Good Morning lovely readers. Maybe you’re on the subway, maybe you’re sitting at the dentist office waiting for that relaxing cleaning, maybe you are taking that stolen moment by yourself drinking a coffee while actually sitting? Wherever you are, your life is grinding on and you are probably thinking about how you should not be reading my blog, you should be doing so many other things on that long list you have going. Or maybe I just lost you with that ramble? Well, take a minute, relax, and follow me down the rabbit hole.
Today I’d like to tell you a little bit of truth about my life. A little nugget of reality about becoming and sustaining life as an “expat” organism. Mostly it is really cool. It’s full of adventures, travels to exotic locations, flexibility to do what your family wants to do because, well, you don’t really have any family obligations. It’s full of learning, and changing, and meeting fascinating people. It’s a bit like becoming a new person with every month that passes because every month brings new challenges. The months roll by in a series of planning sessions where I puzzle over which destination I want to plan our next trip to and how I will get our next jar of peanut butter witihout selling my first born. In between , this expat life is mostly just like most lives. We eat. We sleep. We poop.
This morning I climbed upon my beautiful charming electric bike, Kai Yo (which means ocean) and rode off to go see the dentist. I lamented on the way there about how much I love the fact that I ride a bike most days for transportation. I enjoyed the clean and quiet city streets, something so unique about here. I listened to the birds chirping and felt that breeze blowing through my hair. It was one of those, “I love my life ” moments. I stopped at the stop light waiting for it to turn, I looked around at the people surrounding me and noticed an older Japanese man staring at my chest in a disturbing manner(I wear shirts that go to my neck here due to that being the culturally acceptable thing). I noticed another woman staring at my clothes with a semi distasteful look. Suddenly my happy façade cracked, it came crumbling down and I melted into a puddle of anxiety. I literally thought to myself , “What the HELL am I doing here?” and “When is this going to end”?
Those of you who know me, know I really do not care what people think about how I look. It wasn’t that. It was just that moment , that I think we all have when we live abroad, that MOMENT when we realize , “HOLY CRAP, I LIVE HERE AND I DON”T BELONG HERE”. That moment when you realize this is NOT a long drawn out vacation or a summer rental experience that will come to an end soon. That moment, when you realize your whole family has bowel shattering diarrhea and you have no idea how to buy the proper medicine and you end up coming home with something the pharmacist recommended because he thinks you overeat (ugh). And you try not to take it personally and try not to think that he is making a judgement because you are a foreigner, even though he probably is. That moment when you realize that though you are mostly happy here, 87.5% of the time this is still NOT your home and you actually do not even have a home.
Expat life is hard. It’s like waking up in the movie “groundhog day” where every day you remember, “Oh yah, I made that choice to live in a country where no one understands me and now I have to get through another day of it”. When you’re tired, when you’re confused, when you are home sick, well…too bad, you still have to figure out what that person is saying in a language you don’t understand. And yes, you may miss eating a reasonably decent pizza. You may miss it so much that you dream of it at night and that you search images of New York Pizza online and just sigh. You may miss watermelon so much you think you just might just pay that 32.00 price tag for that melon that is the size of your son’s head. But then you snap into reality and put yourself in marathon mode and realize that if you can just wait long enough you’ll get to a location where watermelon doesn’t cost the same price as silver.
There are days(thankfully most days here) when it all goes well and you think you have the most charmed life on the planet. And then, there are days where you walk around like you just came down from an acid trip where you ended up in Tijuana wearing someone else’s clothing (and though a lot has happened to me, what I just mentioned is not one of the things , but I can imagine it would have a similar feeling). There are days where you feel like you could scream your head off when someone puts a bowl of rice in front of you, days when you just want to walk up and do a Three Stooges eye poke at the people who are eyeing you up and down and wondering why you live in their country, and days where you just want to break all the rules by being loud, littering, and run around singing and dancing while slapping your own ass, just to see what would happen (okay, is it just me?)
And lets not even talk about the “friend” factor. Sure we all have friends as expats. And some of us are lucky enough to forge really special, meaningful , relationships within the expat community. I am lucky to know some truly wonderful and dynamic people. But those friends that really know us, inside and out, all our faults, our history, and our joys. Those friends are far, far, far away. And yes, we can talk online, but usually we are in totally different time zones. Since moving to Japan I have severely missed talking to all my amazing “old” friends. We sometimes talk when one of us has to help brush our kids teeth or we are cooking dinner. The quality conversations maybe occur once a year if we are lucky it seems.
And then there is the other thing that happens. You lose friends. And you lose family. They remain in the life you started in. They do the things you used to do. They say they don’t mind that you left and that they understand your choices, but they actually don’t. They shed away because they can’t relate to your life. You’re weird and you are no longer one of them. And though you try your best to fit back into the fold, each time you notice that the fold is a little tighter and you are less welcome, until one day you can’t find the door at all.
They can’t understand why you always seem to be on a vacation, why you have grown and changed, why you can not relate to going to the community walkathon they’ve been going to for the past 45 years or the fact that they have coffee with the same friend every week , or why you don’t understand why they have been complaining for six weeks about having to change their doctor since you’ve had about 40 different ones in the past decade. They can not understand why you chose this life for yourself. They keep asking you when you are “coming home”, and you wonder where exactly do they mean? Where are they talking about?
Then one day you wake up and you actually realize that some of them are envious and they don’t even like you. Sometimes they even tell you this, and you didn’t ask. They think your life is a piece of cake, after all, you don’t work, your husband makes good money, and you travel all the time. What do YOU have to complain about (even if you are NOT complaining). Sometimes, in my weaker moments(due to growing up with a ton of Catholic guilt) I actually feel like I don’t deserve this life. The life that on the shining days is so much fun and holds so much fascination. And then I remember that none of us truly chooses our life, we can only choose the moments. And I have been given these moments and have been so lucky to have this life, however crazy it seems to me on some days.
I am always trying to live my life in a positive manner. I spent many years of my life being devastated from great losses and heart aches. I am thrilled that today I am healthy. I am thrilled I have the best husband on the planet. I am thrilled that my son is so wonderful and brings so much joy to my life. I am thrilled that our life is very comfortable and we know it. I acknowledge the fact that my life is really cool, and full of great travels and adventures and interesting people. But even I falter at times, even I fall down the rabbit hole of despair. I sit and look at my life as if I’m floating above it and wonder how I ended up on this path where roots have grown in so many different countries and with so many different “families” that are not truly my family. I wonder how things with my real family have fallen so far into disrepair. If I had never left would it all be okay? Probably not.
So this rant is for all of you today who find yourself on that street corner , feeling like you just had amnesia and wondering how you got to this point in your life. And maybe you are not even an expat, maybe you are living a life that you never wanted or that you are not happy with. Maybe most of it is great, but there is one thing you really need to change. We just all have to keep going, keep striving, keep being kind to one another. Try and keep your doors open and let those of us who have strayed back into the fold, even if you think we don’t always deserve it. Keep your hearts open and your mind’s open. As I always say, we never know what someone else is hiding behind their smile.
Until we meet again, down the rabbit hole my friends!