Lights out

Who knew? Seven years ago, we made a crazy decision to leave our home in Athens, pack everything and move to Kuwait. We left our jobs, families, friends, car, convenience, and routine to book a ticket to the unknown. Add to this a 4-year-old daughter and a 6-month-old son, and you get the equation we needed to solve.

Back in 2014, information about our new land was scarce. Some vague blog posts, one or two promo YouTube videos, one unwelcoming tourist website, and several real estate websites. That was it. Were we sure about the move? I certainly wasn’t. Nikoleta was always the positive force in this adventure. If it wasn’t for her…

We stuffed our life in a few suitcases, overweighted our hand luggage, shipped our things to Kuwait, and kissed our parents goodbye, who were already crying before our check-in. We had no idea what was coming.

Welcome to the Middle East

The first months were tough as hell. September was humid and super hot. Work was a shocking experience from day 1! Papers, copies, photos, translations, medical appointments, taxi drivers became our routine. Countless hours on Skype talking with family and friends, trying to ease them about our move. Searching for a new flat, furniture, appliances, school, and car made me wonder why I was doing it to myself. Why did I just abandon my advertising job, academic post, professional contacts, and most importantly, my convenience for this? Why was I investing so much in a foreign country that could kick me out in a blink of an eye? In Greece, we had an amazing life with friends who loved us, professional recognition that I worked hard to get, and a renovated flat that we paid ourselves. Why did we start all over again?

Expat Life

Expat life tests you in many ways that you’ve never thought of before. It’s anything but roses and petals when you decide to burst your life’s bubble. It shutters every foundation you thought you had and throws you into an ocean of foreign languages, various attitudes, cultures, driving behaviors, weather conditions, and a new lifestyle that you need to adopt breathlessly. You are inexperienced in being an expat. Being a student abroad was different. You had a support system from the university and one goal; to study. Now, you are the support system for all, and the goal is multi-faceted. You are the guy standing in a long queue with other guys from various nationalities trying to figure out if the Arabic document they gave you is the right one, or you need to come back again tomorrow, inshallah.

Families

My parents never migrated. We once changed a neighborhood, and the move wasn’t even far. Same schools, same jobs, same friends, same vacation spot, pretty much no changes. Nikoleta’s life was the opposite. Immigrants in Germany, tough life, limitations, long drives through Yugoslavia, sleeping in the car to save money, living their gastarbeiter life day by day. Our backgrounds played a massive role in how we saw things in Kuwait.

We had to rely on each other and come even closer. Nostalgia was a heavy burden. I had moments that I just wanted to give up and return to my old life. This new life was not as shiny as I thought. I was forgetting every awful moment in Greece and seeing ugliness in my new life. Thankfully, Nikoleta was there, by my side, holding on.

Life in Kuwait

We faced our boundaries and persevered. We met with new friends and started building a life, brick by brick. First with the Greeks and Cypriots and then with Europeans, Indians, Kuwaitis, Egyptians, and Jordanians, who helped us immensely. We gave ourselves to this new life through maintaining the Greek school in Kuwait, organizing events, arranging desert trips, creating the community’s website, opening our home to everyone, and helping people. We didn’t do it to get anything in return. We were both energized by being open, caring, and supportive. We wanted our Greek social life back, but to set it in Kuwait. Our kids got friends, the best friends we could ever imagine. Year by year, things got better to the extent we could not tell where our home was anymore.

Time flew. Seven years have gone so fast. We came here as four, and we leave as five. Konstantina has turned into a beautiful human being full of kindness and compassion. Leonidas’ growth reminds us of our life in Kuwait. A tough start, but what an incredible ending! He is an active boy who embraces life and makes great friendships. And our baby Themistoklis, whose birthplace on his passport will always tell our story in this warm Middle Eastern country.

America

Now it’s time to move on. Once again, my ambition takes us far away to the States, pursuing a personal dream to teach in America. This time, the farewell is tougher. You want to cry every time you hug a friend promising that you will be in touch and finding all sorts of reasons to convince yourself that you will maintain the same level of relationship. You know you will try, but deep inside, you realize that you all have to live your lives. You know that in a few months, you will be stuffing your winter clothes into the suitcases, overweighting your hand luggage, checking in to Iowa, holding hands with your family as you are passing the gate. This time, you kiss your parents goodbye, whose eyes will be less wet because they know you are happy and complete.

I don’t know if our American dream will be as good as our Kuwaiti dream. We will work for it. Nothing will be given to us for free. We are more prepared to build a new life all over again. We celebrate our achievement in making the most of our life in Kuwait. We made friends for life, turned a building into a magical place with the best neighbors we could ever have, and contributed to making this place slightly better than when we first came. That’s all I could ask for.

Ending

This is my last day in Kuwait. I have mixed feelings but no regrets. Happiness, sadness, nostalgia for what I leave behind, excitement for our new home in Iowa, exhaustion after working for two years non-stop, and overall satisfaction for what we accomplished. Kuwait treated us well, more than I’ve ever admitted. We made it our home, filled with amazing people and unforgettable experiences. As for our flat #5 in House 123, I emptied it and shipped everything to America. I walked into its empty rooms, switched off the lights, and closed my eyes to hear all the laughs, parties, cries, sleepless nights, quiet and noisy moments again. Goodbye, Kuwait, we’ll miss you. “Lights out.”

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Stavros Papakonstantinidis

Stavros Papakonstantinidis

11 Followers

Strategic Communications Specialist with extensive experience supporting the successful delivery of a range of academic programs and corporate initiatives.