by Kerry Nappi
High: A neighborhood of friendly faces
It took eight months, a neighborhood of friendly faces, one good friend, and a purpose to help me find contentment in my home-away-from-home of Bahia, Brazil. The last days were filled with small outings with my best friend and her 3-year-old, group gatherings at a pizza buffet we loved, and windy beach days when we all got to try surfing and watched the kids sit on plastic chairs from the barraca and let themselves be knocked over time and again by the waves.
My second high for these two months was a family trip to Chapada Diamantina, The Diamond Highlands, six hours from our beach home. The vacation had everything we love: sweeping vistas, arduous hikes, lost-in-the-mountains and river adventure, and eating local foods from the street cafes while listening to the sounds of the music festival around us.
To be fair, I am condensing two months of Highs into one, so I couldn’t let pass this chance to celebrate a time with more highs than lows.
Low: Not being available when your child needs you
I’m sure I have said this before, but the hardest thing about being an expat is also the hardest thing about being a mom: Not being available when your child needs you.
Right in the middle of our somewhat major move from Brazil to China, my older child, a freshman in university in the US, started suffering from health issues. Sometimes, I missed middle of the night phone calls; other times, I was facetiming and texting right through the worst of it.
In one case, a new friend in university helped my son by getting him to the ER twice in a weekend. This was a friend I have never met, but who was using my son’s phone to send kind and caring texts to let me know how he was and that she woudn’t leave him alone.
Another time, the illness occurred while he was with family for Thanksgiving break; a loving aunt and uncle were the ones getting him to a doctor and caring for him until he was well enough to ride the train back to school.
But in all cases, I wasn’t there. I usually like being an expatriate, but I never like not being there for my son, as grown up as he tells me he is.
Glitter: Yinhang. And it worked!
You know you’re a pro at this moving around the world thing when your Glitter in one country parallels a Glitter in another country just a year before. I must admit, starting yet another language, and a tonal one at that, makes me nervous. If you don’t grow up with tones, your ears aren’t attuned to them by the time you get to my age. That’s going to be the problem with Mandarin. However, you don’t get any better if you don’t try, so that’s been my sole intent.
The first week, I used a lot of sign language and our driver’s rudimentary English to communicate. Google Translate and other apps have made international living so much easier. But one time, I just could not communicate the word I needed: bank. So I gave it a shot and tried to pronounce the word as best I could. Yinhang. And it worked! Let’s hope that all my needs will be so easily met and all my language attempts become Glitters!
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.