When we first moved to Singapore in April of 2010 one of my biggest concerns, strangely enough, was that there would be no friends to attend Elanor’s birthday in November. It was a superficial concern, but it was the only way I felt safe voicing the real fear I held in my heart–that we would never find community here. That we would exist separate and alone in a world that felt alien.
It’s a common fear, I suspect, for expats. Will I fit in? Will I find friends? In many ways, it’s the same fear we feel when we start a new job, or attend a new school, or make a move within the US as well, only compounded by the additional stress of a new and unfamiliar culture.
While I do not claim to have fully transcended that fear, it was this past weekend that I realized I don’t have those feelings very frequently anymore.
This past Saturday we attended part of the wedding of a teacher from Ellie’s school. I did some quick googling to refresh myself on how to properly drape a sari Gujarati style, dressed the girls in their chaniya cholis, added bangles and bindis and off we drove to Yishun.
When we first arrived at the temple, I felt a flicker of that old fear. I didn’t see any of the teachers from Ellie’s school sitting at the reception tables. Our other friends were still en route. I wasn’t sure where to go. But after observing for a short while, I decided to go up some stairs toward the music. At the top of the stairs, we immediately ran into friends–teachers from Ellie’s school. We chatted happily for a few minutes, and I took some pictures.
Inside the hall, I joined the line to greet the bride and groom. Our other friends arrived–Ellie’s two best friends from school and their moms (whom are good friends of mine). Watching E with N and P as they excitedly compared bangles, and held hands made my heart so happy. Ellie has best friends here. She fits in with expat kids and local kids. I have friends here, also expat and local.
While in line, we got to watch some young dancers perform for the couple. Rhiannon was bouncing with delight at the music when she wasn’t flirting with everyone in line around us. When we reached the stage, the three girls approached the couple together with their packets and were greeted with open arms and love from the bride. Several photos were taken with the girls before we joined them for a photo.
We herded the girls downstairs, each looking out for each other’s girls as well as our own. My friend J held Rhiannon so I could get a plate of food for Ellie, and her husband went back to get Ellie more rice. We all shared a table, and were happy when one of our teacher friends came over with her niece. When Rhi became fussy, J walked back to the car with us to make the walk with both Ellie and Rhi more manageable while her daughter stayed under the eyes of our other friends. As we walked back, J shared what the area had looked like when she was a young girl, and how it had been developed since. She held Rhi while I changed Ellie out of her fancy clothes and kept an eye on Ellie so I could change Rhiannon out of hers.
It was then that I realized that over time, we have grown roots here. We have found our community.
Yes, of course Singapore still confuses and confounds me at time. Yes, there are moments when I am still a stranger in a strange land. But more often than not, these days, I’m at home.
And I have no worries that Ellie would have guests at a birthday party if we were having one this year.