Wellp, I’ve been here, officially, for one month and two days. We’ve come a long way from that first night – we ate delivery sushi at midnight off of a post-modern coffee table entitled “Cardboard Box” and drank duty-free wine out of plastic cups and toasted to moving in together to our first home. Home, in this case, being a flat in the Middle East.
It was always in my Life Plan to move to another country, or at least the Dream Life Plan that seemed to run like a phantom parallel alongside “real life,” which was full of boring things like parking tickets and chock-a-block traffic and all-staff meetings. I’m told that all of those things exist here too, and that they’re just as boring, but somehow I have always thought of living in another country as being like going to the grocery store while on vacation in another town. The novelty of performing an everyday task in a different setting – especially one multiple time zones away – always enticed me.
Not that “Real Life” has set in yet. Due to the many, many, many (…many…many) complications of visa paperwork, I have not yet started my job here and thus been suspended in the weirdest extended vacation I’ve ever been on. The excitement of newness is balanced very heavily by the frustration and exhaustion of moving to a new country. I spent the first month here circling endlessly on highways as Google Maps failed me and trying – in vain – to find products in stores that were even somewhat similar to home. I mostly remember always having to pee and having chapped lips because I could never find the bathroom in malls, and I lost four sticks of Chap Stik out of total disorientation and disorganization. Which – as we both know- I would never!
By the third week, we’d spent a disdainful amount of money at IKEA and Home Centre trying to cobble together some semblance of a real home until my shipment of household goods arrives in the country on March 24. Also, by the third week, the joy of not setting an alarm in the mornings and not having to check my email or wear shoes was starting to wear off. I felt lonely and irritable, alone for long expanses of time in a place where I suddenly knew no one. The Gentleman was off to work each day as usual while I padded around the hardwood floors of the flat and wondered what to do with myself.
I’m not good at wondering what to do with myself.
Where are we now, a month in? We have some furniture, for a start. A door mat, an entryway table, desks for us both, a bookshelf waiting to be filled when my ship(ment) finally comes in. I Dustbuster everything three times a day to cut down on pet hair (The Gentleman is
selectively sometimes allergic and sand gets into EVERYTHING). The top rack of the dishwasher is wonky because one of the wheels is loose. We’re convinced that the recycling and trash chutes meet in the middle halfway down and end up in the same bin in the basement. I still argue avidly for separation of garbage and salvageable things because in this place of wanton waste, I am still clinging to my out-of-place bleeding heart liberal ideals that I apparently brought in my suitcases from Baltimore.
A month in, I am now nearly 45 days clean of Lean Cuisines and the Whole Foods salad bar – the two primary things I was subsisting off of in Baltimore. I am amazed at how much easier it is to avoid packaged, processed foods here, and the array of fresh items is dizzying if not mystifying. We live in a dust bowl – none of this crap grows here. In the produce aisles, everything is labeled as though point of origin were part of the official name: Mangoes Thailand, Red Onions China, Garlic India, Cauliflower Holland. Not that I can claim to ever have been a localtarian in Baltimore. The blueberries from Maryland were simply subpar and about $5 less than the ones from Chile, and I had many reasons to be thrifty over idealistic at the time.
A month in, without proper employment and lacking all of the things that made me constantly hustlebustle in my past life, I fall asleep when I am tired and I wake up, 8-9 hours later, of my own accord. This in and of itself is a miracle to me. I have been plagued by sleep issues my entire life, and I don’t think I’ve ever slept solidly through the night for a week let alone an entire month. The things that sleep will do for you, I tell you. In that respect, I am a new person.
A month in, I have had to relearn all of those things I forgot about being the newbie, the outsider, the recent recruit and first learn all of those things I never had to learn about being the minority, the guest, the visitor of another country. Respectful questions, politeness, and the careful risk-taking of letting new people in are all mainstays in my daily life now. As new people come into your life, you learn quickly whether they will be someone to hold continually at arm’s length or if you can let down the wall a bit and show them the sarcastic, inappropriate, witty person you can be. But carefully, carefully – an ill-timed joke does not a good first-impression make in most cases. Every now and then you do get a winner, though – someone whose jaw drops open not in offense but in revelry. That moment of “You, too?! I thought I was the only one!” over a superbly crafted remark can build entire kingdoms of friendships, I’ve found, or at least so with those who will be joining permanently the tribe of “my people.”
A month in, I feel particularly susceptible to sudden bouts of intense emotions. Lacking the stress of a daily job or regular social stimulation, I find myself crying hard over a particular passage in a book or a YouTube video featuring small animals or anything to do with loss. I find hilarity in inappropriate moments of culture clash or inexplicable rage when I cannot communicate with someone who does not speak the same language that I speak. These aren’t necessarily bad things – taking away the constant stimulation of living in Baltimore and working three jobs and dealing with so many things alone, I feel like all of my natural reactions are realigning into something more authentic and real. Rather than bottling up the rage of my job and exploding at my steering wheel because I’m stuck in traffic on the way home, my emotions are suddenly much more in-time and more of a direct cause-effect with the stimulus that provoked it. Who’s to say if this will remain this way – I start a new job next week and will be returning to the regular 9-5 hamster wheel I was on before – but it’s an interesting thing that I’ve noticed and hope to try and cultivate a little more. Moving to a new country with fresh perspective and new surroundings can offer you a glimpse into your own personality quirks – the constant in this experiment is you, and what things rise to the surface and what falls away under extreme changes are interesting to note.
Anyway, total digression there. How are you? I miss you. I’m sorry that you got stuck with so much snow and cold weather, but I see from Facebook posts regarding tiny blades of grass and drinking outdoors that spring is finally springing to some degree. I miss the weirdest things about Baltimore. Bare tree branches draped in fairy lights, mimosas on Sundays, and brick. Brick does not exist here, at least the red kind.
My biggest project this week, my last of unemployment before I start my job, is to spend as much time as I can curled up in the sunshine reading books. I have been trying so hard to be regimented and disciplined during this time off – no TV during the day, no beers at lunch, meals out only a couple of times a week – and this is the one luxury I will allow myself. I’ve read four books in the last month and have a stack more to go, and that’s not including the two book clubs I’m thinking about joining. I’m so hesitant to join a new book club because I so badly miss the old one. My family and Book Club (and Metropolitan’s salmon plate) are the things I miss the most and that I know can’t- and shouldn’t be- replaced. But, unlike my family and Metropolitan’s salmon plate, book clubs are plentiful out here and I am in dire need of social interaction with individuals beyond The Gentleman and The Cats, so I suppose I should suck it up and check it out with the knowledge that it doesn’t have to be the same, but it can be different and that is ok.
I hope you’re well, and I think about you all the time. I thank you for your patience with my endless, self-absorbed rantings and hope you’ll continue to be the kind and thoughtful reader that you have been thus far as I continue on this journey. I can’t believe I just said that – “continue on this journey.” Major life change has rendered my epithets worthy of a $.99 card. Not even the expensive ones with eye-popping graphic design or an embedded computer chip to scream HAPPY BIRTHDAY, but the cheapy ones that never have the right envelopes.
Much love for now, and more later, Insh’Allah.
The New Glitterati