down the rabbit hole
For 20 plus years I have (voluntarily) lived outside of my home culture, the US of A. Wow: that is more than half of my life.
Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Kenya (briefly), and now Great Britain. I have never really chosen those places though. I’ve simply pursued opportunity and whim like Alice in Wonderland followed the rabbit down the hole also doing short-term volunteer projects in Nepal, China, Thailand, the Czech Repulic, South Sudan, South Korea and nearly the Occupied Terrritories of Western Sahara.
Nine years now in Britain. I’ve enjoyed it, learned a lot, and shared too. I feel nourished by those I’ve met and what we’ve done together. I’ve made a contribution and had an impact on people too. But I also have itchy feet, desire for a new landscape and cultural, political and social mystery to unravel.
At this stage in life, I recognise a pattern. At age 15, I day-dreamed of going abroad on a ‘study trip’ to France with my high school French teacher and classmates. I really wanted to go, I asked my parents. They looked at the itenary, it was something like 8 cities in 10 days, beginning and ending in Paris. Oh là là, I really wanted to go. My best friend was going. But no. The parents said no. I wouldn’t have much of an intercultural and language experience zipping around France for 10 days with my mates from school. They said we’d speak
English all the time and I’d hardly meet any local people staying so fleetingly in each place. I think they thought it was too expensive too. I didn’t see it that way at the time, maybe a tiny bit more so now. But no matter, I wasn’t going.
OK, plan A is off. Plan B. The next year I applied to be an international high school exchange student. One year, living with a family abroad, going to a local school and using a foreign language. The opportunity ticked all the boxes that the trip to France had failed to meet. My parents couldn’t say no.
We couldn’t choose where we would study, but we could state our preferences. I chose 1 Sweden (our current high school exchange student was from there and I liked her), 2 Japan (my sister suggested it, and why not, it seemed exotic) and 3 Germany (a friend had family roots there and I liked her too, so again, why not?).
The committee asigned me to a family living in Villavicencio, Colombia. The civil war, its bad reputation
for narcotics and general wariness about the intercultural distance made my parents initially unsupportive. But I lobbied them, I found Colombians in the community for them to talk to, and others who had visited too. They became convinced that it would be safe enough. And it was.
My year there was one of those milestone life-changing experiences of youth. I learned to speak Spanish. I also learned first-hand about US foreign policy and intervention in the region, the long-running, messy, dangerous armed conflict, fear and privilege, culture, family and friends.
That year cracked open a desire to know places different from what I know as ‘home’ and to stay and stir around there long enough for them to eventually feel like ‘home’. Places with an environment and routine which become familiar, known and suit. The compelling quality for me though is the actual journey to familiarity. On my way there, I’ll live through times of discomfort because I don’t understand the cultural cues and
language, and painful as it can be, I also know these are growing points. Time in my comfort zone with familiar things like friends, meaningful work and regular ‘play’ time, enjoyable adventures in new food and landscapes, and space for personal reflection, rest and fun will nurture growth and make all the challenges worth it.
I could say much more (and one day will) about Colombia and my time in each of these places and why they are
special to me, how I carry them and the people with me, and how returning nourishes me. But right now, I want to focus on the general. Noticing this pattern of growing to know and feel at home in a culture different from my own.
So the rabbit hole. My first time abroad was in Colombia from August 1984 to July 1985, and then two more study/research trips to Chile and Ecuador, until finally pretty much leaving ‘for good’ (or at least up until the moment) in 1990.
when, where, and what am I looking for?
2015. I am (seriously) planning my next move, and unlike times past, I am choosing a place rather than following a job offer or a loved one. I don’t know when this move will take place but I suspect within the next 12 to 18 months. I don’t know where I will move either, but I’m beginning to get a sense.
In 2012 I took a ‘proper’ art (life drawing) class at the Prince’s Drawing School at Kensington Palace. Each week the model read from a piece of literature (in the original language) and we students drew the narrative, as we understood, heard or felt it. I drew this dreaming woman from an evening when we listened to an Italian short-story. There’s a woman, she lives in the mountains, it’s a cold winter night, she reads while sitting by the fire. Reading her mind wanders, and drifts to other times …
I found my drawings from this class when we moved house in December 2012. Something about the drawings from this evening captured my mind, and I didn’t binned them like the rest. In 2013, reflecting on my own day-dreams and the passage of time, I added more images and colour to the drawings to develop my own thinking about what’s next.
a big table for welcoming new and old friends
I can sense it’s time to move house, and big-time move house, like to a new house in a new country. I don’t know where and I don’t know when, but reflecting on what has come before, there are a few things I hope will be present whenever and wherever I move. These details are minute compared to the big picture, but it all is part of ‘the future’.
I see space for a large table to accommodate meals with friends (like I had on calle Dinamarca and avendia Cuahtemoc in the DF or the big long table I ‘inherited’ from a friend when she left Kitakyushu). I’ve had many occasions in Britain to be warmed by a wood fire, inside and out, and I’d like ‘fire’ in my life some how. I’ve collaged on dreaming woman’s body, an apt proverb ‘las semillas de hoy son las flores de mañana’ (the seeds of today are the flowers of tomorrow, to see this, click on the photo of life’s journey above). I hope this new home has a garden or easy access to nature.
research in earnest in Spain
In 2011 Ian and I began in earnest research into where we’d like to live in Spain. We’ve visited most of the north coast, from Basque Country, Asturias, Cantabrias, Galicia; and we’ve turned Catalunya and Barcelona inside and out with numerous visits mulling over whether it is ‘the place.’ I don’t think it is.
Where then? I don’t know for certain, but right now I think it’s Valencia, Spain, which I will say more about another time.
… and one or two things I’d like my new home to have …
… day-dreaming, it’s a form of planning …
I remember music, and everything related to music — like dancing, playing music, listening to, talking about, and writing down ‘la letra’ (the lyrics) of songs, and sometimes translating them — as principle activities of that year. Here’s some that take me down memory lane.
Oye abre tus ojos, by Wilfrido Vargas
All out of love by Air Supply, definitely not my cup of tea, but my Colombian classmates were mad for it. And thank goodness for this pastime, it’s how I learned Spanish, and the ability to capture ‘la letra’ boosted my popularity.
Traditional harp music of ‘los llanos’ (the planes) of Meta province — my host brother had a little white jeep and in the evenings a gang of us often drove to the homes of family, friends’ or friends’ sweethearts to seranade them with harp ballads.
And very popular, Footloose, the film, soundtrack, as well as music videos. Remember, MTV had recently been recently launched. I also remember Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and Van Halen’s album 1984 were big.