It’s been 250 days since I had a job and 220 days ago I arrived in Mexico City. Last week, while applying for a job online, I used the word ‘homemaker’ to describe myself for the first time. I can’t say I like it. But I feel bad about not liking it. It is not that I look down on housewives and the values of the work they do. I was groomed to be a good homemaker as a teenager. I spent a lot of my school holidays helping the adults manage the household and care for my younger siblings. I even cared for my late grandparents in place of my parents. Suffice to say, I am very well-trained for this job. I just do not like it. I feel like I am more than just this and that I am not living my full potential.
The past 6 months has been very difficult for me. For the first time in my life, I don’t have a job and my own salary that I can spend without feeling guilty. It is also the first time my husband and I live under the same roof after a year and a half of long distance marriage and it had to be in a country where both of us aren’t familiar with and very bad at speaking their language. I quit my job to be here and it was not a decision that I took lightly. I went back and forth on whether I should do it or not for a year. My husband would complain about me changing my mind about it every other week. But hey, he was not the one who would have to choose whether to give up a promising career or not. Did he not realise that because of him, I couldn’t have the option of taking unpaid leave instead of just resigning?
Bosses and colleagues advised me to go on unpaid leave. “We need you here” they said. I could not tell them the real reason why unpaid leave was not an option without feeling judged. So I just apologised for having to let them down. Anyway, after much headache and heartache I left my stable job for the sake of my marriage. I believed if I didn’t do it, nothing will change in my marriage. I had to do it because I can. I never wait for someone to pave the way for me – I pave the way for myself and others. Perhaps I am vain or overconfident as some people say but even as a kid, when the teacher opened the floor for questions or answers, I was always the person to start. Once I spoke up, the rest of the class would follow suit. It didn’t bother me if I made a fool of myself, I would learn from my mistake and recover from the embarrassment in no time. What matters to me is ‘have I really done my best and given my all?’. If things don’t work in my favour, I know that my conscience is clear and I have nothing to regret. I guess I am a firm believer of ‘the higher the risk, the higher the return’.
Many have warned me that it would take some time to adjust to a new environment especially when there is a multitude of changes taking place all at once. The common wisdom says I should give myself 6 to 12 months to adjust to this new life. To manage my own expectations, I thought of giving myself a year- long ‘career break’. Meaning, I was just going to focus on learning Spanish and be a competent user of the language. It started off well. I go to school three times a week for the class from 10.00 am until 12.30 pm. I do the homework and house chores after class and it still leaves me with a lot of free time during the week. That is when it gets dreadful.
Unlike other expat wives, I don’t have children to distract me from my own existential crisis so I engross myself in books and like other normal human beings – preoccupy my time with social media. I know a lot has been said about not comparing your life to others’ especially the ones you see on social media. You should only compare yourself to who you were yesterday. The latter is rather depressing for me. Yesterday, I was rallying for free and fair election, gender equality and human rights. Yesterday, I graduated with a Master’s from a prestigious university with flying colours. Yesterday, I had a stable job and a promising future in the office. I wrote a Memorandum which was approved by the Cabinet. Yesterday, I was free to move wherever I wanted without worrying much if someone was going to pull a gun on me. Yesterday, I had family whom I can provide and care for a little if not much. Yesterday, I had more certainties than today. Yesterday, I was somebody. These days, even the smallest thing can break my spirit. I look in the mirror and I wonder, who is she?
It is frustrating to feel like I haven’t done anything the past 6 months. I don’t even update this blog as often as I should. I try to make new friends and build connections outside of the small community of Malaysians. I look for jobs or volunteering opportunities online. It takes only a few futile attempts before I keep myself at home doing absolutely nothing, again. Well, not really because I would either cry in the toilet or while watching some stupid comedy on Netflix. Feeling worthless.
I have lived in a foreign land before, what makes it different this time? Perhaps it’s the language or culture. I can get by on my own with my Spanish but it is still well below the required level for employment. Disappointed, there are days where I refuse to hear, read or watch anything in Spanish because I don’t want to be reminded of how my limited proficiency in the language reduces my potential or who I am as a person. Perhaps, it’s the lack of sense of security. There are places you can go and the places you shouldn’t (we refer them as green, yellow or red zones). Even in the green zones, you cannot be too confident because a friend did get robbed at gunpoint in our neighbourhood which is supposed to be the greenest of green zones. So it goes without saying that my movement is limited. To be fair, it was not that different from my life in Malaysia because I always had to consider the situation at home before I could go out. I had to make sure that there was someone at home to care for my brother (he is a person with special needs and psychiatric condition) and in case of emergency, I could go back in time. Still, I miss the freedom to move and do the things I like whenever I want to. That is the only way I know how to thrive.
My husband tried to console me yesterday. He knew I was unhappy and he didn’t know what to do. I said “Just try not to die. Because if you’re gone, I have no money, no job and no rights”. That was when I realised I took so much risk to be here with him. I gave up almost everything. I couldn’t help but wonder if the positions were reversed at the exact same time, would he have done the same for me? It is easier for someone to return the favour than to be the one who sacrifices him/herself first not knowing what he/she will get in return. Suddenly, it feels like one of the times when you stood up to speak for the class and they bailed on you. I begin to spiral. Every suggestion sounds like a criticism. I haven’t done enough, I didn’t try hard enough. I’m not brave enough. Every concern sounds like “I told you so”. I was naive, stupid to be doing what I did. Before long, you’re beating yourself up for getting in this vulnerable position. “All this will pass it always will” I tell myself. If I can put myself in this situation, I can also get myself out of it. I have done some incredible things in life, I can do it again. So what if I didn’t have a job the past 6 months? I can understand, read and speak Spanish. I know more about Latin American culture than I ever did. I have started to write again. Counting these little wins helps. Even if it recollects a tiny piece of my self esteem, I’ll hold on to it with both hands.