Fifteen years ago a carpet salesman in Fethiye, Turkey offered me the strongest, muddiest cup of coffee I’ve ever had. After I was done drinking, he read my fortune in the leftover grounds at the bottom of the mug.
“What does that look like to you?” he asked, pointing.
I peered down, trying to see something clever in the dark smudge, but he answered for me. “It’s a bird. It means you’re flying in the direction of your happiness!”
He was right on two counts. First of all, that clump of grounds really did look exactly like a little bird traveling up towards the rim of my cup. As soon as he said it, the thing transformed, came in to focus. Second, everything that happened in my life after that trip ultimately led to what can only be described as my happiness.
Now, he could have been a bit more specific and told me that it was not going to be an easy journey. I wouldn’t have minded a head’s up that it was going to involve all sorts of things—like, the decision to leave the so-called ‘gravy train’ of teaching middle school on a military base in Germany to pursue a Master’s degree in creative writing in London, subsequently moving back in with my parents when I was 30 years old (single, unemployed, and broke,) sleeping on a friend’s dorm room floor in London while I job hunted the following year, a detainment on my way in to England, a deportation on my way out (both bureaucratic nightmares, neither one my fault, I swear!) There was a relationship with someone twenty-two years older, an attack while riding my bike in Germany, and two rounds of expensive, invasive fertility treatments before we were able to have a daughter.
At this point in life I can say the prophesy has been fulfilled. I’m living in Heidelberg, the city that first drew me to Europe. My husband is the ultimate life partner. I enjoy my job. I have a baby daughter who is the light of my world, and two grown stepdaughters whom I love and who have accepted me from day one.
The thing is, in a very strange way, the past few years of happiness have made me…lazy? Definitely less motivated. Desensitized to my surroundings, even?
All those years ago there was nothing I could imagine wanting more than to live full time in Europe. On one of my many visits to Heidelberg I recorded several hours of video; there was very little talking, just panoramic stretches of the Neckarwiese, the woods, the murmur of German speaking voices on Hauptstrasse. Back in the States, I watched that video on my VCR until the images went scratchy. I wanted to live that life all day, every day. I hung postcards on my bedroom wall and listened to ‘Ich hab’ mein Herz in Heidelberg Verloren’ on repeat.
Whereas I was once and repeatedly brought to tears by the vision of the Heidelberg castle at night, now my husband and I barely notice ruins along the Neckar or Rhine, anymore. Long term expats in Europe tend to refer to it as AFC (Another F#$@%#% Castle. Or, Another F#$@%#% Church.) Let’s face it. They’re everywhere over here!
It’s not that I take my situation totally for granted. I am appreciative of where I am and the opportunities Germany has to offer. It’s just that I’ve been here a long time now and, somewhere along the way, the magic of living life as an expat (something that was a key goal of mine in the quest for happiness) has subsided.
I used to seek out opportunities to speak German, but I’m now more than happy to revert to English. On weekends we could travel…but that sounds too ambitious (especially with a baby) so we tend to stay home. Plus, any time we do go downtown or take a day trip there’s the feeling that we’ve seen it all before…and again…and again some more. We have friends, but the large military community we used to have in Heidelberg scattered across Europe once our base closed down. Sometimes, I’ll admit, we’re lonely.
Honestly, I think my husband and I have reached a point where we’re at a crossroads. In a sense, we feel like we’ve satisfied what we came here to do all those years ago. We found each other, explored the continent, and had our daughter. Now, something I never would have considered before–the idea of moving back to the States–has entered our conversations.
The problem is, we can’t do that. Both of us have fantastic jobs and my husband can retire in nine years—it wouldn’t make much sense to leave before then. (And, obviously, if we do move back to the States there’s always the question of whether or not we could find jobs at our, ahem, advanced ages. Or if we’d be truly happy. My guess is it would be highly unlikely.)
So, I need to shift my focus—and that’s what this blog is going to explore. Can I recapture the intensity of expat living that I felt years ago? Is it possible to move in the direction of an even greater happiness?
I want to get out there, again, and find that same pull to Europe that I used to feel. I want to get excited about language, travel and culture again! Whereas many expat blogs deal with acclimating to life in a new country, I want to write about rediscovering surroundings long after you’ve acclimated. I want to write about finding ways to live it on a deeper level, rather than leaving once it gets “old.” I think a major part of our problem is that we’ve always managed to be on the fringe of this culture–a bit outside of things, and that’s our own doing.
Obviously the shift in focus I’m looking at will involve my daughter. She was born in Germany, which, as far as I’m concerned, makes her the real European deal. It’s important to me to help her
navigate her American roots and German birthright. How can I keep her close to both of her homes? How can I raise my third culture kid to feel like she truly belongs somewhere?
And, speaking of ‘home,’ most expats are divided between two or more. Besides Heidelberg, my other and first home is Buffalo, New York—a city known for chicken wings, sponge candy, beef on weck, and the murder of President McKinley.
Buffalo is in the middle of a radical resurgence right now, with breweries, skating rinks, restaurants, industry, etc., opening up faster than I can keep track of. It’s a long time in coming for a place previously known for its snow, blunted waterfront, and economic depression. I love the idea of my hometown city redefining itself!
So, in addition to reimagining the expat experience and blogging about motherhood abroad, I want to familiarize myself with this new and improved Buffalo…and take note of what I see. I love the idea of my hometown and myself, four thousand miles apart from each other, somehow being in tandem when it comes to discovering what we’re capable of.
In short, this blog is about reemergence. And babies. And travel. And lessons I always seem to learn the freaking hard way, damn it!
Oh, and cooking. I want to finally learn how to do it, so I might end up writing about that, too. 🙂