An international career change
I think it was the moment I heard the announcement aboard Royal Brunei Airlines flight BI0098 telling us that our plane was about to be blessed before take off that I began to concern myself with some of the potential issues arising from moving to a Muslim country for a minimum of a 2 year contract. I had agonised over the conservative (some say strict) dress and social code of conduct, the ‘dry’ conditions rarely seen outside the Middle East, and the fact that every single person I spoke to seemed convinced that Brunei was located somewhere off the coast of Dubai, rather than its true location perched on the northern coast of Borneo.
I calmly addressed each point in turn in my head, asking myself, “How bad could it be to have to cover my shoulders and knees in public; I am not a wild dresser.” And telling myself, “Only an alcoholic would be worried about moving to a dry country when expat non-Muslims are allowed to legally import 2 litres of alcohol every 48 hours; I mean, how much can you possibly drink in two days?” Aside from my family and friend’s general lack of geographical knowledge, I answered every concern thoroughly to myself. So I sat in my aeroplane seat, telling myself that blessing a plane before take of could only be a positive sign, and that it in no way reflected on the pilot’s flying skills, as I tried to imagine what my new home would look like.
Of course, as soon as I landed and left the airport after being enthusiastically greeted by my new school-allocated ‘buddies,’ Brunei looked nothing like I had imagined. Nothing ever does. Duty-free alcohol quota and accompanying yellow forms in hand, my husband and I climbed into our new rental car and concentrated on trying to drive an automatic while keeping up with our buddies as they sped towards our new home.
The roads were my first big surprise; I had expected tree-lined, English-style country lanes winding their convoluted way through tropical greenery. The greenery was there in abundance, but in place of the country lanes were modern, slick dual carriageways. Country lanes were clearly not the order of the day here in Brunei, and when the road wasn’t a dual carriageway, it seemed that it was a makeshift, pothole-riddled alley clumsily hacked out of the rainforest which burst from both sides of the road.
It was down one of these alleys that we turned into as we approached our new house. This was our second surprise, albeit a very pleasant one. I had seen photos, but they had not done it justice at all. I had heard a lot about Brunei and its reputation on the expat circuit as being a great place for families, with its huge houses, low crime rate and lack of pollution. However, I had not expected a detached four bedroom house with a large surrounding garden on three sides, car port, maid’s quarters and a laundry room.
Our new friends, proving that they still remembered exactly what the English would want upon landing 5 degrees north of the equator, had thoughtfully cranked up our air conditioning, so the weather did not prove to be too much of an initial shock to my system. Throughout my research on Brunei, both International schools in the sultanate came across as taking excellent care of their new staff, and we were no exception. Upon stepping through the door of our new house, we were promptly handed a wad of cash as our settling-in advance, an inventory, keys, mobile phone SIM cards and a very thoughtfully prepared welcome pack containing invaluable household items like tea and toilet roll. What more could we have asked for?