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!