Nut 3 told me she wants to go home to El Salvador a few nights ago. And this was after she told me she is a Qatari. I think we might have an identity crisis brewing in this wee child. And as much as I love our lifestyle, I often feel torn that we aren’t closer to dear family. And just occasionally on those wistful days, I want the bartender/husband to have a desk job in DC that he’s been doing for 15 years and he knows well so that we can stay PUT. And frankly, even myself, I occasionally have to think twice about where we live. Do we still live in Africa? Nope. Where am I? Seriously, I occasionally lose my train of thoughts and have that split-second ponder-where the HELL am I??
So, about eight weeks into our summer holidays and in the midst of our cross-country adventure, Nut 3 burst into tears from the backseat of our car. I think we were somewhere around the Trans-Continental Divide. It was at that moment that she finally understood that we had really left San Salvador. Oh, was that an awful moment for all of us. The poor little soul had always kind of-sort of-maybe figured that even though we had talked about moving for months before our actual departure, that maybe, just MAYBE we were all just making it up. Or she forgot. And right while our car was winding up, down and around the beautiful Colorado mountains, she realized that she wouldn’t ever be returning to El Sal. And through sniffles and snot and little wails, she was so, SO sad. The poor peanut was devastated. Completely panicked. And we were all heartbroken for her. I think we all cried at that moment, feeling her sorrow.
See this life that we lead? Folks on the outside think it’s glamorous and fancy. But it’s not all that fancy, we meet REAL people and we develop lifelong relationships and it royally stinks to leave them. And most of the time, I’m in my flip flops and I could use a pedicure and an eyebrow waxing just like any other frenzied mother out there.
We have lived on three different continents in five countries in the past ten years. And that doesn’t count all the hotels and temporary housing quarters/apartments where we have called “home”. That’s a LOT of boxes, a many plane flights, tons of airports. And about a million Goldfish snacks and weird/nasty bathroom runs.
But my girls LOVE the countries where we have lived. They are American/Belgian/British at heart but they always take a piece of that country with them. From Mia thinking that the camels at the pyramids in Cairo were HERS, to Z tending to our banana tree in the back garden of our home in Dakar, Senegal, to Remita loving to make homemade “chiri-mol” (salsa) in San Salvador. They have loved hard.
So, maybe home is where you find the people you love. They could be people you have known your whole life or pals whom you have just met but with whom you find that strong bond. So true for us overseas. And of course, family. Family whom I love more than anything. My parents are getting older and I want more time with them. I want more time with them ALL THE TIME. It is SO, so hard to live far from close friends and family. I liken it to not having grandparents and cousins near us-so that in this sense, our new friends abroad become like family, very quickly. Although nothing can replace immediate family. My Mum, my Dad, and my sis are my best pals. So are my sister’s kids. I need more time with them.
Z was only six weeks when we flew back to Egypt from Washington, so the first three years of her life, she only knew Cairo as her home. Although her little body sometimes rejected Egypt (she has lots of respiratory issues due to the pollution), she also thrived in the country-she loved the colors, the vibrancy, the chaos. Nuts 1 and 2 and I would stand on the balcony of our apartment and gaze onto the madness that was this amazing city of twenty million people. Even in the suburbs, Cairo was teaming with life and crazy energy. Leaving Cairo was harder for me as M and Z were so little-they didn’t understand our departure. I did for them, though, and I was so very sad. I was also grateful, though. Grateful for the incredible experience we had had in this amazing country. Also, grateful to get out of Egypt right before the start of the Arab Spring. We have had many trials and tribulations but we are so fortunate never to have had to go through a frantic evacuation. Not yet. Knock on wood.
Our arrival in Senegal was mad chaos as usual. I was quite pregnant (=fat and pissed off) with Nut 3 and we touched down in the middle of July, the hottest and rainiest month in the country. No car, two cranky and whiny little peanuts, a very-stressed out bartender and one hot (and not in the sexy sense), pregnant Mama with frizzy hair and swollen ankles. And I was always either ravenously hungry or queasy as hell. Every time I took a taxi, I remember feeling like I had to vomit from the exhaust fumes and nastiness of those vehicles. I could just look at a taxi and feel that intense wave of nausea. And I also had two fidgety, still-adjusting-and-often-whiny-nuts with me whenever I had to go out. I also remember vividly having a mini-breakdown in the airport in Dakar when we flew in around 2 am and some of our bags were missing. I sat my fat rump down on the middle of the airport floor and I cried. As one nut ran circles around me and the other one wailed hysterically right along with me. And if anyone knows African airports, you know that you would NOT want to be sitting on an African airport floor. Just NOPE. But there were no seats and I was desperate, exhausted and angry. Furious and frustrated. And my bartender/husband and his brand-new colleague stared at me in amazement and then they carefully treated me like a dangerous crime suspect. Very gingerly.
We ended up loving Dakar. We reveled in its colorful chaos. The horse-drawn carts and goats competing with traffic. The pungent-smelling, slightly (very) muddy open markets, the passionate, animated people, the chaos and the constant buzz of noise and music.
And my wee Nut 3 in Senegal. Learning to walk (and stumble) on the pot-holed filled streets in front of our house, furiously grasping the hand of our beloved house-guard, Boris. Boris was about 6’4 and they were a sight to see-a little peanut strawberry-blond baby being lovingly guided down the street by this huge presence of a young African man. She adored him. He was her best pal and she would squeal with joy when she saw him. And he protected her little she was his little sister.
Leaving Senegal was as frantic and heart-breaking as usual. We don’t ever easily leave our adopted home countries. Lots of tears and awful pits in our tummies. And we needed to leave quickly due to a change in the bartender’s job so it was even more stressful than normal. So hard to tell a child to say goodbye when they don’t understand the finality of it all. Or they don’t understand why we are leaving. It’s so difficult when they don’t understand but I am starting to see now that it’s even more gut-wrenching as they grow up and DO understand.
Our touch-down in El Salvador was, as usual, not text-book smooth. In fact, I wasn’t even there. Now, normally I would say that I am a pretty confident traveler. But not so much this time. I had never been to El Sal and had heard the buzz about the violence and gangs. Of course I was terrified for the nuts and my bartender. But I was still in DC finishing up post-breast cancer surgeries. And that was tough. We have done hard situations but this was REALLY hard. Never having been to El Sal myself and knowing that the nuts didn’t speak Spanish? I was a bit of a wreck, to be honest. But, yes. They adapted. And they flourished. And they loved. They loved the people and the country and their pals. And we met one of the BEST people in the world there-our nanny, Ana. Ana became like a stand-in grandparent to my girls. In the end, El Sal was home once again and my girls flourished and grew happily. We loved the country, we adored the people, we reveled in the regional travel. And we were saddened by the violence that unfortunately does mar this gorgeous country and region.
And here we are in Qatar. True to us, we didn’t arrive all together. Six weeks without the bartender OR our car wasn’t easy, but it certainly wasn’t the toughest separation we have ever done. So in this sense, it was kind of easy-peasy, right?
So what do I do here in Qatar, you might ask? (Particularly those who are not on Facebook to see my regular musings.) Well, let’s see….. I battle mad traffic and crazy barbarian drivers just to get to the store (that I just found) to buy bananas. I get lost regularly in my car and occasionally feel that I am driving off into the desert, I can’t ever get off these flipping highways. I meet new friends from all over the globe who become part of our expat “family”. I listen to the mesmerizing call to prayer from my kitchen window and know that it’s 2:30 pm and time to go get the nuts. I wonder what it’s like to wear a full abaya all the time. I wonder about camel racing. I miss my family. I call my parents and every day, I wish I were closer to them. I want to be sitting outside in the sunny Belgian weather (!!!) at my sister’s house having a BBQ. I help the nuts with their homework in English, French, Spanish, and now Arabic. I giggle and feel proud when I hear Z calling her Daddy “Baba” (that’s “Daddy” in Arabic). I hope for the very best for my girls. I wonder and hope that they will be the ones to change this world. I miss my girlfriends. I am grateful for new ones here, though. I do chores around the house like any other mother/wife/human being. I play tennis and wish I played more tennis. I revel in the lovely weather that is Qatar in February and then wonder how it’s going to be in the summer when it’s 50 degrees C/122 degrees F. I cheer on the nuts at the pool for their swim practice and have to pinch myself that it’s snowing in DC and my girls are swimming outside in a pool. I wear sandals or flip flops every day. I occasionally eat chocolate. Okay, more than occasionally. I wish I ate less chocolate. I sometimes (a lot) think about bacon. And I wonder about ice cream sundaes with homemade hot fudge (thanks, Mum). I ponder about the DC Chophouse, my fav restaurant in the DC area. I gaze at the blue sky here and see Mexican tortillas in the white clouds. I reflect on the awesome taco trucks in Modesto. And I daydream about the biggest salad on the planet with bleu cheese. And bacon again, I mull over how much I love a crisp Hoegaarden with a fresh slice of orange. And my Mum’s food. I contemplate her delicious cooking waaaaay more than I should: Strawberry rhubarb pies, buttermilk biscuits, Italian sausage and pasta with red peppers and fennel, ice cream cake, cheese cake, her UNBELIEVABLE pie crust, sausage stuffing, pumpkin chiffon pie (thanks, Diane Ludlow) buttermilk pancakes, sourdough pancakes made from a 150+ year sourdough starter courtesy of the pioneers of Alaska from when I was 13 and we took a family trip to this incredible state. And I write what are the beginnings of my book about the crazy life that I am lucky enough to call mine. That might be finished in the year 2020. Hopefully before then because I REALLY need a job and an income. And I wonder where we are going to be in three years. Because I really have no idea. Mongolia? Oh, and I might just look at Facebook every once in a while. All right, maybe more. Keeps me connected and feeling sane. As you might guess, I have a lot to say. And it keeps me laughing.
Speaking of feeling connected, I think that when I no longer feel giddy about the particular country in which we live, it’s time for me to hang up my traveling kit and go home. To where, though….? I have had the most TERRIFYING thought recently-the nuts are growing up and where will THEY end up? I need them next to me! The little row of houses, right? What if they end up on the other side of the planet? Or what if they end up never wanting to leave the US? Okay, that’s IT. I am buying a beach house in remote El Salvador and I am going to live there with the nuts and the bartender. Forever. I say house but realistically, on our budget, it would be a hut. Our own cozy hut to call home. Now I just need all the other people I love in my life to come and join us. Perhaps a hut commune?