Almost four weeks ago we piled five humans, four suitcases, one piano, two guitars, one ballet barre, one piece of Marley flooring (on which to practice ballet) and one upright double bass into a car.
Well, that’s a slight exaggeration since we did two trips, because clearly there is not a car on planet earth big enough, in which to fit all our stuff. This is what comes of spawning creative kids. Their stuff comes too. And sometimes their stuff takes up a vast amount of space. And yes I absolutely should have stood my ground when we were having the violin vs double bass convo several years ago but hey, here we are.
Fortunately my kids have a dad who would do a round trip to Mars if they asked him to.
So we are in the countryside. And its delightfully green.
I hadn’t realised how stressed I was. How claustrophobic I was. How withered my creative soul felt.
Four weeks in nature and I can breathe again.
We are staying in a wonderful artists residence which is full of sculptures and original art. There are pheasants in the garden –pheasants for goodness sake – and deer too. The other day while I was writing outside, a Coyote skulked past. He saw me at the exact same moment that I spied him. We locked eyes, my breath was caught – I wondered if his was too - and then as silently as he appeared, he was gone. I blinked as the white tip of his tail disappeared into the tree’s - glancing over my shoulder to see if anyone else had seen, but I was caught all alone in the moment. And then the moment was gone.
I’ve actually been researching coyotes this past year for a book I've been working on and when I saw this one I actually momentarily assumed it was a domestic dog – you see, I’ve been researching urban coyotes who have adapted to nocturnal living in highly populated cities, but this was the middle of the afternoon – full daylight – and for a moment I’d forgotten that that is their norm in the wild.
It was a rare moment. Beautiful and solitary. It made my heart feel alive.
And then there are the groundhogs. Many, many groundhogs. Like these things could take over the world - or at least America. Now there's a thought...
An Emily- fess-up –
So the first groundhog we saw, we had to google to find out what it was (yes, I know. But I doubt if you Americans would recognise a common shrew if you came across one, or that you wouldn’t get wholly excited if you spotted an English hedgehog. Just saying.) I have to admit I was very surprised and not a little excited because I realised I had actually spent my entire life thinking that they weren’t actually a real thing. I mean, I knew they were a thing, but I thought they were some kind of mystical or magical creature that only get spotted on the rarest of occasions and bring good luck or something. Clearly not because they are everywhere. That would be a whole lot of luck, and I’m not feeling the lucky vibes in the world right now.
So there you have it. It took our family just four years to morph from wild-hearted barefoot in the bush, Africa family to wide-eyed marvel at groundhogs and squeal at big-bugs urban city family.
How fickle we humans are.
Seriously, our time here has been a gift. A time to reflect. To reconnect. To notice beauty.
I’m sad that in just a few days we must return to oppressive heat and humidity of August in the city. Then again, NYC seems like might be the safest place in America right now. Really - from an English lass’s POV, I have to say, I think the rest of this country has gone totally bonkers. Or perhaps they were always bonkers. Or perhaps the pandemic has simply revealed the levels of bonkers-ness that was always lying dormant under the surface.
Really people. Just wear your chuffing mask!
Back to my life --
This year will be heavy handed. Not only will we be navigating NYC and part-time school/ life/family etc amidst the new Covid-19 norms, but we will also be in transition. We know that in June 2021 we will be relocating back to Europe. We have been away for fifteen years, but it’s time to head home. Maybe just for a season. We will see.
I’ve done this many times before – I know the practical and logistical challenges of moving a family of five across continents. I also know the heart journey. And this time it will be acutely harder for the kids. They are older, they will feel the losses more. The goodbye’s will cut more deeply.
But leave we must.
And we’ve adapted before. We will adapt again. Just like those wild-urban coyotes.
Original post published in NomadicWonderings.com in October 2017.
Every day I ask myself, “What are we doing here?” Of course there are answers. Rational ones.
We needed to find a consistantly stimulating and supportive educative situation for the kids. We wanted to let our kids experience living in a developed nation again. We wanted them to have more creative and academic opportunities. I needed to find my creative tribe. And to begin creating again with my creative tribe. We wanted to stay some place for a while. To not ‘need’ to move after three years. Maybe even feel at home.
Plus our choices were limited. Husband can mostly only work in war zones or countries where the conversation oscilates around famine and drought.
There are actually lots of really good rational reasons for us moving our family to NYC.
But day by day. Man, It feels hard.
And to those of you thinking “Gee Em get over yourself. You live in New York city.” I have this to say.
Try it. For more than two weeks. Really. Then kindly comment.
It was always going to be a discombobulating experience moving from Malawi to NYC. We knew that. And we knew that each of us would need to make our own journey, would have our own battleground to navigate through. We don’t get to always choose how our hearts respond. Not in the beginning anyways. We pull our hat down low, and our scarf up high and we plough into it. And it bites our skin and rattles our bones. A wild and unpredictable, elemental offensive. Onwards we go.
But nothing could prepare us for the transition between two such extremes.
The first weeks were almost comical. Not when we were in it – clearly, but in retrosect.
How do you take three kids from the bush of Africa where they climbed mango trees barefoot, and whittled sticks til dusk. Where they spent hour upon hour chasing gheko’s and picking worms out of guava’s, to a symphonic backdrop of crickets and bullfrogs…
How do you then drop them in the middle of an throbbing urban metroplis, where homeless people lay strewn across the sidewalks, discarded like trash (Esi’s question – Why are the white people sleeping in the streets mummy?) Where the subway roars like the very embodiment of rage, and they share the carriage with scantily clad women with rainbow afro’s and exposed nipple to nose, chain-linked peircings, drinking beer.
It has made for interesting conversations.
The children at school who have same sex parents – This was a new concept for our bush kids. The guys expressing themselves in womens clothing – This was confusing, to begin with. The beat box guys with their trousers slung low, breaking rules – They had to learn not to be intimidated. That creative expression is not intended as aggression.
We like those conversations. We like throwing back the question ‘Well what do you think?” or “How did it make you feel?”We like standing on the edges watching our kids wrestle to make sense of life. Of people.
These conversations help to remind me why we are here. They don’t make it easier, but they help me to remember.
Husband and I are commited to raising strong, resilient, kind, open minded and wholehearted children. Kids who will stand in the gap and say ‘Not on my watch’. Not on my watch, through conversation. Not on my watch, through debate. Not on my watch, through Art and creativity. Not on my watch through non-violent acts of resistance. Not on my watch through making hard personal choices for the sake of a bigger picture. Not on my watch through choosing kindness in the face of the mean.
We have chosen to show them the world in all its diversity, with its cracks and its astounding beauty. We want them to know that we can be smitten by the glory of an African sunset or lost in the sublimity of Moonlight Sonata – that these things are there for us, to inspire us, to lift us and to remind us of Love.
And that because of Love we don’t step over the broken people. Not ever.
Not. On. My. Watch.
I promised myself I wasn’t going to get political here. But I guess I just did. In my opinion, the only way to not have opinions about what is going on right now, politicaly, is to be, actually dead.
I don’t think that when we chose this transigent lifestyle, we chose an easy path. Maybe we didn’t choose it at all. Maybe life chooses us. Or maybe it is not the choosing that matters but rather our response that matters.
Whatever. Wherever. Perhaps.
I live in New York City. For now. And It feels hard.
Apartment living feels hard. The pace feels hard. The aggression feels hard. The competition feels hard. The lack of community feels hard. The communal laundry room in the basement of our building feels hard. The cold wind splitting down 1st avenue feels hard. Darn it, even the grocery shopping feels hard. And yes, the political atmosphere feels hard.
But this is my now. And I choose my response to my now, daily.
I struggle. I fight. At times I scream and pound. And then - I submit. We really don’t have a choice. And yet, in that submitting we do choose. Again and again. We choose to Love. Paradoxical really.
This is my now. Despite the daily toil, I believe it has purpose. I have things I must learn. I have growing to do that is assigned personally to me.
And so, I breath. I say “It’s okay’. And I tap into that small voice at the end of the day that says, I will try again tomorrow.
Originally this post was published over at Nomadicwonderings.com. But when I read it today, I wanted to transplant it over here, to remind myself of how far I've come. Endings are still hard, but as I read this post I realise that each ending has actually been so much more than a fullstop/period. Each ending has also been a new beginning. An fresh opportunity. Another step revealed.
Anyway, I'm in danger of this turning into a blog post all of its own, so here is that post from four years ago;
Finishing is hard.
I definitely have an aversion to full stops. That is why I like these dot dot dot
You might have noticed I use them a lot… I like to leave things open. Open to possibility. Open to the winds of change. Open to mystery, a sense of sitting in the unknown and being okay with it…
It is one of the many contradictions of my life. Because equally I like maps and to know where I’m going next and how it’s going to look.
And I like to know that stuff in finely architectured, pedantic detail. But I don’t want to put a full stop on what went before…
I think we are all complicated like that. Different kinds of complicated. But all complicated.
As a child I couldn’t finish stories I wrote. My teachers would praise me on my aptitude and potential as a young writer, but would rebuke me for my inability to find an ending. Even today, most of the tatty stories I write have shabby and unsatisfactory endings.
I just struggle to tie things up in a cohesive manner and end with a period…
The past 12 weeks have been chaos.
Where did I read that before great change there is always great chaos? It sounds like something Elizabeth Gilbert would say. It probably was her, cos I actually love her, and if I were just fractionally more insane than I am, I would probably stalk her, just so I could listen to the incessant flow of truth and wisdom that comes out of her mouth.
Anyway. It has been a ‘batten down the hatches, get your head down, and plough into it’, kind of 12 weeks. Moving a family across continents takes a load of organizing.
And of course the good thing about chaos is you don’t get time to think much. Because it seems that with external chaos, internal chaos accompanies. At least for me it does. I am not a ‘ride the waves gracefully’ type. Not yet anyway.
But now it is all organized. It is all packed, paid for, sold or given away. And the chaos has vaporized. And we are waiting to leave...
No chaos = Simplicity = Space to think = Process = Urgh.
For the next 10 days, my only essential tasks are getting the kids to school on time, Picking them up on time, and filling their bellies with food. And the usual conflict resolution of course… But I am managing that with a new, highly successful strategy.
10 punctuation sentences per bicker, per child. Nice.
But I kind of want the chaos back, because how do you do a “full stop” Goodbye? I mean without the grief that surely must accompany?
And the truth is, some of these goodbyes are forever goodbyes. There are people in Malawi who we care for, who we will not see again. Some we will. Some we won’t. Malawi just isn’t a “passing through” kind of location. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of finance to get here.
Plus, most of those we are leaving behind, will likely be moving themselves to obscure corners of the world in the next year or two – Such is the life of the international community.
And just so we are clear; Social media is not the same as relationship. Social media is not the same as friendship. Saying “See you on facebook” does not appease the sadness and loss related to full stop goodbyes.
So here I am. Waking up each morning with a tangible desire to climb under a rock.
Because; I simply cannot face the full stop.
The full stop makes me cry. A lot.
Malawi has been a gift. Friends here have become sisters. Kindred souls. There are women here with whom I have shared sorrow and tragedy and deep belly laughter. Whose deepest fear and longings I have held in my hands and heart. With whom I have sat, shared silence, and said “me too”. Women who have shown up, at the exact right moment, and have been brave and selfless. Who have sat with me, held my hand, looked into my dark places and said ‘it’s okay’. Women to whom I am tethered, by the trusses of deep love and respect.
I say to the kids, “It’s not goodbye, it is merely ‘until next time.’” Because, what the heck, I just don’t have the capacity for their sadness as well.
Besides, it is not like I don’t want to leave. I know it is time. Feel it deep in my bones. We are all ready.
It is just the full stop I hate.
But then…going under a rock isn’t good either. If there is one thing I know for sure, it is that grief and other unresolved history don’t go away. They hide and pretend they’re not there, and then pop their heads out from under that rock at the most inconvenient time. And then bite you hard.
So its not going to be pretty. But cry I will.
2nd June. NYC baby…
This is where I share snippets of my life. Some of it writing related, some of it just - life. It will be mostly ramblings, but if you too are a storyteller and are very lucky, you might occasionally find something useful :)