Nasrine Shah Abushakra, Ph.D.
I am a following a spouse, a trailing wife, and an expiate partner. I had a flourishing career in the United States, where I am from; in fact I was even offered a tenure track at University of Michigan before the age of 35! Which is quite remarkable, I am told. Most of the cohort that I started my Ivy tower journey on are now tenured at places such at Tuffs, Harvard, Stanford and of course Ross School of Business, a top tier business school at University of Michigan, a place where I would have held office hours. Instead, I followed my heart, rare for an academic in the hard sciences to do, but I did it. I remember both the Dean of my department to the highest level of the university administrators convincing me to stay. “Why did you spend 14 years of your life to get to this point to simply dismantle it like this?” That question was posed to me, and to this day it haunts me. At times awake in the bewitching hours covered in a sweat, with that question echoing in the bowels of the core of my soul.
However, I am a rare breed, but one that is beginning to emerge more profoundly in a global arena. In the U.S. we’re lovingly referrer to as “Soccer Moms” however, my breed IS different. Mainly, because not only am I a following spouse my partner is not here with me in this foreign land, in fact like so many husband’s in Dubai, and other heavily dense expiate cities such as (Hong Kong, Singapore, Mexico and endless others) partners move to an exotic land where their spouses travels close to a ½ of the time or even more. I have a dear friend whose husband travels every week and is home only on weekends, yet another friend whose husband travels every 2 weeks for a week and then there is myself. My husband travels every three and often times two weeks for anywhere from four days to over a week.
I am always playing head game in my mind. “Ahhhh, I get the whole bed to myself” I will have more “me” time, I say to myself. I am lucky he is traveling after all he is doing it for our family. Sometimes he travels to places that I am not so sure are safe, again my mind plays with me, the reality of maybe becoming a widow disturbs me, he assures me, like so many husband do in the arena of our expiate existence. “Nasrine it’s the same danger posed to me as walking around parts of D.C. at night, stop worrying!” My husband is always reassuring me.
I am blessed by what I loving refer to as my Dubai Diva Power Posse in place. Woman, mothers and wives that are just like me, we meet for coffee, lunch, dinner and have “girls night out” we have become family that moves like a sisterhood of intense support. All of our husband’s are in roles that are gigantic, in the overall relationship of the East and the West. We’re kind of like military wives but we’re not in our home nation, we’re on foreign ground. Hence we don’t have that support from our local communities, our families and dearest friends are back home. Throw in some culture shock, intense homesickness, consent jet lag, feelings of concentrated longing, something that mocks daja vu intertwined with a dream-like state and that is what us trailing spouses are steering. Many of us with small children, a household to run, staff to manage (in a foreign language) and hoping to fuel our own dreams in an unfamiliar land that is not our own with the full understanding that we could be on a plane tomorrow to some other city!
It’s a lifestyle that is NOT for everyone!
“I feel like a single parent but without my family and lifelong friends for support, and I don’t even know how to navigate this city,” my friend was sobbing. I took her hand, because that is all I could do. I kissed it and held her tight “I AM your family and I understand” I said. “My children cry for their dad and then I feel tremendous guilt and what do I do, I fold! I know this is not right but I can’t help it, I know that I shouldn’t but I do it! I am so angry! I was a lawyer back home, about to make partner, my mom helped out and now, I have given my husband to the peace process!” She was becoming hysterical. But I too, have been battling the same demons since 2005. My cheeks turned red as I did what I could to hold back my tears. I heard the echo of my own child screaming for her father, tears running down her face. The powerful roar of my toddler daughter yearning for her father, beckons me often. All this while I am doing my best researching organic kale in the heat of the desert and calling a friend back home to congratulate her on her recent tenure at Yale, I know this frustration all to well.
My phone rings. She looked at me with a smile “Is it him?” my eyes were now also full of tears, “Yes, it is, excuse me for a second” I stand up and head for a quite area of the café.
This is the way many of expiate trailing spouses exist. We do it all and then some while our husband’s work, work and work. Yes, many of us are economically comfortable, is it worth is? I am not sure? There are so many benefits to this global lifestyle, and I have a bird’s eye view of the world, but I am tried of flying at times. Am I grateful for this life, yes, I created it. DO I regret it, never, is it a challenge, yes it is. Have I finally learned how to navigate it, yes!
I am now an expert, and now I even know how to be of support to others that are on this international journey with me! We are the women all over the world that are global citizens in every sense of the word, and what we do each and everyday is remarkable! I am both honored and humbled to be a part of this cohort!