The New Normal: Day

10.00 Laptop most definitely will not switch on.

Contemplate the situation. Seems I kind of have a day off. Also seems I have no computer.

Feel sad.

Why is life with technology such an uphill battle?

10.01-12.00 Non-photogenic activities. (So I here’s my favourite plant Rosalie instead.) Feel obliged to unpack the joyous remains of a fun weekend by the sea. Not fun. Kind of gross. As is the laundry. As is blog writing in ugly housewear (way too hot to write elegantly dressed – otherwise obviously would).

12.00 Toddle off to the bakery to buy some good veggie protein with a village salad. Get told off for taking a pic of the bread shelf. Feel stupid.

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Feel stupid taking a photo of my lunch, take one anyway. And post it here. There it is.

13.30 Watch Sister Wives.

Don’t feel stupid. Haven’t got a computer and the seaside weekend was a bit consuming actually. And Mariah has recently come out as gay to her five fundamentalist Mormon parents. Five! Fundamentalist! Gay! Mormon!

15.00 Reunited with my tanned rascals on the school yard.

Gather all our courage and ask one boy’s mum if he could join us for pizza on Friday. He can! Oh their joyous little faces!

Oh the dawn of a friendship.

Oh my poor old heart.

Cardboard City Prayers

Friday

The movers brought in 250 boxes and left. What a shock! Whose is all this stuff? We want to return it! But the truck has already rumbled off. Panic is rising.

Apparently, we’ve been in this exact situation no less than six times in the last 16 years. I can’t remember much about the previous times though. Maybe moving is like childbirth? You forget what it’s like because if you did remember, no-one would do it. And then there would definitely be no diplomats. Nor their spouses. And the latter would surely be very bad.

Saturday & Sunday

Sorting my books by colour.

(Yes, that is indeed Gone With the Wind. I heard it’s coming back to fashion this autumn. In the hipster circles of Berlin everybody is ordering crinolines.)

(Okay, they’re not! But it’s yellow, okay? That’s a very rare colour actually in the grown-up books section! So it’s staying!)

Monday

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Sleds

My husband is back at work at the ministry. I’m opening boxes and guffawing tearfully at what we brought. It’s great. I recommend it. Summer in Cardboard City!

My child is hooked onto his gaming system. He is very happy. The other one has been abolished to the mountains. (Not my himself. The grandparents were with him last time we checked in with him.) He’s happy too.

My husband isn’t very happy. He has called upon the Holy Mother of Christ so many times I’m becoming socially very anxious. What if she gets tired of it, appears right here among our boxes and says ‘What is it my children, I heard your cries’, or something kind like that.

Then what? We ask her if she could please flatten some empty boxes? Take them to the garage? Men just don’t think things through sometimes!

Tuesday

But there is progress!

The first night I went to bed with an enormous yellow vacuum cleaner staring at me right next to my bed. I couldn’t unplug the beast from the wall for love nor money. So I rolled around fretting ‘What does it want? What does it want?” until finally hubs showed up.

I was all damsel in distress. He was all valiant, vacuum cleaner taming youth (cough) whom I would now self-evidently marry if I hadn’t already. Romance in Cardboard City! Can’t beat it!

But I was writing about progress – we just found power socket adaptors! They were in nr. 130, Cardboard Row. Now I can plug in and out anything I want. Although then, the microwave won’t switch on. I love how all countries have their own plug and socket shapes. So exciting to discover! (Cries)

Wednesday

Today is a national holiday for the Holy Virgin. (She’s very popular in Cyprus.) So we had our first lunch guests over. Nothing fancy, just takeaway and bakery sweets for some close family members. During lunch, both kids had a fit of some kind. My food got very cold. All in all, it was an excellent idea. Excellent! I should have ideas more often. (Not! Must stop this instant.)

Thursday

The kids are to start school in less than two weeks. Problem is, they don’t actually, officially have a school to start at. Optimistic, I ordered supplies anyway according to the school’s list. 100 items. That took hours. Meanwhile, hubby was slaving away behind the window, on the balcony. It’s very hot out there in the afternoon. I hope the boys will be really excited and grateful for their school supplies. They were really hard to order.

Friday

After the Holy Virgin Day lunch disaster, I took a break from the home-making for a couple of days. Just felt like I needed to. (Procrastinating, you could say. Pre-emptive mental health care, I’d say!) Despite of that (surely not because of that?!) it’s starting to look nice here and there.

After dark the kids and I climbed the stairs to the roof terrace. There was a night breeze and a wonderful view of city lights and the starry sky. To top it all off, they spotted a shooting star. Underneath, aquarium was no more. Neither was Cardboard City. Just a valiant and exhausted man saying Holy Mother of Christ it’s Friday, how will we ever make it through the weekend?

But at least he was saying it in something slowly starting to resemble our home again!

What Else Is There?

Ohh.

Everyone’s out.

The sun shines in through the blinds. I am so sleep deprived but so relieved too.

On the screen, two boys in uniforms pose in front of the school’s lemon trees.

A little ray of raw happiness seeps in with the sunshine.

They seem to be okay.

Now, what else is there I wonder?

I Love the Food!

Hi, I am an introvert.

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I don’t think out loud. (Except here!)

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At a Finnish family party, in the garden of a hundred-year-old fishing lodge

If you want to know how I am and I don’t know because I’m in the middle of something, like a move, I might tell you that. Or I might freeze, or I might wonder if you would perhaps like a very light and cheerful answer – and I can give that a little go.

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‘How do you feel about moving to Cyprus?’ everyone kindly enquires and I am grateful.

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But I don’t know.

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How could I when I don’t know what life there will be like this time? So many things I look forward to yet others are still so vague it’s hard to picture our everyday lives just yet.

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So it’s a fun raffle of ‘Great!’ and ‘I don’t know?’ and ‘It’s really hot there’, as answers to the question. They are all true, of course!

As is ‘I love the food.’

Because I really, really do love everything to do with Cyprus cuisine. Perhaps I should refrain from overthinking for once in my life, just announce ‘I love the food!!!’ and get on with my social life?

Worth ruminating for hours about, definitely!

Farewell

This is my farewell. Brought to you from my sweaty bed where I’m trying to shake off a little fever, so I could go see some motorised dinosaurs on my last day in Geneva. Fingers crossed!

On a more romantic note, I remember our first evening in Geneva like a lovely, fragrant painting. A peaceful family painting that I was in myself!

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(It could be of course, that the reality was more like Tom & Jerry’s  craziest than a Monet painting. After all, my kids were there! But this is my memory and I’d like to keep it please – thank you!)

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From our hotel we crossed the street into the park, with the little one in his stroller. I still remember the ghostly shape of the Jet d’Eau fountain towering on Lake Geneva. (It just doesn’t show in the darn pictures. So maybe it wasn’t there that night. But I reserve the right to my memory!)

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We were four years fresher than today.

The city was an exciting stranger. Someone to be curious about. To get to know slowly.

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That night we didn’t know a soul but each other.

Then one by one, day by day, month by month, people showed up.

And this post is about them. People from volunteer meetings, schools, stables, playgrounds and from right here in our own neighbourhood. Everywhere where we felt like outsiders to begin with.

Until someone reached out a hand and a couple of kind words.

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For those words, for those people, I will always remain grateful.

For what is life if it isn’t shared?

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As expats, we live removed from our home tribes and our home territories and our collective memories. At worst, it can be such a lonely experience.

So to recognise a thought in someone else’s words, and to receive a little smile as recognition of ours, there’s no gift like it!

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I think it’s human nature needing to share.

Parenting kids whose childhoods are so different from ours.

Struggling to learn something difficult. Like living in a foreign environment.

Things that we feel, love, fear or can’t get enough of – most of these fill with meaning when shared.

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Views, country roads, hot summers, little boats on the waves of the lake – and you. All the former strangers I was happy to call friends.

My favourite memories! (Maybe to be joined by some robot dinosaurs this Sunday?)

Thank you.

Trying to See It

Woke up too early to a thought: Maybe this is the day!

It wasn’t.

Brushed and combed, the kids met year leaders and did their very best. We await. Bite our nails and wait.

Carefully hopeful, D and I met estate agents and looked around people’s homes trying to see it, see us, see something.

Of course we couldn’t.

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But late in the evening, we slipped out the door once more. A little freedom, a little meze! Music, sweet hookah steam and a tiny ridiculous caraffe of white and suddenly, everything of course, will turn out fine. Just fine!

We are back in Cyprus and everything will soon again flow.

The Roundabout of No

Woke up to a sublime, fragrant morning and ran out of bed to do stuff.

Back and forth in the morning rush hour, I am being reintroduced to the exciting, unwritten geography of the Cyprus capital.

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You see, life in Nicosia is kind of a big hide and seek where the locals live somewhere and the foreigners can’t find the way there until the party is finished and all the wine is gone.

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It’s played so that instead of a street address, the participants are given a list of landmarks – both existing and long gone – that all the good Cypriot folk know and no silly old xeni like moi will ever learn. But my good man is trying to share his wisdom, bless! He has such faith in my capacity!

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I promise I will give the unofficial geography a shot.

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But Kalispera traffic lights? That means good evening, for heaven’s sake!

The roundabout of ‘no’?

 

My Pineapple House

To counterbalance the rather shocking effect of a serious Sponge Bob Square Pants overdose, I went to a tulip festival. It was prettier. So much more elegant than Bob universe. Nice in other ways, too!

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I went there with a friend.

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This friend I didn’t know existed four years ago (she did).

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Now I don’t know what the heck I’m supposed to do without her.

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She is packing for the north and I for the south.

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I want to go into my pineapple house under the waves and never talk to anyone again!

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Like a furiously mute Sponge Bob.

11 Sundays

Last Sunday I went for a long walk with one of my boys. Winter had changed to summer overnight and we weren’t really dressed for the weather. He was on his scooter. I was trying to keep up.

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This Sunday was laundry day. There are now summer clothes drying everywhere. The kids went out with a friend from next door.DSC_0211e3

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I sat at the window, listening to them and editing photos on my laptop.DSC_0192e
DSC_0091e2Eleven more Sundays. Eleven more Sundays like this until the big storm hits and lifts us in the air!

The Story So Far

Thanks for joining me! This is my story so far.

I come from a little wind-swept town on the South-Western coast of Finland. We lived in a very ordinary block of flats near the sea. This was before real estate folks realised that ordinary folks shouldn’t actually be allowed to live near the sea. And thank goodness for that!

From the bedroom I shared with my brother, I could see one of the world’s largest archipelagos stretching out kilometres and kilometres out to the horizon. That to me was my archipelago. The map of my heart and my soul and the place I would like to be buried one day, if that’s alright with the town hall please. (I doubt it, actually, but one can always dream, right?)

In the summer, my family explored those islands in the slowest boat known to mankind. In winter I used to stare at ice-breakers and cargo ships doing their best in the less than pleasant weather we often enjoyed there. I studied them awkwardly approaching the enormous fertiliser factory that was forever puffing steam into the moody skies of my archipelago. The little girl that I was, I even saw romance in that. Because it was my scenery. My sea, my ships! My scenery.

The archipelago was by no means the only beautiful place in my town. Outside the fertiliser factory, the car factory and the shipyard, my sleepy little city actually was strikingly pretty. Not that I ever thought so then! I was too busy bicycling to school in every weather. I couldn’t really see from underneath my huge styrofoam bike helmet, could I? But it was and is! Pretty.

At the heart of the town, there are about four hundred wood-clad homes from tzars’ times. They doze around mysterious one-hundred-year-old gardens with ancient apple trees, bowing currant bushes and moaning ghosts (this from reliable classmate sources). There are also newer developments sprinkled here and there. None of them are very far from the sea. This is a town where you might not own a car, but you absolutely have to own a boat!

Of course, my ridiculously pretty little town was very industrial at heart. When Finland’s mighty neighbour went and collapsed, the aftershocks of that earthquake echoed there for years. Those were the same years when we were supposed to start thinking about our futures after school. The trouble with me was that I couldn’t get around to imagining one!

I was only ever any good at writing, English and Music – and those didn’t seem like very useful talents to my teenaged person. What does one do with such frivolous inclinations when the unemployment rate is 30 percent? (Or any inclinations in that circumstance, to be exact?)

So, I skated through school rather carelessly. Very determinedly I ignored any and all of whatever skill or talent I could theoretically have worked on. Instead, I chose to focus 150% on being a young fool. Oh the fun!

Until graduation year suddenly came round and universities failed to see my enormous promise. As a clever plan B, I went for waiting tables and sharing a flat with my younger sister. (She at 17 had it together much more than I did at 19!). With a zero-hour employment contract, I still had rent to pay. Not to mention very heavily taxed cigarettes and nights out, gosh!

One night smoking in the back corridor of that restaurant I decided maybe to go for studies after all. 11-hour shifts of rude customers and falling pizza pans, and it just suddenly made sense! Or maybe I was just high on complimentary soft drinks, I don’t know. In any case, I do think it was a good call!

But, alas… As soon as I had got into uni, I met a guy who nearly screwed up my grand plans for academic success again. It really wasn’t my intention to land a life partner after two weeks into my studies – nope! I was 21, I was free, I was studying what I wanted. The small town girl had just arrived in the capital city – so exciting!

He was a little older and had lived in Helsinki for two years. He was working at the Embassy of Cyprus (an embassy! giggles!). He knew his way around and he showed me around too. To my massive shock I got really into him. Instantly, I forgot all about my studies and my freedom, the capital city etc. But then one morning he got a call from home base, the ministry in Cyprus. They told him that he had been chosen for another assignment that he had applied for before meeting me. I was aghast!

I remember telling him in no uncertain terms that I was not interested in any kind of a long distance relationship, thanks. The fuss! The heartache! The uncertainty! No ta. It was a good run and fun but… no. Thanks!

Then – just to prove my point – I enjoyed a long distance relationship with the very same man. Five or six years, not sure now, in different countries. Hmm, yes. My friends said we were clearly the real deal. They were right!

During my study years, he was Head of Mission in a big, romantic Russian city six hours away. I lounged around in smelly Helsinki pubs foaming about class and gender with like-minded study buddies. And in between breaths, planned such a romantic summer wedding to my very own diplomat! Yees. (To my defence, it was kind of a feminist wedding! The groom in white and the bride in blue!)

Once married, living in different countries kind of got old pretty quickly. I was ecstatic to finally wrap up my degree and join him on his third foreign posting.

Our first full-time home together was in Strasbourg, the European corner of France. Ooh the love! That was followed by first-time parenthood in Cyprus (a little less romance there), a second round in Copenhagen (romance..? Somebody get me my dictionary!).

Now we are nearly four years into a four-year stay in Geneva Switzerland. Our kids are already five and eight years old. We two are halfway to ancient.

We’ve been together for 15 years and we do still mostly think we are the real deal. We even have time for little escapades en amoreux again, which isn’t all that bad, actually! Swiss Alps, Italian mountains, the French Riviera, tiny medieval towns – we’re not fussy! As long as no-one screams, throws things or watches YouTube gaming vlogs too loud – sign us up!

To beat the professional moving blues, I studied writing. Recently I’ve started writing a bit for a living, too. My job is to describe newly built blocks of flats in the most irresistible terms. My husband’s job is to run in and out of meetings, councils and such and frantically type things at night.

He is currently preparing for his fourth stint back at home in Cyprus. He has to show up there every nine years or so. I’m going with him and hope the kids will follow too (even if they say they won’t)!

That will be next summer, that. And I know that I made it sound like a breeze just now, the moves. But I can freely confess they ain’t. And this one won’t be either!

In fact, I’ll let you in on a secret most expats bloggers won’t: Moving countries can really be quite crap. Very often, it’s actually worse than waitressing in Saturday rush hour! Worse than being a vaguely artsy teenager in an industrial town in deep recession. Worse even than being the only kid in school with a styrofoam bike helmet!

It sucks so much there are no words sometimes.

But don’t let me get you down! There are upsides, too. The photo opportunities, for one!

Second, when a serial expat gets a little bored, one never has to think ‘Is this really all there is?’ Because it never is, is it… When you’ve moved countries four times within six years and had two kids meanwhile, ‘Is this really all there is?’ is not a woe that keeps one up at night. Other select worries, sure. Just not that insistent, bored feeling of having been cheated out of a life that’s as exciting as one clearly always deserved. In fact, my life with these dramatic departures and arrivals is actually way more exciting than I ever was as a person. Thinking about it now, my life is probably looking at me going: ‘Wait a minute, is that really all there is? But I signed up for someone exciting and interesting..!’

My life is having a massive midlife crisis for me. How handy!

So yeah, this is where I am at and where we are at. This is my story so far. And I intend to write more of it. I plan to write about my homes and my countries, my loves and my islands. The days I have yet to live and the lessons I’m unaware I still have to learn. I plan to take pictures. I plan to write it out and photograph the heck out of it all, too. Cause life’s just too short! Too short not to write home about it.

So I will!

That’s my solemn promise to you.

That and to do more physical excercise.

More maybe than just my weekly hour of hanging desperately onto a saddle I fear is about to canter off into the sunset without me. Horseback riding lessons, my self-prescribed shock therapy for expat blues!

One if these promises I can surely keep. I promise you that!

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