Born in: Auckland, New Zealand
Passport: New Zealand (only, and proud of it!)
Countries lived in: Fiji Islands (Vatukoula): 1973-77; Australia (Brisbane): 1996-98; England (Tadley, Hampshire): 2008-present
Cyberspace coordinates: Vegemite Vix | A Kiwi expat in the UK licking the Vegemite off life’s fingers (blog); Digital Discussions (start-up consultancy)
What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
I first became an expat at the tender age of 3.5, when my family moved to the Fijian Islands for my father’s work: he had a contract with the Emperor Gold Mines in Vatukoula. I have wonderful memories of expat life as a child. The days were honeyed with heat, we munched sugar cane off the back of the cane truck, and we swam with the tropical fish through the intricate coral reef. Of course, a child’s experience is so very different from an adult’s, and now I’m a parent, I’m more aware of the challenges my parents faced — which included being robbed, almost being airlifted out in civil unrest, and sheltering under the house during the monstrous Hurricane Bebe in 1972.
I moved overseas again — to Brisbane, Australia — with my first husband in 1996, with a two year old and two-week-old baby in tow. On reflection, that wasn’t brilliant timing. We struggled to make a home for ourselves particularly as my (then) husband was working in Perth, an eight-hour flight away — leaving me to cope on my own in a new country with two babies. I did it, though. I made friends through the children’s networks and found work for myself — until two years later, when my husband was suddenly made redundant and we limped back to New Zealand with our tails between our legs.
My most recent expat adventure started on a holiday in Paris in 2007 when I met a rather scrumptious Englishman. We chatted, we flirted, we kept in touch long after we’d returned home — and our long-distance relationship soon blossomed. A year later, I packed up my three kids (two teens and a tweenie), dog, cat and 20 boxes of books and moved to Hampshire to live with my Englishman. After a romantic engagement atop Mt Hellvellyan (yes, he made me climb a mountain to get the engagement ring!), we married in his village church in North Yorkshire in 2009. I’ve written about our story on my blog and am currently writing it up as a memoir — hopefully coming to a bookstore near you, shortly.
Is anyone else in your immediate family displaced?
All of my immediate family currently live outside of New Zealand. My mother, father and sister all live in Australia, but I wouldn’t say they are “displaced.” They are all happy living there and hold Australian passports, and my mother is an Australian by birth.
Describe the moment when you felt most displaced over the course of your many displacements.
When I found myself standing in front of the judge at the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in London three weeks after our wedding, having swapped my wedding bouquet for brickbats from the UK Border Agency, as they probed and prodded and demanded to find fault with our story. Standing there pleading to stay in the UK with my husband and kids — when everything in my body was screaming “Get me out of here!” and “Get me home!” — was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was dissonant not only because we were newly married — and I longed to go home and celebrate with my friends and family but had been restricted from leaving the country — but also because I’m the archetypical “good girl” who has barely ever had a parking ticket. What was I doing standing in front of a judge being cross-examined by solicitors? It was scary stuff and deeply disturbing — as if the entire nation wanted me to just leave. It was the final straw after a year’s worth of feeling displaced — of saying the wrong thing and being laughed out of the room, and of breaking unwritten rules of conduct in the supermarket that resulted in an elderly woman throwing limes at me! Who knew there were rules about how and when you should put your shopping on the checkout counter?
Describe the moment when you felt least displaced.
This is a telling question, because although I’ve had some great times whilst living here in England, I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced feeling “at home.” My most recent trip Down Under highlighted for me how displaced I truly feel living in the UK, and how exhausting it can be spending one’s days trying to “fit in.” It was wonderful to have a break from explaining myself all day every day. It doesn’t help that I moved from an upmarket suburb of a large seaside multicultural city, to a parochial town in the English countryside. I wonder if I would feel more at home in London where there is a far more multicultural vibe? At times I wonder about moving again, perhaps to the US or Australia. (Is it itchy feet, or failure to fit in, that’s behind those feelings?)
You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of the countries where you’ve lived into the Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From Fiji: A frangipani flower. We used to make them into wreaths when I was a child. The smell reminds me of the South Pacific and makes me smile.
From New Zealand (which, though home, is now something of a foreign country): A pāua shell to remind me of the ocean and the beautiful Kiwi beaches.
From Australia: A boomerang because it will remind me that there is always a home behind me as well as in front of me.
From England: A St George’s cross to remind me that I too can fight and defeat the dragons.
You’re invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other Displaced Nation members. What’s on the menu?
I hope you like seafood! For starters I’ve prepared a Fijian raw fish meal called kokoda, which is “cooked” in coconut milk and lime juice. It’s divine. On the side there’s a dozen Bluff oysters from New Zealand. For mains we’ll have barbequed prawns, Moreton Bay bugs (Australia), and good quality pork sausages (British). We’d probably toast the meal with a New Zealand champenoise and down the sausages with a Margaret River Shiraz.
You may add one word or expression from each of the countries you’ve lived in to The Displaced Nation argot. What words do you loan us?
From Fiji: Bula — one of those indispensable words. It means “hello” and “thank you” and “How are you?” and “See you later” and “Good luck.” In fact, it’s a phonetic smile.
From New Zealand: Wopwops, meaning out in the bush away from everyone and everything else, preferably where there is no mobile signal and Internet. We all need to lose ourselves in the wopwops from time to time.
From Australia: Barbie — colloquial for barbecue, or BBQ. Particularly when eaten outside in the glorious fresh air and sunshine, with sand between your toes and the sound of the surf crashing on the beach, a barbie is one of the finest meals you can have.
From England: Bless — because the English have a way of saying it that sounds nice but is really derogatory. It’s so English to hear someone recount the story about how they did something stupid, and have the listener respond with “Bless” — really meaning “You moron!” I offer it to The Displaced Nation as a reminder of the need to master some of the local lingo, without which you’ll have a tough time understanding the folkgeist of the country you’re in.
It’s Alice in Wonderland month at The Displaced Nation. In closing, can you tell us your worst “Pool of Tears” moment, when you wondered, how did I end up in such a predicament and will I ever escape?
It, too, occurred during my struggles with the UK immigration authorities. Having moved to the UK to be with my Englishman, I was awaiting a valid work visa so was restricted from working. At the same time, my ex stopped paying child support. As we were struggling financially, I was stuck at home feeling terribly isolated. One day I received the news that I had been served with a deportation order and had 28 days to leave the country and return to NZ with my three children. I collapsed in tears, wondering how on earth I was ever going to afford going back to NZ where I no longer had property or anywhere to go. My savings had been eaten away by legal fees, and I had no income. I felt utterly dispossessed. In the end, we won the appeal against the deportation — my most displaced moment — and I was granted a valid visa, after which I regained the self-confidence I feared had been lost in transit.
Like Alice, did you encounter a Mouse who helped you ashore?
My Mouse would have to be the first friend I made in my English town after living here for almost two years. All that time I would cheerily smile hello at strangers — and they’d run away as if I were brandishing a knife. I was bitterly lonely and would live for Facebook chats with the many friends I’d left in New Zealand. Finally, on the school sports day I met an Englishwoman who had relatively recently returned from expat adventures in Canada. We bonded over our shared status as outsiders in a town where the majority of local people have family connections back through several generations. I refer to her as Strawberry Munchkin in my blog and am so very grateful for her friendship. I think of her as an honorary Kiwi.
QUESTION: Readers — yay or nay for letting Vicki Jeffels into The Displaced Nation? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Vicki — find amusing.)
img: Vicki Jeffels, taken in the UK for use on her blog.
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby.
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