Move Thirty Week Two

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I have to keep reminding myself I have only been here a week. …In my new apartment. I still have boxes everywhere and I can’t find anything. …In my new apartment. My kitchen and bathroom are set up so they are functional and my office space is tolerable but the rest is a disaster. Plus after thinking I had sold my condo and waiting three weeks for it to close, it fell through and I am back to square one. So I will have to pay for two places for a while longer. You may have to come visit me in the poor house. Oh well. Optimism is the key to survival. And I am a survivor. It will all work out in the end.

I left Minnesota 25 years ago after spending nine years here. It is kind of strange to be back. As I drive around, things look vaguely familiar but at the same time I usually have no idea where I am. I kind of feel my way around. I finally think I have conquered the skyway system so I don’t have to stop and study a map to figure out where I am. That felt good. And I can find my way to my parent’s place with no problem after having missed the turn a couple of times. Baby steps. I’ve only been here a week….

Between moving, it being the holidays, my condo problems, and my boxes, I should be a horrible mess but somehow I feel calm. Mostly because these are all things that are out of my control. Except maybe the boxes. I just do what I can and leave the rest to fate. Generally I am happy to be here.

The Twin Cities is 16th on the list of metropolitan areas in the US by size of population with 3.5 million people, whereas Washington DC comes in at 7th with 5.9 million people. I can feel the difference. It isn’t as congested and I don’t have to travel so far to get anywhere. I suppose that has a calming effect also. Plus the people are nice and helpful, generally.

I went to the Mall of America yesterday. It was jammed with holiday shoppers but I never felt crowded like I always did at the mall in Virginia. I actually had a positive experience. I’m not a big shopper but if I needed something in particular I might go back there. It was interesting to watch the people and have a look around. I love Legoland. And I was very surprised to see a Wedding Chapel in the mall.

When I first arrived it was 8 degrees F. Today it is 46. A regular heat wave.

 

 

Some Moving Challenges

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I moved to Minnesota last week. I was living in a hotel until my stuff arrived and two days ago I moved into my new apartment. It is both exciting and challenging. I spend my time wondering where things are and deciding where to put things. I open a box and usually I get distracted thinking about what is in the box and what I should do with it. So then I go and do something else in preparation for organizing what was in the box and then I forget about that box and move things around in closets or open a different box. There are no shortage of boxes. Then for a fleeting moment I think about the holidays and wonder if I should send out Christmas cards. That idea is quickly discarded in favor of New Year’s cards. Problem solved.

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I got the trees up!

 

Soon after arriving I went to Ikea to buy a desk. I had been to Ikea many times in Virginia and so quickly became oriented to my surroundings. On exiting I confidently marched all my stuff to the elevators on the left of the cashiers. There were no elevators. There was an exit to a parking lot. My brother asked me if I had parked on the upper level. Of course I had not so he steered me in another direction to find the elevators. My car was nowhere to be found. It just wasn’t there. As was wandering around looking for my car looked through a glass door to another parking lot on the other side of the building. It was an ‘aha’ moment. My car was over there.

The next day I went to Target and also could not find my car. When I went in I took special notice as to where I parked so I would be sure to find my car. But it was not there. I wheeled my shopping cart up and down several aisles but it just wasn’t there. Then I looked at the building. There were two exits. I must have come out a different exit. When I oriented myself to the other exit, I quickly found my car. It was disorienting to have this happen not only once, but twice.

When I moved to the US from overseas everything was disorienting and unfamiliar. I was not used to shopping at large stores like Target or even large supermarkets. I would find myself overwhelmed with the amount of choices and at times I would shut down in the middle of a store and have to leave. This was different. These stores were familiar in a different place so I had a false sense of confidence about them. This made it even stranger because now the familiar became unfamiliar.

Note to self, check how many exits the building has when parking the car.

 

Move Thirty Week One

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So here I am at My New Life, week one. You can see how I got here on my other blog:

http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/moving-minnesota/2014/12/02

The first day I was here the high was 14F. The next day the high was 6F. Now we are approaching 30F so things are looking up a little. At least the sun is out today. It snowed yesterday.

I rented an apartment in the middle of downtown. I have yet to move into it, though, because my stuff isn’t arriving until the weekend. I am holed up in a hotel room on the 16th floor with a great view. I am right on the skyway system so I don’t have to go outside to get lunch. It is starting to wear on me.

Tonight I will get into my car and drive to my parent’s house for dinner. Siri will guide me.

Things I have noticed so far. Weather is still a big topic of conversation. When people stand in line at restaurants and stores, they stand way back from the counter and the person in front of them. They aren’t crowding around the counter in a hurry. They are patient. Everybody smiles and says hello.

I can buy everything I need at Walgreens. Good to know.

There is a tequila bar across the street from my apartment building. Note to self – must investigate. Next door is a sports bar with 8 recommended beer flights on its menu. Ahh the choices….

Out my back door is a farmer’s market that apparently still works in winter. More on that once I verify.

I ate mole tacos on corn tortillas for lunch today. Now that is pretty radical. Maybe I am moving in the right direction after all.

 

My Burma memories in photos

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I am re-posting from Eclectic Global Nomad

I was wandering around the National Gallery of Art the other day and stumbled across the exhibit “Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860.” Since I was born in Burma was immediately interested. I walked right in without reading any of the preamble and just started looking around. Many of the photographs were from Amarapura, the capital from 1842 to 1859 under King Tharrawaddy which is now part of Mandalay.

After the Anglo-Burmese war of 1852, the British annexed a part of Burma. This was the second of three wars. The third war in 1885 resulted in the British taking over the entire country. In 1855 Lord Dalhausie, the governor general of India, went on a political visit to Burma.

'The East Gopuram of the Great Pagoda' 1858, Linnaeus Tripe

- See more at: http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/burma-memories-photos/2014/10/14#sthash.1VzbRUPr.dpuf

Will I miss my porch?

porchIt is a lovely sunny fall day. As I was sitting on my porch having my morning coffee I thought, “I will miss this”. I will miss my porch and my view. But will I?

I write about places I have lived and I love reconnecting with old friends but have I ever actually missed anyplace?

It has been hard to leave places but the hard part was saying goodbye to friends. It wasn’t the city or the house. When I arrived at my new home in my new city I never wished I was back where I came from.

I am a person who lives in the present. Being a TCK forces you to do that. I become so involved in my new place, trying to fit in, meet new people, find my way around, understand language and culture, I don’t have time to pine for the past.

When I left Colombia I cried all the way from Bogota to Miami. By the time I got to London I was living my new life. Eating gammon steak, gawking at the Beefeaters, loving the theater. When I finally arrived in Lagos, Nigeria, my final destination, I was in such culture shock all my energy went into survival. How to cope in such a strange place. There were no familiar things to relate to, nothing to compare. I had to immerse myself in the present.

The reality is you can’t go back. The unique set of circumstances that made up your life in that point of time will not be the same. Everything will have changed. The city, the people, the house. The experience will be different. After leaving Mexico I went back a couple of times to visit. My neighbors had moved, my friends had moved on, the city had grown. I saw some familiar sites but I was now a visitor, a tourist. The whole dynamic had changed.

I left Minnesota 25 years ago. Since then I have lived in Florida, Washington DC, Moscow, and Virginia. I have lived in 12 different apartments. I don’t miss any of them. I see this move as going back to the future. I don’t expect it to be anything like my previous life in Minnesota. I will be learning about a new place and meeting new people. Some of it will be familiar but much of it will not be. I don’t expect it to be. I don’t want it to be.

When I first moved to Minnesota I didn’t know anything about Third Culture Kids. I was fresh out of college where I had a difficult time adapting to my home country. I didn’t understand why people reacted to me the way they did. When I went for job interviews in Minneapolis, I thought I would bring something special to the table. I clearly could get along with all kinds of people, I was well educated, I was smart. But when the interview was over they would say, “Are you going to finally settle down and stay in one place for a while?”. I didn’t understand the question. What difference did it make?

As I adjusted to Minnesota culture I realized that it was another foreign country. Most people had lived there their whole lives, few people had done much traveling. Although it was a progressive state, many people were conservative. I learned to bury my past even deeper and watched a lot of TV so I would have something to talk to people about.

When we left Moscow, we went to Minnesota and tried to find work. It was right after 9/11 and people were scared. When they saw on my resume that I had lived overseas for the past 9 years, they didn’t want anything to do with me. That is how I ended up in Washington DC.

Minnesota is a much more diverse place these days with large Liberian and Hmong populations. I am also armed with the fact that I know much more about myself. I know how to use my TCK-ness to an advantage without scaring people off. I know I will still be different and there will be people who think I’m odd but it doesn’t bother me anymore. Plus I have lived in the same place for the past 12 years so that should show them I can stick it out.

Starting over at my age in never easy, but who said life is easy?

I might miss my sunny porch on dark winter days…. but probably not.

 

Babies Abroad

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While living in Moscow during the 90’s I got pregnant and went to the US to have my baby. I retuned when he was seven weeks old.

On arrival at the airport after traveling for 15 hours, we were ushered to the head of the line at passport control and breezed through customs. My husband showed up about 10 minutes later saying he had a flat tire. So we took a taxi to the tire repair shop and waited for it to be fixed before finally getting home.

The apartment was a horrible mess. Boxes everywhere. Our previous landlords had kicked us out of our last apartment mainly because our one year lease was up but also because we had moved some of the books they left in the living room. They didn’t want us to touch any of their stuff. Go figure. So on to apartment number 4.

The new apartment had no furniture except for a couple of chairs in the living room and a crib for the baby so we had to sleep on the floor.  Luckily there were armoires so we could at least unpack stuff. I spent the first three days doing nothing but unpacking and taking care of my child. It finally got to a point where I could tolerate it. Unfortunately the washer started acting up so there was laundry up the wazoo.

I breast fed my baby for six months and then I had to go back to work so I switched to formula. I found one that didn’t make him sick and managed to get a regular supply at the children’s department store, Detsky Mir. After a few months they ran out. I went to every store I could think of looking for formula. Sometimes I could find it at a kiosk on the street. I was then forced to switch to a different brand and hoped he could tolerate it. Luckily he did but that brand disappeared as well. We did make it through until he went off the formula but there were times when I thought I would have to beg somebody to ship me some.

I’m sure some of you thinking – formula? Ugh. She could have made her own or pumped. Ugh. I had plenty of other problems to deal with so it just wasn’t an option. I never considered it. But he survived and grew into a healthy child.

A large healthy child. I used cloth diapers until he grew out of them and then I switched to paper. He got so big I had trouble finding diapers to fit him. I went through the same drill as with the formula, hitting every store I could think of. I finally connected with a woman who knew of a place where I could get extra large diapers.

She gave me an address in a Soviet apartment block. The entrance was around the back and downstairs into the basement. A very large man in a leather coat guarded the door. I felt like a criminal. Inside was a large room with a man sitting at a small desk in the entranceway. Boxes of diapers were piled high in the back. He had what I was looking for and I bought a large box to keep me going for a while. Sometimes he would be out and I would either have to go back on the prowl or buy a smaller size. Potty training didn’t come soon enough.

By the time we left Moscow, six years later I could have purchased any formula and any diaper I wanted easily. My timing was off.

By the time I left, they had Ikea. Civilization had arrived.

 

 

Why Write?

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Somebody recently told me I am a terrible writer and I will never be good at it. So then I had a mini existential crisis. I couldn’t write anything. I thought maybe I should just stop. Why do I do it?

I never considered myself a literary genius and would never deem to compare myself to great writers. But what makes a great writer? In English class we learn that prose full of beautiful words and images is great writing. I spent years studying English and Spanish literature analyzing books and poems. What was the author saying? What did it all really mean? What did the images represent? The writing was beautiful and sometimes the stories were interesting. But I have to admit I did and still do skip over a lot of the wordy prose to get to the content.

When I was in the fourth grade I started reading biographies of famous musicians. I read about Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Hayden. I was intrigued by their lives, where they came from, how they became who they were. My fourth grade English teacher didn’t like it. She though I should be reading Little Women. She told me I could not check out any more books until I had finished reading Little Women. Of course I read it but it was boring. Who cared about a bunch of women looking for a husband? I was nine years old.

As I got older I grew to appreciate the classics and at one point I was a voracious reader of anything and everything. When I lived in Africa if there was a book lying around, I would read it. Didn’t matter what it was. But my first love was history. Books about real people and real places.

After I had my child I stopped reading. I tried to read for a while but I kept picking up books that did not hold my interest. I read picture books, books about fantastical explorers, Harry Potter but not much else.

The truth is a lot of writing is not very good. A lot of books aren’t worth reading. They are boring or don’t make sense. I used to think I had to finish a book I started. I don’t anymore. If it doesn’t hold my interest I don’t bother.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been wowed by great prose and beautiful images. One of the reasons I like Gertrude Stein so much is the way she plays around with words. I can’t sit down and read a whole book by her but it is fun to pick one up from time to time and read a paragraph or a chapter.

Writing, like any art, is subjective. People like different genres and styles. I used to be a painter and some people liked my art and some hated it. I never cared because I always did art for myself. I never aspired to fame or fortune in that area. I went from painting to drawing to needlework. I make art because I love the creative process.

The same has been for my writing. I started out writing poetry in the seventh grade. I wrote dark poems about death and the meaning of life and the futility of it all. The tumultuous teens. It was a release that helped me muddle through. Journaling also helped me maintain my sanity and keep things in perspective. I did it for myself.

Writing my book was a difficult emotional process for me. It brought out joy, fear, disappointment, grief, and love. It was never about great writing. I hoped to convey a message and tell a story and inform.

And that is why I do it. And I will continue to do it.

 

Snapshots from the District

WWI Memorial

WWI Memorial

Every time I wander around Washington, DC, I discover something new. Yesterday was no exception.

President’s Park is just west of the White House in front of the Executive Office Building. The First Division Monument is the focal point of the park. On top of the column is the Winged Victory. this monument was erected in 1924 and honors the brave soldiers who fought in World War I.

It was a beautiful day, here are some of my snapshots.

The Corcoran Gallery

The Corcoran Gallery

 

 

Red Cross

Red Cross

Organization of American States

Organization of American States

WWII Memorial

WWII Memorial

John Paul Jones

John Paul Jones

Washington Monument

Washington Monument

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

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Tourists

Tourists

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Museum of Natural History

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The Capitol

The Capitol

On the move

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I like to re-arrange the furniture.  It is one thing that keeps me sane.  But my problem is deeper than that.

In the end, many TCKs develop a migratory instinct that controls their lives.  Along with their chronic rootlessness is a feeling of restlessness: “Here, where I am today, is temporary.  But as soon as I finish my schooling, get a job, or purchase a home.  I’ll settle down.”  Somehow the settling down never quite happens.  The present is never enough — something always seems lacking.  An unrealistic attachment to the past, or a persistent expectation that the next place will finally be home, can lead to this inner restlessness that keeps the TCK always moving.”  from Third Culture Kids by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken

I have finished school.  I have a job.  I purchased a home.  I have a child.  I am settled down. Or am I?

I re-arrange the furniture.  I plan long elaborate trips all over the world.  I pour over airline timetables.  I read travelogues.

I lived in Russia for many years with the landlady’s furniture or no furniture at all.  It drove me crazy.  I would complain to my husband – “When are we going to be able to buy some decent furniture that is comfortable and just be in one place for a while?”  I dreamed of living in a comfortable place that was my own where I could just RELAX.

I still dream about it. It is always someplace cozy and small and it is raining outside.

Truth is, I hate the rain.  I find it confining.

I have moved 29 times, across town and across the world. It is a pain to move. Deciding what to throw out and what to keep. Purging. I find myself wanting to just throw everything out. When I left Russia 12 years ago we had six suitcases. I moved again eight years ago and even though I threw out half of what I had I still ended up with a truck full. Over the past eight years I have accumulated more stuff. It is the longest I have ever lived in one place and even though I try to clear things out from time to time, I still have way too much stuff.

I am on the move again. Move number 30. What was I thinking?

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I have been re-reading “Hidden Immigrants’ by Linda Bell. In this book she interviews people like me who grew up overseas constantly moving. In one section she explores roots – Here Are My Roots. Most of us are not joiners. We don’t get really involved with local communities. We don’t identify with “place”. Where we are is always temporary. Our roots are in our friends and family.

Going back to Switzerland earlier this year felt like going “home” because I re-connected with so many wonderful old friends. People who had similar backgrounds. We didn’t have to explain who we were or where we were from.

“What ties do they feel are important as they enter mid-life?

The answer is people – friends, and often old friends….For it is those old friendships that validate their childhood, reaffirm those places for them and tell them something about who they were at that time. People are real –better than pictures, better than memories. Even if they only connect with these people once a year, or see them very occasionally at school reunions, or write or call them infrequently, these connection are the bedrock of their past.”—Linda Bell

I guess I am having my own flavor of mid-life crisis. I am heading to my roots. I’m going to spend time with family and old friends. This will take me to another city in another part of the country. A needed change and a new adventure.

So the moving process begins.

Stay tuned.