expatriate

I have been waiting for far too long. Since I first understood the concept of future, I have been waiting. All of the major stages in my life have been completed only to get to the next stage. Go to school to graduate and go to college. Go to college to graduate and get a job. Get a job to get experience before going to graduate school. Go to graduate school to graduate and get a better job. Life was simple. I just had to work hard to get towards that end point. Then the end point would come, I’d feel great and accomplished and proud etc, and then I’d start working towards the next end point. If I sound cynical, I don’t mean to. I genuinely enjoyed this. I enjoyed following the instructions. It was reassuring to have a path. I was lucky and privileged to have a path. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But I never got that better job. Instead I uprooted my life. I bought a one-way ticket to Australia. I traveled with no real purpose, I stumbled upon a job that was not part of the plan, and I fell in love. I submitted an application to stay in New Zealand for another year. Again I waited. The visa was approved, and now I can stay for another year. But somehow I’m still waiting. What am I waiting for?

When my new visa expires next January, I can apply for permanent residency. I am not sure that I have fully swallowed this idea. I have not yet transitioned from ‘oh I’m just traveling the world for a year’ to ‘I am going to live in New Zealand for eternity.’ I think I had gotten so accustomed to the don’t-have-a-plan mentality that I’m now struggling to stay put. I had trained myself to not be afraid of what’s next. I had prepared for the possibility of traveling long-term, beyond the original One Year Plan. And now I have settled in one place for the foreseeable future – not for weeks or months but for years. The irony!

I have established physical roots but not emotional roots. I fear that if I get attached, I’ll have something to lose. I fear that if I settle down mentally, the rug of my new lovely lakefront apartment that is really starting to feel like home will suddenly be swept out from under my feet, my cosy work-remotely arrangement will somehow vanish, my relationship will deteriorate, my connections will fray, and I’ll fall apart. I fear that I will be left vulnerable and stranded in a foreign land with no one to guide me home–my fortress crumbled. So I’m preparing myself to be willing at any moment to pack up my bags and leave in 30 seconds flat. Just in case. But in case of what? What’s coming? What’s around the corner?

Although my mind is making provisions for the impending apocalypse, my new mentality has actually served me in many ways. I don’t need lists anymore. I don’t care if I see everything anymore. I’m not in a rush anymore. I don’t hate my imperfect body anymore. I’m not worried if I forget to bring my camera on a once-in-a-lifetime mountain-top hike. I’m not upset if I accidentally delete all of the photos I’ve taken on my one trip to Asia (this didn’t actually happen, but for several hours I thought it did, so it counts). I’m not bothered if I drop my phone in a toilet at Seoul Airport (this very much happened, including a full-blown multiple-ricochet off the toilet paper roll and toilet seat, followed by a full-blown hand-in-urine submersion). Instead I just laugh. As did the Osaka locals when I tried to explain that I wanted to put my broken phone in a bag of rice. ‘Ohhhh you hungry! You want restaurant! Good place next street over.’ No no no. Fix phone. In rice. ‘Make rice at home?’ No…bury phone in rice. ‘Ah! Phone funeral!’

Japan. Japan cured me (temporarily). Japan reminded me of how little I know, of how much I have to learn, of how I’ll never find the answers, of how to be humble and honest and discreet, of how to admit to being a fool in sign language (Exhibit A: The Sushi Incident of 2016), of how I am but a small speck of dust in this unfathomable universe. In Tokyo I am one of thirteen million people. I am no one! And somehow, this knowledge comforts me. This is how I soothe myself when I begin to feel anxious, when the waiting weighs heavily, when I feel myself putting one foot out the door, when I worry that I’m not making the right choices, not fulfilling the ‘shoulds’. I frantically reach for my meditation app and pretend I’m Buddha. It works. You should try it.

I’m also continually forcing myself to step outside of my comfort zone. I am continually living in a foreign land. I find that it helps me stay present. I grew up in Florida. Flat, humid, sweltering Florida, where you are unlikely to survive the walk to your mailbox; it’s simply safer to go from one air-conditioned vessel to another. The outdoors are unspeakable. The only adrenaline I experienced in 18 years of life was seeing an alligator on a school trip to the Everglades.

In December I went on a three-day canoe trip. You paddle many many kilometers each day and drag your weary body and heavy canoe and gear up the riverbank and you camp each night. Me. I’m doing this. Florida girl. They told us 80% of canoes capsize on the river. I was flooded with fear, but my group wasn’t worried. ‘Right, 80% includes the grandmas and the kids who don’t know what they’re doing. We’re outdoorspeople. We’ll be fiiiiiine.’ WE WERE NOT FINE. WE WERE THE OPPOSITE OF FINE. Those tiny-looking rapids were in fact soul-crushing monsters. We all capsized on the same rapid, one after the other. I invite you to imagine what ensued: surfacing to desperately catch your breath, finding your friends and loved ones in a panic, canoes rolling down the river, paddles scattering, wreckage everywhere. Memories to cherish for a lifetime.

I didn’t learn my lesson, because this month I agreed to go on a three-day bike trip. Me. I hate bikes. I had probably spent a total of two hours on a bike prior to this trip. This 150-km bike trip. It’s meant to be easy. It’s meant to be a leisurely journey. It’s a flat, easy cruise. Right? No no. Not right. We had the company of a ferocious headwind. I am not exaggerating when I say that I was pedaling as hard and fast as I possibly could and with the slight incline and wind, I was literally not moving at all. Tears streaming down my face. Cursing the elements at the top of my lungs. Yet another great relaxing holiday.

Oh and, the day after the bike trip ended, we embarked on a four-day hike in the wilderness. Because the bike trip wasn’t enough! I wish you could see my face right now. But honestly, I am loving it. I am loving the unfamiliar territory. I am loving being away from my phone for days at a time. I am loving making an acquaintanceship with nature. And nothing quashes anxiety about the future quite like hearing your friends screaming as you’re thrown out of your boat and a sudden, rapid influx of water rushes through all of your orifices.

I’m tired of waiting. It’s exhausting. I’m going to unpack my getaway bag and google ‘how to start feeling emotionally settled’ and meditate and be Buddha and bike against the wind and just get over myself and do it.

 

Joke’s on me when the aliens invade.

 

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