There’s something compelling about personal stories. It’s not just the guilty pleasure of vicariously living someone else’s life, it’s also revealing as to what really works and what doesn’t when it comes to facing life’s challenges.
There are few books written on the subject of repatriation and reverse culture shock, and the ones I’ve found most useful have been written as personal stories rather than the earnest “how to manual’ approach.
The first half of Suzanne Johnson’s The Ruby: A re-entry survival story is devoted to describing her family’s expatriate experience working at a missionary-run orphanage in Mozambique. Having been paid substantial sums of money to live in locations far less challenging, I have the utmost admiration for those who do so on their own nickel. She certainly makes it sound rewarding, and even fun in places, although that doesn’t include the episode when a nearby exploding arms depot literally rained shells on top of them.
Although half the book is NOT about repatriation, this section is an entirely enjoyable and interesting read and of course sets us up for a deeper understanding of the profound re-entry shock Suzanne faced upon returning to life in the UK.
Her biggest challenge was re-integrating into her church community, perhaps a more tight-knit community than many of us come from, but the issues she faced are common to all repatriates – grief and loss for the friends and life left behind, identity crisis, values which no longer align with friends and family and no one who understands the pain you’re experiencing. I found I related strongly to the emotions she describes, although I have to admit I was left wondering whether her faith was as much a hindrance as a help in her gradual readjustment.
Repatriation is still a topic most expatriates don’t talk about much. It’s almost like death; in fact many would describe it as the death of a way of life. But it is a transition you get through eventually. Books like The Ruby are valuable for anyone in the midst of this difficult and often lengthy process. Knowing that your feelings are not unique, that others have struggled with similar issues and resolved them, one way or another, is sustaining.
This book is well written and definitely worth a read. All proceeds from sales are donated to the Zimpeto Children’s Centre where Suzanne worked.