Sitting on a shelf in the Expatriate Archive Centre’s study room is an old suitcase with a faded Shell label tied to its handle. Its base is battered and warped from years of travel, its paper lining worn and tattered. It has been at the Expatriate Archive Centre since the archive opened its doors in 2003, a perfect symbol of a life on the move, but what is its story?
The suitcase was previously owned by Expatriate Archive Centre (EAC) co-founder Judy Moody-Stuart. While she was living in The Hague in the 1990s, Judy used her old case to store paperwork relating to the publication of two anthologies, Life on the move and Life Now. These twin tomes documented experiences of living abroad collected from Royal Dutch Shell families worldwide. Judy, along with Glenda Lewin and Dewey White, decided to set up an archive to continue the work of collecting and preserving expat life stories. The suitcase found its “forever home” in the archive’s new premises in The Hague’s Paramaribostraat, but it had led quite an adventurous life prior to settling down.
Judy Moody-Stuart lived a truly international life, accompanying her Shell CEO husband Mark to several countries including Brunei, Australia, Nigeria, Turkey, the Netherlands and Malaysia. Their family always used Globetrotter luggage. Judy’s mother-in-law swore by them, having sent six children off to British boarding schools from Antigua in the West Indies, each equipped with this brand of suitcase. Judy recounts,
“The essential holder for school equipment was the strongest and lightest suitcase ever – and The Army & Navy had these in stock, just a matter of selecting the right one. “Certainly madam” pressed the salesman, “the strongest” – and climbed confidently onto the empty suitcase to prove it. “Yes. Good. But I’ll take the one you have on the shelf behind, thank you” replied my mother-in-law famously, not to be taking chances with a jumped-on suitcase.”
Judy and her husband Mark remained loyal to the Globetrotter brand, eschewing sleeker, trendier models in favour of sturdiness and reliability. Their children too were each given a suitcase as they travelled to boarding school in England. As the cases got bashed around by rough handling at numerous airports their locks sometimes became distorted and popped open, but the cases were bound shut with webbing straps and still they soldiered on.
In 1981, Judy and Mark set off in a Land Rover from Warri, on the edge of the Niger delta, northwards bound for Algeria. Their suitcases – including the one that ended up at the EAC – were stacked safely on the roof rack, and Judy recalls how they discovered an unfortunate flaw in their design,
“The suitcases had sat undisturbed on the roof rack as we journeyed for a couple of weeks, shielding us from the burning sun and a good sand-free place to balance cups and plates as we camped; they bounced along all day in harmony with the gas stove. What we could not have known despite our years of experience was … the Globetrotter will dissolve in a pool of water. After the sandstorm had come torrential rain , and quite unknown to us, water collected in the roof rack tray overnight and soaked quietly up into the suitcase; this pliable layer had moulded to the pressure of goods packed above it against the wet sand beneath, and thus become the notable undulations of the Archive suitcase.”
The well-travelled suitcase has become a kind of mascot at the Expatriate Archive Centre, and now sits proudly on display in the archive’s study room. When re-designing the archive’s logo, designer Ute Kraidy took inspiration from the famous artefact. The familiar shape is recognisable to all global nomads, with its warm sepia colour lending it a sense of age and nostalgia which is very fitting for an archive of expat memories.
The Expatriate Archive Centre collects and preserves the stories of expats worldwide. Whether you travelled light, with several suitcases, or shipped all your worldly goods by container, it’s easy to overlook the importance of the paper trail that you acquired along the way. Your diaries, letters, emails, blogs, photographs, tickets, invites and other documents could one day become part of the social history of expatriate life. Unload your baggage at the EAC and donate your story.