I’ve lived outside the country of my birth for about twelve of my sixty-two years. My first husband, the dad of my boys, received his draft notice on our wedding day. You might say that kicked my expat-tendencies off with a bang. This was 1969. We got lucky and he was sent to Germany. I wasn’t supposed to join him, of course. If the Army wanted him to have a wife, they’d have issued him one.
My favorite song then was Fortunate Son. it was probably good that we had to live off base. I lived in a little town called Munchwieller while my new husband worked eighteen-hour days. I was eighteen and homesick but I loved the German woods where I walked with my landlady every day. She spoke not one word of English. The landlady and I always stopped at the local guesthouse on our way home. The only German word I remember from those days is “Schnapps.”
Twenty years later, very shortly after I married my second husband, Jack, I began to travel. We lived in Paamul, Mexico for six years. In Paamul we were scuba dive junkies. It was glorious. We made some lifelong friends. We sat in a shallow boat in the mists of Rio Largarto and had our breath stolen by thousands of flamingos as they took flight in sweeping pink-orange waves. We rode a horse drawn carriage through the charming colonial Avenues of Merida. Washed blood from our faces after watching a matador dance with a bull. We climbed the pyramids of the haunting Coba, and beautiful Tulum, and the awesome Chichen Itza.
Then, a few years later, we moved to the beautiful country of Panama. This time we took Jack’s two giant service dogs with us. Tethered to our wrists. Under our feet in planes. In the glass elevators of skyscrapers in Panama City. In wooden canoes and aluminum skiffs and ferry boats. In taxis and buses, restaurants and busy city streets and monkey howling jungles.
This time I came close to losing my mind. Clueless Gringos in Paradise is the tentative title of the book coming out soon about this move. The book will make you laugh. Because the misadventures happened to someone else. Did I mention the dogs, Chesty and Rocca, weighed 120 and 150 pounds, respectively?
Okay, moving on. . .
Once recovered from the move with the dogs, I walked miles in the jungle around our home each day. Saw blue-crowned motmots, and macaws, and monkeys that fit in the palm of my hand. Swam in rivers where an occasional saltwater crocodile was seen. (Yes, at least once every single swim I leaped nearly out of my skin when a floating leaf or twig brushed my bare skin) One New Year’s Eve I stood on a crescent beach with wonderful friends and we burned the passing year in effigy and watched a dozen fireworks displays along that warm curve of the Pacific.
Which brings me to the most important lesson I learned by living out of the country.
No matter where we live, no matter what our culture or religion, we are all more alike than we are different. Life is richer when we learn from one another.
Still, if you decide to live out of the country for a while? Don’t make the move with two giant dogs and a husband who doesn’t listen to a word you say.
This post is part of the A to Z blog challenge.