Nine months ago we uprooted our little family of four and moved halfway around the world, to the tropical half-island of Timor-Leste (East Timor). The physical process of relocating was a monumental feat (one that I don’t want to repeat anytime soon) and the tear-filled goodbyes were hard. Yet the idea of trading our comfortable Oregon life for a new home in one of the poorest countries in Asia seemed…well, normal.
I’d never been to Timor, or even SE Asia, for that matter. Most people I talked with had never heard of the country I was moving to and even I had to quickly educate myself. Though I’d spent many years living overseas as an adult, I’d never done it with kids. Let alone twin two-year olds. It was a daunting undertaking, but the timing felt right, and we were ready for a new adventure.
Whenever I’m making big changes or going through a period of transition, I often think of the Robert Pirsig quote from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.“ This has always rung true for me.
If you told my 20-year old self where I am now, I don’t think she’d be surprised (except for the twin mama part, that was a shocker!). I didn’t realize it then, but I was already on a certain trajectory—aligned with an earnest, yet naïve, desire to live a global life and somehow “make a difference.” I didn’t have a clear vision of what that might look like, but I started by studying overseas and working for international organizations.
In 2002 I met my British husband while working in Eritrea in Africa (as you do). It made sense to me that I would meet my future spouse while living in the world—if I wanted to find someone who would travel with me, I’d have to meet this person while doing it. Luckily, I did.
Three years later, we decided that it was a good time to move back to the states. My husband took a new position at his aid organization’s Oregon headquarters, and we were thrilled to be back in the lush Pacific Northwest again. We imagined that we’d stay 2-3 years and then head back to the “field.” And then we got comfortable—enjoying our fair city and all its wonders and appreciating the nearness of family and friends. After our amazing twins arrived in 2007, our focus narrowed further—instead of looking outward, the world became much smaller—four walls, two babes and a dog. Life was good.
Yet our dreams of a traveling life—now with kids—remained the same. Partly to reinforce it for ourselves, we assured people that, yes, we were definitely planning to return to the field one day, but no, we didn’t know where or when. We’d nod and smile at the “how wonderful for the children” comments while secretly worrying about everything we would be giving up. Could we really do it?
Slowly, as twin parenthood started to feel a little easier, this other life seemed doable again. Carefully, quietly, we began to voice the possibility. As the idea became more real, things fell into place job-wise and the cosmic wheels of change (as I imagined them) began to turn. Brave with this knowledge, I found myself detaching a little, and it almost felt physical—a very slow pulling-up of our somewhat shallow, though treasured Oregon roots—tinged with sadness, nervousness, and excitement.
Once my husband accepted his new role in Timor, the crazy whirlwind kicked in. My to-do list had five columns to keep on top of everything, including family immunization sessions and other delightful appointments. We binge-ordered supplies deemed essential for the next few years and balanced things out by giving away tons, selling loads and throwing out a very satisfying amount of stuff. We found a new owner for our car and a foster home for our beloved dog.
Fortunately, the kids didn’t seem bothered by the (mostly) controlled chaos surrounding them. They didn’t bat an eye when their cribs were dismantled and sold, didn’t seem to notice when their favorite toys disappeared into the shipment, and thought it was pretty fun when their car seats functioned as the only remaining furniture in the house. We explained things simply, by telling them that soon we’d be going on an airplane to a new house where they’d have big beds and go to the beach. This seemed to be enough for them and the mantra stuck.
Finally, it was time to go. As friends shepherded us (and our eight check-in bags!) to the airport, I was both relieved and incredibly grateful. We’d done it, but not without the help of a massive cheering section and an army of supportive friends and family. Feeling emboldened and optimistic, our family adventure began.
How do you experience the world as a family? How have you balanced family life with your own plans and dreams?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Shaula Bellour in East Timor. Shaula can also be found on her blog, Notes From a Small World.
Photo credit to http://www.flickr.com/photos/eisenbahner/5078856556/. This photo has a creative commons attribution license.