#21 Ten countries and a world of experience – with Mariam Ottimofiore

Synopsis:

Mariam Navaid Ottimofiore is a Pakistani expat author, writer, researcher and economist. She has lived in ten countries as both a TCK and an expat adult: The Kingdom of Bahrain, the United States, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Ghana and Portugal. She is the author of the expat guidebook This Messy Mobile Life: How a MOLA can help globally mobile families create a life by design (Summertime Publishing 2019) which equips international families to navigate a life abroad. She is also the blogger behind the expat blog And Then We Moved To in which she explores expat life and raising multicultural and multilingual children in her East-meets-West marriage.

In This Episode:

  • Mariam’s life as a mum of a globally mobile family. Her experience of this lifestyle with young children and children of differing ages.
  • The unique struggle living and coping in cultures where one partner is entirely dependent on the travelling partner, with very little rights of their own (visa, finances, etc.)
  • The need for flexibility when one partner travels for work, as well as working together as a team.
  • The importance of asking for help, having a backup adult, and good self-care. To have realistic expectations of yourself.
  • Mum vs Dad travelling: the upsides and society’s double standards.
  • Navigating the return of the travelling parent and how to reintegrate them into family life and routine.
  • Ideas and strategies for keeping the travelling partner emotionally present in the home/with the kids.
  • The importance of good communication within the couple, sharing each other’s experiences.
  • How knowing all the travelling partner’s travel details can be vitally important, especially when dealing with high-risk situations

Contact Mariam:

Website

Instagram

Facebook

LinkedIn

Transcript

Rhoda Bangerter (00:03):

Welcome to Holding the Fort Abroad, the podcast for expats with traveling partners. My name is Rhoda Bangerter. I'm a speaker, writer, researcher, and your host today. In this episode, my guest is Mariam Ottimofiore. Mariam is the author of ‘This Messy Mobile Life’. You can find her online at ‘And then we move to’, she speaks around the world on moving as a family and also living as a multicultural multifaith family. And to me, she really highlights the beauty of this life. Today, we are going to talk a little bit about that, but mostly about her experience as her husband traveled a lot, and then now that they both travel. So, Mariam, welcome to the show!

Mariam Ottimofiore (00:49):

<Laugh>. Thank you, Rhoda. Thank you so much for having me.

Rhoda Bangerter (00:52):

Anything you want to add to that? I know that you've lived in many different countries. How many countries have you lived in?

Mariam Ottimofiore (00:58):

I'm currently living in Portugal, which is my 10th country to move to, hence, ‘And then we moved to’ you know, <laugh>. But yes, I'm currently speaking to you at my home here in Portugal, right by the Atlantic Ocean. I think you covered everything. We are a globally mobile family and a globally mobile couple, so we move around a lot. We've lived in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, back in Europe at the moment. And we've got three children. I think we've added one more child since the last time we spoke Rhoda.

Rhoda Bangerter (01:40):

Yes. Yes. And another move.

Mariam Ottimofiore (01:43):

I think the last time we spoke I was still living in Ghana and so yeah, a lot has changed. One more and one pandemic in the middle of it all.

And so this is a life that you know very well as well the challenges and the opportunities and the joy of moving countries and moving children, but also the fact that then your husband or your partner is gone a lot. So can you tell me a little bit about what it was like when the children were smaller?

Mariam Ottimofiore (02:43):

Mm-Hmm. Yes.

Rhoda Bangerter (02:44):

And maybe some of the lessons that you've learned over time.

Mariam Ottimofiore (02:48):

Sure, sure. I think when the children were younger, and keep in mind, I currently have a 10 year old who's almost 11. She's turning 11 in a in a couple of months. I have an eight year old, and I do still have a two and a half year old, so I kind of have all <laugh> different aged kids. But when my first two were very young and growing up, we were initially living in Singapore, and that's when my husband's international travel for work really took off. And he was making a lot of trips. Luckily, there were shorter trips because he was looking after the Asia-Pacific region at the time. So, you know, one day he'd be in Malaysia, one day in Indonesia, one day in the Philippines, sometimes in Australia, sometimes in New Zealand. But I found that the frequency was a lot.

And of course, I was at home with my daughter who was born in Singapore and we spent the first three years living there. The hardest part was based on the fact that we were living in Asia, and I had almost no rights to do much by myself. So that's the biggest challenge I faced when he was traveling, because in Singapore, I was my husband's dependent in every sense of the word, Rhoda. I was on a dependent visa, and I kid you not, I literally could not call up the phone company <laugh> without his express approval or his written consent. I could not change our internet plan without his consent. So, you know, in some countries, it depends on where you're living, but in some countries, you've got that extra layer of complexity added into the fact that you're an expat, you're not on your home turf, you're raising a child, and your spouse is traveling and you can't do much when he or she is not there because he or she is the main account holder. So that added a lot of complexity in just managing day-to-day <laugh> tasks, which I found myself getting very frustrated when the bank would just be like, ‘No, we can't speak. We need to speak to him. And I'd be like, gosh. So you feel like giving up and you do feel very frustrated.

Rhoda Bangerter (05:08):

That's a very good, I'll stop you there. That's a very good point, because I've experienced that and other people have experienced that in other countries as well and it's something that could be important to preempt, just because sometimes it's difficult to do if it's the name on a bank, to have access basically, or to have your own bank account with your own money on it.

Mariam Ottimofiore (05:34):

And that's a whole other can of worms, right?

Rhoda Bangerter (05:38):

Yes, totally, totally! But I think there are things there where it gets very frustrating when you cannot speak to the person because your name's not on the contract, you don't get the salary. And so they just don't want to speak to you. And when your partner's away, there's no way that you can get them to sign anything or call anybody. So I think maybe one of the ways is to brainstorm with your partner.

Mariam Ottimofiore (06:20):

I have a contingency plan in place. And the thing is, and this is something you learn as you go along and with experience, right? Unfortunately, nobody tells you these things in advance. And before Singapore, we were living in Denmark, which of course, you know isa more <laugh> egalitarian society in terms of gender roles. So we never thought about it, you know, both of us were working in Denmark, we never thought we needed something like this. It's only when you find yourself placed in a different culture, a different context, a different visa situation, that you realize that yes this is something that as partners you do need to give thought to.

And the companies that are sending you abroad have an equal responsibility in terms of duty of care that they need to also provide and at least give you information that would be relevant to how things are done, right? I mean, there's a lot of things that can be done to help make the process easier. At least half the battle is knowing what things are like, and then you can come up with a plan, but sometimes it's still not that easy. Unfortunately, Singapore was one of those places where I literally was my spouse's dependent in every sense of the word. And, you know, it caused a lot of frustration on my part because it was the first time I had given up a job, I was a new mom and a new identity. And I felt half the time, like, what is my identity? What's left of it? If I need his approval to change the internet plan, <laugh>, you know, that was quite a rude awakening. So yeah, I think that definitely did prompt us to have that discussion going forward.

And keep in mind, our next location was Dubai <laugh>, which came with its own set of challenges. So I do think we learned from that experience, and you do become stronger. You do know what you're getting yourself into. And I think that in terms of the challenges regarding his travel, we learned how to be a good team. We learned how to plan ahead for his trips. Because I must admit that even before that, when we did live in Denmark, he did travel not as much. But because I didn't have any kids back then, I felt like it was a very different ballgame. And having kids really changed the equation, <laugh> in my opinion, because you know, if we don't have kids and he's traveling, he's going out for work, I'm doing my work.

I felt like we were still pretty equal. But once you've got one spouse who's holding down the fort, taking care of everything from the kids to trying to change the internet plan, it can feel like you are in a different world than your spouse who's out there traveling. And so there can often be this disconnect, which you really need to actively work on. I think that would be the main <laugh> lesson that I learned, is that this is something we need to communicate openly about, to share how this experience is for you, how it is for me, and how can we make it a better experience for both of us.

Rhoda Bangerter (09:32):

Yeah. It's so important. What kind of things would you do to prepare for a trip then? Logistically, I imagine, but also one of the things that comes up a lot is this uncertainty of return dates, right? And changing as well. And sometimes just being aware that to hold the dates and return dates a bit lightly can sometimes help as well,

Mariam Ottimofiore (09:56):

<Laugh>. Absolutely. I think it, I think you have to be quite flexible. And the reason I say this is because of course, my husband works in the corporate world and in the corporate world you know, things come up at the last minute. There are no guarantees. Things change at the last minute. Sometimes even a job that you took on, which said, 20% international travel ends up becoming 40 or 50% international travel. And then you're like, wait a second, that means he's gone two weeks out of four in a month. This is really hard. I cannot possibly do X, Y, Z, or I might need to give up X, Y, Z if I'm holding down the fort 50% of the time in a month. And people will say, but you signed up for it <laugh> you know. So it’s constantly changing and the world is constantly changing. And sometimes even though you know what you're signing up for, that may change as well. That happened to us in Dubai. They shut down his office, and then he had to travel most of the time. That was something we didn't really sign up for, but the situation changes. The expat world is fluid. Expat jobs are fluid. So you have to accept that level of uncertainty and change that comes with these kinds of assignments as well.

Rhoda Bangerter (11:19):

What would you do to prepare? I know one of the big things that we've spoken about before is asking for help, right?

Mariam Ottimofiore (11:28):

Yeah. Yeah. <Laugh> I think we spoke about this before as well, Rhoda, where I was initially quite reluctant to ask for help. I learned the hard way on how to ask for help. And the reason for that was of course, that when you are the accompanying spouse, I feel like there's such a hit on your personal identity. You know, you're experiencing so many losses, and I didn't want to outsource every area of my life. So I was very reluctant to ask for help in Singapore or for help in Dubai. I ended up having some part-time help. But in all honesty, I needed more help. Especially when I was in Dubai with children under the age of five. And my husband was constantly traveling. And then it was longer travel. He was traveling to Africa, where there were not always direct flights. He was taking care of the whole region of Africa. So when I say Africa, I mean literally the whole of Africa. You know, sometimes it's Ivory Coast and sometimes it's Nigeria, and sometimes it's South Africa, and sometimes it's, you know, Tanzania, it could be anywhere. And sometimes he'd need to fly to Europe to get a connection, take Air France or Belgian and fly down. And so he was all gone for a lot of extended periods of time. And we had to really make a plan and say, ‘okay, we really do need help and we need part-time help’. But the most important thing I learned is that when you take out one adult out of the equation and you've got just one adult left to handle everything at home, that can often not be enough.

You need a backup adult. You need someone who's there in your corner to stand up <laugh> if and when the need arises. And I tell you this from experience. You know, my husband was about to leave on a trip. I think he was going to the Netherlands, and I broke my foot, I cannot drive a car, <laugh> cannot do anything, cannot even hobble to the bathroom without help. He had to cancel his trip because you know, he had to rush me to get foot surgery done. And we ended up flying, I think first his mom and then my mom from Germany <laugh> to Dubai, and from Pakistan to Dubai to help out. Because if something goes wrong… You know, in a perfect world, if nothing goes wrong, you're fine. But in the real world, in the messy expat world, things do go wrong oftentimes, and you do need a backup adult.

It was a huge learning curve for us. And I think it's something important to point out that there is a lot of stigma sometimes attached to asking for help or even admitting that you need help. Sometimes friends and family back home don't understand why you're so vulnerable and they can't possibly understand, because remember, they're on their home turf. They know what to do, they speak the language. If something goes wrong, they have the emergency numbers to call. They've got the support system in place to pick up, you know, if they can't do something, if they can't get their children that day from school. And more than that, it's just knowing what to do, when to do it, how to do it, all the social cues, everything that's under that cultural iceberg metaphor. And we are so vulnerable because we build everything up from scratch. We might need 30 minutes to prepare <laugh> just to call and ask for a dentist appointment in a foreign language that we are not hundred percent fluent or comfortable in. Right? So we are very vulnerable. And I think that comes as part of the package. And we shouldn't be afraid of asking for help or admitting that we need help.

Rhoda Bangerter (15:20):

Yeah. Yeah. That's such a huge, huge part of it. And we somebody this morning, I was talking to her mom and she said she went for a massage, and she said, it's my hardship allowance, <laugh> <laugh>. Cause before she was reluctant to give herself some space or maybe pay for childcare when she wasn't earning, because she said ‘This is part of what I'm here to do is to watch my kids. So how can I pay?’ You know, but it's understanding that, wait, you're doing maybe more than someone who has help or parents or cousins or aunts and uncles, or you need to give yourself face a different way.

So I think that that's definitely a big part of being able to make this lifestyle work. Is there anything that you did or any mindset shift that really helped you kind of survive, make it work for you? Because at one point you were working full-time, you were working part-time?

Mariam Ottimofiore (16:30):

Yes, yes. I was doing everything. I was moving, I was raising kids, I was writing a book. I definitely took on way too much. On the other hand, it was also a lot of fun doing those things. So I was happy <laugh> to have those opportunities. I think I realized that for periods when your spouse is away or your partner's away and traveling, you need to set up a very realistic expectations for yourself, right? I would learn that when he's gone, I can't do everything. So I would pick and choose what my priorities were, and I would focus my energies there. And I would also give myself the space to know that I couldn't possibly do everything and I wasn't gonna kill myself trying to do everything.

So it meant that you have adjusted expectations from yourself. How much, what can you get done during this time period? And I learned how to actually plan my work and my life in cycles. If your spouse is having a heavy travel intensive period, I pull back from commitments, I pull back from projects, I may set myself more realistic goals or more realistic deadlines. You know, and I think this was something that I learned along the way because I found that there were these cycles or seasons in our expat life. And when he was there, that's when I went full throttle, full steam ahead, because I wasn't the default partner handling everything from A to to Z. And I had more mental capacity, more physical, more emotional capacity to do my work, to go after those goals, to pitch an article, to attend a conference, to reach out to people, to do everything that you need a lot of mental capacity, right? You need to be in the right frame of mind to do that. So I learned to mimic the seasons, whatever his season was. I adjusted my season accordingly to make sure that we weren't feeling resentful and feeling unfulfilled and frustrated.

Rhoda Bangerter (18:44):

And it's not forever, is it? Because now you are traveling too, right? You both travel and it's more feasible I think sometimes when the children are a bit older, depending on which country you live in as you're more used to it as well too. Maybe you're not adjusting so much to…

Mariam Ottimofiore (19:07):

Absolutely. I think you do adjust and your kids do get older you do fall into a new rhythm. My travel exploded in 2019 and until 2020 because of, you know, the timing of my book which came out. And I decided to do a world tour and go to 12 countries promoting the book in front of a global audience. And, you know, I seized that opportunity because it was the right time. My husband didn't have a lot of travel coming up. Again, you have to really time it because had he been going here and there, there's no way I could have done it. So it does need careful planning and communication to make sure, okay, if one of you, like I said, is going full throttle, full steam ahead, the other person will then be holding down the fort, right?

So I spent March 2019 to March 2020, pretty much right before the pandemic hit, going all over the world. And, you know, a few things happened. First of all, it was really helpful for our children to see that, okay, papa travels and mama stays home, and then sometimes mama travels and papa stays home. But nothing changes in our life. We still get dropped to school. We still get taken to birthday parties. You know, birthday cards and gifts are picked up, life continues on smoothly. Groceries are bought, dinner is made, bedtime is done, baths are taken, et cetera, et cetera. And I think this was a very positive change for our children to see that it doesn't matter who is traveling and who is home, life continues on as normal.

Rhoda Bangerter (20:44):

You’re family, right? You're together, life continues. You might not be in the same roof but you're …

Mariam Ottimofiore (20:53):

Yes, exactly. I think it's healthy for the children to see that. And so that was something great that happened. What was not so great, and what I still struggle with is often society's perception and judgment. You know, especially when it was me who was traveling, I felt that the double standards were just so plain to see. Because if it's the man who's traveling, society expects the women to just continue, just carry on to not complain, to just do their job, to look after the home and look after their work and look after the kids and balls are dropped. But when it's the woman who's traveling <laugh>, then suddenly the man gets, oh, so many invitations. ‘Oh, you poor thing. You're all alone with the kids. Why don't you come over for dinner?’ ‘Are you okay? Do you need any help? If you need any help with the homework assignment, just let us know on the class, WhatsApp chats’, you know? So I found that the double standards, the society places were very interesting when the shoe was on the other foot. Because as a woman, you get asked and offered no help. But as a man holding down the fort, you do get asked and you get invited <laugh>.

Rhoda Bangerter (22:10):

And this is from other women, right?

Mariam Ottimofiore (22:17):

Yes. This is from other women. So it's up to us to change this mindset.

Rhoda Bangerter (22:18):

Yes, I've fallen into that trap. We're ‘Oh, poor thing, are you holding up?’ I'm like, ‘Wait, hang on a minute, <laugh>. He's totally capable of managing <laugh>.’

Mariam Ottimofiore (22:27):

Exactly, exactly. And I think that this is an important thing, and I hope that going forward we do, cuz oftentimes the worst thing is it's usually women placing these restrictions or judgment or criticism on other women. You know, usually it would be teachers at my kid's school or school counselors or you know, other moms be like, ‘Oh, you poor thing.’ And I'm like I think we really need to be kind to ourselves and know that well this is teamwork and if I can do it, he can do it. And none of us should be treated differently for doing the same job. Which by the way, is parenting and not babysitting. <Laugh>. ‘Oh, you're in Africa. Is your husband babysitting the kids?’ ‘No, no. Let's be clear. He's parenting his kids.’

Rhoda Bangerter (23:15):

Love it. Love it. What about transition times then when he'd be gone and then he'd come back? How was that? Because that's always another topic of them then them coming back into the family setting when they've been away. How did you guys navigate that? What was it like?

Mariam Ottimofiore (23:38):

I guess we were lucky. He usually traveled for short periods of time, maximum a week or 10 days. So we didn't have extended periods apart, which I know is the case for many families, which could make that adjustment harder. I think while he was gone, Rhoda, you know, I was just like, ‘Okay, I have to handle anything and everything that comes my way.’ Sick kids, I got it leaky pipe, I got it. You know, the ceiling's gonna fall down, I've got it <laugh>. Whatever comes my way, I have to handle it. And then he'd come home and you're so excited to see each other and you've been counting down the minutes, but then as soon as your partner comes home, all you wanna do is just relax and let off all the steam and all the frustration that is built up based on whatever it is you've been handling.

And he puts the wrong cup in the wrong drawer or the fork in the wrong drawer and you lose it. And what you end up having is a fight as soon as you know your partner is back. And I hate to say it, but this is sometimes the reality, you know, because you just need that safe space to be yourself. It’s like when you pick up your kids and they're fine in school, but then they act out when you are there. That's because they know you are their safe space and they can tell you exactly how they feel and be exactly what they want to be. And it's a little bit similar to that, right? And so I think the best thing to do is to give each other space and to ask, ‘Okay, now we're gonna sit down and you tell me how things have been for you. And I tell you how things have been for me’, before you get into an argument over why a fork has landed up in the wrong drawer, <laugh>.

Rhoda Bangerter (25:23):

Yes, yes. There's that period of adjustment of sharing the space physically as well, of going from being in total control of the space to then sharing it with someone who then moves something and you're like, ‘Why are you moving that, that I wanted that there’, you know, it's an adjustment and I think you're right, giving yourself space, understanding where they're coming from as well, because they come back tired. And it's also something that when we are the parent at home, we don't realize that yes, they've had a long train, a plane trip, but maybe they've worked during it. Or often when they're away, when they're working, they're working massive periods of time because it's nonstop to make the most of the time.

Mariam Ottimofiore (26:10):

That's a very important point that you bring up. They are working nonstop, usually working on the flight on their way there, prepping and all the time they're having a conference or whatever it is that they've gone for or whatever the work they're doing, they're falling behind on emails and they're sitting late in their hotel room at night trying to catch up with just day-to-day operations, day-to-day emails. And I realized that when it was me traveling, I didn't have time to process anything. I was just go, go, go, go, go, you know, get done with today, prepare for tomorrow, get done with tomorrow, prepare for the next day. And you know, you are exhausted. You are really, truly exhausted. So to have empathy for what your partner is doing and to support them and say that you take care of whatever you need to do, I'm here, I will handle whatever comes or whatever happens here or whatever comes up. Understanding and empathy is very important.

Rhoda Bangerter (27:07):

Yeah. And I think people knowing that this is, this transition time is normal and that it takes a little while and to adjust expectations. And I've learned over the years not to kind of, as soon as he walk through the door, to go, ‘Oh great, he can take over.’ I'm like, ‘No, <laugh>, like he can take over some things in two days. <Laugh>.

Mariam Ottimofiore (27:27):

Yeah. Yeah.

Rhoda Bangerter (27:28):

So it's not handing over everything to him as soon as he walks in, but just letting things equalize slowly. Right? And I had to build in margin for that. Yeah. So the day or two days before kind of not go, ‘Oh, okay, it's fine. In two days I'll have space.’ No, maybe two, three days after he comes back, I'll start having space, but not to expect it straight away and not to plan things. But then I get frustrated because I can't do them because I thought I was gonna have space.

So it's fun because so many of these are common threads in so many families. And no matter the circumstances, no matter the country we live in or the cultures we're part of, these are the common themes.

Mariam Ottimofiore (28:29):

Absolutely. Absolutely. I think, and that's what really surprised me because, you know, I thought maybe this is more based on your culture or your partner's culture or where you're living <laugh>. And yes, those can also be part of the equation. But I think unfortunately, or fortunately, it doesn't really matter where you are. Like I said, this is Portugal, now my 10th country to move to. And I found that whether it was the United Arab Emirates, which people might think is more conservative, whether it's my Pakistani family, which people might think are more old fashioned in terms of gender expectations or whether it's my German mother-in-law, or whether it's society in Ghana or whether it's the school community in Portugal, to be honest, it hasn't really varied that much. The expectations from society are still, you know, 200% from women oftentimes, and just a hundred percent from men. For the traveling spouse, that's the perception, that he or she is traveling cause that's their job and you should just let them do their job. You know, and I still struggle with it because I feel like you're still partners. You've got a family, you've got a life. You can't just exclude somebody just because they're not physically there. Right? So I think that regardless of where you are, you are probably gonna encounter some form or some shape of this. And it's important to know where you stand, important to highlight your own triggers. And it's important to then sit down with your partner and say, we are a team. How do we get through the month of May or the get through the month of June as a team? And that has really been a game changer for us where we feel like a team, even if we're physically apart, we feel like we're a team and we're in this together.

Rhoda Bangerter (30:28):

I love that. I really, really love that. And I think that is the key to making this life work. And it's what I've seen as, again, as a common thread is emotionally, they’re present. How do you make them emotionally present? How do you support that? How do you guys do it so that he, his presence is felt at home in different ways?

Mariam Ottimofiore (30:50):

Now that the kids are a bit older, he can talk to them. To be honest, when the kids were very young, I almost didn't have time or energy to schedule FaceTime calls. It was just another thing to then try to organize and I just didn't have time for it. My only goal used to be pure survival <laugh>. So that didn't happen too much when they were young. And also when they're young then it almost, it can be more upsetting to see your dad or your mom far away. It almost backfires sometimes. It's almost better to just not have them constantly on a phone call or be present. So we had a very different strategy back then where we just got on with our day and we would talk, but he wasn't FaceTiming so much with the kids because I just didn't want to disrupt their routine and make them miss him more than they were already probably missing him.

But now that they're older, it's different. He's very much a part of their lives. He knows, okay, he might be in Cape Town, but his daughter has a volleyball tournament. He'll call to wish her good luck. He knows what's going on with their world and he'll find different ways to stay in touch and to make sure he can be there for them. Whether he does something before they leave, does something after they leave and stays in touch while he's gone. There's so many ways of doing it that, so I think that's something that we are doing now, and it does help. We still have a very young child who's two and a half who obviously doesn't get it. So that's the challenge now that you're dealing with different aged kids, kids who understand you're away, kids who understand but might not like you're away. And then kids who just don't understand that you're going away. So sometimes you need three different strategies for each kid, <laugh>, you know? Cause not everything applies to all of them. So I think that's just the kinda challenge thrown at you, right? And you figure things out along the way.

Rhoda Bangerter (32:57):

That’s a really good point. Oh, my word, Mariam. I think you brought up tons of really, really important points. I'll put all the different bullet points in the show notes. Sure. Is there anything you want to add before we wrap up?

Mariam Ottimofiore (33:17):

No, I think that the best thing we can do is to share honestly and openly our experiences with spouses who are traveling or gone for shorter or extended periods of time. And I do think that this is now very much a part of the reality for many expat families, for many globally mobile families. And one thing I didn't address is when your spouse is going to what's considered a very dangerous location, because that adds a whole different layer of complexity. If he's going to a war zone or he's going to someplace where there's a huge security risk and he or she, let's say, needs armed personnel security guards just to transport them back and forth from the airport, you know, there's so much happening.

And some things that I learned was to always have my spouse's information at hand. You know, because when one person travels so much, you almost get so used to it. It's almost like this is part of day-to-day life. So you stop thinking about it. You take it for granted, you know, my spouse is always gone, he's always in one country or country X or country Y country Z but I realize that especially when they're going to countries where there is a security risk or there is a physical safety risk, you really need to make sure you've got all their contact details. I make sure that my husband gives me all the details, not just of where he's staying, but who to contact if I don't hear from him. Who is the person on the ground in the Congo that I can reach if I don't hear from you? You know, who's the person at the office there who's picking you up? What's the driver's name? And this may sound extreme or over the top, but we did have this experience where one of our friends couldn't get in touch with her husband who was on a business trip. And the next thing we knew he'd had a heart attack and he was on the floor in his hotel room and nobody could reach him. And so you learn from other people and you learn from other people's experiences. And sometimes that's what we need to share, is that always know where your spouse is gonna be. Always have the contact information of at least somebody else on the ground in case you cannot be in direct contact with your spouse so you know of their whereabouts.

And I also make sure I know which passport my husband's traveling on, you know, he has got two passports. I need to make sure if I need to call any embassies, I should know which embassy I'm calling. You know, all those things. And sometimes have our documentation in a shared Google Drive. You know, when he went to India, he's married to a Pakistani, of course, he got pulled over by security and asked, ‘Oh, you've been to Pakistan 15 times.’ And then he has to explain, it's my wife you know, and share my details and my id. So, you know, <laugh>, even if I'm not the one traveling, I joke I'm still the problem <laugh>. I'm still the reason he is getting pulled over. But you know, you just need to have all the documentation on your fingertips, create that Google drive, create whatever you need to create so that you might need it or he might need it, or one of you might need it, but both of you should be able to access it. So I think these are some of the things we've learned the hard way that I do share with other people in case it's helpful or beneficial for them.

Rhoda Bangerter (36:48):

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. It sounds over the top until you actually need it.

Mariam Ottimofiore (36:54):

<Laugh>. It does.

Rhoda Bangerter (36:55):

Unfortunately, when he was in Kabul, we did tell the school that the teachers knew just in case the kids were a little bit distracted or something because something had happened or that something was going on or that we weren't able to contact him. And the teachers needed to know that we were in a family situation where potentially it could be disturbing, that the kids would be maybe not attentive or something, or that they would need to react fast and know what to say or know what to do because if they just say random things that are more hurtful, it doesn't help <laugh>.

Mariam Ottimofiore (37:40):

No, it doesn't.

Rhoda Bangerter (37:41):

It doesn't hurt to be prepared even if you don't want it to happen.

Mariam Ottimofiore (37:46):

Yeah, none of us want it to happen, but I do think it's better for your own peace of mind just to be prepared, just to have all the information. You just never know when you might need it. And it does give you peace of mind. I know my husband has amazing colleagues and I know they'll do anything for him when he's out there traveling. And so I do have that peace of mind. And I do know that if I need, I can get in touch with anybody. I have the names, I have the contacts, I have the email addresses. So in terms of just being prepared, I think half of the thing is just your mindset and being prepared. And hopefully you don't need to use it, but as long as you know that you have it, you feel okay. If something goes wrong, I know who to call. I know what you do. And that I think is priceless. That's worth, you know, half.

Rhoda Bangerter (38:37):

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Are you still running, are you running workshops? Are you, I know you still speak on the topic of multicultural and multifaith multiracial families.

Mariam Ottimofiore (38:49):

Yes. I still give talks, I still run workshops since the pandemic. It's been mostly here within Portugal, which is where we moved to in 2020, in the middle of the pandemic <laugh>. So I've been here since then and I've had a chance to do a bit more speaking and presenting and workshopping on the ground here. So that's been definitely happening. And of course, online as well, because we got so used to doing things online and that has continued as well. So, you know, that's also helpful regardless of where people are sitting, you can still reach them and you can still connect with them.

Rhoda Bangerter (39:27):

Because a lot of expat families are also multicultural, multiracial multifaith. And that creates, like you say, a beautiful tapestry. So I love the way you approach it. So how can people contact you if they want to be more in touch?

Mariam Ottimofiore (39:46):

Oh, sure. You can email me and you can have my email on my website as well. My website is andthenwemovedto.com. You can message me on there or send me an email. And I'm very active on social media. My handle is @andthenwemovedto <laugh>, one word. So you can contact me on Instagram or on Facebook, or also on LinkedIn. You'll find me there just under my name Mariam Navaid Ottimofiore So you know, if you need any help, if you are a multicultural family living abroad and raising your children in different cultures or different languages, I would be very happy to connect with you as well.

Rhoda Bangerter (40:30):

Super. Thank you so much for sharing of your experience and your life with us today. Thanks. Thank you, Mariam.

Mariam Ottimofiore (40:36):

Thanks for having me.

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Rhoda Bangerter

Rhoda Bangerter is a coach who has lived abroad with a travelling husband for over 16 years. She helps home based mums and dads live an intentional life and build family togetherness even when their partner is away a lot for work.

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