So much writing

Clearly my outlet. And having access to this outlet has been a relief to my soul. When kids and work and doctors appointments and logistics get in the way, particularly for us mothers, we stop listening to our hearts. Our family and friends take up so much room in there that we have to push for our piece. Today, my heart is singing.

My heart is singing because the sun is in the sky, because I am in Argentina, learning Spanish, relying on myself, and listening to my heart. And because, in 7 days here, I managed to make the kind of friends who come to your house with food and wine, because they know you are having ATM issues. I talk so much about friendship. Good friends really do make or break you. In 7 days these guys made it to top 10. A little longer down here and I’m sure that will shift up.

I’m also happy because, despite the distance, despite the debates we’ve had for years about where our lives our going, despite everything, my husband wrote me an email this morning that made me realize how completely locked in and connected we are in our hearts. We are on the same page. After years of feeling like we were denying ourselves something by slowing down, we realized we are exactly where we want to be. And my heart is swelling with relief and love and, did I mention relief?

I can ask for what I want in this work situation. Just because I’m a woman, often intimidated by what’s on the other side of things, I can ask, with honesty. I don’t need to prove my value anymore, I’m too good at what I do. It’s time someone chases me. And if they don’t chase, then I’m too good to compromise.

This summer I read The Alchemist again, for the first time since college. It was in the Rome apartment just calling out to me. Through this journey I have referenced it a few times. How the shepard boy stops along the way, in pursuit of his dream to find the pyramids. He stops, he gets comfortable. He makes a good living at one point. He meets the love of his life. But the Alchemist reminds him, if you don’t go to the Pyramids to find your treasure, you’ll always wonder, you’ll always regret and this will take a toll on your life and marriage. So he leaves his love and faces danger and finally makes it to the pyramids. He digs for the treasure. But instead of the treasure, he finds a map to the treasure. The map leads him right back to where he started. And when he digs, the treasure is there.

For whatever reason, I’m in an intense moment of learning and evaluating. If I slow down, I can actually enjoy the process too. As painful as it can be at times, the sun is shining, I’m in Argentina and I’m surrounded by good people. Life is amazing.

 

A Foot in Two Worlds

It seems an impossible issue to solve. Having a foot in two countries, in two continents, lends itself to a constant state of wondering, fantasizing, hoping. The hope is that one can feel like home. The reality is that one never really does.

Being in a multi-national relationship, for lack of a better term, puts one person in the relationship in the position to choose their country over the other person’s. One of us has to make the choice to be an ex-pat. One of us has to make the choice to be the “immigrant”, the non-native speaker. There’s a very romantic association with being an ex-pat, but there is also the feeling that you are somewhat of an outsider. It’s not your culture, you are adapting, or have adapted, but it’s forever an adaptation to your non-native habitat.

And the question is raised often in this relationship, should we go back? Will it be a better place to raise our family? Are there better schools? Is healthcare better? Will we be giving our kids a better start? Every time something happens that you don’t like (a shooting in a school for instance) you feel a need to rush to the other place, out of frustration and fear. Our leanings are always to Europe when we’re discouraged about education and healthcare. In the back of our minds we “deal” with the misgivings of both, thinking we’re just biding our time until we can move to Europe.

So there’s always this dissatisfaction, this yearning for something else, this feeling like you’re not in the right place. And when you make the leap, try to other place, you go right back to where you started. Some things improve and some things don’t, and you wonder if you made the right choice in trying to change things in the first place. In other words, it’s an impossible issue to solve.

Being here, in Amsterdam, it’s put my Portland life in a much different perspective. I’ve gotten to see it from the outside, without the commitment of jumping into being an ex-pat again. When I allow myself, I like my Portland life. I’ve been afraid to like it because of all of the other pressures to get ourselves to Europe. But I like my routine, my doldrums, my day in and day out. It’s a great life. Of course, that puts my husband in the position of being forever the ‘outsider’, which brings the circle back around. But at least for me, there’s a comfort I haven’t known in a long time, a pride in what we’ve accomplished together, that I want to allow myself a moment to revel in. Just a moment, until the European fantasy creeps in again.

Immigration Part 2

When I left off in immigration part one, I had left the immigration office with a receipt. This receipt had a handwritten chicken scratch on the back with a date – January 27, or rather, 27/1/10. The guy at the office said, “when you come back you’ll see a man in a military uniform outside. He will take you to get your fingerprints.” Hmmm.

I showed up on the 27th, early, hoping to beat the crowd. I see three military guys behind a waist high fence. A crowd of immigrants is clustered in front of the fence. Again, no signage, no one obtaining information from the crowd, no line. Just a group of people waiting. For what, no one seemed to know. I watched the military guys deflect people’s questions in between lighting cigarettes. The one closest to me obviously watched too many Vietnam movies. He was smoking by taking the cigarette out of his mouth with all of his fingers, instead of with the first two. He scowled as he blew out the smoke, trying to look tough. But it was hard to take him seriously with the waxed eyebrows and perfectly groomed sideburns.
After waiting about 15 minutes, I wondered why we hadn’t asked this guy anything. When I say we, I mean Lorenzo. When one of the guys left his post behind the fence and ventured through the crowd, Lorenzo stopped him. This young lad was obviously surprised to hear a native speaker in a crowd of lower class, immigrants. He was polite but not too polite, he was direct and straightforward. “Do you have an appointment?” “We’re not sure…” “Do you have an appointment?” “I have this piece of paper with today’s date written on it.” “Ok. You need to go in.”
Yes, thank you. I was just waiting here for fun.
So this question prompted the guy in the crowd to nod to the groomed eyebrow man behind the fence. Finally he held up my receipt, “who has one of these?” People held up their receipts. He counted us off and opened the gate, careful not to let the other animals through. “Ok, you six come with me.” The guy in the crowd told Lorenzo, “not you, just her.” And so I went through the gate alone. Lorenzo is the Chavez of Rome; standing up for the people without a voice. And if he wasn’t there? I’m pretty sure I would have stood there all day watching groomed eyebrow man smoke a million cigarettes.