‘Skype Families’

I recently read and reposted this article about ‘Skype families’ and how Brexit may affect things further with families who currently have to live apart because they don’t share a nationality.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46621762

In addition to the stories included in the article, here is ours…

I met my wonderful man in London. I was working across the road from him, and we met through a mutual friend and colleague in a theatre bar. We became good friends in the time before we realised we wanted to be more than friends (Him before me!). We supported each other through some hard times – Both of us were going through divorces/separations at the time. Neither of us had children and we were both well into our thirties. We had a lot in common. We both loved music, and we had a shared love of the Rocky Horror Show! I remember sitting in the bar one night with him, my mum and other dear friends, and we just sang songs from Rocky Horror all night!

When we did get together, I knew it was right. We both did. It was a whirlwind romance, and we fell in love very quickly (Although, I think that actually started while we were still friends). Everything after that happened quickly, too! He went back to South Africa, where he was domiciled and where he was working at the time, and we continued our relationship over Skype and email. It was not long after he returned to South Africa that I found out I was pregnant. I tried to call him (He was in Swaziland by this time, staying with family), but he was having issues with the internet over there, so he wanted to wait until he returned to Johannesburg to chat with me properly. Then, his nephew in Swaziland became sick, so he wanted to stay longer to help his sister look after him. That was a few more days. I was so desperate to tell him, and it was killing me having to wait. I couldn’t concentrate on anything, and I couldn’t even tell my family until I had told him. It was torture!

So, eventually, we had the long-awaited conversation when he returned to Joburg. It was a video call via Skype. I remember his reaction so vividly. It was totally priceless. He left his seat, walked to the back of the room and jumped up and down with joy. I just burst out laughing. It was wonderful, and we knew that this was the most brilliant thing in the world to be happening to us right now.

I had booked a trip to Joburg to stay with him for about ten days. It was a lovely trip, especially knowing that we were going to have a child together. It was all so romantic. He was doting, kind and caring, and I knew then how grateful I was for him, and how I was completely right to make the decision to enter into a relationship with this amazing guy. He was a proper family man, and he would be (and is!) a great partner and, most importantly, a wonderful father to our child.

I returned to London, and we carried on contacting each other via email and Skype. It was rather lovely, actually, but I did miss him very much. He came back to London, and was able to continue his work from home here, writing for a soap opera in South Africa. He moved into my home, which must have been really hard for him at first. This was the home that I sometimes shared with my ex-husband (When we moved here, we were just about to split up, little did I know it – It was the start of the end), and there were some memories here that didn’t really belong here anymore. But, he got through it, and now all of those memories have been erased from these walls. We were starting a family, and we had a great living situation here in London.

The only thing that has ever been a real issue for us is being together in one country. Especially now that we have two sons. My partner works all over the place. Sometimes he works in South Africa, sometimes in America, and sometimes in the UK, and now he has added countries like Ethiopia and Malawi to his global repertoire. We have ‘homes’ in three continents. It is a life that I found difficult to imagine. I have barely travelled in my 30-odd years. I have been to some lovely countries, but never for longer than a fortnight’s holiday. I always had a base here in the UK, and I always returned to it. I loved my creature comforts, my cosy winters and Christmases, and being close to my relatives. My partner has bases all over the place, and even has some stuff being stored by friends and family in America and South Africa (You know who you are!). He also has a lot (most) of his stuff here in our London home, currently in boxes after our recent refurb. One of the things that attracted me to my man initially was the fact that he was so international. I loved the idea of travelling, especially to Southern Africa. It was so exotic and other-worldly to me. It was exciting and new. And, I still love it today, even with the craziness of flying alone with our boys. So, that’s our life now, or has been to date. But, now the boys are getting older and needing to go to school soon, so there have been thoughts and discussions about where we should base ourselves. Obviously, we both have our reasons to stay in our own countries, and there are many issues that are happening at the moment in the UK which makes me feel less inclined to stay here with my international family. What is going to change once Brexit has been enforced? Will it actually make any difference to us as a family because my partner is South African, not European? Will it be easier for me to get a working visa in South Africa or Swaziland? Do we all go and settle down in the USA instead (probably not until Trump is impeached and imprisoned, though)? Will the US be more welcoming to an international family? The one thing we are sure of is that this will NOT break us. We will continue to try everything we can to be together, and we will make the most of the amazing technology at our fingertips (which is way easier and cheaper to access in the Western world) to stay in touch when we are physically thousands of miles from each other. We have been apart for so many events – Four of the boys’ birthdays (For one of them, our youngest son and I were in London, and my partner and our eldest, who’s birthday it was, were in South Africa), two Christmases and New Years, my birthday, his birthday, Father’s and Mother’s Days, as well as some of the boys’ milestones. And it makes me sad to think that I have almost become used to this way of life now. In 2018, I spent 7 months looking after our boys without my partner at home with us. The other 5 months were spent in Malawi and South Africa with him. He was a Skype parent for most of last year, developing his relationships with the boys through the internet. And now, when we Skype him, the boys are so excited to see him. Sometimes, I have actually asked my man to watch the boys for me via Skype while I install car seats or go and get something from another room! But, it has worked well for us in many ways, this way of life. It has allowed my partner to do the jobs he’s wanted to do, and it has allowed us to travel to some of the most beautiful places, and see our wonderful global family more regularly.

One of the problems that we always face in this international family lifestyle, and the one thing that I am so sad to have gotten used to now, is the visa issues that my partner faces each time we plan to travel together, or at least be together, in the UK. We don’t seem to have much of an issue going to wherever he is – Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, America. Yes, we have our stay limits, usually 30 days but sometimes anything up to 90 days, providing you go and get extensions each time your 30 days is coming to an end. And it can be very cheap to obtain the visas, sometimes free of charge altogether. We have managed, with no real issues, to do this. The issues have always been the other way – Him coming to the UK. He always says to me that we will never really know how hard it can be to travel internationally because we hold British passports. The British are allowed pretty-much anywhere in the world. People from outside the UK need to do biometric tests, apply and pay for very expensive visas, which aren’t ever guaranteed. You often have to book your travel in advance of applying for your visa to show the dates you intend to visit to, and return from, the UK, and these flights might need to be changed because the visa decision is delayed, or even rejected. That can cost even more money. And then you have the knock-on effects of not being able to travel on time. Sometimes, jobs will be lost because people can’t arrive in time to start (and companies only have so much patience with these things), people have made plans around a person’s arrival which may then have to be postponed or cancelled, sometimes costing even more money. And, worst of all, the immigration companies know all of this. I have heard about instances of ‘misplacing’ application papers that have entered the system, so that the desperate people who need to travel have to spend more money getting the visa processed even more quickly to avoid losing out on their paid flight. And, even then, it is still not guaranteed. And, all this time, they have your passport. You are essentially being held to ransom in your own country.

Why? Why can’t we all travel more easily around the world? I don’t understand the problem. My Swazi man is not a bad man. He won’t commit crimes or cause any unrest. He will work hard and provide for his family, as any good person would do. Surely someone like that should be welcome in this country. But, on paper, he’s just an African trying to enter a country that he wasn’t born in. It doesn’t matter that his life partner and two sons are desperate to be with him. I really hope that one day we will have a government who think about these things, instead of what benefits themselves and their businesses. I have tried to understand why Trump wants to build this wall. Why is it so important to him? I mean, I know his whole driving force is money and trade, but can he not see that the bad people already exist inside those borders? There are bad people everywhere in the world, but there are also really good, honest and hard-working people in the world who want to do the best for their families and their fellow people. These are the people we should be welcoming with open arms into the UK. These people will make the UK a better place. They already have! It’s just unfortunate that those with the power are intimidated by it, as they will end up being in the minority one day.

So, back to the point (!), as fun as it is to live via Skype temporarily, I wouldn’t wish it on any family who has to live like this all the time. Especially with young children who are desperate to have both of their loving parents together with them as much as possible, which is surely the minimum requirement for all of us.

(Photo credit: Alexander Dummer at Unsplash.com)

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