Making and keeping new friends abroad
The strongest bonds are forged over ridiculously embarrassing or thoughtful acts, not by being polite, writes Ceire Sadlier
When it comes to meeting new people, I am the human equivalent of a quiet, old-man pub being invaded by a bunch of howling blow-ins – suspicious and cranky. A few months after arriving in Zambia, I realised there was an easy way to skip the “so, what are you doing here” jibber jabber. Someone has to do something ridiculously embarrassing or ridiculously thoughtful and suddenly all the boring politeness is gone.
About six months after we arrived, I developed a massive friend-crush on a new girl. We were just starting to go through the genteel motions of getting to know each other when I got the equivalent of a Monopoly ‘Advance to Go’ card that made us fast and firm friends. My husband got a text from her husband reading, “How’s your minge?” Hours later, when the mistake was realised, there was high pitched screaming and roaring laughing down the phone and we didn’t need to beat around the bush anymore, so to speak.
Other great friends were quickly acquired by me loudly chastising a relative newcomer to Lusaka for being a total dryshite because he wouldn’t neck whiskey in the back of a taxi with me. I was highly incensed because I had been told that he was “great craic”, which was clearly bullshit and I told him so. Of course, drink fuels a lot of new friendships and bonds are formed over the titters when you emerge from a siesta from someone elses bed, couch or toilet.
As it turns out, making friends is the easy part. Entertaining them is more difficult. The bars are crap and the restaurants are so expensive that alternative social arrangements require vast effort and imagination. I still regret missing a dear friends going away party because I was in Ireland, but got a 4am phone call to let me know my husband had fallen through the “stage” during the Rose of Tralee sketch and he was raging because he didn’t win the crown.
Our Lusaka Come Dine with Me went on for several exhausting and memorable months. Jesus, the effort of it all. The first night was remembered by the mushroom and banana starter, the second by poisonous homemade limoncello, the third by being blindfolded and forced into a taxi and the fourth by the speculating whether the newly pregnant and tired host had fallen asleep on the kitchen floor.
Even when others try to organise the fun, extra thought needed to go into having as much craic as possible. My memories of the various St Patrick’s Day Balls are peppered with images of adults in nappies, chipped teeth, papier mache crocodile heads and apologetic tears.
Nights are not nights here unless the meal has been of Christmas dinner proportions, a Fureys or Will Smith song has been sung, everyone has done a handstand and a lengthy international phone call from a mobile has been made.
In between all the ceremonious get-togethers, one of those people has left milk and bread in your fridge when you’ve been away, they’ve rescued you when your car has broken down and they have shown up on your birthday with a gigantic ice cream cake and an embarrassingly thoughtful gift that makes you realise they know and care for you better than you thought any new friend could.
Inevitably, one by one, the new friends leave and they give you back your spare keys and in between the tears we talk about how wonderful it will be when we all meet up in Dublin one day, in one of our favourite pubs that we’ve missed so badly. Then we’ll be the invaders of that quiet, old-man pub, howling about those days in Lusaka.
This piece was written as a follow-up to Ceire’s article yesterday about leaving good friends behind in Ireland. She blogs at theirishexzaminer.com.