In my experience as an expatriate of 15 years, there are three general reasons people move to another country.
In my case, it was a combination of the three.
One reason isn’t better than the other, though I do think it’s helpful to understand why you’re immigrating. More than once, I’ve talked with an ex-pat who, in retrospect, realized they didn’t understand their motives, which made it harder to integrate into their new culture.
Let’s explore the reasons.
This was a fundamental reason I left the United States. I’d been concerned for years over the growing fear-based culture. My concern turned to Hell No! after 911, when the Chicago public transportation system started broadcasting the “if you see something, say something” announcement. It was more Orwellian a climate than I could weather.
I was married to a Mexican national, an undocumented worker, and had fallen in love with both him and his culture. We decided to move to his country. He told me what he missed the most about Mexico was the freedom. Freedom was what he saw my country was short on.
In Mexico, I had a greater sense of freedom than in the US. There were fewer regulations or at least a relaxed attitude toward following the rules. You can play your music as loud as you want, and children can get dirty and hurt themselves doing it. They get to be kids. I could drive without a driver’s license.
Though, I think the violence of Mexico’s cartels stems, in part, from the Mexican extreme take on personal freedom.
“The Mexican…is familiar with death. [He] jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it. It is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love.”
– Octavio Paz.
I witnessed traumatic events in Mexico that others barely batted an eye at. I think it was, in part, because of their belief that people should be able to do what they wanted to, regardless of how it affected others.
As hard as they have been, I appreciate the lessons I’ve learned in Central America about what personal freedom means. It means I’m not responsible to others in the way I was taught. I’m not responsible for how others think, feel, or act. I am only responsible for how I feel about my actions. Ideally, this builds personal integrity.
If I’m not happy with another’s actions, maybe I feel bad, but it’s not their responsibility. I accept responsibility for my feelings. I can talk with them, ignore them, or remove myself. They have the same choice. I can be the person I want to be following this code, and I feel freer, not trying to meet others’ expectations. The challenges of living in another culture helped me become my better self.
The biggest glitch I encountered because I left for political reasons was the guilt and shame of not staying to help my culture go in the direction I felt was healthy and supportive for its citizens. Eventually, I decided this: I don’t think guilt and shame help anyone or the world. So, I let go of that. I realized we all have different ways to help, some from our original place, others elsewhere, and some globally.
Also, I now know there is no government or political system that is likely better than where you are from. You may prefer your new home, possibly even because it allows you more distance from political involvement. You’ll encounter the good and the bad in your new paradise, and you’ll see your homeland from a new perspective.
I also left for financial reasons. I wasn’t wealthy. I had no savings for retirement at 40 years of age. I lived in a culture where a health issue could destroy you financially for years to come.
My husband’s culture had multi-generational households, and my mother would be coming to live with us eventually. Her social security check alone could not sustain her in Chicago. My husband and I did not want to work sixty hours a week for another thirty years with little hope of owning our own home without going into debt for forty years, ever feeling we could “get ahead” or at least keep our heads above water. So we left. It didn’t work out as we planned. But I have no regrets.
Many people want to retire in another country because their money will go further. This is where I hope that personal integrity plays a role. It can manifest as exploitation without careful attention. This is not judgment; I can do things I couldn’t do in my home country because my dollar is worth more than the local currency.
I do, however, consider how I use that and to whose advantage. For example, I can employ people, and no, I don’t pay them what I would have to pay in the US. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to give them a job. Though I do pay minimum wage, sick, holiday, and vacation pay.
Living in an economy that increases the value of your resources is an occasion to bring prosperity where abundance may not be flowing to the people. Sure, investing in a business is a good way to infuse an economy with opportunity. But does the nature of the business add value to your neighbors? I feel it’s important to consider the needs of the community and provide a service that prospers both the place and its people.
From my perspective, this is the best reason. Hopefully, all ex-pats end up with this as their reason for staying. Having fallen in love with a place, its people, and its culture.
Perhaps you’re a nomad. You pull into town one day, and it feels like home, or you’re on vacation and see a need you are compelled to fill.
Or you meet a person you don’t want to leave behind.
Though I love and have a deep respect for Mexico. When I came to Nicaragua, I felt like I could breathe out after holding my breath for a long time. People smiled at me. When I moved to a little town here, I wasn’t gawked at. It’s been easy to find ways to help. I feel motivated to generate abundance, not for the sake of having more but for more opportunities to give.
I know there is a need in my home country, but who is to say, but our own heart, where on this earth our destiny lies?
I just completed a three-hour long test shift for the job of food writer.
It was hard. I cried when it was over, just to release the stress. My wonderful friend Aurelia was right behind me with a big hug. She allowed me to come to the Surf Sanctuary for the test so I wouldn’t have to worry about sketchy electricity/internet.
I’ll have to figure out how to use my phone and data for backup if I get the job, But first things first. Job–how to get the job done. Fire, Aim, Ready.
My friend Cat called me to see how it went. She asked if it was hard, and I told her it was. She said she was proud of me, which I needed to hear. As happens with old friends, while talking with her, I was reminded of a story.
My first job interview was for a position as a singing waiter. I had never waited tables, I had never sung in public, though I fancied myself a singer(I’d sung in a recording studio with my Dad), and how hard can waiting tables be?
I sang When I’m Sixty-Four (it was a jazz bar) in the middle of a restaurant, Accapella. It was terrifying.
They sent me home with an Ella Fitzgerald record of How High the Moon. I came back the following week and sang How High the Moon Acapella in the middle of a busy restaurant, that went silent. Scarier still, now that I was emulating Ella Fitzgerald.
Amazingly, I got the job. Waiting at tables is not so easy, by the way.
In terms of conquering fear. I set the bar high when I was just 18.
To all those I called in yesterday to help me feel my way into this job, thank you. I made it through the test. I accomplished the task. I won’t know the outcome for a few days. Keep seeing the text I’ll send. I GOT IT!!!!!!
Now Dear Readers, I ask a favor of you. Please imagine me, receiving a message that I have a new job as a food writer. See me jump up and down (I will, for sure) I’m so excited to get the news! Feel how happy I am to be paid to do something I love, that I’ve dedicated myself to learning. Hear the sighs, and feel the relief of all my loved ones, that I am employed.
Thank you, I know your, love, support, and feeling with me will help.
Let’s see what’s going on in the garden.
A proper understanding of how big my house and garden are hit me about two weeks ago.
When we moved in, we were both employed, and we hired someone to trim and repair things as we needed. We did a little remodeling and painting but little if any preventive maintenance.
Now that I’m here all day long with little extra cash for hiring help, I’ve taken a close look, and there’s A LOT of work to be done. I was overwhelmed for about a week. The result was not work, but reading.
I read my journals from Mexico. I remembered I know how to garden, which was reassuring. And that I can fix all kinds of things with just sticks mud, sweat and perseverance. I was reminded that a good deal of what I accomplished while living in Mexico, I did alone. I give him most of the credit, Felipe is a rock star, but he was often working; he had his fires to put out or was too exhausted to care about every need of our homestead. I could not have done without him, but I did become quite self-reliant.
If you don’t journal, I recommend it. To have a written history available to you, biased or not, is invaluable. Buoyed by my records, I got back to work.
The first thing I did was clean and organize the bodega. I found essential tools I thought I was going to have to buy. The machetes need sharpening, I’ll give it a shot with my stone, but I think they need a pro. I hope to find an afilador with a bicycle attached to his wheel! I promise a picture if I do.
Then I rounded up all the bricks, roof, and floor tiles I could find and carried on with covering the beds in plastic to kill weeds before I plant on the new moon.
More overwhelm set in when I realized how many weights and bags it would take and that I still had to cut all the posts and PVC for the row covers. I’m doing this with my jeweler saw. Yes, you can cut rebar with a jeweler’s saw, but I hope the hacksaw I found in the bodega will be a better option. I’m going through a lot of blades.
Yesterday, I took the day off and trekked out for supplies, including a stop at our local thrift shop. Finding this excellent gardening hat and long socks for my boots helped get me back to the beds today. They make me look like Gilly, but, this is a killer hat, and no boot rash is a big plus.
More improvements! Most of what I’ll put in will be direct seeded, but I have these fancy new seed pots made of tofu containers. They’re a significant upgrade from the pizza boxes.
Something I’ve learned about housing and gardening is: there will be trial and error.
A few examples:
Our roof needed repairs, and it was cheaper to put a new roof on top of the old one. They’re both made of corrugated roofing sheets. The original is fiberglass, and the top layer, the one we installed, is corrugated tin. Felipe thought it would be too hot for an animal to nest between the two.
Guess what bats hate: wind. Guess what bats love: heat. Our roof is a bat condo. I got a sonar bat repellant, and it works-mostly. I also installed a bat house. It’s unoccupied. Why live in a box when you have a condo?
The previous owner left us many fabulous trees. But now they’re so huge they’re blocking out the sun of the citrus trees. I’m left with a sad dilemma of what wonderful trees to cut down. I’ll start with some serious pruning. Hopefully, it will be enough.
Mother addressed the issue of my surami cherries gone wild. She’s ruthless!
The small kitchen garden is now in full shade, and little is prospering. It is a winter garden. The tomatoes, which will not grow without enough sun, are too big to transfer. I’m hoping the herbs will not need to be moved…vamos a ver.
My final garden fancy for the week.
Years ago, I got it in my head that Central America should have Papasan chairs. I wanted to grow bamboo in Mexico and start a cottage industry. Felipe wasn’t hot on it, probably because he was working a grueling full-time job, growing his own crops, and raising pigs. But, I still think it’s a grand idea, and 3 years ago I bought these black bamboo plants.
This plant was about two feet when I bought it, and is now over 20 feet tall. And it has over 20 corms. It looms in my sunset view and makes me happy every time I see it. I have four others. When the dry season returns I will cut enough to dry and learn to bend bamboo.
There are many bamboo benders in Catrina, but I’ll probably learn how to do it from youtube videos. It’s how I learned how to butcher.
The full moon is a time of illumination, but what is it when it’s dimmed or blocked from sight? Darkness when we expect light is an opportune time to look within.
Today is a perfect day to get your hands and feet on the ground. Dig in your garden, pull your potted plants out for a sunbath, and walk the dog barefoot in the grass.
Do your work, wait for the light, and plan your papasan.