travel

Trailing: A Memoir

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There has been much discussion lately about the term “trailing spouse” and whether it is appropriate or even polite. It projects a sense of “other” rather than something that makes up a whole. I usually conger up a vision of a dog’s tail. Other terms being used are “accompanying partner”, “expat wife”, “support partner”. Expat Lingo says she had been called a ‘stakeholder at home’. I have used the term ‘world juggler’ before.

But in the end, whatever you call it, the trailing spouse is usually the support system, the glue that holds it all together. Sometimes the glue falls apart and life can be rough.

In Trailing: A Memoir by Kristin Louise Duncombe, things fall apart.  Kristin grew up all over the world so when she met her Argentine husband, the thought of moving overseas didn’t seem so strange. Although she did have her reservations about putting her career on hold, she didn’t have a passion about what she did and had not clearly defined what she wanted to do. Her husband, a doctor with Doctors Without Borders was passionate about what he did and had no questions about what he was going to do. She was in love. She married him and went to Kenya.

Being a TCK (Third Culture Kid) myself, I also thought following my husband overseas would be no problem. Even though you have lived in many places around the world, the child TCK and the Adult TCK have different experiences and challenges. I had no support system behind me as we just up and moved. Kristin had a small “family” of doctors but it did not help much since most of them were single and always on the road. Her husband was gone much of the time.

On the other hand, I think she showed remarkable resilience. She found herself some work at a Nairobi hospital helping teens and eventually found a position with USAID at the US Embassy. Unfortunately the Embassy was bombed and she lost her job but by that time her husband had taken a position in Uganda. After having a baby, she finds a job in a small village outside Kampala. She never sees her husband and the marriage starts to unravel.

I found myself identifying with this book on several levels. I had a difficult adjustment when I moved to Russia. My husband was a freelancer. There were no benefits or perks. As soon as I landed I was expected to find a job and help with financial support. If found jobs mainly doing clerical administrative work but I also fell into a writing position for the American Women’s Club and was able to improve my writing skills and help other expat women at the same time. I edited and produced a newsletter that helped to build a community.

Everybody has a different experience when they live overseas. I knew couples who were both professionals in their own right. I knew women who moved around the globe on their own and met their husband along the way. One woman was a very successful diplomat and her husband did his own thing in another country but was able to work remotely. Some people take the time to write books. There is always something to do. I found my way and started writing and wrote a memoir.

The current challenge for international organizations is to find the balance and provide options for accompanying partners. With today’s technology, there are much more possibilities available.

Kristin’s happy ending was her husband accepted a position in Paris and she managed to set up a successful counseling practice working with expat families who are trying to cope with life overseas. After having gone through the worst of it, she now had all the tools necessary to help others in similar situations.Trailing: A Memoir is well written and engaging. It makes me want to know more about her. It is available on Amazon.com.

 

 

Books from Asia, Moscow and Turkey

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I’m always interested in expat stories, expat memoirs, and third culture kid stories. I usually pick them up, get a few chapters in and set them aside. I don’t know what it is about them but they just don’t grab me. Maybe it’s the writing, maybe it’s the focus. Although I usually finish them at some point even if I just scan through them. Here are a few I read recently and liked.

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The Sullivan Saga, Memoires of an Overseas Childhood by M.H. Sullivan, was an interesting story about a girl growing up in a Foreign Service family in Asia and Africa. In the TCK stories I can usually find some personal connection that keeps me going. The thing that grabbed me about this book was she started out talking about returning to the US for college and wondering if she was “American” enough. Her family was very different from mine but there were some similarities in the experiences she had. I could totally identify with the story about her father having to go into the bushes and take his pants off because he was being attached by army ants in Africa.

 

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Lenin Lives Next Door, Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow by Jennifer Eremeeva is about a woman married to a Russian and her experiences living in Moscow for twenty years. She fell in love with Russia at 13 when she read “Nicholas and Alexandra” by Robert Massie. She studied Russian history and language and eventually ended up in Moscow running tours and hosting trade show delegations. A fellow tour guide introduced her to her future husband and she has been there ever since. Her book is all about the characters she meets along the way and the challenges of living in Moscow. It is very funny and some things are hard to believe since truth really is stranger than fiction. I could identify with a lot of what she talks about having lived in Moscow for nine years myself. And funnily enough I actually knew Jennifer when I lived there. I recommend it – it’s fun and fast paced.

 

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Yesterday I picked up Perking the Pansies by Jack Scott. Yes, you can read it in a day. It is fast paced and light reading. Two married gay men from Britain decide to chuck everything, quit their jobs, sell their property and all their belongings and move to Turkey. Most people thought they were nuts. It is something many people dream of doing but would never actually do. They did it. The book covers their first year in Turkey. They were not completely prepared for what they were getting into and it seems they should have done some more research on the weather but they manage to keep a positive attitude and stick with it. After making some adjustments, and meeting some unpleasant expats, they eventually find their way and their own group of friends. It is a fun read.

 

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The Burmese Coconut Tree

 

A friend of mine is married to a chef. He was recently invited to do a cooking presentation in Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar).  I would love to know what he is preparing for them. Perhaps it includes coconut.

 

The Origin of the Coconut

Many hundreds of years ago a raft with three people on it reached a city on the Burmese coast. The three strangers were taken before the king. In answer to the king’s questions, the strangers said that they had been set adrift on a raft on the orders of the king of their own country across the sea, because they were found guilty of certain crimes. One of the strangers was a thief, another a witch, and the third a mischief-maker who harmed people by his tittle-tattle.

The king gave a house and one thousand silver coins to the thief, and allowed him to settle in Burma. “He was a thief only because he was poor,” explained the king, “and now that he is no longer poor, he will make a good subject.” To the witch also the king gave a house and a thousand silver coins and allowed her to settle in Burma. “She bewitched people merely out of jealousy,” explained the king, “and she was jealous of others only because she was poor and unhappy. Now that she is rich, she will no longer be jealous of other people’s happiness.” But the king ordered the mischief-maker to be executed at once. “For,” said the king, “once a mischief-maker, always a mischief-maker.” So the mischief-maker was taken to the place of execution, and his head was cut off.

The next day one of the king’s officers passed by the place, and to his surprise he found the head of the mischief-maker rolling about on the ground. He was the more surprised when the head of the mischief-maker opened its mouth and said repeatedly, “Tell your king to come and kneel to me here. Otherwise I will come and knock off his head.” The officer ran back to the palace and reported the matter. But nobody believed him and the king was angry, thinking that the officer was trying to make fun of him. “Your Majesty can send another person along with me,” suggested the officer, “and he will surely bear me out.” So another officer was sent along with the first officer to the place of execution.

When they reached there, however, the head lay still and remained silent. The second officer made his repot, and the king in anger ordered the first officer to be excutied at once as a teller of lies. So the unfortunate officer was taken to the place of execution, and his head was cut off in the presence of his fellow officers. When the execution was over, the head of the mischief-maker opened its mouth and said, “Ha,ha, I can still make mischief by my tittle-tattle, although I am dead.” The officers, realizing that a gross injustice has been done to the dead officer, reported what they had seen and heard and the king was full of grief an remorse.

The king, realizing that the head of the mischief-maker would make further mischief by his tittle-tattle if it was to remain unburied, ordered that a deep pit be dug and the head buried inside it. His orders were obeyed and the head was duly buried. But the next morning, a strange tree was seen growing from the place where the head had been buried. The strange tree had even stranger fruit, for the latter resembled the head of the mischief-maker. The tree is the coconut tree. It was originally call ‘gon-bin’, which in Burmese means ‘Mischief-maker tree’, but during the course of centuries, the pronunciation of the name has deteriorated, and it is now called ‘on-bin’ or ‘coconut tree’. And, if you shake a coconut and then put it against your ear, you will hear a gurgling noise for, you see, although now a fruit, the head of the mischief-maker still wants to make tittle-tattle.

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Maung Htin Aung was born on 18 May 1909. He was the great grandson of a military officer who fought in the first war against the British in 1826. There were two more wars against the British and eventually Burma was completely overtaken in 1885.

Maung Htin Aung was part of an aristocratic family and received a Bachelor of Laws from Cambridge Univiersity, a Bachelor of Civil Law from Oxford University, a Master of Laws from the University of London and doctorates in Anthropology and Literature from Trinity College, Dublin.

He wrote books on Burmese history and culture. The above is an excerpt from his book Selections from Burmese Folk-Tales published in 1952 by Oxford University Press.

A later edition: Burmese Folk Tales is available at Amazon.com

 

Burmese Coconut Rice

Serves 8

Ingredients
5 cups rice
3 coconuts
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp sugar
1/3 tsp salt
2 onions

Grate the flesh of 3 coconuts. Pour some hot water and squeeze the milk through thin muslin. Repeat till all the milk is extracted. Wash rice thoroughly. Put rice into pot. Add this milk until it stands ¾ inch above the rice. Peel, quarter and wash the onions. Add to the rice, oil, sugar, salt and onions. Stir till well mixed. Cook till the milk is evaporated and the rice tender.

 

Blogging and Chocolate Cake

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“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

I have been blogging for two years now. Seems like just yesterday. I started my blog to promote my book, Expat Alien. I didn’t know what I was doing or if anybody would even read it. What I found was a whole new world. There are millions of bloggers out there. I had no idea. People blog about everything. Some blog a lot, some not so much.

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To mark the occasion I though I might find one of Julia Child’s cake recipes. It seemed appropriate since she was an expat. However her recipes tend to be three and four pages long and that is a lot of work. So here is my favorite chocolate cake recipe that I have made a million times. It comes from the Joy of Cooking 1975 edition.

And keep on blogging!

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Cocoa Devil’s Food Cake

Two 9-inch round pans

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees F

Combine, beat until well blended, and set aside:

1 cup sugar

½ cup cocoa

½ cup buttermilk or yogurt

Beat until soft

½ cup butter

Add gradually and cream until light:

1 cup sifted sugar

Beat in, one at a time:

2 eggs

Beat in cocoa mixture.

Sift before measuring:

2 cups cake flour

Resift with:

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

Add the flour in 3 parts to the butter mixture, alternately with:

½ cup buttermilk or yogurt

1 tsp vanilla

Beat batter after each addition just until smooth.

Grease the pans and cook for 35 minutes in a 375 degree F oven.

When cooled, spread the cake with your favorite icing.

 

 

Equality for women is progress for all

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“Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

 

 

 

The United Nations theme for 2014 International Women’s Day is “Equality for women is progress for all”.

In 1908 15,000 women marched in New York City to demand better working conditions, more pay, and the right to vote. This was the birth of the woman’s movement. In 1911 more than a million women marched throughout Europe to end discrimination. On March 25th of that year 123 female garment workers aged 16 to 23 died in a fire in New York City. Many fell or jumped to their deaths to escape the fire. The doors were locked. Most of them were Italian and Jewish immigrants. The outcome was legislation mandating better working conditions.

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The first Women’s Day was held in 1911 and in 1914 March 8th became the official International Women’s Day.  In 1917 the women of Russia staged a protest for “Bread and Peace” in response to the death of over 2 million Russian soldiers. They protested for four days until the Czar abdicated and the provisional government granted them the right to vote. Their protest started on March 8th.

Over the years the movement grew and today 27 countries around the world celebrated March 8th as an official holiday. Women in the 1970’s again rose and fought for women’s rights and equality. In the West much was accomplished and women entered the workforce and gained more equality and legislative rights.

However, there is still considerable inequality. Women do not have equal rights or equal pay. Many women around the world are still dealing with forced marriages, slavery and horrible working conditions. In 2012, 257 people died in a textile factory in Pakistan. It is suspected the doors were locked.

In Russia March 8th is a big deal. Women receive flowers and small presents. Families gather for celebrations. Everybody has the day off work. It is nice.

But it is also a time to reflect on how much more there is to do. Look out for your sisters, mothers, daughters and friends.

Happy Women’s Day!

Expat Gertrude Stein

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I discovered Gertrude Stein my senior year in high school when I was taking an Art History class. I was told to write a paper on something to do with art and I couldn’t think of anything so my teacher gave me a book called “Matisse, Picasso and Gertrude Stein with Two Shorter Stories” by Gertrude Stein. I think I wrote my paper on Picasso but what grabbed my interest was Gertrude. I was hooked. I had never read anything like it. I asked my teacher why they didn’t tell us about her in English class. I was informed not everybody appreciated Gertrude.

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Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. When someone commented that Stein didn’t look like her portrait, Picasso replied, “She will.” Stein wrote “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso” in response to the painting.

Gertrude was born 140 years ago on February 3, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. Her father and her uncle owned a textile business with stores in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, Maryland. The brothers did not get along so in 1875 her father took the family to live in Vienna, Austria. Thus began Gertrude’s travels. Three years later they moved to Paris and lived there for five years. They spent 1879 with relatives in Baltimore where Gertrude learned English after speaking first German and then French.

The family moved to Oakland, California in 1880. Gertrude’s mother, Amelia died eight years later of cancer. Gertrude was 14. Two years later her father died and she returned to Baltimore to live with an aunt. She went on to study philosophy and English at Radcliff College and ended up back in Baltimore studying medicine at Johns Hopkins. She spent her summers traveling around Europe with her brother, Leo. By 1903, she was failing her classes and her scandalous lesbian love affair ended badly. She moved to Paris and did not return to America for 30 years.

Gertrude and Leo collected art and became friends with many artists of the day. Leo started to paint and Gertrude wrote. They held Saturday night salons in their home to meet and promote artists and writers. In 1906 Picasso painted her portrait and gave it to her. Her portrait of Picasso was published about twenty years later.

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She wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in 1933. This was her first “mainstream” piece and it was a bestseller. She was fifty-nine years old. Enjoying her new-found fame, she embarked on a lecture series across America, her first time back since moving to France.

“When I was in America for the first time travelled pretty much all the time in an airplane and when I looked at the earth I saw all the lines of cubism made at a time when not any painter had ever gone up in an airplane. I saw there on the earth the mingling lines of Picasso, coming and going, developing and destroying themselves. I saw the simple solution of Braque, I saw the wandering lines of Masson, yes I saw and once more I knew that a creator is contemporary, he understands what is contemporary when the contemporaries do not yet know it…” –Picasso

I admit it can be difficult to read some of her work. She writes long sentences without any punctuation and repeats herself endlessly. In Lectures in America she writes:

I began to get enormously interested in hearing how everybody said the same thing over and over again with infinite variations but over and over again until finally if you listened with great intensity you could hear it rise and fall and tell all that there was inside them, not so much by the actual words they said or the thoughts they had but the movement of their thoughts and words endlessly the same and endlessly different.  – Lectures in America

She returned to France and moved to the country during World War II living a low profile simple life. In 1946 she was diagnosed with colon cancer and died on the operating table. She left her writings to Yale University, her Picasso portrait to the New York Metropolitan Museum, and everything else to her lifelong companion, Alice B Toklas. She was buried at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris with a tombstone designed by Francis Rose. Her birthplace was misspelled “Allfghany” and her date of death was two days off.

I think her writings are wonderful pieces of art and I enjoy reading them albeit in short bursts. She had a wonderful sense of humor, said what she thought and lived life to the fullest.

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In an essay for Life Magazine in 1945 she wrote:

When General Osborne came to see me just after the victory, he asked me what I thought should be done to educate the Germans. I said there is only one thing to be done and that is to teach them disobedience, as long as they are obedient so long sooner or later they will be ordered about by a bad man and there will be trouble. Teach them disobedience, I said, make every German child know that it is its duty at least once a day to do its good deed and not believe something its father or its teacher tells them, confuse their minds, get their minds confused and perhaps then they will be disobedient and the world will be at peace. The obedient peoples go to war, disobedient people like peace, that is the reason that Italy did not really become a good Axis, the people were not obedient enough, …

General Osborn shook his head sadly, you’ll never make the heads of an army understand that.

– Off We All Went to See Germany

You can listen to Gertrude Stein reading from her work online.

 

- Original post at: Baltimore Post Examiner

She Wore White Linen – Chap 4-6

IMG_04744. The neighbor comes to visit

Karen woke up late the next morning, not sure at first where she was or what day it was.  After lying in bed for a while she realized she had made the jump to her future and should probably get on with it.  She got up, pulled on a pair of jeans and a tee shirt and headed to the kitchen in search of coffee.  There was a note on the table from Ian.

“Off to work, help yourself to whatever, will be home around five.”

After some digging around she was able to find some coffee and bread to make toast.  At least there was electricity.

Ian told her they often had rolling blackouts because the infrastructure could not meet the demands of a growing country overloaded with people.

She turned on her computer and started making notes.

What to do with the rest of my life:

Write a best seller

Become a field reporter in Africa

Write travelogues

Join the Foreign Legion

Get to know Alex

 “Knock Knock!! Are you up yet?”

It was Sara from next door.

Karen jumped up to greet her, happy for the interruption.

“Yes, I just got up.  I was so tired, I slept late.  Who is this?”

“This is Greg.  He is two and terrible.”

“Hi Greg.  Come in.  Can I get you some coffee or something else?”

“No thanks, we just had a snack.  We are on our way to a play date but I wanted to stop in and see if you were interested in going to Women’s Coffee Morning tomorrow.  You could meet some people and get out for a bit.”

“Sure, I would love to, what time?”

“Why don’t you come over to my house around nine and we can leave from there?”

“Sounds great, see you then.”

 

IMG_04745. Cholera outbreak

Ian was, in fact, not a spy.  He was a Foreign Service Officer who mostly did program management.  It was not a glamorous exciting job but he liked it.  He spent much of his time running around meeting people, introducing people to each other, and trying to build relationships.  This particular morning he was about 40 miles away meeting with a village Chief outside his house under a shady tree.  Naked children were running about and most of the villagers were squatting or standing around having a look at the pale-faced visitors.

On this day the topic was water.  Cholera had started showing up around coastal West Africa and Ian’s job was to try to educate people in order to contain it.    Cholera was transmitted through contaminated water, food and human waste.  Most places in the area did not have running water or toilet facilities.  People used open fields or open drains, streams, and waterways for sewage.    The symptoms of cholera were diarrhea, vomiting, leg cramps, and in turn dehydration.  It was often fatal if not treated.   Treatment could be as simple as replacing lost fluids with a mixture of boiled water, salt, and sugar.

Ian and his team were there to tell the Chief that, in order to avoid an outbreak in his village, they needed to boil their water before drinking it, wash their hands with soap after defecating and before eating, peel or cook their food before eating, and dig holes for outhouses.  In this way they could have a more sanitary environment and people would not get sick.

It was tough going.  Nobody was sick, yet.  What was the motivation?

He would have to go back many times and work with smaller groups.  Eventually he would get through to them, or at least to some of them.  He had done it before.  He just had to be creative about it.  He thought Alex might be able to help and made a note to discuss it next time they met.

 

IMG_04746. What Alex left behind

Alex taught journalism at the local university and had been involved in PR campaigns all over the world.  He went to Africa on a two year contract hoping to do some good instead of promoting toothpaste and mouthwash.  He was 33 years old and recently divorced so he had another motive to get away from it all.  He caught his wife in the middle of a torrid affair with a colleague of his.  Ugh.  He still cringed every time he thought of it.

He was a highly successful PR man for one of the biggest agencies in London.  He was working on a campaign that would bring in a lot of money for his client and wanted to be focused and do a good job.   Therefore he had not been aware of what was going on in the rest of his life.  He worked long hours and had meetings on the weekends.  He knew he had been neglecting his wife but she had not nagged him lately so he figured everything was all right.

He was out for a drink with a client on a Friday night and it hadn’t gone so well.  The client was not happy about the latest ideas being thrown around and wanted Alex to come up with some new ones.  Alex was getting tired of his prima donna client who was never satisfied.  He just wanted to go home and relax for once and catch up on his personal life.

It was still fairly early so he decided to pick up some pastries for breakfast so he and his wife could have a lie in the next morning with coffee in bed.  As he was leaving the bakery, he noticed it was a starry night and the moon was full.  He smiled to himself, things were looking up already.

As he entered his flat, he immediately knew something was wrong.  There was a smell or a sound that alerted him.  He called out, “Julie, you there?”

He heard them in the bedroom, scrambling around.  He ran and entered the room.  They were both grabbing their clothes, trying to make themselves presentable.  It wasn’t possible.  They were beyond being presentable.  He was in shock.

“Julie?  What is going on?  Matt, that is my WIFE!  What the hell is going on?”

“Sorry, Alex.  Took me by surprise.  It just happened.  Sorry.”

“Julie?”

“You are never around, I was lonely.  Then I met Matt at the market and we just clicked.  I felt alive for the first time in a long time.  I am leaving you Alex.”

“Matt?”

“Sorry, Alex.”

Alex felt as though he would faint, he made it to the bathroom just in time to catch the vomit in the toilet.  He lay down on the bathroom floor and closed his eyes.  How did his life get so screwed up?

 

 

She Wore White Linen – Chapters 1-3

IMG_04741. She Wore White Linen

Stepping off the airplane the air was thick enough to cut with a knife.  She choked on her first breath, faltering for a moment, the second one came easier.  She was dressed in white linen, fitting for the tropics.   Or so she thought.  She had not taken the dirt and grime of an African city into consideration.  She was not going to a vacation resort but one of the bustling capitals of the Dark Continent.  Having never been in this part of the world before, she had no idea what she was getting herself into.  She was to find a completely alien world.

As she saw everybody pushing and shoving to get through immigration, she began to realize it would be some time before she arrived at her destination.  Passports were being waved in the air and the rank smell of people who were obviously unaware of soap filled her nostrils.  She tried to keep her composure but decide she must stand her ground if she ever wanted to get out of the airport.

Finally the immigration man took her passport.  She smiled at him using all her charm hoping it would speed up the process.  It did not.  He tediously filed out the necessary forms and stamped everything several times and then he leaned down and gruffly said,  “Make your way to the Health Counter”.

There being no through passage, she had to fight her way back through the crowd and around to the next stop.  Her vaccinations were in order and again she fought her way to the luggage area.  There, young boys descended on her asking to carry her bags.  Being laden down with a coat, a carry-on bag, and her purse, she agreed to let them.  They had to dig through the pile but finally all her luggage was accounted for.

As she approached the gate, an official asked if she had anything to declare.  She could not think what he meant and said “No”.

On the other side of the gate, a mob was stretching to see the people inside, looking for a familiar face or an easy mark.  Several men asked her if she wanted a taxi but she paid no attention as she was also stretching to see a familiar face.

Her dark brown eyes relaxed as a man in khaki shorts and sandals came up to her.  He kissed her on the cheek and asked about her trip.

“Long and crowded” she answered, “I am exhausted.  And I can’t believe this stifling heat!  How do you stand it?”

“You will get used to it, ” Ian replied.

“And the smell?”  Karen asked.

“You will get used to that, too”, he said, laughing.

 

IMG_04742. Introduction to Africa

She hadn’t seen her brother in two years.  He looked well.  Tan and thin.  He was a little taller than she was but not much.  They shared the same brown eyes but he had lighter hair.  Maybe from the sun.

Ian was living in the bush, working on some contract related to the US Embassy.  He was probably some kind of spy.  She did not really know what he was doing.  But he seemed to like it.

They piled into his rugged white Peugeot sedan and headed off into nightmare traffic.  It took them five hours to reach their destination, a large village north of the city.  Getting out of the airport was a challenge. The road was thick with traffic.  The piles of trash along the way were fermenting in the sun and the smell of urine and rotting garbage was strong.  She could see the open sewers, green with slime and naked children playing along side them.  Music was blaring and people were shouting and singing.  It was a noisy crowded mess of humanity.

She was glad to finally arrive at Ian’s bungalow and unwind with a glass of wine on the porch.  Her time was so messed up she could not really think.  She just went with the flow.

“Sorry but I have accepted an invitation for us to go out tonight.”

“What?”  Karen asked, surprised.

“It is the Christmas Pantomime and then a light supper at the a friend’s house.  It will be fun.  You can sleep through the pantomime.”

“Fine.”

IMG_04743. What she left behind

Karen had left the Boston winter behind.  It was December and she should have stayed to spend the holidays with her boyfriend, Josh, but she could not bear another day in that city.  She needed a break.  She had worked hard for two solid years to receive a Masters Degree in journalism.   It was her dream to travel and write.  Then she spent the next six months looking for a job with no luck.  The market was saturated and there was no interest in somebody with no experience and no real conviction.  She knew she wanted to write but she was not sure what she wanted to write about.  Not politics.  Not crime.  Not flea markets and farmer’s markets.  She wanted to write about exotic people and places.  She was a dreamer.

So she told her boyfriend she needed a break and was going to Africa to visit her brother for a few weeks.  He was not happy about that.  He accused her of being cold and heartless.  She thought he was probably right.  She should have been more caring and attentive but frankly she did not care.  She wanted to move on.  To get on with her life.  Not sit in Boston making babies the rest of her life.  She had stored her few belongings with a friend and she doubted she would go back.

There was a small expat community in the village where Ian lived and many of them were British.  Hence the Christmas pantomime.  As a girl, she lived in India and was very familiar with the pantomime.  Pantomimes were musical comedies usually based on children’s fairy tales. Expat communities around the world would write their own scripts incorporating individuals in the community in the jokes, sometimes off-color ones. She was looking forward to it.  It would bring back fond memories.

They arrived just in time to take their seats before the curtain rose.

The story was Jack and the Magical Palm.  It was very funny, full of twists, turn and innuendoes.  Many of them, Karen did not understand but she fully enjoyed it anyway.

As they were getting up, a young man came up to greet Ian.

“This is my sister, Karen, who just arrived today from Boston for a few weeks.  Karen, I would  like you to meet my good friend, Alex.”

Karen stood transfixed.  It was not that he was the most gorgeous man she had ever seen, although he was handsome, but he had such a presence, she was immediately drawn to him.  She had to ask Ian to repeat his name.

“Hi, nice to meet you”

“Nice to meet you.  I know Ian was looking forward to your visit.  Will you be staying long?”

“I am not sure, a couple of weeks.”

“Good, then we will see more of each other, I am sure.  Sorry but I have to run, I volunteered to help with clean up.”

Ian introduced Karen to a couple of other people who did not register with her at all and then they left for their dinner party at Ian’s next door neighbor’s house.  They were a young couple with a young child and were not up to going to the pantomime.  Karen and Ian arrived a little after nine and the child was sleeping so all was quiet.

“Hi, this is my sister Karen.  Karen this is Sarah and Joe.  Joe and I work together.”

“Welcome!  It is great to meet you.  We have heard a lot about you.  Come in!”

Sitting on the screened-in porch, Karen enjoyed the cool evening breezes.  The supper started with humus and pita bread.  Karen was delighted as humus was one of her favorite foods.  A comfort food.  She was tired.

 

 

Reinvent and Survive – What’s next?

My Gypsy Costume, age 4

My Gypsy Costume, age 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I often see articles in magazines and on the web about people who have “reinvented” themselves; or articles about how to reinvent yourself at 40 or 50. I recently came across one titled Reinvent Your Life at 30, 40, 50, 60. I found some of the stories boring. One was about a woman going from fashion designer to designing art and yoga retreats for women. Okay, I’m a little cynical. It just seemed too easy.

The 60 year old was the most interesting. She started raising money by climbing mountains. Good thing she was able to connect with a lot of generous people who sponsored her. She raised $160,000 for multiple sclerosis. Then she lost everything to Bernie Madoff and had to go to work for real. She started a catering business and then went into real estate. A real survivor.

I keep thinking I want to reinvent myself and go off on some new adventure. But when read these types of articles, I realize I have been reinventing myself my whole life. Every move was a new start. Every new school a clean slate. I could be whoever I wanted to be and do whatever I wanted to do.

It carried over into my career as well. I applied for a job in publishing production because I thought it would be cool to work in the glamorous world of magazine publishing. I ended that career as production manager for a small magazine nobody ever heard of. Then I had a brief career in the printing industry. I’m not sure what I was doing there but it wasn’t my calling.

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Washington, DC

After I got married I followed my husband around, first to Florida where I worked for a questionable insurance company doing data entry because I could not find anything else. Next move was Washington DC where I went to work for the Federal Government, doesn’t everybody? In Moscow, I worked for the British Embassy as a secretary where I had to re-learn to spell properly. Then I ran a translation company doing everything from training to payroll.  My last job was printing visas for Russian businesspeople at the US Embassy.

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Moscow

Back in the US I did data entry for General Electric and finally found a job with a social research organization back in Washington DC, in the IT department of all things.

I had to be able to adjust and evolve to fit into my surroundings. To be flexible. To survive.

And I did survive.

When we moved to Bogota, I switched my accent from Mexican to Colombian. No problem. In Nigeria, it took me a while, but eventually I could fake some good Pidgin English and understand what people were saying. No problem. When I went to college in the US and suffered severe reverse culture shock, I figured it out and learned to blend in. No problem. In Moscow, I learned to keep my mouth shut so people wouldn’t know I was foreign. And I learned to read Cyrillic. No problem.

As I get older, I keep thinking there should be a next phase. What will come next? But then I remind myself, I have already started down that path. My blog is almost two years old, I write for an online newspaper, and I have published two books. It is my new direction, and I am loving it!

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