One of the great things about the expat life, is you get to reinvent yourself every time you move. And by great, I mean necessary, for me at least. Moving to a new country is a surreal, hyper-real experience, even when you have it done it several times before. I find reinvention to be my coping mechanism.
I’ve been walking a lot lately, which is good for me. In Argentina, I’ve reinvented myself as a walker. Walking is good for thinking, which is good for writing. I have many blog posts in my head, I just need to convert them to type in between walking.
I need to tell you about how South Africa said goodbye to us, and what we did in between here and there, and many, many tales of my kids’ resilience, but this is my blog, so first I’ll talk about my reinvention(s).
I showed an early flair for languages, and some twenty years ago I learned Spanish. But then I was sent to the Lowood Institution where my best friend died in my arms of consumption, and French was the only language I developed. Wait, I’m confusing myself with Jane Eyre again. But for some reason I learned more French, and it covered over my Spanish until it was quite buried.
That French was quite handy in Luxembourg, but not at all useful here, when I try and communicate and this whole other language keeps popping out instead. It is at times like these, I marvel at my girl’s ability to express herself. I know it doesn’t come easily, and it takes a strength I don’t have, but she does.
Though I don’t have that strength, I do need to communicate our needs. Necessity is the mother of invention, so they say. I like to pretend that I’m in some kind of reality TV show. It is of course, absurd that I know so little of the language, so I act like it is a challenge: what can my very basic abilities achieve for me today?
In my first week here, it got me wifi installed in my house, which was a necessity, or I wouldn’t be writing to you now. Miming can get you so far, and sometimes words take you further. I needed a Phillips screwdriver, and that is a thing you certainly don’t want to mime (go on, try it), but when you can’t remember the word “screwdriver” or “tool” it becomes a comedic surfeit of words, words, words.
And if I’m confused why I have to pay when my bill reaches 1000 pesos at the supermercado, even though I have more shopping on the conveyer belt, the explanation is more words than I’m able to process. Hold on, give me five or six months to figure out what you are telling me.
Sometimes my reality TV show has a culinary edge. Instead of getting frustrated at the limitations of the welcome kit (essentials provided by the Embassy until our belongings arrive), I’ll instead prepare the most elaborate food I can, as though competing against myself. Sometimes there are unexpected successes, as I find a way to cook spinach in a way that my kids both eat it for the first time. Or we make empanadas together and remember one of the reasons this is all worth it.
The theme to all my reinventions is facing a challenge. It is okay to be tired, but I’ll never win that way. Today, walking to school for a pre-IEP meeting, I felt a little like David against Goliath, if David didn’t have the slingshot of legal rights outside of the US public school system. But dressing myself in leather boots and biker jacket, I felt like this incarnation might show her strength, even when feeling weak. And just as well, because upon finding that a document about Pudding was being sent to her teachers, I needed to be able to demand a copy even if the school doesn’t normally give them to parents. Nothing about us without us.
Perhaps they aren’t really reinventions after all. Maybe it is more about remembering who you are, how you are, even in a world that seems unfamiliar. Sifting through layers of language, understanding cultural norms and making sure our needs are being met.
Deep down I am who I am no matter where we are. Still, if I were being followed by a camera crew these last few days, I’m sure you’d find it to be very entertaining viewing!