Loneliness and the Expatriate Blogger

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Loneliness and the Expatriate Blogger

I haven’t been blogging much lately. Maybe you’ve noticed, more likely you haven’t.

I love this space. My space to think, reflect, share, encourage, be encouraged. But I also love my ‘real’ life, the one with people I can touch and see and hear and interact with, without a screen between us.

Sometimes blogging alleviates the loneliness of being an expatriate because I find a community of people like me – between worlds, wrestling with cross-cultural relationships, being fundamentally transformed by our new surroundings.

kayak1But sometimes blogging accentuates the loneliness because I realize that the things making up my current world, my life, my passions, my griefs, my joys, are so far from the world I used to live in. I even start to question my sanity, sense of ‘reality,’ and wonder whether I am turning into one of ‘those’ expats. The kind that struggle to communicate with people in the home culture because our tongues are tied and our minds so thoroughly exhausted after years of balancing cultures and world views.

The internet accentuates the truth that the ways I am coming to see things like faith and justice or relationships and poverty or running and shopping do not line up, always, with what is popular or trending or even interesting to the people living in the place I used to consider home. Blogging reinforces the reality that I am far removed from who I used to be and some days, that feels lonely.

I sit down to type, at the end of a long day and I don’t know what to say about the things I’ve encountered or wrestled with, I don’t know what to add to the cacophony of voices on the internet. And sometimes I don’t have the courage to enter the loneliness and so I step back a bit. I eat Girl Scout cookies (thank you, US embassy) and watch an episode of the Cosby Show with Lucy instead.

Also, I’ve started writing for a few other websites that have deadlines and topic suggestions and as I (happily) work for these sites, I have less time to write exclusively for Djibouti Jones.

Also, real life presses in. In April my teenagers were home. I cried the day they came home and I cried the day they left, and a few days following. It gets harder every time, not easier, don’t let anyone tell you it gets easier. In April we entered the national championship season for Girls Run 2. In April a local friend faced multiple, serious, heart-breaking crisis.

In April I guarded the deep waters of my soul, half-treasuring them and half-afraid that if I tried to write about boarding school, the stories of the running team, about my seemingly daily tearful waverings between feeling at home here and feeling desperate to leave, I would be too exposed. Normally not such a private person, I retreated and found refuge in my family of five.

But now we are, again, down to three people in the house. I’m still helping my friend, still following the running club, still writing for other websites. I’m not sure how or when I will emerge but for now, as real life presses in, I am leaning into it. Living it. Not always writing about it.

Thanks for your patience with a quieter blog these days. I am always grateful for your visits, comments, and shares both here and elsewhere. (Like how last week you helped explode my essay for Brain Child: The Happy Middle Years.)

(if you’d like to read a story about one of these people I relate with not from behind a screen, sign up for my monthly newsletter. By signing up you will receive the free e-book Thirty-Four Paying Markets for Beautiful Essays. This month features a brief part of Medina’s story, a runner who had a thorn puncture her eye)

27 Comments

  1. Lauren Pinkston April 28, 2014 at 11:12 am - Reply

    Hi, Rachel. My husband and I just starting working with REI Laos. We’ve been planning the move for 8 years (I know, ridiculously long). Anyways, just wanted to say that I’ve been following you for a while and appreciate what you write. I, too, value the connections the blogging world provides. Sometimes it also seems that the people who know you and understand you are too far away to be real. I hope our paths may cross one day and I can be encouraged by another woman who speaks my language. Thanks for sharing your life with people like me.

  2. Rachel Pieh Jones April 28, 2014 at 11:31 am - Reply

    So happy to hear from another REI-er! I definitely hope our paths cross one day, thanks for introducing yourself Lauren.

  3. Jenn G. April 28, 2014 at 11:40 am - Reply

    Very true, the role of the blog can be a ‘lifeline’ for an expat, but it also serves to reflect the distance. Thought this was a beautiful read and will be back for more whenever you decide and are able to update. Hang in there!

  4. Sherri April 28, 2014 at 11:49 am - Reply

    SO GET THIS and I am not a blogger. I struggle to get worked up over what upsets my friends in the US and yet not sure how much they care about what upsets me. Not to slam either side. Just this is my world and that is theirs. So I shut down. My son gets to come home weekends but the fact he will be a senior in August is not a fact I want to face at all. For me it is another episode of NCIS is my comfort TV. Maybe that is what I need right now. 😉

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 28, 2014 at 3:44 pm - Reply

      Exactly – not to slam either side, just different worlds. Sometimes it is a beautiful thing to connect across the space but sometimes all I can see is the space, you know? Well, yes, it sounds like you do!

      • Sherri April 28, 2014 at 5:43 pm - Reply

        We are in the US for 4 weeks this summer. Getting my mind ready for the space. Yes I get it.

  5. MrsJohn April 28, 2014 at 12:03 pm - Reply

    Dear Rachel,
    Yes, yes, and yes.Trying to relate to people on opposite sides of the world and opposite ends of some spectrums can be wearing. Never sure if you make sense to anybody except your spouse and kids? Yep, been there! We are right in the middle of some important health decisions for our two-year-old and trying to share what we are dealing with living in a 3rd world country isn’t easy. Share? Don’t share? Try to express it and risk being misunderstood? Some days I take the risk…and some days I just can’t.
    Always enjoy what you are willing to share!
    Patty

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 28, 2014 at 3:46 pm - Reply

      Sometimes I doubt I even make sense to the kids and spouse. Ha! I hope you are able to make decisions you feel good about in your situation there for your child. So difficult to know what to share. Thanks for sharing these words – that’s what I mean, so deeply, about the connections that are formed, the reminder that we aren’t alone.

  6. Bronwyn Joy April 28, 2014 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    Just wanted to say I hear you about having to find a balance. It’s important as a blogger to keep finding face to face friends and growing in new ways, rather than letting what you’ve already built online define you.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 28, 2014 at 3:47 pm - Reply

      Exactly – not becoming the blog! Wouldn’t that be rather scary? I know what you mean, about that online persona feeling so real sometimes, but not real at all either. Yes, balance.

  7. Marilyn April 28, 2014 at 2:00 pm - Reply

    I love this Rachel – and i echo what someone said on your Facebook page. I’ll take whatever you write, wherever that is. You have captured this really well. The difference in priorities and thus in reactions that accentuates the distance not only physically but the huge emotional difference. Thanks for writing this. I’m right there with you. And we NEED your voice. Desperately.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 28, 2014 at 3:48 pm - Reply

      Thanks Marilyn. Thanks for ‘getting it’ and for encouraging me to not quit.

  8. Marilyn April 28, 2014 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    Oops – didn’t finish! Because your voice is reality. thank you.

  9. Karen April 28, 2014 at 2:53 pm - Reply

    Rachel, I am not an expat, but I really appreciate your voice and perspective on the world. Thanks for writing!

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 28, 2014 at 3:50 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much Karen. Good to hear that things resonate with non-expats too.

  10. Debbie Mutai April 28, 2014 at 3:38 pm - Reply

    Thanks Rachel.. I follow you blog, I serve in south sudan with my husband. I strugle a lot with what to share or not to share and yet I have alot at hand..feel encoraged reading your blog..especially being a mother away from our son.

  11. Carryl April 29, 2014 at 12:00 am - Reply

    Although I’m not an expat, I grew up in the Air Force, moving to a new place every 2 – 3 years, so I understand that “neither fish nor fowl” feeling that accompanies having a foot on two (or more) shores. It was something I didn’t really “get” when I was a kid and reading your blog almost always carries with it a sense of “Oh, yeah! I remember that feeling.” The chance to connect with another culture, even by proxy, brings back a lot of good memories. Thank you for sharing your life in Djibouti, Rachel. It helps me remember where I came from.

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 30, 2014 at 4:49 am - Reply

      I love that you get that ‘oh yeah’ feeling, that is what a writer hopes to hear, thanks Carryl. Neither fish nor fowl, exactly!

  12. The Cowgirl April 29, 2014 at 8:22 am - Reply

    Your story is so close to my heart. But just knowing that you do have a platform to express yourself when you want to or have time is key. Sometimes we just have to step back and realize that we are not ‘home’…and that it is okay.

  13. mpieh April 29, 2014 at 6:52 pm - Reply

    Rachel, thank you so much for your words…they are always a gift. I’m not a serious blogger or writer, but in my humble opinion, it’s healthy that you’ve taken time off to live your real-world life and internally (or with your family) process things. As an avid reader and follower of several blogs, I honestly think it’s a big “put-off” when writers get an attitude of self-importance, feel like they HAVE to be putting something out there for their “followers” every day, apologize when they’ve been silent for a while, etc. I’ve actually stopped reading blogs like that, because the writer changes…instead of writing from a place of inspiration (drawn from their experiences in their real-world lives, their relationship with God, etc.), they are simply writing TO their online “adoring fans.” Does that make sense? By the way, let me be clear, I am in NO WAY accusing you of this! 🙂

    Keep up the good work. Keep following God’s calling on your life, fully experience the real-world people and places He has for you…cherish it all. And as you are lead to write and share with your grateful fans, please do! Like I said, your words are always a gift to my heart and soul. But you don’t owe me anything. In the freeing song lyrics of Sara Groves, “…live and breathe for an audience of One.”

    • Rachel Pieh Jones April 30, 2014 at 4:53 am - Reply

      Mandy, Mandy, Mandy. Thank you, sister, er, cousin, er, cousin-in-law or something like that. I really appreciate your honesty. It IS a huge temptation, as a blogger and writer, to think about those statistics as they fall when I take time away. I don’t want to and have been forcing myself not to check so I don’t tumble into that trap. It is good practice in humility and in listening – freeing up space to hear what others are saying, and of course, in living.

  14. Tessy May 2, 2014 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    Writing for me definitely flows from the seasons of my heart. I could relate to what you wrote that at times it tends to accentuate the lonely.

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  16. […] I’m an expatriate! Cue the Indiana Jones soundtrack, give me a whip and a cool hat, and let’s have an adventure! Okay my husband does have an Indiana Jones hat and I have used an Ethiopian whip, but life as an expatriate is not all about adventure. In fact, it rarely is. Adventures in the grocery store aisles! Adventures in biology homework! Adventures in filling the car up with gas! Laundry! Dishes! Disciplining children! Resolving marital conflict! Wow. All those exclamation points are making me tired. About as tired as the thought of living a constant adventure makes me. Expatriate life is just that. Life. Sometimes we do super awesome things like swim with whale sharks and hike down into live volcanoes but most of the time we are working, loving people, not-so-loving people, and doing the mundane things of life. […]

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