I am featured on “My Gutsy Story” this week. Check it out!
I am featured on “My Gutsy Story” this week. Check it out!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
Re-posting from Eclectic Global Nomad – read about Lisa’s one woman show….
By the time I was 18, I had only lived in the United States for a total of three years. When I started college in California, I experienced severe “reverse” culture shock. At the time I had no way of understanding it or preparing for it. Because I had grown up overseas, I had a completely different experience than American kids my age.
When I arrived for my freshman year in college, I talked about traveling around Europe, hiking up Swiss mountains, and living in Africa. My college peers talked about football games, high school proms and television shows I had never heard of. I could not relate to them at all and they thought I was bragging about all the places I had been. It never occurred to me they would think that; to me my life was ordinary. To them I was like an alien landing in their dorm room and talking about visiting the rings of Saturn.
It wasn’t until I was in my 40’s, married, and living with my son and husband in Moscow, that I discovered a group called Global Nomads. Global Nomads are also called Third Culture Kids (TCK’s). The definition of a TCK is someone who grew up in countries other than their passport-country due to their parents’ jobs. I spent my whole life thinking there was something wrong with me and the founder of the group, Norma McCaig, described me in a detail nobody could have known. McCaig felt everything I felt. She had the same experiences I had. I didn’t think there was another person on earth who understood how I felt. It was truly my “ah ha” moment.
Years later I returned to the US and met Norma McCaig. Through her I learned about an organization that was just getting started called Families in Global Transition (FIGT). This organization, now 15 years old, “promotes the positive value of the international experience, and empowers the family unit and those who serve it before, during and after international transitions. FIGT believes in the capacity of the expatriate and repatriate family to transition successfully, and to leverage the international experience for all of its human and global potential.” (www.figt.org)
- Continue reading at: Eclectic Global Nomad
NOTE: the MIT venue has changed to a classroom: #6-120, and it’s at 7pm.
Arrived in the Hague. Went to the Keukenhof Flowerfields at the end of the tulip season so a lot of them were leaning and fully open, still very beautiful. Drove to Haarlam and had lunch at the Napoli.
Tuesday morning we boarded the TEE for Paris. The weather was much warmer in Paris. We walked down to the Trocadero and the Palais de Chaillot that sits on top of it and then across to the Eiffel Tower in the afternoon.
Millions of people and lots of traffic. Paris was so romantic, I don’t know what it was but it breathed romance. It wasn’t as beautiful as I remembered it but it was good to be there.
We went out to dinner and I ordered pork with mustard sauce. It was like a sausage with thin meat rolled inside. I didn’t know what part of the pig t was and it’s probably for the best. As I thought back, it seemed I had it before someplace. The meat in Europe can be strange.
After dinner I watched a Henry Fonda movie in French.
A lot of women wearing mini-skirts but mostly young girls. People were wearing absolutely everything. I always thought it would be fun to live in Paris.
Next day we must have walked about 20 miles. Walked all the way down the Champs Elysees, over to the Madeline and up to the Opera. Lunched at the Café de la Paix and walked from there to the Louvre. We saw the Mona Lisa again but this time it was encased in glass and the glass was reflecting everything in the room so you could hardly see it. I decided I wasn’t going back there.
In the evening we saw the Kirov Ballet perform some modern dances along with some classical pieces. Beautiful. The men just lingered in the air. Our seats were good, right in front. At intermission people came around the audience selling ice cream.
The next morning we strolled through the Jeu de Paume to soak up the Impressionists and then headed over to Gallerie Lafayette for some shopping. It was one of the biggest department stores I had ever seen jam packed from wall to wall. I bought a scarf.
Next stop was the new George Pompidou museum. It was an ugly structure with its guts hanging out. People congregated outside on the stone plaza to see fire eaters, magicians, musicians and weirdos. We spent three hours going through the museum. It seemed to have almost everything imaginable in it.
We managed to hit Notre Dame just as they were having mass so all the lights were on and the candles were lit and you could hardly move there were so many people. The rosettes were still there. They were still impressive.
The metro cost two francs anywhere in the zone.
The day we arrived back in the Hague it was a holiday. We went to the Gemeente Museum and saw a doll house, lots of Eschers, Van Goghs, and Mondrians. They had a musical instrument section with Asian drums, gongs and mandolins.
Downtown there was a small museum called Prince Willem V Gallery. It was crowded with the paintings the royal family owned but didn’t want to keep in their house. Some true masterpieces were on exhibit.
I took a trip to Marken. It used to be an island and was often flooded. They built their houses on piles in case of flooding. The island was isolated for many years which resulted in inbreeding which made it an interesting place for ethnographers and physical anthropologists. One old woman opened her house to visitors. It was cluttered and small.
Another day we drove to the Ijsselmeer, a man made lake with a sixteen mile long dyke at one end. We drove across it and it was impossible to tell you were on a dyke. We stopped at Sneek for lunch and then at Enkhuizen to watch all the big sailboats.
Last year was a busy one. Some challenges and some fun.
My child’s father, Nicholas, died a year ago today after a battle with cancer. In February we traveled to Milwaukee to bury him. We stayed a couple of extra days and saw the Quadracci Pavilion and the Alumni House at the University of Wisconsin.
In March I spent four days in Miami reunited with old friends.
In July we went to Halifax, Nova Scotia. A beautiful amazing place - Public Gardens, Halifax Part Two. This piece was so good somebody stole it and put it on their Facebook page claiming to have written it themselves. After asking him politely to take it down, I had to write to Facebook to get it off.
I had a promotion on Amazon that gave away my memoir, Expat Alien. I was surprised when 712 people in the US and 103 people in the UK downloaded it. I hope you all enjoyed it! Write a review on Amazon!! Help me out!
In November it was a quick trip to New York City.
What will the New Year bring? My son graduates high school and goes off to college. I’m going to Europe in June. Anything can happen, and probably will. Let’s hope we all have a great year!
We decided to drive to Wisconsin this year because I wanted to bring “the chair” back with me. We had a lovely family gathering for Christmas as usual. On the way back we packed the car up the night before and started out at six a.m. It was minus 12 F.
As we entered Illinois the sun was rising.
The cold produced steam-filled air in Indiana.
Ohio was uneventful but it started snowing in Pennsylvania.
It started feeling like home when we hit the Maryland gateway.
And then crossed the bridge into Virginia.
Today we woke up to snow again.
The weather is following me.
Re-Posting from Baltimore Post Examiner:
‘A New York Moment’ is sometimes all you need
I was in New York City last weekend for a high school reunion. I went to boarding school on Switzerland and they have “all school reunions” in different cities around the world throughout the year. Anybody who went there can attend. -
See more at: Eclectic Global Nomad
I have a guest blogger today! Bob is a traveling fool who loves to learn about people and places. You can find out more about him at the Traveling Tripster.
New York City in has always seemed like an exhilarating place to visit. It is without doubt one of the most popular and expensive vacation cities in the world. As a first time visitor to the city, I found New York to be completely mind boggling and memorable. There are numerous amazing places to visit and things to do. Whether for a one day visit or extended vacation, I think New York City has it all.
A walk around the Central Park
I chose the popular Central Park as my first place to visit. I suppose you can consider it a kind of irony to visit a park within one of the most densely populated and technologically advanced urban areas in the world. This wide expanse of greenery is a visual treat. I rented a bicycle and rode around the park taking in the vibrant colors in the form of plants, animals and people. This place has it all – water bodies, rolling fields and also beautiful walking trails. Cycling through, I saw the Bow Bridge and the Alice in Wonderland Sculpture. The view of the lake over which the Bow Bridge stands was breathtaking.
The iconic Times Square
I continued my tour with the Times Square – something which New York City is synonymous. I walked around taking in the sights of the massive billboards all around the square. This is also the place of many famous Broadway shows and other well known attractions. I watched various peddlers selling jewelry as well as art pieces on the street. Although crowded at times, I found Times Square to be very pedestrian friendly. I was often tempted to enter one of the many shops lining the street. I ended up buying some beautiful tokens to take back home!
A run through the Yankee Stadium
As an all-time baseball fan, Yankee Stadium was a must visit for me. I opted for the guided tour which took me through the clubhouse, Monument Park and also a stroll around the New York Yankees Museum. I was fascinated with the history of the game presented here. The company of fellow baseball lovers was a welcome addition because I was able to get into friendly debates about who I felt was the best team. I made a mental note to attend one of the sporting events in the city on my next visit. The energy and enthusiasm here was truly infectious.
The beautiful Brooklyn Bridge
I had seen this iconic bridge countless times in various movies and television series. But seeing it with my own eyes was even better. I got a taste of commuting with real New Yorkers. This bridge connects Manhattan to Brooklyn and it is indeed a view to behold. While in Brooklyn, I also treated myself to the scrumptious pizza at Grimaldi’s. This pizza joint is located right under the Brooklyn Bridge and serves coal fired pizza, which left me wanting for more.
A view of the beautiful skyline of the city
Anyone visiting New York City will have the Empire State Building on their list. So did I. I wanted to experience the view of the New York City skyline that I had heard so much about. And I also wanted to see the city in its glorious lighted self. Hence, in the evening, I rode up the Empire State Building in the elevator and walked out on the observation deck. I feasted my eyes to the beautiful, 360 degree view of the city skyline. The view of the waterways, skyscrapers, bridges, islands was picturesque. The brightly lit city seemed to shimmer beneath the gradually darkening horizon.
A taste of the NYC nightlife
My visit to New York City would have been incomplete without experiencing the amazing nightlife this city is famous for. Hence, I strolled out after dark and went to the Lower East Side where all the popular bars are located. I decided to try a comedy club and amidst refreshing drinks, had a gala time laughing and cheering the talent there. I met a number of interesting people and socialized well over great food and lively music. The NYC nightlife is definitely not overrated. At the end of the night, I went back to my hotel, with the satisfaction of having spent a wonderful day in this sparkling, lively and classy city.
Bob’s tip: “I also love to save money while I travel. Find cheap car rental, airline tickets, and hotels at CheapTravelHunter. Thrifty traveling allows you to see more of the world and really appreciate the people and culture.”
I know several people who say they just don’t get Facebook and what a waste of time it is. I agree it is a pretty strange concept but for TCK’s (Third Culture Kids) is it an amazing thing. I went to a small boarding school in the Swiss Alps when I was a teenager. I bonded with my schoolmates and my teachers. We all knew each other, we had good times and bad, we helped each other with school and with life, we traveled together, we ate together, we hiked together, and we cried when we said good-bye.
Years past and we lost touch. I would run into people from time to time but they would come and go. We all moved around too much. Many of us did not grow up in one place or even in the US but most of us came here for college. It was too difficult to keep track of people.
Around 2007 I asked the school for an email list. It was pretty sketchy but it was a start. I started an email list and invited people to join. I built the list of names up and organized a reunion. For those who went it was like coming home. We picked up where we left off like we had never been apart. The connection was still there.
With Facebook we were able to find more and more people. We had a couple more reunions and now we are old friends again. We are connected. Facebook is virtual and kind of annoying sometimes but it gave us the venue to come back together and reunite with old dear friends. For a TCK, that is pretty special.
Now we see each other more often as well. We still have reunions but we also have lots of mini-reunions and get-togethers. We are still splattered all over the world but we all travel and it is nice to know who we can call when we land in Sydney or London.
There are several “groups” on Facebook for my school and I saw this post recently:
“It’s moments like these that make me understand what TASIS was really about! We were just kids, we lived together, we laughed together, we had arguments together and we graduated together! Then, for many years we lost contact but when we found each other again on FB it seemed that not even a day had passed and …we lived together, we laughed together and we had arguments together! We exchanged pictures, ideas, memories and thoughts and were just happy to have found each other again. We are blessed to have lived this experience because it’s definitely not normal!”
No, it isn’t normal, but we aren’t exactly normal people. So for those of you who hate Facebook, I understand. But for some of us, it has made a difference.
(photo courtesy of Kent Oztekin)