Expat File #16 (In answer to South African writer-expat Charlotte Otter)
I am from Costa Rica. I am from eternal spring with blue skies and billowing clouds that sometimes rush in from both coasts and clash in the middle in a torrential downpour. I am from green slopes of volcanoes and hot beaches that were once deserted. I am from coffee fincas, gallo pinto (rice and black beans) and beautiful birds. I am from warm smiles and friends. (My high school classmates have dinner together once a month and I am invited whenever I am in town – which isn’t often, but I am on the mailing list nevertheless.)
I am from Costa Rica…that is what I used to say as I had no state or other place in the world to claim as my own. I grew up as an expat with American parents. I lived in Costa Rica longer than anywhere else… from earliest adolescence and into my twenties. I went home to visit until my parents left Costa Rica in my thirties (they had lived out of the country by then for forty years).
I might say I am from Greece where we moved when I was but weeks old. And my first sentence was “Thélo̱ pso̱mí” (I want bread) – or so I’m told.
The White Tower in the background was originally built by the Ottomans, but it has long been a symbol of Thessaloniki. My parents hung this painting on the walls of our houses wherever we moved. My mother and I returned to Greece in the 1990’s – and to my great delight – the harbor looked much the same as this watercolour I know so well. I remember the blue water where we went to the beach …or do I just imagine it? …because we moved to Germany before I was three.
My mother said I spoke German before English, so I dutifully studied it for a semester in High School. That was in Costa Rica where the teacher, Frau Marin really was German (and spoke Spanish, but not English) – but I didn’t speak it any better than anyone else. But I am from Germany… Because when I was twenty-five I suddenly found myself singing” Baa Baa black sheep” in German – lyrics hidden in the recesses of my mind for a quarter century. I know all the words to a nursery rhyme I learned as a preschooler: Mäh Mäh Schwarzes Schaf, Haben Sie Wolle? Ja, ja, ja drei Mal voll.…
I am from Colombia … I am from cool mountains with orchids and flower farms, hot beaches and lowlands… I remember flying over jungles and snow peaked volcanoes; I remember“onzes” (snack-time), kind people, and colonial villages. My elementary school had a reunion last year and I went with my sister and ate ajaico (wonderfully seasoned chicken stew) and danced the cumbia. It felt like home – from a lifetime ago.
… And now I am from California. From warm days and cool nights, egalitarian people, incredible spring wildflowers, tall redwoods, beaches, and deserts … the Sierras, Monterey County and Yosemite.
Panoramic photos above of the San Francisco Bay Area seen from Mt. Tamalpais.
Finally I could pretend to be from Hawaii where I’d love to retire .
My siblings are scattered like the wind as are my children, but we are used to traveling for family get togethers. It has always been that way. We are from everywhere.
Disclosure: the idea for the post came from a South African expat-writer, Charlotte Otter. She is the author of a crime novel, Balthasar’s Gift and her blog can be found at Charlotte’s Web.
Where are YOU from?