And then we… interviewed Mariam!

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Mariam Navaid Ottimofiore became an expatriate at just two months old. This economist turned expat writer is now inspiring others while raising two multicultural and multilingual kids...

Where were you born and what made you first leave your home country?

I was born in Karachi, Pakistan in August 1982. At the time of my birth, however, my parents were expats living in the Kingdom of Bahrain; a tiny country in the Middle East. My mother chose to return home to give birth to me. I was only two months old when I left Pakistan to go live in Bahrain with my family. I guess I've been an expat since birth!

As a child you've lived in Pakistan, Bahrain and New York, how has this shaped you into the eternal expat that you now are?

Yes, after growing up initially in Manama, Bahrain, my family moved to New York City for my father’s career and I lived there till the end of the 80's, before our family repatriated to Pakistan. I guess this early global childhood shaped me in a few distinct ways: I became bilingual from birth, as a native speaker of both Urdu and English. I became good at being a cultural chameleon, observing the differences between the East and the West and adapting to both. I learnt that home can be several different places on a map, and that when you leave a place it still comes with you. It ultimately instilled in me a life-long love of learning new cultures, meeting new people and traveling all over the world.

At age 19, you left Pakistan where you were living at the time, what made you want to leave and where did you head?

Yes, I finished my high school years in Karachi, Pakistan, where I attended a British curriculum school. I decided to go back to the United States to attend college. I left home with a blue suitcase and a one way ticket to Boston. I arrived at Boston's Logan Airport shortly after 9/11, eager to start my American adventure in an America which had changed overnight.

What was your favorite expat experience?

Oh this is always a difficult question to answer, after living in nine countries and four continents! Each country has shaped me as to who I am today. I guess my favorite experience would be a close tie between Denmark and Singapore. I loved our expat experience in Copenhagen.I truly appreciated being able to find work in my field of finance, the Danish appreciation of a work-life balance and picking up simple Danish habits that help to lead a balanced lifestyle and feel good about myself. My love for interior design, especially Danish design was sparked in Copenhagen. I still light up candles to create “hygge” (a Danish term which means cozy and welcoming atmosphere and I still go back to visit any chance I can get. I find I am happiest while roaming the quaint, cobbled streets of Copenhagen, on my way to get a Danish pastry!

Singapore is a close second favorite. I absolutely loved living in the multicultural, multiracial, multilingual melting pot that is Singapore! The food there is the best I've ever eaten, nothing compares to Singapore's hawker food found on the streets. I also became a mom in Singapore as I gave birth to our daughter there and found motherhood on this tiny island nation, an overall great experience.

You have recently moved to Ghana. What brought you to this country and how are you finding it?

Yes, we recently moved our family of four from Dubai to Accra, Ghana. My husband works in shipping, and when a job opportunity arose to work in their West Africa headquarters, we said yes. Ghana has been our most challenging expat experience to date. We had a very rough transition, where lots of things went wrong and our 40 foot container was massively delayed, processed with the incorrect paperwork and then completely broke down by the side of a dirt road, in the middle of nowhere. It was quite the start to our African adventure! Since the initial hump, we've settled in quite well. I love the gorgeous beaches, the friendly and welcoming locals and the colorful fabrics and beautiful handmade products such as baskets. Ghanaian culture is fascinating and there is so much to learn about bead-making, chocolate production and the colorful festivals. Living in Accra, comes with many challenges though; there is immense poverty, gender inequality, lack of public bathrooms and daily challenges involve going to three stores to look for parsely or mozarella, so simple tasks take much longer to accomplish here. As an expat in Ghana, your attitude is key. If you let all the little things bother you, you'll miss out on the good things you can enjoy here.

What is the hardest thing about being an expat?

The hardest part about being an expat is settling into a new country, making your house a home and making a lovely group of friends, and then having to say goodbye to all of it and start again, in a new country. This process tears me up each time, as I get very attached to people and places. I also find dealing with the constant uncertainty that expat life brings (are we staying? Are we leaving? Where are we moving to? Will this be the move that breaks my children?) hard to handle on most days. Expat life forces you to live in the present as it is impossible to do any long term planning. I still struggle with this a lot.

When did you start your blog and why?

I started my blog 'And Then We Moved To' in 2016 in Dubai. I had indulged in some freelance writing in Singapore and made a full-time career switch from an economist to an expat writer. By the time we moved to Dubai, I was ready to set up my own portable business and thus 'And Then We Moved To' was born. I wanted to write a blog from an expats perspective that was different to the other expat blogs out there. I was a brown, female, Muslim, Pakistani expat, who was living an expat life while being married to someone from a different culture and country as my husband is half German/half Italian. Our two kids born in Singapore and Dubai, are growing up with four home languages (German, Urdu, Italian and English), while learning Mandarin, Arabic and French as we move from one location to the next. With this mix of cultures, languages, nationalities, identities and homes, I wanted to write about what the modern expat family looks like!

How can your blog be of help to expatriates around the world?

My blog is full of useful tips, ideas and inspiration for families moving abroad or living a globally mobile lifestyle. It is read by both; expatriates and those who serve expatriates such as relocation companies, global mobility specialists and international school educators. It is less focused on a particular country, and more focused on a macro view of how moving abroad changes us. Often we forget to reflect on how our global experiences are shaping us into who we're becoming? How is mobility impacting our parenting? What is the story we are stitching together, as a result of all these moves? How do we blend cultures in our family? How do we reach our multi-literacy goals for our kids? What family traditions do we take with us from one place to the next? I write about these topics and more. I am also passionate about covering moving stories that don't often make it onto the mainstream expat blogs and tales of migration so 'And Then We Moved To' talks about moving in all shapes and forms including migrant workers, immigrants, refugee families and more.

Do you have any future expat projects?

I have just finished one of my long standing expat projects which was to write my first book on expat life! My book is called 'This Messy Mobile Life' and it has been published by Summertime Publishing in April 2019. This Messy Mobile Life is a guidebook for expat families on how to tackle the challenges that come your way, while enjoying the opportunities that an expat life brings forth. I have just completed an international book tour in Bangkok, Dubai and Accra, so my future expat project is to launch the book in Europe and the US. Cheers to this messy mobile life!