The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I’ve been enjoying the recently-introduced Facebook memories function, not least because it makes me more aware of what (and who!) I have in my life today, and the eventful journey it took to get here. Yes, not every memory is pleasant, as some users have pointed out, but dare I say, personally it is proving to be an exercise in gratitude for my habit of sharing small pleasures and ignoring (most!) minor irritants.

While most of my Facebook memories seem to celebrate time spent with family and friends – and all those who blur the lines between the two! – every now and then, a more momentous one pops up. Here’s what it showed me on 11th May 2015. (Remember how the old timeline layout forced us to refer to ourselves in the third person?!)

7 years ago:

Namrata Chowdhary updated her status.
has finally moved to London. What a wait!!

Seven years.

That kind of memory forces you to pause, to take stock, to consider… seven years ago, so much was different! Yet so much is the same.

There were friends we hadn’t met yet, and children who weren’t born yet, who would go on to occupy such large chunks of my heart. But there were so many others too, who were there then, had been there before, and are still here for me now.

There were parts of London I hadn’t even explored yet, but would start to call home soon. From that first flat my husband and I moved to in London, we moved not once, but twice; and each time, with each new home, whether large or small, we managed to fill it with the love and laughter of people who mattered. And I always managed to find my piece of the London sky.

There were charities I hadn’t worked with, causes and campaigns I had no clue about, that I would become a passionate advocate for. But considering the inter-connectedness – of values, of causes and of the ‘global campaigner community’ – some things have come full circle with an air of inevitability. Social justice intersected with climate politics,  gender neutrality with child rights, livelihood struggles with ecological principles, animal welfare with disaster preparedness… and almost everything with economic justice and that beautiful, all-encompassing phrase: sustainable development. (I use it with only mild irony.)

The one thing that hasn’t changed at all, though, is the worst fear that expats everywhere must share: the sheer helplessness of being away from your family and friends when tragedy strikes close to home. It takes one news headline, one text or tweet, to send your heart rate soaring and your hands reaching for the phone.

That unchanged reality was brought home today: as I texted back and forth with my parents-in-law about their upcoming visit to our home (and whether or not they should bring banana chips – yes! and home-made ghee – no!), there was a sudden, long gap in the conversation… Followed by a slew of terse messages:

“Just felt tremors and rushed out.”

“Massive earthquake but all well here, do not worry.”

Immediately turning to the news, I realised that the earthquake was centred in Kathmandu again, so my family in Delhi were reasonably safe. But of course, it made me think immediately of the three people I know personally, one of them a good friend, two – actually, all three! – of them ex-colleagues currently in Nepal as part of the international aid effort, and a fourth who has taken up residence there. So I spent the next few hours closely following news reports, Twitter feeds, Facebook posts and the television, hoping to hear good news from these four individuals even as I felt awful for the impact on the people of Nepal.

So yes, in that one regard, nothing has changed in these seven years. And probably won’t for the next seven either. Because at the end of the day, tragedies on this scale only become really real to us when they’re personal. And when you’re an expat (or when you otherwise belong to a group as diverse as international charity workers) somehow, it is always personal. Or becomes that way.


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