I have the impression that British people like to tell stories, and they are very good at it. In contrast, I usually struggle to add some excitements in my own stories. My cultural background plays a big role in this: I was educated to speak less in any situations. “Diam adalah emas”, my teachers said. Silence is gold.
One of the example is when people ask how Ihar – my partner and I met. I simply answer “we met online” with straight face. The brits would have said “We met on Grindr. It was ecstatic!’.
The truth is, of course, we met online in 2012 through less exciting platform called Couchsurfing. I studied in Manchester at the time and had participated hosting travellers for couple of years. Ihar was looking for a free accommodation in the city. So I invited him to stay at my student dorm.
The visit did not materialise but we kept in touch. A couple of months later, we met (this time offline!) in London over a coffee. This brief meeting led us to a second drink in a bar in Soho. After that, Ihar went back to Leicester, and I returned to Indonesia as my student visa was expired.
Whatsapp and FaceTime were our main channels of communication to a year – long distance relationship. The situation changed as Ihar lost his librarian job in Leicester, but quickly found another in London. He reluctantly moved to London in 2014. I, in the other hand, had found a job in Jakarta and moved to another one.
We met two or three times a year, usually between 10 to 12 days each. Each meeting was a trip to different countries like Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia.
One day – after a very long deliberation – we agreed to move in together. That means – I had to apply for a visa for marriage, quit my job and be in Britain. Other countries does not suit us – either in Indonesia or in Belarus, our relations would have meant nothing, at any time, one of us could lose the residence permit or any other right to remain together.
We were a very nervous with the obstacles waiting in front of us: cross cultural and social expectations, barriers, and precautions. The visa application process was not without problems, long and expensive. But the December 26, 2015, I arrived in Gatwick Airport via Indonesia favourite airline: Garuda.
Sleepy, exhausted and cold, I sat quietly on train and repeatedly asking myself a question: what am I doing here? I will write about this and my other experiences living in London in future post.