expat

On My Own

paintingsIt’s been 27 years since I lived on my own. And funnily enough, I am back in the same place. I left Minnesota 27 years ago and lived in Florida, Washington DC, Moscow, Russia, and Virginia. And now I am back in Minnesota. How did that happen? And back on my own. Back at square one. But older and wiser…..

I have a beautiful apartment that I decorated the way I wanted to. I listen to loud music that I like. I watch trashy movies whenever I want. I cook when I want to and don’t cook when I don’t want to. I can do whatever I want. Make art. Write. Read. Watch mindless TV. Go out. Stay in.

One of my biggest problems is I am way too good at entertaining myself. So much to do so little time. But then I have trouble accounting for my time because I don’t actually accomplish anything.

My day so far …. Worked from home, danced to Los Lobos, Listened to new music I just found on my iPhone, cruised the Internet (can’t remember why), checked for mail (physical mail), checked email, sent email, read an article in National Geographic on Mites (Yuk!), Thought about what to do for dinner (although not very hungry after reading the Mites article), skimmed thorough local paper, re-read part of my journal from 20 years ago, looked at men on Match.com (ugh), thought about some other stuff I should be doing….

Anyway you get the picture. Sometimes I have projects I get obsessive about. Like doing a needlepoint canvas or scanning old photos or writing a book. When I finish a project I think I should do another project. But the project gets in the way of doing all the things above… and then I get stressed because I think I should be working on my project. It’s not really that bad. I can handle it.

And of course feeling guilty about not writing my blog takes up some of my time as well.

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The pictures are of my bedroom walls. I used to paint and these are some of the paintings and drawings still in my possession. My grand-nieces who are still babies are mesmerized by these colorful paintings.

Enough. Now I am off to the “job hunting” portion of my day.

Talk soon.

Christmas In Africa – 1974

69-620x310My first Christmas vacation in college I had a memorable plane trip on my way to Africa. I was to fly from San Francisco to Minneapolis to Nairobi and meet my parents for a two-week camera safari. I had made my flight arrangements through a travel agent in New York and understood that I would change planes in Geneva.

I arrived in Geneva at seven in the morning and went to the transit desk. They told me that I could go into town or get a room at the airport if I wanted because the flight didn’t leave until midnight that night and then they also mentioned that I was wait-listed anyway. What??? I had not looked closely at the ticket. There I was in Geneva, Switzerland. I had a $20 traveler’s check to my name, and I was wait-listed on a flight that left at midnight. There was nothing I could do but wait and see. I spent all day dozing on airport seats and reading my book. I didn’t eat anything because I figured I should save my money and anyway, I was too nervous. It came time to check in for the flight. I went to the gate and they told me I would have to wait until everybody else had boarded the plane. It was agonizing as I watched hundreds of people boarding.

I kept seeing myself stranded in Geneva, eating out of the vending machines and spending Christmas by myself in the terminal. I would have to spend the night in the airport. How would I let my parents know where I was? Finally the airline called the stand-by passengers to the desk. They told me there was one seat left but I had to go downstairs and get my seat assignment. I raced down the stairs but there was nobody there. I waited a while in a panic and then I ran back up the stairs and told them there was nobody down there. Finally a woman got up and said she would go get it for me while I went through security again. As soon as I had my seat assignment, I ran all the way to the plane. I was scared to death they would take off without me. When I reached my seat, I buckled my seat belt and broke into tears of relief.

I arrived in Nairobi the next morning and there was nobody there to meet me. I went to the bank and changed my $20 traveler’s check and figured I would have to take my chances with a taxi. I went out to the parking lot and there were lots of taxis lined up but no people around at all. While I was standing there trying to figure out what to do an airline steward came walking up and I asked him if he knew how I could get a taxi. He said he didn’t know but it wasn’t safe for me to go anywhere in a taxi. He asked his captain if they could give me a ride.

I arrived at the hotel in an airline minibus and rang my parents’ room. No answer. I rang our friends’ room. No answer. I walked all around the hotel lobby and outdoor area. When I returned to the lobby there was my mother sitting on the couch.

She took one look at me and said “What are you doing here?” At this point, I was exhausted, broke, hungry, confused and frankly, a little pissed off. “Thanks, mom.” I said. She replied calmly, not knowing my state of mind. “Your father is out at the airport looking for you”. Communications got really screwed up somehow and they thought I was coming in on a flight from Rome. I wish I could say this was an unfamiliar scenario, but travelling the million miles that I have, this kind of thing happened all the time.

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Kenya was wonderful. We drove around several game parks in Kenya and camped in tents. The tents were fairly large and had cots in them with mosquito nets and a bucket in the back for the toilet. There was a communal dining hall where everybody sat on benches and ate family style.

We were driving through a park just at dusk one day and we came upon a lone baby zebra. The game warden was with us and he seemed upset. We asked him what the problem was and he said the zebra would be dead by dark. He said it must have been separated from the rest of the herd somehow and now it didn’t have a chance. We asked if maybe we could take it with us or help it in some way and of course there was nothing we could do. That was just the way things worked: the world was one big food chain, but it was heartbreaking for me to witness it in person.

We crossed over into Tanzania and went to Ngoro Ngoro, a huge volcanic crater with a large plain inside where wildebeasts, flamingoes, hyenas, lions, rhinos, hippos, and monkeys all co-existed. It had a very prehistoric, eerie feel to it. The only way to get to it was in a four-wheel drive jeep creeping over the edge of the volcanic rock that completely surrounded the area. As we were driving across the middle of the plain we came across a family of rhino. Rhino cannot see very well but they hear well and have a good sense of smell. We were down-wind from them but the noise of the engine must have taken them by surprise because they turned and started to run right at us. The driver immediately turned off the engine. The rhinos froze in their tracks and we did too! Pretty soon the rhinos turned and started to walk away but then changed their minds. We sat perfectly still for about 20 minutes while the mama and papa rhino had a quickie and the baby was the lookout.

Another day at another park we came up behind a herd of elephants that was just crossing the road. There was an auntie at the end and she turned and started running towards us, ears flapping and trunk trumpeting. She took our driver by surprise. He shoved the car in reverse going full speed backwards in retreat. When we were a safe distance away, and the elephants had moved on a little we approached them again. This time when they charged us, the driver just gunned his engine. The elephants were afraid of the noise and backed off. When we returned to camp that day, we were told that it was becoming rarer and rarer to be charged by animals because they were becoming too accustomed to people. That was somewhat good news but really bad news in the larger sense of things.

On the way back to Nairobi we camped at the foot of Kilimanjaro. None of us were adventurous enough to climb it but we enjoyed having it as our backdrop.

On my way to Treetops

On my way to Treetops

We spent New Year’s Eve at the Outspan Hotel. From there we took a bus to Treetops, a famous salt lick with a hotel originally built in a tree. It burned down and has been rebuilt, but as you walked along the corridors you could still see branches coming through the walls. We arrived in the afternoon and had to trek in from the bus. Everybody had tea up on the roof. The baboons were really gutsy and came up and tried to steal women’s handbags. We had been warned about them. At night, animals came for the salt and so there was lots of activity. My friends stayed in the Queen Elizabeth suite. Elizabeth was staying there when her father, George the VI died, in 1952.

 

 

 

Christmas Snacks

IMG_1264I’m off to my cousin’s house for Christmas Eve dinner and I am making Pirozhki to take along for an appetizer. These are Russian pies made with bread dough. As a shortcut, I use ready to cook biscuits from the refrigerator aisle (in the US) and break them apart to make the smaller pies. This year I am making beef and mushroom pirozhki and I decided to try them with green onion and a little garlic instead of the yellow onion. I’m always experimenting…

Have a Happy Holiday!

 

 

Basic dough

1 package active dry yeast (1 Tbsp.)

1/4 cup warm water

1 cup milk

8 Tbsps. butter, cut into bits

1 tsp. salt

2 tsps. sugar

1 whole egg

2 egg yokes

4 1/2 to 5 cups flour

1 whole egg, beaten

Yield: 4 dozen

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Heat the milk to lukewarm and add the butter to it. Stir the milk and butter mixture into the yeast. Add the salt, sugar, egg and egg yolks, mixing well. Gradually stir in enough flour to make a soft dough.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead it lightly until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl, turning dough to grease the top, and cover with a clean towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down the dough and divide it into 48 balls of equal size. On a floured board roll each ball out to a circle 3 1/2 inches in diameter.

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Place a heaping Tbsp. of filling on each circle, then press the edges of the dough together firmly to seal. Gently shape the pies into elongated ovals.

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Place the pies seam side down on a greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise until they are just doubled in bulk, about 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Brush each pie with the beaten egg. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden.

 

FILLINGS

Beef

2 large onions, minced

2 Tbsps. butter

1 lb. lean ground beef

2 tsps. salt

pepper to taste

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Sauté the onions in the butter until transparent. Stir in the beef and cook until done. Add the remaining ingredients, mixing well. Cool.

 

 

Cabbage

4 Tbsps. butter

2 large onions, minced

1 lb. cabbage, finely shredded

1 tsp. dill

2 tsps. salt

pepper to taste

Sauté the onions in the butter. Add the cabbage and continue cooking for 15 to 20 minutes more, until the cabbage is tender but not browned. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Cool.

Mushrooms

2 Tbsps. butter

2 medium onions, minced

1.5 lbs mushrooms, chopped  (wild or tame)

6 Tbsps. minced fresh parsley

2 tsps. fresh dill

salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the onions in the butter until soft but not brown. Stir in the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients, mixing well.

Cool and Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

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.