So here goes with my first post about my life experience. It’s not a complaint, or a boast, but I hope this little bit of online journalling will help you understand something about me, or something about “that cross-cultural person” you surely know.
Right now, I’m in my home country, Australia. Before leaving Indonesia, I read about a thousand blogs dealing with repatriation, just trying to help me identify the swirl of large emotions which I was experiencing but not able to name. It was very helpful. So another blog entry on the same? ...Why not! This is my experience, and while it has shades of everyone else’s flittering through it, it’s unique simply because it’s mine. And if unique, then precious, and worth writing.
From all those blogs I read 3 months ago, the quote that struck me most was this one: “With every move, the losses pile up.” This is something I never realised, and something I feel most people I speak to don’t realise. This is why I often get the comment, “You must be so happy to be home!” and it grates, but I don’t know why, because it’s also true. This is why I get the comment, “You must be so happy to see X again!” and it is true, but it’s also very untrue, and I don’t know why, or how to respond.
This is why any comment about my emotional state and my happiness in any one place in the world, and with any group of people in the world, is ambivalent. I love Australia, where I sprung up, grew tall and formed my colours. I love my home soil of Tasmania; I love my husband’s home soil of Armidale. I love Canberra, where my husband and I met, wooed, and married, all the while growing a little taller, a little stronger. I love Sydney, where we studied, experienced new things, met new people, and stretched in so many different directions than before. I love Indonesia, my spiritual greenhouse, where I went through the painful cycle of adaptation, and grew a second set of colours. I love Singapore, our haven for weeks at a time during transitions, or when crises arise (and they do). I love Thailand, where we have a conference and meet up with other workers every year, forging strong bonds in short times. I love the 5 homes – across Australia and Asia - where each of my three babies were conceived and were (or will be) born. And strangely, I love – without ever having set foot there – the countries of my best friends: those who have cried and laughed and shared their hearts with me in Australia, and then moved away; and those from America, the Netherlands, England, and Korea, who have cried and laughed with me, and shared pieces of their hearts and homelands with me, while we were in Asia.
Each of these real and deep loves means that my heart is shattered and splattered across the globe. Am I happy to be here? Yes! But I’ve just come from somewhere else, somewhere meaningful, somewhere filled with memories, somewhere where people I love live. I’ve just left there. I’ve left there, and before that, I left somewhere else. And what’s more, even now I’m preparing to leave this place, which I love, in a few days/weeks/months. The losses pile up. I constantly grieve. I’m never in “my happy place”, but rather, I’m just in a place, which is not home; this place resonates with me deeply, but only with a fraction of me.
Because of this, what do I value? I value my family like my lifeblood. My husband, who is the only person in the entire world who cares about the same set of cities and countries, and can immediately understand my feelings about each one. My kids, who, along with my husband, are the people who constantly tread the same soils as me at the same time as me. What would I do without these precious companions and fellow travellers? Even my 2-year old shares a deep bond with me, as I whisper in her ear stories of our Indonesian home which she also remembers and grieves, while around us is a sea of people who look just like us, but can never truly grasp the secret we share. My little family is my precious cocoon of deep understanding. (Deepest, deepest respect to the single cross-cultural folk in my life... you are inspirational!)
I value my extended family, mums and dads and brothers and sisters, and the huge tribe of nieces and nephews they’ve produced for us (yay!); because even though they don’t experience our experiences, they are always there, always welcoming, always part of us. A part of us that doesn’t break off from disuse. They are stability for us; a restful, quiet set of relationships, people who hold our soil still for us while we roam. They receive us back in our weariness, and in our odd expressions of grief and delight at being “here”, and sometimes they visit us “over there”, or look at our photos and listen to our stories... but mostly, they are a living, breathing part of us, and a part of us which doesn’t lose the rich value of loving memory as time passes, buildings change, and society marches on.
I value friends and people who relate to us by asking questions, who really want to see something of the shape of our lives, even though it’s so foreign and intangible. I feel like a different breed of person – not better or worse – but just very different from people whose hearts are anchored someplace; but I want to relate to others from that difference, not just tuck it away out of sight, and go on as if it isn’t. Last week, two of our oldest nieces and nephews – still pre-teen - plied us with questions for over an hour, about any and every aspect of our life and work in Asia. They asked our little kids hundreds of things, just trying to piece together how their life works; valuing them, validating their oddness. And the next day, they asked more. I was delighted by their curiosity and eagerness to grow in understanding of us, and every question was a precious statement too: “I know you’re carrying something strange and precious inside you, and I want to see its shape!”
I guess on the other hand, other things carry less value now than they did. Because of my nomadic lifestyle, possessions (even our favourites) come and go. Delicious foods come and go. Friends and acquaintances come and go. Safety comes and goes. Risk comes and goes. Convenience comes and (more often) goes. Customs and ways of relating come and go. Noise levels come and go. Sometimes I ride the waves of change with a sense of adventure and joy. Sometimes I curl up into fetal position and tell my husband that I’m over it and can’t go on. Sometimes I don’t feel anything, but have weird and wonderful night-time dreams which hint at huge emotions whirling and ebbing under the surface. Usually, I end up writing long entries in my journal and crying it through, and then, off we go. Packing up my self (again) into 30kg of luggage. Have we got the kids, the passports and the phone charger? That’s the essentials. Let’s go.
That’s my life, my preciously nomadic life. I grab the kids, my husband grabs the luggage and passports, and with hands more than full we grab each other with our eyes; we step out, we settle in, and we step out again; we greet, we grieve, we remember; we make new memories; we celebrate on the road; we write our history on the backs of misaddressed envelopes; we hold each other tightly. And our spiritual Dad carries us, sometimes too fast, but always so gently and warmly, from one precious place to the next, through the next, and on to tomorrow.