2 Years Without Family:: Expat Life in a Pandemic

2 Years Without Family:: Expat Life in a Pandemic

Of course, no one could have foreseen that as we, an expat family, set off on our Houston adventure two years ago, we would have not returned to Scotland since. Or not know when we next will.

2020 and now 2021. Weddings were cancelled, rescheduled, and cancelled again. Christmas visitors were put on hold with hopes that this coming yuletide will be different. In December, we tearfully watched my Nana’s funeral in our cinema room – an occasion, in any other circumstances, we would have been there for.

With every passing month, Covid swallowed up life – and life events – both celebratory and sorrowful, and much in between. 

The Beginnings

Across the Atlantic, there were rumblings of a new infectious disease emerging in Asia and Europe.

The British media was all-consumed with the engulfing health crisis. In Italy, doctors dressed for biological warfare, rolled patients to get oxygen into gasping lungs. The bleeps of heart monitors and breathing machines became the recurring soundtrack of hospitals and news reports.

At that time, the UK’s government’s chief scientific advisor said, “20,000 deaths would be a good outcome.” TWENTY THOUSAND. When in reality, all those horrifying noughts were eclipsed by many, many more. 

Before Covid had really made itself known here, I found myself utterly transfixed to the news overseas. Refreshing websites every few minutes, scanning for any new, calamitous bites of information. Wondering what it might mean for aging relatives, our families and friends. The economy and people’s livelihoods.

It was an awful, draining addiction. 

As the pandemic took hold of mainland Europe, then the UK, it was only a matter of time before it began infiltrating the USA. That much was certain.

2 Years Without Family:: Expat Life in a Pandemic

“I’m so glad we decided to go this weekend,” I recall telling my girlfriend as we partied it up in our cowboy boots on the Saturday at Houston Rodeo, enjoying the carelessness that alcohol brings. “I have a feeling this will get shut down.”

On Wednesday, the announcement came.

Pandemic x2

As an expat in a pandemic, you have two realities. The one unfolding in the place you reside in, and the one that is occurring in the country you left behind. The same, I imagine, holds true for all those who have come to Houston from other states.

New York would become the epicenter of the American coronavirus, and anyone with family there, had to helplessly watch on as harrowing scenes of burdened hospitals and make-shift morgue trucks flashed across our screens.

In Brazil, images of mass graves became unsettlingly familiar. From neighbors and friends, I learned Mexico was, too, dealt a heavy hand.  

Most recently, those who have family in India, have endured their own horror; watching aghast as oxygen fell short, bodies piled up, and patients were turned away from hospitals as the Indian healthcare system collapsed under the strain of its monstrous second wave.

Finding Gratitude

For large chunks of 2020 and 2021, the UK shuttered. There were several lockdowns, each mirroring the growing trajectory of Covid infections and deaths.

During the most draconian measures, all non-essential business shut {restaurants, bars, hairdressers, shops with the exception of supermarkets}. No school. No meeting other people from outside of your household, nor leaving a five mile radius. 

The darkness of winter crept in. The weather worsened, and for many, things were bleak.

Here, our lives continued. Yes, we had a short lockdown and we wore masks, but these inconveniences pale in comparison.

With considered planning, schools across Texas returned for in-class teaching. Shops, businesses and bars, for the most part, stayed open. Things weren’t perfect, but they were ticking along with some normalcy.

Being here in Texas during the pandemic, therefore, was immeasurably easier than what it would have been living back home in Scotland, where every day living was compromised.

Expat Life

Ask any expat:: the single biggest drawback of living away from ‘home’, is not having family around you.

The modern-day wonder of video call, of course, makes the distance all the more bearable, in between {pre-covid} visitors and that annual visit home. 

With this separation and sacrifice, however, comes great privilege.

To be an expat is to be immersed in another country and learn about all those cultural idiosyncrasies, so different to your own.   

Travel opens up the world. But to ‘live it’, is to go beyond the surface. Beyond the hotels, the Lonely Planet guides, the tourist attractions, the Trip Advisor restaurants.

You work. Your children go to school. You make friends. You become part of the local fabric. It takes you on unlikely paths, that otherwise you would never have encountered.

Sure, as a Brit, you might go to New York, Miami, Las Vegas, Florida, Disneyland and such like. But had we not been living here, would we have otherwise gone to Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Fredericksburg? Probably not.  

You get the Super Bowls, the Rodeos, the crawfish boils, the margaritas and tortillas of Cinco De Mayo, the Memorial Day barbeques, the Astros and Rockets games, the ‘like-out-of-the-movies’ Halloweens and Christmas lights, and the spectacular neighborhood New Year’s Eve fireworks displays that go on and on for so many hours that you actually tire of watching them. 

And when you go, you take it with you.

All those wonderful little pieces of Texan life will remain in your heart and mind, long after you leave.  

 

With my lovely neighborhood friends, post Tex-Mex restaurant. 
Christmas 2017:: Nana meeting my son for the first time.
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Looking for another taste of expat life, Vhairi M. relocated from Scotland to the cusp of the Woodlands in June 2019 with her oil-and-gas-finance-Excel-loving-husband, rambunctious son, Innes {August 2017}, and equally rambunctious, cocker spaniel, Luna. Prior to this latest international adventure, the pair lived in the other-worldly desert oasis of Dubai for several years. Whilst there, Vhairi worked on travel, food, and lifestyle magazines, which saw her eating witchetty grubs in the Australian outback, cooking breakfast with Gordon Ramsay, and sipping champagne at Prince Harry and Prince William’s {circa-Meghan} annual charity polo match. Nowadays, she spends much of her time writing children’s books. In 2020, Vhairi published a chapter book {Hamish Montgomery and the Cursed Claymore}, and a picture book {Great Auntie Betty and the Serengeti}, and looks forward to releasing more kidlit in the near future. Keep up to date with all her books news @vhairijanemoir on Instagram and via her website vhairijanemoir.com.

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