The idea of compound life is intriguing, rife with opportunities for drama. But I prefer to live in a harmonious environment, rather than the set of a soap opera. After seven and a half years in compounds in Lagos and Doha, I’m here to tell you it is possible to survive, if not thrive, in this lifestyle. Here are some tips for success.
- Get involved
The first months in a new country can be overwhelming. There are new sights, smells and sounds. Different food, friendships and frustrations. Homesickness and teething problems can tempt you to hibernate in your new, unfamiliar home. Initially, I try to accept every invite from my compound cohorts and check out all the available options. Only then do I sign up for any activities. Over-commitment is a sure-fire path to stress.
- Don’t expect to be invited to everything.
In larger compounds, it’s impossible to include everyone in every social event. Consider a dinner party. You have limited seats at the table, so you invite a select number of people. There’s no way to keep the event secret—an invitee might mention it or the uninvited might see people arriving at your apartment. Usually, it’s better to be open. Just don’t get caught out like I did, when I apologized to a friend about a dinner and explained that I’d invite her to the next one. She misunderstood and showed up on the wrong evening, leading to a mad scramble for extra chairs!
Conversely, there will be occasions when you are the one left out. This can feel alienating, but try not to take it personally. Chances are, it’s simply a matter of logistics (Ed: or maybe you really do smell!)
- Choose Your Friends Carefully
Friendships form fast and firm in the expat environment. Away from family and hometown networks, particularly in hardship locations, camaraderie develops quickly. But beware “the compound gossip”. Listen to how your friends talk about others before you share your deep, dark secrets. People who gossip can be great fun, and a wonderful source of information, but only tell them things you don’t mind broadcasting. Save confessions for ears you trust.
- Have more than one good friend
The unfortunate nature of compound life is that it is transitory and people move on. If you have a single BFF, you will be bereft when they leave. I suffered my first departure heartbreak when my dear friend, Shelley Fazzino, left Nigeria for colder pastures—Canada. We survived the separation by arranging for a joint skiing trip at Christmas that year with four Lagos families. Several years later, we were reunited in Houston and became neighbors for another three years. Our friendship remains strong to this day.
So if you are about to embark on a compound adventure, embrace it and enjoy the ride.
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Next expat blog: Feminism and the Expat Spouse
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