High: The weather.
The highlight of our Brazilian life this month has been the weather. For those of you who live for lazy days at the beach, soaking up the sun and a few caipirinhas, disregard that sentence and come visit a different month than April. One day it rained so hard, we got a quarter of the month’s rainfall overnight. School commutes became a lesson in pothole and flood avoidance, and some students couldn’t make it all the way to school. Sadly, a mudslide in Salvador took fifteen lives, and we are currently trying to get food, water, and clothing to those who lost their homes.
On a more positive note, the higher-than-average rainfalls have eased some of Brazil’s severe drought conditions, which we all hope will lower the increased cases of dengue fever in the region. And on a personal note, the rain has brought with it some lower temperatures, such that I can sit in the house and study my Portuguese without sliding off my kitchen chair in a puddle of sweat.
Low: No answers.
We packed our house, rented it out, put half our belongings in storage, and moved 7600 kilometers with our children. The contract was for three years, so it’s no small thing that it took nearly all of these nine months to become accustomed to life here, but we feel like we finally reached that settling-in point. Thus it was not the happy birthday surprise I was hoping for when my husband came home April 7th to tell me: They’re ending my position here.
I only wish it were that simple, but it never is. Give me news, and I can adjust. Give me half-baked news with hints, retractions, and wait-and-sees, and I don’t know what to do. My Type A personality necessitates that I start worrying in August about company for Thanksgiving dinner. An unanswered question of any kind can keep me awake nights, so my husband has learned to give me answers, even if they have to change the next morning.
Instead, we have had 23 days of no answers. Or sort of answers. The word is, we’re leaving. Soon. Maybe we’re going back to Michigan (okay, that’s okay, my daughter will be back in school with her friends and I’ll be a long drive away from my college freshman, yay!). Maybe we’re going to China (um, okay, not so close to home, a little smoggy and, yeah, the 4th time I’ll attempt to learn a language with an alphabet I don’t recognize and the 8th language overall, but at least my daughter likes the look of the schol there, and there’s always the expat bonus that will help pay for the college kid I won’t see until Christmas). Wait, maybe not? Maybe new bosses coming in soon are going to shake things up and my daughter, frustrated with poor schooling here and accepted into Youth for Understanding exchange study in Italy next year, will leave me for a whole year? What? Where? Why? And mostly, when – when did my life start feeling so out of control?
Glitter: Birthday lunch.
Last year I turned 50. That was a marker, a number that meant I couldn’t deny I am middle-aged. And that’s if I plan to reach 100, which I certainly do. But that was last year! This year, as a dear friend told me, I am “in my 50s”, a range which a bystander can take to mean any number in the long decade ahead. Sigh.
The week before my birthday, someone saw on Facebook that my birthday was coming up, and before I knew it, there was a small luncheon planned. We gathered for an “executivo” lunch and there were even gifts. The extra glitter at the end of the meal came from an unexpected donor: the restaurant owner. He had heard it was a birthday lunch, and he brought out an individually wrapped cake to bring home, slices of cake, and glasses of Prosecco to mark the occasion. Of course, I was heading out for the school commute, so I only took a sip, but the thought counted for so much, as did my new friends’ attention.
Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.
As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.
Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.
The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.