Expat stays put.


That’s me on the left, in South Africa.  That’s my not tame but tolerating humans while she’s being rehabilitated friend, the cheetah.  This is right before she hit me in the face with the back of her paw for treating her like a common house cat. I stumbled backwards and almost stepped on her son’s tail. Note to self, cheetahs do NOT like to have their heads scratched like their other less lethal relatives.

Africa is the last country I lived in before heading back to the good ol’ U.S. of A. and I miss it dearly.  I spent 9 years of my young life out of country, across the pond, overseas, and whatever other term you might have heard or used to explain those people who don’t stay in one place, let alone one house for more than a year or two.  And, nope, not military either.  Even after moving back here, I moved to several different places and states.  I don’t know whether I was born with wanderlust or whether it is just conditioned in me from the many moves, it is a part that exists in the very heart of my nature, no matter the origin. 

Our family missed out on all the usual gatherings that connect families, however loosely, with each other.  Weddings, funerals, casual get-togethers over a BBQ, were all missed and when we came back, upon attending those events, I always felt somewhat of a curiosity rather than a family member.  Living in England was socially acceptable, Belgium was understandable, but Africa?  Good grief!  We were in our own exotic little exhibition bubble.  Some of the conversation starters I received were, (I only wish I was exaggerating), “Why don’t you have an accent?”, “Why aren’t you more tan?”, “Did you have to live in a tree?”

That last one came from one of my cousins.  I inherited a talent for story telling from my Grandpa and I wove a ridiculous scene quite reminiscent of Greystoke’s Tarzan legend, with our treehouse we lived in because we couldn’t live on the jungle floor on account of the bugs and creatures lurking about at all hours. I enlisted the help of my next oldest brother, (the one in the middle of the photo), in playing a joke on her because I thought she was being especially annoying with her questions.  It seemed she put me somewhere in the realm of Gilligan’s Island and the aforementioned, king of the jungle. 

She bought the whole story!  We lived in a hut we made ourselves suspended high above the land animals, and she fell headlong for the tale about my pet baboon I had to keep on a leash.  My brother, ever good for a joke, nodded in casual agreement as if it was the most natural thing in the world.  It took her a while to catch on and when she did, she wasn’t very happy about being taken in by her younger 12 year old cousin.  I wish I’d had this picture at that meeting to give more validity to my story.

Needless to say, we didn’t really connect well upon our reentry into American life and we had a lot of catching up to do.  However, from my travels came an ability to see the big picture and a desire to see people’s motivations for why they do what they do, feel what they feel and treat others the way they do.  While that may sound wise, I’ve also developed a shallow root system. I’m ready to move, anywhere, at any moment, just give me 24 hours notice and we’re out of here!

Case in point, my husband and I were in our current house for about three years before there were any pictures on the wall.  It was another 3 years probably before two more collages went up and they were because he put them together and hung them.  He did a fantastic job on the selection of pictures as well.  RIght now, there are empty picture frames he bought a very long time ago, awaiting my act of captivity by placing photos and hanging them on the wall.  They’re still sitting there.  I need to fill them.  Some day, unless of course, we move.   

I don’t feel permanence like he does.  Why put something up if you’re only going to take it down eventually to move?  It’s going to happen, we’re going to move.  I can feel it!  Next month, we’ll have been in this house for 11 years!  WHOA!  How is that possible? I’ve never lived anywhere for this long!  And it feels strange.  Not as in a comforting, stable life sort of way but, a scary, stagnant, trapped sort of way.  Will I ever see another country ever again?

When we go on a road trip with our children, I point out some beautiful spot and say out loud: “Wouldn’t that be a wonderful place to live?”  Our son replies every time, without fail: “It is beautiful but, if we moved, we’d have to leave our school and our church and our friends.”  My daughter goes back and forth between leaping at the chance to move (her usual choice), and wanting a vacation home at whatever spot I’ve picked out, just so she can touch base at times.  She has a bit of the wanderlust in her as well, so I guess it’s not a conditioning thing after all. 

I love how stable our children are, firmly rooted in their school community, which is full of fabulous families and teachers.  Soundly established in their faith with their Sunday school and youth group leaders at church, and linked in with extracurricular activities year after year with the same families.  It’s so good for them, many say.  Yet, I lament their lack of a world view.  I regale them with stories of my past, but I know it’s not the same to talk about life experience to someone else, they have to feel it and grow because of it or in spite of it.  I hope to encourage their desire to travel and not fear far away places or their beautiful people and cultures.

Will they grow up with compassion for all people everywhere because they clearly see we are all connected by common threads or will they judge from the narrow window of a one town existence?  I hope our many trips to do service for others motivates them to find out more and not cringe away from differences.  I hope they embrace the new, without shunning what they see as odd, simply because they didn’t grow up with an example of what is in front of them.

For now, this expat is staying put but, the drive is inside me, waiting to go!