record is set at five hours for a 20 minute journey), so I decided to take a short cut. I got stuck in a busy market, and a woman walked into my path. A car pushed me from behind and I grazed her toe.

I checked on the woman and offered to take her to hospital. A crowd developed and a few guys decided to throw some stones at me (they missed).

Her family wanted to join the ride. Her aunt called and wanted picking up too. ‘I need to go to my friend’s house,’ she demanded.

Angola expat photo
Angola: beautiful sunsets, oil rigs, high and lows.

When we got to the hospital I kept apologising to the woman whose toe I’d hurt. I felt awful.

Obviously I offered to pay all medical fees in full. Thankfully the damage wasn’t as bad as I feared. The doctor bandaged it up with some antiseptic cream and prescribed antibiotics to be on the safe side.

The father reassured me, ‘It wasn’t your fault. I’m just grateful you stopped. Other foreigners wouldn’t. Especially with those guys throwing stones at you. Thank you, paying for the medication is more than enough’. The doctors assured me it wasn’t serious and she would be fully recovered in a week at the most.

Still, I felt horrible. The poor girl.

The police arrived at the hospital – all accidents at the hospital are reported to the police. The policeman was very understanding and decided the case was closed. I just needed to drive the family to a pharmacy and pay for medication. I’d already offered to do this.

Then the father spoke up. ‘Actually, I’m not happy. We would like some compensation’. 

It seems he’d be chatting to some friends in the waiting room. With the huge gap between our incomes, it was understandable that a relative had persuaded him to even the financial scales a little.

The policeman told the man to stop taking advantage.

For the next fortnight, every day I received calls from the man’s relative asking for money. The threats became stronger and stronger. When the calls turned nasty a local lawyer friend stepped in and told him where to get off. He never called again.

I felt awkward and guilty. And tired.

Expat life: not always beach life

My ear ached from the infection (I hadn’t had time to get it checked) and I just wanted to go home (to the UK).

Angola is a fabulous, wonderfully interesting and diverse place. I enjoyed fabulous experiences (dinners on the beach by sunset, incredible parties, inviations to locals’ home for drinks, lunch and weekends away). The Angolan spirit is mesmerizing.

There’s no place quite like Angola, but like any foreign country for expats, it could still be tough.

Angola beach photo
Not quite at home

Getting some perspective

It was a stressful week, and I’d never want to repeat it. I’d never wish such a series of events on anyone.

But the experience did help me get things into perspective from then on.

Family… friends… nothing else matters.

Later, while working in London after a rather hectic day in the office, I walked home and left my worries at the door. It was PR, not ER after all.

More importantly, a spoilt brat of a journalist was nothing compared to a guy haggling over my sexual assualt. I chuckled as the journo brat shouted that the ‘potatoes at the hotel were awful!’ Her threats of a nasty review paled in comparison to death threats, after all.

Tough as steel

The experience also made me stronger.

A lovely Angolan colleague looked at me after my ordeal, ‘You look all soft, but boy you’re f*cking tough!’  

Last month here in Chile was hard for me, but nowhere near as tough as what many other of my Expater friends have faced. These friends seem warm and cuddly on the outside, but believe me, look beyond the apparent fluff and they’re made of steel. I feel privileged to call them my friends.

expat stress makes you tough photo
Beware of the cat

Let’s be clear, I don’t mean to say that my expat life sucks. For the most part, my life is one fun, glamourous, exciting, social whirl and I’m extremely grateful.

I’m also grateful for my amazing family and friends. And that whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. Sort of.

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