adventure

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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

Brand New Expat 1953

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I found this letter in an old scrapbook. My family was living in Rangoon, Burma. The letter is from my mother to a friend in Iowa.

 

February 15, 1953

Dear Mildred:

I’m sorry not to have written you sooner – I have thought of you so many times. I would like to tell you so much about Burma and our life her, but it is hard to condense all these new experiences and decide which might be the most interesting.

First, I think you might like to know what your home is like. We are fortunate in having a good-sized brick house, which is rented from a Burmese woman. It has 20 ft. ceilings, ceiling fans, concrete floors, and every piece of wood in the whole house from rafters to coffee table is of beautiful teakwood. Due to the high ceiling, fans and brick walls we hope to be as comfortable as is possible here during the humid hot season, which is just now beginning. To help run our household we have a cook who is indispensible, for he does the marketing, acts as interpreter since he speaks excellent English as well as four or five other languages, and he miraculously runs the temperamental kerosene stove! There are very few Burmese who work as house servants and our cook is Indian. He is a Hindu and does not eat beef, but does not object to cooking it for us. Then we have a sweeper who does the cleaning with includes scrubbing the concrete floor and waxing all the furniture at least once a week o prevent mildew. Then since babysitters are unheard of here as such, we have a nanny who lives with us and, besides babysitting, takes care of light laundry, helps me with mending and sewing and is a most pleasant person to have around. She is a young, pretty woman and a good Baptist. I usually take her with me when I drive so that she can interpret for me if the car should break down or if we should become lost (I’ still learning my way around the city).

Now, as Mother keeps asking, you might be wondering what I do with my new “life of leisure”. Well, everything is not perfect and leisurely even with so much help, believe me. Since many people in this part of the world do not have the same ideas of sanitation as we do, I have to constantly check on the kitchen to be sure the water is boiled before placed in the refrigerator for drinking, to remind the dishwasher to use soap, to see that clean dishtowels regularly replace dirty ones, etc. Our help is very fine, and they do everything to make us comfortable, but they often don’t realize how particular we must be to avoid becoming sick. One day I found nanny straining freshly boiled drinking water through a very dirty napkin into a pitcher! Language differences sometimes cause confusion – such as the time Bill asked our cook to get a mess of lime to mark out our new badminton court, and the cook appeared later with 3.5 lbs. of fresh green limes! Needless to say we are still drinking limeade. But, all in all, our household is very pleasant and as much like it would be in America as we can make it under the circumstances. I manage to keep busy – I am trying to learn to speak Burmese, I keep all the household accounts, of course, and do most of the meal planning, attend meetings of several organizations, read as much as possible, go out socially, some, and write letters. It doesn’t sound like much, I guess, but time is passing very quickly.

Our two boys both go to school from 8:30 to noon every day except Thursday and Sunday. Their school is English-speaking, but children rom all nationalities are represented. Some are learning English as they go to school. Our boys have very good friends who are Chinese, French, Dutch, and Burmese – some of whom speak no English at all. But neither race nor language is any barrier to their friendships – an example from which we all might profit.

Rangoon is a most colorful and interesting city with large Chinese and Indian populations as well as the pleasant, friendly Burmese. The city is dominated by one very tall gold-roofed pagoda which is a most interesting place to visit besides being a landmark for Rangoon and one of the outstanding pagodas in this part of the world. One climbs hundreds of steps to the top where there are many statues of Buddha of different sizes, colors and positions. The roof or dome of the pagoda is pure gold leaf and it has many valuable gems sealed inside. We enjoyed the long climb to the top almost as much as the worship center, for the stairs are lined with little shops where everything one can imagine is sold – Burmese, drums, ankle bracelets, cymbals, flowers, lacquer ware, Ivory combs, flutes made of bamboo, brassware, toys, etc, etc. Once Bill and I wanted to buy a delightful-sounding Burmese gong, and since one bargains over the price of most everything here we started bargaining. The merchant asked 15 rupees, we offered 6 and finally after much haggling got it for 8 rupees – very pleased with our bargain. When we got home one of our servants pointed out the price mark written in Burmese – 5 rupees!! But we had had fun anyway, and you can be sure we learned how to read Burmese numbers that very day.

We are at the moment thoroughly enjoying our Iowa news since the monthly ship from New York came in this week. We got about a month supply of newspapers. We get all our letters in about 10 days, but the magazines and papers take about 6 weeks.

We really like it here in Rangoon and are so glad we had the opportunity to come. It is a joy to find that these people halfway around the world are just as human as Americans are, and that it is as easy to become good friends with Asians as it is with Iowans. This is one thing that gives me a renewed faith in the world.

College Bound

The Kremlin, Moscow

The Kremlin, Moscow

My son was born in the US state of Minnesota. We were living in Russia at the time. Our first challenge was getting him a passport. We took a bunch of photos of him lying on a white bedspread. He would not be still so we had to work fast. We came up with a few we thought might work and went off to submit our forms. They were rejected. The photos were no good. They had a place in the building where we could try again. I held him up over my head so I wasn’t in the photo and more pictures were taken. Finally we came up with one they accepted. My thought was, he would look completely different in a couple of months so what difference did it make?

At seven weeks I boarded a plane bound for Moscow. It was a 12 hour flight with a layover in Amsterdam. Luckily he slept most of the way and the real up side was he proved to be a ticket to the head of the line at customs. Easiest arrival I ever had.

Dancing in the rain in Switzerland

Dancing in the rain in Switzerland

Over the next six years I dragged him all over Europe. At eight months we went to visit a friend in Finland. We took him with us to see the movie Braveheart and he slept right through it. At 10 months we visited family in the US. At 18 months we went to Helsinki. Later we spent time in France, Italy, Switzerland and Holland. We took a road trip across the Rockies to California. At one point we were sitting in a restaurant in Amsterdam. It was late and we were enjoying a nice meal. There were two men at the table next to us. One of them leaned over and asked, “does your son always sleep at restaurants?”. I looked over and he was fast asleep with his head on the table. My answer was, “Yes he can sleep anywhere”. And he did.

The electric train in St Petersburg

The electric train in St Petersburg

I had some challenging plane trips during his terrible two period but otherwise he was a good traveler.

My childhood was much the same so I didn’t really think anything of it. Children might not remember the details of their early travels but they absorb the experience. They understand they are in an unfamiliar place and need to act differently. They hear people speaking different languages. They learn all kinds of things. I can vividly remember being six in a hotel room in Tokyo and seeing television for the first time. What struck me was I could not understand it. They were speaking a language I did not understand. I grew up speaking five languages, how could it be that there were more?

On a Carousel in Paris

On a Carousel in Paris

 

So my child learned to adapt and adjust and deal with things he found unpleasant. He went to a Russian school and hated it because he was the “different” one. When he returned to the US and went to school, again he knew he was the “different” one.

 

“Although the length of time needed for someone to become a true TCK can’t be precisely defined, the time when it happens can. It must occur during the developmental years – from birth to eighteen years of age. We recognize that a cross-cultural experience affects adults as well as children. The difference for the TCK, however, is that this cross-cultural experience occurs during the years when that child’s sense of identity, relationships with others, and view of the world are being formed in the most basic ways…… no one is ever a “former” third culture kid. TCKs simply move on to being adult third culture kids because their lives grow out of the roots planted in and watered by the third culture experience.”

From Third Culture Kids by David C Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken

After returning the US, my son had other challenges – adjusting to five different schools, his parents’ divorce, and his father’s death. His experience in Russia and traveling around Europe gave him unique tools to cope with these things. His father’s family was Russian and he now embraces his heritage with a balanced view. He knows the hardships that people endure there but he also knows about their rich culture and has memories of the wonderful people who helped care for him.

Nations Friendship Fountain, VDNK, Moscow

Nations Friendship Fountain, VDNK, Moscow

 

 

Now, as he goes off to college he will have new challenges to face. My main challenge in college was adjusting to my passport country and people I knew little about. My son is better prepared for the transition. He is comfortable with diversity and a wide range of people. He will do well.

 

 

Dinner on Lake Como

 

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I recently spent a week in a villa on Lake Como in the Italian Alps. On our last night we had a local chef come in to cook us dinner. He was the brother of the villa’s owner and worked for a restaurant in Bellagio. He suggested a menu made up of local foods and, with a few adjustments to our group, we eagerly agreed.

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Lake Como is in the Lombardy region of Italy and is known for its risottos and polentas. They boast a wide variety of cheeses and the fish in the lake is abundant. We watched people fishing just outside our villa and it took them less than a minute to catch something. Normally fish would have been on our menu but some in our group couldn’t eat it.

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We started with a typical Antipasto of meats and cheeses including mortadella, salami, mushroom pate and local cheeses accompanied by a local white wine “Le Calderine” from the Angelinetta Winery in Domaso.

 

 

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The next course, we were told, was a local peasant dish called Pizzocheri. It was a pasta made with buckwheat flour. The chef and his sister hand rolled it into fat wormlike noodles. These were boiled and finished with cream, herbs, walnuts, and cheese. This was the dish we all liked the least. It was heavy and a bit sour. We all thought it might have been better if it was cooked a bit longer but having nothing to compare it to, we couldn’t be sure. Most of us could not finish it.

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Our main course was roast pork shank with porcini mushrooms and a polenta cake. The pork was magnificent. It fell off the bone and melted in your mouth and the mushrooms were the perfect accent to the dish. We asked if the mushrooms were fresh, they were so delicious, but were told they were not in season. They had been preserved locally in jars. A “ca del Mot” red wine from the same local winery accompanied this dish.

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For dessert we had frittelle stuffed with apples and raisins. These are deep fat fried yeast risen pancakes similar to a doughnut and sometimes called Venetian Doughnuts. The frittelle were served hot, dusted with sugar and cocoa and drizzled with honey. They were quite good but kind of heavy on top of a heavy dinner.

 

 

 

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The grand finale was the Grolla. It originated in a region to the west of Lombardy also on the Swiss border, the Valle d’Aosta. It is a drink that requires a special container, or Grolla, the cup of friendship. It is carved out of one piece of wood and has openings for each person at the table to drink out of. The saying goes that the people who drink from the same Grolla will be united in eternal friendship but everybody must drink from their own opening and the entire contents must be finished.

The traditional recipe is one cup coffee and one cup hot grappa and a spoonful of sugar per person, add an orange peel, a lemon peel and light. When the flame burns out, let it cool a bit and start drinking.  I’m not sure this recipe was followed exactly but the drink was delicious and we enjoyed it very much.

The Glamorous World of Air Travel

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(I am reposting this from my Eclectic Global Nomad blog)

A couple of months ago I took a trip and found that my boarding pass said “TSA Pre-check”.  I didn’t notice it until the official at security told me I could take the fast lane. It meant I didn’t have to take my shoes off or pull anything out of my bag and I could wear my jacket. I breezed through security. It made a difference. I had known about it for a while but people told me I had to apply for it and it took forever. For some reason they just gave it to me without asking. I didn’t question it but I did wonder why.

- See more at: http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/glamorous-world-air-travel/2014/06/01#sthash.sYFm8EHu.dpuf

 

 

 

Guatemala and El Salvador

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My mom and I in Antigua. Great glasses, no?

When I was five, I was in a plane crash. After that I was terrified of planes. When I was six we had to travel from Burma to the US and then a year later we moved to Mexico City. I did not get on another airplane until I was twelve.

My first plane trip in many years was in the first class section on a PanAm flight from Mexico City to Guatemala. We were the only ones in first class so I got to be kind of chummy with the flight attendant. Toward the end of the flight he asked me how I liked the flight and how I felt about it. I thought that was kind of odd and didn’t know what he was talking about. Apparently my parents had briefed him on me and my troubles with flying, and so he had made a special effort to distract me. By that time I had blocked out the whole thing and had no recollection of there being any problems. I just wondered why didn’t fly more and why we took such long boring road trips everywhere.

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan

 

In Guatemala, we rented a car and drove up the mountain to Lake Atitlan. Volcanoes surrounded the lake and the lake itself was a collapsed volcanic cone. Since I am off to Lake Como, Italy in a few weeks I want to add this quote I found from Aldus Huxley – Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.

On the way up the mountain to the lake, we saw people lying by the side of the road. We didn’t know if they were dead, passed out or taking a nap. It was very odd. We later found out that the previous day was payday and they had done their celebrating and not quite made it home. Apparently it was a familiar site in the countryside. We also went to Chichicastenango and to Antigua. This was major earthquake country. Antigua was the original capital of Guatemala but in 1776 there was such a bad earthquake they moved the capital to where it is today – Guatemala City. Antigua was surrounded by three volcanoes.

There was a new part of Antigua and an old part. The old part was all ruins. It was an eerie place. It was once a major city that tumbled down and was left there like a memorial. We stopped at a small restaurant and ate our meal in the yard. There was a group of musicians that wandered from table to table. We could see laundry hanging at the end of the lawn.

San Salvador

San Salvador

From there, we continued to El Salvador. I don’t remember much about it except one night in San Salvador we were staying in a high-rise hotel and I was sleeping on a cot. The building started to sway and my cot started moving across the room. All I could do was laugh. I was used to earthquakes in Mexico so it was not out of the ordinary. It wasn’t any laughing matter really since earthquakes can be devastating but being twelve and riding around on a cot, there really wasn’t much else to do. One thing I realized years later was earthquakes are very loud. They made a noise like a truck or a train. I don’t ever remember hearing that as a child.

 

 

Hidden Immigrants

UnknownMy parents are always going through their things and trying to get rid of as much as possible. I was visiting them in April and among the other things my mother gave me was a book I read about 20 years ago. When I first found out about Third Culture Kids and discovered I was part of a tribe I tried to read everything I could find on the subject. Linda Bell wrote and published Hidden Immigrants, Legacies of Growing Up Abroad in1997. She was an Expat raising TCK children.

“The first time I realized I was in over my head was when my four-year old daughter, Amy, came up to me shortly before we were to depart French West Africa for “home leave” in the States.

“Mommy, what language do they speak in Ohio?” she asked. “Will they understand me?”

Right then I knew that “understand” might be the operable word….”

The book grabbed me right away. Linda interviews 13 people who grew up outside their passport country. She has chapters on Culture Shock, Living on the Surface, Here are my Roots, Costing Out the Pain. Her introduction for the section on Here are my Roots resonated with me. She describes it perfectly and it was so comforting to read all those years ago when I was just learning about myself.

” Children who move around a lot soon learn to be a quick study in order to survive. Socially they learn to make the first moves, quickly assess the movers and shakers, observe the group norms, and make friends. During the time internationally mobile children are overseas, they usually enter a kind of socially exclusive bubble where most other children they meet, usually in a school where they share a common language, also move frequently from culture to culture. They all realize their existence within a particular bubble is only temporary and that they, or their friends, will move on in time. Eventually, when these children enter local schools and institutions in their countries of origin, the bubble bursts. The entire social structure resulting from their mobility collapses. Sometimes — for the first time — they meet peers who haven’t moved, haven’t had to make new friend, haven’t learned how to adapt. As we’ve seen already, when internationally mobile children come up against this situation, they tend to withdraw, retreat, marginalize. Not only are they confused about their stays in the new situation, but also by their seeming inability to adapt quickly to it.”

Yep, that was me all right. So how does that tie in to Roots? The chapter is all about people. People are our roots. Family and friends. Most of the interviewees were still good friends with people from high school. Even if they only saw them once a year or once in a blue moon, they were still considered close friends and provided a feeling of “home”. I am that way. I have friends I haven’t seen in 20 or 30 years who I still consider close friends. Whenever I see them, we just pick up where we left off like no time had passed.

This is a  book you can pick up and flip to any page and start reading. The last chapter is called Voices and each interviewee tells a story about their life that impressed them or stays with them. A couple of them lived through wars and were evacuated through war zones. I have a couple of friends like that myself. Some talk about how their past influences what they want for their children – tolerance, openness, adaptation skills.

Hidden Immigrants is available on Amazon.