This is what it feels like to move to a new country:
You land and are driven from the airport, probably at night. Looking out the window, heading from one unknown place to another, you squint and think about how this foreignness will somehow become what your future self considers normal. For now, you can’t tell the difference from one white light to the next.
You open up your bags, your meticulously packed, exactly 50lb suitcases that felt like overkill for every step of the journey and now seem bizarrely inadequate. There isn’t enough to fill a home, a room, a drawer. This place does NOT feel like your new home, it just feels new.
You put t-shirts on your pillows because you don’t have pillowcases. You brought enough deodorant to last a year but there is no shower curtain. You have the book that you finished reading this summer, but you don’t have a sharp knife in the kitchen. The fridge is so small.
You want to make one familiar meal. You walk to the grocery store, against better judgment, considering you’re pretty sure the store is named Gonad. You pull out Google Translate on your phone as you scan the spice rack. The most likely candidate you find for Cumin translates into “Wiley.” You buy it anyway. You display all your colorful money to the cashier, as it somehow seems you’ve also lost your ability to count. She takes the bills she needs. Meanwhile, your son has an imaginary light saber battle at the end of an aisle and breaks open a bag of pasta. You don’t know how to say, “sorry.” You buy the pasta too.
You go to a coffee shop and make your best guess at a drink order. What you get doesn’t resemble what you thought you ordered. The next week you try again. Different, but still not what you thought you asked for. You drink the coffee each time, each lesson getting you closer.
A friend recently said this to me about the experience of moving abroad: Moving to a new country is like toddlerhood. Every experience is brand new, and at the same time, you are trying desperately to communicate your needs, and your mom is trying to get you to say all kinds of new stuff that you don’t even understand. At some point, you just lay down in your macaroni and cheese and call it a day.
Exactly. There is no brainless grocery shopping or driving or walking. EVERYTHING is creating a new space in your brain. You want to hide in your bedroom and take a nap but your bed is covered with your landlord’s moon and star bottom sheet, pink top sheet, no blanket, and the pillows are wearing your t-shirts. Still. You have a suspicion that your son’s sheet is actually a tablecloth, but you aren’t sure.
You want to call your friends or family but the time zones never seem to line up correctly. The people you want to talk to in the morning are still sleeping; the ones you want to debrief with at the end of the day are long abed. And so you go to bed crying some nights. Your kid goes to bed crying some nights. Everything is fine, and yet nothing is fine because it isn’t YOURS. Your friends aren’t there, your paintings, your frisbee, your routines, your birds, your language, the store where you know you can buy black beans. You wonder why you left.
And yet, there’s the clue that reminds you that you’ll be okay: You don’t wonder why you left all the places you’ve lived and loved, you just wonder why you left the LAST one. You miss a feeling of home, of comfort, and yet your life is filled with proof after proof that you can build this again, anywhere. Because that home you miss? It was, not too long ago, also a new place.
Why do we live like this? Some days we are more sure than others. Personally, here is what I do know: one day, maybe not far into the future, I will wake up in the morning having slept through the noisy nighttime trash pick-up. I will cross the street effortlessly, maybe pass an Albanian who recognizes me and waves, and go into a coffee shop where I will order the drink that I actually want. I will sit in a lovely courtyard to do some writing, unafraid of taking up space or violating some foreign norms. And through this series of tiny moments I will feel a whisper, deep down, of“I got this.” That feeling is worth all it takes to get there, is a greater sense of accomplishment than when I earned a college diploma. I will know, in a personal way that shocks me further to my core each time, two things. One, that this world is so much more wiley and endlessly variable than I could have previously imagined. And two, that I am more resilient than I think. A renewed faith in these things is what keeps me whole, keeps me me.
And besides, as Rumi said, “What will our children do in the morning if they do not see us fly?”