This guest poster is a friend from Latin America whom I’ve known since junior high – a rarity among us global nomads who moved around every few years. We are bound by those good times, but also by our expat experiences. Interestingly, we both ended up in the same country and the same state.
When I think about my life in this great, beloved city, it inevitably leads to the most profound, rigorous soul-searching I’m capable of. After more than 40 years of this, I’ve now been able to identify, compartmentalize and allocate basic human feelings such as love, loyalty, gratitude and justice –as well as their counterparts. I love both my country of birth (Costa Rica) and my country of choice, but in a different way. Perhaps the closest analogy might be to think of the former as my mother, and the latter as a loving wife in a very long, fulfilling marriage. I was blessed with an extraordinary “mother” –I chose well, some mediums would say- and, overall, I’ve been incredibly lucky with my marriage, full of unbelievable adventures and lessons I’m still trying to assimilate. More than that, at least so far, I’ve been spared the most horrendous, soul and bone crushing events that others, including some so very near and dear to me, have had to endure. Quite simply, I repeat, up to now, with one exception, I’ve emerged from life’s defeats and tribulations mostly unscathed and intact. I cannot overstate how grateful I am for that, and it is for that reason that I now devote most of my spare time to finding and proposing ways and solutions to help those who have not had the same experience.
I was fortunate to grow up in a cocoon of privilege; attended an elite, private bilingual school in one of the most, if not the most peaceful countries on Earth. It all changed at age 17. My mom –my dad died when I was six – decided to move us to Los Angeles as she had dual citizenship. My sheltered life came to a crushing halt as her new income was insufficient to maintain the lifestyle we’d previously had. The first casualty was my school. I fell into the dark world of inner city schools, infested with gangs and kids who initially hated the ground I walked on.
That all changed –again- one day when, on my way home, I walked by a basketball court where some kids were playing. All of a sudden, unexpectedly and accidentally, a ball bounced to me. On a whim, I picked it up and unleashed a 25-footer from the sideline, and, swishhhh, nothing but net! Contemptuous, eager to prove that it had been a fluke, some of them dared -commanded- me, in a harsh tone that left no doubt of what would follow if I did not comply, to do it again. Swishhh. Surprise! Try again, they said. But my bus, it’s going to leave, I said. “Ass all right, I’ll drive you home,” said one who must’ve been at least 6’5”, 250 pounds, otherwise… Swishhh! “Hey, man, what’s yo name, whe y’ come frm?” From that day on, they became my friends, provided what amounted to bodyguards, and I survived the year.
I had a brief respite from the inner city when I went back to my country for a year and a half. My plane departed at 10 AM on a Saturday, I remember, and, according to my mom, at 2 PM that same day the mail arrived with my Service Draft papers. 1-A, a passport to Vietnam. But I was airborne, and I could prove it. I guess that puts me in august company, with the likes of two of our most recent, dear baby boomer presidents.
When I returned the war was ending, no draft; no harm, no foul. I attended college, dropped out, married disastrously, and spent my youth working at a public utility and playing international chess tournaments.
In the early 80s, another life changing event. I left my company’s cocoon and ventured into the world of self-employment, as a real estate appraiser. No more getting up at 4 AM to catch my vanpool from suburbia. On the first day of my new life I got up at 10, had breakfast, read the paper, and then, and only then, went to my porch to collect the orders I’d received. There were fifty. That first week I made more money than in an entire year at my old job.
Over the years I have clinically inspected well over 20 thousand homes, of people in every class –economic, that is. Movie stars; famous, dear and beloved singers; low-life thugs, drug smugglers with clandestine airstrips in remote southeastern Riverside County; middle class, upper class, working class –you name it. (And for those at the bottom, with very few exceptions, there’s no relief and little hope.)
The Expat Files are regular (or more honestly irregular) posts by expats and TCKs (Third Culture Kids) –now TC adults – everywhere. These individuals spent a large portion of their lives, often their childhoods, living outside their parents’ country and may form lifestyles and viewpoints different from either the “home” or host culture. These posts express feelings of exile and culture shock (often of when returning to the “home country”) as well as the joys of living around the globe and fresh perspectives on any number of topics. This is a good place to “belong.” (BTW, displacement is the central theme of A Place in the World.) If you are interested in writing a guest post about your expat experiences please contact me below (or better yet see my “About Author” page) for guidelines. Otherwise please leave your thoughts below; We Would All Love to Hear from YOU.