On building a life
We arrived in Santiago, Chile in mid-December. Around 20 hours after setting foot on the curb of the Seattle-Tacoma International airport, there I was, just outside the hotel that would be our home for the next unknown number of weeks. The buildings were tall, the sun was out and it was bright and warm (which was the greatest sensation because, recall, I’d just flown in from Seattle in wintertime and Seattle in wintertime is not a very sunny place), and everything was new and exciting and, somewhat unexpectedly, extremely overwhelming. I can only describe the sensation as feeling like a tiny little speck of faux-snow inside a snow globe, who’d just been shaken up and left to land, waiting to settle. I’m sorry. I know that sounds incredibly trite, but it was honestly an image that materialized in my mind on multiple occasions.
We went to lunch. Well, more accurately, we attempted to go to lunch, because it was maaaaybe 11 AM and Chileans don’t really eat lunch that early, unbeknownst to us, so we wandered around a mall food court until something opened, and I stumbled over the menu and was embarrassed by my pronunciation, and I ordered something that tasted totally different than what I was expecting. Also my kids spilled a drink all over the table and onto the floor, because, of course they did. If people weren’t already staring at this gringo family eating a bizarrely early lunch, they were now. We were all tired. We went back to our hotel room and I stared out the window, amazed by the view but also, for the first time, letting it sink in that I was somewhere where I couldn’t just drive to my parents’ house if I really needed to, even if it took 15 hours. Where I had no friend to call in case of any sort of emergency. I didn’t even know how to call the Chilean equivalent of 911 (I do now, and it’s sort of fascinating to me because there are multiple numbers to call depending on the emergency service you need, and also a specific number to call the ambulance for the particular hospital you’d like it to take you to, and so on and so forth. But I digress.)
I’ve moved a lot. I moved out at 18, and then bounced from Reno back to Las Vegas, from apartment to apartment. Pulling up to my building in LA’s Koreatown with just a car full of stuff and my new neighbor yelling at me that I hadn’t parallel parked close enough to the curb, and then on to a West Hollywood courtyard apartment with paper thin walls. Back to a short stint in Las Vegas and then to San Pedro. From Nevada to California to Washington, slowly working my way up the west coast.
But this move felt different. I didn’t have a working phone, and then when I had one, my number was a confusing string of digits that, if I’m honest, I still forget. I couldn’t figure out how to check out at the grocery store, and held up an entire line of people on one of the first times because I didn’t realize I was supposed to have all of my produce weighed at a counter in the produce area before checking out. A guy working at a desk near the check out line happened to have the same scale and barcode printer they use in the produce area, and was kind enough to quickly weigh everything, except he didn’t know the produce codes so that was the day we bought five bags of “bananas.” The street signs were new and confusing and we were told we weren’t allowed to order a cheeseburger for our kids at McDonald’s because there was a new law prohibiting it because the fat content was too high (I don’t know if that was a prank or what was going on in the universe that day, because at any other Chilean McDonald’s since then, we’ve been sold cheeseburger Happy Meals. I’m sure you’re all very happy to hear that, it’s great news indeed.)
So, all of that to say, this was new. I’d have to adjust my moving tactics, which I’ve honed pretty well over the past 12 years of domestic moves. Some things still applied. Every time I move, I let myself be sad at first. I let myself mourn the loss of friends and familiarity, and I sulk. Not for very long, but just enough to start to feel closure, whatever that means, and move on to a new chapter. And it did go on a little longer this time, for a host of reasons. We moved over the holidays, and my kids cried because for the first time, their grandparents weren’t there to celebrate with them. Moving over the holidays also meant that the usual avenues I’d access to start networking and to stop feeling so isolated were put on hold, as people were traveling and were understandably busy. But slowly a sense of normalcy emerged, and regular events resumed, and I was able to start doing instead of just planning.
I think I’ve spent enough of this post appealing to pathos (read: whining.) In most ways, I realize I’m incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to immerse myself in a new culture and I recognize the vast amount of privilege I have based on my country of origin, the type of visa I hold, and the amount of support I’m granted. It’s a really exciting adventure and wow, is this really my life? In the next post, I’ll talk more about what I did to stop sulking around and start living my life because, like I said, enough with the theatrics. (Although, I do feel like opening with my little snow globe analogy was fair warning that this would be ~that~ kind of post. I promise, I’ll rein it in next time.)