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Monday, May 2, 2016

Shake the Can--Fizz Explodes

Coming here, I'd imagined something grander than reality. I'd pictured a flood of emotions as the plane came in to land, just as I'd cried when the plane took off 17 years prior. I'd imagined my old-time friends meeting me at the airport, overjoyed that I'd returned. I'd imagined walking around the campus and being overwhelmed with memories.

I tried to feel emotional when the plane landed, but I was mostly tired and it was difficult to see past the guy who was sitting at the window seat. I didn't want to stare too much either, in case he thought I was trying to flirt as he'd been rather talkative on the 4 hour flight from Germany. I was relieved to be on land again, as flying has become less and less a favourite pastime, but it didn't really matter in which country the land was.

A taxi driver picked me up at the airport and because I stood in the visa line so long, I missed him standing there with a sign and had to borrow a stranger's cell phone to call a friend who could let the taxi driver know I was there. The stranger was also a taxi driver & when I didn't give him a tip, he stalked off annoyed. The taxi driver was equally annoyed that I took so long to get through but thankfully I didn't speak any Arabic so he couldn't tell me off.

I've been here 2.5 months now and the memories have been mostly ones already tied to family photographs and home movies that I'd memorized over the years. Occasionally I'll have a flashback tied to a sensory memory but I'd had more of those back in the US. Now the memories made me homesick for the home I'd just left instead of the one I'd finally returned to.

It's strange, this tension that the ATCK must live in. We long for homes we've left, imagining them to be the perfect blend of familiarity and adventure, but when we return we find them as real-life as the home we most recently lived in. The memories are more closely connected to the people we lived them with and when the people leave, the places lose their shine for a time. Creating new memories is always possible but then the nostalgia shifts to impatience. Why is it this way?

I have found myself going through a rollercoaster of emotions since I arrived. At first it was terribly difficult trying to fit in and find my place in a world I'd left as a teenager and now returned to as an adult. Cliques and groups were already formed mid-year and I had to observe quietly, engage determinedly, and wait patiently until enough time had passed for me to be accepted and to feel at ease. Thankfully, my TCK experiences sped up the process so I found myself feeling comfortable in 2 months instead of the requisite 6.

Once I felt at home, I began to create memories from my own story. It was no longer the home I grew up in but the home I chose. And I was content. I felt at peace, I had solid friends, and I had many adventures to write home about. My life and heart were full.

But then there were panic moments and lonely days. Today was one of those. My contract is for a year and I'm nearly 1/4 of the way through that already. Relocating to a new country, selling my car, and packing up my life in large black plastic bins with yellow lids means I have to reinvent myself again very soon. I have just a few short months left to enjoy this experience before I have to start a grown-up job hunt and face life in the real world. That frightens me.

I think what is hardest of all, and this is why I write on my blog here rather than on the one I've created for friends & family to read, are the lonely days. The days when I refuse to use my JC Penney plastic bag for the bin because I want to keep the familiar red logo where I can see it. The days when I insist on saying wahturrr and cookies instead of wohter and biscuits. The days when I'm secretly pleased inside when someone turns to me and says incredulously, But I thought you were American! and I shake my head no as I explain my complicated heritage. The days I cry, not for the land I've left behind, but for my family who mean the world to me.

This is the hardest part of growing up. Accepting that we no longer sit around the kitchen table Friday night, eating and laughing and bursting into spontaneous song. That we no longer pack the tiny Suzuki to the roof with camping gear and set off blithely, shouting With fresh fruit for dessert as we pass confused bystanders. That I no longer come home at night, turn the lock in the door, and know that I'm stepping into a home where I'm loved. Those memories will always be there but the time to live them is gone. Now, I pray for the years we're all together again to come quickly and hold my breath inbetween. When we talk on Skype, I get frustrated because the internet refuses to allow even the small luxury of seeing their faces because your connection is unstable. When I need to talk, they are sleeping and when I need a hug, I can't be close to them.

Living in a developing country is difficult. I don't even know how to get to the post office and if I managed, I wouldn't be able to communicate with the people there to help me send a letter. The nearest proper grocery store is 20 minutes walk away and we live on a rather steep hill. I miss eating greens for lunch every day. Taxi drivers proposition me for immigration papers in exchange for less than $10.

I'm not exactly sure what I'm doing here or why I came. I didn't have a calling to this country; I came for closure because we left so suddenly the first time. I think I came to see if this is what I wanted to do long-term. I am worried now that I will have to when I think I don't want to. This was my leap into the unknown but I'm ready to go home now. Except I can't.

I'm living a blend of several lives, trying to reconcile past with present, to determine the course of my future. I know I need to trust God with what happens next but it's difficult when I've lived a life of uncertainty. Sometimes it feels like my faith is even smaller than the proverbial mustard seed.

It's nearly midnight. I'm sitting on my pink polka-dotted mattress, waiting for a mosquito to return. It's passed by 5 times already but each time my hands clapped together to capture thin air instead of the voracious insect whose bite itches for several weeks. My calendar is turned to May and to the left, February through March are taped to the wall as decorations, the pink craft tape keeping them in place as nails are not permitted on the pristine white. To the right, photos of family & friends create a collage of memories and colour above a counter littered with kitchen utensils and the ever-present 10-litre water jug. The mosquito Vape is plugged in but it never seems to do much good. I'll have to turn on the fan again so I can sleep tonight. 

Tomorrow I teach 2 hours of class and I haven't prepared a single thing. Yesterday I slipped on the last 3 steps on the way to the kitchen, my feet went out from under me, and I sat down hard on the tile floor. There was no ice in the communal fridge so I walked 10 minutes to the nearest grocery store, hoping they'd have some. They didn't even have frozen peas. So I bought two cans of 7-UP, hobbled home as quickly as I could, and put one in the fridge to keep cool while I used the other to ice my back. I made ice but it took 3 hours before it was halfway frozen. Today I have a nice purple bruise and a large bump where I hit the steps. My abdomen and back are sore from the fall. Why do I live in a country where they don't have ice and I can't drive to get some?

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